Hear, Read, See

A Person should Hear a little music,

Read a little Poetry and

See a Fine Picture

Every day

in order that Worldly Cares may not obliterate the sense of

the Beautiful

which God has implanted in the Human Soul.

Goethe

My friend Penny sent me these words years ago on a birthday card. I framed them soon after, placing them ever since where I can see them. They are important because they came from a friend and because they tell a truth: ignoring the beauty I hear, read, and see because I am occupied with whatever task is at hand puts my humanity at risk – the humanity God created and sustains.

Music, Poetry, and Painting are about revelation. They help me know the world as something mysterious, something whose reality transcends my individual cares and lifespan. Specific creations that expand my awareness of the universe, bringing no reward beyond profound gratitude at the blessing of hearing, reading, and seeing. In the presence of such beauty, I know that my life is extraordinary – just like everyone else’s.

Today, I listen to the Mills Brothers, read Robert Frost’s A Leaf Treader, and spend time with Kay Chorao’s Tree Shadows illustration. Worldly cares can’t compete with that.

I also read Psalm 125 – not an easy or favorite psalm. Psalms are part of the Beautiful, but remind me that I cannot hide from Worldly Cares behind melody, meter, or palette. Beauty and Worldly Cares: one without the other is incomplete. Together, they are a sacred complete.

For more about the Use Your Words series, see “About.”

The View from Burial Hill

I parked my car, went up eight steps and a gentle slope. Sitting on a green bench, surrounded by gravestones, a breathtaking view in a quiet space. Plymouth is spread out below, close enough to see people laughing and taking pictures of the Rock; the rolling Atlantic peeks out between the houses and continues to the horizon, dotted with boats.

Most people get to this place from the shore or town center, up a couple of steep, long staircases. The main paths have a quite an incline, and most visitors are out of breath by the time they arrive at this view – breathtaking in a whole different way. It’s almost as if such a view needs to be earned, either by climbing or dying. Do only the worthy get a bench with a view?

But there’s a back way, the way I came. It’s off the main street, behind a municipal maintenance building, in a lot far enough away from downtown that it’s free of parking meters. The pavement is old, cracked and bumpy. Most of the people who come this way live or work in Plymouth. They know its pretty face and its seamy side, the history and today’s issues. They aren’t visitors, they are residents and relatives. They live, love, work, and play here. They probably don’t come to this bench on this hill anywhere near as often as they could, busy with town and water life below. Still, this is their past, present, and future – something they can have for a quick trip over a few steps and a gentle rise. No need to prove worthiness on the beaten trail. It’s enough to love the bench, the company of ancestors, and the view.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, but admiration and gratitude. Maybe that’s why the graveyard is here: even death can show us something amazing and peaceful if we take a seat and keep still long enough to look.

Tuesday’s Opposite

Saturday was rainy, dim, cold. Outside activities were on hold, there were no appointments on the calendar, and no need to drive anywhere. From morning to night, I didn’t have to be in a particular place or do anything specific. My sons were content to sleep in, relax, and recharge. My husband was home for most of the morning, then off to work. A rare free day.

Rising, I listened to rain on the roof while I brewed tea. Between downpours, I dropped in on Jeanne and David to say hello and borrow a stock pot. I put bread dough aside to rise while washing mason jars. Apples pared and cut, I made applesauce. I chopped garlic and pork for green chili. With bread in the oven and newly canned applesauce on the cupboard, I opened the latest Bon Appetit to try a new pizza dough that rises in the fridge for 24 hours. My sons and cats kept me company. We read, built with Legos and painted with acrylics, letting the outside world get along without us.

When my husband came home, all four of us sat down at the table, shared grace, and ate. Then it was time to clean up and settle in for the night.

Months back, I wrote on Philaret’s Prayer at the Beginning of the Day. It’s first line: Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. I pray this line every morning, and I do my best to live into it every afternoon and evening. Saturday wasn’t special because of what I did or what I didn’t do, where I spent my hours; it was extraordinary because it was begun in peace, lived in peace, and ended in peace. Tomorrow’s concerns were left for tomorrow, yesterday’s released. In an imperfect world, in my ordinary life, peace embraced me and mine.

It’s not the first such day, and (God willing) it won’t be the last. But Saturday was a grace that cannot be repeated or revisited. Cherished, yes, for how it nourished my soul. A rainy day in October never to come again.

Saying My Piece

At the last library board meeting, a town official assigned to represent the interests of the library at municipal meetings – and represent municipal interests at library meetings – spoke without care or preparation, showing an appalling lack of information of and appreciation for the vital role our public library plays in this town. She dodged questions about the future of the library, clearly unable to answer even the most basic of them. She changed the subject, moving the focus from library concerns to playgrounds and trash pick-up (both vital to the town, but not the responsibility of the library board). When asked what the value and role of the library would be in ten years, she said, “I see no value for it.”

When I am faced with unprofessional behavior in someone who should know better, how do I act with compassion and also advocate for one of the most vital institutions in my town?

It’s a difficult thing, sometimes almost impossible, to extend help and compassion to someone whose actions hurt others. It’s also the only way forward. Treating someone with contempt, even in reaction to being treated with contempt, won’t foster positive change. Whether I like it or not (and I don’t like it!), the only way forward is to act with kindness and patience.

It’s a lesson that keeps coming up. Saying my piece must be saying my peace. Until I learn this by heart, it will keep coming.

Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.

Prayer at the Beginning of the Day, Philaret of Moscow

Today

Lord, Make me an instrument of Your peace…

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord of all pots and pans and things… make me a saint by getting meals and washing up plates…

Brother Lawrence

It sounds like you’re dealing with the blessing of answered prayer.

Brother Clark Berge

Today has gone from a quiet writing and baking day to a “squeeze writing and baking in between morning and afternoon carpool duties, a grant writing session, doing laundry so everyone can get dressed tomorrow, roasting the chicken early so dinner can be on the table in time to get my son to an evening activity, and (finally!) baking bread for tomorrow’s sandwiches” day. As I write, my dishwasher is humming and my clothes are spinning in the washer downstairs. The chicken is in the oven, apples and canning supplies are on the sideboard, and I am on my couch typing away. It’s not my typical Tuesday because a couple of things had to be rescheduled and a couple of evening activities arose. I’ll spend an extra two hours in the car and I’ll be up an extra hour as the bread bakes and cools.

Unexpectedly busy days bear truths about my life:

First: most of the activities come from the blessings of marriage, children, education, and plenty of food. Today is busy because heartfelt prayers were answered.

Second: today’s schedule isn’t written in stone. I could buy bread instead of baking it – or use the multitude of crackers in my cupboard! I could postpone writing this piece. And my local market sells a tasty rotisserie chicken, already prepared. I am choosing to have a busy day.

Third: I can choose to enjoy each activity, living my faith and finding contentment as I work. The Spirit is present when I remain present in my day’s adventures.

Fourth: I can be an instrument of peace on busy days and calm ones, or I can be an instrument of unrest and agitation. When I rely on God’s presence for my internal state and my external actions, peace will finds its way. When I don’t, no amount of quiet time will grant me peace.

Today I choose to quiet life’s noise by roasting the chicken, and savoring its aroma as I write. I choose to hang clean clothes on the line, taking time from writing to enjoy sun and leaves, pumpkins and birds. I’ll bake tonight, ending my day with the scent of fresh bread. Tomorrow, I’ll wake to a calmer schedule and the lingering scent of bread. And I’ll be thankful once again for today.

Volume and Tuning

Quieting life noise comes down to hearing aids.

When they were missing out on too many conversations and the television on highest volume was still too quiet, several people I know got hearing aids. All of them have said how much easier it is to hear with them, and they are grateful. But all of them admitted that enhanced hearing came at a cost: loss of a muffled world, and a sound reality that made background noise as loud as conversation – sharp audio edges and the loss of distinction between the sound they wanted hear and the noise they didn’t. A loss of sound depth and discernment, the trivial and the important weighted equally by the hearing aids. The switch from missing out on the world of sound to no foreground/background audio distinction was the benefit and the cost. What ears do – give weight to some sounds over others – hearing aids cannot.

If we don’t live a life deaf to the world around us, when we choose to hear the reality we live in, it can be deafening in a whole new way. There are so many things making noise, asking for our attention. Some of it is wonderful, some sad, some necessary, some a waste of time and energy. But how do we listen to what’s vital, turn off what’s destructive, and ignore what’s distracting? In more Biblical terms, how do we have ears to hear (eyes to see are for another day)?

Paul’s words on love are volume controls, helping us focus on what’s life-giving and holy. Ears that hear focus on what isn’t rude, what admits to being partial, what speaks of patience and kindness. Attend to these things, listen to the voice of love in all its many forms. If we can’t turn off the rest, we can at least let it fade into the background. We’ll be amazed at how quiet life becomes.

Choose One

And now faith, hope and love abide, these three…

I Cor 13:13

Which would you choose, if you had to choose one: faith, hope, or love? There are good reasons for choosing any of the three: faith as to move mountains, hope in things unseen, for God so loved the world. I’ve known people who revealed one or more of these in their actions and thoughts, words and manner. I’ve known groups who have done the same through discernment, action, and further discernment – the interplay between prayerful reflection and faithful action the Spirit’s way of revealing holiness in the imperfect here and now.

I believe I saw one such group last week on a job interview – a board of men and women, differing ages and stages, joined together by their call to mission in their own back yards, working together to find the right person to direct their ministry. Each member asked thoughtful questions, each one listened attentively to the answers I gave and the questions I asked. I left them confident that they would choose the right person, whoever he or she might be.

I think faith, hope, and love are companions in many an adventure. I saw at least two in the board members last week. Some had faith that their needs would be met; God would provide someone to take up the tasks dear to them. Absolutely right. Others looked at the qualities they identified for a successful candidate and compared them to the words on paper and the words in person they encountered. The goals are clear, the structure sound, the candidates more than adequate. They had and have every reason to hope for a worthy director and a successful future for their shared ministry. And they are right.

I got a call, letting me know that they chose someone else. I have every hope and a certain faith that they chose well. I trust their faith and their prayer as I trust my own. Faith and hope are not in vain: they beckon to us toward a holy future.

And love? I don’t need to be a part of their ministry to love who they are and how they find God in the strength and brokenness of this world. It’s never in vain and never dependent upon this or that adventure or choice. Love is the now, the once-was, and the what-will-be; it is what grants this imperfect world the privilege and joy of being our God given, precious home.

And now faith, hope, and love abide these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Enigmatic

For now we see through a mirror into an obscure image, but then we shall see face to face.

I Cor. 13:12

Most times, this verse is translated something like: For now we see in a mirror, dimly. The word in Greek is enigma, translated usually as dimly or darkly, but literally is dim or obscure image. It’s a noun rather than an adverb. It may not make much difference in translation, but it reminds me:

My lack of understanding isn’t just due to lack of light: it’s also because what I’m looking at, even seen in the full light of day, is beyond my ability to comprehend. Puzzling and obscured by darkness.

And seeing face to face? Right now, I can look into the face of another and still not see. Then, I will see and know the one I see face to face. And I will be seen and known.

Until then, I’ll try to remember my blindness, and forgive the blindness of others.

For more on “Quieting Life Noise,” see ABOUT.

Where am I?

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

I Cor 13:11

If you walk straight out the door away from your home with a three year old, go a few yards and ask her which direction home is. She’ll point behind her. If you take a left at the first intersection and repeat the question, she’ll point behind her. Turn left again, ask for a third time, and she’ll point behind again. Home is always behind because that’s where it was when she last saw it – everything in the world is understood as oriented around her. Once she adds a couple of birthdays, she’ll know that the house doesn’t move just because she changed direction. If you ask her where the house is after turning left, she’ll give you an odd look and point left. The stage where the world orients itself around her has been left behind.

What about the world beyond a particular street, town, neighborhood, hemisphere? If you asked a passing adult to draw the world, would he or she put home territory in the center? Most likely; it’s why maps of the world have different continents in the center, depending upon its user’s location. The assumption is that the center of the world is wherever he or she happens to be – or happens to be from.

I wonder, though. If a stranger on the street asked me to draw a map of the world, would I put away childish reasoning long enough to ask about the person I’d be drawing it for. After all, the world doesn’t rotate around me any more than my home follows me down the street…

Window on the World

There’s a wonderful picture book called Home (Jeanne Baker, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004). Its pages are all about one particular view: Tracy’s second floor window, looking onto her back yard and the neighborhood beyond. It begins with Tracy’s birth, showing a small section of her room and the world outside the window. Every year, the same view and a glimpse into the changes in Tracy’s life and world. A few crafts, cards, and toys on the inside, the evolving yard and neighborhood on the outside. The last picture shows Tracy and her parents sitting in their back yard – with her husband and baby. All of it seen from a single perspective: time moves forward, location stays the same. Neighborhood renewal, changing neighbors, growing children and aging parents – so much revealed through a single window.

That’s my life. It’s not the full story of humanity or the full view of creation. It’s a glimpse at it through a single perspective. Not the complete story, but a real story. Limited, but true. Part of the great, eternal, infinite, whole. And I love my glimpse, my limited part of an ongoing, eternal reality. Holy and limited until the walls dissolve into the eternal embrace of God.

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

I Cor. 13:9-10

Moving into God’s presence through words