Dinner Table

Our dining table has been moved many times in the nineteen years we’ve had it, in the larger sense (state to state, house to house) and in the smaller one (within a room). In years past, it was in the front room, at one end or the other, parallel to a side wall or angled to make room for the Christmas tree. It stands in the near center now. My son Colin suggested we move the table there. The table is the gathering point for meals, so why not have it as the focal point of the room?

Colin wanted a more balanced room, so he applied feng shui principles to the furniture placement. After dinner, I helped him move a couple of book cases, the sofa, and a side board. The rug was rolled up for storage, and the table moved to the room’s center, parallel to the long walls of the room. But it didn’t work. In the exact center, it didn’t line up with the front windows. Off center, it didn’t line up with the book cases. No way to center the table that would work for the room as a whole.

Colin looked around for a minute, then moved one end of the table a few inches to the left. No longer aligned with the walls, the angled table brought the room into harmony. A couple of inches brought a sense of movement to the room that I cannot explain. The furniture, windows, and doorways complement each other now, and the space is warm and peaceful.

I experience this complementarity every night at dinner. I feel it now, seated at the table, typing these words on my laptop. Just a matter of angle and inches, no new furniture or construction necessary. It’s a life lesson I continue to learn every day. What I need for a life lived in harmony is at hand – I just need the eyes to see it, and a willingness to adjust accordingly.

Dali Clock

My son Colin bought it at the Museum of Science, this silver-framed melting clock straight out of Salvador Dali’s time bending work, The Persistence of Memory (oil on canvas, 1931). Except for the Roman numerals on the face, it looks just like the timepiece draped over the oozing self portrait Dali put in the center of his painting. Right now, it hangs off the side of a tall bookcase, just over a floor lamp. It’s been moved several times over the past few years, and I’m sure it will find itself spending time in another location in years to come.

The thing about this clock, it doesn’t work anymore. It’s been knocked off shelves so many times by people, cats, and Nerf balls that it’s always 10:20. Even when it worked, it was hard to tell time by it; the silver frame and curved plastic front reflect light back, often obscuring the numbers and hands. XI, XII, and I are folded, resting on top of the shelf and partially hanging down. VI and VII are slightly flared to the front, and the whole thing is off center – not a straight edge anywhere on the face or circumference.

As a rule, I have two reasons for keeping things: beauty and function. If someone here finds it beautiful or useful, then its presence adds to the quality of life. If something doesn’t work or isn’t beautiful, then it needs to find a life elsewhere. This clock isn’t beautiful and doesn’t function anymore, but it’s here to stay because it’s in a category of its own: truth bearing.

Time isn’t separate from reality, it’s part of the created universe. It bends with gravity and is affected by life experience. It’s part of life’s fabric. Awareness of measured clock time doesn’t guarantee a life well lived; preoccupation with the passing hours leads to getting through life, not experiencing life as God given and God held. When time in my front room is perpetually 10:20, I remember it is also perpetually and eternally God’s. Perhaps a bit hard to see, but it is a beautiful and way beyond useful truth.

Sofa Bed

We have a canine guest right now. Montana’s owners needed a place for her to live while one of their other dogs had puppies – an extended vacation for Montana, and a chance for us to care for a friendly, happy, low maintenance golden retriever. We have two cats, but Montana is our first dog. Even though it’s only for a few weeks, we will miss her when she goes home.

Montana loves to snuggle up with someone when it’s bed time, and makes sad sounds if left alone at night. My son Jared loves having her with him, but she’s sizable and doesn’t share bed space well, so he’s been sleeping on the flip-out sofa. It’s queen size, with enough room for Montana at the bottom and Jared in the upper half. There’s even space for our cats; the two of them like to study Montana while she’s sleeping. Everyone is happy, everyone has plenty of room, and no one loses sleep.

We have no spare bedroom, so we got this sofa from LLBean a dozen years ago.  It’s in the room where our Christmas tree goes, so overnight visitors during the holidays have a twinkly eight foot night light. Friends and relatives, acquaintances and a few strangers have found rest on it. My husband and I have spent a few nights on it, making sure it’s comfortable enough for guests. When they were younger, my sons made forts with it and used it for indoor camping – good weather year round, and a good place to play flashlight tag.

Usually, the flip-out is in its Clark Kent sofa form, only the Superman bed when needed. It’s a good place to read a book or have a glass of wine with friends. It’s seen its share of tears and smiles from guests of all ages. It’s been moved around a few times, changing place to fit the season and need. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it’s comfortable and sturdy. It is a hospitable presence in my home, making comfortable my family and those who visit.

I hope the same can be said of me and my family – that we are comfortable here, and we make others feel comfortable as well. Hospitality is a virtue appreciated by guests and strangers, but rarely given a thought by those who practice it. Angels disguised as strangers, friends, and family are everywhere. Let’s hope I have the good sense to invite them in – now that my sofa is Montana approved…

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

Be hospitable to one another without complaining. I Peter 4:9

NRSV translation 

Hallway

I walk in its space dozens of times each day, rarely stopping longer than it takes to open a door going out of it. It is the transition space, separating and joining bedrooms and bathroom, doing the same for the kitchen and the front room, with the attic and closet doors entering between. The various detectors, a couple of pictures, a mirror, an overhead light, and a cross reside in the hall. The only natural light comes from windows in other rooms. With doors closed and light off, it’s almost as dark as the basement. It is the inner crossroad in my house, ushering everyone who lives here from one room to another virtually unnoticed and rarely appreciated, a means to another end.

I spend time here when I clean – wiping down woodwork, walls, and ceiling for Spring cleaning, dusting pictures and sweeping the floor every week. It may not be a major destination for anyone living here, but it requires time and energy to keep it in good order. Not just the main rooms, but the place in between bears life.

I think the same can be said of the transition times in my life, those in-between periods that connect one stage of life to another. Both my sons are in the space between childhood and adulthood, one just at the beginning and the other closer to the end. As they move from one stage to another, so do my husband and I. No longer parents of young children, but parents of sons moving into adulthood.It’s certainly not the first transition, and it won’t be the last. If I’m honest, every day is a place of transition on this journey from birth to death, but there are settled times along the way – the rooms we reach through the in-between space.

Like my hallway, transition space is lit by where I was before and the place where I’m going, its own light source only shining if I choose to flip it on. There are many doors, simultaneously connecting and separating life choices and stages. It’s not meant to be a destination, just a gracious entry.

I’m glad there’s a cross in my hallway. In this in-between space, in this in-between time, at every crossroad, God meets me. The one who created me, the one who walked this earth like me, and the one who is with me always – a lot of grace per square foot.

Living Room: Table

My coffee table is distressed. It’s been that way since my husband and I found it in a New Jersey furniture store. It was in a room with a sign reading, “distressed furniture,” surrounded by end tables, chairs, and dressers. I’ve watched enough episodes of This Old House to know that distressed furniture comes with marks, not emotional and psychological pain needing urgent attention. Still, it’s hard to use the term without a smile or a laugh.

Why did we buy a pre-dented and dinged table? Well, it’s a great table – stable, just the right size and shape, with rounded corners and turned legs. And we didn’t want a table so perfect that we wouldn’t use it. Who wants to wreck a perfect finish by putting the first scratch on the top? One scratch alone is obvious and terrible; one scratch among several is not even noticeable. No need to worry when the cat runs across it or when my sons play ping pong on it.

Does the table look beat up? Not at all. The finish is warm. The imperfections make it interesting, especially when the sun touches them. It cleans up well. Chip and dip, homework, books, candles, and Legos all find their way to the coffee table – and so does my family. The table is well used and appreciated, a valued part of the living space we call home. Distressed by design, imperfectly beautiful and worthwhile in reality.

Distressed in human terms is something else. It’s what happens when we get overwhelmed, sometimes so concerned with our own imperfections that we cannot function. Mistakes and shortcomings are character flaws that embarrass and paralyze us, not things that make us interesting and beautiful. Spring cleaning my table reminds me that usually I choose the kind of distress I live with: surface imperfections that make life interesting and worthwhile, or innate flaws that cripple the heart and soul.

Cross

Eija Heward made a stained glass cross for me a few years back. The cross itself mother-of-pearl. A sunny yellow circle surrounds the center of the cross, with blue and yellow rays angling out of it. It’s a sunburst cross. It matches my living room colors perfectly, and spends a good part of the year there on a high shelf. I’d like to hang it in a window, but my two cats jump for it whenever I make the attempt. When the afternoon sun hits it, my cross glows. When I see it, I think of Eija, my faith, and the beauty of the world. Then comes summer.

In the good weather, my cross moves outside to a wrought iron trellis shaped like a church window – pointed on the top, curving downward, and ending in straight sides. The cross hangs from the center point, suspended the trellis. Soon after the sun rises, its rays find the cross, sending blue and yellow light everywhere. If there’s a breeze, the turning cross flashes so brightly it can be seen all the way down the street. What is beautiful and serene in my living room is sparkly and brilliant in direct sunlight. Sometimes it’s so bright the cross itself disappears in the light. I’m amazed every time I see it flash and shine.

A cross is a symbol of the Christian faith, but this cross more than most I’ve ever seen. It is beautiful in any location, but only when it is filled with sunlight is it fully itself. To bear light so well that it’s form disappears, transformed into brilliance: isn’t that what faith and life are all about? Thank you, Eija, for the cross and the truth that shines through it.

Clock

God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover God has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

A square wooden clock with a round face hangs on the chimney wall in my kitchen. My son found it at a yard sale when he was in kindergarten – light wood with apples painted around the face. For him, it was love at first sight. In seven years, I’ve changed the batteries three times. It survived the kitchen painting and purge of 2011. It’s the clock I check most often. There’s something comforting about seeing the hands move through the hours, marking the passage of time by position as well as number. It matches my apple cookie jar – a wedding gift, and a replica of the one my grandmother had in her kitchen. Cookie jar, cookie jar, clock – connecting me, my son, and my grandmother through time and motif.

The earth turns, the seasons change, and every living thing ages. My apple clock doesn’t tell me anything about the passing of time beyond the dozen hours I’m living in right now. Clock time looks no different today than seven years ago, but time has transformed my son. The hands pass through the same numbers inscribed on the same circle, unchanged even though my grandmother no longer lives. This apple clock cannot display the beginning of my life or its impending end, it just reveals the when I am in right now.

I think clocks, like time itself, are double-edged. Knowing the time can help me appreciate everything this day brings. Every hour can be found on my clock, and in every hour is the time to encounter God and others. Love is given or withheld in today’s measured time, and my clock reminds me of this. But there is the other edge: no clock can show how my hours become days, weeks, months, and years. Clock time is the same whether I waste my days or live them well. If I don’t pay attention to what the clock can’t tell me, what’s beyond the numbers and hands, I just may miss out on the adventure of this God given lifetime.

Oven

Give us this day our daily bread.

 Two loaves of bread are baking this morning. Flour, salt, water, and yeast mixed together with a wooden spoon and two hands. Add time and touch. What comes out is simply wonderful. Enjoy with butter, PB&J, marinara or dipping oil. When it goes stale, toast for croutons, dip in egg for french toast, or give the birds and squirrels a treat.

Many people think there’s a trick to making good bread, and they are right. It takes the magic of heat to create a good loaf of bread. The source of my kitchen magic is basic – electric, four burners, and an oven of decent size.  Consistent heat with little risk that turns a puffy blob into bread, raw fowl into Thanksgiving, and cauliflower into something tasty wonderful. There’s even a timer that reveals when the food is ready.

I use my oven constantly, but I don’t often give thanks for the miracle that it is. Every day, I pray for bread without really seeing the way my prayer is answered. Fortunately, my oven does more than bake – when necessary, it can open the eyes of the blind.

Living Room

Kitchen and Living Room

 In my kitchen, I have a white bistro table where I eat breakfast and have tea. I’ve said twenty-five years of mealtime prayers sitting in its black chairs, head bowed over its small round surface – different towns and homes, but the same kitchen table. This morning when I lift my eyes, I see cranberry walls, shelves with food and dishes, and an old linoleum floor. There’s a bowl with scraps for the birds and squirrels, and pencil lines on the chimney wall that mark the growth of my sons. Coupons, recipes, and homework hang on the fridge, held up by polished magnetite. Art and poetry live on the magnetic wall. I love this space, and I am grateful for the time I spend in it. There is peace here, and room for prayers.

This 1950’s kitchen has limited cupboard and counter space. There’s enough room for the necessary appliances and a good space to prep meals, but no room for extra gadgets. I can’t add anything new without subtracting something old; all the space is in use. I think this is a blessing. If I had a bigger kitchen, I’d fill it up with things I don’t need. It would be too easy to confuse what is necessary with what is not. I suspect peace wouldn’t fit easily into a bigger space, and too much stuff might crowd out my prayers. My soul has room for the Spirit in this space, and I am content.

My mother often says that what we own also owns us – the space we live in also lives in us. If that’s true, then Spring cleaning can be an exercise of the spirit as well as the body. What are the necessary things in my home? What makes a good living space for my family, fostering interesting and faithful lives? Room by room, over the couple of weeks, I’ll ask these questions. I’ve already got a good start on the kitchen…

Eyes To See

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

It’s a beautiful Easter morning here, with sunny skies, chirping birds, and daffodils blooming in my back yard. My two cats move gracefully on the window sills, and the goldfish swim in their tank. Our visiting golden retriever, Montana, wiggles in joy when I get up. The house is quiet and I have time to pray.

Lent is done, and it is time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I won’t find him in the graveyard, in a crypt, in an urn. He is in the world of the living, not the land of the dead. He has passed through death into life. He finds me, just as he found Mary, usually looking for him in the wrong place, assuming he is out of reach.

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (Which means teacher.).John 20:11-16

Sometimes Jesus looks like the gardener, sometimes he looks like a science teacher. He appears as a cook, a banker, and a homeless man. He can be found on every street in every town. I encounter him every day. But do I recognize him? Do I know I’m in the presence of Jesus? This Easter, I pray for eyes to see, and a heart that recognizes Jesus when he speaks to me.

Moving into God’s presence through words