For my Grandma, 1915-2013. I love you.
This is the house into which I was born.
I took my first breath.
I opened my eyes to the light.
I learned to know my mother
and my father
and my Creator
within this house
This is the house
where I discovered living.
I felt the sunshine on my face.
I breathed deeply of life and fresh air.
I savored ice cream
and cool grass upon my feet
within this house
This is the house
where my children met life.
My mind sought for wisdom.
My heart yearned for understanding
I learned to know joy
within this house
This is my house
where I have met with the world.
It is not the only house.
It is not the strongest or the biggest.
But it has been my partner.
Everything that I am is
within this house
This is the house
which grows old and weary.
The foundations crumble
The walls decay
When it has crumbled
and I leave for the first and last time
may I awaken in the morning
outside this house.
Above, 1947. Below, 2013
I always feel so sad when I hear people attack Christianity by saying things like “of course it can’t be true…can you imagine how horrible it would be if something this horrible were true?” And I hear this fairly frequently.
Then again, I feel _so much sadder _when I read or watch Christians preaching or living or talking about a version of something somehow related to “Christianity” that is just that horrible. And I’m sorry to say this too happens to me frequently.
Not just in the media so don’t bother to blame them; I encounter this in my real life.
Last Sunday I walked into my church and saw a huge banner that said:
What God Wants: *the vulnerable cared for. the oppressed freed. the hungry fed. the stranger welcomed. the good news announced. *Isaiah 58**
If there are multitudes of people who believe Christians preach that God wants something entirely other than these things shame on us. It must be called Good News for a reason, right? If it doesn’t sound like Good News to the people who hear it, we’re doing something very, very wrong.
I’ve been mulling over the old song “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” For some time I’ve thought that the most poignant words were “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will towards men.” Poignant because it is so true; not the deepest truth, as the song goes on to illustrate, but yet so very true.
More recently, however, I learned that the version we sing is missing two verses of the original. Written during the American Civil War, this song as originally sung does not merely give a hat tip to hatred and despair, but is centered on the very real experience of darkness and its powerful hand.
I appreciate narratives that hold both the joy and the pain of life together as one, which is how we receive them in our daily lives. So this song is even more meaningful to me now that I realize the author was far closer to the hate he describes than I can imagine. The Good News is powerful not because it is the only news, but because the earth is saturated with so much painful news that came before it, and groans for redemption.
As I write this, our nation is griped in shock and grief as the news pours in of nearly thirty innocent people, mostly small children, violently, purposely shot dead today in an elementary school. The world has gone mad, we are broken, so very very broken, and there is no way anything we do will ever put this to rights ever again.
I am reading the horrible, painful news as Christmas music plays in the background and it is at once a jarring and poignant juxtaposition. The mythical version of Christmas where all is peace and jolliness is simply of no use at a time like this; it smacks of the sort of naivety that leads quickly to its counterpart, cynicism, both of which are useless to stem the tide of evil and suffering.
But the real Christmas story, the one in which God himself comes and takes on flesh in the form of a baby, a human, a fellow sufferer, with all that this entails; and that he does so to set into motion a path that leads to the redemption of earth and body and soul – this is the good news that is being sung in my Christmas songs, and it is the sort that we need today and every day.
This news is not good because it puts a candy-coating on life to avoid seeing the problems. This news is good because it has looked so deeply and entirely at the pain and answered back with a force every bit as loud and strong and life changing.
I heard the bells on Christmas DayTheir old familiar carols play,And mild and sweet the words repeatOf peace on earth, good will to men.
And thought how, as the day had come,The belfries of all ChristendomHad rolled along the unbroken songOf peace on earth, good will to men.
Till, ringing, singing on its way,The world revolved from night to day,A voice, a chime, a chant sublimeOf peace on earth, good will to men.
Then from each black accursed mouthThe cannon thundered in the South,And with the sound the carols drownedOf peace on earth, good will to men.
It was as if an earthquake rentThe hearth-stones of a continent,And made forlorn the households bornOf peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head;’There is no peace on earth,’ I said;For hate is strong, and mocks the songOf peace on earth, good will to men.’
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:’God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,With peace on earth, good will to men.’
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
No one needs to be convinced today that something is off kilter in our lives, our families, our communities. There is pain and suffering, we are hurt by others and hurt others in turn. The Good News that we are straining to hear during this Advent season is found in a new born baby, but it is not weak or helpless; this Good News has the strength of God grafting us into himself, of sending not a sign or a prophet but coming as one of us.
There is no darkness past, present, or future that can hold a candle to this candle.
Several years ago I heard the most amazing of news – there was, within my own body and self, another person just beginning to be created. For months I carried this reality around with me like a fragile cup of wonder – I was no long merely myself. I was myself plus someone. Someone who was me-yet-not-me. Someone who would one day break off from me and be an entirely separate person. But on that day and for that time we were truly one.
I remember the day he was born, and the astonishment I felt at this most amazing of events – here, from my body, was another separate person.
Nine months after that day he slept in his own room for the first time, having spent the first nine months sleeping alongside my bed in a co-sleeper. The shock of this separation made me reel; not only was he outside of my body but he could spend long hours alone in a room without me. We would pass this time apart, neither knowing what the other was doing, this one who just months before could not be extracted separately from my body.
Three and a half years after that I dropped him off for his first day at preschool. He readily walked through the doors and I found myself on the other side. He had experiences and conversations and snacks and friends that I would never know anything about. This caused me to reflect on the thoughts and ideas and feelings he had daily that were secret to himself alone, and I realize how very far from the womb he had traveled in four short years.
Yesterday I dropped this same person – clad in Angry Birds t-shirt and backpack, full of personality and opinions – at Kindergarten. Next week I’ll merely open the house door and watch him climb unto the big yellow bus parked outside our home.
For him, I’m sure, the process of separation has been gradual and slow, each step coming at just the right time. But for me, I transitioned from “labor pains” to “school bus” in just a bit more time than it took to earn a Bachelor’s degree. His rapid growth no longer leaves stretch marks on my stomach but the marks are made to my soul as I strain to keep up.
My father once wisely noted that the birth and childhood “firsts” of our first born are as much about ourselves as it is about them, as we encounter for the first time these life experiences we could hardly know existed. In this new season, I find that he is right. My other children will one day start school for the first time, but this time is, for the entire family, the First Time. Somehow today I am not only letting go a little bit more of A, but letting go, period.
In my childhood I was well trained for the eventuality that one day someone would slam a boot against my chest, a gun to my head, and threaten to kill me if I didn’t relent and confess that, in fact, I had no faith in God. The time was swiftly coming, maybe even in my lifetime I was told, when evil would prevail (for a season) and all that is good and lovely would be snuffed out if we did not stand firm even unto death.
We prepared for this outside threat but we did not prepare for a much more insidious threat, the possibility that one day it would be our own feet wearing the boots, our own hands holding the gun; that evil would prevail against us not by killing us suddenly but destroying us slowly. Who would believe that evil could make us like itself without us even being aware? It is easy, or at least straightforward, to prepare to be a sacrifice if it comes to that; but it takes constant vigilance, humility, and surrender to become a living sacrifice, constantly starving the evil within ourselves and feeding only the good. Deciding to die rather than renounce Love is a one-time decision, but deciding to live in a way that is loving requires much, much more. Yet it is the second that is the deciding question in most of our lives.
We all tend to think that there are good guys and bad guys. Which of us wakes up one morning and decides to cross over to the dark side? If we see ourselves as the righteous ones it stands to reason that those who oppose us are evil; if we see ourselves as in danger it follows easily that we should defend ourselves against this oncoming darkness. But I propose that it is at this moment that we turn from light to dark.
When we are convinced of our rightness we stop looking deeply at our faults with humility, stop looking to understand and love the ones who are different from us, even as we ourselves have been loved and understood. When we are convinced that we need to protect ourselves from an outside danger we begin to isolate ourselves; we stop trusting, start fearing; stop giving, start taking; stop comforting and defending, start judging and demeaning. We may not be killed physically for denying Love, but the love in us will be snuffed out when we do not submit to it when things are hard and scary and ugly.
The culture that raised me has not yet found itself physically threatened as we feared. But I believe the threat of evil against goodness and loveliness was no less real for that. It attacked, as it so often does, not by killing us but by changing so many of us through fear and self-defense. If we are ready to lay down our lives in an instant for Love, we must be ever more prepared to lay down our lives and comforts and rights in the name of Love, Justice, Mercy and Compassion. Otherwise, we become the people wearing the boots.
This post is inspired by Sarah McCoy’s where we are drawn into Elsie’s life in Germany during the last year of WWII. Join From Left to Write
Would you believe it? After a very long season of dormancy I am starting up my again. This time around I’m diving into Judaism, and I’m very eager to do so.
Studying Judaism is a bit complicated for me. My own faith, and my own life, is entirely based upon following a man who was himself ethnically and devotionally Jewish, and who made no attempts to become anything different. Much of our sacred scriptures is the telling of Israel’s story. And yet current day Christians, myself included, are so very divorced from any real understanding of Jewish life, traditions, and mindset. How can we understand the man we believe to be the Jewish Messiah if we do not understand the Jewish mind or heart? How can we know the God who first introduced himself to Israel as Creator and Sustainer if we do not know Israel? I have saved Judaism for last because it was so close to me – like a cousin I rarely met. Too close to be introduced without preconceptions, but too far away not to begin at the beginning. And now, here I am.
As it happens, the impetus to jump in came from a novel my read this month, called . I found this book to be gorgeous and utterly compelling, as we follow the lives, beliefs, and dreams of generations of Satmar Jews (a Hasidic sect) from Hitler’s time to today. From the eyes of children we see the horrors of Nazi Germany and as these children grow up we saw how the tragedies and losses impacted their understanding of themselves, their pasts, their future, and their choices. The author does an excellent job of showing us both the beauty and the liability of living and believing in a community such as the Satmars do, and the difficulty of taking one without the other. It was this that sparked my imagination and sent me back to the library.
There are many haunting scenes in this book, but the one that haunts me deepest taps into my other great hobby – the study of . Josepf, whom the reader has known and loved since his terrible childhood, discovers personal news that he considers a sin. The law and scriptures, as he has been taught them, allows for no forgiveness or redemption in this area. He spends literally decades searching the scriptures and teachings, finding only a paradox – messages of God’s unending love, forgiveness and mercy abound, but the law on this particular matter is unyielding and there can be no mitigation or repentance. Which of these is Joseph’s story and path – the individual commands of the law and their consequences for failure or the overarching story arc of mankind’s continued failures and God’s continued redemption and faithfulness? The trees, or the forest?
So many factors determine which of these he will see – his own temperament, what he has been taught, and the questions he asks as he approaches the texts. The impact of our own perspectives on how we understand what we read and hear and “know” is so powerful, and so fascinating to me. Part of what I love in this exploration of World Religions is the ability to see this in others, and then learn to see it in myself.
What Josepf saw and decided was ultimately a combination of his community, his experiences, his beliefs, his mind, and his heart. The same is true for each of us, and for me as I approach this long distant cousin of Judaism.
This post is partially inspired by by Anouk Markovits. Though not sisters by blood but through their Hasidic faith, Mila and Atara views the rules and structure of their culture differently. Mila seeks comfort in the Torah while Atara searches for answers in secular literature she is forbidden to read. Ultimately each must make an irrevocable decision that will change their lives forever. Join From Left to Write
My current lifestyle doesn’t leave room for much of what is commonly understood as “spiritual discipline.” There’s simply no silence or solitude to be found, and I am not the master of my schedule, my diet, my sleep, and in many respects, my life. I’ve many many times heard the message of “that’s ok – there will be time for spiritual disciplines later in life” but I strongly disagree. The things mothers (and parents, and caregivers of all sorts) do with their energy may not be featured in any books on the subject but the reason we don’t have much time for devotion is because we give of ourselves every moment of the day. There has been no steeper road of humility, surrender, submission, service, worship, and prayer in my life than parenting.
One of my greatest passions is to pull back the veil that we so often erect between what is “spiritual” and what is “everyday.” When my hands are filthy from cleaning up another person’s dirty diaper – this is my chance to learn service and humility. When my head is spinning with cries from a million places – I have the opportunity to clear my mind and stay attune to God and the real, live moment I am in. For a caregiver, opportunities for spiritual discipline abound in every moment, if we can look beyond what we have read and see how our souls can be shaped in our day to day.
One thing I do each day, whether I have time or not, is breathe – in and out, in and out, day in and day out. Why not use this as a vehicle? I have been practicing for a few years but was recently encouraged by this:
_ When we are born, we are born into a relationship with air, with breathing. How closely the words wind, air, life, and spirit are linked in human thought. We are creatures into whom life is breathed.
A word we have for inhaling is inspiration. When we are fully inspired, not only are our lungs filled – our beings are also filled, with hope, with potential, with the impetuous to express possibility.
Expired, we are over and done with, stopped…finished.
Our life is lived within this paradox. With every inhalation we are given life. With every exhalation we must surrender that life, for another breath to be given to us. If we could fully enter the rhythm of this paradox we would live with immediacy, and be intimate with birth and death and with life itself. _
So I’m doing this A-Z challenge during the month of April, but I’m falling behind. I think today is supposed to be X, but I’m writing V…and that’s only because I did both T and U yesterday and skipped K weeks ago. But oh well, better late than never. Its not like the last letters of the alphabet are going anywhere in May.
Falling behind is not something I do very often. I am, in fact, the girl who wrote five research papers during Spring Break my Sophomore year in college because I just needed to know they were done. That’s a poignant example, but that’s how I do most things in my life. If you invite me to your house I’ll probably show up 15 minutes early on accident. I can’t help it.
But these days, all my time and energy easily go to the most urgent things on the list – taking care of my kids’ most basic of needs and keeping on top of my part time job. Then comes the important things that will become urgent most quickly if left undone – cleaning the kitchen, washing the clothes, going to the store. If there’s anything left it goes to the third tier of urgent whatever that happens to be on any given week – the broccoli plants that will wilt if not planted, the folded laundry that hasn’t been put away in 10 days, the bathrooms that haven’t been cleaned in (indistinguishable mumbling).
If I had my preference, I’d still be working ahead. My house would be clean and organized, I’d be doing any number of fulfilling and educational things for my kids and for myself. There are a lot of things I’d like to be doing right now that are just not rising to the top half of the list. But that’s how things go with three little ones.
Recently I had the chance to chat with a panel of published authors. When I described to them a bit of what was on my plate they looked about to swoon with exhaustion. One asked if I would ever like to write something to be published and then stopped herself. “You have many years ahead of you to write, but this is your only chance to have a three year old.”
She’s so right. Someday, my house will be tidy and my lawn will be mowed and my hair will be cut and I’ll be reading books and writing down my ideas and spending time with friends. There has been time for that in the past but this time I get to wake up every day and see these lovely faces. This time, and never again. I’m going to keep falling behind and drink them up, every drop.
I read this recently and I loved the idea – the way it turns a daily task into a spiritual goal. I’ve been trying it.
“A table can be so many things – from a desk to an altar. It is around the table that we gather for meals. At the table we study, play games, sort the mail, pay bills, and do so much of what is needed for a household.
_Tables are often cluttered. In a rush we pile them high, be they counters, bureaus, sideboards, desks. or ordinary tables. An empty surface invites this kind of use. _
_Were we to clear one surface in our homes and try to keep it free of everything, we would soon find how hard that is is – and how much our minds are likewise surfaces that clutter up. _
_Keeping a clear table is a form of hospitality, for a conscious empty space reminds us to clear ourselves and so invite our souls. Spaciousness is the home of the soul. _
Even on small surface kept clear is a powerful reminder. Resting our eyes on such a cleared surface invites God’s company and feeds our souls.”
Over fifteen years ago I set for myself a goal that I still have today – to keep both my eyes and my heart open.
By eyes open I mean looking at things as they really are, no matter how hard the truth may be, never sugar coating or escaping.
By heart open I mean continuing to make my spirit a place where love can easily flow in and out, where there is joy and hope.
Either of these is fairly straightforward to do on its own, but it is not enough. Attempting to have both eyes and heart open is one of the greatest challenges I know because the more one’s eyes open, the more one’s heart tends to close; and the more one’s heart opens, the more one’s eyes begin to close.
If my heart is open to love and joy but my eyes are closed to pain and reality then I am naive and can be of very little use to bring healing in the real world. If my eyes are open but my heart is closed I become cynical and jaded and I am very little beneficial use, period.