Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Social Mores of Gerbils and its Impact on Biblical Interpretation or Something Like That . . . (#SmallWonder)


Teaching is the closest I get to extroversion, which explains why I (a fierce introvert) bottom out after every class.  When it’s going well I have a sense of flow.  Connected to the materials I’m presenting, I start to scat a little like a jazz singer, making free-associations, building and linking ideas together.  Sometimes this involves funny stick figure drawings on the blackboard, other times not. 

One day the other week I was trying to explain the incredible social divides bridged by the early house churches.  Referencing I Thessalonians I listed, “prominent women, Greeks, Jews and Gentiles” on the chalkboard.  

“These people wouldn’t normally have anything to do with each other,” I said, drawing a circle around the list. 

The class of Sophomores stared back at me, listless, silent. 

I felt like Eugene Peterson describes in his bible study session that led, eventually, to his ground-breaking gift of The Message translation,

          Galatians, Paul’s angry, passionate, fiery letter that rescued
          his congregation from their regression into culture slavery,   
          was on the table and nobody was getting it.  Sweetly smiling,
          they were giving more attention to stirring sugar into [their]
          Styrofoam cups than to the spirit words that pulsed in Paul’s
          metaphor’s and syntax.  It was obvious they weren’t getting
          it. (in Eat This Book:a conversation in the art of spiritual
          reading, p. 133)

“Putting these groups together,” I said, “would be like filling a whole room with cats and dogs.” 

But no, that example wasn’t exactly right. 

Pausing, I looked off into the distance just above the tops of my student’s heads, as I listened, inspiration came winging and landed on the tip of my outstretched mind.

“No,” I said, “you know what it’s like?”  Excitement grew in my voice.  “It’s like putting two gerbils in the same cage.  We got my son a gerbil for Christmas, then my daughter wanted one so badly we got her one too a few weeks after the first.  But, apparently, gerbils are highly territorial.  Introducing two gerbils from a different litter’s an incredibly complicated process.  So we built them a joint, but separated cage so they could get used to each other’s scent and share space without being able to fight.  But, the other day, one of the gerbils climbed over the divide and by the time we got there, the bigger gerbil had bitten off the smaller gerbil’s tail.  The little gerbil was running all around dragging her bloody stump behind her.”

“It was one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen,” I finished, with obvious delight.

The students were definitely listening now.  Many had their faces twisted, heads tipped to the side, in a questioning manner. 

“Well,” I added, backing off a little, “I guess the people in the early church weren’t biting each other, but . . .” then I paused again as a whole new wave of inspiration struck.

“Oh my gosh!” I added.  I was nearly shouting, “That’s exactly how Paul described it in one of the epistles.  ‘Stop biting and devouring one another,’ he tells them.  Yes, it IS like putting two gerbils in a cage.”

I remember memorizing that particular phrase from Paul’s letter to the Galatians as a high school bible quizzer, but a good twenty years passed between memorization and comprehension.  Those words floated in the cells of my brain like dandelion fluff, letters representing ideas until one day, in front of a classroom of thirty-three students, a concrete physical association caused them to take root and blossom into what Eugene Peterson describes as a “pop of delight.” 

Words took on flesh, ideas became image, a word picture was formed and I was so happy, so delighted.  We moved on then to the next topic at hand, but I carried that little “pop” of pleasure with me and feel it still today. 

May this joy – the joy of discovery, of unexpected connection and its accompanying wonder – be yours as you journey through each of your days.  No thing is too small, too trivial, too removed, to reach in and open the door of your heart.  

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

Less Magic, More Tending (#SmallWonder Link-up)


“I think I was hoping today would be some kind of magical time of rest and renewal,” I said to the gathered circle of participants as we reflected together at the end of our day of silent retreat.  There were several smiles and at least one good snort as I paused. 

They all knew the kind of month I had.  Six trips to the pediatrician as one child after another fell ill with a viral fever that ran high for days before morphing into a bacterial infection.  Then another round of strep for my oldest boy and the pressure of hunting for an ENT to address big-picture concerns.  Plus, I was working full-time, stumbling through lectures I hadn’t so much as glanced at in seven years.  Is it any wonder I was sick too?

“It wasn’t,” I continued. 

I tried everything I could think of.  Settling into the quiet farm house, I read a little, prayed a little and drank hot tea in a sunlit window.  I even tried for an afternoon nap. 

It was a miracle I made it to the retreat at all. 

Secretly, though, I’d been hoping for more than a little magic, more than the miracle I got. 

I wanted to come home with some good writing, a poem or two to share here on the blog or, in the least, the beginnings of a post.  I didn’t just want rest, I wanted productivity in a different direction than the one I’d been running in all month long. 

But you can’t go from 90 mph to 0 in six hours flat.  An object in motion tends to stay in motion and the time and energy needed to slow down AND shift gears can’t be underestimated.  How could I be so na├»ve as to think I could unwind AND be productive in such a short period of time?

This is what I’ve been thinking about in the days since as I try to keep the fires burning at work and home, in heart and head.  I’ve longed to bear fruit here in my writing this month, it’s been painful to let it slide.  But a plant can’t bear fruit on command – the vine must be tended, each season endured.  And, for a few more days at least, I’ve committed my labor toward teaching and finishing strong and well.  

By Friday I pledge to be done with my J-term class, papers and tests graded and returned.  And next week I plan to begin the slow unwinding, the slow turning back again toward the many things I love.  The extra money from teaching has been a much needed relief this month, to not be anxiously watching the bank account for overdraft notices is a gift.  But I’m eager now and longing to return to tending my writing life, growing the deep roots and sturdy branches and, yes, bearing fruit. 

Thank you for sticking with me this month, #SmallWonder friends, as we celebrate one year of #SmallWonder posts!  Some of you have asked about a button for the link - I know there's been some buttons shared, but I've lost track of them.  If you have a #SmallWonder button we could use, could you share it in the comments, please?  Thanks!

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Worn, Weary and Threadbare (#SmallWonder Link-up)


(Ah, friends.  Welcome.  It's still January, I have 7 more days of teaching to go.  My husband has manned five pediatric sick appointments in the last two weeks and today we return together with our oldest son who's illness doesn't appear to be responding to antibiotics.  So here I am, again, sharing something old, but entirely relevant to the now.  May we each find rest when and where we can.)

Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." - God 

I came into the retreat like our old cat Samson used to come into our house after a string of nights out on the town.  Samson would disappear and refuse to show up for nights on end as we leaned out the screen door, peering and calling his name into the darkness.  A few days later, he would come dragging in, thin and dirty, walking slowly with a limp. 

That’s how I felt that morning - I arrived completely exhausted.  Life with four young children is like drinking from a fire hose, all struggle and gasping and refreshment to the point of drowning.  The discipline of a monthly retreat has revealed the intensity of life lived between those moments of rest and I often arrive haggard, gasping for breath. 

The day opened with an opportunity for each participant to write on a scrap of paper three words that described how they arrived.  Then a large ceramic bowl was passed from hand to hand around the gathered circle as we named our words and laid our papers into the bowl. 

It felt to me that others had much nicer words, like “rested,” “eager,” and “waiting.”  But as I lifted the heavy bowl and dropped in my small scraps of paper three words escaped my lips like a cry,

worn, 

weary, 

and threadbare.

I passed the bowl quickly and sat quietly.  

I listened and prayed throughout the morning as the tears rolled down. 
Later, I found a sunlit window and sat curled in a chair soaking it in.  I ate a quiet lunch that settled in me like a bowl of warm milk, full of soothing comfort.  Then I returned to the retreat house and stretched out on a long cushioned bench.  I wrote a little, read a little too, but eventually I gave in and, leaning to the side, I curled up there in the lap of God and drifted my way off to sleep.


*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  



While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  



Sunday, January 10, 2016

At the End of this Swaying, Fraying Rope (#SmallWonder Link-up)


(This is a re-post from January 2012 when the twins were just six months old and my older kids were 3 and 5.  It was a crazy time.  This January I'm working full time and my kids are sick (as is par for the course come January) - it is also a crazy time.  In light of all the craziness, I thought pulling something out of the archives might serve me well.  Enjoy!)

There’s a level of desperation around our house these days.  Winter's arrival has us cramped and snotty, sneezing and feverish.  My husband and I make daily trips to the store for things we forgot and debate who should go to the Dr. next as we shuffle endless loads of laundry from basket to washer to dryer and back to the basket again. 


It feels like an endless game of “whack-a-mole.”  

One day, between phone calls and drop offs and trips to the library, I turned to see one twin chewing on the now-empty bottle of infant Ibuprophen.  Running to call poison control, hurdling the baby gates with Olympic precision, I realized I don't know for sure who drank the medicine.  I doubled-back quickly to check both boys over, frantically searching for tell-tale sticky hands and berry-flavored breath.  Thankfully, it was "not a toxic dose."
I called the Dr. the other morning about our son who’s running a high fever after two days of antibiotics and left the wrong birth date on the message.  I thought it was wrong as I said it and tried to correct myself on the phone.  In the end the message went something like this, “His birthday is 8.11.2011.  Or wait, that’s not right, it might be 8.10.2011.  I’m sorry, I really can’t remember right now.”
I'm at the end of my rope, you see, hanging here white-knuckled with fingers grasped tight. As I dangle, gasping for breath, waiting for things to stop spinning, I'm reminded of Eugene Peterson's translation of Jesus' first Beatitude,
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule."
How can this be?  

Blessed, right here, right now, dangling, struggling, sagging with nowhere to go.  Blessed because the end of me is not the end of everything, only the beginning of something more, Someone more. 
Peterson's words remind me of something I read a few months ago in Scott Cairns' book, Short Trip to the Edge.  Cairns is an Orthodox Christian and writes briefly about the role of a prayer rope, a string of 33 square knots used to focus the fingers and mind during prayer.  As Cairns puts it, the prayer rope "does its bit to re-pair the inherent schism within the human person, [it] helps to  . . . bring the mind into the heart (36)."   
Reflecting on this image I wondered whether prayer itself might be like the weaving of a rope leading us deep into the heart of God - where we're anchored and at rest.  

The rope woven through prayer is so different than the one I work to climb most days.  I struggle along the rope of my own striving like a scrawny adolescent in gym class trying to perfect the hand-over-hand technique necessary for upward momentum.  This rope, the end of which dangles before me daily, is one of my own making, my striving, my success or failure. 

But the rope of prayer begins where that one ends and leads downward out of myself or perhaps deeper in to the place where Christ now dwells in my heart as I asked him to all those long years ago.  This rope of prayer, when I tend it and mend it, leads me to the places of deep blessedness and true security.
Once again I lower my expectations and ease myself down off of so many cliffs of my own making. I sit down, sink down into grace and love and with every prayer I find the courage to let go one more time, to lean-in to the blessedness. 

Here I am, again, at the end of me; here I am, again, blessed.

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  


While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  





Wednesday, January 6, 2016

After




After 
(Matt. 2:1-12)

After you find the One for whom you wait,
after you are overwhelmed with joy
and kneel to kiss holy ground,
you might also find yourself
returning home by another road.

The ways you once walked no longer
appeal.  And though the way is dark
and takes you further ‘round,
you will know it at once to be your road, 
the path for which you were made. 

- Kelly Chripczuk

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Christ Creeps in Among Us (#SmallWonder Link-up)


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

- Carl Sandburg

//

In the long, dark winter evenings, the older kids and I read our way through the Chronicles of Narnia.  In them Aslan, the God-figure, is a large lion.  As C.S. Lewis frequently reminds his audience – Aslan is not tame. 

Aslan walks silently on great, padded paws. 

He comes and goes at will. 

He’s seen by those who look for him.

Yet, often when Aslan appears the youngest girl, Lucy, is quick to squeal with delight.  She runs and buries her face in the fur of his mane. 

//

Every morning Blackie, our long-haired cat, waits impatiently to go outside.  Eager to investigate the yard, he pauses briefly before the open door, then saunters out into the crisp early morning air.  An hour or two later a soft thud announces his return as he leaps to the closed kitchen window, the one with the broken screen.  There he waits, his fur coat fluffed, green eyes blazing, a silent silhouette. 

Seeing me see him, he meows.  The double-paned glass mutes the sound, but I see his mouth stretch wide, his dagger-teeth flash. 

I slide the window open and he pushes through the screen, fresh and cold from his morning stroll. 

“Blackie!” I cry, my hands slipping under and over, encircling him, lifting him to my face.  I bury my nose in his fluffy mane.  I inhale the smell of the cool grassy fields he wanders, the morning dew and earth.  It’s a moment I never want to miss. 

This year, I listened beneath the hustle of the Christmas season, hoping to hear the silent padded footsteps of Christ creeping in among us.  

There are so many ways to miss his coming.  

And yet, he comes again and again each year, throughout the year.  Like the cat leaping to the window, the fog sitting silently, Christ arrives opening us, always, to the fullness of what is.

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  


While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.