Monthly Archives: January 2008

The eternal town

Savior and friend,
How wonderful art Thou!
My companion upon the changeful way,
The comforter of its weariness,
My guide to the eternal town,
The welcome at its gate.
-Alister Maclean

Well, last night my uncle Bob was welcomed into the eternal town after a hard struggle with leukemia. That Celtic prayer says everything I love about God and his presence with us, even in death. I love to think of the heart and soul of my uncle as being companioned, tenderly held through the last days of his life, shepherded into the goodness, the long-hoped for grace of heaven. It’s been said many times, but he really is at peace… in peace… peace has remade and renewed him and I am so glad for the surety of that grace.
We leave tomorrow morning at five to drive down to Texas for the funeral. My heart hurts for my cousins. Would you all pray for Brax, Rob and Meredith as they mourn their dad? Thanks. Grace to you all.

A verse I’m packing for the road:

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And he delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong
Because the Lord is the one who holds his hand.
I have been young, and now I am old,
But I have never
(never, never!) seen the righteous forsaken
(Psalm 37:23-25)

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A snippet of Ulysses

Something about this poem tangled itself in my thought today.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew,
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Breathing Free

The speech has been given.

Books galore sold and discussed and boxed.

Old friends met and new ones made.

Bags (and oh so many boxes) packed.

Another conference comes to an end with grace given and received.

God has, as usual, been abundantly good.

And I’m breathing a deep, free sigh.

Rest after work is really quite lovely.

Happy weekend to you all!

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Baba Ghanoush

Now is that not a fun word? My friends and I get some strange amusement out of saying it again and again, in rhythm. If you say it fast enough it sounds like you are chanting something profound in a mysterious language. However, the saying of the word is not half so fun as the eating of the food it describes. Baba Ghanoush is actually a middle-eastern specialty made of pureed eggplant, tahini and olive oil. It is indescribably delicious on warm pita.

My lovely friend Melody had the girls of my family over for lunch the other day for a lavish middle eastern feast. I have found a kindred spirit in her because, like me, she thinks food can be disarmingly delicious and downright healthy to boot. She had brought a delectable pasta salad with roasted vegetables to our house the week before, and when I said I wanted to know how she did it, she said she’d have me over and show me how for lunch. Ah, bliss. So I perched at her kitchen counter on a Thursday noon and chopped piles of fresh vegetables and garlic while snacking on warm pita with hummus and baba ghanoush. It was so lovely to chop and talk, to laugh, and then to end it all with feasting that I told her I’d simply have to mention our time on my blog.

I think that the sharing of a feast with friends, be it big or small, is like sampling the slimmest sliver of heaven. I’ve been thinking about it all week during my lunches (Melody inspired me to whip up my own fresh hummus and I’ve had it with pita every day this week). There is something so basic in the making of a meal with other people, and yet it seems to me so symbolic of some eternal hunger in our hearts that is sated by feasting and fellowship. The times I have spent cooking with friends, talking, laughing, creating the basic elements of celebration, stand out to me as some of the best memories I have.

I remember standing in the kitchen one particular Christmas Eve, up to my elbows in potatoes and green peas, and suddenly being overwhelmed with this fleeting sense of how important the cadence and care of celebration and feasting were. In that moment, with my hands at a steady beat of chopping and the girls cooking on either side as we prepared for a whole night of memory and celebration, I felt almost dizzy with a sense of the life we were creating. But also, the life that was coming, the life of which our little feast was but a glinting reflection.

So thanks Melody. What a lunch. It was a gift in so many ways.

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Today

 

Pondering: The Celtic saints remind us that we are “keeping house amidst a cloud of witnesses.” We in our own day, going about our daily tasks, are yet surrounded in our nice little safe and ordinary households by that greater household and company, the company of the kingfolk of heaven. – Esther DeWaal (The Celtic Way of Prayer)

Reading:
Looking: img_0625.jpg

Listening: 31m5rnppbzl_aa_sl160_.jpg

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Ideals

The splish of a dainty waterfall is echoing off the marble floors as I write here in the old-world luxury of the Broadmoor. It is outrageously fun to act like I own this five-star hotel. I simply come for a day, buy coffee and chocolate, and wander the plush floors and art-bedecked walls. I’m on my third lobby; this one has just the spark of a fire, a gigantic bowl of tulips, and the hush of mid-afternoon. I ought to be writing my speech for the conference (I’ll be on a platform giving it one week from today) but I have squeezed the poor sponge of my brain dry of every drop of intellect. There’s just none left. So here I am. Not that I don’t try to bring intellect to my blog, but, oh well.

However, I do have something to say at the end of this brain-straining day. It’s pretty much a copy and paste from my speech, but it’s what I’ve wanted to post for awhile anyway. I noticed just the other day that someone left a comment on my “about” page challenging me in defining myself as an idealist. As it happens, my talk this year is all about beauty, ideals really, and how living them out pictures God’s reality in the midst of a fallen world. Thus, the whole issue of ideals and beauty have been on my mind and I want to answer the challenge that was made with a portion of what I wrote today.

To the person who left the post, I can only say I guess I failed to adequately communicate what I mean by ideals. But let that be remedied with this post for all time. To begin with, I wouldn’t want anyone to think, as the commenter said, that I believe ideals to be just about smelling roses. Roses are gorgeous creations, but a careless amusement with pretty things isn’t what I mean by being an idealist. In fact, I mean the opposite. I mean that most of life consists of dusty, normal days often punctuated by sickness (that no doctor can diagnose), thorny relationships (especially those involving family), general struggle (flat tires, money, irritation) and loneliness. I am keenly aware that my love of beauty is equaled by my total inability to force my life to be beautiful. The world and myself are profoundly broken. My natural impulse in the midst of this is to a quick discouragement that seeps into every vein of my being. It ends in a dark numbness of heart that leaves me incapable of either seeing beauty or allowing it to teach me to hope.

To seek beauty then, in the midst of the fallenness, is to have faith in a reality beyond what I can see. Despite the brokenness around me, my heart still percieves glimmers of what was meant to be, echoes from the shattered gladness of new creation. I see the remnants of paradise, slivered shards of ideal beauty glittering in the corners of the earth, gleaming out from art and music and story. I am aware that there is some force of beauty calling me to look beyond the brokenness and hope for redemption. And that’s where idealism comes in. To me, being an idealist means treasuring my deepest desires for love, or beauty, or peace while living in a world that destroys them. It means fighting tooth and nail, day by day, to hold fast to a belief in an ultimate goodness that is coming to redeem everything back to its original goodness. And to live ideals, well, that means living in such a way that hope is visible, faith is enfleshed in color and sound and form. Ideals are the most glorious when they illumine the ordinary, transforming despair into a colorful hope.

An idealistic life, an incarnational way of living is all about crafting a picture of that for which I hope right in the smack middle of messy, ordinary days. It means lighting candles and putting on music when I really just want to despair. It means laughing at housework instead of screaming (which I usually really want to do). It means opening my eyes to God’s creativity and beauty in the earth when busyness could easily distract me and rob me of wonder. It means reaching out to needy people and unresponsive friends again and again. It means taking the musty clay of dusty, messy days, and molding them into hours of laughter, feasts, music-making and memories.

When it comes right down to it, everything I believe in lies just beyond my touch, why shouldn’t my ideals as well? My love of Christ drives me to live in a certain way, compels me to picture my hope in my words, my actions, the set of my face as I encounter the daily world. I may not grasp the kingdom of God on earth, but I picture its reality. So with my ideals of beauty. I know that God created his earth with its startling beauty to reflect the richness of existence he intended for us. Though the world is fallen, the picture of goodness is still there, and the promise of it being restored is the centerpoint of my hope. Being an idealist isn’t about living a perfect life, it’s about hope in a perfect God. Hope is the essence of idealism.

So. That’s about all I can manage for the moment. I think I’ve been philosophizing for way too long today!

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Days of White

January days are white days in my thought. Pristine squares of uncluttered time in which I sit, like a little girl in an empty attic, with a pale sunlight filtering in on my face. The cluttered color of December is gone, my mental garret swept clear so that the new morning of another year suffuses every surface of my life. As a child I dreaded the hush of this first new month, I keened for the rush and laughter of Christmas. Now I see the grace of white, winter days. I need a space of recollection; I need to think, to remold the form of my dreams, reset the rhythm of my living.

21tph8wtmtl_aa_sl160_.jpgOne of my yearly rituals in this pristine month is to begin a new day book. Every year I order the National Gallery of Art’s engagement calendar to welcome the advent of a fresh set of days. There is something in the sleek blank spaces marking the days and weeks ahead of me that echoes the waiting emptiness of this new month. January won’t last forever, it is a beginning, the blankness will be filled, the empty spaces crammed up with living again. But it is good to look at the white spaces, symbolic of my yet-unspent time and dream well about how they may be filled. In keeping with that, I have adopted (from a beloved friend) the practice of making my calendar a record of beauty as well as time. I fill the blank spaces with my plans, but I leave just enough room so that when the day closes, I can jot down two or three glimpses of grace or laughter that found me in the midst of my day.

I like these white days.

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