Penitence

Well, I’m no Catholic but I have sat in a confessional. The idea of a lone man listening to my sins from behind the partition reminded me of Oz and felt just a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, it was empty and I sat alone in the darkness, the scent of wood smoothed by so many sinful hands filling me with curious warmth despite my discomfort.

We attend a Celtic Christian service and my heritage is from the British Isles, smattered with bits of European continent. There’s a group there that has long intrigued me, a small sect of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Briton believers that existed outside of the Roman church for a long time called the Celè De or Culdees. One of their practices was to seek out an anam cara or a soul friend, one with whom you shared everything — one to whom you confessed.

As I sat in that French Roman Catholic confessional and heard the whispered convictions of so many brothers and sisters I thought there was something beautiful in the act of bearing one’s soul to a man who vowed to remind you of your forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Though it might become warped and trite, a mere act by which one could go on living the way they always had, there was always the chance that hearing the sin spoken of and seeing it dragged into the light might be good, healing and restorative to the soul.

The anam cara, the soul friend might provide this glimpse of unconditional love, gentle rebuke and restoration.

Each week during our celtic services, the presiding pastor offers us a few moments of silence, to bring our grievances to God — the ways in which we have grieved him. We quietly confess, recite the Lord’s prayer and ask for help in forgiving those around us because it is we who were first forgiven.

Lent is the season of preparation and waiting as we walk with Jesus. He’s set his face to Jerusalem, signaled that nothing will be stopping him from that sacred, painful journey to the cross where the dividing wall is torn down and all nations are bless through Abraham’s seed. Lent is the season of penitence for the sins that drove him towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, the grave and the death of sin.

I need to be reminded of this often, repeatedly, even daily. I do not mean to suggest that one beat themselves over the head with their sin and their guilt and then dwell in shame. Of course not! The resurrection frees us from that. But I do think in the midst of demanding schedules, screaming children, looming workloads and the daily drudge, it is easy to forget the movement of sin, grace, repentance and forgiveness that consumes our lives. It is easy to forget that I can forgive E because I am forgiven; just as I may bless and love friends because I am loved and am being taught what that love means. It’s this never ending growth towards becoming who we already are in Christ. And it starts with penitence, repentance and constant recognition of our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. This is one thing I love about our church: that each week we are reminded to repent, to reorient towards God and to be forgiven — and then to go out and forgive others! It is a convicting moment for me each week to consider how I have sinned by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.*

This is the reason we fast in Lent: to be penitent and mindful of our sins which drove him to the cross; to prepare for the long night ahead when he is in the ground; to recover our humble position in the divine dance that like a symphony moves from grace over sin, to repentance and culminates in restoration. What a beautiful season and opportunity to relearn and experience this masterpiece of God’s every year!

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. {Martin Luther, 95 Theses, 1}

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*Penintential prayer, Anglican Common Book of Prayer

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Dear Grandma, Please Don’t Write Me Out of the Will

Tonight I smoked on the Left Bank. It seemed like a very French, Parisian thing to do. So I took a couple “drags” on someone else’s cigarette. It was… interesting. I didn’t cough, but I think I did inhale. So that’s something to be proud of?

Today was my last day in France. Tomorrow I leave for England. And I’m actually kind of sad to leave. I haven’t entirely enjoyed my group always, but I am sad to say goodbye to so many people. It was hard this morning when three people left early. I almost teared up.

I did tear up.

Today I went up L’Arc de Triomphe. Mum, I am so proud of you doing those steps with your hip. I hardly know how you did it. You are amazing. It was the most beautiful view, the Champs-Elysees, the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Cure. I loved it. I think tonight was the first time that it occured to me where I was.

This morning I went to Saint Chapelle. The little chapel has the most gorgeous stain glass. It used to hold relics from the Passion. But in the lower chapel today, instead of Thorns from the Crown, or pieces of the Holy Cross, there were postcards, pillows, gargoyles for sale. I could have screamed watching the people buzz around and sell their cheap wares for far too much. I know now how Jesus felt when he entered the synagogue and found money changers and swindlers. But I’m one of the biggest hypocrites I know, so I didn’t feel like I could honestly turn over the booths and shout at people to leave.

I bought more stuff today. Mum, got you something awesome. Joshua, I got something for you too. Hehe. I love saying that, becuase you have to wait until Christmas!

I need to go as my friend Becca would like her computer to check about her reservations on the ferry across the Channel.

so much love to all

sara

Thank God for Macs

Or I’d be paying 10 Euro cents a minute on a crappy machine to type this out. But thankfully, Kaitlyn’s mac is getting internet from somewhere.

Hostel is great. It’s wonderful, basically a hotel with rules. Who knew there could be such nice places?

I saw the Arc de Triomphe last night. I sprinted across town to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. I went to Notre Dame and onto the Left Bank. Walked the Champs-Elysees.

I’m off to breakfast in a few minutes and then Mass at Notre Dame. It will be great, I’m sure. Then we’re going to try and find our way to the Lourve. It’s wonderful riding the Underground again. The wind howling through the tunnels, being jostled by the waiting passengers, watching people be pickpocketd, it reminds me of London. And then there’s all the smoking, the homeless, the painting, the dancing, the kissing and everything else that is entirely Parisian.

I don’t have anything else to say. We’ve had some ridiculous-ness going on in the group. This is why I’m bored with France, mum. I am tired of some people. I’m kind of tired of college students. But the Eiffel Tower makes it worth it.

I wish that Caitlin was here though.

Tonight is a party and I’ve nothing to wear. Which is funny, because it’s normal. It’s lame because of the girls I’m with who are going crazy with their hair and makeup. But it will be all around good tonight.

This trip has changed a lot of first impressions. I told Taylor last night that I thought he was an arrogant little bas—d when I first met him. He said he thought the same of me except I wasn’t “little” I was “older.” And last night, we had the time of our lives running to the Eiffel tower, jumping out on the wrong side of the metro, me and Jesse taking headcounts like a mom and the military man we both want to be (separately of course). I used to think Jesse was a punk. Which he is. But a nice one all the same.

And now I need to run to breakfast down in the courtyard before we run over to the island for Gregorian Chants and Mass.

Scattered Internet, Late Nights, Talent Shows, Health and Finals

Hi all,

sorry I have been unable to update for a while. The internet here was out for about 2 days, and when I finally got to check last night it was late and I wanted to sleep. Of course, I should have known that with the boys on this trip, sleep was not going to come easily.

We decided to sleep on the pool deck last night, lay out under the stars, enjoy some good conversation, cool night air, a breeze blowing over us. It was great. People came and went and finally it settled down to those of us who wanted to sleep and others went inside to their own, more comfortable beds. It was wonderful. I was actually comfortable, snuggled deep in my quilt, wrapped around my floppy square pillow. And I was totally out.

I didn’t hear the laughter, or the scuffle with the chaise-lounge-chair. I hardly even heard the splash. But I did wake up to Laura’s screams as she hurtled through the air, into the deep end of the pool. The boys were gone before I had rubbed my eyes awake. All I knew was Laura was climbing out of the pool, yelling, or cursing, or something. Hanna was grabbing their stuff, Chelsea was standing startled beside her own cot, Tully had disappeared long ago. Two boys, slightly tipsy, had decided that it was the perfect evening for a midnight swim.

Thanks for your prayers. Anthony has Type 1 Diabetes. A pain, but manageable.

Tomorrow, early in the morning, I leave for Paris. I’m a bit nervous, I think because there won’t be a “house” to come back to and I already feel more displaced than normal. It has been too long since I’ve had a real home. But I’m excited too. it’s going to be great to walk the streets of the old city, run wild and crazy with new-found friends. And I’ll probably have internet when I get to Beth’s in England.

I have nothing very deep or exciting. I just took one of my last two finals ever. We had a talent show that finally brought everyone together and we all jumped in the pool afterward for a great time. I’m doing well. Getting ready to be “home” again, even if only for a few days. It will be wonderful to be with people who love me and I feel comfortable with again.

And of course, my own bed. 🙂

But at the same time, I’m not actually homesick. Just bored over here.

Well I guess that Prayer Works

because Eric isn’t dead after having a bull trample him. last night we went to an event in Uzes where they stand in a ringith a bull, try to put rings on his horns, play soccer with the bull running around, and then sometimes they just taunt the beast until he chases them. Then they jump over the fence and stand in the runway around the ring. or they lay down in the pool of water at the center of the ring–becuase bulls don’t like water.

usually.

they also don’t usually jump over the fence.

but last night they did both. They jumped in the water and stomped a couple kids pretty good as well as head butted them. But the most dramatic one was when the bull went after Eric and followed him over the fence. And then kocked him down when Eric couldn’t climb the concrete wall fast enough. And then stepped on him before he somehow managed to scramble away, or someone pushed the bull onwards. But he jumped up, ran back into that rign and made 13 euros for his “bravery”.

I haven’t sworn so much in a very long time. But I was jumping up with the rest of our group, screaming Oh my God, oh my God, when we saw that bull chase him over th fence and take him down. But he’s okay, so all our prayers at devotions for the safety of the group have been heard.

So here’s another one. My “ex” Anthony is sick. He’s lost 20 pounds in a month and has no idea why. He’s going to the doctor today and that’s all I know. Please please pray for him. I’m kind of freaking out. First my mum, now Anthony. But it’s okay, irght? Because Eric is suntanning by the pool and he hardly has a few scratches. So if Jesus put angles around him, surely he can take care of Anthony too.

The Mediterranean…

Well here’s to topless beaches which are taken advantage of primarily by old and sagging women.

Today, after some wandering through the south of France, and after contemplating a road trip to Barcelona (383 km) those of us in the directionally challenged van belonging to Dr. Davis stumbled upon a white strip of the Mediterranean’s shore.

I have wanted to see the Med for a long time. Probably since the time my dad went to North Africa, and promised to take me with him if I got a 4.0. Well four AP classes with straight A’s later and still no Blue Mediterranean from the shores of Muslim Africa. That’s okay though, because I went today. And topless beaches in France are obviously more exciting than fully covered women in Africa. I mean, really.

We waded out from the white fluffy sand to the blue water and shivered our way in, up to our knees, our waists, our shoulders and finally a few of us went under entirely. We walked along jetties that kept the water calm and tranquil. They reminded me of Oceanside, and the salty air tasted fresh and clean. The water burned my eyes, but only for a few minutes. Eventually, I was back at home, in a sea I’ve never enjoyed but somehow knew in the same way I’ve always loved the world’s salty water. Not to mention, Jesus could have touched some of the same water molecules that I swam in today. The little waves that lifted us gently over the smooth ground below might have once sped Paul’s ship onward to Rome or roared over the deck and crashed him onto Malta. But in some ways, despite the religious implications, I was happy just to be in an ocean again.

Oh Russia, I’ll miss the ocean blue when I come. That has always been my great disappointment with Colorado, the landlocked mountainous beauty has beach.

In other news… I am in need of prayer. I like it here, but I also don’t. I don’t think I ever want to travel with people in a group setting like this. It’s fun, I enjoy the “grown ups,” the cooking, the sites. But this group is full of students who are (obviously) here for no reason other than themselves. It makes total sense. I’ve just never been in a group of people whose only purpose is to worship the sun and eat food that they complain about cleaning up. It’s quite challenging. If I make it through five whole weeks without snapping in my self righteous little way it will be an honest-to-God-Miracle. I am reading through the NT and today was James. Mmm. Lots of stuff about works and controlling your tongue. A message? Okay, yeah, I’ll listen. But I could use a little help, here, Jesus. And this isn’t purely irreverant sarcasm.

I Can Drive a Stick. Again.

Dr. Davis taught some of us how to drive stick. Apparently, I’m a car athlete and I can be very proud to tell my brother that I’m practically an expert. We would get up to 40km and be in 3rd gear when Dr. Davis would say with sheer delight “We’re flying! Look at you! Stay on your side of the road when you shift! We’re flying now!” He told us that secretly, he builds up four years of the barrier between students and professors only to break down and teach us to drive an automatic and willingly admit that it’s his favorite thing to do. So, one year after I was originally taught, I now know how to drive a stick even better than the first time.

In other news, the south is hot. The sun is brilliant. I’m tanning somewhat. The wasps are incessant. I have curly hair. And the dishes are never ending. But by now, Sabrina, Becca, Susan and I have helped so much in the kitchen taht our names for dish duty routine have been torn up and let loose in the santa-anna-style wind. But there are such great rewards. Everyone is so thankful (Maggie [Mrs. Davis], April, Seth and Alex [the ‘grown up’ helpers]). And we get to have extra portions sometimes. I get free sorbet, and last night Sabrina and i enjoyed our shrimp crowded around the kitchen table with too much laughter, too much butter, and too much goodness all around.

Today I had to be the hero and pick up the kitten from next door as Matt and Brittany went running yelling about allergies. WHich is funny. I never liked cats. But this grey mangy excuse for a kitten has caught my heart. Maybe the way its chest was pounding furiously in terror when I took it home (three times!) has something to do with my compassion for the poor creature. But it certainly has to do with Anthony, Jonathan, Teresa, Jared, and a million other Indo people who love cats.

Yesterday was perhaps one of the best so far–in a miserably hot way. We went to Arles. First, we waited for Dr. Davis while sitting outside an Arena. The Arena is still functioning, they have bullfights this week. We sat on the steps, while people drove by taking postcard photos of us. And then we wandered inside with our single group ticket and barely ten minutes to walk the steps that are taller than the length of my calf. But this isn’t just an arena. This arena was built in the first century after Jesus Christ.

I walked on stones that are Two. Thousand. Years. Old.

I walked on stones that people sat on to watch lions and gladiators fight. I took pictures there and absorbed a view of the sand where people probably saw early Christians executed. Do you know what this means? There are great lives of saints that may have ended there. And I stood in it. I stood on something that might have been built while Paul was still scribbling out his letters to Thesaloniki.

Just down around the corner is a little catholic chapel. Beatiful, with thin Romanesque windows high in the walls that curve overhead into a ceiling style that would eventually give way to the gothic masterpieces like Notre Dame and Chartes. There were frescoes that have nearly vanished. There were pews, smoothed and worn thin by the faithul. Or the tourists. And behind a wrought iron gate there were dozens of golden boxes that reminded me of the gifts the magi brought to Jesus and his parents. But there was no incense, gold or myrh in these delicate cases. There were relics.

I saw a man’s skull in its own alcove. St. Antione of the Desert–in Egypt. He gathered hermits together for instruction, fellowship and prayer. He encouraged saints who were on their way to the arena–like the one I stood in–and exhorted them to hold fast, to be strong in the Lord. He was wise and gentle and kind. He lived to 106, he cast out demons and forever kept the faith. He is sitting or standing or dancing in heaven right now. And I saw his skull.

The dark interior of the church smelled like every Catholic chapel–mildew, crevices that absorb water from somewhere, wood, incense and old age. There were saints over the door to guide our entrance. There were sinners being dragged to hell, and Stephen being stoned to death while his soul escaped–through the mouth–to heaven. There were tombs, the names worn away by the feet of the saints who have walked over them for hundreds of years. And all this religiosity down the street and around the corner from an arena built by the Roman Ceasars who called themselves god and had a cult to worship them. All this just five minutes walk from a place where Christians likely died for the faith that the monumental church is dedicated to.

And some people don’t appreciate history…

Mom and Dad, can you put more money in my account?

I just got back from this place we refer to as the “pirate bar.” It has a wooden statue of a pirate standing outside and a nautical theme inside. It’s fun, pricey, but fun. So tonight, I also decided I wouldn’t spend money. But you know, it was our second place, so I decided I’d get a chocolat viennoise. Well, the lady heard us wrong, or we miscommunicated, or something. She got me two drinks. And instead of spending nothing, or very little.. I spent 10 euros.

But you know, it was fun. I had a great time. It was worth it. Earlier in the evening, Dr. Davis sent a note down with some girls to Tully while we were at the Jazz Club. It had 20 euros, and it said “Dear Tully, please treat Hanna to a good time.” So Taylor and I went up to kidnap Hanna from the house. We took the long way around, I’m not sure why. I was following Taylor. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention. But it was nice, we had a good, funny and cheerful conversation on the way. And we had a great time nagging Hanna to come with us.

At the “pirate bar” we sat and talked about lots of meaningless things. This trip is turning out to be a great combination between meaningless and meaningful conversations. Taylor and I talked about TPing, Becca and I talked about prophetic dreams. It’s interesting to be with so many people, have them stare at you when you say something that they don’t expect, or when they say something that totally blows your mind: about them, about you, about God. When you find out that who you thought was a punk freshmen is actually a a PK and is sweet and generous, when you discover someone who is cheerful and funny rather than grumpy and cynical like you expected… it’s suprising, it’s humbling…

So I’m learning a lot about not judging people, not having previous conceptions. Because people keep surpirsing me. They keep saying things about God that can change my mind. I’m trying to realize that everyone here has a great story and something to share with me. I’m excited for the next few weeks, the opportunity to be with them and learn from them. It’s humbling but good.

And in the meantime, since I’m going out with people to hear all this (because there’s nothing to do but go out and spend money), can you put some money in my account? 🙂 Just kidding.

Sunburn and Bats in the Attic

Today, I woke up after only 5 hours of sleep to find three extra girls in the room next door. Apparently, a bat was flapping around in the attic room last night so the 5 girls from up there came down and slept elsewhere. Dr. Davis claimed he has officially killed the bat and buried it in the backyard and will give anyone $100 if they see it tonight. So hopefully there won’t be squealing and yelling at 1am tonight.

Yesterday was a down day after Rouen, Giverny and before Versailles today. It was sunny and gorgeous so we all put on our bathing suits and headed down to the beach. While there, all the gils decided to lay out. Well, my family came to America from England and Wales (mostly) so I’m not exactly built for sun. Laying out seemed like I was asking for sunburn and skin cancer isn’t on my list of ways to die. So when someone offered to go for a run, I jumped on it. Even though I’m painfully out of shape.

Chelsea and I ran way way far down the beach. We ran through sand that swallowed us up to our knees and turned our feet black. We splashed through icy water with slippery ground underneath that glowed green. We jumped over crabs and mussells and rocks that threatened to cut our feet.

And over all this, we talked about Jesus. We told each other our stories and talked about hopes, dreams and even a few fears.

I’m so thankful to Jesus. I think between Chelsea and Becca I have an anamcara- soul friend-for the trip.

Now if Taylor will just stop trying to get me to do some shots. Then I think we’ll be okay. And once I convince him that a guy is supposed to share food with the girlfriend.

Dancing, Smoking, Dukes and Saints

Okay, okay.

I danced last night. For probably three solid hours. It was great. Bastille Day is so much better than the Fourth of July. I’m sorry America. But the fireworks were so close, and the band was so loud and the parade was so small and quaint; everything was wonderful. It was the best fireworks show that I’ve seen. Of course, Laura and I pointed out that since Sarkozy said France is going bankrupt, this must be where the last of the French budget is: fireworks. But heck, they were worth it.

The dancing was good. Maggie (prof’s wife) wouldn’t hear of anyone not dancing. So we held our own purses or sent them home with someone else and we were crazy Americans who practically started the dance party in the Plaza. It was great too, a couple of our girls were grabbed by Frenchmen who wanted to tell their grandchildren a story about the time they danced with an American. And some of our girls dragged French boys over to our group. They then turned out to be creeps. Or just good teenagers. Instead of dancing, they stood and stared at us, and then pulled out some weed. Mm. I love the smell of weed mixed with body odour and cigarettes. But our young men put themselves in between us and the creepers and finally they wandered away.  And we danced until I thought my feet would fall off. Vive la France!

Today we went to Rouen and Giverny. Giverny is Monet’s home and garden. I saw a print of the painting that gave the title to the Impressionist Movement and it was gorgeous! Becca and I frolicked through a field we saw in another painting too. It might have been illegal and we might have jumped a little wire fence. But it was worth it. I felt free and happy dancing in that field of brown wheat and red flowers. If only I’d had a white dress like the women in the painting!

Rouen should have a post of its own. This is where Jeanne d’Arc was tried and burned. It’s also home to a beautiful cathedral (where she was put on trial) which has the tallest spire in France, which Monet painted several times at different hours of the day to catch different lightings. And there’s a massive clock.

The church is Gothic, and everything that you expect in an old world cathedral. Walking up to the door is intimidating. Saints stare down at you from their pedestals that cling precariously to the church’s walls. Inside, your eyes have to adjust to the light, dim and musty. But when the sunlight from outdoors fades, you are in an entirely different world. The ceilings are so far above, so perfectly curved, so intricately designed that you stand in a moment of dumb stupor. What can you do but stare? People are coming in behind you, pushing and waiting impatiently while their own eyes adjust and they suddenly come to to the same glorious realization that you have just discovered.

Becca said it’s humbling. I think this is what church is supposed to be like. I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know what to feel. There were dukes buried there, from the 11th century. I saw their sarcophagi and walked over their tombs in the floor of the apse. I saw Joan of Arc’s sword and I prayed where countless saints have before me.

I stood beside a stone sculpture that was from the 11th century and had been damaged (I believe during WW2). It was of St. Simeon and the presentation of Jesus at the Temple on his eighth day. You could hardly make out the faces, the stone is so worn away. But their robes were flowing and wide, and the stone was grey and ancient and I felt this weight lay on my shoulders. My chest tightened as I thought of my nephew, Isaac, who is not even a week old. So I took a deep breath. I reminded myself that the Pope and the Catholic church can be good, I dropped a Euro in the box and I light a candle. I light a candle and I prayed for Isaac. And I think, standing in that massive hall, with my heart pounding in my head, and the candles tingling around me, I think I felt the presence of God. I think I heard the saints whispering and the ancient Dukes smiling and St. Simeon in his alcove listening and praying for me.

But maybe it was the French laughing at the non-Catholic trying to light her candle. Maybe it was the dim accordian playing outside. Maybe it was the shuffling feet over ancient polished stone.

But I think it was the Spirit.