Advent 2: Unrecorded Moments

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During the week before Thanksgiving, I found myself in Texas, in a paint-splattered canyon dripping with rain and shivering down to its soaked cedar branches. I had come with friends, traveling in a van loaded with some of my favorite people, meeting up with dozens more sojourners whose paths were converging. We lingered around the table, laughed in front of the fire, and leaned in deep when the conversation turned serious.

Retreats at Laity Lodge are just like that.

But while most all the other participants snapped photos, jotted down notes, or even doodled pictures, I sat still. No camera, no journal or pen, no sketchpad. I wondered what it would be like to experience an unrecorded weekend. I couldn’t remember.

As a writer, I’m always scribbling down something on whatever piece of scrap paper I can find. To be more efficient, I’m gradually typing up those ideas and descriptions so I can search them and find them. Recently, I discovered the wonder of voice memos while I am walking or driving. Sometimes, I snap photos of signs rather than write down information or type it into a note on my iPhone. When my family is together, we take pictures of outings or moments of significance. However it happens, I’m always recording, capturing, or preserving.

But am I experiencing the moment in all its largeness or am I limiting myself to the smallness of a 2×4 screen? Am I really listening to what others say or merely catching the highlights while I plan my next essay? Is my heart really happy or am I just smiling for the camera?

I didn’t want to miss what was waiting for me that weekend in Texas. The last few weeks had been full of recording and preserving. I needed a few moments just to live.

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Throughout the weekend, my heart squirmed wildly as I heard messages that were spoken directly to me there in the Great Hall. “I’m talking to you,” one of the speakers said loudly, looking right at me, during his presentation. He wasn’t really talking to just me, of course. But in that moment, it felt like it.

I should write this down, my brain whispered to my heart. He’s talking to us. You may think we’ll remember what he’s saying. But you won’t. I won’t. We always record the things we need to remember.

And I was tempted. The truth that was emerging from the speakers and musicians was providentially lining up, and the messages were orchestrated, but not by anyone at the retreat. My heart was crying out yes! I need this.

I watched others scribbling quickly, taking pictures of slides projected on the wall, recording songs with their Smart Phones. I even thought about purchasing a copy of the official recordings that were being made of the weekend. But I kept my journal, my phone, and my credit card tucked neatly in my bag. I worked hard to listen and not drift off. If I was going to remember any of this, the truth would have to emerge from whatever settled down the deepest into my soul.

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I returned home from Texas just days before Thanksgiving and just one week before Advent. While shifting into high gear for the holidays, I also have been poring over the Psalms of Ascent, looking for Advent truth to speak to my tired soul. I need hope, I need courage, I need patience for the waiting. Do these traveling songs really hold messages for 21st Century media junkies?

Words from the Psalmists I shovel into my soul mix with the messages and lyrics of the theologians, writers, and musicians I met in Texas.

They jumble out like this:

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in. The Lord will redeem your unhappy endings and help you find a pure beginnings.

Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. So why am I laboring so hard to build it myself?

Lord, hear my voice, as I hear Yours, creating something in the world, in me, from nothing but a Word.

For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His Habitation. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Lord, I wait on You, as I seek to do something others will want to write about before I ever write a word.

And as I read and remember, study and search, I see that the truth of these Psalms, the Advent truth for my distracted heart, began there in the canyon.

Behold

Look

Seek

Pray

Bless

Dream

Watch

See

Wait

Quiet

Rest

Jesus is calling me to pay attention.

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I’ve started recording things again. I took pictures of the concert Steve and I enjoyed last Friday and of our middle son’s first basketball game last night. On a sticky pad in front of me are the words, “I Make Mistakes” that is supposed to remind me of an essay I want to write about perfectionism. (TRUE CONFESSION: I just jotted down a few more notes about that idea because I was afraid I hadn’t captured enough to truly remember.) I asked SIRI to add a couple of reminders to my iPhone task list on the way to work yesterday morning so I would be sure to make some phone calls and emails.

But I also made an incredible batch of soup on Saturday from scratch. No recipe. And even though Steve and I both loved it and would enjoy having it again, I didn’t write down the ingredients or even try to guess at their measurements.

Instead, I let the lentils and the orzo tickle my tongue. I admired the way the potatoes thickened the broth that started from water. And I marveled at the way the onion, celery, and garlic created a flavorful base. The herb de Provence, the onion powder, the dash of Turmeric – each indistinguishable, but together, masterful.

Later, with that satisfied feeling that comes from a hearty meal, I picked mushrooms and spinach from my teeth.

Photo by Sam_Catch, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.


  • Dolly@Soulstops ,

    Charity,
    I love how you knew what your soul needed, and you did it…it does start with “Behold” as you said..and I am smiling as I read about your soup and how you and your husband enjoyed it…it is amazing how it all comes together…a soup, and what God wants to tell us…it was a blessing to meet you, talk to you and be in your presence 🙂

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      Charity Singleton Craig ,

      Thanks, Dolly. It was a blessing to meet you, too. I think part of my desire to not worry about recording all that was going on around me had to do with meeting you and several other people in person for the first time. I needed to be present to really soak that in.

    • Megan Willome ,

      I stopped taking notes at Laity and other places years ago. I’ve learned that I’ll remember what I need to remember and everything else will fall away. If I ever do take pictures, it will be a sign of spiritual growth because I have photography issues. (It’s true; just ask my husband.)

      I will confess to typing up the ingredients to the green chocolate smoothie, but I’ve since revised it a number of times, doing it my own way with ingredients at hand. Soups and smoothies should be subject to inspiration and availability.

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        Charity Singleton Craig ,

        Megan – I do generally take notes during lectures and conferences much less than I used to. I used to go to church every Sunday with a big journal and scribble down every thing the pastor said. It did help me listen at times. But now, I’ve stopped trying to remember EVERYTHING he says, and just focus on remembering one or two important things. It’s changed the way I listen.

        I was going to write down that recipe, but I decided when the time was right, I’d probably remember that, too. I haven’t had a chance to make it yet, but I’m hoping to do it this weekend when I make the boys milk shakes. They are going to be totally grossed out that I’m drinking something green. I can’t wait!

      • laura ,

        This really resonates with me, Charity, because I felt the same way. I took some pictures at first, but realized my heart wasn’t in it. And I didn’t take. one. note. It was good. Happy Adventing, friend.

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          Charity Singleton Craig ,

          Laura – I wonder if Jesus wasn’t calling a lot of us to the same thing there at Laity – to rest, to watch, to listen, to pay attention in new ways. Will you be preaching during Advent?

        • Patricia @ Pollywog Creek ,

          Loved this, Charity. Sometimes the only thing we need to remember is that God was with us. That we could see, and feel, and hear His presence…and that it was intimate and personal. It’s sometimes the way He wants us to experience Immanuel in the moment…when we put down the camera and pen.

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            Charity Singleton Craig ,

            Patricia – You know, this is how I sometimes read the Psalms, not for information, but for intimacy. When I’m done, I don’t always remember what I read, but I remember that I was with Jesus. Interesting that you were thinking this way as you read this post.

          • Ann Kroeker ,

            Hey, can I have that soup recipe?

            Kidding.

            I didn’t take notes, either, or pictures–highly unusual choice for me, as well. And I keep trying to remember the way one of the speakers phrased things and wishing I’d snapped a few people shots with my camera. I wish I’d journaled to slow me down, because I didn’t do that so well. I was a little nutty. But the pace was what I needed and I came home to start fresh on some new things.

            I’m sitting by the Advent wreath, thinking about some of your words. Behold…look…wait…quiet…rest.

            That sounds good. Very good.

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              Charity Singleton Craig ,

              Ann – Funny thing about that soup recipe. I think I remembered every last bit of the recipe and ended up typing it, basically, in the post above. At least the ingredients, if not the measurements. I don’t usually cook soup with measurements any way!

              It was unusual for you not to have your camera. That threw me off a bit. And your notetaking is always my back up. I truly recorded nothing when I knew you also were not recording any of it.

              Wish I could see your advent wreath.

            • Laura Brown ,

              “Don’t you write it down
              Remember this in your head
              Don’t take a picture
              Remember this in your heart
              Don’t leave a message
              Talk to me face to face
              Talk to me face to face”
              — Indigo Girls, “Dead Man’s Hill”

              You were brave to be so very fully present in that canyon, and I admire you for it. Also the marvelous and underrated creativity of cooking from scratch. Freeing, isn’t it? My friend Liz once made me soup that she called Soup That Shall Never Be Made Again.

              Yes, I’ll tag along with you in this season.

              • Megan Willome ,

                Oh my gosh, that’s the best soup title ever!

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                  Charity Singleton Craig ,

                  Laura – Love the lyrics, the soup title, all of it. I absolutely LOVE cooking from scratch. When the boys are here, I have to try to make things taste the same from time to time or they turn their noses. When it’s just Steve and I, though, I let the creativity reign in the kitchen! I wish I had some of your bread to go with that soup!

                • HisFireFly ,

                  loved this
                  as you let things settle in deep
                  He will bring to remembrance the things He chooses