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"?)