Monday, July 15, 2019

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

So, here is what you see outside the room I wrote about last time. I will always remember the first time I saw this sign over a decade ago and followed the arrow, intrigued.

It's impossible to describe in words what it's like to walk from the hustle and bustle of the airport, the constant movement and noise, into the quiet place that sign points to. It's such a welcome and unexpected contrast. We get so used to functioning in noise and tuning it out to the extent we can, that to walk into, and then sit in, such deep silence, causes the body and mind and spirit to move into a different realm of perception.

It takes a moment to adjust, and then you begin to notice things around you and within you that you simply would not have noticed, could not have noticed, with the noise.

This was the first time I noticed these hymnbooks on the shelf near the entrance. Maybe they were there before, but I had not seen them. Again intrigued, I picked one up and opened it.

And it's not possible to put in words either the sense of "walking into" that hymnbook. We were far from home, in a country where neither of us has lived, on a continent that has largely forgotten the faith that once infused its history, literature, architecture, ethics, and sense of identity.

So to sit in that place, open this book, and see hymns that I grew up singing in church was just a lovely surprise. This is even the same tune we used with this text when we sang it in church.

And then to see it written out in so many languages, and to know that people have been singing it in different countries (or else why would it have been included?) for many years, expressing the same thoughts and beliefs, even though their languages and cultures and histories and habits were not the same, just filled me with a beautiful sense of connectedness. I didn't feel so far from home.

Especially because we had this sung at our wedding, with its other tune, known as Hyfrydol.

This one started off with the Italian, at least on this page.

And here it begins in English. They included so many languages that they printed the music more than once for readability because they wouldn't all fit on one opening.

We also had this song at our wedding.

And we did not have this one at our wedding, which will surprise no one, probably, but it was one of my favorites growing up.

And eventually our time in the prayer room ended, and the journey continued.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Airport Adventures: May the Lord Go Before You

It may be a new record, going over six months without putting anything on my blog. Certainly not a record I intended to set.

Maybe reading the book Digital Minimalism affected me more than I realized. I did not determine not to write on my blog, but I was enjoying the intentional space between me and the screen as a result of reading that book (which I haven't yet finished, but do recommend.) It wouldn't surprise me if at some level that book was a factor.

But I think it had as much or more to do with a couple of different health issues that meant extra appointments over several months. And a couple of major house repair/renewal projects that interrupted life significantly. And singing in a couple of different choruses over the spring, which meant two rehearsals each week for a good bit of the time. Oh, and two out of town conferences that took me far away from home. (Don't they say good things come in pairs?)

Whatever the reason, here I am again. Determined to share some pictures and do a bit of writing about our recent travel to Croatia.

The picture above is from a booklet I found in the Munich airport, in the "Raum fur Stille und Gebet," or "Space for Prayer and Silence," a lovely small secluded area  which "invites people from all over the world to pray in silence, to calm down, and to draw new strength," as the website says. And it must have some amazing insulation, because when you get in there, it is completely quiet. You'd never imagine you were in a bustling, noisy airport if you didn't already know that.

I've written about it before here, and since that first visit have been there a few times. This is the first time I had seen the little prayer booklet, with this lovely prayer written in ten languages. It was a wonderful way to be welcomed onto the European continent and to begin our visit there.

I know I've seen a chapel in at least one other airport, somewhere in the States, but I can't recall where it was. I wonder if any of my readers have ever found a chapel in an airport? And how many have wished they could?

And I just found the most amazing thing. An entire history of this place, with photos from the architect's designs to the woods where they found the tree, and how they moved it into the airport. Fascinating. Now I just need to learn to read German beyond my single college semester level! (If you decide to check out that link, just know that there are a couple of blank pages after the initial title page. then it's full of pictures.)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

God's Grandeur

I was sitting out on the deck just now in the freezing cold, working to find a position comfortable enough for my neck that I could remain in it for a while. The neck part because I've been cautioned by surgeon and physical therapist that I simply should not look up too much. (Not sure whether I'll ever try to visit the Sistine Chapel....)

But the whole reason for being out there is because the moon is in the act of being eclipsed even as I sit here and write. I couldn't take the cold too much longer, so I came in for a break before returning in a bit.

This morning in our Sunday Bible class, the theme was how the Creation is a witness to faith in God, looking at Hebrews 11 : By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.

In the context of discussion, a class member mentioned that the eclipse would happen tonight, and I'm so glad he did, because though I had seen something about it earlier, I had forgotten.

Sitting out there just now, besides noticing the moon, and noticing that it was very cold (the thermometer says 26 degrees), I couldn't help noticing how clear the air was and how brightly the stars shone, something I haven't seen in a long time. It was beautiful. I wanted so much to be able to stay there, but I couldn't.

…..Well, I left and I'm back. And while I was out there, I had the idea of bringing my grandmother's rocking chair out to the deck. It couldn't hurt the chair, and it would let me lean back enough to see the moon and to have support for my neck. So I came back in and got the chair and watched the rest of the veiling of the moon more comfortably.

And the whole little experience brought to mind evenings at Grandmother's house when we would have finished washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen, maybe preparing something for the next day's deliciousness, maybe watching the news or something worthwhile on TV. And at some point Grandmother would say, "Let's go sit outside for a while."

And we would do that. Take a couple of folding chairs (or more than a couple if there were more people) out the back door to simply sit outside on the driveway, with the backyard before us and the whole sky above us. It was always warmer weather, so we might hear a symphony of cicadas or see lightning bugs blinking in the yard around us. With or without those, there was always the wonderful smell of being outside and the vast sky above and whatever stars we could see.

I don't have specific memories of conversations during those times. It wouldn't surprise me if we may have sung once or twice. "Can you count the stars of evening that are shining in the sky?" I really don't recall what we talked about, or even that talking was much a part of it. I was not generally a big talker if someone else didn't start it off, and what I do remember is sitting there quietly at the end of a day, feeling such a sense of togetherness as we absorbed the beauty of the night.

Oh, and I do remember something specific. Grandmother bought a moonflower vine and planted it right out there by the back door so that she could look at it in the evenings. And smell its wonderful scent. I do remember talking about that and going over to admire it.

The moon, the stars, the rocking chair, the sun and earth all part of a beautiful moment tied to other beautiful moments. What a gift to have minds and hearts capable of perceiving, remembering, connecting, feeling, loving. Tonight is a full moon, and a full heart.

And I think of St. Francis, from class earlier today.

All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
     in the heavens you have made them,
     bright, and precious, and fair.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Wondering While Wandering

I just wonder if anyone else has ever seen this in their neighbor's yard at Christmastime. This is a home not too far from us, but far enough that I don't know the people who live there. Each year I see these cute  little choristers and wonder who the people are who live in this house, where they found these guys, or whether they are homemade.

I wonder if the neighbors are singers themselves. I wonder if they would be happy if I knocked on their door someday and just said, "I want to meet the people who have such cute Christmas decorations."

To my thinking, this is just rather unusual, and in a delightful way. I wonder if these are decades old or not. They certainly bring a sense of "times past" when I see them.

I wonder, and then I wander on down the street.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Blogland Faux Pas

Today a very kind reader from the "daily in December" writing group, a person I have never met, sent me an email that, among other kindnesses, expressed concern that she had left comments on this blog but had never seen them appear. She asked if I had seen them, or if they had disappeared into the blogosphere.

I had, in fact, wondered over the past month at the lack of a single comment on my blog, when I was writing more than I have in years. But I was not getting any emails from the blog, as I always had before, telling me when a comment was awaiting moderation. It has been so long since I wrote here on any regular basis, and I know so many people use Wordpress, I wondered if perhaps my blog is just too difficult for commenting, or maybe my writing was just not interesting enough to warrant comment. But I just kept at it, telling myself it was good for developing discipline, whether or not anyone were reading what I wrote.

This email, however, led me to go to the "dashboard" and do a bit more exploration. It took a bit, but I finally found the hiding place of about 25 comments people had left, that were just sitting there waiting!

Having just finished watching the movie Emma this evening (the Gwynneth Paltrow version), I can hear voices in my head speaking in lovely British accents, having a conversation about the impropriety of keeping people's comments waiting, the lack of generosity it shows, and how I ought to have been more diligent in ascertaining the situation behind the lack of comments. What a poor example I have provided of blog etiquette.

But mostly I'm just glad someone pointed this out, and that I found the comments. And I do hope I can figure out how to get some kind of notification sent to my email for the future. Any help with that is welcome.

To all the temporarily banished commenters, thank you for your patience and good will! I assure you I will be on the lookout for comments in the future!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Snow Geese on Arkansas Field

We drove and looked, and looked and drove.
Field after field.
No geese.

"I guess they've gone further South by now."
"I had so hoped to see the geese on this drive."
"Seems like they have been here in December before, but maybe I'm remembering November."
"I thought it was Christmas; there was that long ago was that....?
maybe I was listening to Christmas music,
just earlier in the month,
on a separate trip."

Another field of water, but no geese.
No geese.

We sighed and accepted it, stopped looking out the windows,
returned our attention to each other and the conversation.

And then, a long row of trees, and beyond, another flat field.

And there they were.
Snow geese.

Hundreds? Thousands? How to know?
They humbled and rejoiced us with their numbers, their beauty, their very presence.

And as always, I remembered that other day, that other year.

The geese that appear year after year,
They might as well be angels.
Angels of a lesser order, of course, but messengers for sure.

O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
Oh, rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Tradition, Tradition

It's funny how you can develop a soft spot in your heart for something that the rest of you can't stand.

That's how boiled custard is for me. I've never liked the taste of it. I don't really even like the feel of it, the consistency. I don't care for custard pie, or coconut custard pie. I can't think of anything called custard that I like.

But in another way I love boiled custard.

Because the only place I ever heard of it or had it, was at my grandparents' house at Christmas time. Even though I didn't like it, it was clearly considered a special treat, on par with the wonderful desserts we had--pecan pie, coconut cake, or some other delicious treat. So I knew it must be special stuff, and I didn't what was wrong with me that I didn't like it.

So when I saw these cute containers of boiled custard in the grocery store, and I had in the back of my mind that my husband did like the stuff when he tried it many years ago at Grandmother's house, I decided to buy some and bring it home.

Turns out he said he never did like it, either, and it wound up being disposed of.

But the truth is, I kept it for a good while in the refrigerator just because each time I saw it, it reminded me of Grandmother and her voice and accent, and the coziness of her kitchen and the elegance of her dining room, and the happiness of our times there.

Life is full of paradox. And part of me still wishes I could like boiled custard, just to have that in common with the grownups in my young life. And because it seems part of a tradition, a culture, that may be fading away. The same way I wish I could speak with the accent my grandmother had, that wonderfully rich, elegant Southern accent. But I can't, at least not for long.

On the other hand, they're selling boiled custard at Superlo Grocery, so maybe that tradition is in good hands. I hope so. I do hope so.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas

"Today, we insist that everything has changed, and that it is good. We rejoice that God has come into our world, in human flesh, and we believe that Christ will come again. We give thanks for the Christ we know now, in the poor and oppressed and despairing of this world, and we believe that we will know him also when he comes in glory. today, we are not resigned; we stand up and sing, for God has not given up on us. We are his own, and we are welcomed to the feast."

~Kathleen Norris, God with Us

Today was a beautiful day of seeing how faith has been working, and is working, in lives that have suffered and struggled mightily. It's not my place to share those stories in detail, but each of these pictures connects with the life of someone who could have easily despaired, but instead stands up and sings because of their faith in the Christ who came into the world and has overcome the world, the suffering, and death.

The image above was sent to me this morning by a dear friend who lived through battles of war in Europe years ago, and now battles illness in later years. She is beautiful and brave, and her faith in Christ strengthens me.

This is the shadow of the wreath on our front door and reminds me of my dear friend who said she always loved the pictures I posted of light and shadow images. She is no longer with us, and I will always remember how courageously and lovingly she faced her illness and death. She won't come through our front door again, but when I see surprising shadow images now I always think of her. She was not resigned to the darkness but trusted in the light, believing that Christ will come again and trusting she could await his coming in glory with hope.

And this little tree is a gift from my sister, given because our grandmother had one like it all the years of our celebrating Christmas at her house. My grandmother's life, and the lives of many people in my own family, including my own, have been changed forever because of Christ coming into the world. Lives that could easily have been lived in despair have instead been lived in hope, in perseverance rather than resignation. When I reflect on what could have been, and what instead is, I am amazed.

In a different way, it is as beautiful and amazing as the moon on the water the other night. God's light has shone in our lives, reflecting off people around us and people who came before us, and when the light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it. "God has not given up on us," and so we do not give up.

We stand up and sing. We give thanks. And we feast. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Moon by Night

If I could have stopped, I would be able to share some of the most beautiful images I have seen in a long, long time.

I was driving from Searcy to Memphis the evening of the 22nd and left later than originally planned. I needed to be in Memphis by a particular time for a dinner date. So I could not stop to take pictures.

But I am so glad I left at the time I did. Otherwise I might have missed it.

As it was, just as I was coming out of a more treed and building-ed area, and the sun had just about finished setting, over ahead of me to my left was the biggest moon I have ever seen, about half above and half below the horizon. Rosy peach colored. And just huge.

And for the next half hour or so, I was driving through the flat, wide expanse of Highway 64 with the beautiful huge moon before me, so thankful to be right there, right then. If I had left any earlier or later it would not have been the same. If I had been in an area with trees or buildings, it would not have been the same.

Once the moon had risen a good bit, the timing was perfect for something I could not have imagined. I came to the area where the rice fields were flooded. By then it was very dark. For several minutes it was a movie director's dream--that huge moon shining in the sky, and the light cast by the moon's reflection shimmered across the surface of the water out there in the middle of nowhere, with nothing competing for the eye's attention.

Of course I had to pay attention to the road and the traffic, but there wasn't much traffic, and so I was able to soak in the beauty of this magical evening, this magical moon.

I had been listening on the way over to an interview with Sir Roger Scruton about his book The Soul of the World. I haven't read it, but from what I gathered via the interview, I think he would have agreed with me that night when I felt that I was seeing much, much more than just a rock in the sky reflecting light waves. I think no one could see what I saw and experience it that impersonally, unless they had been taught over time to disconnect themselves from the world around them and the experience of beauty and awe.

I couldn't stop, because of my time constraints, and I think the memory of that moon that evening will remain in my mind and heart longer than if I had been able to stop and photograph it, perhaps, because I gave it my full attention without placing it or framing it. If anything, I felt as if it were looking at me, helping me be in my proper place.

"So God made.....the moon to rule over the night."   On this night, I saw the majesty of this beneficent ruler! And it occurred to me that every month, a full moon rises over these fields. Every month, it shines on the water. Every month, this beauty is created, whether anyone notices or not. It's fascinating to think about that. That God has made things in such a way that incredible beauty abounds continually, with or without a human being to notice it. Because God is beauty, with or without an audience. It is simply who he is.

I missed a few nights of writing because of the trip and catching up at home, but this experience of the moon was so lovely and connects in my mind to the discipline of watching and waiting that comes with Advent. We miss so much beauty if we are not practicing waiting, developing eyes to see and ears to hear.

I'm thinking of the shepherds in the fields at night. Something about being awake at night seems to be important if we want to see and hear God's messengers, at least some of them.

The glory of the Lord, like any light, shines brightest in the night.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


Tonight we heard Messiah by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and a small choir formed from the Memphis Symphony Chorus. They outdid themselves. It was wonderfully, powerfully done. I'll be dreaming the music, I suppose.

The man next to me had brought the score with him and said for me to poke him if he accidentally started singing. It is hard for me too, in a way, to sit there and not sing. I saw a woman on our row mouthing the words.

Seeing the people around me was almost as delightful as hearing the music. Something about the way the pews were shaped and placed made it easier than usual to see people. And because they kept the lights up.

So I saw this man with his well worn score, the woman mouthing the words. People all around were gently swaying in time to the music, as I found myself frequently doing. I noticed a woman two rows ahead of us who could barely contain her joy when it was time for the Hallelujah Chorus, and when everyone broke into applause, she not only clapped but also raised her hands upward, the way people sometimes do in worship.

I sat there and wondered how many people there believed what was being sung, or how they believed it. I thought about this again after Worthy Is the Lamb, when the applause rang on and on and on, longer than usual for a symphony performance. And certainly longer than you would expect for a piece so frequently performed, so familiar.  My own hands began to hurt from it, but there was no way I would stop as long as it was socially acceptable to keep clapping! The joy in the air was palpable.

Messiah is long and covers much territory, and my mind went to so many places this evening as I listened to the music--to the stories and ideas the passages point to, and to times in my own life when I've sung the music, or when I've "beheld the Lamb" in a particular way. I thought about the ways I've gone astray like sheep, and about my high school music teacher introducing us to various pieces and talking about how Handel used the music to "show" sheep straying here and there and valleys being exalted and rough places being made plain.

Tonight I wondered where all the minds in the room were going, what all was represented by the people present, what their stories were, why they loved this music so much. And there was no doubt at all that they did, given that prolonged applause. I thought of Kurt Vonnegut's story about the child who had seen the sun, living on a planet where no one had seen the sun and didn't believe it was real. They teased the child who talked about it, and the story doesn't have a happy end, though the sun proves to be real, after all.

I just wondered tonight, what does Messiah mean to all these people in this room? For how long will it continue to be cherished and performed in a culture that seems to be growing more and more secular? Will the music alone be enough to keep it alive? And if so, how often might it actually cause someone to wonder, to ponder, to search?

It's amazing where all a mind can go during two and a half hours of music!

But it kept coming back to the words and the music, and tonight was a beautiful gift in this life of watching and waiting for the eventual Hallelujah Chorus. Hallelujah!