Lets do this

Too many of us fly through this Advent unbidden, and those of us who are trying to make traditions that encourage slowing and that engage the mystery of Christ's coming, feel alone and unsupported. This Advent and Christmas, I will be posting daily meditations coupled with ideas about different Christmas traditions, important ways to keep advent, teaching your family (and your self) to wait, and of course a few notes about my own experience in this incredible process of building rituals for my own new family. I hope you will join me!

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Traditions with Kids: The Advent Wreath

The best advice for anyone that wants to use the advent wreath to teach their children about Christ is simple: Just tell a story and maybe communicate a little something about the myth and mystery of light and darkness (mystery-laden things like light lasts much longer than candles). In my head, the best way to fend off some of the “Christmas is all about the miracle of Santa” crud is to just steadily, steadily move your child through a story that concludes on Christmas morning. Here is a post about what we are trying this year. 

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The Advent Wreath: Vulnerability, Hope, Redemption

From the beginning of the advent wreath, it has been a reminder of slowing down, sacrificing our hurry, and being vulnerable to our deepest longing. In this post the purpose and creation of the advent wreath is explored as we are encouraged to engage this season with depth and intention. 

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Advent: Thank you for Waiting

In a nutshell, Advent is the 24 day stretch before Christmas. It is a period of preparation that readies us to receive Emmanuel, God with Us, a Mystery beyond understanding, the Union of Heaven and earth. Advent is a slow crawl, not a sprint, toward Christmas. It is an intentional stroll through our anticipation, our desperation, our hope, and our expectation, but why is it so hard to do? Where can we even start?

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Easy Ways to Feed a Baby

So you’re a mom or a dad and you’re like: “What can my kid eat and how?” The answer is not always found (or at least it doesn't have to be) on the grocery store aisle inside these cute little pouches:

softlumps

These pouches are nice and convenient and of course they make a great addition to our baby food arsenal (especially when travelling) but in fact, the much easier, cheaper, and (for us) happier, way is found on literally every other aisle but that aisle. The one exception might be the aisle with Kim Kardashian magazines and shaving cream….but maybe even the boobs and abs aisle (as we affectionately call it) has a hidden gem on it….speaking of soft lumps (see above).

I ask my fellow mammas all the time about their adventures in food a la bebe and many buy only prepackaged foods for a couple of reasons (1) They didn’t know another way existed (2) They don’t believe they have time to do otherwise or (3) pre-packaged feels safer because something like, “I don’t know what my child can eat.”  

Answer: You’re child, unless they have some food allergy or something, can eat most anything. By the way - I say that with such (annoying) authority, but really I’m not a dietician. I am a psychologist who has read some stuff and given my one year old anything and everything to eat and so this last little  “truth” is decided upon by experience, not expertise. Buuuuutt, if they are younger than 9 months, when food introduction is a little more sequential and intentional, here is a great little baby foods chart. 

There is this wild rumor flying around American mommy circles that babies and children need blandish foods like baby puffs and rice cereal. I hate this rumor and further, do you know that none-such rumor exists in France where kids are chowing on pate and stinky cheese in preschool? Look it up. 

But anyway, Puffs – those magical inflated rice cakes that come in a plastic carton located somewhere near the above pictured pouch, is an outrageously priced nothing food that we are willing to buy because it is marketed to babies. But if you will step away from the foods with cute chubby hands and big bird pictured on them, your world will open up right before you (and your wallet will thank you).

>>This might be a good point for me to take an aside: there are all sorts of good things on the baby aisle. Some of the foods are really interested and so fortified they could compete with the national treasury. My point is not to shame you for using those foods - I will not contribute to the mass of literature written to shame hardworking mothers for being either too much or too little. My point is that you don't have to bound to that aisle. With a watchful eye and minimal creativity you can really branch out and have a wild, fun food adventure with you little one.<<

So back to the main issue. My take away point – behind all this conceited, expertish jibber jabber – is really simple. It is also driven by this wonderfully eye-opening experience that I have been having with my own child:

Don’t let the food industry and the super moms of this world combine to make you afraid. Trust your instincts and listen to your child. Give him or her great food experiences and enjoy the ride. You are teaching your child something that, if done well with freedom and fun, will give them joy for the rest of their life!

Here are some things that just stinkin’ work for us. They are our family’s go to snacks, meals, and general baby-pleasers. Most are happy and whole and uber-importantly: EASY.

SNACKS –

Grab and Go – We like easy, grab and go snacks just as much as the next family. These that are pictured are great but there are plenty of which I don’t have pictures. So in general, I am usually scanning labels for things like whole grains and vegetables. I try and make sure they are low sodium and low sugar. If anything has animal product in it, I try and make sure it is organic and free of artificial growth hormone.

Fruit – When you’re at the store, grab some fruit, anything will do. We love grapes. I usually take a few minutes every night to cut and quarter her grapes to throw in a little Tupperware.  If the apples and pears look good then take those and shred ‘em right on the tray. I give the core for her to teeth on as well.

Yogurt – We like Greek Yogurt. It’s a way to get her accustomed to tart and tangy tastes. Also – there are a TON of different flavor yogurts.

Snacks we love

Snacks we love

MEALS –

I actually need to do a few separate posts about this. Master the art of prepping during the nap so that during your baby’s evening snack, you can throw all those things you chopped, measured, and braised into the pot! Would you guys be interested in a weekly meal that you can do this way? I’ll get on that! I have tons of recipes that I have enjoyed making with a baby on my hip (something I would have told you was impossibly annoying a few months ago).

When it comes to meals, Daniel and I really don’t hold back. If something is very salty or spicy, we save that spice for last and pull a bit aside for Lois. Otherwise, she eats what we eat. In fact, I would say she eats better than us because of a few simple prepping techniques. In other words, when Daniel and I don’t have anything to eat, Lois almost always has something in the freezer.

Easy Meals for baby that can pack for lunch –

(Again, feed the baby what you eat but here are some last minute throw-togethers. You can keep the ingredients for these staples in your pantry)

Carnitas – Slow cooked pork with some yummy avocado and tomato? Yes please! We throw the meat in front of her, tear up an interesting corn or flour tortilla and let her stuff her face. When she eats all of one thing first, say the tortilla, wait before you give her more. Lois eats one thing at a time, complains a bit, and then adventures on to the next thing. That wait period is important. If she finishes most then she gets a bonus extra of something.

Mac-n-Cheese – We like Annie’s organic mac and cheese because they have interesting cheese flavors. I usually use half the powdered cheese, adding cheese of my choosing with a little extra milk. For Lois I’ll throw in a package of Tuna and half a cup of green peas. These stuff keeps well for a couple of days.

Breakfast – If you make a good batch of steel cut oats whenever you get the chance, they will keep for almost a week. Add any kind of fruit sauce or yogurt or straight fruits for a delish and well-rounded breakfast.

Cream of Broccoli soup – Add potatoes and cheese and cream and your baby will eat any vegetable, I think. Mine will. I’ll post a good recipe that you can make like a mommy.

Posole – I mean, chicken broth, Chicken, a can of tomatilla salsa (they say chop your own tomatillas, but why), and hominy? Too easy not to eat. Our favorite is Cooking Light’s version.

Salmon – the easiest of the meats to prepare. Cook it anyway but raw, baby. The easiest? EVOO, Lemon Pepper, Cavendars Greek Seasoning, under the broiler….Opa!

Quesadillas – And don’t you dare just put cheese in there. You can make Caprese quesadillas with fresh tom, basil, mozzarella, and balsamic. Cut into bits for the baby. BLT quesadilla anyone? Be creative.

Chili – keep a ton of beans, some meat, some canned tomatoes, and some paste in the cupboard (except the meat) and you can have chili in a few minutes. Add some noodles Cincinnati style and your baby will turn her face and your floor into a work of art.

SIDE DISHES –

Again, pretty much everything goes. Here are the items I keep stocked. In the case of baby, sometimes several sides make a meal. Am I right?

Canned black beans – Simmer with some cumin and a bay leaf.

Frozen veggies of all sorts and shapes – steam them with onion powder. Add garlic salt.

Sweet potato – Obviously. Next Sunday, peel a ton of sweet potatoes, boil them until fork tender. Cool. Cut in half. Individually wrap in cheap sammy bags (the kind that don’t zip), put in large freezer bag. Go to, Go to, Go to!

Uncle Bens prepared rice – messy, but you can get some awesome long grain and wild rice combinations that will make your baby say yum.

Fresh Veggies – Cut into bites, add some oil, lemon pepper, garlic salt. Bake at 350 until done. You can cook seriously any vegetable this way. So I just pick what looks nice at the store. You guys know about steam-in-a-bag things, right? This kind of feels like a momma no-brainer.

Broccoli – A word about broccoli. Lois does not like it. So I cook it at least twice a week every way that I can think of. She is getting used to the flavor and now will eat what is on her tray. The best is with melted, Italian cheese – like an asiago, parm, or pecorino.

Haricots Verts – Or as we know: Green beans with almonds. Grab a bag of fresh haricot verts and steam al dente – or a little longer for the baby if you please. Combine 1 T butter and 3 T sliced almonds in a large skiller over medium heat and cook about 3 minutes or until butter is slightly brown. Add beans to pan, toss to coat, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper. Lois loves these because she likes to hold the bean like a carrot and eat it like she is a bunny.

You know – I am now getting the sense that this post is far too long.

Lets throw a “To be Coninuted” atcha…..

God is a Woman - Draw Near and Bow

womangod

The Liturgists have recently released their EP on iTunes titled God as Mother. Although the work is beautiful, my favorite part about the release is seeing the words God as Mother running across my newsfeed and hoping that it is running across yours.

So what do you think of the phrase God as Mother? Is it an absurdity of poor theology? Is it accurate? Do you like it? Hate it? Either way, you have definitely had a reaction of some sort; that is the beauty of the phrase. It’s singularity, it’s disuse - it kind of startles our attention.

Can you bow at the feet of  Mother God or do your biases bind and restrict? The God as Mother EP isn't about God as a woman, not really. It does have some haunting melodies that contemplate a lot of different aspects of God. And at the end of it all they have this wonder-full Apophatic Meditation. 

Apophatic prayer is this ancient, very sound, orthodox way of entering the presence of God by emptying yourself and your understanding. It is a way of unknowing, and it is incredibly difficult - which is why it has had a sort of falling out with popularity. But its important, and if I had my way it would be this common practice in Christian Churches and apophasis would get way more traction from the pulpit. Here is why:

The truth is that God is a woman, God is a man, and God is genderless. God is mother, God is Father, and God is neither. God is everything and nothing. God is lion and lamb, shepherd and warrior, fire and whisper, but when asked Who are you the only reply is simply, I am. These words we use, these affirmations of God are only images, they are oversimplified circumlocutions intended to draw us near but not describe the One who is ultimately, intimately, unknowable. So as you consider your reaction to God as Mother and Woman-God, it may be time to ask your self:

Do you want Jesus Christ or the Truth?

While I can’t say that it is possible for us to idolize God, I can say with confidence that it is possible for us to idolize our concept of God (i.e., to worship what we believe to be true about God rather than what is actually true about God). There are two ways of knowing: (a) rightly, as they are; and (b) wrongly, as we see them. Bummer, right?

The problem with the “way we see” is that we are fallen - broken and flawed. Our relationships are riddled with fantasies, illusions, and projections that cloud our vision and hinder our ability to truly know the other. And the thing about that is we are incredibly resistant to shake these biases and really open our eyes. It is really tough.

Many reject the jealous rage of God because they see the face of a father who beat them, or they reject the unconditional compassion of God because they see a political pole that disagrees with them. They reject God as mother because it emasculates them, and they reject God as judge because it frightens them. We cling desperately to our comfortable perceptions of God rather than accept a God who refuses to be the tame lion from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

So do you want Jesus or do you want the Truth? Do you want your image of God or do you want God? Jesus himself can be nothing but the Truth, but my Jesus could very well be untruth. And honestly, the saddest thing about that is the extent to which we relate only to these images, we do not actually encounter the one with whom we are relating.

Think about it, any of us with a particularly dark past, painful secret, or recurrent addiction will know the difference between being loved as you are by someone from whom no secrets are kept and being loved as someone perceives you to be. The first love is authentic and enduring; the second, shallow and fleeting. The only way we can ever really come to love God (as God) is to destroy our ideals and predilections about God. I am not proposing that you destroy God (you couldn’t if you tried). Acknowledging that your perceptions about God are distorted by illusions does not require the conclusion that your faith is, itself, an illusion. The destruction of your God image would not destroy God any more than the disclosure of a long-kept secret destroys the actual you. The only thing that is destroyed when you reveal your self fully is the mask to which you cling. What remains is your authentic self. Your honest, naked, deeply-loved self. So it is with the requisite destruction of our God image. We must eliminate our preconceived, erroneous notions of God so that the Truth remains.

God is a woman. God is not a woman. God is not, not a woman. This is the apophatic way, the way of unknowing, the way of entering authenticity with God. Our beliefs, without inspection, can become heresy (I learned that from ole Johnny Milton). We must be carefully aware and approach God with intention and an open heart so that we may receive the Truth fully and as a blessing. 

So march on over to The Liturgist website and receive God as Mother. For God can only be more wonderful than those silly notions to which we cling, and once God is freed from our projections we will be free to engage and encounter the true, magnificent, mysterious Other.