Monday, March 20, 2006

Mustard Seeds and Lent

I’m well overdue for another blog entry-- but where to begin? First, Redecorating Month seems to be forging ahead. The kitchen is minus its ivy vine wallpaper and is painted a cheerful Amber color. I think it looks about like the walls at Olive Garden—exactly what I had in mind.
I’m trying to figure how redecorating fits into Lent, which is an important time of spiritual searching and growth for me. Redecorating seems so temporal and un-spiritual. But, something inside me urges this stripping off the old and bringing on the new. I look at my walls with those choices from over ten years ago and I see someone different. A woman who was fussy and a bit over-extended, perhaps a bit unsure of herself, too. The color of the rooms—a murky sea green just doesn’t express the person I am or the way I want to exist in this house. Is that spiritual in any way at all? Maybe not. But it is surely spiritual to “take off the old and put on the new.” To thine own self be true. I’m not murky green anymore.
After a few days of dirt, scraping and scrubbing, then finally applying the new coat of paint I began to feel disconnected from my writing life and somewhat distanced from the old writing projects too. My office is a mass of papers and random books. The second novel is sitting there waiting for another 6 chapters—still unwritten. But I’ve written three new poems. I love the very newest one. But then, I often have a brief intense love affair with my newest work of any sort (even redecorating!)
All month, I felt some inner stirring I couldn’t put my fingers on. It was troubling. I whined (again!) to my spiritual director when I saw her. Apologized that I was again into another whole list of new things—teaching Jr. Hi Sunday school about spiritual disciplines and home school kids about poetry. I’m preparing for a three-hour presentation about Mennonites to a group of mental health workers and getting ready to head out for a big poetry reading at Goshen next Sunday. I’ve been going to the mailbox hoping for some small shred of affirmation for my novel but haven’t see so much as one review yet. It’s disturbing! My confidante read me a poem by Hafiz that ended with a line about scattering emeralds, as if that would actually help me! But, in a day or so, it did.
Last Thursday and Friday I took off for a Women In Ministry conference at Bluffton University. (Thank goodness the kitchen was back in order!) I went to see daughter, Laura, but found out at the last minute I’d only be able to attend the keynote addresses, since registration had closed on March 1. This caused me to stay overnight Thursday and come home Friday afternoon. It was good to see her. She stayed in my motel with me.
While I was there I participated in a guided meditation over a mustard seed. I came home and immediately discovered a request for a “poet” to work on a project for Tom Sine, author of the 1981 Mustard Seed Conspiracy book. It was in an online newsletter I get. The “coincidence” was too close for comfort so I responded.
Today, the wall paper had to remain on the walls. I spent the entire day writing a parable-type piece in response to Tom Sine’s request. I have no idea whatsoever where this is leading! It is all part of another mysterious Lenten journey and has the potential to send me off in a different direction once more—or perhaps only build on the things that have gone before—the sustainable farming conference and the other odd interests that crop up and make me feel crazy (sorry to use the pejorative term, folks) but no other word completely will do. Maybe my brain chemistry IS mis-firing.
I went ahead and planted that mustard seed. It was in the bottom of my purse after I took everything out to look for it. I soaked it in a spoonful of water overnight and put it in a peat cup with the little eggplants and peppers. Is it true what Jesus said about it? That it will turn into a large tree with birds in the branches. I hope that doesn’t happen before I get the dining room re-decorated. The birds would be a problem, I think. Lofty Thoughts

Saturday, March 04, 2006

March is Re-decorating Month

Last weekend I went to a Sustainable Farming Conference at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center. The people I met there were inspiring and the things I heard fed my ongoing interest in growing food, eating local foods and learning about the way food is produced and marketed. There was also an emphasis on the way our Christian faith relates to consumption. Inspirational sessions focused on the ways in which God’s people in biblical times were often required to live at odds with the empire of their times.

I came home with practical ideas to share with my neighbors and friends and with some inspiration that will keep me learning and growing I also came home to watch the hawk that seems to be nesting in the woods beyond my house. I see them flying around and perching on branches at the edge of the woods or soaring out over the field. The hawk has special significance for me. I know they’re often thought of as birds of prey and I do shudder to think they might be feeding off my pretty bird feeder birds. But I also find them elegant and inspiring—the way they can perch high up and survey the surrounding countryside and then zero in on something as tiny as a mouse or a chipmunk.

At times, that’s how I like to think of myself as both a writer and a consumer. I like taking the long view and spending time contemplating the “big picture”. But eventually I focus in on something small and practical—of great importance to me at a moment in time, but seemingly insignificant to someone else.

For instance, I can spend a lot of time thinking about something as mundane and unimportant, in the grand scheme of things, as curtains or a bed cover. As if my life depended on it--these things have always had great significance for me. At times I feel it's silly when I consider the many concerns of the world and how little a curtain matters in comparison. But there is something inside of me that wants to frame the view of my world in an artful way. I recall living in our first apartment and purchasing a beautiful chintz drapery fabric. I sewed a pair of detailed pinch-pleated, lined draperies that fit the window of our bedroom perfectly. When, after about eight months, we decided to move to a house that had more room, a nice lawn and lower rent, I actually cried about the fact my drapes wouldn’t be of use in the new place. How silly was that?

My mother expressed her artistic bent by creating lovely spaces for the family to live in. Growing up, we pored over the Robinson’s Wallpaper books that came regularly in the mail as if our life depended on it. She re-wallpapered our eight-room farmhouse time and time again, using these inexpensive papers. It was necessary because of coal furnace soot. This was actual “paper”--not vinyl coated wall covering.

I still take a lot of satisfaction in finding ways to rearrange things I have or working with the treasures I find in thrift stores, bargain stores or the occasional castoff. I have this idea that it is possible to have both beauty and economy in a home’s furnishings. I’ve learned some basics—how to paint, wallpaper and care for and restore things. The stack of magazines full of pictures of flea market decorating and shabby chic piles up in a corner. I study the pictures for ideas—colors, arrangements, the creation of beauty in what was once neglected buildings and cast-off furnishings. Many times, simple abundance can be had for a bit of elbow grease and attention to detail.

As I turned the calendar page to March 1 this week, I thought of my mother. Her birthday would have been March 17. When I used to look for a gift for her, I'd often buy something small for her house—a candle, a plant, a basket, a piece of pottery. Many times she returned the favor. This year I won’t be able to give her a gift—a tangible one. But I will recognize and remember her homemaking artistry. I’ve decided to declare March “Redecorating Month” in her honor--and to honor my own urge to create interest and beauty at home. So far I’ve painted a few odds and ends with a crackle painting technique and I’ve stripped dark wallpaper from the half bath and painted it yellow. I’ve bought some silk curtains at an off-price store and updated the bedroom with some very colorful new linens. I have more ideas and plans. What can I say? I’m “homemaker-y!”