The Meeting Places

Some mornings the new mercy arrives at 4 a.m., looking like a slice of lemon yellow sunrise behind ragged lavender clouds.  My early morning drive to the hospital sent me due east.  Not knowing what I would find there, I thanked God for the mercy of ambulances and strong men who lift gently and answer questions with thorough patience.  When I arrived, I thanked Him for a thoughtful son who showed up unexpectedly and stood in a cramped, curtained room waiting for inconclusive test results.  There were no windows in this meeting place to announce daylight’s arrival, but this one thing I know:  by the time the coastal mist had burned off and blue sky had chosen the morning, Mum was already in heaven.

That afternoon, three generations gathered around spaghetti and salad and pictures from my mother’s albums.  Remembering and wondering and making ten thousand phone calls filled in the spaces of that whole day, but this is a homeschooling family, so the following sunrise was succeeded quickly by breakfast as usual — and trigonometry.  My graduating senior will tell you that trig has a language all its own, but what I see in these days of comings and goings is a charming branch of mathematics that assures me that there is a relationship among all the parts. If I know the measure of an angle and the length of a couple of sides, I can figure out the whole triangle.  This is oddly comforting on the morning after an abrupt departure that followed a mere three hours in the emergency room — a flight that somehow connects the vast horizon of heaven to the granite outcroppings and furrowed garden soil that comprise my everyday world.

Momentous Milestones

Poet Luci Shaw compares the death of a parent to standing on the top rung of a ladder.  Suddenly there you are, at the top, hands grasping at nothing, “no one above you to compass the wideness of space.”  Mum had long ago ceded the role of family matriarch to me, her older daughter, but even so, the generational ladder is filling up behind me and every milestone feels momentous.  For example, this year marks a perpendicular line that perfectly bisects the span of my days.  At the age of 27, I married an unreasonably patient man, and this month marks our 27th anniversary.  Finally, I have been married for as many years as I was single, my life folding over onto itself with a neat center crease like a greeting card — or a church bulletin.

This intersection of halves has set me to wondering:  would the single me even recognize her married counterpart, all settled into gardening and homeschooling, and happy to spend any amount of time alone with a book and a pen?  At the same time, my married self looks back with astonishment at all the energy and emotion that was spent like water in those early decades.  Surely there’s some way to capture and recycle it?

Of course, all this comparing and contrasting of the two halves is one more evidence that I “see in a mirror dimly.”  So, as I grab my cuff and vigorously wipe away as much of the fog as I can, the clearing surface reveals an aging faith along with this aging face.  The girl who loved theology — but was pretty sure she wasn’t smart enough to declare it as a major —  would be astonished at all the reading and re-reading of sacred words, the taking of notes and the building of outlines that goes on in this graying head.

The Truer Meeting Place

Paul writes about this kind of growth in a letter to the Ephesians that emphasizes wholeness and a maturing process that is endless, for today it is incomprehensible that I could be “like Christ in everything . . . so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” (MSG)  Meeting myself in the middle and saying goodbye to my mother allows all that is past to strike a sympathetic chord with the future.  I’m encouraged to move forward, mindful of my weaknesses and stubborn sin tendencies — but not defined by them.

Madeleine L’Engle once said in her later years, “I am still every age that I have been.”  She may have worked that out through her career as an author, but with my mother’s departure, I’m seeing it happen in real life.  Already the past ten years of cantankerous demands and stubbornness are being swallowed up in memories of better days when she laughed at her own jokes and answered the phone with a high pitched “hallooo” (that my sister and I always made fun of).  Her older grandsons remember stale Oreos and boxed macaroni and cheese served with joy while they watched Teletubbies on her t.v.

Perhaps this miracle of memory foreshadows a truer meeting place that will become reality once faith has become sight; when the energy of the twenties; the ambition of the thirties; the settled contentment of the forties; and the ripening wisdom of the fifties and beyond all meet, join hands, and dance in a full-hearted, completely mended consummation of a life, “fully mature . . ., fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13 MSG)

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Mum, my curly haired baby sister, and me — probably in 1965.

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Musings — July 2016

July has been a month of gatherings, and nothing is more precious to me than the gift of my patient husband and our family.  To celebrate Independence Day we all trekked to our favorite State Park on Lake St. George for a daylong picnic and swim, and then off to the fireworks.  We’ve relished a Saturday at the ocean, an evening around the fire pit with s’mores and starlight, and a lovely opportunity to babysit the adorable grand boy.

You, readers, are a further source of inspiration, and many of you are fellow bloggers who regularly offer up your words, sometimes wondering if anyone is out there reading.  This month your messages of encouragement to me have shown up at just the right time — just like the ravens who served as messengers with God’s provision in the Old Testament (I Kings 17:4-6; Genesis 8:6,7).

Thank You to My Ravens

When your words land
Like downy feathers,
When they  nourish like bread and meat,
I find strength to make my way to the Brook,
To drink deeply,
To be refreshed where God has placed me.

So, dear Ravens, when you have been tossed out of your Ark,
Sent forth from your cherished place of safety
To take wing over some flooded and desolate place,

Fly.

Keep going to and fro over the waters,
And know this:

Although your mission may not be clear —
No fresh-growing olive leaf in sight for you to pluck
As evidence of your flight —
Someone waits for you.
Some God-loved but wingless soul,
Uncertain about life and food,
Body and clothes,
Some watching, Word-starved worrier
Will consider your carefree flight,
Will hear Spirit-wind in your timely fluttering,
Will cease her empty striving,
Will seek His kingdom and do the Word of the Lord —
Because you took flight.

Book Talk

I’m enjoying some reading this summer that will not be showing up on the blog, and there’s nothing like a book that happens to be an old friend.  This includes working my way slowly through Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water, a section at a time, sometimes re-reading, always encouraged.  I’m also discovering Amy Carmichael’s Edges of His Ways.  It has been a delightful thing to cut back to one book review per week on the blog!

Life at Home

I am two thirds of the way through my commitment to the summer job, and all is well.  It appears that everyone is surviving quite nicely without me standing constantly in the hypotenuse of the sink-stove-fridge-triangle.

 

Reading, writing, and studying time have been a bit hard to come by, so I resurrected a few older posts for the blog in the month of July.

Our big vegetable garden has been a steady presence in my life for the past couple of decades, and, of course, that has not changed. It’s nearly time for canning to begin.

The patient husband and I are persevering in our journey through the Bible out loud together, and this is a steady source of inspiration.

Living Our Days

The most-read post for July was a meditation on Psalm 142 and David’s Prayer from the Cave.   I am happy to report that the most-read book review was based on Marjorie Maddox’s beautiful collection of poetry entitled Yes. No. None of the Above.  

I’m not sure that I had a favorite post this month, but certainly the most challenging for me to write was my review of Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty.   Essentially, the task was to write a book review about a book . . . that had been written about another book (Shusako Endo’s Silence).

Coming up in the month of August, I’m delighted to be sharing a post via She Loves Magazine about my friend in Australia, Bev Murrill.  She has a teaching, counseling, and humanitarian ministry to women and children in Africa, and, although we have never met in person, I have been challenged by her heart of compassion.

I’d love to know what is challenging you this summer.   Are there people in your life who show you the love of Christ, who show up like ravens with messages of provision and encouragement?

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I’ll be linking this post with Leigh Kramer‘s great community of  month-end encouragement.  I hope you’ll join me there!

Also,  I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Battlefields and Slums and Insane Asylums

I cannot abide bouillon in a mug, but I’m always a little sorry about that when I read the opening pages of Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season.  She sips from her warm cup, gazes out her two a.m. window at the Hudson River, and begins an Advent reflection that meanders through the liturgical year and the seasons of her life, ending up at her country farmhouse just in time for the Michaelmas daisies.

Although she passed away in 2007 and the four volumes of The Crosswicks Journal series (The Irrational Season is number three) were published in the 1970’s, Madeleine’s musings are timeless.  I find myself needing to reread them every so often just to be reminded that there are juicy words like anamnesis and eschaton and pusillanimous and that one could refer to a houseful of neighborhood kids as a “charm of children.”  I turn and return to Madeleine L’Engle because her thoughts remind me that there is a Truth that can be expressed in poetry as well as in memoir and that manages to be both orthodox and startling.

On the subject of God — the Creator of a world that now includes “battlefields and slums and insane asylums” — Madeleine expresses both puzzlement and awe.  “Why does God treat in such a peculiar way the creatures He loves so much that He sent His own Son to them?”  Even so, she affirms that a “no” from God is often a prelude to a better “yes,” and that the “only God who seems to be worth believing in is impossible for mortal man to understand.”

Perhaps, as a story teller herself, she realized that her own life was His to plot.

On marriage and parenting, Madeleine was a delightful mixture of progressive and traditional thought:  “A marriage is something which has to be created.  When we were married, Hugh and I became a new entity, he as much as I.”  She was a militant advocate for breastfeeding in an era in which it was considered backward, while at the same time setting boundaries in her home that protected her ability to continue with her writing.

Her faith was subject to “attacks of atheism,” but she also maintained that “anger [at God] is an affirmation of faith.  You cannot get angry at someone who is not there.”  Her writing informed her theology, and her theology informed her writing to the point where she gave her stories credit for “converting” her “back to Christianity.”  Her portrayals of the incarnation are both homely and profound, exulting in the Word made flesh with each of her newborn babies and the touch of her husband’s warm foot under the blankets.

Madeleine L’Engle was at her best when she was describing the writing process and the relationship between a writer and her work.  She attributed her success as a writer to her suffering and her unusual childhood, saying that her “best writing has been born of pain.”  She saw little difference between praying and writing, and humbly attempted “to listen to the book” as she listened in prayer.  Her advice to aspiring writers came from her own standard practice:  “I read as much as possible, write every day, keep my vocabulary alive and changing, so that I will have an instrument on which to play the book if it does me the honor of coming to me and asking to be written.”

The Irrational Season is only one of the fifty books that came to Madeleine asking to be served.

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If you have read The Irrational Season – or if you love all-things-Madeleine – check out this discussion that’s just getting started over at The Red Couch book club.   See you there!

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