The Great and Necessary Outdoors

Go out and get some fresh air.

When my children were still in their preschool years, Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder [Algonquin Books,  2005 (2008 – updated and expanded edition)]. His basic point: lack of getting outside in the natural world has some very negative consequences for children. I’m not sure when this bit of common sense moved from something most people took as a given to something that needed scientific research to justify.

Spending all day and night indoors, wired into various devices or sitting in front of a television screen, isn’t good for kids. Our bodies need to move, and we need to engage with the world in a way that we can’t control simply by pushing a button or selecting favorites. The world we build around ourselves, the indoor space we inhabit, can become a hiding place – somewhere we use to escape the larger world, where we can fool ourselves into thinking we can control everything.

But it’s just so easy to shut the door, pull the curtains, and leave the great big world the poorer for our absence.

If we don’t go outside, we miss out on some magical things:

Fostering life – plants, birds, bees, butterflies, and even the occasional groundhog or skunk.

Finding beauty in every season – fog rolling in, planets and stars crossing the sky, snow on tree branches, jellyfish and hermit crabs in the water where we stand.

Finding our place – we aren’t the center of the world, but we are a wonderful part of it. The entire universe was changed when we entered it.

Seeing the handiwork of God, and the holy ground that Jesus walked.

This is the day the Lord has made. Go outside and be glad for it.

Are You Hungry?

This question is often the beginning of meal and snack prep, and a way to gauge how much food needs to be made – a pragmatic piece of courtesy.

Are you hungry? If you are, what will satisfy your hunger? When I ask such questions of others and of myself, I can better meet true physical needs and become aware of when I am eating (or offering food) when no need exists. Are you hungry is offering me the grace of intentionality in my eating and drinking, and a way for me to offer the same to others.

When asked in a spiritual sense, are you hungry? is an invitation to partake of God’s nourishing presence – as necessary and satisfying as food for the body. Perhaps Jesus spent so much time eating with others because he wanted them to make this connection. Perhaps we continue to break bread in his name because we realize that making the connection is the every day miracle we are starving for.

[This morning, I’m writing at the Dunkin’ Donuts just down the street from my home. Iced Signature Latte in hand, it struck me that this isn’t a question asked of anyone standing in the impressively long line of people working their way to the register. What can I get you, hot or iced, would you like an order of hash browns with that are the questions asked and answered. Perhaps the assumption is that anyone entering must be hungry or at least thirsty. For me on this particular day, it’s not an accurate assumption.]

Table Blessing:  Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you, God, for everything. Amen.

What Did You Learn?

My grandfather used to ask me and my siblings this question every day when we got back from school. He asked on the days we had no school, too. Why do you ask the same thing every day?, I asked him more than once. Why do you think?, he asked back.

What did life bring today – it’s another way of asking the same thing. This day is an ephemeral creature: elusive, mysterious, and here for such a very brief moment. It’s so easy to let it pass by without giving it a second glance. Good, bad, or a mixed bag, today’s life won’t be here tomorrow and can’t be preserved in a mason jar like jam or pickles. This might be close to why my grandfather asked the same question every day.

There are days of joy, and days of immense pain. Not everything I’ve learned has made me happy, but not a single thing has been a waste of my time or attention. When my days are spent, and I’m asked what I learned from my time  on this earth, with grateful thanks to my grandfather, I’ll have quite a few things to offer up.

[Today, I learned that potatoes are growing in the compost.]

Come on in; tell me about your day…

It’s not just the words: it’s the tone of voice and the light in the eyes of the one who says them. To be welcome, truly welcome, in one’s own home is something precious. Those that were born into this blessing give it hardly a thought until life teaches them that it’s not offered in every home. Those who didn’t grow up in a home with this blessing come to believe that they have no home in this world where they are known and loved for the miracle of life they are.

I’ve made many mistakes as a parent and spouse. I hope withholding these words and the true welcome behind them isn’t one of them.

Lord, you have given me a home in your creation. May I do the same for the people you have given me to love. Amen.

That’s the Bell

The notes of the bell or buzzer travel throughout the school building, spilling onto the grounds and into neighboring yards –  the audible signal that the school day is ended, and that it’s time for learners and teachers alike to leave the classroom behind. Life is more than a classroom, and it cannot be contained in school-shaped buildings. It’s time to leave it behind, until the next school day.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a school bell equivalent for the rest of life? A bell rings, and it’s time to leave the unfinished work at the office; a buzzer sounds, and it’s time to stop cleaning the house. For many of us, there’s no bell or buzzer to remind us that life is more than whatever work we are currently doing – that life is more than this one thing, and that it cannot be contained in any work-shaped box.

I like working, and I enjoy accomplishing my goals. I don’t want to shirk my responsibilities or burden others with my tasks. I want to work hard without being a workaholic. But sometimes the line between the two gets blurry, and I could really use a bell to sound when I cross it. I think that’s why I say the same prayer every morning. Two of its lines are: In all things, help me to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day, reveal thy will to me. 

If I do my best to rely on God’s will, and humbly ask that it be revealed to me throughout my day, I swear I can hear the school bell ring when it’s time to put down my work  – until it is time to pick it up again on another day.

Great God, give me ears to hear your voice as I seek to order my day. My endings and beginnings are yours. Amen.

What’s my homework?

Write down your homework assignments.

In my son Colin’s third grade classroom, all the homework assignments were written on the chalkboard, right next to the door. In my son Jared’s fifth grade classroom, the week’s worth of homework was posted on a board; each day’s work could be found under its day’s heading – Monday, Tuesday, etc. School life is a lot easier when expectations are clearly stated, and learners given the time and skills to meet them. It’s a good practice, this writing down assignments.

This past week, I began my fifth year as my public library’s learning gardener. With Marcia and Katarina, my co-leaders, an eight week plan was created, materials selected, and our overall expectations for the program listed. Each day, I do my best to encourage the pre-school participants (and their parents, grandparents, siblings, and other guardians) to experience the garden, learn one new skill or idea, and try a garden-based snack. Each week, my co-leaders and I sit down to review the week and evaluate what did and did not work. Ideas for the next year are jotted down – our best attempt to learn from our successes and failures. At the end of the summer, we’ll look back over the entire program – not just for the pleasure it gives, but to grow next year’s program from its fertile soil.

If I were to write my assignments on a board – what I need to do to grow as I foster the growth of my young learners, I guess the list would look something like this…

  1. Keep what brought joy to the children and adults who spent time in the garden.
  2. Leave the outside world in better shape every year – garden beds, trees, bushes, patios and pathways.
  3. Point out the startlingly beautiful everyday miracles – butterflies, birds, spiderwebs, fireflies, flowers, and rocks.
  4. Be a good neighbor to the bunnies, squirrels, hawk, and groundhog that call the garden area home.
  5. Remember that the assignments are a means to a holy life, not ends unto themselves.
  6. Be a good partner, and let others lead when they are ready.
  7. Love the people life gives you.

Gather Your Things

Gathering my things is a way to bring together the various items that have been toted here and there, to take stock of their location and condition, and to remain aware of their usefulness. It’s a way to make sure I have what I need before I get halfway through a writing assignment, a recipe or a home improvement project. Gathering my things makes getting my work done easier and more pleasant, and it prevents me from buying new items unnecessarily. Perhaps I’m more grateful when such gathering reveals the material bounty already present in my life.

But I want to take the reminder to gather your things beyond the literal sense. I want to practice gathering my thoughts and feelings, my shortcomings and my talents. I want to recognize what is mine to offer or withhold, to honor the boundary between my own stuff and what belongs to my neighbor. I don’t want to burden others with what is mine to bear, and I don’t want to assume burdens and tasks that belong to others. In churchy words, I want to take up my own cross, offer my own gifts, and live the God-given life that is uniquely mine. I want to encourage others as they do the same. And I want to be a good companion while we all walk through this time and place together. And for the many things that require more than one person, I want share what I have and accept the gifts of another. If I can do that, I’ll live a blessed life.

Lord, help me gather the things you have made mine. Gather my hours and days, Lord, for your purposes. When my time ends, gather me in your arms and bring me home. Amen.

[This is one in the series, Every School Day. Click above for more information.]

Lunchtime!

Give us this day our daily bread…feed my sheep…whenever you eat this bread, remember me…

At my high school, I needed a paper ticket to get lunch in the school cafeteria. Every day, I handed over my lunch money, got a ticket, chose an entree, and handed the ticket to the cashier on the way to a table. But for many students, this daily activity was a source of embarrassment: the paper tickets were color coded – free lunch, reduced lunch, and full price lunch each had different color tickets. What was (most likely) an easy way to keep track of how many free, reduced, and full price meals were consumed had (most likely unintended) social consequences; the financial status of every student who ate school lunch was on display for anyone who cared to take a look. And apparently, many did look: it was humiliating enough that some students chose to go hungry rather than stand in the lunch line with the “wrong” color ticket.

[Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often these days. School children key in a number and the computer keeps track of the finances. It’s still not a perfect system, but it’s a whole lot better than it used to be. Perhaps fewer go hungry as a result. ]

That break in the middle of the day, the time to nourish the body and give the mind a break, shouldn’t come with a side of humiliation. If all things come from God, food included, shouldn’t it be respectfully and kindly given? If I am unable to give without punishing the one who receives, it reveals more about the sad state of my spiritual affairs than it does about the financial straits of someone else.

Lord, help me remember that your prayer isn’t just for my daily bread, but for oursMay I be a respectful giver and a grateful receiver. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

 

Time for Recess!

Everyone knows that children need a break from school work and the classroom environment. Halfway through the morning, it arrives: recess. Children get out of their chairs and head outside to run around and play. Recess brings exercise that builds a healthy body, and unstructured play that restores the mind. Just a few minutes makes all the difference. Learners return to their desks with renewed ability to learn and grow. Recess is the frosting on the cake that is a good school day, and the relief from drudgery and stress that a bad day brings.

The benefits of taking a break in the work day are well known. So why do I act like skipping recess is a better, more virtuous choice than skipping rope outside for a few minutes?

Moving into God’s presence through words