Category Archives: Biblical Reflection

I Love You

Jeanne Pena is a master at saying these three precious words. So is John Capellaro. Fred Rogers said like, but everyone knew there was love behind it. The more candles I add to my birthday cake, the more I’m convinced that these are the real movers and shakers of the world.

If ever the Kingdom of Heaven is realized in the Here and Now, it will come because every living creature has learned how to say, believe, and live these words.

 

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.]

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.

Open Your Books

It started with a chocolate cream pie one August morning in 2002 – that’s when Joan entered the book of my life and my family entered hers. It continued when she introduced my four year old son to her tree swing, and admired my one year old’s toy car. She was expecting us that August because we were staying in the beach house that belonged to her son and daughter-in-law, just a few hundred feet from her door. I wasn’t expecting a kind gesture or a warm welcome for my family; had Joan never bothered with us, I’d never  have known what I was missing. My life, my family’s life story, would have been the poorer for her absence.

Joan came into our family story, but she didn’t come alone. She brought her husband, Ben. Ben and Lena, the next generation down, added their family stories to the book of our lives – adventures of family who lived in the beach house long before it sheltered us, and the secret toy stash hidden below the bookshelf. Joan’s daughter and husband, Jaime and Larry, added their stories as well – and a quick guide to the best asian food in the area.

Over the years, Joan and her family brought more blessings than I can list. Her husband and son made beautiful benches for a library garden project I was working on; my father got a tour of the family oyster business – something he treasured long after he had returned home to New Hampshire. Joan was kind enough to accept soup and bread every so often because she knew it was an expression of love from me and mine to her and hers.

Yesterday, I stood with my husband beside the place where Joan is resting after a life well lived. Surrounded by her family and the friends who were her larger family, we said our farewells and thanks to her. How much she was loved and how well she loved is written in the book of life that holds all of our sacred stories. It’s an honor to be included in Joan’s story – a gift that came only because we opened our books to each other.

Child of God, daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, friend. Your book is truly a book of love…

[Peter Gabriel, The Book of LoveShall We Dance (sound track), Casablanca Records, October 12, 2004

Looking for God in all the wrong places…

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Luke 24:1-5a, NRSV

When you were a child, did you ever run into your teacher somewhere unexpected- the market, a fall fair, gas station, or restaurant? If you are like me, it made you feel really uncomfortable. Teachers are supposed to be in school, not picking out cold medicine and birthday cards at the drugstore in downtown Farmington, New Hampshire. That teachers have a life beyond their roles in the classroom, that they might be living and breathing people just like me – what a strange thought! That they might not live in the limited, school-shaped box I assumed they did was a shocking idea: that meant they were more than what I knew of them and how I experienced them.

The disciples who loved Jesus, who followed him and put their hopes in him, had expected to find Jesus in a tomb-shaped box among the dead. When he wasn’t confined to their limited understanding of him, when he wasn’t where they placed him in the grand scheme of things, it must have been the shock of a lifetime.

I hope I learn this lesson well enough to stop putting God in a box of specific shape and size – no matter how lovely the box, it won’t be big enough to contain the creator of the whole universe. Even church-shaped, denominationally decorated boxes will not contain a living Christ.

[The Deer’s Cry, Rita Connolly, from Shaun Davey, The Pilgrim, released 1983, recorded at Festival Interceltique de Loriant, Glasgow royal concert hall, Tara Music]

The Dark Side of the Moon

It’s where the sun never shines, always facing away from light and warmth. It is in profound shadow, unseen. It is part of the same moon that lights my nights and governs the tides, the part I don’t see and don’t think much about. I can overlook its existence without effort, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there – I’m just ignoring half of the moon’s reality.

The older I get, the more reluctant I am to reduce reality to the light parts I can see rather than embrace the totality that includes the parts I cannot. My limitations make it a sure thing that what I cannot see, comprehend, or experience will always be larger than what I see, understand, and encounter. I am too tightly bound by time and place to catch more than a glimpse of the wonder and mystery of God’s universe. The same is true of each and every person I have ever met, spend time with today, and will ever meet in the years left to me. I can never see the whole person, light and dark sides both.

The parts I cannot see aren’t invisible because they are sinister or unacceptable, they are just beyond my scope. I am hoping to keep this truth in mind as I walk through the dark mystery of betrayal and death into the brilliant mystery of resurrection.

[Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, recorded at Abbey Road studios, released by Harvest records in 1973]

 

 

Biding My Time

Wasting my time, resting my mind…

[Pink Floyd, Biding My TimeRelics, recorded 1969-1971, released May, 1971, Starline. It’s not the usual Pink Floyd song – a bit burlesque, with an amazing trombone solo and a bluesy form. It could just as easily be a BB King, Eric Clapton, or Mama Cass number. It would be a great Bob Fosse dance number, too.]

In August of 1999, I was living in a box-filled temporary apartment, teaching a couple of classes, taking care of an eighteen month old son and writing a dissertation; Dave was in an unpaid chaplaincy program, waiting to hear where he would begin his work as a priest.  We had called three apartments home in less than a year, and Colin had undergone hernia surgery at the end of May. Exhausted and facing an uncertain future, at age 35, I got stress-induced shingles. The doctor prescribed Valtrex, codeine, and sleep. The Valtrex cured the shingles in a day, the codeine was unnecessary, and 10 to 12 hours of sleep a day for two weeks restored me to health. I learned a hard and valuable lesson: if I want a good and holy life, I have to maintain a nourishing life pattern and pace.

A good and holy life is an intentionally slower life, an opting out of the workaholic pace that is not only culturally acceptable but socially expected and rewarded. Activity and rest, time spent on and with others, meaningful work, restorative play, and prayerful practices that return my wayward soul to God have to find their places on my life’s calendar. The overly busy periods are inevitable, worries and troubles will come, but they don’t have to become my life’s template.

Choosing such a life should be a no-brainer, and it is – but only  if I trust that a life truly and well lived is always and ever in the embrace of God and the company of beloved neighbor. Am I willing to put in the time, effort, and rest to have such a life?

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;

my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. 

Psalm 131, NRSV

[Photos by Jared Fredrickson]

 

Money

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. I Timothy 6:6-10 NRSV

Money…Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie… 

[Pink Floyd, MoneyThe Wall, recorded December 1978- November 1979, various studios, released by Harvest and Columbia records in November 1979]

Money itself doesn’t seem to be evil, but what people will do to each other and the world around them to gain it certainly can be. It can be used to accomplish some amazing things – look what the Carter Foundation, Lilly Foundation, and Gates foundation have managed to do for the world. Money bought and distributed mosquito nets to combat malaria,  enabled further study in too many humanities fields to name, and continues to make strides in eradicating disease in the poorest parts of the world. It can also fund hate groups and buy political influence for personal or corporate gain.

Within communities of faith, money has gone both ways. I’ve seen churches use bequests to provide a safety net to the homeless and to keep the nearly homeless from the streets. I’ve seen congregations torn apart over $100,000 or less when members cannot agree on how to spend it. I’ve seen parents with more than enough take advantage of Vacation Bible School scholarship programs, using them as cheap daycare; I’ve seen other congregants give up vacation trips to pay VBS costs for entire families. The money itself doesn’t seem to be point: it’s what people are willing to do with it and for it.

Pink Floyd’s take on money lands squarely in Biblical territory. Greed is the issue, not the money itself. Grasping for it and wanting to keep it at the expense of others is beautifully and succinctly stated in Money. Paired with the images offered in official and non-official videos of the song, the power of money and greed cannot be overlooked – it’s well worth a few minutes on YouTube to check them out.

The downside of greed, the devastation that the love of money brings – these are not just inflicted on the world as unfair labor practices, price gouging, and rigged taxation. The ones who gain from such dealings are also devastated, but not in the same way. There is real spiritual damage done to anyone who grasps at money at the expense of those in greatest need; the soul shrinks and it is impossible to find true satisfaction or contentment from any amount of money. Able to buy any amount and kind of food, the miser starves.

In my last moments on earth, I hope I can look back on what I did with the money I had and see that it did more than put a car in the driveway and an extra jacket in the front hall closet. I hope I scattered some of it far enough afield that it grew into something that nourished the world.

A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, it is enough.

But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. I Timothy 6: 6-10, The Message

 

 

 

 

Us and Them

It’s one of the tracks on Dark Side of the Moon [Pink Floyd], it’s a mindset, and it’s a lie. Cosmically and religiously speaking, it’s all us  – it’s just that the us comes in many shapes and sizes. All of us are God’s beloved creatures, given the capacity to love and the terrible freedom to withhold it. My husband, siblings, children, and other relatives are part of us; the person in the grocery checkout, the driver cutting me off on route 3 are part of us; Barbara next door and the grieving people of Christ Church, New Zealand are us; even the ones who hurt and kill are part of us – just a part I’d rather not acknowledge.

Them is a false category, a dark place to put the people I don’t know or don’t like. But it comes at a cost: a piece of who I am always goes to the hell I wish for others.

It’s why Jesus advised us to judge not lest ye be judged (Mt. 7:1) – it’s as much to save us as it is to benefit the ones we would pass judgement upon…