Category Archives: Theology

Use Your Inside Voices

It’s not something anyone said when I was a child, but something very often heard when I became the mother of young children. It’s a reminder that high volume isn’t necessary in enclosed spaces. But there’s an assumption in these words that isn’t stated and often isn’t true: that the one who speaks with a quiet voice will be heard and listened to. Hearing doesn’t guarantee listening – a truth many toddlers are painfully acquainted with.

Still, small voices are often drowned out by louder and larger ones. Being overlooked and ignored can come with devastating consequences – it’s often what the holy, lovely, and precious experience. The wondrous is ignored and discarded in favor of the merely loud and obvious.

Today, Lord, help me listen to the quiet voices that sing of your love. May I recognize a quiet truth when it speaks. Amen.

[This is one in the series, Every School Day. For more, click “Every School Day” above]

 

Check Your Answers

How do I reply to someone who asks me an insulting question, an upsetting question, a question that at best is beside the point of whatever conversation it arose from? On good days, I answer with respectful disagreement, supportive correction, and a bridge between question and context. On days when I’m irritated or tired, I set the facts straight without thought or regard beyond factual accuracy. If I’m grieved or frightened, I return personal insult for personal insult with a roll of the eyes and click of the tongue. For the person on the receiving end, it won’t matter what words I use: it’s the ugliness of their delivery that remains. Insult for insult is still insulting.

But….

On the days I remember that God embraces whomever I meet in conversation, I’m aware that questions are often beside the point. The crux of the matter is the encounter with a living, breathing beloved child of God. Language provides a bridge between soul and soul. If such a one constructs a shaky bridge from insults or ignorant words, perhaps those are the only materials available at the time. Now the choice is mine: do I answer by tearing down the poorly made span, or do I use my answering words to shore it up?

Take One And Pass The Rest On

It could be a vocabulary quiz or an math test; it might be directions for an experiment or a list of things needed for a holiday party. Every so often, perhaps a picture or article just for the sheer pleasure of seeing or reading something beautifully created. Whatever it was,  it wasn’t meant to be hoarded by the one or two learners who were handed a whole pile of them. Whatever the teacher handed out was meant for everyone – the fun ones as much as the worksheets that required mastering a new skill or a significant time investment. No one needed two or more: one was more than sufficient.

I wonder if there’s a profound life lesson in this ordinary practice. What if I took only one of what was necessary for me to learn and live well? What if the rest I handed on to my neighbor, offering the opportunity to learn and grow, to work and play? Can it be that almost everything I’m handed is meant to be handed down the line?

Lord, give me the strength, wisdom, and generosity to hand on what was never meant for me to keep. Amen.

 

 

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

Call and Response

Let me know you are here when I call your name.

Self revelation isn’t for the faint of heart, but choosing to disappear from sight and hearing even among friends becomes a habit that gets more difficult to break as the days, months, and years pass. In most school classes, there’s that one boy or girl that can barely muster up the courage and volume to be counted at the opening day’s attendance. This isn’t just shyness or a quiet nature, this is a debilitating fear of being heard – and once heard, coming up short in some soul shaking way. Perhaps escaping notice is preferable to rejection, but such reasoning leads nowhere good.

Disappearing from hearing is different from being out of sight. A voice can penetrate the darkest of places, and doesn’t fail even when the one who hears is looking in the wrong direction. Speaking reveals location, sure, but it also reveals emotions, opinions, and ideas. Much can be learned by listening, and much communicated by what is said, shouted, or sung.

God calls many people by name all through the Bible; angels and dreams do the same. Most everyone who hears the call answers, imperfectly and sometimes reluctantly. Blessings, suffering, danger, miracles, and death are in store for those called, but most answer God in some form of here I am, anyway.

None of us have the power to call people to life and love the way God does, but any one of us can be the voice God chooses to speak with. God’s call may come to us directly, or through anyone who speaks to us. Whatever may come of it, it is a holy blessing to answer with our own I am here. If all of us can dare to answer when God calls, perhaps a bit of self-revelation on a smaller scale may be dared as well…

[This is one of an ongoing series. For more information, click Every School Day above.]

 

I love you! See you after school!

My parents (and grandparents, when my family lived with them between moves) said these words to me through and beyond my growing up years. No matter what happened during the day – good, bad, or indifferent – I had been sent out from and would return to a family that loved me. It’s the everyday miracle of offering and accepting love each morning, and the assurance that a warm welcome awaited at each day’s end. Did my parents realized how important it was for me to hear this daily benediction? Did I?

It’s such a powerful gift and a difficult revelation to say I love you, even to someone who already knows it and has said the same to us. The words don’t come easy. It’s even more difficult to say I love you while looking in the eyes of a beloved other. To be seen and loved, to see and love another – that’s nothing short of holy. To know that returning home at the end of the day brings the same blessing of seeing/being seen and loving/being loved – that’s a reminder that holiness embraces and infuses each day from beginning to end.

I love you! See you after school! Maybe life itself is God’s version of these words, spoken in air, light, flesh and blood. I love you! My love goes with you into this life and I will see you when your life’s adventures bring you back home to me. 

 

Put Your Coat On…

Every chilly school day, it’s the same. Students leave their High street homes, turn a corner, and walk down my street. As soon as they are out of their parents’ sight, they whip off the hats, coats, jackets, and mittens their parents just made them put on. Girls swap sneakers and boots for strappy sandals with three inch heels, boys take off long-sleeved shirts to reveal the T shirts underneath. Tottering on icy streets, shivering and covered in goosebumps, they make their way the last quarter mile to Middle and High school. Just after 2pm, they will reverse the process, returning to home and parents re-dressed.

I can’t say why dressing for the weather is just too embarrassing for my young neighbors, or why making a fashion statement is worth frozen toes and wind-chapped arms. Image is everything, even at the cost of chattering teeth.

Most of these boys and girls will grow past this phase, eventually wearing weather appropriate clothing of their own free will. A decade or two down the road, they will be the parents insisting that their own children put on hats and coats. Age accounts for a good part of this change, but I think there’s another essential element to this transformation. A parent knows a truth that their children may not: deep, abiding love makes all of us capable of seeing the unique beauty of every person, and incapable of valuing something so inconsequential as off-season fashion.

Seeing with the eyes of love gives us just the barest glimpse of how God sees us. It’s a rare gift, but some even grow to see everyone with such eyes.

Dear God, give me eyes to see the beauty of everything, and the heart to love without limit. Amen.

It’s all in how you say it…

I entered my local library twice yesterday, and each time met a mother. The first was crowding up against her preschool daughter, trying to get her to walk faster. Come on! she said, her words full of exasperation as she physically pushed her daughter. The second was standing a few feet from the library door, keeping an eye on a sleeping toddler in her car just a few feet away while observing her two sons as they checked out books for school projects. Come on! she said, her face lighting up with a smile and her words full of encouragement. The same words, different actions, and a whole different experience for the children.

As I left the library, it crossed my mind that every single sentence in this Every school day series can be turned from a positive to a negative meaning – it’s all in how it’s said.

The power to wound and the power to strengthen are held by everyone who uses words to connect with others. Which will I wrap my words around today? Which will you?

Get Dressed

I’m not doing this today. I’m staying in pajamas, doing my best to get over a nasty cold that started sometime yesterday afternoon. With luck and rest, it will be on its way out tomorrow.

Getting dressed signals my move from solitary or family only time to time spent in the larger world. I am ready to invite people in, and I’m ready to walk out the door into the world of friends, neighbors, and strangers alike. It changes, depending on what will fill my hours – sweats or old jeans for yard and garden work, skirts or blazer for board meetings, black jeans and a colorful top for dinner with my husband. Getting dressed is an outward sign of what’s happening in my life; how my body is clothed is affected by my actions in this world. I think that’s true for most other people as well.

I wonder: if I had to choose an outfit to reflect the inner workings of my soul, the inner agenda of my spiritual life, what would it be? Sitting here in my pj’s, soothing a scratchy throat and headache with herbal tea, in no shape or mood to go out or invite others in, perhaps it’s a good time to take a peek in that inner closet…

Wash your face, brush your hair and teeth…

When I was a baby, my parents did them for me. When I was able, they taught me to do them for myself. When I had my two sons, I repeated the pattern. They are signs of the love others have for us, and they are signs of our self-regard. They require touch and glance, time and effort. When done with intention, they wake us up with a loving touch and give us a joyful start to the coming day. Such simple tasks, such monumental acts.

My niece and her husband will welcome their first child into the world this October. They will do these things for him, offering their love in these practical tasks. It’s a legacy worth more than any trust fund: a welcome to the day, the world, and the family.

When you rise tomorrow to wash your face, brush your hair and teeth, remember how much you are loved.