This morning I had the opportunity to hear Natalie Grant’s “Clean” (Be One, 2015) for the first time and I was struck by how much the lyrics resonated with my own life and felt compelled to take a moment and share about this beautiful song in case I’m not the only one here who hadn’t heard it before today.
Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the song:
“I see shattered
You see whole
I see broken
But You see beautiful
And You’re helping me to believe
You’re restoring me piece by piece.”
The idea of being “washed in mercy” isn’t new, but listening to Grant singing, I immediately thought about the idea of shattered glass making its way into the oceans and being washed by the waves over time until it was transformed into sea glass, individual shards of frosted and glossy glass that are ‘piece by piece’ unique.
The parallel of God to an ocean is movingly represented in Hillsong UNITED’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” (Zion, 2013).
Here are a few lyrics:
“Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”
This idea of immersing oneself in Christ is irresistibly attractive; that God can purge all of the filth of our past mistakes and make us clean; or take our broken selves and smooth out the rough spots, turning us into something different. I’d like to think that as we step out of the proverbial boat and begin to walk by faith, we are immersed in the mystery that is God.
And if we are, surely that is the greatest adventure of all.
I’ve never been one of those girls who comes across as uber-feminine and frilly. I probably spend the least amount of time (in my age bracket) on my personal appearance than any of my female coworkers. You won’t see me with makeup, styled hair, skirts or dresses, or God-forbid, heels. I’ve just never been that type, at least, not since I was ten years old.
I remember going to the mall and getting my first (and only) ear piercings for my tenth birthday. We looked at the frilly and fun earring options but I was told the first time round, you just get a simple pair of studs.
The attendant missed on the first attempt and we had to do a do-over. The pain was indescribable. I remember being terrified and I didn’t want the second ear done but I was told that it would “look unbalanced” and so I gritted my teeth for a second round. Sitting here writing out this blog entry, I’m pulling my ear lobe thoughtfully and they’re barren now, not closed, just more often than not, unadorned. My first introduction to the adage “Pain is beauty”.
Somewhere growing up, I learned that there was more separating me from the other girls than just the right clothes or hair style or makeup. I would never be “that girl”. This early pragmatism was tested when I was thirteen and allowed my first makeup kit (a new type of makeup every year was thereafter introduced). By sixteen, I’d lost interest in it entirely.
If it were as simple as beauty = more opportunities in life, then maybe I might have given it more effort but I came to the conclusion that the benefits didn’t outweigh the investment of time and money. So you’ll rarely catch me out of slacks, and the fanciest hairstyle I’ll do is a low ponytail. Occasionally, a bit of lip gloss, or nail polish, or even rarer, a bit of foundation/concealer so my acne at thirty-something doesn’t scare the hell out of people.
Lately, I’m thinking that I’ve lost more than just the appearance of beauty, it’s as if folks assume that because I choose to dress a certain way, that I am not feminine and have no capacity for appreciation of beauty. That couldn’t be further from the truth!
I have a very feminine side, but I don’t usually collect random shiny things like a magpie. I often admire from a distance.
There is incredible beauty to be found in nature, both in the animals God has created, and in elements of science that I don’t understand — butterflies and dragonflies, dogs and kittens, starfish, nautilus, a Redwood forest, the iridescence you find in bubbles, refracted light, or sea sparkle.
I love baubles and open umbrellas, silver glitter, mermaids with floating lanterns, vintage rhinestone brooches, crystal chandeliers and prisms, Moroccan architecture, Parisian architecture, wrought-iron spiral staircases to unknown destinations, skeleton keys, picturesque sky carnival rides, cotton candy, pink roses, lit candles, old books, tulle, macaroons, white coral, glamping, old books, lazy days, dancing in the rain, and romantic period movies. (Sing with me, “These are a few of my favorite things..”)
When did it become “not okay” to appreciate beauty without desiring it for yourself or emulating it in your on life? Or is this the dispassionate argument of a Plain Jane?
Strangely, as I write this I am reminded of a conversation from Christy (TV series) between Ida Grantland and Ruby Mae, discussing Miss Christy’s beauty. Ruby Mae is effusive about Miss Christy being like a flower and Miss Ida chastises her soberly that a woman’s beauty can be like “a tree or a mountain or a river” and helps Ruby Mae to come to define beauty in one’s own terms.
It is a thought that weighs on my mind still and a tiny voice wonders what may I have missed out on in life by accepting the role of a Plain Jane?
Edited: A kind friend politely pointed out that I had some of the mysteries mixed up. This has been corrected. Apologies for any offense.
Ask yourself a question.
Q: What personal things do you keep around, not for their value or utility, but just because they bring you a measure of comfort?
Keep thinking about that, we’ll come back to it later.
An Open Invitation to Pray
During a recent crisis in the community, our local parish reached out to the neighborhood, inviting people to come to their outdoor garden area with a pretty statue of Mary (… shrine, I guess you’d call it) to pray the Rosary. I knew I’d see some people there I know, and it’d be nice to catch up too.
But there’s one thing that has always puzzled me about the Rosary and that is the difference of the mysteries and the process of prayer and meditation at the same time. I didn’t get that. Is it like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time? I mean, with a bit of effort, I can do that but it’s not exactly easy and it causes me anxiety to try. And there are so many prayers! How do you remember them all? Why do you pray so much?
I don’t get it.
With my work schedule, I knew that if I would be able to make the event, it’d be near its conclusion. But hey, I want to participate. I’m a person of faith. I’ll just try doing it on my own, you know, on the public bus … at rush hour … when there’s a lot of people all around … who might criticize me or you know, look at me kind of funny (that’s the same thing, right?)
Oh no. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all…
I found myself making the sign of the Cross anyway.
Okay… here goes nothin’!
(45 minutes later. Yes, forty-five. Talk to me later.)
I got there right at the end. But I wasn’t the only one there with a smile on my face and I don’t think it was because we were happy to see each other. We shared a secret. Yes, we. I think on that bus trip I had discovered a secret to praying the Rosary. And yes, I’ll let you in on it too.
The Secret of the Rosary
Earlier, I asked you what personal thing you keep around because it brings you comfort. Have you thought about it?
Maybe it’s a book you’ve never read but on the inside cover there’s that personal inscription that a friend or family member wrote to you It could be your favorite stuffed animal that you packed in a storage box when you went to college, but didn’t have the heart to throw out. Maybe it’s a favorite piece of your grandmother’s jewelry — garish beyond belief, but she wore it every day and you keep it on your bureau and some days, when you miss her, you take it out and smile, and remember her.
For me, one of those things is my rosary.
I got my first rosary during a church event which I spent with my father and my paternal aunt. Although they’re both still around and present in my life, I treasure the memories I have of the time I spent, most especially with my father. In English, we have a term for what we commonly call these objects: mementos. Everybody has at least one. There’s nothing special or remarkable about that, is there?
Maybe there is!
Think about it. That memento of yours, where did you get it? Do you remember when? Who were you with at the time? What were you doing? I bet that whoever you were with and whenever it was, it was an emotional moment in your life. I bet if you’re completely honest, a small tingling of emotion still fills you when you hold/use/see that memento. It might even be something that you’d never share with someone else. It’d just be silly to them if you tried to explain. But for you, it’s more than that, isn’t it?
Putting it another way, if I’m right, then that object or memento, is a visual aid triggering a part of some secret knowledge, of your past, of something or someone that is important to you, and when you see/use/hold it, you remember. You think about that person, that time, that experience.
I’ve just explained the purpose of the Rosary. 🙂
The Rosary as a Visual Aid and Prayer Prompt
Earlier, I mentioned my struggle with trying to pray the Rosary. It’s just a series of repeating prayers. I didn’t get the idea of trying to meditate and pray and what it was for. Now I think I understand a little better.
When you pray the Rosary, you are connecting with Christ. You are using a visual aid (the Rosary) to inspire reflection on the life and nature of Christ.
On Mondays and Saturdays, Catholics reflect on the life of Mary, and the events leading up to Christ’s birth and His early childhood (the Joyful Mysteries).
On Thursdays, they remember some of his miracles in his early ministry, leading up to the Last Supper, (the Luminous Mysteries).
On Tuesdays and Fridays, it’s a reflection on the events of Good Friday, beginning with the Garden when Jesus is betrayed, leading up to His crucifixion (the Sorrowful Mysteries).
And finally, on Wednesdays and Sundays, it’s a celebration of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the events of the early Church, and a life of obedience to God, rewarded at the end of Mary’s life (the Glorious Mysteries).
But the Rosary acts like a visual aid in another way too.
It’s a prompt for our prayer lives. When I tried praying the Rosary, I found the Holy Spirit prompting my heart with words taken from the mysteries I was reflecting upon, and it gave me a direction to pray for specific things. What resulted was a far richer prayer experience than I usually have on my own. I think that the reason for this is that each of the mysteries stems from the Scriptures. When we base our prayer on the Word of God, amazing things can happen.
The Pleasing Aroma To God
“Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15, NLT)
I also discovered that in the process of praying the Rosary, when I announce the “decade” (the mystery I’ll be reflecting on), it helped me to stop at that point and meditate on that mystery at that point, as I prayed the “Our Father”. Pausing for a moment of reflection (or meditation) before going on to pray caused sort of a dual layer of prayers going on, on the surface, the Hail Mary’s, and below that, another prayer prompted by the mystery I was reflecting on.
It’s a bit of an awkward way to describe it but I can only compare it to it being like two layers of prayer, on top of each other, like a melody and a harmony of a song, being played at once.
As I’m writing this, I am debating, and you may debate as well, which is which, but here goes. If praying the Rosary were a song, then there are two parts, the melody (the familiar tune we know) and the harmony (the chords played in the background that flesh out the song). From my current perspective, I would call the melody the prayers in the Rosary itself, because it is familiar, and our own secret prayers to God, the harmony of the prayer experience.
I can understand though that there may be some Catholics out there who will say I’ve got it backwards, and it’s the Rosary that is the harmony of the prayer, blending in with our own secret prayers, making it a richer experience. Regardless of which is which, I think the end result is the same: our meditation and prayers become an offering, like a pleasing aroma, to Christ. And that, my friend, is something to be cherished.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you think about the Rosary, and about prayer in general. Do you think that praying and using references to scripture helps you?
Since the death of Mike Brown two weeks ago, I have been quiet on my website about the fact that I am a Ferguson, Missouri resident. Some of you who have known me longer than this blog has existed will already have known that information, for newcomers, this may be a complete surprise to you. You might even wonder why I didn’t blog about it when I lived basically where the riots and looting were going down.
First, I wanted to put some distance between myself and the events that were going on, and second, I didn’t want to post something that might inadvertently be opportunistic in the aftermath of what was a horrible tragedy.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a lot of family and friends contact me to make sure that my husband and I were okay, offering us a place to “get away for a while”, offering assistance if needed. To those people, thank you for your kindness.
In the years since my husband and I moved to Ferguson, we’ve had two tornadoes, and now, the events of this summer taking place around/on W. Florissant at the Ferguson/Dellwood border, that’s brought national and international attention to our small town.
After spending some time reassuring one friend that we are, in fact, not in the proverbial ‘eye of the storm’, she encouraged me to share my news on my blog, I think because people need to hear good news and straight talk (to paraphrase). So here goes…
Last autumn I reviewed “Anything But Civil” by Anna Loan-Wilsey (review here) for the Historical Novel Society. This week, I discovered that a blurb from my review was featured as press for the book on the author’s website. How fantastic!
I thought you would enjoy a peek and Ms. Loan-Wilsey was gracious enough to allow me to reprint a portion of her website for my readers: