My favorite tea towel is as torn and frayed as a well-loved kitchen towel can be and still be in one piece after forty-six years of use. This towel, made of a woven cotton, has a calendar from the year 1968 printed in the middle. Faded images of flowers and fruit baskets frame the sides of the calendar and across the top a cute little Dutch couple standing in front of a perfectly adorable red Dutch cottage. At the bottom of the towel are the words Home + Sweet + Home. I am sure you have seen this kind of towel before, most likely your mother or your grandmother had several stuffed in drawers, or folded neatly in linen closets. My towel was pilfered from my own grandmother’s house, and probably has another two or three years of use left in it before it completely disintegrates in my hands. It has lived a useful existence, receiving a gentle fraying from years of service, and I cannot help but wonder what stories it could tell.
This year for Lent, my family and I will be reflecting on the ancient spiritual practice of Stillness. Finding ways for our family to celebrate our faith at home is an ongoing, ever changing adventure. As our boys grow, so do their interest and attitudes. Over the years some of the faith-in-the home traditions I have tried have taken hold, and some have fallen to the wayside. But I never stop looking for ways to help them connect their story to God’s story through creative expression and family observances. This year as we enter into Lent, we will be reflecting specifically on the ancient practice of Stillness together and exploring both Israel’s forty year wilderness wanderings and Christ’s forty day withdrawal into the desert for insight into what it means to really practice this discipline, both externally and internally.
Under normal circumstances, practicing Stillness would be hard for someone as chronically overcommitted as me, but this year our little family is in the midst of making some big decisions, decisions that ironically cannot be made until after Easter’s arrival. This is partially what Lent is about for me. Choosing to walk into the wild unknown. Walking towards the end of my own abilities, my own strength, even my own will. Entering the desert, leaving behind what is comfortable and predictable for the sake of obedience, for transformation.
The season of Lent is also largely about remembering previous seasons of transformation and wilderness wanderings. This is the time of year that I set aside to remember and reflect on the deserts that I have wandered around before, confused and lost, parched and thirsty, my heart dried and cracked like barren ground. Time to repent for all the mistakes I have made in my arrogance or ignorance or, let’s be honest – my ambivalence – that took me so far away from where I wanted to be. But as a mother, this time of reflection, remembrance, and repentance is not simply a solitary time.
Sometimes going about our daily lives, month after month, I forget that my children do not know all of my history. They have pieces to my puzzle, but they do not see the whole picture. They are not as familiar with my struggles as I am with theirs. To them I imagine that I look like a finished product, something that came out whole from the beginning. Like a candy bar from the vending machine.
During Lent, my husband Nathan and I make an effort to open up about the wilderness seasons in our lives individually and together, with our boys Wylie (age 13) and Miles (age 9.) We will share our stories of deserts, hard times, mistakes made, lessons learned, and the questions we still wrestle with.
In addition to our stories we will also carve out time – around the dinner table, in the car on the way home from school, as we prepare our garden spot in the backyard – to tell the wilderness stories of those who have gone before us – the Israelites in the Desert, the Temptation of Christ, Peter’s dark night, Mother Teresa’s own loss of connection to faith – in the hope that perhaps through a combination of these honest and imperfect stories, we can pass on to our boys the belief that one’s struggles, shortcomings, mistakes, and feelings of confusion are nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. My hope is that by connecting all of these stories, one at a time, like links in a colorful paper chain garland, we will be able to help create a sense of community within our home and our faith – where no one feels alone in their questions, their fears, their mistakes, or their journey. Where our boys feel comfortable sharing their own wilderness stories, and where they learn not to to fear time spent in the desert, but instead see the wisdom and grace that can be found in those hard places.
Over the next seven Wednesdays of Lent, I would like to invite you, and perhaps even your family, to join our family in a observing a Homespun Lent. Join us as we craft, cook, serve, and pray at home, choosing to step out of what is comfortable and walk into the wilderness together. I would love for you to start an ongoing wilderness discussion in your home, no matter the size or makeup of your family. Everyone can benefit from hearing stories of grace, and removing layers of shame and embarrassment is always a good thing.
I am confident that during our families’ Lenten journey there will be messes and there will be beauty. I suspect that at times we will all be bored and at other times we will all be inspired. There will be days when we are bone tired and days when we are bursting with excitement. But when Easter morning arrives at last, my hope is that we will all be a little further along in our transformation. Not into shiny, better-than-ever versions of ourselves, but into more authentic reflections of Christ; I hope that instead of being stiff, and rigid, pristine and untouchable pious people, that our lives and our hearts, individually, and as a family, look at bit more like my tea towel: well used, soft, pliable, a bit frayed. That we will have thin places in our hearts where healing and mercy and grace can seep through, letting the light in, as we are all transformed by our wilderness experiences.
I chose the word REMEMBER for this craft for several reasons, one of them being that it has the same amount of letters as ALLELUIA. In many Christian churches the word Alleluia is not said or sung between Ash Wednesday and Easter morning. At our church the kids even went as far as burying the word in the garden so that none of us would be tempted. Part of the fun of this banner is that you can turn it around after midnight on Easter, and when the kids get up for breakfast Easter morning they will see a big ole Alleluia shining down on them in addition to their baskets full of chocolate bunnies and marshmallow eggs. The other reason I chose this word, is that for me this is largely what Lent is about. Remembering those wilderness seasons and the grace we find in the midst of them.
To Make the Banner you will need:
8 Book Pages, with V cut on bottom
(I fold the pages in half lengthwise and then snipped the V that way.)
Letters for Alleluia and Remember cut from colorful paper
3 Yards of Ribbon
On one side of the pages glue down the letters of the word remember. Then, making sure to go in backwards order, glue on the back side then words of Alleluia.
*This is the second year this banner has been in use at our house, and as our boys are older, I thought I would add another layer to our observance. This year I added a “timeline” row of nails just below the banner, and placed a box of paper slips and makers close by. Each week as we walk through the process of remembering the deserts we have traveled through – or as we lament the one we are in – each member of the family will write or draw a word or image to represent that desert. We will then stick these scraps of paper to our timeline, creating a visual reminder of those deserts we have traversed.
Jerusalem Jackson Greer is a writer, speaker, retreat leader, nest-fluffer, urban farm-gal, and author of A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together (which includes a chapter on Candlemas, complete with crafts and recipes.) Jerusalem lives with her husband and two sons in a 1940s cottage in Central Arkansas at the crossroads of beauty and mess with an ever-changing rotation of pets, including a hen house full of chickens and a Hungarian Sheep Dog mutt. As a family, they are attempting to live a slower version of modern life. She blogs about all of this and more at http://jerusalemgreer.com