Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Origami and God (Fold, Unfold, Refold Again)


Each of my boys has discovered origami sometime between their sixth and seventh year of life.  It always begins with fortune tellers and airplanes, then progresses to boats and paper hats.  Soon, every surface of the house is littered with folded scraps of white copy paper.  Eventually, familiar patterns lose their thrill and we head to the library searching for new patterns to master.  
  
Harder patterns, though, require adult assistance.  Inevitably, I’m called to assist a frustrated child in deciphering vague diagrams and tricky folds.  This, I do, kneeling on the floor by the wood stove with an anxious, eager child peering over my shoulder. 

“Mom!  I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do,” they cry.

“Ok, let me see,” I say.

They want me to be able to look at the picture once and tell them what to do.  But, I need to begin at the beginning, to feel the paper moving through its motions beneath my fingers.    

I follow the patterns step-by-step: fold, unfold, refold again.  Even though I know the desired outcome, the path to completion’s often far from direct.  Jumping ahead is not advisable, so I stay in the moment working slowly, one fold at a time.

Some patterns begin with several steps of folds and creases that are then, one by one, undone.  These folds are preparatory, lining the page with creases that serve as landmarks for the steps ahead.  It would be a tempting but misleading to mistake one of these preparatory folds for a final fold. 

Sometimes I think this may be how God works in our lives – not that our lives are paper, manipulated by God into an unforeseen shape – but every life is filled with folds, some relating directly to the final goal, others only serving as markers along the path.  So much suffering comes from mistaking one from the other – pegging our lives, our identity on something that will, shortly, be unfolded to make way for something else. 

The problem is, from my human perspective, I can’t readily tell the difference between final folds and preparatory folds.  Even the final outcome remains unclear – what are we working toward here, God? A jumping frog? A peaceful crane?

The truth is, I'm not sure God cares nearly as much as I do about the difference between unfolds and final folds, about final outcomes and destinations.  God may be something more like a child, thrilled with the feel of pliable paper, delighting in the joy of shared discovery.

Knowing this, maybe we can learn to move lightly and freely through life, turning and folding, shaped in each moment by what is, rooted in the humility of not knowing, and a deep trust in the goodness of the One in whose hands we rest.  We are being turned, crease by crease, into works of beauty and wonder beyond what we could ever imagine.  This is what redemption means, this folding and unfolding, moving forward, always, toward wholeness.  

Thursday, April 19, 2018

God's Not Grumpy


I've been immersed in Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle's books recently (Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir).  I'm so encouraged and enchanted by his sense of God's innate qualities - qualities affirmed in scripture, but often overlooked in our own imaginings of God.  All of this led me back to this brief post from August 2015.  Enjoy.

*   *   *   *

“What do you think heaven’s like?” my oldest son asked. 

My kids and I were slowly waking up, seated around the sticky kitchen island, absorbing summer's early morning humidity.  I cradled my second or third cup of coffee while they spilled milk and cereal and crunched on chocolate toast.  

In a moment of unexpected quiet, my oldest son posed his question.

Wrapped in a fog of sleepiness and still focused on my coffee, I said, “I’m not sure.  What do you think it’s like?”

Perched on a wooden stool, he pontificated for a while, and made sure to specify that his picture of heaven included the conspicuous absence of bickering.

There had been a lot of bickering that morning.  In fact, first thing that morning I scolded the boys for their non-stop verbal warfare. 

The 'absence of bickering' idea made its way into my sleepy brain, tickling my imagination.  Putting on a grumpy voice (not unlike the voice I used to reprimand the boys earlier that morning), I growled out an impression of God policing behavior in heaven.  “Hey, cut that out.  No fighting allowed in here,” I said. 

Distracted from the joy of his own ideas, my son paused and turned to me with a quizzical look on his face.  Eyebrows arched, head tipped to the side, quick as a whip, he objected to my impersonation.  

“God's not that grumpy,” he said.

His correction ushered in a moment of silence.  Then we both laughed, surprised by his nimble reply.  In four short words, my son defended his understanding of the heart of God; God's very nature. 

//

I am often grumpy.  

Especially in the early morning, when humidity is at 90% and little sweaty, sleepy people are squabbling all around me.  

But God is not.  

The fact that my son not only sees, but defends the difference, is a wonder to me and a source of great joy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My Daughter, Annie Dillard, and I



My twelve-year-old daughter says there are four eggs in the nest outside her bedroom window.  I believe her, because she's one sits and watches, keeping an eye on the world around her. 

//

On the night after the Parkland Florida shooting, my oldest two, my husband, and I sprawled around the wood stove talking about kids who struggle, kids who sometimes perpetrate unfathomable acts of violence. 

“There’s a boy in my class who seems really sad sometimes,” my daughter said.  “I ask him if he’s ok, I tell him I will listen if he wants to talk.  But he doesn’t want to.  I don’t know what else to do.”  She shrugged her shoulders, letting the weight of seeing and knowing another’s pain and isolation rise and fall. 

The mother in me wanted to pick up that weight, like a strongman lifting a car off a trapped child.  I wanted to lift the burden from her shoulders and carry it far away, toss it off a canyon cliff, never to be seen again.    

Instead, I said, “I’m glad you ask him.  Sometimes that’s all you can do.”  

//

During spring conferences, a teacher said she’d recently paired my daughter with a student who’s only integrated into mainstream classrooms for science.  They worked together for a single lab with his classroom aide keeping close watch.  The teacher, also observing, noticed how my daughter deliberately slowed her pace, waiting for the other student to process before moving on to the next step.  In other words, she treated him like a real partner. 

“Some kids just rush through and do all the work,” the teacher said.  “But she was so patient, she just let him work at his own pace.”  After they finished, the student’s aide told the teacher, “That girl is the kindest person I’ve ever seen.”

Tears sprang to my eyes when she said that and later, when I retold the story to my husband, he got chills up and down his arms.  They weren’t chills or tears of pride, but the kind that come when truth strikes close to the bone.    

//   

I recently started reading Annie Dillard’s collection of essays, Teaching a Stone to Talk and it’s filled parts of me I didn’t know were empty.  Dillard’s work makes me want to not only write better but live better.  She writes as one who watches and listens before asking gentle, curious questions of the world around her.  She reminds me of my daughter. 

I was only three sentences in to her first essay when this small fact stuck its foot out, causing my imagination to stumble and pause: 

“Sometimes [a weasel] lives in his den for two days without leaving.”

Now there’s something to write about, I thought.  Something for a poem maybe. 

Who knew weasels have a private life, hidden beneath the surface of the world?  The very idea dazzled me.  Here, I thought, is something to explore.  But, reading on, I realized Dillard knows the weasel in a way I never will, having both researched it and watched it in a pond near her house. 

I have no pond near my house.  I’ve never seen a weasel except maybe in a zoo.  I can write ideas about the weasel, but I can’t write directly about the weasel (not honestly, at least) because I don’t know the weasel.  Seated here by my office window, I suspect I’m a good deal removed from the nearest weasel-viewing-locale.  For now, I’ll leave the weasels to Annie. 

I’ll write instead about what I can see, about what I know.  Today, for instance, the gray hen is foraging in our yard and a pair of sparrows paused in the shrub outside passing something (a seed?) from beak to beak.  Dispassionate snow flurries are falling.  It’s a lovely snow, the kind you long for in December, but it’s April, and if I hear one more complaint about this late winter weather, I swear I’ll despair because I’m holding my breath for spring and complaining wastes air. 

Looking up and a little further out, I can see the awning outside my daughter’s window where an eager pair of house wrens built their nest weeks ago.  I can’t see the mother, but I know she’s there, sitting on those four eggs in the snow and cold because life depends on it.  I know she is there just as I know I am here, watching and listening, asking gentle, curious questions.  These children, my daughter and sons, they are my eggs, my weasels; they make me want to not only write better, but live better.