Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy Old Year

In certain counseling situations, if a person is struggling with traumatic or painful memories, it can be helpful to take them back to that time and change the ending of the story. Perhaps in the actual situation they were very young, or for some other reason were unable to have any "say" in what happened.

Via imagination, they can go back to the situation and make up new endings--a way of escape, a hero who comes to rescue them, or some course of action they could take to make a difference.

Even though it doesn't change history, this intervention often does change how the memories of events affect people, often profoundly changing their present and their future.

As the year 2005 comes to an end, most of us can look back and see things that didn't turn out the way we wanted them to. Or maybe they turned out okay, but were very painful in the unfolding. Or maybe they're not finished yet.

In any case, how we choose to look at the past year will make a difference in how we approach the coming one.

I love the tradition of the psalmists, who intentionally recounted the ways God had blessed them and often rescued them.

Sometimes their recounting went way back into history, when God had delivered the generations before them. They looked at this as part of their own history with God, even if it was not something that had not happened in their own lifetime.

In our culture, we tend to live much more in the present and future than in the past. We forget the past easily. We don't often have much of a "big picture" to work with because we ignore anything but the most immediate, personal past.

As this year ends, I want to be able to see it as part of a much bigger picture. As part of a story that started way before I was born and will continue after I die. This past year was actually a very small part of that story. If things didn't end the way I wanted them to, well, maybe that's because that isn't really the end, and I can't yet know how it fits into the story.

And knowing what I do about the ending in the bigger story, I am willing to trust that my own little story will somehow be used for good.

That doesn't change history.

But it sure can make a difference in the present and the future.

Happy Old Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

On the third day of Christmas . . .

Christmas Day I thought about sharing this poem, and the second day of Christmas convinced me I had to. We were driving from Searcy to Memphis, and rather than seeing two turtle doves, I counted 23 hawks along the way!

It led me to wonder if they have been there all along, and I simply never saw them? Or are they increasing in number? Either way, they amaze me.

The following poem was written by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, from whom I took the name for my blog. I once chose this poem for a paper back in my English major days, only to learn that critics considered it the most complex poem ever written in the English language.

It is complex, but I hope you can enjoy something of the language and the images. I'm putting a link to a site that gives a simple beginning of an explanation of it, if you want to look it up.

The main point of it is that Christ in his divinity is beautiful like a windhover (a type of hawk) in flight, but even more beautiful in the way he descended to earth and became human, like a hawk swooping down, and in the way he continues to share his body and blood (gold and vermillion) with us.

(The blog won't let me indent lines. My apologies to Hopkins. I'm putting an asterisk before lines that should be indented.)

The Windhover

To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
* dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
* Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
* As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
* Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
* Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

* No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
* Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Merry Christmas!

Here's the link:

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Stable

For many people, Christmas is about the loneliest time of the year. For all of us in our lonely moments, here is a poem I found yesterday:

The winds were scornful,
Passing by;
And gathering Angels
Wondered why

A burdened Mother
Did not mind
That only animals
Were kind.

For who in all the world
Could guess
That God would search out

Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B.
Robert, Cyril. Mary Immaculate: God's Mother and Mine. New York: Marist Press, 1946.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Starting in the fifth grade, when our teacher read all the Chronicles of Narnia aloud to us, I began reading the books more or less every year up until some time in high school. I think I even read them once in college.

So of course I have been a bit nervous about a movie coming out, wondering if it could possibly do the story justice. And of course a movie is not a book, and seeing/hearing something is not the same as imagining it. But all the preliminary things I read said that it was well done, so I dared to hope.

I crossed my fingers, bought a ticket, and saw it yesterday with my sister, Lisa.


If you haven't seen it yet, do go. And take kleenex, if you're like me. And then enjoy smiling repeatedly in the hours that follow as you bask in the memories.

(And keep your eyes open!)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Prayer Garden, Little Portion Hermitage

"To be interested in the changing seasons is . . . a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring."
George Santayana,
The Life of Reason

Normal Station Neighborhood

Our neighborhood is named Normal Station, after the once-upon-a-time train station located at what is now the University of Memphis, formerly a school of education known as a "normal school." I presume that comes from the idea of establishing norms for the training of teachers so that children around the country would receive a similar kind of education.

Anyway, we often joke that our neighborhood is the only normal thing about us.

Well, today I was driving home and out of the corner of my eye saw this man standing in a front yard waiting to cross the street. I'm not sure what caught my eye. The camouflage pants and backpack? The long hair? I think it was the combination and the fact that he was in the yard rather than on the sidewalk.

Whatever, the thing that widened my eyes was what looked an awful lot like a hawk sitting on his arm!

I have been known to alter my driving route in order to have a longer view of a hawk in flight. This was the first time I followed a hawk that wasn't flying.

I made the block, drove into the park, got out of my car, and followed the man. Watched a bit and decided he didn't seem terribly unusual (apart from having a large hawk on his arm) and called out, "Do you mind if I watch you?"

He didn't.

So, on a cloudy and otherwise rather blah afternoon, I got to see a hawk named Sigourney up close, looking right into her eyes. Learned that Mike used to work at the zoo and decided to get into falconry. Saw Sigourney fly from his arm up into a tree. Heard him call to her and saw her fly to where he was.

It was fascinating!

And while I started out to say what a very abnormal thing this was to encounter, thinking back on it, I realize that the way Mike was with Sigourney seemed more "normal" in the sense of "the way things are supposed to be" than not.

It goes back to the lion and the lamb passage, that all creatures were meant to live in peace. It was so neat to see this guy perfectly comfortable with a huge beaked bird five inches from his face, and the beautiful bird with no fear of getting so close to him, responding to his calls, letting me come near.

Well, whether it is normal or not, it was not what I expected for the day.

Keep your eyes open!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Always Xmas, Ever Christmas?

A short essay based on some of C.S. Lewis' personal writings about Christmas, this is worth reading.

(You'll have to copy and paste the link, put it in a new browser, and delete the space right before the word "publication" to get it to work. Sounds like a lot of trouble, but takes five seconds. I couldn't get it to fit into the blog space without dividing it like that.) publications/reflections/current.pdf

Monday, December 12, 2005

Autumn Leaves and Resurrection

It's already December, but in Memphis, some days still have very much a fall feeling to them. And every fall, the piercing blue skies, crisp air, and turning leaves take me back to my freshman year of college.

Fall had always been my favorite season, and on this particular day I was sitting with one of my favorite people, my piano teacher from high school.

The year was not going well. The rigors of a music major, three part-time jobs, my own deep well of insecurity, and too many nights of too little sleep, had led me into a very dark place.

At the time I hated that the world outside was so beautiful and that I was unable to enjoy it or even to appreciate it. I was living behind the invisible wall of an anxious depression, and I hated being so vulnerable to its attacks.

My teacher knew me well. She knew I had been behind this wall before. She knew that she couldn't "fix" me. She listened to me, she loved me, and she shared something that returns to me every fall.

As we sat there in her car behind the science building, leaves on the trees around us were partly colorful and partly still green. The reason leaves are green, she reminded me, is that they have chlorophyll in them. The chlorophyll is there only for as long as the leaves need it to get the tree through that summer season of its life. It is temporary.

When fall comes, the chlorophyll has served its purpose and is no longer needed. As it drains out of the leaves, only then do we see the leaves’ true colors. The vibrant reds, yellows, oranges, and even the cozy browns reveal the real leaf that has been forming over the past season as it interacted with sun, rain, wind—and, yes, with the chlorophyll, too.

“I like to think,” my teacher said, “that in heaven we will be like the autumn leaves. Our true colors, our real selves, will finally be revealed. All the things of earth that had to be a part this season of life won’t be part of us anymore. Only the truest part of us will remain.”

It wasn’t exactly a science lesson, so I’m sure the analogy breaks down at some points. But the message never has left me:

Someday His light will reveal the person He created me to be.

Not the one so colored by my current trials, temperament and troubles.

Someday I will see who I was meant to be.

About fifteen years later, I sat on another campus, this time in a theology classroom, and listened as another teacher painted a picture of hope.

As he put it, when the new heaven and new earth are revealed, we will no longer need the blood, food, water, air and whatever else we depend on for earthly life. We will be completely sustained by the Spirit of God.

God will be not only the light that shines on us, but the food that nourishes us, the water that we drink, the very stuff of which we are made. Somehow, He will completely fill us and at the same time make us completely the individual people He created us to be.

Of course the truth is that He is already doing the work, just as the leaves grow and produce sugars and whatever else they do all summer long. We just can’t always see them, filled with “chlorophyll” as we are.

But someday we will see who we were meant to be.

A few weeks ago as my husband and I drove down country roads in the Ozark mountains, stunned by the dazzling glory of light and leaves, I wondered how anything could be more beautiful.

If God can turn an earthly forest into such a display of His glory, how glorious will it be when He fills our very selves with Himself? And lets us see our own and each others’ true colors?

Because then we will see Him as He is.

And because He Is Who He Is, we will--at last!--be who we are.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

On the Road

Yes, I did read Jack Kerouac's book.

And, no, this won't be anything like that.

Today I drove from Searcy to Memphis. When I was a child, it seemed a long, long trip. I usually read a book or sang (or argued) with my siblings en route.

As I grew older, it seemed a long, boring trip. Mile after mile of flat fields. One hill on the whole three-hour journey. I looked out the windows and dreamed of other things.

When I grew up, it didn't seem so long anymore. But still so flat and boring!

Well, maybe I'm only now starting to really grow up.

Because today, I saw the hawks over the fields, soaring in the wind. I stopped counting after five of them. I know they are probably looking for prey, but watching them, I can't help but think they are also just doing what they were made to do, "in the zone," feeling the wind under their wings and riding it out for the sheer joy of it.

I saw a flock of unidentifiable birds, hundreds of them, flying over a field, in constant motion as they changed places and created a new design every moment-- somehow remaining a unified whole all the while.

I saw the old, old oak trees, their trunks and limbs gnarled into shapes as fascinating as those the birds created. Their leaves catching fire as the evening sun shone on their golden and reddish browns.

I saw the sky mysteriously turn pink all at once, all around the horizon (a gift from those flat open fields.) Then, as I neared Memphis, the pink deepened into a beauty so intense that I thought I would have to stop the car, get out, face west, and sing "Holy, Radiant Light." And the white clouds stood out against the pink, with brushstrokes swirling them in all directions, as if swooshed by a giant paintbrush.

It was painful to enter West Memphis, with its converging highways, backed up traffic from construction, billboards, neon signs, asphalt and concrete and light poles everywhere. No more open fields, no more trees, not a welcoming place for wildlife.

On to the bridge, where I did see one last hawk soaring over the mighty Mississippi.

As I crossed the river, the pink of the sky was reflected on all the skyscrapers and buildings of the Memphis skyline. As if nature were saying, "See? I can make even you lifeless things beautiful, at least for a moment."

It makes me wonder how many other things I haven't been seeing all these years.

And what may be on the road ahead.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

How long since you sat in your green chair?

When I started this blog thing, I had no idea how often I would write. I confess at times I feel ridiculous doing it, wondering if anyone "out there" is reading it. And since I haven't written in a while, I figure if anyone has been looking at it from time to time, they're going to stop, because there's nothing new to read.

Well, here's something new and a bit of an explanation.

Last night I had a strong sense of needing to be home. Needing to be in my little office, to sit in my comfy green chair. It just felt like I'd been on the run for too long, even though I couldn't think what I'd been doing or for how long I'd been doing it.

So after making dinner and telling the dishes they could wait till morning, I did go to my office. I did sit in my green chair.

I stretched out my legs. I breathed.

And I thought, "Something is missing. What am I missing?"

I realized that I usually write in my journal when I'm sitting in that chair. I pulled my journal off the shelf with the strangest feeling of unfamiliarity.

You see, normally I write in my journal 4 or 5 times a week. It's just been a part of my life since junior high, and during most periods of my life, it's a regular thing.

And last night, I opened it up, wondering, "How long has it been since I opened this up?"

Two weeks! My last entry was from the night before Thanksgiving.

So, if I haven't had time to write in my journal in the past two weeks, you can see why I haven't "blogged" in all that time.

The experience reminds me of a story I've heard preachers tell, one that I actually remember. I won't recount the whole story. The gist of it is that people in another country refused to travel as quickly as some visiting Americans wanted to. They often (it seemed to the Americans) stopped their hike to rest, but it seemed their rest times were more than physical exhaustion called for. When the Americans asked why they weren't ready to take off, their answer was, "We're waiting for our souls to catch up with our bodies."

That's what my green chair time is about. Letting my soul catch up with my body.

Don't you think many problems in life could be avoided, and people would be healthier, wiser and more joyful, if they stopped more often to let their souls catch up with their bodies?

For myself, I'm making it a goal to sit in my green chair at least 4 times this week. Given the approaching holiday schedule, I'm even thinking maybe I need to be sure I sit there every night, since my soul will have a lot of catching up to do, given the motion my body will be in.

If you have a green chair, I hope you will be sure to sit in it this holiday season. Christmas offers so many gifts for the soul. It's a shame to miss out on them because the poor soul is struggling just to keep up!

And if you don't have a green chair or something like it, I hope you'll find one soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Today I will be cooking for Thanksgiving Dinner.

I will use my great-grandmother's cornbread recipe to use in my grandmother's dressing recipe. The pecan pie recipe came from Grandmother's hometown newspaper, and it will include Benton County sorghum that I still have from Grandmother.

And, believe it or not, I have pecans from Grandmother's deep freezer, labeled with a piece of masking tape. "Pecans '95." She bought them, no doubt, from someone local and put them in her freezer ten years ago. They are still delicious.

Tomorrow I imagine we will sing "Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow" as we stand around the table before eating. Just as we always did at Grandmother's house.

Today I praise God for my Grandmother, Mildred Evans Christmas, who left us 2 years and ten months and one week ago. She was a blessing. And she is still feeding us today.

And will for all our lives.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Of flowers

Well, "flowers" comes from "flora," which means plantlife in general, right?

If Abraham had lived in Memphis instead of Ur, God might well have taken him to the front door and said, "I will make your descendants like the leaves in the yard."

Today we bagged our eighteenth 42-gallon bag of leaves. I do the front yard, Drazen does the back. I know for my part I left two big piles because it got dark, and I haven't gone through the monkey grass or under the azaleas yet. And we have a lot of monkey grass and azaleas.

And in the front yard, they are pin oak leaves, those thin, slippery ones. (Sometimes I sneak over into the neighbors' yards just to enjoy the ease of raking the large, traditional, crunchy oak leaves.)

And for each bag, I stop and stomp it down four or five times, four or five stomps each time.

How many leaves could that be?

And then you look up and see that the trees are still full of leaves!

It's staggering.

I'm glad we don't have to rake the stars.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Of folk and flocks

Several times a year I go to a retreat center and spend some time in silence, woods walking, prayer and meditation.

I just returned from that place after spending last night and part of today there.

One thing I love about St. Columba (the retreat center) is being with the animals. So few people traipse around the place, the animals actually seem to feel at home there. This past May, on one visit, I watched at length deer, raccoon, a blue heron, turtles galore, a chipmunk, a tiny little shrew, and of course all kinds of birds—including two owls.

Last night as I drove up, two deer were startled by my car. I turned off the headlights and stopped the car. One ran into the woods, but the other stayed and nibbled in the field where I could watch her for a while until she ran to join the other.

This morning I saw a flock of geese on the other side of the lake. They must have seen me, because they flew away almost as soon as I got there. Then I saw--no kidding--a normal raccoon and an albino raccoon climbing up a tree together, turning to stare at me every now and then, obviously concerned about my presence.

I left them alone, not wanting to frighten them further, and went back to the cabin for morning prayer.

The reading for the morning was Isaiah 65:17-25. “. . . .The wolf and the lamb will lie down together, the lion will eat straw like the ox. . . .They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.

Whenever I encounter creatures in the woods, I do my best to be quiet and gentle. I try to telepathically tell them that they don’t need to be afraid, that I will not hurt them.

Often, though, they run away.

This morning’s scripture connected with my longing to live in harmony with all of God’s creation. That longing for a time and place where there will be no need for fear.

Later I went for another walk, this time hoping to see the deer. I had heard sounds like gunshots earlier. I thought maybe it was coming from activity related to the construction site down the road. But since the area all around the center is wooded, I knew that hunters might be out there. In fact, at one point I heard a shot so loud, I jumped and my heart pounded. I heard voices and knew there had to be hunters, on the other side of the fence somewhere.

I was wearing a bright red jacket and figured it would be okay to walk. After all, this is a huge retreat center, a sanctuary, with a fence and NO TRESPASSING signs all around.

As I walked among the fallen leaves and green pine trees, I looked down and could not believe my eyes. Bright red blood on a leaf. On more than one leaf. A whole circle of leaves with fresh blood.

And not far away, a larger spot on the ground, red all around. Entrails. I wept. It was clear that the hunters had been on this side of the fence, probably just minutes before when I heard their voices.

My first actual thought was, “I hate them!” But I had also just been reading Brennan Manning on compassion, and I knew I couldn’t stay in that.

I walked to the center’s office and told what I had seen. I learned that at last count, ten deer lived on the land. One less now. In fact, after the sheriff’s department man came out, they found another. Two less.

Maybe the same two I saw last night, so peaceful. One willing to stand and eat right there in front of my car.

I was angry. I am angry. The sheriff's man said they should not even have been hunting anywhere near there on the other side of the fence, because it is so close to houses and buildings. These jerks had built a deer stand less than 100 feet from the fence. Somehow they had gotten over a nine-foot barbed wire fence to get these deer. If they are from anywhere around, they know this is private property and that there are deer on it, deer that are not used to be hunted. Lazy, cowardly hunters, in my angry opinion. Probably sitting around tonight bragging about their prowess.

Mostly, though, I am grieved. Grieved for the innocence and pain of the deer, the terror they must have felt.

Grieved for the lost innocence of this world, for the pain of the people all around, for the terror they feel and the terror they create in each other’s lives.

Thankful in a new way for the vision of Isaiah 65:17-25.

And thankful for a God who gave us the vision and teaches those who will listen to live now in anticipation of the new heaven and new earth.

Postscript: No, I do not think hunters are categorically terrible people. Some people hunt to survive. But I do not understand hunting as sport. I like my dad's idea: enjoy the woods, enjoy the detective-like suspense, find the animal, but if you have to shoot it, use a camera.

And I anticipate shorter, less serious entries in the future! But this had to be written. Deer don't get funerals or gravestones.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Kind of like going out on a limb . . .

Clumsy Words

You and me, we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.

These words, borrowed from Michael Card, express well my own thoughts when invited to write or speak in anything resembling a public forum. I've spent my life using words, studying words, loving words, and learning the words of other languages. The thought of offering words for others to read or hear, however--as if I have something important to say to more than one person at a time--strikes me often as something close to arrogance.

I think of Moses. “I’m not good with words!”

I think of Isaiah. “My lips are unclean. How dare I speak for or about you?”

How do I know that what I say is worth being heard?

Certainly, as the writer of Proverbs reminds us repeatedly, there is wisdom in being slow to speak, slow to assume that what we are thinking at the moment actually needs to be said.

Especially in today’s world of technology (modern technology, we like to call it, though one day it will be arcane), words are everywhere. They are cheap. Anyone can get a book published, if he doesn’t care who publishes it. It seems like anyone can get a spot on TV or the radio, even if they say things no one in their right mind would want to hear. I can write for this blog, and shortly it will appear on the internet for all the world to see, at no cost to me or to the reader.

I've named this blog with words borrowed from Gerard Manley Hopkins, my favorite poet. Now there's someone who had words worth sharing. And yet even he felt that his words were clumsy at times, and almost no one read anything he wrote until after his death.

If you're reading this, you can thank my friends for it. The friends who tell me they like to read my words, hear my thoughts. The ones who've said, "You ought to have a blog." "If you had a blog, I'd read yours."

I guess I hate to think they might not be around to read things after my death.

So, here's to you, friends. A few months ago I refused to even use the word blog without putting quotes around it to show that I didn't accept it as a real word. Now you've got me creating a blog. (Ugh, I still don't like the word!)

In Michael Card's song, he winds up singing about the Incarnation, how God spoke His love and life into the person of Jesus Christ, the living Word. The Word who knew exactly what his purpose was and did not waste time on clumsy or pointless words.

I wish I were like that. So in tune to the rhythms of the universe that I could speak and write only what needed to be said.

I'm not there yet.

For now, I encourage myself and anyone reading this to remember that if we want our words to mean anything, we can look at our lives to see how the two match up. Put flesh on our words. Incarnate them. I have a feeling that's a good way start to avoiding clumsy, meaningless words.

(Like "blog"?)