A Second Blooming Retreat: Introducing our Closing Ceremony Leader

Jeri Mangum

Jeri Mangum

I’ve done several posts recently to introduce the speakers/workshop leaders for the A SECOND BLOOMING RETREAT to be held at The Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi, March 1-3. More information and registration are here.

Links to the previous posts are here:

Ellen Morris Prewitt, “The Joy of Creating in a Group Setting”

Nina Gaby, “Little Altars Everywhere”

Jennifer Horne, “How Our Stories Shape Us

Kathy Rhodes, “Pushing Up the Sun”

Today I’d like to introduce the woman who will be leading our closing ceremony on Sunday morning.

Jeri Mangum or ‘Just Jeri’ as she calls herself is a survivor!

She was a working wife and mom who retired from Mississippi State University in 2009 when her husband’s health became an issue. Jeri learned a lot of life lessons during the two and a half years that she cared for Bob as his health declined. After his death, Jeri discovered the work friends and couples friends were no longer there. And that is where her story begins . . .

drum-circleDuring her husband’s time in the nursing home, Jeri had observed the residents’ love of outside visitors who came and performed a variety of talents. It was that seed that drove her to fulfill her yearning for playing the drum. Hand drumming is her “happy/healing place”. She has led drum circles in Starkville at the assisted living center, the nursing homes, and for interested women who meet for renewal. Research is proving the therapeutic benefits of drumming and Jeri is living proof!

ASB cover w PQ badgeHer close circle of friends (FROGS/ Friends Readily Offering Genuine Support) know her to be the extrovert of the group who is always planning the next event or outing. Jeri is always willing to try new things and admits she loves making people smile.

So, come and bloom with us: create, write, discuss, walk, do yoga, drum, read, listen, eat, rest, and be inspired. Everyone who comes will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE.

Spaces are filling, so register soon!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers: Part 4

I’m following up on my recent post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post.

In the following post, I introduced another speaker, Nina Gaby.

And on Tuesday I featured Jennifer Horne.
Kathy for ASB retreatToday I’d like you to meet our final workshop leader, Kathy Rhodes. Kathy and I were co-directors, with Neil White, of the 2010 and 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conferences in Oxford, Mississippi. We’ve remained close friends and I was thrilled to have her contribute an essay to A Second Blooming. “Pushing Up the Sun,” which I placed in the section titled, “Blooming After Loss,” is about the sudden death of Kathy’s husband, and her subsequent “blooming” as she worked through her grief.   Here’s more about Kathy and the workshop she will lead on Sunday morning during the retreat:

Kathy Rhodes is author of Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing. Her essay “An Open Letter” appeared in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Volume 3, and was singled out for a review in The New Yorker. She is Senior Writer/Editor at TurnStyle Writers. Rhodes lives in Nashville, where she enjoys gardening, kayaking, and walking her cocker spaniel.

Pushing Up the Sun – As life happens and hurts come, you have a choice of sitting by and waiting for healing or standing up and helping healing come: pushing up the sun. The more light you let in, the brighter your world will be. This workshop will be about proactively working toward healing, surviving, and thriving. Writing down thoughts and feelings helps you make sense of your own personal story. We will do some journaling with prompts. Journaling gets whatever you’re dealing with out of your mind and onto the page. It’s a tool to new insights, new perspectives, and self-discovery.

ASB cover w PQ badgeAs I said in my previous posts, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel.

I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers: Part 3

I’m following up on an earlier post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post.

In the following post, I introduced another speaker, Nina Gaby.

Jennifer for ASB retreatToday I’d like you to meet my friend Jennifer Horne.

I met Jennifer in 2006 when she was on a panel at the Southern Festival of Books the last year it was held in Memphis. Her panel featured the anthology she had edited with Wendy Reed, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. It was a life-changing day for me, because I also met Wendy, Cassandra King, Lee Smith, and Beth Ann Fennelly, who would all become mentors for me and my late-life writing career. The next time I saw Jennifer was in November of 2008, at the last Southern Writers Reading event in Fairhope, Alabama. I told Jennifer (and Wendy) how much All Out of Faith had meant to me, and they said they were putting together a sequel. I was honored to have an essay published in that sequel in 2012: Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality.

Fast forward to 2017 when A Second Blooming was published, with Jennifer’s wonderful essay, “The Second Half,” included in the collection. And then in 2018, my second anthology, Southern Writers on Writing, included another essay by Jennifer. As the current Poet Laureate of Alabama, Jennifer has much wisdom to share with us at this retreat. Here’s a little more about her and the workshop she will be leading on Saturday night:

Jennifer Horne is the Poet Laureate of Alabama, 2017-2021, and is a writer, editor, and teacher who explores Southern identity and experience, especially women’s, through prose, poetry, fiction, and anthologies and in classes and workshops around the South.

How Our Stories Shape Us – How we tell our own stories, and those of others, affects the meaning we make of them—narrative not only orders but influences our knowledge, memory, and sense of self. Likewise, our senses contribute to and often evoke our memory of story: fresh-cut grass, chalk and erasers, home-cooked food. In this workshop, we’ll play with group stories, help you reflect on your own story, and begin the process of constructing fresh narratives by drawing on sensory memories and revising interpretations of past events.

ASB cover w PQ badgeAs I said in my previous posts, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel. I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers, Part 2

Nina for ASB retreatI’m following up on my recent post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post. I’m going to continue here by introducing our second workshop leader, Nina Gaby.

I met Nina at the 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford, Mississippi, which I was helping direct, along with Kathy Rhodes and Neil White. I was instantly drawn to Nina’s beautiful soul, strong sense of self, and many talents. Here’s a bit more about her:

Nina Gaby is a visual artist, writer, and psychiatric nurse practitioner who has
worked with clay, words and people for five decades. She currently works in
mixed-media, focusing on single edition artist books which explore the
intersection of narrative and object.

Nina will be leading a hands-on workshop on Saturday afternoon during the retreat. Here’s a description of the workshop:

 
Little Altars Everywhere – In a time of deep grief I turned to making art again and developed a second wave to my creativity which continues to this day. The workshop will offer an opportunity to create a small assemblage to commemorate an object of focus, to secure a tableaux for a thought or a poem, to honor a grief, or to celebrate an idea. Some call them shrines, or altars, nichos or reliquaries. Three dimensional poems. Joseph Cornell called them shadowboxes.

ASB cover w PQ badgeCheck out Nina’s art work here.

As I said in my previous post, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel. I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat: Introducing the Speakers Part 1

ASB cover w PQ badgeI’m so honored to be invited to lead a women’s retreat at The Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi, March 1-3! All the information, including how to register, is here:

A Second Blooming Retreat

I met Alison Buehler, director of the Homestead and retreat organizer, at the Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Meridian, Mississippi, last July. What a smart, creative, energetic woman! After our meeting, she read the first anthology I edited, A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE, and contacted me about hosting a retreat around the book. (A Second Blooming was the February 2018 pick for the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs, and I enjoyed moderating a panel with several of the authors at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January of 2018 for this book.) Each retreat participant will receive a copy of the book, and Alison asked me to invite four of the 20 authors who contributed essays to the collection to lead workshops at the retreat.

ASB talk prep

 

On Friday night, March 1, I’ll be giving the keynote talk. It’s from 7:30-9:00 p.m., but don’t worry. I promise not to lecture for an hour and a half.  I’ve put together a short “workbook” for everyone to use with several short exercises. We will examine the first half of our lives and consider how we will “bloom” as we move forward into, or continue in, the second half. My session will be interactive, so hopefully it will keep everyone’s attention and warm us all up for the four amazing workshops on Saturday and Sunday. I’m going to introduce each of the workshop leaders here on my blog, one at a time. Today’s “bloomer” (that’s what I call the authors in A Second Blooming) is Ellen Morris Prewitt.

Ellen for ASB RetreatEllen Morris Prewitt is a writer who has explored group creativity in hundreds of workshops. She leads workshops based on her book Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God (Paraclete Press, 2009); for eight years she facilitated a weekly writing group of men and women experiencing homelessness, which culminated in their book, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness (Triton Press, 2014). Her recent work is a novel, Tracking Happiness (June 2018). She splits her time between Memphis and New Orleans. Here’s a bit about the workshop she will be leading on Saturday morning:

The Joy of Creating in a Group Setting – Labeling ourselves as uncreative often holds us back from exploring new activities that call to our hearts (I know it does for me.) Turning to the comfort and support of a group can be really helpful. In this workshop, we will talk about the three basic elements of group creativity that make exploring new ventures—from shibori to chi walking to speech writing to launching a new website—fun. We’ll make a very simple book to both experience these elements and to produce a journal for our resulting creative thoughts.

Here’s the retreat schedule:

FRIDAY

3:00 – 5:30 REGISTRATION / GREETING / TEA / GETTING SETTLED IN

5:30 – 5:45 OPENING & ORIENTATION

5:45 – 7:00 DINNER AND RECIPE SWAP – Please bring 20 copies of a recipe that helps share your story.

7:00 – 7:30 INTRODUCTION OF PRESENTERS – Alison Buehler

7:30 – 9:00 A Second Blooming – Susan Cushman

10:00 QUIET TIME/LIGHTS OUT

SATURDAY

7:20 – 7:50 MORNING WALK or Gentle Yoga

8:00 – 9:00 BREAKFAST AND CLEAN-UP

9:00-11:00- Using Groups to Support Your Creativity – Ellen Morris Prewitt

11:30 – 2:00 Lunch and Break

2:00-4:00 – Little Altars Everywhere – Nina Gaby

5:00 – Dinner in Town

7:30 – 9:30 How Our Stories Shape Us – Jennifer Horne

10:00 Lights Out

SUNDAY

7:20 Morning Walk or Gentle Yoga

8:00 Breakfast

9:00 Pushing Up the Sun – Kathy Rhodes

10:30 Closing Celebration – Jeri Van Winkle Mangum

11:00 – 12: Clean Up and Departure

 

 

Icons Will Save the World

My friend Dr. Joanna Seibert invited me to contribute a guest post to her beautiful blog, “Daily Something.” She’s doing a series of reflections on quotes and images, and I was honored that she included an excerpt from an essay I had published eleven years ago in First Things, “Icons Will Save the World.” Here‘s the post, with the excerpt:

“Icons”

Nave of St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, Tennessee, which is mentioned in the excerpt

Nave of St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, Tennessee, which is mentioned in the excerpt

 

static1.squarespace.comI can’t remember how I first met Joanna, but we’ve been friends for many years, and have visited both in Memphis and in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she lives. She is an emeritus professor of radiology and pediatrics at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences and has been an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas for sixteen years. Joanna is the author of numerous books including, The Call of the Psalms, a Spiritual Companion for Busy People and The Call of the Psalms, a Spiritual Companion for People in Recovery, Healing Presence, Taste and See: Experiences of God’s Goodness Through Stories, Poems, and Food as Seen by a Mother and Daughter, and a two-volume series of sermons, Interpreting the World to the Church.  She has been a writer for Forward, Day by Day, and has been a frequent contributor to the Living Church, and the Anglican Digest.

Subscribe to Joanna’s “Daily Something” and enjoy her inspirational quotes, art, and meditations.

Read more about St. John Orthodox Church, which is pictured above.

 

Martin Luther King, the Orthodox Church, and the Civil Rights Movement #MLK50

As a member of the Orthodox Christian Church, I’d like to share a brief note about Iakovos, former Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America (d. 2005).  A champion of civil and human rights, he walked hand in hand with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, AL, which was captured in this iconic photograph on the cover of LIFE Magazine on March 26, 1965.

mlk-iakovos

 

Archbishop Iakovos vigorously supported the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights legislation, exclaiming when the first bill was passed:

“Glory to the Most High! May this mark the beginning of a new age for all humankind, an era when the Word of God charts and guides our lives”.

Today I’m going to share some of the best reflections on Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement I have ever read. Anywhere.

My friend and fellow Memphian Ellen Morris Prewitt wrote these words on her blog on Monday, April 2:

MLK50: What Was the Civil Rights Movement?

And on Tuesday, April 3:

MLK50: A Hostile Land

And today, Wednesday, April 4:

MLK50: The Beloved Community

My prayers are with everyone traveling to Memphis and participating in the events of the day.

#Lent2018: Sassy Counterpunches—Chiseling a Crack in Despondency

Time_and_Despondency_cover_1400_px_wide__59137.1514922981.1280.1280-193x300This is the sixth and final entry in my weekly series of reflections on Nicole Roccas’s book TIME AND DESPONDENCY: REGAINING THE PRESENT IN FAITH AND LIFE, which I’m reading during this season of Great Lent. If you missed my first five posts and would like to catch up, here they are, in order from first week through fifth:

To Re-spond or De-spond?

Patience and Perserverance

Gratitude & Thankswriting

Confession & Community

Labor & Leisure

For some reason Nicole skips Chapter 6, “Prayers From the Present,” altogether in the study guide that she created to go with the book. I read it before reading the “assignments” for this week, and found some treasures within:

One of the snares of despondency is to assume that more is always better…. [we] somehow get an idea in our minds that we should be praying longer harder, more intensely. We forsake the virtue of knowing ourselves—and our limitations—and cling instead to our fictional superselves.

This was an important “takeaway” for me from the book, because in years past I have gone to one extreme or another (which is my nature) during Lent. Some years I have rebelled against the whole endeavor, and other years I aimed too high. This has been my best experience of Lent in the thirty years since I’ve been Orthodox. Undoubtedly one reason is that I quit drinking six months ago, so this is my first alcohol-free Lent. But also, I’ve approached the season with a kindness towards myself and others that has permeated my Lenten practices—fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. So, when I read in Chapter 6 about what Nicole calls “counter-statement,” I embraced her approach of using short phrases from the Psalms or short prayers throughout the day to “counter” the temptations life sends our way.  As she says:

There is also an aspect of counter-statement that is lively—even sassy. These prayers are quick, punchy, and purposefully confrontational. They carry an energy all their own, helping to reignite the vigor despondency all but stifles.

Sassy prayers. I like that. It reminds me of the little quote I have taped to the lamp beside my computer that says, “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning the devil says “Oh crap, she’s up!”

oh crap shes up

 

I see these sassy prayers as a wonderful tool for what Nicole addresses in Chapter 7, “Stepping Stones Back to the Present,” where she talks about shifting toward “everyday strategies to mitigate despondency’s stranglehold on our lives.” This is the chapter where earlier she addressed humility, patience and perseverance, gratitude, confession and community, and labor and leisure, all of which I commented on in previous posts. This final week she surprised me by including humor as the final stepping stone. As she says,

The virtue of humor is likely among the last items one would expect to find in a book on despondency—which is why I’ve saved it, literally, for the end of this book…. humor helps us recover the vitality despondency robs us of.

And within the topic of humor, she addresses laughter:

Simultaneously, laughter causes an upsurge of energy within us. Riding on the wings of laughter, our soul can jump up through the cracks of our defenses and grab hold of ideas we would otherwise reject or overlook…. Adopting a more playful attitude toward ourselves and our shortcomings pulls us out of despondent thinking more swiftly than any other approach. It’s not a permanent solution, of course, but even a few seconds’ smile is enough to get our foot in the door of our own mind and start to redirect it toward the heart.

laughter-is-carbonated-holiness-2Anne Lamott calls laughter “carbonated holiness.”

I have a dear friend who has Lewy Body Dementia. She’s younger than me, but the disease has already taken away her ability to perform many of life’s everyday functions. She used to have the best sense of humor of most anyone I know, and I miss her laugh. So each time I visit her, I make a point of finding something humorous to say. And once she starts laughing, her whole countenance changes—from the dark, scary, negative images that the disease is pouring into her mind, back to the funny woman I once knew. I try to help her find some happiness, if only for a few minutes.

It might seem strange to be talking about humor and laughter during the last week of Lent and just a week before we enter Holy Week. (Or for my Catholic and Episcopal friends, as you enter Holy Week today.) But I think Nicole makes a good case for its proper use in our spiritual lives, as well as for our mental health. As she says at the conclusion of this chapter:

Wise humor chisels a crack in despondency just wide enough for our souls to slip through, get some fresh air, and see the bigger picture.

biblical10

 

In the final chapter of the book, ““Re-presenting Reality,” Nicole brings us back to the focus, to the reason for all the talk about despondency to begin with. We are preparing to enter into the celebration of Pascha, of Christ’s resurrection:

. . . not to commemorate the Resurrection, as though it were (only) a historical event, but to re-present it—to make Christ present among us as a living fact…. Likewise, we live in the present only inasmuch as we abide in His presence.

This is why so many of our Paschal hymns use the present tense, with phrases like, “Today is the day of resurrection,” and “He is risen!” The Orthodox celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection aren’t just remembrances. We enter into His suffering, and then into the joy of His resurrection in the services of Holy Week and Pascha. As Nicole says:

. . . let us have the courage to profess with St. Paul that today is the day of salvation—not two thousand years ago, not happily ever after in heaven, not when we finally manage to get ourselves sorted out, but today. . . . This is what we lose when we retreat into the slow, apathetic death of despondency. And this—all of this—is what we stand to regain when we return toward home and let the scales fall from our eyes.

#Lent2018: Gratitude & “Thankswriting”

Time_and_Despondency_cover_1400_px_wide__59137.1514922981.1280.1280-193x300This is my third in a Lenten series in which I’m reflecting on Nicole Roccas’s book Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life. If you missed my first two entries, here they are:

To Re-spond or De-spond?

Patience and Perseverance

As I continue to follow along in Nicole’s Lenten reading guide, this morning I read the sections she suggested for Week 3 of Lent, in which we are moving towards the second Sunday of Great Lent, the Sunday of the Elevation of the Cross.

The first section I read this morning was chapter 3, “What is the Present Moment?” Her words in this chapter fit well with the “homework” Father Philip Rogers, our pastor at St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis, gave us during his homily yesterday—to spend five minutes in complete silence every day during Lent (and maybe to let that practice continue beyond Lent, as the other spiritual practices we have awakened in our lives should also continue). This dovetails nicely into the other books I’m (re)reading during Lent this year: Living Prayer and Meditations on a Theme, both by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom. I discovered Met. Bloom’s books many years ago, but I like to revisit them to help re-center myself in prayer and silence—two things that aren’t organic for me, but require a lot of effort. In this chapter, Nicole says:

Why is it so crucial to “be present” in the way St. Theophan and the neptic Fathers admonish? Because the present moment is the only time in which we can encounter the Resurrection and Christ Himself. We cannot meet Him in the past or future; the only time we have is now.

This might seem obvious, and yet, as she points out later in this chapter, we tend to live in the past and the future:

Perhaps the first step of despondency—the first departure from the present moment—is numbing ourselves to care and all the pain it can bring. Counterintuitive though it may seem, fostering regret and anxiety toward past and future are part of that numbing process, because they extract us from the arena of caring and deposit us in the cesspool of rumination, where the mind can manipulate its own reality.

I have experienced this constantly throughout my life—this “cesspool of rumination”—where I let my mind take me to past regrets, to past hurts so that I hold onto them and undo the forgiveness I worked so hard to give at some point, or to anxiety about the future, to the point where I obsess over things as immediate as the success of my literary career or as (possibly) far off as failing health, especially with my family history of Alzheimer’s. So what help does Nicole offer us to counter these tendencies, which lead us down the path of ongoing despondency?

the-real-gift-of-gratitude-robert-holden-quotes-sayings-picturesIn chapter 7, “Stepping Stones Back to the Present,” the section we read this week is about GRATITUDE. She shares the story of a man who struggled with depression and was giving a talk on mental health and faith:

Just before a major depression struck, he would notice that he had stopped giving thanks for ordinary things in life…. A cessation of gratitude was the most consistent forewarning that another storm was on the horizon and he needed to change course.

I have a close friend who always seems to be thankful, even in the midst of her struggles. We talk on the phone frequently, and I’m always impressed with how often she injects thanksgiving into our conversations, reminding me that Christ’s love is with us, especially in our struggles.

1gratitudepooh

So, this morning, I combined Father Phillip’s “homework”—to sit silently for five minutes—with Nicole’s suggestions about giving thanks. As I sat quietly, I interrupted my silence only to name things I was thankful for: Our oldest son’s visit with us from New Orleans this weekend. Almost six months without a drink (I’ll blog about that on Thursday). A new friend I’ve recently made and the joy of that mutually encouraging relationship. A special lunch with our fifteen-year-old Goddaughter and how precious she is and how wonderful our relationship with her is. Some good reviews of my latest book. The loveliness of our home. The growing love in my marriage of almost 48 years.

thanks journalAt the end of this section in Time & Despondency, Nicole offers several “Stepping Stones of Thanksgiving.” I’m not going to list them here, but when she asks in the reading guide, “What is the one way you’d like to try exercising gratitude this week, based on the readings?” my reply is to follow her third stepping stone:  “Thankswriting.” This seems like an obvious choice for a writer, doesn’t it? I will keep a small journal (just found one in a drawer in my office) on my bedside table, and every night I will list one or two items that I am thankful for that day. It lifts my spirits to just think about doing this simple act of being present, of living in the moment, and accessing its power against despondency! Join me?

#Lent2018: Patience and Perseverance

Time_and_Despondency_cover_1400_px_wide__59137.1514922981.1280.1280-193x300Following up on last Monday’s post, “#Lent2018: To Re-spond or De-spond?”… this week I’m continuing my reading in Nicole Roccas’ book Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life, and also working with the Lenten reading guide she developed to go with the book.

In Week 1, Roccas encouraged us to find ways to exercise humility. In her “stepping stones for the journey” at the end of the selection, she asked the reader, “What is one way you’d like to try exercising humility this week, based on the readings?” My answer was, “by being honest with myself and others when I fail, especially in the areas of fasting and disordered eating.” I had the opportunity to confess a big fall this weekend, when my husband returned home from a trip around midnight Saturday night and I had experienced an eating binge and purge. But instead of hiding it and letting the failure and secret cause me to despond, I responded to God’s love and forgiveness by confessing it and forgiving myself. As a result, I was able to move on without despairing.

In Week 2, Roccas asks us to read sections of Chapter 2 and 3, as well as a section of Chapter 7, “Patience and Perseverance.” Here are two nuggets from that section that spoke to me:

Patience is a direct counterattack against the restlessness of despondency, which hastens us to the next task before we’ve completed what we started…. We have to be patient with despondency itself. Our first instinct, when the heavy stone of apathy settles in our stomach, is to drop what we’re doing and “fix” whatever has broken with us—we’ll stop folding the laundry or working and seek out the newest blog post, prayer, or experience that will put an end to the feelings we are having.

 

my "work cell"

my “work cell”

I’ve experienced that so many times, especially recently while working on the first draft of a new book, a task that is extremely difficult and sometimes tedious for me. Saturday afternoon I had spent just over an hour on this draft when the restlessness hit me. It was just such hard work, and there were much more fun things available—especially binge-watching Netflix and binge-eating, two activities which seem to feed off each other at times.
Because the second week of Lent includes the commemoration of Saint Gregory of Palamas, Roccas included a quote from his Treatise on the Spiritual Life in this section of the study guide. Here’s part of that quote:

A human being who does not endure courageously the unpleasant burdens of temptations will never produce fruit worthy of the divine winepress and eternal harvest….

Keeping my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard to continue drafting the new book was, at that juncture, my best defense against the “unpleasant burdens of temptations” (Netflix and food binges), but I caved. How could I have won that battle, and what can I do differently next time, because there will definitely be many next times?

Roccas addresses this in her section on “Stepping Stones of Patience”:

My "reading/editing/TV-watching chair"

My “reading/editing/TV-watching chair”

Get to know your cell(s). She is referring to the small space occupied by monks and nuns who live in monasteries, for the lay person, a cell can be a place where we work, live, serve others, etc. As Roccas says:

What is your cell, the space in your life you are responsible to occupy? You probably have many of them, according to different commitments or times of day: the work cell, the cleaning cell, the writing cell, the evening commute cell.

For me, the work cell is the same as the writing cell. And it’s where I should have stayed when I ditched it for the TV and food binge Saturday afternoon and evening. How could I have found the strength to stay put?

Stay put . . . for two minutes. When you feel like fleeing your respective cell, agree to stay put for a short period of time—two, five, or ten minutes to start with…. Say to yourself, “I will keep working on the current task for ten minutes and then check my email,”…. What we’re trying to combat is the impulsivity and mindlessness that bully us into despondent idleness.

 

my "exercise cell"

my “exercise cell”

I experience this same impulsivity when I’m on the elliptical, which faces a big screen TV in my office. My goal is to work out for 20-30 minutes. I turn on a one-hour TV show that I’ve recorded, so that works out to be 40 minutes of viewing without the commercials. I get on the machine and start exercising and watching. But often I don’t even make it to 20 minutes until I’m bored and stop exercising, walk the few feet over to my comfy yellow chair, sit down and continue watching the show without exercising! I feel like Roccas has given me a weapon against this idleness that I can use both while writing and exercising. If I can talk myself into working for two more minutes, or five, or ten, maybe that will breed encouragement and I’ll work even longer. I tried this on Sunday afternoon and it really helped. (P.S. Last week I started working out with a personal trainer at a gym near our house two days a week on the weight machines. At least this part of my exercise routine isn’t self-directed!)

The third thing Roccas says in this section is:

Do more things that require patience…. Read a section of a book, poem, or psalm aloud, slowly, not letting yourself skip over any of the words. Alternately take a walk but move at a snail’s pace or just stand still and look around.

 My version of this activity today was to sit in my other comfy chair (in the living room) and slowly read aloud a passage from Hebrews that Roccas quotes at the top of this page of her study guide. And then I just sat there quietly for about five to ten minutes, which is a lot longer than it sounds when you’re not doing anything—not reading, not sleeping, not watching TV. Try it and you’ll see.

So, for her “Stepping Stones for the Journey” question at the end of this week’s study guide, Roccas asks the reader:

What is one way you’d like to try exercising patience this week, based on the readings?

My answer:

I will try to keep working on my new book for a few minutes longer before stopping to get online or doing something else that’s easier and more fun. And I will try to keep working out on the elliptical for a few minutes longer before getting off to sit in my chair and watch TV. By God’s grace.

Thanks, always, for reading. Stay tuned as the Lenten journey continues, and please leave a comment here or on my Facebook thread.

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