Dallying Amidst Dandelions



One of the things I love most about having children is the opportunity to see the world with fresh eyes.

Take the dandelion, for instance. Pedestrian, troublesome eyesore, I've always focused my landscaping efforts on expunging the common weed from my yard.

Not the boys. To Noah and Rowan, the common dandelion is as precious as a delicate rose, lovely as a ruffled peony.




Backyard nuisance? Pain-in-the-neck pest? Not to them. The dandelion is worthy of a Waterford vase.



“The miracles of nature do not seem miracles because they are so common. If no one had ever seen a flower, even a dandelion would be the most startling event in the world.”
                  Anonymous

Where did you see the plain transform into majestic this week?

I'm linking up here today:



and here:

StudioJRU


and with Fingerprint Fridays over at The Rusted Chain.

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Branded

I read. A lot. Well, as much as I can, in between folding Sponge Bob briefs, crouching low on hands and knees to inspect teeming ant hills, plucking my eyebrows and slicing strawberries – oh, and writing and working my day job, too.

I read as much as my frenzied life allows. And I love to read spiritual literature – whether it's the theological musings of C.S. Lewis or Frederick Buechner; lighter fare like John Ortberg; the investigative ponderings of Lee Strobel or Tim Keller; or thoughts on "real life" faith by Donald Miller or Anne Lamott.

I'm currently reading The Hole in the Gospel by Richard Stearns. Have you read it? I’m telling you, this book is going to change my life. Remember that – you read it here first!

I like to pluck quotes from books like juicy pears hanging low and ripe from a fragrant tree. If a line or phrase jumps off the page, I copy it into my journal to save until the moment is right and I can weave it into my own prose like thread into fabric (with proper citation, of course!).

The trouble is, I'm beginning to feel a bit paranoid.

It all began with a snippet I read on the Speaking of Faith blog about a conflict between John Piper and Rick Warren...about exactly what, I couldn't quite figure out. I haven't read any of Piper's works, but from many a diatribe I've skimmed in the blog world, he's a controversial figure...although I don't know why yet.

Then I read a post by Rachel Held Evans, a writer I respect and appreciate for her honesty and sharp pen. She talks frequently about Calvinism, the Reform Movement and, from time to time, the Emergent Church – all movements which, it should be said, I can’t quite get my brain around.

Then I read this quote in The Hole in the Gospel:

"Hell will be full of people who thought highly of the Sermon on the Mount. You must do more than that. You must obey it and take action."

“Wow,” I thought, “that’s provocative. I like it!” – and I forwarded the quote to a friend who is studying the Sermon on the Mount. The quote was attributed to John MacArthur – not a name I recognized – so later I googled MacArthur, and read this:

  • that he has deemed Catholicism "a Satanic religious system that wants to engulf the earth;"
  • that he doesn’t believe Roman Catholics are Christians;
  • and that he believes ecumenism will not work because it is "another religion."
Upon reading this, and more, I felt deep regret at having emailed MacArthur’s quote to my friend.

So my quandary is this: I love to read. I love to dabble in a variety of writers and literature. I love to toss out quotes. But it seems to me that because Christianity is so very polarized, I inadvertently align myself with the religious and political philosophies of particular movements just in citing particular authors.

I want to read and quote and ponder at will without worrying I will be labeled as a particular brand of Christian. But I’m afraid if I read, or quote, Rick Warren or John Piper or Brian McLaren or Anne Lamott, I might be branded a fundamentalist, or an evangelical, or a Catholic-hater or a “Communist Liberal,” as my dad likes to say, or any other number of ill-fitting titles. When in fact, I'm just a person bumbling toward faith.

So here’s my question: can you be a "Christian writer" and toss out names of writers, thinkers and theologians willy-nilly without being labeled in a particular way? Because I’d prefer to be simply branded “Christian” – that’s label enough for me.

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Perspective


Last week I exchanged a couple of emails with a blogger acquaintance who lives in California. Elizabeth is mom to three kids, two "typical" boys and Sophie, who suffers from severe epilepsy of unknown origin, as well as developmental disabilities. After reading a particularly raw and heart-wrenching post by Elizabeth, I emailed her -- sort of on a whim -- to express how moved I was by her posts and to admit that sometimes I am embarrassed, guilty and dismayed by my ordinary complaints. Who am I to complain about my child's tantrum or my frenzied workday, when someone else clearly faces so many more challenges than I?

Herein lies the beauty and the beast of blogging: it clearly illustrates that someone always has it better, or worse, than I do. It's easy to get caught in the comparison game, and it paralyzes me as a writer when I do. I often assume my doubts and concerns are too trivial to share. I worry that it's insulting to bemoan the state of my life, when another's challenges are so much more significant.

That's the beast. But the flip side of blogging, the beauty, is this: that we all share a common story.

As Frederick Buechner says, "The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all."

I'm not sure what compelled me to email Elizabeth. I don't know her. I don't know her daughter or her family. I've never met them in person, and most likely never will. But something moved me to type that email and hit send, and I'm glad I did.

Elizabeth's post and our subsequent email exchange opened a conversational door that I may have never dared open, had it not been for the relative safety of blogging and email correspondence Sitting behind my computer screen, 1,500 miles from California, I felt encouraged to admit something I may not have volunteered in a face-to-face relationship. And Elizabeth answered with grace and compassion, further opening those avenues of communication.

A few days after our email exchange Elizabeth blogged about our interaction, and instead of paraphrasing or even quoting what she wrote, I'd love for you to head over to LA Moms to read, in her own words, what she has to say on "perspective" yourself. And while you're at it, check out Elizabeth's personal blog, A Moon, Worn as if It Were a Shell -- she's a great writer with a witty, sharp sense of humor. You'll be glad you did.

Thanks, Elizabeth, for your genuine, gracious and insightful response -- I'm glad we had this conversation! Your words and compassion have indeed given me a new perspective.

What, or who, has given you a fresh perspective lately?

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Eating Out



We ate outside on the back patio last week. I didn't want to, but the kids love to eat outdoors when the weather gets warm. They beg and plead, and when I say no, they react like I’ve just announced that they'll never again eat ice cream for the rest of their lives.

I wanted to say no to supper on the patio. But I said yes instead.

Now, before you go thinking I'm the most boring, curmudgeonly mother in the world (which, frankly, I am), and wonder why in the world I wouldn't just have supper outside for crying out loud, let me explain.

...I'm over at Make A Difference to One today. Meet me over there for the rest of the story...

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Dwelling


I was struck with a realization yesterday as I sat in church: I haven’t cracked open my Bible since Lent ended three weeks ago.

That’s right. I went from faithfully reading and praying over a daily devotional each morning during the six weeks of Lent…to nothing. Easter came; I worshipped and rejoiced; I ate no fewer than 96 Dove mini-eggs; I packed up the faux grass and the pastel baskets; and I moved on.

It wasn't until yesterday, when I read these lines from Colossians, that I even realized I’d been neglecting my Bible:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

It’s so easy for me to forget the teachings of the Gospels. Oh, I recall the vague details: “Love God…love your neighbor…” but the moment I step away from the Bible, I find I’m less and less likely to aspire to live as Jesus intended.

Reading the Bible keeps me grounded in the details of Jesus’ teachings. Reading the Bible keeps me accountable. The Bible doesn’t let me skate the surface of vagueness.

Take the verses we read yesterday, for instance. In just six short lines, I heard these specific instructions:

Be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. Tolerate each others’ weaknesses and forgive those who have wronged you. Love. Spread peace. Be thankful. And above all, do and say everything in the name of Jesus and in thanks to God (my paraphrase from Colossians 3:12-17).

It’s easy to rest on the fact that if you’re a believer, the Holy Spirit automatically resides in you, dwells in you from day to day. I believe that’s true. But I also believe it’s not enough. God desires us to act through the Holy Spirit, rather than simply absorb its presence. 

Letting the word of God dwell in me isn’t necessarily a passive experience. I have a choice. I can either let the word of God dwell in me vaguely…or I can let the word dwell in me richly. The latter requires action on my part.

Ironically, “letting” requires action – turning pages, allowing the details of Jesus’ teachings to sink into my heart and mind, encouraging his word to move into my neighborhood. Reading the Bible opens the door and beckons God’s word to dwell in me.

How does the Bible serve as a lamp for you and a light for your path? How do you stay committed to reading the Bible regularly?
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.


holy experience


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In other news...one of my previously published posts is featured at the High Calling today. It's a site with a lot of great resources...click here to check it out (you can sign up to receive weekly and daily e-newsletters, too).

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Sundays are for Tiptoeing

...through the tulips! I couldn't possibly choose one photo to post today from these shots of glorious tulips in downtown Lincoln, so I chose them all!




"The Earth offers gift after gift -- life and the living of it, light and the return of it, the growing things, the roaring things, fire and nightmares, falling water and the wisdom of friends, forgiveness."
Kathleen Dean Moore

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On the Fringe

I thought I'd post a link to my monthly column [click here to read] that ran today in the Lincoln Journal Star. Aside from the commenters who deemed me insular, oblivious, insulting and creepy, I think it went over pretty well.

The bloggy world is so much more pleasant.

*Sigh.*

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Flying

When they came to dinner Saturday evening my friend Deidra (yes, that Deidra!) and her husband brought Noah and Rowan two kites tucked inside a gift bag. The boys just itched for the rest of the weekend to fly them.

So Sunday evening we headed to Holmes Lake and trudged to the top of the dam to find out if that barely perceptible breeze would be enough for lift-off.

We added a bit of boy-power...


A dash of patience... 


Some perseverance... 

A splash of faith... 

And we flew.


What are you doing this weekend that might require a bit of power, patience, perseverance or faith?

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How Does Your Garden Grow?


When my husband and I bought our house nine years ago, we bought a garden, too. The garden came with the house – eleven raised beds surrounded by dainty white picket fence. We weren’t gardeners back then, but that dark, loamy dirt called to us.

We moved into our house in August, so it was too late to plant much of anything at all. But not being gardeners, we didn't know, so we decided, as summer waned, that we wanted pumpkins. Lots and lots of pumpkins. Brad planted dozens and dozens of pumpkin seeds – Sugar Pie, Jack-Be-Little, Rock Star...their names as enticing as the thought of the orange orbs themselves. They sprouted into dozens and dozens of pumpkin plants, prickly vines spiraling up fence posts, tendrils stretching to latch onto garden gate.

When our home's former owner arrived one stifling afternoon to retrieve a few remaining items from the garage, we watched pain flash across her face as she stood at the edge of the garden. "That's interesting," she said simply, clearly dismayed her prized garden had morphed into a scene from Little Shop of Horrors.

In the years since we've learned a lot about growing vegetables and flowers – and much of what we've learned has been acquired alongside Noah and Rowan. We now plant seeds and starter plants in May – not mid-August – and watch, water, weed and tend as radishes, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, basil, hollyhocks, zinnia and veronica sprout tiny and tender and burst into a lush, verdant jungle of growth by summer's end.


There have been mishaps along the way, of course...like the year I let the spinach grow knee-high and go to seed before harvesting it, then called the local nursery with the complaining question, "Why in the world does my spinach taste so bitter?"

But little by little, bit by bit, the four of us have grown into gardeners.

It was there, in the garden, that we caught glimpse of the strangely hummingbird-like hawk moth as it hovered over scarlet bee balm, proboscis unfurling.

It was there, beneath sharp holly, we spied the newborn bunny in early April. We watched quietly, the tiny creature's brown eyes wide, body panting and poised to spring.

It's there, in the garden, we wait patiently each summer for the first Monarch sighting, orange and black alighting upon bobbing zinnia.

We don't talk about God or the miracle of creation when were out in the garden. We don't have to. In sifting warm earth through fingers, crushing fragrant basil in palms, plunging faces toward delicate clematis, sturdy bee balm, we praise.

How are you celebrating Earth Day this year?

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Self-Control

Each morning I begin my day with two resolutions. The first: that I will rein in my evening snacking. You see, I’ve fallen into the very bad habit of ingesting the lion's share of my daily calories after 8 p.m....and most of that caloric intake is comprised of Cheez-Its. I eat approximately 14 bowls of Cheez-Its in the evening, and then you know what happens? I suffer killer heartburn and end up sleeping upright upon stacked pillows like a ventriloquist doll for the rest of the night. The next morning I inevitably resolve once again to limit my nighttime snacking.

The second resolution I make each morning is that I will talk less and listen more. And I fail here, too. You see, I'm a talker. An interrupter. A conversational steamroller. I interrupt my co-workers during staff meeting. I interrupt my kids as they prattle on about their concerns. I interrupt my husband as he describes a conflict at work. I even interrupt my boss. And my boss's boss.

I know it's rude. I know it's obnoxious. I try to stop. But I can't. It seems I have no self-control…at least when it comes to interrupting – and Cheez-It consumption.

And do want to know why I have no self-control? Because I fail to trust.

Actually, I'm not sure this theory applies to the Cheez-It bingeing –that, I think, is simply pure gluttony (which probably warrants another post altogether). But the tendency to interrupt...that's one bad habit I can trace back to a lack of trust.

When it comes to interrupting, my lack of self-control, ironically, is simply a subversive strategy I employ to exert control (are you with me here? I realize this is a bit convoluted). I want to dominant the staff meeting, control conversations with my children and my husband, steamroll over my friends as they talk, because I desire absolute and complete control, not only over my environment, but also over those people around me...even the people I love and respect.

What looks, at first glimpse, to be a lack of self-control is actually a relentless zest for control roiling beneath the surface.

And it’s all because I don’t entirely trust God. In blurting, rambling and interrupting, I try to manipulate conversation – and the people involved in conversation – so that I don't have to hand over control to God. I don't always trust that God knows what's best for me, and furthermore, I don't always want to hand over my life to him. Because what God wants from me isn't always the easiest or the most pleasant or even the most personally gratifying path to follow. What God wants from me often seems to be the rougher road, the brambly, thorny one – the path with the crumbling rocks and the gaping potholes and the really, really big hills.

This is a lesson I learn and re-learn every day: that I can't have it both ways, that I can’t love God and have my life tick along exactly the way I want it to. Sometimes the two are beautifully in sync, but often they are not. And that's when I most need to listen – quietly, attentively, without interruption.

When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise.
Proverbs 10:19
 
It's double linkage today. I'm linking up with Bridget Chumbley's One Word at a Time Blog Carnvial. The word: self-control.

And...

holy experience

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The Perch


It stays light later and later in the evenings now. The sun shines high in the west as the kids towel off, comb down wet hair, pull on pjs. Noah opens his bedroom window wide, and we lie across his bed, elbows on sill, chins propped in hands.

We listen. The birds are chatty tonight, twittering and shrieking, readying themselves for their nesty beds. A red-tailed hawk sails above the honey locust tree. Two red-bellied woodpeckers skitter up the oak. We imagine they are married – Mom and Dad searching for buggy bed-time snacks.

We watch. Griffin the neighbor dog trains his eye on a squirrel. Laughing, we watch the dog pace behind the chain-link fence, his prize unattainable and unaware, nibbling an acorn, fluffy tail twitching.

We breathe breezy, moist air, heavy scent of magnolia. The tree is out of sight, around the back of the house, but we can smell its presence. Curled petals, edges browned crisp, litter the lawn like confetti after a parade.

Noah points to clouds painted peony-pink. “They’re cirrus,” he says. “That means good weather tomorrow.”

It’s only fifteen minutes or so, this slice of time before bed, these minutes we perch at the window. But it’s my favorite fifteen minutes of the day.

What slice of time are you appreciating today?

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

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Heaven


My kids talk about Heaven with ease. When he was younger, Noah imagined Heaven as a place filled with white pine trees and mint chocolate chip ice cream, his two favorite things. Rowan, on the other hand, prefers a more active paradise – endless tickle and chase games across green meadows, infinite ant hills to examine.

I have trouble imagining Heaven at all. It’s simply beyond my comprehension, and the Bible’s limited descriptions of pearly gates and streets of gold like glass haven’t done much to illuminate the picture.

During yesterday’s church service, though, we read a passage from Revelation that presented me with a fresh, unfamiliar description of Heaven. Typically Revelation doesn’t do much for me – all those seals and trumpets, beasts and bowls. But yesterday, Revelation 22 offered me a clear glimpse of eternity:

“Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…And there will be no night there – no need for lamps or sun – for the Lord God will shine on them.” (Revelation 22:1-5)

I tend to experience God’s presence in glimpses, brief illuminations that sparkle briefly before fizzling back into obscurity. Sometimes I’ll glimpse this flash outdoors – in the buttery yellow of a finch’s back as it swoops over my backyard. Sometimes I see God in my children – in Rowan’s sunny head, bent low as he plucks dandelions; in Noah’s carefully penned love note left sitting on my desk.

Other times a work of art, a line of poetry, a soaring concerto leaves me breathless with the palpable sense of God’s presence. One morning as I listened to NPR, the joyous violins of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons burst from the radio, and I experienced what can only be described as pure rapture as I bumped along in my mini-van toward the office.

What I read in yesterday’s Revelation passage is that these fleeting glimpses I catch of God today will someday become “clear as crystal” in Heaven. I won’t need to bemoan the fact that I get just a glimpse – that joy, that rapture, that sense of contentment and peace will pervade every moment, for eternity. I will be given the eternal gift of vision, a vision so unwavering, so clear, I won’t even need lamps or sunlight to illuminate my way. Instead, I will bask in the bliss of God’s light.

I don’t think it mere coincidence that I battle a vague sense of dis-ease and discontent, an ebbing, flowing restlessness. Some days, some weeks, are worse than others, but it’s always there; an unsettled feeling of displacement pervades my soul.

I used to think it was the result of my jarring move from Massachusetts to Nebraska. Uprooted from my “home” – my family and loved ones, the landscape that in many ways had defined me – I assumed my anxiety was caused by my dislocation. But now I wonder. Although I’ve settled into a happy existence here on the Great Plains, although I now think of Nebraska as my home, I’m often startled to find that the gnawing sense of unrest still persistently claws at my heart. Why? I wonder. Why can’t I simply be content, at peace? What exactly am I looking for?

Now I wonder if perhaps it makes sense that I feel this way. My life on Earth is temporary, a transitory state – a pre-life existence. A time of readying; a period of preparation. Perhaps this unrequited yearning is the result of real emptiness, a place in my soul that has yet to be filled. A place that can only truly be filled one way – in my reunion with God in Heaven.

Perhaps then the glimpses will meld together to form a complete, unfractured picture, whole and pure, clear as crystal.

 

“I am going there now to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:3-4)


What’s your vision of Heaven? How do you wrap your brain around something so incomprehensible?

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Sundays are for Discovering Daffodils


"And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest."
Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Scent of Spring


I used to climb trees. Apple trees, to be exact. My parents' house bordered an apple orchard, and we had three or four old, craggy crab apple trees in our backyard. The apples were inedible – tiny, yellow-green and rock-hard, worm-eaten, mouth-puckering sour if you dared take a bite. But I wasn't interested in the apples anyway. I was in it for the climbing.

I had my favorite – the tree on the edge of Mrs. Fellow's lawn. It was the sturdiest, with broad, knobby limbs that hung over the lawn; gnarled hollows rounded by birds, perfect for storing a thermos of orange juice and a baggie of Keebler chocolate-covered grahams; a trunk that fit the small of my back snug.

When tightly furled, the apple blossom buds shone fuschia pink, a delicate firework dangling from each branch. Later they softened to white upon opening, just a hint of champagne blush still visible on petals. Come mid-May, the trees burst with white blossoms, their fragrance light and fresh like Love's Baby Soft. When the breeze blew, petals drifted like wedding confetti onto the lawn, springy snow.

The blooms shielded me from the world as I sat for hours in my tree, paging book after book – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh; The Borrowers Afloat; Island of the Blue Dolphins; Misty of Chincoteague. Honeybees hummed and burrowed into blossoms, while giant, furry bumblebees flew drunkenly past my ear, legs coated heavy and yellow with pollen.

I spied on the neighbors behind that perfumed shield. The Fellows boy, lanky-legged, shooting baskets, bang off the backboard. Mr. Walsh, grilling burgers, beer in hand. Mrs. Kessler inching toward the mailbox, housecoat snapping in the wind, dog yapping in the bay window.

Days moved more slowly back then, when all that lay before me was a good read on a firm perch, the scent of spring a light blanket all around.

I'm sharing memories of spring with Jo at Mylestones today.

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Perseverance


Watching Rowan on roller skates this week – tumbling, crashing, spinning, splaying...and lifting from hands and knees to stand tall yet again – the word "perseverance" sprang to mind.

Boy that kid perseveres. I won't lie; that strong-willed stubbornness can be the bane of my existence – like when he insists his sandals are indeed strapped onto the correct feet and clomps around clown-like all day to produce oozing, raw blisters on his in-step by nightfall...and then weeps pitifully, applies no fewer than 14 band-aides to each foot, and blames me for letting him wear his sandals on the wrong feet.

But mostly his sheer determination, his perseverance – from lurching, reeling face-plants to gliding grace – is simply awesome to behold.


Given Rowan's display of roller-skating perseverance, it was fitting that I stumbled upon Anne Lang Bundy's blog this week, where she wrote about the distinction between endurance and perseverance as they relate to the Old Testament story of Jacob wrestling with God.

I've written here before about how deeply Jacob's story resonates with me. Reading that story illustrates that it's possible for wrestling – questioning – and faith to co-exist. That wrestling is even an integral part of faith. As Anne points out, Jacob doesn't merely endure, he perseveres; and there's a subtle but important difference there.

Endurance is passive, while perseverance requires action, sometimes grueling, face-planting, sprawling action.

I like this subtle but critical distinction Anne makes between these two words. On some days I’m convinced that perseverance is the hook upon which my faith hangs. Endurance is necessary for the long haul, sure; but perseverance, perseverance is required to navigate the day-to-day.

“Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps.”
Frederick Buechner

Have you ever had to persevere in your faith? What did you learn through the experience?

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Everyday Sacraments


Communion makes me anxious. Sometimes I feel like expectations for the sacrament of Holy Communion are a bit too high. I’m not sure what I am supposed to feel when I close my mouth over that bread, when I sip from that tiny cup of red wine. Communion with God? A closeness? Connection? Should I feel overcome with gratefulness? Elation? Joy laced with bittersweet?

I yearn for something, anything; I reach for it. I expect it. But more often than not, I come away empty, disappointed, unsatiated. My grand expectations of experiencing communion with God the moment the bread touches my tongue and the wine my lips remain unmet.

Holy Communion is a big deal. I vividly recall the day I made my First Communion in Saint Michael’s Church. Dressed in a floor-length, white satin dress, lace veil grazing shoulders, I felt like a bride. Standing on the altar stairs posing for photos with my best friend Andrea, we tossed our heads side to side, delighting as our veils rippled across our backs. The golden “Eucharist holder” we clasped primly in our hands caught light streaming in from stained glass. In second grade, too young to grasp fully what was unfolding, that day was entirely about the attire.

We've heard the story of the Last Supper told again and again. Many of us have read Jesus’ words ourselves – “Do this in memory of me” – hundreds of times. And I think that’s part of the problem…for me, at least. The ritual of the Last Supper reenacted by a pastor every other week at the altar has become rote. I am desensitized to it. It’s hard to uncover new meaning in a ritual that’s become so familiar, so comfortable.

The fact that Lutherans acknowledge only two sacraments – Holy Baptism and Holy Communion – further complicates my struggle. While I understand the reasoning behind the theology (I’m oversimplifying a bit here, but Lutherans acknowledge just baptism and communion as sacraments because those are the only two they perceive as scripturally endorsed, based on Jesus’ own words). Catholicism, on the other hand – the religion of my youth – acknowledges seven sacraments: Baptism, Repentance, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Last Rites. Honestly, this appeals to me. Having seven sacraments relieves some of the pressure heaped upon honoring the sacred in just two. It seems that Catholics have more opportunities to embrace the sacred.

This, though, is where I go astray. You see, I’m beginning to realize that I’m too focused on just the two official sacraments sanctioned by my religion. The truth is, when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me,” I don’t think he was limiting the experience to breaking bread and drinking wine in a church sanctuary. I think perhaps he meant “do this” in a broader sense – as in “do everything” in memory of me.

This means, of course, that the simplest acts of our daily lives can be made holy. Our lives themselves – all the mundane details and minutiae – can be sacramental.

This means not only Holy Baptism performed in a glass basin upon an altar...but also in a regular, old porcelain tub in the simple act of bathing your child before bed.

This means not only accepting Holy Communion pressed into your palm in church, but also sharing a meal in your own kitchen with friends and family.

Or trotting a piping-hot casserole next door to your elderly neighbor.

Or volunteering to staple workbooks for your child’s kindergarten class. Or tossing toys into baskets, long after the kids are in bed.

Frederick Beuchner puts it like this:

“A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time. Needless to say, church isn’t the only place where the holy happens. Sacramental moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody.”

Today I’m broadening my view of the sacramental, beyond baptism and communion, beyond repentance, confirmation, matrimony and last rites, and into the realm of the everyday.

Jesus’ “Do this in memory of me” encompasses it all, life itself in its entirety.

What's your view of the sacraments...whether your church acknowledges two or seven or something in between? Do you think everyday acts can be considered sacramental? 


holy experience

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Sitting


Last week I enjoyed an extraordinarily rare opportunity. I sat outside for nearly a half hour. And did nothing.

When was the last time you sat outside, even for just a few minutes? And I mean just sat. Without your iphone or Blackberry? Without flipping through In Style or Golf Digest? Without filing your nails or painting your toenails, writing thank you notes, paying bills. Have you simply sat outside lately? 

I did just that. Plunked onto a lounge chair on the back patio and sat for nearly 30 uninterrupted minutes.

When you simply sit, you notice. You see and hear things lost in the everyday clatter of life. An orchestra emerges from white pines and pin oaks, cacophony of trills and chirps, mingling with tinkling wind chimes.

The russet-headed house finch's erratic warble. The territorial screech of the blue jay. Happy-go-lucky cardinal song. Solemn notes -- one low, the next high -- of the black-capped chickadee, sitting like a tiny queen amongst river birch branches.

I watched a grackle peck at the feeder. Have you ever looked at a grackle's back? I mean really looked? It's not dull black, as I've always assumed, never having given such a commonplace bird a second glance. But no. Take another look. Iridescent blue-green shines luminous on inky black, shimmering like the pearly shell of a seashore mussel.

Have you ever noticed the heady scent of blooming magnolia? Snowy petals flutter like butterflies to dank ground, sweet scent mingling with pungent dampness of early spring.


Have you ever seen a water droplet suspended on yellow frill?


I just finished reading a book that prompted this meditative exploration of nature. In Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature, author Kathleen Dean Moore navigates ancient forests, wild rivers, windswept islands and other remote places to learn what the natural world can teach her about sorrow and joy. Kathleen Moore, I noticed, does a lot of quiet sitting outdoors.

I was a bit jaded when I first began Wild Comfort. After all, Moore lives in Corvallis, Oregon, a mere hop from scenery that looks like this:


And she's visited some of America's most spectacular landscapes: Oregon's Cascade Mountains, Minnesota's Boundary Waters, Labyrinth Canyon in Utah, the Sea of Cortez.

"How can Nebraska compare with that?" I thought to myself. "Of course Moore finds joy in nature, being surrounded by sublime beauty like that."

The more I thought about it, though, I realized I was wrong. Nebraska may not encompass that particular kind of dramatic beauty -- but there's beauty here nonetheless. In fact, I don't have to travel further than my own backyard, or a few miles down a country dirt road.


Moore's book reminded me of another I read earlier in the year, InsideOut [click here to read more about the book], by poet L.L. Barkat [click here to read more poetry and prose on her website, Seedlings in Stone]. Every day for a full year Barkat sat outdoors beneath a pine tree in her backyard for at least the time it took her to sip a cup of tea. Many of her poems describe the beauty revealed by sitting quietly:

Pine branches...
spokes in two directions,
lateral 'round trunk and
spinning 'cross knobbly
joints of each protrustion --
wheels within wheels,
Ezekiel tree.
from "Harvest," InsideOut

If you stop to sit for a bit, God's grandeur is revealed everywhere. On the back of a grackle. In an unfurling bud. In waving grain. All you have to do is notice.

"To be worthy of the astonishing world, a sense of wonder will be a way of life, in every place and time, no matter how familiar; to listen to the dark of every night, to praise the mystery of every returning day, to be astonished again and again, to be grateful with an intensity that cannot be distinguished from joy."
Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature

This week give it a try. Sit outside for fifteen minutes and observe. And if you're so inclined, pop back here and leave a note about your observations in the comment section of this post. If I gather enough observations, I'll summarize your findings in a follow-up post next week. Happy sitting!

“Arise, oh sleeper, awake!” (Ephesians 5:14)

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Twins


Thomas irritates me. He really gets under my skin, and here’s why. This is a man who saw Jesus feed 5,000 with a mere handful of fishes and loaves. This is a man who watched Jesus heal hundreds. This is a man who witnessed Jesus raise people from stone-cold dead. This is a man who walked with Jesus, saw the miracles with his own eyes, heard the lessons and parables with his own ears. Yet when the moment came to believe, when the moment came for Thomas to have faith in the resurrected Jesus, he failed.

“I would have believed,” I tell myself. “If I’d been one of Jesus’ disciples, if I’d seen Jesus’ miracles with my own eyes, I would have had faith, no problem. How can Thomas not believe when he was right there, right in the middle of the action? He had it easy compared to me.”

I tell myself the reason I struggle with faith is because I can’t see God. Because I can’t hear him or touch his hand with my own fingertips.

But when I’m honest with myself, I wonder if I would have responded like Thomas did, had I been in his shoes.

After all, can you imagine Thomas' disappointment? His devastation? His savior, the man he’d followed loyally for years, the man to whom he’d devoted his entire life, faith and hope, died before his very eyes on the cross, like a common criminal. Everything Thomas believed in, everything he thought he knew for sure, everything he’d sacrificed his own life for, must have been shaken to its core.

Worse, Thomas grieved. Not only did he grieve the loss of his friend and teacher, perhaps he even grieved the loss of his God. Perhaps he even grieved the loss of his faith. Perhaps he was even thinking, “Now what? Now what do I do? Now who do I believe in?”

Thomas hit rock bottom. He was empty, hopeless. Shattered. And he was unwilling to jump again – unable to place himself in that precarious position of vulnerability. Thomas was afraid to believe.

In light of that, I have to ask myself: if I hit rock bottom, would I have the courage, the perseverance, the hope to believe? Would my faith remain unshaken?

In his book Genesee Diary, Henri Nouwen notes that the name Thomas means “twin.” Nouwen writes that Thomas the twin was comprised of two halves: the doubting half and the believing half.

Truthfully, aren’t we all?

Think about it. Aren’t there times when your faith soars? When you think, “How could I possibly have doubted? How could I possibly have flailed?” And then other times when the pendulum swings and the questions crash?

We are all Thomas – we all fail in our faith. Sometimes we even fail in our faith when we most need it.

It’s easy for me to criticize Thomas, to whine, “How dare he doubt when he got to have a real, live, personal relationship with Jesus.” Yet aren’t I offered that choice as well? Can’t I choose to nurture a personal relationship with God? Sure, he may not stand before me, robed, sandaled, gliding across roiling sea. But isn’t he present in my everyday...if I bother to look?

We are all twins. We all have a choice. We can proclaim, as the Doubting Thomas did, “I won’t believe it.” Or we can choose belief. We can open our eyes and ears and listen to Jesus:

“Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.” (John: 20:27 The Message)

When your faith pendulum swings away, how do you help it swing back toward belief?

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Sundays are for Unfurling






There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though
everything is a miracle.
Albert Einstein

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All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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