Shabbat Dinner

We all need a healthy dinner and time to savor it. Family dinner time is a sacred space to sit down together, to chat, to chew, to lean back in your  chair, (even when you’re told not to).

Sure I say all this, but do we do it? Last night, I ordered pork fried rice, chicken with broccoli and spicy dumplings from the Cottage. I grabbed a few bites. Then I yelled, “Chinese food on the kitchen table,” over my shoulder.

I was running out the front door as my three kids ran in. I was going to my non-fiction class. The kids were coming home from math club, play practice and track team. My husband was working. That is how we roll — busy, busy, busy.

I believe in family dinner time. I really do. So we started a Friday night dinner ritual. We’re Christian, but our ritual is based on the Jewish tradition of Shabbat dinner. (Thanks to my friend, Joe Little, who suggested this as we sat on the sidelines of our girls’ Westside basketball league and to my upstairs neighbor Ran, who has invited us to many Friday night Shabbat dinners over the years.)

On Friday nights, we turn off the computer screens and phones, we meet in the kitchen and light a candle or two, we drink grape juice, and someone cracks open the Bible (we use the brilliant translation, The Message by Eugene Peterson).

We usually read one of the Psalms, because they’re poetic, dramatic and understandable. It takes all of ten minutes, but it’s an awesome way to decompress from the week and enter the weekend. And then we have dinner and just hang out.

Last week, after our Shabbat prayer and dinner, we played the card game, Spoons. Then we watched a movie. No biggie, just chilled and relaxed.

We should have Shabbat again tonite, but one of my girls has a statewide math competition, the other is going on a sleepover, and my husband has rehearsal. That just leaves me and my son. It’s fine that it’s just the two of us.

We’ll light a candle, read the Psalms, and savor some left-over Chinese food.

Remembering Taizé

I made a pilgrimage to Taizé about a year and a half ago.

I loved the amazing music, the worship three times a day, the time of silence in a large group, and the look of the church. Yet after a day or two monastic life was not for me.

It began to seem more like Outward Bound than a week in the French countryside. For example, you live in very tight living quarters in what are called barracks; your meal is ladled onto a plastic plate; your one utensil is a spoon; your seats in the tent are wooden benches that teeter and tip you over; it was unforgivingly cold.

I realized I needed to break free. I realized I have a restless spirit and that I find peace when I am on the go as well as quietly prayerful. I discovered a way out — a bus cuts through the campus. I snuck away during morning service and boarded the public bus for one Euro fifty cents. I took the bus until a petite ville beckoned. I hopped off and had an adventure.

I traveled to the monastery for a quiet and contemplative life. Yet, if truth be told, I found more treasures in the neighboring French countryside and the world beyond the gates.

While my visit to Taizé was not what I’d expected, not entirely contemplativethe memories of that time — of exploring neighboring villages and sitting on the floor in the church comfort me and remind me that I am not alone and that I am bound for adventure.

This is a bit of rework from my earlier blog post and from my travel blogging site: MBCoudal @ travelpod.

Make Up Your Own Rules

I have written my 7 Rules as a way of staying sane, given the challenges of my life – with Chris’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease six years ago; our kids growing up; and my full time writing work. All of which I love, but my life can be hard, and, at times, lonely.

My 7 Rules boost my happiness quotient. But you can write your own rules. Make them pithy, creative, reflective of you. Throw in one that is literary, one that is obscure, one that is spiritual and at least one that is cliché.

When I was at Taizé monastery last fall, I met Simeon, a piano tuner from The Netherlands. In our Bible Study, he said, “God’s rules for one person won’t work for another.” He was so right. He was such a spiritual, religious and compassionate person. His words reminded me why everyone should follow their own God-inspired rules.

I know that as Christians we have guidance for how to live when we try to live like Jesus did. I want to be as loving and justice-seeking as Jesus was. Yet, I believe Jesus made up his rules as he went along too. He was human. He turned over tables in the church. He listened to his own intuition/guidance/spirit/God. His rules were rooted in his own faith, family and personal history.

Completely random thought – Did Jesus ever lack confidence? Did he ever doubt his purpose the way I do? I guess it’s fine to doubt yourself so long as you do not live in that self-doubting place forever. That’s key — that if you are doubting or critical of yourself and your purpose, you cannot reside in that negative place for too long. You have to find humor in your predicament. Otherwise, you will never get anything done. Or let anyone in.

Getting things done and letting people in – these two human instincts are important to me. I like being productive and I like being communal. I’d like to add these two rules to my 7 Rules, but, well, I’ve already got 7 and I might as well stick with my 7. If I were to add 2 more, that would be 9. Nine Rules for Living? That’s a different blog.

Taize Service & My Guys

Candle Lighting Service

The huge bells toll, ring, do all those verb-y things that huge bells do.

In the church, the brothers take the center aisle like NFL players taking the field. In their efforts to be humble, they are bigger than life. They walk to their usual seat or knee rest. Sometimes they go to a new spot on the center aisle, but usually they take the same spot, Brother Emile said.

Brother Emile, who is Canadian, is one of “my guys.” There are other brothers that I love – the tall one who served me communion, the Asian one who helped me change rooms, the one who leads Bible Study. The Bible Study Leader is Brother Wolfgang and he rides a bicycle to Tent F where the adults gather. I admit I have a weakness for bike-riding monks.

One of my friends said that Wolfgang was one of her guys until he stopped leading the Bible Study in English and just let it be simultaneously translated into English by a couple of German 20-something year olds. But she liked his grey hair.

One of the brothers is handsome in a Robert Redford kind of way. I think he may be in love with a dark-haired 20 year old German woman. As he processed by her last night, he coughed. Then, the dark-haired girl’s friend, the one with glasses, pinched the dark-haired girl. They practically swooned. The cough signified something. But what?

Something new happened towards the end of the service. Instead of processing out, some of the brothers stood like sentinels around the perimeter of the sanctuary. Why? The answer becomes clear as people approached them. It’s confession or a time for guidance.

I have to admit I went up to one brother that night. I will not tell you what we talked about. But when he lay his heavy hand on my head, I really felt blessed and protected.

Then the last night at Taize, after the service, Brother Emile is standing right next to me. And I feel sorry for him, because no one is coming up to him to ask for guidance or forgiveness, so I go to him. I ask him for blessings for our group’s travel. And he puts his hand on my head and says something about “Jesus, forgive your friend, Mary Beth.” And maybe that’s his standard prayer but I wasn’t asking for forgiveness. I did like that he said I’m a friend of Jesus’s though. And I wondered if I could Facebook friend Jesus, would I?

Light Within

written around October 15, 2009 at the Taize community

The Altar

Last night I stayed in evening worship until the candles were extinguished by two young people. Today I arrived early to morning service in time to see the candles being lit by one young man. I was one of the first in and the last out (FILO). I also was one of the first out at the morning service.

The altar is a jumble of about a hundred leaning cement blocks with candles within. It’s hard for me not to imagine that the candles are symbolic of all of the lights within all of us at Taize and beyond. We each have a light within and we lean, round shouldered on one another.


Although I love the worship three times a day – the amazing singing (the harmonies!) and the time of silence, I must admit that monastic life may not be for me.

Taize is more like Outward Bound than a week in the French countryside. For example, you have the tight living quarters in the barracks, the ladled serving at mealtime on a plastic plate, the one utensil (a spoon), the seats on wooden benches, and the unforgiving cold.

The Bus

I did discover a way out — there is a bus that cuts through the campus. Today, like several days, I snuck away from morning service and boarded the public bus for one Euro fifty cents. I took the bus until a petite ville beckoned. I hopped off and had an adventure.

I stayed at Taize and led a contemplative life. Yet, if truth be told, I also snuck away, and discovered hidden treasures in the neighboring French countryside. Both kept me going. And the memories will keep me going.