Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

My Friends Make Stuff

Two new books written by friends! Yippee!

First:

blessed_final_one_400Sarah Griffith Lund‘s book Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family and Church will be released by Chalice Press (publisher of Sabbath in the Suburbs) on September 8.  Description:

When do you learn that “normal” doesn’t include lots of yelling, lots of sleep, lots of beating? In Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and Church, Sarah Griffith Lund looks back at her father’s battle with bipolar disorder, and the helpless sense of déjà vu as her brother and cousin endure mental illness as well. With a small group study guide and “Ten Steps for Developing a Mental Health Ministry in Your Congregation, ”Blessed Are the Crazy” is more than a memoir—it’s a resource for churches and other faith-based groups to provide healing and comfort. 

And book trailer. Wow:

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I met Angela Alaimo O’Donnell at Collegeville this summer when I was there for a writing retreat. She is an elegant person and writer—I gobbled up her poetry collection, Waking My Mother, in a single sitting one morning at C’ville.

Her new book, Mortal Blessings (September 30) is sure to be wonderful.

Description:

In this lyrical adieu to her mother, renowned Catholic essayist, poet, and professor Angela O’Donnell explores how the mundane tasks of caregiving during her mother’s final days—bathing, feeding, taking her for a walk in her wheelchair—became rituals or ordinary sacraments that revealed traces of the divine.

With Joan Didion’s grasp of grief, the spiritual playfulness of Mary Karr, and the poetic agility of Kathleen Norris, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell narrates the events that followed her mother’s fall and the broken hip that led to surgery. As O’Donnell and her sisters cared for their mother’s failing body during the last days of her life, they unconsciously observed rituals that began to take on a deeper importance.

Bathing her each morning was a kind of baptism, the nightly feeding of pie took on a Eucharistic significance, trimming and polishing nails became a kind of anointing. Beyond the seven there are the myriad sacraments they made up: the sacrament of community via cell phone, the sacrament of wheelchair pilgrimage around the nursing home, and the sacrament of humor and laughter. Mortal Blessings: A Sacramental Farewell is a deeply human portrait of loss balanced by the surprising grace found in letting go; it will resonate with any spiritual reader but especially caregivers and those currently in grief.

What are you reading and/or making these days? I’ve been taking a break from writing lately in favor of knitting and baking muffins. Yes, I’m ready for fall.

Art to Inspire… Plus a Giveaway!

The Blue Room is undergoing a few changes.

No, not this website—the actual blue room, our dining room-turned-office and craft space for which this website is named. The Blue Room is a symbol for the stuff in our lives that doesn’t work that needs to be reimagined to embrace the way things are, not the way we think they should be. With three young children, we never used our formal dining room. But I did need a study at home. And the kids would benefit from a place where they could play around with glitter, paint, glue and stickers. Preferably a place without carpet…

So during Snowpocalypse of 2010, our Blue Room was transformed from a useless place to a space for life and creativity.

I realized recently that despite the symbolism of the Blue Room, the walls have been adorned with the same artwork I’ve had for a long time. I don’t remember when I got this labyrinth poster (scroll down for the only image I can find online), but it was well before the 1999 gathering being advertised.

And Jane Evershed’s First Supper has been with me for many years. As a former Baptist who grew up with a blond Jesus and very male-centric images of God and Jesus’ closest followers, I love Evershed’s table, with 12 multi-racial and beautifully adorned women raising their glasses into the air. (Which one is the host at the table? Which one is Jesus? None of them. All of them.)

But life moves on. And now I have one of these, a rendering of the cover of Boston Magazine from last spring:

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Peace, love, and running.

Here’s poster #2. Brain Pickings is one of my favorite sites, and Maria Popova recently published Seven Life Lessons from her work on the site. The folks Holstee Company came up with a beautiful graphical rendering of it. It arrived last week and is hanging on the nail I used for the Evershed poster. The placement isn’t quite right in the room, but I love it. A closeup from their website:

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Which brings me to the giveaway. The Holstee company initially sent me their manifesto poster by mistake. The corrected the order, and asked me to keep the poster. But I want to share the love. So comment here or on my Facebook page with a recent “Blue Room” experience: either something you’ve reconfigured to fit your life as it really is, or something you know you need to reconfigure. (Or a general “hi” is fine too.) Each comment will be entered once. Submissions are due by Friday August 22 at midnight EDT.

Here’s Holstee’s manifesto poster (actual size 18×24″). Good luck to everyone!

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Link Love: We Need Each Other

I’m back. What a vacation it was.

And what a week to be on vacation… and not preaching.

 

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Robin Williams in The Birdcage, one of my favorites.

I don’t feel a need to comment at length on the events of last week. Many have already done so, and done it better than I could. But I did want to share two links that, taken together this morning, gave me a bit of hope and perspective.

The first is a study suggesting that we’re happier when we chat with strangers, e.g. on public transportation:

The investigation began with rail and bus commuters travelling into Chicago. Dozens of them were recruited into one of three conditions – to engage in conversation with a stranger on the train, sit in solitude, or simply behave as they usually would. Afterwards they mailed back a questionnaire in which they answered questions about the experience.

The returned questionnaires showed it was those commuters who were instructed to strike up conversation with a stranger who’d had the most positive experiences (sitting in solitude was the least enjoyable, with behaving as normal scoring in between).

We tend to avoid conversation because we think the other person won’t want to engage—but the research showed that was not the case: “[Study participants] predicted that over 50 per cent of strangers would likely rebuff their attempts to talk – in fact, this didn’t occur for any of the participants who were instructed to chat to stranger in the earlier studies.” 

I’m pretty introverted in public spaces. And it’s taken some time to feel OK with that. I’m a mother of three and a pastor—I engage with people a lot; I don’t need to do it everywhere. Still, I sometimes challenge myself to strike up a short conversation with a stranger, and it always feels good to do so.

We are made to connect.

The second link is this video from The Dish, called Suicide Breeds Suicide. Jennifer Michael Hecht, who wrote the book Stay: A History of Suicide and Philosophies Against It, addresses the issue of “copycat behavior” following a suicide. For example, she reports that young people whose parents commit suicide can be three times as likely to attempt suicide as a result.

I don’t like the phrase, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Robin Williams suffered from a life-long illness. His struggle, while it seemed to wax and wane at various times, was as permanent a condition as he could possibly imagine. Still, there are folks out there who believe that the world will be better off without them in it. That’s demonstrably false, according to the research about suicide contagion.

Hecht puts it like this: “If you don’t kill yourself, you are saving someone’s life. …I don’t want to dwell on the guilt of what you do if you harm yourself, I want to dwell on the wonder of how much you meant to people you don’t even know. …The one thing we need to add to that is gratitude, and I don’t mind starting it: I’m grateful. You’re my hero. Thank you for not killing yourself.”

One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers, who had experienced suicidal feelings, responded to the video:

When I was at my lowest ebb, I definitely knew that if I ended my life I would hurt others around me – my family, my friends. But in the two or so years I struggled with those feelings, I can tell you it never once occurred to me that killing myself might lead someone else to end their life. Such a thought would have been abhorrent to me, and I couldn’t help wondering after I watched Hecht’s video whether suicide prevention counsellors make that point to those at risk of harming themselves. I think if they did, some of those people would step back from the brink. It’s one thing to hurt yourself and rationalize that your pain is greater than the pain you’ll cause others through your death; it’s quite another to think you might be compelling some of those who knew you to step into that abyss themselves.

Watch the whole thing here—it’s short:

We are made to connect.

And we are made connected. There’s no avoiding it.

Time to Count Some Stars

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I wrote recently about attending the Sarah McLachlan concert with my mother at Wolf Trap (outdoor arena in the DC area). In the post I shared how social media impacted the concert-going experience, in mostly positive ways. But I also had a very low-tech experience that was significant.

I spent most of the concert sitting on our picnic blanket on the lawn, but at one point I was lying down on my back, looking up at the sky. It was a mostly clear evening, and as I was looking and listening I realized with a start that a star had appeared where there hadn’t been one visible before. I had seen the star emerge in the sky. I then spent the next couple of songs trying to catch each star as it slowly came into being.

(I know, the stars are always there. It’s poetic language, people!)

I thought that bit from Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark when she and Ed take time to watch the moon rise. They realize it’s probably been two decades since they’d last done so, and they ask one another why. BBT knows the answer and it lands with a thud: “We’ve been busy. For twenty years.”

Before two Saturdays ago, when was the last time I’d watched the stars come out? Have I ever?

We’re off today for about 10 days of vacation, and there will be lots of time and space for this kind of activity. See you on the flip side. Hope you have a chance to do some star-hunting too.

photo credit: Jason Carpenter via photopin cc

3 Ways the Internet Made My Life Awesome This Week

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It’s a heavy time in the world.
Ebola.
Israel and Palestine… please let the cease fire hold.
Ukraine—still unstable, and I have a personal stake in this.
There are no Christians left in Mosul, Iraq for the first time in almost 2,000 years.
The children keep coming from central America, fleeing a level of violence and lawlessness (or even just poverty) we can scarcely imagine.
And those little Nigerian girls are still missing.

The globalization of the news means it all appears right in my blue room. I wouldn’t have it any other way. As David Wilcox sings, “there’s no ‘far away.’”

So like many of you, I do what I can, and I take my signs of hope and joy where I can get them. It is a privileged thing to be able to do that, to turn one’s attention elsewhere for a while. But I must. We must. Otherwise it’s too overwhelming.

So in that spirit, here are three things that brought some awesomeness to my life this week—Internet edition:

  1. Serving communion to one of our members who’s in a nursing home. She wanted the five of us gathered to sing “On Eagle’s Wings”. We didn’t know the words, but no problem: Safari on the iPhone to the rescue. Best communion I’ve attended in a long time.
  2. The discovery of Moms RUN This Town, a running club whose local chapter has a Facebook page. After 3 years of running solo and only occasionally with friends because of my crazy schedule, I now have access to groups of people in the neighborhood running early and late and fast and slow and everything in between.
  3. This guy. Just this guy. You’re going to want to fast forward, but don’t. Just let it emerge.

What is making your life awesome right now?

photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography via photopin cc. I chose it simply for its beauty.