December 7, 2008


This year I wanted to do something for Advent with the kids. I bought a nativity and each night after dinner we light the candles around it. We tell Jude (and Gideon, though he's a little too young still) the story of Jesus' birth, and let her ask questions. And then we sing some Christmas carols while Josh accompanies on the piano. Jude loves this part of the day.

Both of the kids are fascinated by the Baby Jesus. Jude will climb up and play with him several times a day, and she loves to just hold him and look at his face. If left to his own devices little Gideon would do the same, only with more banging (just to test the substance of it, you understand). But when I asked Jude which was her favorite, she looked lovingly at the little Holy Family and said without hesitation, "Mary."

Me, too.

I've been thinking a lot about Mary these days. Though I do not know all the reasons why she has captured the devotion of believers for centuries, I can say that I'm beginning to understand something about her: she is me. Us.

We are in the same position as she--laboring in faith to bring forth something new. The Spirit is bringing forth a new creation within me, and I am His instrument--the instrument of God.

Like Mary, we do not know the path that lies before us. Like Mary we know we are not equal to the task. We can only respond to God's desire for us to die with an obedient heart, a surrendered and willing spirit that says, "Let it be unto me according to your will."

It is in our nature to want to understand, to know. All the way back in Eden they ate of the fruit for the sake of attaining knowledge. As creatures we desire to be in the role of creator. And yet that is not our place--our role has always been as vessel.

Like Mary, we are to be a vessel of God. Emmanuel--God with us. God in us. We are the vessel, and HE brings forth a new creation. And it is ourselves.

So often I want a blueprint. I want a map so I can double-check the directions, conceptualize the journey, and get my hands on some concrete details. Yet here, in the very center of my soul, I encounter mystery. The core of my faith, the crux of my relationship with God is the sacred mystery of God within me, of His Spirit shaping and molding me into a new creation. Like Mary, I am a vessel.

This Advent season I am meditating on this mystery. I am praying for patience, for surrender. I am lifting a grateful heart to God, thanking Him for his gifts and His grace, grateful for His love which sent His beloved Son, and then His Spirit--so much! This love asks me to be an obedient vessel, and I am grateful for this mystery which affirms my life--hidden with Christ in God.

October 21, 2008

Rice, Anyone?

Josh has this habit. He claims it is because of his ears--they are so sensitive. Anyway. When he is near one of the children and the child begins crying, screaming, or otherwise creating an auditory disturbance that exceeds his threshhold of tolerance (it's pretty low), he blows into the child's mouth. Seriously. He has done this since Jude was a baby, despite my efforts to curb him. And I have made efforts. Baleful glances. Snide remarks. Motherly pleading. Even when I compare him to the Republican Party and its torture tactics with detainees... he still persists.

Tonight, while we were eating dinner, Jude was fussing. She's been fussy all day, actually. She woke up in a ferocious mood, beginning her day by yelling at me about reading her a book, and just continued this way. So while she is sitting next to her Daddy, eating teriyaki chicken and rice, she's also antagonizing the rest of us with her mouth. Honestly, if only that one part of her were SHUT more often, we'd all get along better, I think. Am I the only mother who's ever thought this? Surely not.

Well, she was not sitting in her chair anymore. She had migrated into Josh's airspace, where she was hovering with her grimy hands and her non-stop verbage. And then some small thing upset her, and she wound it up. She started yelling in Josh's ear (it was a proximity thing, not a purposeful one). He turned, and with all the momentum of long-established habit, blew forcefully in her mouth. Except that he had just jammed a huge mouthful of rice in there. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

There was a moment of silence, as there usually is. The child is still catching its breath after the incident. Jude stood there, one foot on Josh's chair, the other crooked over her booster seat. As I looked up, though, instead of seeing Josh's angry disapproving look, I see him LAUGHING. Silently, he is starting to chuckle. Then Jude moves her tongue around, becoming aware of a new object in there. Um, yeah. He spit some rice in her mouth. OOPS!

Of course, she's totally grossed out, and starts spitting it out, but she's grinning too. And then there's me. I'm hysterical. I can't stop laughing, and it's escalating to snorting. I should probably leave the table, but I can't seem to stop laughing long enough to go. What was especially funny was the baby, enthroned in his high chair, watching the show with delight.

Oh, boy. I'm wiping away the tears. Wooo.

June 24, 2008

Insomniac Ramblings

Mother. I am Mother now. We’ve been tossing and turning a long time, perhaps more than an hour. He’ll fall asleep, then startle awake, waking me as he turns to his side. I hear him and feel him seeking my breast. When he is latched he drifts back, away, into sleep. Each time we adjust, my limbs, weighted down with a desire for sleep, pull me back into quiet, so that I know a strange half-waking, a twilight within my mind.

But it is too long, too long that we’ve been dancing this way under the covers. I am so tired, exhausted. There’s no word that describes the weariness that has hold of me. When he startles awake again, I force myself to crouch and swaddle him. Picking him up with his little cries of sleepiness and protest, I hold him against my chest and wrestle out of the tangle of covers.

There’s the moment my foot touches the floor, the sole molded into flatness, the solidity of the dark room with light outlining the windows, the cold of the air as we emerge from our warm nest. I tuck him against my chest, and he settles his face into my neck. Sighing, I begin to pace.

Wife. I hear my husband’s breath, louder when he turns to adjust position as I get up. It angers me that I am up while he sleeps, that there’s no other way I’d have it—no peace if I pawn the job off on him, no way I’d lose my little baby to his own room yet. I am so tired. I am so tired.

There is an inevitability to my pace, dictated by the path. Walk the end of the bed, step across the leg of the swing, dodge left to avoid the co-sleeper, stop at the changing table, then pivot away from the closet and retrace my steps back toward the window, the fan, and Josh.

I am so tired. My feet drag a little—this is how I keep my balance, walking on my heels. I am so tired. I can’t stop thinking it. I take in a breath, and another. It must be this now. I must accept. And I remember to begin. MA-RA-NA-THA MA-RA-NA-THA MA-RA-NA-THA. The sound, the word itself begins to draw a shawl of the eternal, the real, around me. I am still shuffling, still forcing muscle and brain to communicate in a sludge of weariness, but my soul is warming. This lacy shawl of light, sieved with bits of this dark room, is yet tensile and strong, tangible enough to warm my soul. MA-RA-NA-THA MA-RA-NA-THA MA-RA-NA-THA. I tread it out, able now to breathe in the air of eternity, drawing breath in this world and the next. God is near.

There is no containing this other world, which is The All, our God Himself. There is no hoarding or storing up for future needs. It is impossible, and it is unnecessary. The is-ness, God, that underpins and encompasses all that our senses provide—this is-ness IS. It is the Great I Am. This I Am is the Way. It is the Truth. It is the Life. There is no other.

My baby lies beside me, having awakened in his swing less than fifteen minutes after I settled him there. I am awake now, insomnia getting its grip, and he is sleeping. He is on his back, his little legs thrown upon my thigh, and I know without sensing it (indeed, how could I have sensory proof of it?) that he is breathing in this world and also, always, in the wider world of the real. He draws his breath in the presence of God. He does not need a word, a way back. His very being draws nourishment from both worlds. He is not fractured, but whole. Wholeness is one of the reasons I think we are drawn to babies. They do not need salvation—that is, healing and wholeness because they can breathe both ways. The breath of the soul is as native to them as air.

Light is a useful way to describe the is-ness, God, because if I tried to cup my hands around the light—to contain it, to possess it, to control it—then I lose the good of it, since I can no longer behold it. It cannot be grasped, but must be received into my soul, the is-ness within me. When I immerse myself in culture and media, I compress my soul, flattening it with particulars.

The eternal is not particular. When I seek it (God), when I walk the path with the feet of my body treading upon earth and the feet of my soul upon glory, I need only take a few steps. A few steps and then my soul flashes into incandescence, diffusing into brilliance, joining with the eternal. Maranatha is a way. The word, the sound, guides my feet as I tread the darkened room and my inner voice calling MA-RA-NA-THA awakens my soul. The eyes of my heart—that is, the core of my is-ness—open, and I can see what has been all around me. For in him we live and move and have our being.

Our world of the five senses is the overlay. It has been created to show the glory of God to dust. We are dust, given the breath of God. Thus it is not creation that gets in the way of our seeing rightly. It is culture, media, language, possessions. This is why simplicity is so important. Simplicity purifies the outer eye, thus keeping the way clear for our inner eye to perceive the eternal, is-ness, God.

May 5, 2008

A Signpost By The Wayside

Today my husband got out our old Concert Choir cds from our college days. He was playing Haydn's Creation at high volume and the kids loved it. They love music as much as we do. I was cooking at the stove and thinking within the noise. The music was fabulous—the psalmody of centuries and the most glorious compositions and arrangements. I was immersed in it, and found myself thinking back to what now seem like golden days.

Singing in the choir was an important part of the whole experience of awakening. I was studying literature, poetry, science, Bible, and Greek. Every day I was introduced to new ideas, new thoughts, and new ways of thinking about the world. Even when I thought they were stupid or useless, there is no doubt (now) that it was a formational time. And of course much of it wasn’t stupid or useless. In addition, the professors and the church community, the activities and friends, the books and art and language and music—it all formed an incredibly rich milieu. It was an electrifying time. I felt very awake.

I was reminded of all this when a band on tour from a sister college stopped in my town last week. Our church hosted the members in our homes, and we hosted a young couple (both 20) who had been married 4 months. Four months! I remember what my life was like when I had been married four months—mostly because at that particular time I was still a year from graduation, and broke my ankle in a car accident. It was its own kind of difficult time. Anyway, this couple was very nice, and accepted our hospitality with good grace. My husband and I know how difficult it can be to tour with a performance group! Still, there was something about the young man, whose name was Thomas.

He was a Bible major, and when he mentioned the name of one of his main professors, I started. This man had taught me as well! He had moved colleges shortly after I graduated, but I had the privilege of studying under him before he left; I took Christian Ethics. I recall him with great respect, primarily because he is a man of true integrity. He acts upon the principles which he professes. For example (to be fair, this is something Thomas probably didn’t know) he and his wife lost a baby to miscarriage. They both believe that life begins at conception, and therefore once the baby was delivered, they named her. They buried her in a tiny white casket, with a funeral service. They grieved. She was their daughter. This is just one example. Also, this man taught with passion; he believed in his students and their ability to learn; he pressed through the attitudes and the facades and tried to lead his students to a place within themselves where they could confront some of the most difficult questions, the moral dilemmas, the soul-struggles we all must experience if we are ever to grow.

However, when I asked Thomas what he thought of this teacher, he gave one of those noncommittal shrugs and said, “Oh, he’s all right. He’s a pretty good teacher.” He paused, then said, “His politics are a little left-of-center for me.” I think I was so taken aback that I couldn’t respond. And then I didn’t want to. This professor no doubt encourages his students to think critically about their own politics as well as his. He certainly knows that this is necessary if he is ever going to help them move past the pre-critical stage (which is where they are before they arrive)! Though I chose not to say anything, I probably derived a little too much pleasure from reminding myself that Thomas was still in the pre-critical stage. And that I, of course, was far beyond it, having evolved to an entirely different plane of existence following my college experiences!

Anyway, I was still thinking about all this while stirring at the stove today, with the voices of the choir washing over me in waves—a fugue that kept me in its grip for minutes, mesmerizing as art. But within the waves I was parsing the voices, too. Was that soprano Talley? Was it Angela? Neither of us recognized the tenor soloist, having eliminated those we remembered. We eventually decided this cd was from the first year, or maybe from after our time. Hearing the choir sing was such a combination of familiar and foreign. It was truly bittersweet.

While in college, we took the music for granted. I remember rolling my eyes at some of the pieces, wishing the director would just stop picking ugly music (which is to say, music which is difficult to appreciate). I remember complaining about singing at these little churches, their attendance and spirit so sparse that they engendered pity. The people we met were nice, usually a lot of older folks. I now know that this is because those congregations were dying, slowly, one by one. I have to chuckle, since I am talking about it as if it were ages ago. Well, it feels like it. It was actually ten years ago, which is truly a long time, long enough at least for my life to look very different. For one thing, I am now attending one of those churches. I cringe as I write it. I do sometimes ask God, quietly, submissively, what He is doing with my life here. Being part of a church community like the ones we visited on tour is just as dry and hard as I thought it looked then. And it is infinitely more difficult, since I have come to care for so many of these discouraged (and sometimes discouraging!) souls. Ah, well. I must simply sigh, and trust, and continue to serve and love. But I could see that Thomas and Mara pitied us. It is difficult to be pitied; it is nearly intolerable to be pitied by ignorant (in the kindest sense) college students! Hmph!

I remember the hours I spent during my college years wandering under the green trees, writing poetry. I used to listen to Mozart’s piano sonatas and the ticking of antique clocks in the office of the English professor for whom I graded papers. I would stare out the window at the grassy park, the students lounging or walking and talking, the sun gilding the blue sky—it all seemed like a beautiful painting, a living painting set to Mozart’s music. Just hearing the choir sing brought it all gurgling up from the well within me. And I was nourished by it, because it reminded me that I am still that girl.

These days my life is filled with the conflicts and struggles of parenting two children under three years old. I am nursing my son; I am helping (!) my daughter move through her own struggles for autonomy. It is not an easy time. The sleep loss, combined with the household duties of laundry, cooking, and cleaning, the church activities that require planning, cooking, or volunteering time, and my own difficulties giving up time in which I’d rather be reading, writing, or gardening—all this makes this a difficult time in its own way. But I don’t want to waste it. I don’t want to look back and think, “I should have enjoyed it more.” Like my college years, I want to look back and say, “It was so wonderful. I love to remember. It is gone, and that brings some sentimentality and sorrow, but I enjoyed it while I had it. Still, there is joy here and now, too.”

And then it occurred to me: In some form, college is meant to teach us how to think about the world, to introduce us to ways of thinking about the world, and to teach us not to take the whole thing so seriously. After all, these conflicts have been ongoing for centuries, and many worthy (and unworthy) minds have considered the difficulties in questions about the meaning of life, the nature of death, the role of art, the justifications (or lack thereof) for war, why we love, etc. And as the Teacher says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” This process of understanding and perception is energized and built upon during the college years.

In the same way, the parenting years have their role. It is not only (though this is important) to learn to nourish and bless the souls of our children. It is to teach us not to take ourselves so seriously. When I want to believe that my will and desires are the most important, that my thoughts are worthy and should be listened to, that my abilities are well-honed… along comes a little face that turns up to mine and says, “Mamacita! Come here! I want to show you!” Or an angry little voice echoing my parenting back to me: “No!” accompanied by finger-wagging, “That is UNACCEPTABLE!” Or the unadulterated joy of my daughter looking forward to playing her version of peek-a-boo (called, “Jack-In-The-Box”) with her brother while she is in the bathtub. Anytime I start to take myself too seriously, I am called back to the concrete and mystical present of a world populated by the most unreasonable and wondrous creatures on the planet. Life is far to precious to take myself too seriously. There is more grace in my world when I don’t.

So, though I am nostalgic for the freedom and ignorance of college days, when I felt completely justified in my superiority complex, I am grateful that I can take those days with me. I am still (to my regret) somewhat that girl. I am also a woman, wife, and mother. I have tasted pain; I have experienced self-denial; I am wise enough to willingly admit my ignorance. And thanks to my children, I am learning to be humble enough to laugh at myself.

April 6, 2008

Baptized with the Spirit of Fire

Exodus 3:1-5

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.

So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

"Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Have you ever noticed the light that undergirds all living things? There's a translucence, a buoyant flow of light running beneath the skin of nature. It isn't glory, not divine glory; it is the shadow of it, the breath of it, the pulse.

I am gazing at the oak tree outside the library window. It is plain to see--its branches and buds cobwebbing the blue sky behind. Yet there is something not plain, too. I am only fifteen feet or so from the base of the trunk; as I look the tree is swaying slightly in the breeze, making the chimes ring. It is so solid there, planted firmly, roots digging determinedly into the earth. Yet as I gaze, it seems to ripple, almost as if its metaphysical insides were molten light. It is the Holy Spirit, I think. How else can life exist except at the good pleasure of God?

I love the verse in Genesis that explains, "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." The movement of the Spirit here is one in which great power (capable of terrifying) hovers with tender love. I once heard it described as "brooding" the way a mother hen broods over her eggs. A lovely homely thought (using the word as Julian of Norwich might). This is the power of which I speak. This mystery that undergirds our lives, bringing forth blessings with each season.

The other night in bed I was thinking about this, and suddenly I thought about Moses and the burning bush. He had traveled across the desert, a lonely wilderness experience I would guess. And then he sees something. How to explain it? It seems that he sees a bush on fire, yet it does not burn. How can this be? When he investigates, he hears the voice of God calling his name.

Then God told Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I have always been awed by this, and perhaps this is as it should be. This, this vision of life, is sacred. To see the flames in the bush, to recognize the light that illuminates and yet does not consume--this is a holy way of seeing. He who has eyes to see, let him see.

It is a sacred vision of life. Awe and wonder and the sublime. To take off our sandals in the presence of the holy is not only to show respect and submission. It also brings us into closer communion with God. Moses took off his sandals, coming into intimate contact with God's beloved earth. His feet, once formed of dust, now digging into this dust--a reminder of our indelible link to all of God's creation.

"John answered them all, 'I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.'"(Luke 3:16) And then John 3:5 'Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.'"

For us, so distant from Moses in time, the indwelling Holy Spirit brings God's gifts within us; the potentiality is present for us to see the holy fire that does not consume. When I pray I lift my spirit into the presence of God, I bow or kneel or prostrate my spirit, wanting to be near Him. I want transformation so that I will see as God sees, because then wonder will be irresistible. I will look at a field of wheat or a leafless oak or the canyon at dusk and see. I will see a shadow of divine glory as it falls across my face, divine glory shadowed in fire.

April 3, 2008

A Beginning

That picture above is magic for me. I snapped it one morning while sitting on the porch in New Mexico, meditating. I have tried to read out there, sitting cross-legged on the swing, but it is impossible. The world with all its beauty calls to me.

Magic, the way the light filters through the aspens. Magic, the sounds of the birds and the wind in the leaves. Glory, the presence of God dwelling in my spirit to awaken me to the beauties He has made. I am grateful.

This blog is dedicated to celebrating the feast of the Kingdom of God. This feast has a lot to do with a way of seeing; if we can learn to see the way that God sees, then our lives will be a feast not only of the senses but of the soul. This is richness and blessing indeed.