Get a Word in Edgewise

I’ve been in a few situations where I couldn’t get a word in, edgewise or straight on. When it happens, the same choice arises: make the effort to turn a monologue into a conversation or move on to a less forbidding dialogue partner. Whether to stay or go depends on the kind of monologue it is: one that only wants a passive and silent audience, or one that is sincerely seeking a conversation partner, but is having trouble making a connection. The first is a waste of time, the second is worth the effort to get that word in edgewise.

Sometimes, it isn’t a spoken word. Inked words on a page can be almost as one sided, especially when they are difficult to understand. Sometimes, the argument is too dense, an impenetrable hedge with no gate in sight. Sections of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time were like that for me – I understood all the words in the sentences, but couldn’t figure out what they meant strung together. It took me well over a month to get through the book, and a good couple of years before I understood it well enough to ask even the most basic questions about the ideas it contained. Why did I stick with this conversation when lack of understanding made it impossible to get a word in edgewise? I suspected there was something true and deep in Hawking’s printed monologue – something worth the attempt to change it into a conversation. Twenty years later, I felt the same about Sean Carroll’s The Particle at the End of the Universe.

I wonder how many people experience holy scripture of any kind – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. –  as such a torrent of words that no one can get a word in edgewise. Holy writ is meant to be a conversation: it’s the best attempt of people throughout history to offer those who come after them an entry, constructed of words and prayer, into God’s infinite, intimate, loving reality. So get your word in, straight on or edgewise. It’s the conversation of a lifetime, and God eagerly listens for the word we offer.

Easy as Pie…A Piece of Cake…

The Phrase Finder‘s Gary Martin dates (as) easy as pie to the 1800’s, American in origin [www.phrases.org.uk). The easy part isn’t in the making of the pie, but in the ease with which it is enjoyed. He notes that cake is also related to pleasant, easy things – perhaps a commentary on how much dessert is enjoyed?

Being a baker myself, I am usually aware of the effort it took to produce what I eat – I’ve made countless cakes and I’ve witnessed my husband make dozens of pies over the past few years. Restaurant work paid my bills, so I don’t usually take entrees for granted much, either. But these sayings aren’t meant to be taken literally – they wouldn’t be common expressions if they were limited to that. So, I can’t help thinking that most things that are a piece of cake or as easy as pie aren’t worth a whole lot unless someone else invested the time and effort that make them valuable. I may never know who made things go so smoothly for me as to be as easy as pie, but I’m sure I owe him or her a long overdue thank you.

Don’t Blink

Don’t Blink – you just might miss it.

I used to say this about New Durham, the town I called home for almost a decade. It’s that blinking yellow light on Route 11, a couple of miles before you get to the Alton traffic circle, just below the southern edge of Winnepesaukee. Lots of trees, a lake, scattered ponds, and a brown raised ranch five miles from town center that kept me and my family warm and dry. A beach on Chalk pond and a canoe to paddle every inch of it, snow and ice for sledding and skating, and stars scattered through the deep blue sky every season of the year were waiting outside the door. Inside, the people I loved and laughed with. Back then, I didn’t know how fast those days and years would pass into other days, years, and places.

I have loved every place I’ve lived, and I’ve loved every stage of life. Each brought gifts and heartache – the unique contour and blessing of my life’s particulars. I wouldn’t go back, trading what is and will be for what was, but time’s passing has changed the meaning of don’t blink since that yellow light marked my home town and my teen years. Now it means something like this:

My life is one among billions, a small flicker lasting for such a short time. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a holy, crazy, blessed one-of-a-kind gift. It’s the same for every single life – yours, mine, and everyone else’s. If I’m too busy fussing about what isn’t perfect, I will miss it just as surely as a blink of an eye at the wrong time sends me right past that yellow light without a clue that it marks a place called home.

God, give me eyes to see this fragile, broken, beloved life that is your gift to me. May I see everyone and everything else as you do: beloved. Amen.

Speak of the Devil

Speak (talk) of the Devil and he will appear.  

According to The Phrase Finder, the saying’s been around for hundreds of years in its longer form. The last four words have been dropped sometime between then and now, turning what might have been a cautionary saying bordering on superstition to an innocuous way to note when someone who is being talked of walks in.

I think there are very few adults who believe that speaking someone’s name will cause them to appear, even if repeated three times in Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice fashion. Still, I think there are very few adults who haven’t had the person they were talking about show up as if summoned or the person they’ve been meaning to call suddenly calling them. It’s serendipity if it’s a welcome appearance, like a bad penny if it isn’t.

There’s an undeniable power to words. Saying something aloud – a name, a fear, a joy – makes it real in a way that it wasn’t before it moved from thought to speech. It’s why saying the words I love yougood-byecome in!, and go away seems almost impossible at times. The words can’t be taken back, and the vulnerability they express cannot be denied or overlooked. Spoken words reveal us when they are true.

In its shorter/lighter or longer/darker form, it’s good to remember that the one we speak of will not magically or miraculously be summoned by our words; at the same time, speaking of and to another makes who we are and who they are more tangible, more real. It may not be magical, but I doubt it’s any less miraculous.

[The Phrase Finder is a wonderful resource created by Gary Martin. Visit it at www.phrases.org.uk.]

Rest in Peace/ It is what it is

It seems an odd placement, a post about death followed by a post about the mutability of reality. Death is immutable – there’s no getting around it, no sliding on past it, no wishing it to be undone. This is true of so many things in our lives because we cannot control the universe, the orbit of our tiny planet, the family we are born into, or the time and place of our births. These things are what they are. But how we respond to them is well within our control. We can choose whether these unchanging realities prompt us to expand our minds, hearts, and spirits – or whether they prompt us to contract them. Our choice in this changes our lives in profound ways.

Contraction: The thought of dying causes us to shrink back from life, hoard our minutes, days, and hours like misers do their coins. We try not to get too close to anyone, knowing that some day death will part them from us. We put every effort into avoiding our own aging. Our lives, and the life of the world are the lesser for such a choice.

Blizzard Beauty, 2017

Expansion: The thought of dying causes us to embrace life, spending our minutes, days, and hours on this precious earth with appreciation, generosity, and joy. We risk getting close to others because some day death will part them from us. We accept aging with all its gifts and challenges because it has things to offer us that a life of perpetual adolescence cannot. Our lives, and the life of the world, are the richer for such a choice.

Whatever choice we make, however many times we choose one or the other, we are always loved by God. It’s more a matter of whether our living days reflect that love – a warm heart, a curious mind, a trusting spirit.

Perhaps this time and place is what it is in many ways because we made such a choice.

Lord, help me choose the life you have given me this day. Guide my steps, lend compassion to my thoughts and actions, hold my hand when I’m afraid. Amen.

It Is What It Is

It is what it is.

I’ve heard it used in two almost opposing ways.

As a starting point: Begin with how things are and grow from this reality a new and better one.

As the last word: Don’t bother to put in any effort because what is cannot be changed (and I’m not responsible for trying).

The first doesn’t deny reality; it confirms the way things are and affirms that it can be changed for the better. It’s a great truth.

The second doesn’t deny reality, either: it denies that it can be otherwise. In denying the mutable nature of all things, it’s one of the biggest falsehoods ever spoken.

Through Thick and Thin

I what it means: continuing on regardless of difficulty or condition. But I didn’t know where the phrase came from until I looked it up on The Phrase Finder (www.phrases.org.uk). Originally, the saying was through thicket and thin wood – a description of the English countryside and a reference to the difficulties of traversing it. It shows up in the 1600’s and got shortened sometime between then and now, obscuring its literal meaning.

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer – things I promised to weather with my husband over twenty-four years ago. If we decide to renew our vows (as we did on our 10th anniversary), I think I’ll swap these words for through thicket and thin wood. Perhaps because they aren’t so familiar as the words in the wedding ceremony, they offer something new and precious. Walking through thicket and thin wood together may bring with it unexpected difficulties and arguments, but it brings with it an appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us every step of the way. Perhaps I’ll face the obstacles gladly for the glimpse of the living world that surrounds us and the deepening of the love that binds us together that only comes from the walk.

[The Phrase Finder was founded by Gary Martin in 1997, an outcome of post-graduate studies at Sheffield Hallam University. It’s a marvelous site, including original sources and helpful references for further study. www.phrases.org.uk]

 

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

My doctoral advisor called them dime-between-seat-cushion dilemmas: making an attempt to retrieve the dime requires moving the cushion, which makes the dime slide farther down between the cushions; not making an attempt keeps the dime in place, but still doesn’t get the dime out. Either way, the dime remains beyond reach. Dimeless if you reach for the dime, dimeless if you don’t.

Of course, there are other ways to get the dime. If you happen to have a thin blade, you could come up from beneath the coin and try to pop it up and out. If you don’t mind pulling the cushions apart, you can let the dime fall to the bottom of the chair and then pick it up – assuming that the cushions are removable and the dime doesn’t fall out of reach into the coils beneath. You could tip the whole piece of furniture upside down and give it a good shake. But sometimes the rescue requires too much effort or unavailable tools, and the dime remains beyond reach.

Sometimes, it seems like a life of faith is presented as a dime-between-seat-cushion reality: no matter what you do or do not do, it remains beyond reach. So rules come in as a tool to pop it from underneath, and theological treatises offer seat cushion removal instructions. For those of a revolutionary bent, leaders can be found who will tell you to flip the whole thing upside down and let gravity do its thing. But when one or all of these are attempted, the best outcome is a dime you can hold in your hand and the question you hold in your heart: was such a small thing worth such effort? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The problem with all this isn’t the various methods or means of dime-from-cushion removal; the problem is reducing a life of faith to something so small that it can easily fall and get lost between the cracks. You and I will lose our way, and it may feel like parts of our faith drop away like coins in a torn pocket. But these small things, even when they seem so big, aren’t our lives of faith – and they certainly aren’t the entirety of who we are. Whether we try to retrieve them or not, whether they remain beyond our grasp or not, we can be sure that God will offer us a hand and take us home: loved if we do, love if we don’t.

Fixin’ to get ready…


“Fixin’ to Get Ready” Tomorrow

A previous rector at our parish had a picture of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) of “Gone with the Wind” fame with the caption of the last line in the 1936 Margaret Mitchell novel: After all, tomorrow is another day. He was a procrastinator.
There are lots of quotes about tomorrow – the most famous, I suppose, is Shakespeare’s from MacBeth (spoken by MacBeth):
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, 
To the last syllable of recorded time…
And then there’s that wonderful song from the musical, “Annie,” with the refrain: Tomorrow! tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow! You’re always a day away!
It seems many have come to the obvious conclusion that tomorrow never comes. It may be another day, but it never arrives. Can you imagine saying Hooray, tomorrow is here? Or more like whoops, tomorrow is here? Of course, Notomorrow is always today when it arrives.
Growing up in Tennessee we had an expression that called out the acts of procrastinating, wishful thinking,  suffering from paralysis of analysis. We said that during those times we were fixin to get ready not actually getting things done but thinking about doing so. Making plans is a good thingmaking plans to make plans, maybe notthat’s like fixin’ to get ready tomorrow.
Present-centeredness, living in the moment, the now, being mindful—whatever we call it, doesn’t come easy. Sitting with my retired friends in Florida during lunch, what is often the topic of conversation? Yes, you know, what are we going to have for dinner?
There is an old story about the clock who was depressed thinking about all the ticks it would have to tick during its life and the clock psychologist who told it  just tick one tick at a time. 
Most clocks I know dont even tick anymoreall that time spent on something that is no longer even exists. As Mark Twain said: I’m an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
Sometimes (often), I need to insert another expression into my thinking; carpe diem! Today I posted a quote from a prayer by St. Francis de Sales when I sent out the daily prayer list: Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving God who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day.
In this new year may we seize the day.
Offered by Bill Albritton, child of God, maker of plans, rarely procrastinates.

Many Happy Returns (of the day)

I ran across this saying for the first time in high school, in a book written by an English author. It’s not something I say out loud very often, but I write it in birthday cards all the time.

Many happy returns – the interest gained by a life well lived. I don’t think it’s meant to be an economic saying (may you earn a lot of interest from your stock portfolio) as much as a hope that you will be aware of the wonderful things your life offers you. May you notice the love of your friends and family; may you appreciate the sight of woodpeckers on the suet feeder and cardinals perched upon snowy  branches. May you take the time to honor what this universe offers you – the deepening of your spirit through the easy and difficult circumstances that greet you each day.

May you know that you are a delight to God – and that the entire universe was changed because you came into being.

Many Happy Returns – for the day of your birth and every other day!

Happy Birthday, Larry Ganem, wherever you are…