sacred days and neophytes

“This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness…

…O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.”

-Excerpt from the Exsultet, ancient text chanted at Easter Vigil

This was an Easter of firsts: our first one married, my first time as an RCIA sponsor, our first Tridiuum at our parish.  Over the past few years I’ve come to deepen my understanding of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil, and enter the experience more fully, a movement that I largely link to my relationship with J.  So this year felt particularly special – sacred days not only for the Church but also for me personally.

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Easter Vigil in years past

These were moments filled with light and dark and water and splashing; trumpet and drum and chant; bread and wine and brown robes and white robes; saying yes, I do, and amen; new names, big eyes, and joyful faces; celebratory post-midnight Mexican food with friends, made by some church ladies; congratulations and felicidades and welcomes.

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Sacred moments with J.: of sleeping in, breakfast creation, walking in the park behind our home, blooming abundance. Watching Jesus Christ Superstar, and reenacting the songs over What’sApp with J.’s family – in Spanish. Taking naps.

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Of spending time with family, hosting friends old and new, asparagus galettes, and the famous bunny cake.  Making preparations, sharing meals while taking turns watching the babies, playing with bubbles and books and bunny ears.

The adults newly baptized at Easter are called neophytes – beginnersfor one year after baptism. In our first year as neophytes of marriage, may we live into Easter with the confidence that everyday sacredness is indeed the “things of heaven wed to those of earth.”

-E.

compañeros

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Update: America Magazine is also thinking about spiritual friendship

It’s Holy Week, and, among other things, I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ friendships. The betrayal, the loyalty, the falling-short, the fear, the tenderness, the accompaniment. How “he loved them to the end,” washed their feet, broke and shared bread, asked them to stay awake with him. How they followed him, were confused by him, let him down, surprised themselves, loved him.  There are other models of spiritual friendship, too, like the first Jesuits, St. Vincent dePaul and St. Louise de Marillac, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Oscar Romero and Rutilio Grande. I love learning about spiritual companionship, especially this Holy Week.

I’ve got to thinking about my own friendships, and how they might be changing now that I’m married.

In her speech at our wedding reception, my matron-(so old, K!)-of-honor and BFF poked fun at the fact that when I was in college, I set my calendar chock-full of “coffee dates.” Coffee dates were also known as check-ins or life chats; they implied deep conversations in the dining hall or our favorite on-campus sandwich shop. They could be shared with someone I’d just met and wanted to get to know better, or a longtime friend; topics could include funny stuff, hard stuff, meaningful stuff, spiritual stuff, relationship stuff, school stuff, any stuff. Coffee dates were the birthplace of my desire to join JVC, the mill where I processed my experiences, the laboratory where I explored the relationship between spirituality and social justice, the church where I found connection with now-lifelong companions on the journey.  These coffee dates solidified many close friendships that I treasure.

Over the past several years, these friendships have transitioned through many moves, many locations, changes, breakups and engagements and weddings, grad school programs. These friends are dear to me, and have been central to my identity (That’s a dead-giveaway for my Enneagram type, no?). They are my “beloved companions,” as we say, and have been beautifully supportive of J. and I’s relationship, my most beloved companion. They have nurtured us, supported us, encouraged us, and sent us on into marriage.

Since being married, though, I can feel my relationship to my concept of friendships changing. Does that make sense?  My identity as a friend, the way I receive my friends, how I think about friendships – essentially, the “way I do friendship” – feels like it’s changing.  This feels both painful and freeing.

On a pure logistical level, it has proven difficult to maintain long-distance friendships.  We live in a small apartment where you can hear every conversation, and I’m less inclined want to have a “phone date” with a good friend (often of epic lengths, 2+ hours! You know who you are) when J. is studying most evenings.  We are learning how to live together, and I haven’t yet figured out how to do long distance phone chats without feeling overly distracting (J., of course, is a great sport about this, using headphones or shutting the office door. It’s me who feels rude!). There are other times when I feel I am less transparent to friends when J. can hear me, and this impacts our ability to connect over the phone. Sometimes self-consciousness and fear gets in the way, too, like when I don’t call my friends back for WEEKS because there’s never a perfect or quiet time, or if J. is around I don’t want my friends to think I’m not giving them my undivided attention, or if I fear I will be perceived as not prioritizing friendships if I need to cut our conversation short for any reason (Bleh! Projection!).

Other times, phone chats are inclusive of J., when we are both on speakerphone or Skype and we all talk together. Sometimes this strategy is super fun, and other times it feels like it’s compromising our individuality (i.e., “From now on, we come as a packaged unit! Get used to it, friend!”).  For example, my BBF and her husband, who live in London, share the same small apartment logistics as we do, and that often means that her husband will pipe in our conversations unannounced (something I usually find funny and lovingly accept, but was something I initially had to get used to).  While including our partners in some parts of our friendships is expected and healthy and welcome, it’s nonetheless a change. Recently, I experienced the opposite of this inclusion, when my college buddies and I planned a fun girls’ weekend away, with no boyfriends or fiancés or husbands allowed. It was super fun to think about a mini-reunion, and I’m a huge fan of women-only time, so it surprised me to notice myself hesitating. It surprised me to hear myself say “That sounds great! Let me talk with J. and get back to you,” to think about the financial implications for a weekend away, to consider 3 nights without J. almost cruel in the context of NFP.  I am learning how to balance being a conscientious wife and good friend at the same time; most of the time, these two identities support each other and are not at-odds, but they have challenged my sense of balance. I think this is why couples seek out “couples’ friends”; it feels easier in many ways! We’ve loved spending time with the young married couples at our parish, and are grateful for community in marriage.

For in-person hangouts with local friends, J. and I have talked about our expectations for making plans.  As a general rule, we try to check-in with each other before making plans during times that we have named as important for us to be together, such as weekday dinnertimes and weekend mornings. At the same time, we both find it super important to support each others’ friendships outside of our relationship and try to help each other facilitate this in a way that is also respectful of our bond.

Other times, I’d simply rather spend quality time with J. than be with friends, in a quiet evening together at home. I can feel my care and attention turning inward to our household, not in a self-absorbed way hopefully, but in a way that honors the sacredness of this new beginning for us and the fact that this new thing growing takes time. I find myself prioritizing J.’s needs and our relational needs. I suppose I feel less available for friend time as I seek to create more space for our marriage. This startles me; I had always reacted against this sort of turning inward. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to turn you outwards, in service to others?!

Theologian Richard Gaillardetz (who is quickly becoming my go-to), instead talks about this turn to the relationship as a “freely chosen limitation…to explore the depth of human experience with this one person over the breadth of human experience that can be explored prior to a marital commitment” (A Daring Promise, p. 55). Strength and identity in this one unique relationship, then, can send us outwards in service, but not without first freely choosing to be limited. This marriage should make us better friends to each other, better friends to others, a better daughter and son, better able to serve. Choosing this limitation paradoxically becomes expansive.

This is one of my favorite photos from our wedding; our bond encircled with beloved companions.

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May all know this warmth, companionship, and accompaniment.

-E.

101 Days

It’s hard to believe it’s been over 100 days since our wedding day! I’m posting our gospel reading in celebration.

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Visitation, by artist James B. Janknegt, http://www.bcartfarm.com

A reading from the Gospel of Luke:

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.

-E.

celebration.

One of the things I love most of J.’s family in PR is how they celebrate. They celebrate occasions big and small, grand and humble. There is celebration for coming home, leaving home, just because, before mass, after mass, breakfast lunch and dinner and snacks, birthdays, anniversaries, when a neighbor visits, religious holidays. Celebrations usually involve creative signage, made with love and care by mi suegra;

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welcoming.

Music, singing, and dancing;

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casita.

Meaningful words, gifted as lively speeches or quiet prayers;

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speeches and metaphors.

and food, of course, lots of it, and anything from preparing a feast to plucking citrus off a nearby fruit tree.

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fricasse de pollo

I grew up with lots of celebration, too; my mom is famous among family members for her holiday decor (no holiday too big or too small). She’s an expert at making things feel special. Both of our families-of-origin value welcoming, hospitality, celebration.

For me, these celebrations are sacred time.

Last week was tough on us, as a couple.  I could feel the subtle movements of disconnection, fearfulness, blaming, listlessness, negativity.  By Friday night, J. and I were spent; we cancelled plans with friends in favor of a slower-paced date night at a familiar neighborhood pizza place.  And we celebrated. We celebrated the week ending. We celebrated creating time to reconnect. We celebrated by toasting our pizza slices and asking Would You Rather questions involving the Braverman family, Sherlock, and fugitives. We celebrated by talking about nothing and everything. We celebrated with food, words, beauty, and guitar strums. It felt like thanksgiving.

“Celebration is nourishment and resource. It makes present the goals of the community in symbolic form, and so brings hope and a new strength to take up again everyday life with more love. Celebration is a sign of the resurrection.”

-jean vanier, community and growth

-E.

Disappointment, observed.

We have a priest friend who says that no couple should get engaged without first disappointing each other, and then choosing each other anyway. Thankfully, this advice has helped frame my experience of disappointment in J. and I’s relationship (it’s a lot harder to frame than the joyful, fun parts!). Rather than seeing disappointment as a sign that Our Relationship Must Be Doomed, like I had in previous couplings or friendships, I noticed with J. that we could simply voice our disappointments with each other and move forward, together, in acceptance.  I’ve certainly disappointed J. more times and in more serious ways than I am proud of, and J. has also disappointed me from time to time.

Well, now seems to be one of those times where we’re disappointing each other.  Let me set the stage: J. has been super busy with school stuff (as there are only 3 weeks to go until classes finish for the semester), and I’ve often felt less than generous about carrying the burden of household duties. More than that, I’m facing some career decisions that I’d like to talk over with him; he’s facing some thoughts about finances, family visits, and graduation that he’d like to talk over with me, and neither of us have felt very available to each other lately.  I’m disappointed when J. appears to prioritize deadlines over me, and he’s disappointed when I’d rather unwind with TV instead of checking-in. I’m also disappointed in myself, by how needy I’ve felt lately (Did I seriously just ask for “more attention”? Am I five years old?), how quickly I can get resentful, or by how easily I forget empathy over how much J. especially is balancing right now.  And I think he’s pretty disappointed in himself, too; it can’t feel good let your wife down.  Each of us has gone to bed on occasion feeling pretty lonely, despite the physical presence of the other.

I think our culture teaches us that marriage is supposed to be the antidote to loneliness, emptiness, and disappointment. Get Married and You’ll Never Be Lonely Again! But theologian Richard Gaillardetz says in his book, A Daring Promise, that a real understanding of covenantal marriage not only includes, but emphasizes, the significance of the limits of the relationship. In this way, marriage is pretty countercultural; turns out, what we signed up for is a hard road. Gaillardetz says it best here:

Although a spouse brings significant personal gifts to a marriage, those gifts are finite and, in time, each spouse becomes aware, often painfully aware, of what the other partner does not and cannot give. For every time that one’s spouse is graciously present and attentive in a time of need, there is a time of real or emotional absence…When spouses freely accept the limits of the marital relationship, when they choose love even out of the emptiness, they enter into the pascal rhythm.  

In my reflections of this current experience of disappointment, I realize that if I am coming from a centered and aware place – not a reactive place – feeling disappointed in J. (or myself) really doesn’t shake my core. I am learning that disappointment is inevitable because no one is perfect (even me??!), disappointment can serve as a signpost to help each other out in areas that are challenging, and being vulnerable with each other in our disappointment can lead to fruitfulness.  I am learning that facing disappointment is both central to our relationship, and also one way I can practice authenticity, unconditionality, forgiveness, and affirmation of J.’s belovedness (and J. for me).

With the balm of a good night’s sleep and a cup of coffee, J. and I made ourselves available to each other and talked over some of our disappointments. Our stressors right now remain unchanged, but I feel freer – both available to J. and heard from J. in a new way, and thankful that the acceptance of our disappointments led to greater connectedness.

-E.

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