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Archive for November, 2007

If I were a poem…

….it would be this one:

The Silken Tent

Robert Frost
She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by ones going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

Online text © 1998-2007 Poetry X. All rights reserved.
From A Witness Tree | Henry Holt & Company, 1942

It’s too complex, and I’m too tired to try to explain all the fullness of emotion that I feel when I read this. To say nothing of all the implications I feel of how this works out in every aspect of my life. How this way of being affects my theology (or maybe grows out of my theology). How it shapes the value I see (or try to see) in every person and relationship. Why I feel every connection so deeply and why I hold so firmly to my own beliefs and ways of doing things, even while I grieve deeply the tensions that come out of that within relationships.

It’s all so complex, and I risk having that complexity be misunderstood by identifying myself so strongly with this poem. Nevertheless, I’ve come back to this poem again, and it reminds me of why I feel so anchored and rooted even when I look wavering and contradictory at times.

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This quote at Everyday Liturgy got me thinking:

Most of us can no longer fathom worshiping to something without words for long periods of time, works that were written as sacred art.

That is a very good thought and well-stated. It really doesn’t need another long post by me to expound on it! But, of course my emotional brain started connecting it with other areas of my life where I experience the same emotions stirred by this comment. The quote  began to make sense of some of my experiences, which I really had not had words for. This post is my attempt at making sense of the not-totally-related path my brain went down.

I do appreciate certain praise songs, because they put words to the worship I am doing in my heart. But, there are times when any words are inadequate and some of the common “worship jingles” don’t even come close.

The above quote resonated with me because I’ve been noticing how excited I get about things I like (no rocket science there–getting excited is a normal response to things we like– it’s more that I’ve been analyzing that experience lately). But, what I notice along with it is that when I’m moved to deep appreciation and awe by art or music or someone’s profound insight, I am  aware of God’s hand in that.

I read a lot. And when I read something amazing, one of my first thoughts is to try to imagine what kind of brain it takes to be able to come up with that concept. How that person’s brain makes connection in unusual ways to come up with such a unique or profound perspective. I do this all the time with funny people. I laugh really hard at their jokes, but the admiration for the kind of person that is able to naturally think like that stays with me for a long time.

So, what’s that have to do with worship? I can’t separate that amazement from God. Being amazed at a particular person’s outstandingness in a given area adds the specifics to the general and deep reality of my being in awe at God.

When I marvel at what a person does, an internal response I have is something along the lines of, “Wow, God that is amazing.” Those words fall a little flat, because it’s more than just including God in my excitement. It’s an acknowledgement of God at the heart of the excitement I feel.  In all the expressions of genius I see around me–visual art, music, words well crafted, scientific understanding, an electrician who knows his business and can explain it so that I understand it, a talented horse rider, a person who lives and breathes compassion in unrewarding places, a person who suffers with grace and courage, creative resourcefulness–each of these, to me, is a beauty that flows out of the creative heart of God, which makes me worship Him.

I don’t mean that I stop and have a praise and worship service right then and there, every time I’m moved (I’m way too reserved for that 🙂 ) But, it’s kind of like an ongoing worship in communion with God. Walking through life, noticing things out of the ordinary or even noticing the beautiful ways that people do the ordinary, that they live out their gifts , live with their weaknesses. Christians or not, in this area of moving me to worship, it really doesn’t matter. I see God’s hand all around me, and I acknowledge and worship Him in the quiet places in my heart.

Last Sunday’s sermon touched on this. The pastor pointed out how, when we see a great piece of art, we say, “That artist is amazing.” The beauty and genius that I see in people’s lives all around me makes me feel the reality I already know, “Wow, God you’re amazing.” 

Being moved to worship because of the beauty I see around me, doesn’t mean that I disregard the person and only see God. Somehow seeing and worshipping God as I internalize and appreciate the gifts of people around me also makes me appreciate people more. Maybe it’s like a feeling of, “You are the one who has helped me see, think about and love God more in this moment, and I appreciate who you are as a person and love you more for that.” That is true whether or not I have ever met the person.

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…those who can count
and those who can’t.

(That’s my second favorite bumper sticker ever. But, since I won’t put more than one at a time on my car, I’m posting it here instead of on my bumper.)

Along that lines, there was a funny little interchange between Henry Neufield and a reader who had pointed out that the date on one of Henry’s posts was a month behind. Henry replied that here in Florida we can’t count votes, either. He’s right, of course (although every cloud has a silver lining–Dave Barry’s reporting on that fiasco kept me laughing hard during some of my darkest, most depressing days, as a result of circumstances unrelated to the elections.)

As a Floridian who loves this state in spite of hurricanes, mosquitos and some pretty intense heat and humidity, all I can say is that the sun probably gets to our brains after a while. Surely too much vitamin D garbles numbers up in our brains. As for the month mistake, it’s easy to understand once you realize that all of our months look the same.  Looking outside my window right now, it could be November, or is it March, or maybe July?

From our earliest days, our educational experienced is compromised by the sun. You know those weather charts that are so important in kindergarten for teaching, um, well, for teaching something?  While the rest of the country’s children get to make decisions and actually think about the weather, noticing differences, etc., our kids, day after day, just keep putting up the sun. A couple of times a year they can put the cloud up (yes, we have a rainy season here, but the sun still shines for most of the day, before and after the rain). And, sure they COULD put the wind picture up, except that we don’t actually go to school when there is a hurricane. This must  have some effect on our pre-math skills. (But we may never discover what it is, because the state government stays so busy grappling with really important issues, like what the state pie should be. Unfortunately, this is not a joke or spoof.)

But my  theory that too much sun may affect our math skills, had some serious holes punched in it when I read about a recent “math in the news” report from England, where they certainly can’t blame math incompetency on too much sun.

A lottery  game was recently withdrawn from the market in England, because the math was getting a bit complicated for some of the lottery players. A temperature was written at the top of each lottery ticket. When you scraped off the silver squares, you would win if you uncovered a number that was lower then the temperature at the top. The problem was, it was a winter game. So, most of the temperatures were below zero.

And figuring out which numbers were lower than a given negative number proved to be too much for several people. One person was adamant that -6 and -7 were both lower numbers than -8. The store clerk was also stumped as to why the machine wouldn’t accept the card as a winner. So the person who bought the card called the company to complain. Despite repeated explanations, she didn’t get it:

…they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher – not lower – than -8 but I’m not having it.

Here’s a “benefit of the doubt” explanation from a representative of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics:

The concept of smaller numbers is something that some people do seem to struggle with. Seven is clearly smaller than eight, so they focus on that and don’t really see the minus sign. There is also a subtle difference in language between smaller – or lower – and colder. The number zero feels lower.

Now, I’m all for making more space for feelings. I, after all, have made the statement that I reason emotionally. And it is also true that unless I “feel” a math concept, I probably won’t remember it. HOWEVER, let me emphatically say that the statement “the number zero feels lower” is not a good justification for not being able to identify whether a given number is lower or higher than -6.

I decided to test my two oldest children with their sun-fried brains to see if they could do this math (they were at a distinct disadvantage, I might add, as their math experience to date has occurred entirely in temperatures above zero). Both looked at me a little strangely, probably wondering why on earth I was asking such a ridiculous question out of nowhere.  Fortunately, they both answered correctly.

My kids are used to my turning any situation into a learning experience, fitting with my philosophy that all of life is school. In hindsight, though, I should  go back and verify what lesson they thought I was trying to get across. As I was writing this, I realized that they might have gone away thinking, “Wow, Mom thinks we’re smart enough to play the lottery!”

(Thanks to Conversational Theology for pointing me to the lottery story.)

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An old German proverb runs: “Wer spricht mit mir ist mein Mitmensch; wer singt mit mir ist mein Bruder” (the one who speaks with me is my fellow human; the one who sings with me is my brother).

I read this quote in a weekly email I get from Christianity Today’s Books and Culture.

It connects, in a way that I’m not sure I’ll be able to verbalize (though I’m certain to use a lot of words trying!), with two powerful books I’ve been reading:

Thinking in Pictures, by Temple Grandin (autobiographical insights into autism)

Welcome to My Country, by Lauren Slater (biographical and autobiographical insights into mental illness)

(more…)

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I have just been deeply touched by a post on Wide Open Spaces. The author, Charity Singleton, is currently walking through radiation and chemotherapy, and my heart has wept with her as she does so with incredible courage, honesty and trust.

I’d love for you to go there and read the whole post, but since I find that people seldom click on links, here are a few highlights from her post:

Recently, when someone asked about my radiation treatments, they jokingly suggested I might be glowing when I finished. I laughed, and kind of wondered the same thing.

….a quick scan revealed my radition levels back to normal, and I left in the same hue I came. At least on the outside.

Yesterday, through the course of the day as many of your were praying the prayer that never fails, God was answering. It was his will that I had strength for the treatment, it was his will that I had a little relief from the nausea. As the day wore on, he revealed his will to have friends visit and my dad stay all night to help keep away the nightmares I’ve been having.

Today, I am radiating in his perfect will because I feel encouraged and hopeful again. Not in any new or big way, just for this day. To walk boldly through this trial right now. . . .

This is a story that’s much bigger than me. But perhaps it is the universal nature of the story that draws us together. You can learn from my chapter; I can learn from yours.

While I agree with Charity–the way she is walking through this continues to give me hope and courage for my own struggles–this last comment grieves me even while I see the joy in it. There have been times when I have been so helped in my own suffering by someone else who has also suffered. That always humbles me, but sometimes it makes me angry. I don’t want to benefit from your suffering. Even if it helps bring some purpose to what you’ve gone through to be able to help me now. I want that you didn’t have to suffer at all. I know that’s idealistic in this fallen world, but to somehow benefit from what you’ve gone through ends up connecting me to something that I still want to resist, fight, even deny, with all that is in me–suffering, whether yours or mine or the next person’s.

Charity goes on to expand on the metaphor of her cancer as story. She does so in a beautiful way.

It starts with the idea that our lives are a serial story, already written but revealed chapter by chapter over time. We are not the authors, but we do narrate. And like any unreliable narrator, we often get the facts a little mixed up. (Any good reader could tell you that!)

….Most good stories include a journey, a race, a fight. We find former glory restored. And we see amazing joy waiting to come.

Cancer has become a more significant part of my plot line now. It’s come and gone before as family and friends have suffered with this disease. Through my life, cancer has become a part of your plot line again, too. But whether this cancer for me is merely a complication or the climax, we’ll only know when we get to the end. Thankfully, the end we’ll only be revealed to us when it’s time.

No one likes to ruin a good story.

Thank you, Charity, for this picture. I continue to pray the prayer you have asked us to pray: “Your will be done” (really meaning it, even when I often wish God’s will were easier to understand or more in keeping with my own will. Yet I still trust Him enough to join with you in asking that His will be done)

As I read Charity’s post, I really do see her radiating. It reminds me of the passage in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4. Here are some excerpts from the New Living Translation:

For [Moses’] face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory when the Holy Spirit is giving life?

…But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, then the veil is taken away. Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom. And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.

….For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made us understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. [and Charity, that reflection and light is shining in your face in beautiful ways.]

But this precious treasure–this light and power that now shine within us–is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own.

So, yes, Charity is radiating–not with hues of radiation harnessed by doctors to fight cancer, but she is radiating the glory of God, and the faithfulness of God in an awful situation. Oh, how I’d love to see the faithfulness of God mean that he removed Charity’s cancer (without radiation and chemo, if I could put my order in, please God?!) But, Charity’s words, these chapters in her story, show the faithfulness of God and a deep trust in God, even when God doesn’t work the way we want (that’s when trust is proven to be trust, isn’t it?)

Charity, when I see you, I see someone (to summarize more of chapter 4) who is pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. Perplexed, but you don’t give up and quit. It seems you have been hunted down by trouble, but you cling to God and as I watch and hurt for you, I am given courage to keep believing that God never abandons us.

Okay, I can’t stop with the verses above. Normally I go on and on with my own words, but tonight, I want to go on and on with Paul’s words, because the rest of 2 Corinthians 4  is  beautiful to me in a very paradoxical way. Right now, it is even more alive and beautiful, as I think about and pray for Charity as I read it. I type these words, rejoicing and worshiping, but with my heart weeping and lamenting at the same time.

Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be obvious in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but it has resulted in eternal life for you.

But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, and so I speak.” We know that the same God who raised our Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself along with you. All of these things are for your benefit. And as God’s grace brings more and more people to Christ, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.

My troubles don’t always seem “quite small” and Charity’s troubles already seem like they’ve lasted too long, in my opinion. But, I choose, again, to bow down before God and say, “Thank you. And I still choose to trust you. Thank you for the story of trust that Charity has shared since her diagnosis with cancer, which helps me keep remembering the incomprehensible extent of your glory and the joys to come–as our stories (the stories we share as individual members of your Body) unfold on earth and in the eternity afterwards.”

 UPDATE: For those who would be interested in some practical ways to stand with Charity, thoughts of a gyrovague is the place to go.

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…Cacao Reserve by Hershey’s should be enjoyed in moderation.”

That’s a quote from the back of my therapeutic chocolate purchase from this past weekend. 

I’m wondering, can I put in a request to receive my sorrows and burdens the same way: In Moderation? 🙂

I liked this quote off the box, too:

“Taste well-balanced sweet and bitter in this unique dark chocolate with ground nibs, the heart of the cacao bean. Savor its lively textural crunch, and enjoy hints of delicate spice in the finish.”

If you translated that, would it have the same pleasant sound? That’s all relative, anyway, since someone else could read the same thing in English and not “feel” the good feelings I feel when I read that wording.

And while I’m enjoying the beauty of wording on the back of my chocolate box, here’s a Dove wrapper I saved from months ago (each individually wrapped piece of chocolate had a message inside of it, kind of like fortune cookies for the chocoholic): “Don’t think about it so much.” Hmm, my friends tell me that all the time, but I sure preferred swallowing that advice with chocolate.

And finally, inside the lid of a yogurt container was this message: When life gives you “limes”, rearrange them to make a “smile”.

Not only is there comfort food, now there’s food that promotes personal growth. Oh, isn’t eating just wonderful?!

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Life has certainly been a bit tumultuous over the past couple of weeks. Although there has not really been any resolution or solution to the specific struggles I’m facing, I think things have calmed down enough so that I can start to catch my breath again.

This weekend, I was playing the piano and singing (making a joyful noise, that is; someone once told me I sing like a piano player, so there you have it) this song by Tim Blomdahl:

It is good for me to draw near unto God;
Lord I put my trust in Thee,
that I may declare all Thy works, O my God,
Lord, I put my trust in Thee.
My flesh and my heart, they fail me,
but God is the strength of my life.
You are my portion both now and evermore,
there is none that I desire but Thee.

What struck me (as it has before when I’ve read Psalm 73, on which this song is based) is the contradiction I’d be accused of if I had said this on my own, instead of quoting Scripture. Without a doubt, I’d be asked: “How can your flesh and heart fail you, if God is the strength of your life?” I’ve heard the argument repeatedly, that if I keep trusting God, He’ll keep me strong. So, I should stop worrying about my failing strength and energy and just trust God. He’s going to carry you. He’s going to sustain you. He’ll keep you going. Your strength can’t fail, because God is your strength.

What I’ve experienced is that my flesh and heart do fail me. And I do not have a security of, “well, you’ll get this weak, but no weaker”. My spirit does grow weak. And it could get weaker. But, nothing about that negates that God is the strength of my life. This place of weakness of my body, weakness of my mind, weakness of my spirit, right here, in the middle of that broken and weak place, God is the strength of my life.

It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t even look logical. God’s strength doesn’t make me strong like, “Watch out, here I come, re-energized and unstoppable, like the Energizer Bunny. God’s gotten a hold of me and given me a dose of His strength and now, watch out, here I come, the new and improved, strong version of me.”

It’s more like, in my broken, crumbled, weak and very exhausted state, God is here. God is the strength of my life. It is good for me to be near Him. I am safe. I am okay. My life and circumstances may be crumbling. I may feel very unprotected and insecure compared to others who are thriving all around, with good jobs, a house they own, and the like. I have no idea what my future holds. Or how I’ll survive it financially, emotionally, practically. But, nothing and no one can destroy the reality that God remains the strength of my life.

Oh the paradox of life with God. I can be weak and stay weak, and yet know the strength of God in my life. I can be physically deformed and yet reflect the glory of God in radiant and beautiful ways. You can even kill my body, but you can’t destroy me.

When I step back and look at extreme paradoxes like this in the Kingdom of God, I am reminded again of how my own weakness and struggling to keep going isn’t the point. It’s not a pass or fail thing, like I have to get fixed and be thriving or else. The point is the joy and security of knowing that no matter how much harder things get, no matter how weak I am or how long I stay weak and tired, that God remains the strength of my heart!

That truly is a joy, a strength and a deep security that I have in the middle of all of this. My emotions flail all over the place (I could never be the poster child for a “stable Christian”! Some days my burdens seem so heavy and there are so many uncertainties, I don’t know what is the next step. I can be shaking all over–in anger, confusion and fear. BUT GOD is the strength of my heart.

I can’t explain theologically all the significance and innuendos of Psalm 73. But, what I do know is this: I have repeatedly been in situations where I have cried out with the words of Asaph (well, the words of Asaph in the not very literary, but still-touches-me-deeply New Living Translation in English….):

But as for me, I came so close to the edge of the cliff! My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud…

Was it for nothing that I kept my heart pure and kept myself from doing wrong? All I get is trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.

If I had really spoken this way, I would have been a traitor to your people. So I tried to understand…..(Been there, done that, tried the understanding route, more than once….)

Then one day I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I thought about the destiny of the wicked.

Then I realized how bitter I had become, how pained I had been by all I had seen. I was so foolish and ignorant–I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.

YET I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand.
      You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.

My health may fail,
     and my spirit may grow weak,
BUT GOD remains the strength of my heart;
     he is mine forever.

But those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you.

But as for me, how good it is to be near God! [I saw another translation that said, “The nearness of God is my good” Isn’t that beautiful?!]

I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

So, here I am, weak, but with God as the strength of my life. Not quite sure how all of that works, but glad, that even though I don’t understand it, I am experiencing the security and strength of walking with God, even when outwardly there are days I feel like I’m barely coping. I am weak, BUT GOD remains the strength of my heart.

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