Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Docetism and a flowerbed

This is the flowerbed in our front yard. It's made of old bricks from our neighbor's dismantled chimney (plus two from Grandmother's yard.) That's why it looks like it's been there a while.

But it has actually been there less than a year. I don't remember exactly when we got out there and brought it into being, but it wasn't too many months ago. What I do remember is that the bricks sat in a stack by the side of our house for many months before they finally turned into this flowerbed.

And that's where Docetism comes in.

What? You mean you don't see the connection?

Then let me explain.

Tonight I've been reading from C. FitzSimons Allison's The Cruelty of Heresy. Allison gives a very understandable presentation of the major heresies that have developed over time among Christians. And his main point is that every heresy is cruel in some way, because in trying to make truth somehow more palatable, or righteousness more attainable, people end up denying some important truth about righteousness, or about love, or about God. And those denials, those distortions, are ultimately cruel because they make relationship with God not possible, or at best very distorted.

So, Docetism is (very generally--if you want to know more, get the book) a belief based on the rejection of Christ's suffering. If he was divine, he couldn't have truly suffered. So, he must not have been truly human.

One outgrowth of this heresy is the idea that if we are truly spiritual, we will not suffer, either. This is where the prosperity gospel gets its appeal. "Just believe this enough, and you will not have to suffer anymore."

Now, you see the connection with the flowerbed? No? Well, maybe it's because I haven't made it yet.

Allison talks about how Christians succomb to Docetism when we have high ideals but never "incarnate" them, never put them into real life. We separate our "spiritual" selves from our flesh-and-blood, day-to-day life. He talks about a physician who for years professed how he would love to go to Africa to work with Albert Schweitzer. He considered it a decision he had made to do that, and continually talked about this decision. But he never did it. And he never even got involved in "mission work" in his own city. He had lofty ideals and sounded quite spiritual, but he kept his spiritual ideals out of the realm of flesh. He never had to suffer disillusion or make his dream vulnerable to reality.

And that's where the flowerbed comes in.

Because I'd had the idea of putting in a flowerbed for a few years. And the day I saw my neighbor taking down his chimney, I asked for the bricks. I stacked them neatly out of the way, and for months would sit and imagine that flowerbed. I imagined it square, and round. One circle, or concentric circles. Bricks laid horizontally, bricks laid vertically. I drew little diagrams. Sometimes I even went out in the yard and walked off the space, thinking how pretty it was going to look, imagining what kind of flowers I would plant.

It was a beautiful flowerbed!

The only problem was, it didn't exist.

Until the day my husband got tired of the stack of bricks, and we got out there and started digging. We got our knees and hands dirty. I'm sure I smashed a finger or two. We sweated.

And in the end, despite the combined efforts of engineer and artist, the circle wasn't round! We wound up with extra space, and had to ease in a couple of extra bricks. So it's not symmetric. And it's not level. And the neighbor's cat comes and digs it up now and then. It's not the ideal flowerbed of my imaginings.

But it's there! It's real! And it was incarnated with love.

Give me incarnation over Docetism any day. I don't like to suffer. But I want to have a real life, and real love, and real relationships. Even if they don't measure up to my imaginings. Even if they hurt.

(And next year I'll have to remember to take a picture of it while the tulips are still in bloom. I think they have an austere beauty even in their nakedness, but it doesn't really come across in the photo. And the "Roman ruins" birdbath pedestal in the center will have to be a whole 'nother story.)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Lasting but not everlasting

Once again, the little calendar my grandmother gave me gets a mention. An April entry says, "Afflictions may be lasting, but they are not everlasting."

That is the message I needed over the past few days. Amazing how six days can feel so much longer! On Tuesday my throat got scratchy, and I started taking allergy medication. Wednesday my whole body felt like it had been run over, my head felt like lead, my throat hurt bad, I was coughing, sweating, and shivering. Oh, and my ears started itching.

Thursday my throat felt like fire. I had no voice, was exhausted . . . Well, you get the idea. It got worse. And worse. For three days I couldn't talk, which is not really such a bad thing; but the pain was terrible.

Saturday went to a doctor, and though I don't like taking antibiotics, I did. This was the first time a doctor ever offered me Lortabs for a sore throat, too. I guess it looked as bad as it felt. (I didn't take him up on the Lortabs.)

So, I'm better now, and very thankful. Still can't sleep lying down, and can't talk very loud, but I did do some work today.

And today I went outside for the first time in days. And even though I'm distressed that those beautiful plants can produce such effects in my system (the doc said probably fighting the allergy wore me down enough that the infection was able to get in and run rampant), I was delighted to see the early blooms on some of our plants.

It never fails to delight me. Anybody have an explanation for that? How you can see the same basic flowers year after year and still be amazed and delighted?

For tonight, I will share my photo of the first sweetheart rose of the season, at least that I've seen.

I feel a kinship with this photo, in that I'm glad to be alive but still feeling a little out of focus.

This is the rosebush that came to me via a cutting from my parents' bush, which was a cutting from Grandmother's. (See my January 15 posting for a clearer photo and a bit of background as to why it is so special.)

By the way, I am moderating comments now, so they may take a little longer to appear on the blog. And when you comment, you have to decipher a little graphically enhanced "word" to prove you are a real person, not a computer sending out junk comments. It's less elegant, less easy, but after a few spammy comments, I felt the need to take control. It should make the whole experience nicer for all of us in the long run.

And remember that spam, like throat infections, may be lasting. But it's not everlasting.

And spam talk aside, I really do love that quote about afflictions. It's easy to remember and packed with truth and hope. I have a feeling I'll be remembering it in a lot of situations.

I'll be putting more photos of new flowers in posts to come. Hope you enjoy! I wonder how many of you love flowers and what you grow? (Hint, hint. I want you to try out the new comment system to be sure it doesn't scare you off.)

And I promise not to whine about my afflictions next time.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006



First problem:

I fear I am having an allergy attack. This usually happens to me in the fall, not the spring. This weekend I did a good bit of yard work. Our neighborhood is full of oak trees, and those little wormy-looking things that carry the pollen cover the ground. I raked them up and swept them up, and didn't think much of it because I don't generally have spring allergy problems. I don't know if I ever have. In the fall, I would have taken a pre-emptive generic Claritin tablet before attempting this kind of intimacy with piles of leaves.

(Come to think of it, despite its being April, I did rake up three bags of oak leaves. Maybe they're the culprit, after all?)

Anyway, at 3 o'clock this morning my throat was so sore and itchy, I got up and took allergy medicine. By noon my voice was going in and out. Now, in the evening, it hurts to swallow, my eyes feel like gravity has increased its pull on them somehow, and I've felt cold for the past couple of hours.

Blah. Blah, blah, and more blah. I've managed to avoid this kind of stuff for the past three years, since a doctor finally asked enough questions to figure out that the "chest cold" I got every fall was really allergies. That long hiatus of being well just makes it feel worse, I guess.

Second problem:

Somehow, in changing the settings so that I can moderate the comments on my blog, I have lost the little link that says "0 Comments," or "1 Comment," or however many there are. I've tried everything I can find to try and get it back. Does anyone know how to do this? I guess to help me out, you'll have to email or call me, unles YOU see a way to put a comment on the blog. Any informed advice is welcome. I've given up! And I'm not gonna keep "blogging away" without any interaction from readers . . .


I long for a new heaven and new earth, where all the pieces fit together the way they're supposed to. No allergic reactions to the trees and flowers. Just peace and unity among all creatures. And I hope computer technology will be among the "former things" that "have passed away."

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter!

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I love this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Don't we all have things in our lives that have cast us down? Don't we all feel ourselves growing old? Whether through physical ailments or simple lack of agility or the energy we once had; or through the insidious cynicism, fear, and hardening of the heart that creep into our lives along the way?

This morning among other things I heard, one idea stands out. The women on the way to Jesus' tomb were wondering who could possibly roll away the stone from the mouth of the cave. Of course, even a stone of several tons was no match for angels and an earthquake, so they didn't ever have to deal with the stone itself. They had to deal with the amazing news that not only had the stone been moved, but Jesus had been telling the truth all along: he could not be held by death. And they didn't apparently know what to think about that, because they were afraid and didn't tell anyone what they had seen, at least at first.

The barriers to faith in our own lives are not usually physical stones. But cynicism, fear, and hardening of the heart are very real. They can feel and function like stones that weigh tons, preventing us from seeing and knowing the truth about Jesus, about God, about life, about ourselves.

They keep us cast down. They make us old. They keep us from becoming whole, mature, perfect in the best sense of perfection.

But if we are willing, He will move those stones. The ones that we could never move on our own. And then things which were cast down will be raised up, and things which had grown old can be made new.

I pray that anyone reading this will find joy and strength in knowing that He is a God of unchangeable power and eternal light, and He can move any stone in your life.

This photo is of a church in Mason, Tennessee. The sign says "Sanctuary open for prayer."

God's love provides us a sanctuary that is always, always open for prayer. Easter is a wonderful time to celebrate it. Every day may we remember and spend time in that sanctuary.

The Lord is risen indeed. And He wants to raise us with Him. Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Helping verbs

Is, am, are,
Was, were,
Be, being, been,
Have, has, had,
May, might,
Can, could,
Will, would,
Shall, should.

I threaten from time to time to use my blog as a weapon in the war for the English language. (In case you are not aware, our language is under attack. I see and hear casualties daily, and my heart goes out to the poor language!) I'm not sure I'm ready to start that just yet, but since I do have an English degree, I think it's fair to talk about language every now and then.

Last night I was lying in bed, and somehow because of the conversation my husband and I had just had, I was thinking about the verb "should," and then this little list from seventh grade English class popped into my head.

The auxiliary verbs, or "helping verbs," as we called them, could be used to tie in with the volunteer concept from the last post (they don't call attention to themselves, but we couldn't get along without them...)

Or I could write about how we counselors work hard to get people to check their use of the word "should," which often isn't very helpful in the ways it gets used.

Or we could look at the etymology of these words, in which case I would have to do some research. But I do like the way they keep us connected to our Anglo-Saxon roots. (You know, "where hast thou been?" "Wherefore art thou?" and that sort of thing.)

And it would be fascinating to look at how auxiliary verbs in other languages are similar to and different from these we use in English.

But for now I'm not going to write about any of that. I'm just having fun saying "is am are was were be being been have has had may might can could will would shall should" whenever it comes to mind. It's kind of soothing, kind of reassuring, kind of empowering, somehow.

And I'd love comments on what lists you remember from earlier years that have stuck with you throughout time. Or poems, or formulas, or whatever. In English or other languages. Something you're not sure why you remember, but enjoy remembering. Like why did the first verse and chorus of "Guantanamera" stay with me from sixth grade? I have no idea, but I have fun singing it.

(And if you'd promise to start sharing my blog with all your friends and co-workers, I would consider arming people to fight back in the war for the language! In other words, I would explain the common mistakes I hear and how my dear readers can keep themselves from falling prey to these attacks. Maybe together we could make a difference!)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Volunteers, volentieri

Today I am thinking about volunteers.

Please allow me to ramble, as I'm not sure where these thoughts are going.

I think of my grandmother as we walked around watering the various growing things in her yard. Sometimes she would point out a flower and say, "Look! That one is a volunteer!"

As a child, I didn't quite understand that. I knew volunteers were people who raised their hands when the teacher asked for someone to read aloud, someone to help move the chairs, or someone to take something down the hall to another teacher. I knew it had something to do with being willing, so I didn't see how a plant could fit that criterion.

Of course now I understand that a "volunteer" plant is one that was not intentionally planted, or perhaps was planted, but finds its way to an area it wasn't specifically intended for. Or it lives longer than expected and comes up as a surprise when all the others have, so to speak, given up.

And the joy of a volunteer plant is that surprise quality, that sense of grace it brings with it, because the gardener didn't do anything to make it happen. It isn't just doing what is expected of it.

Last night I was able to attend the Jefferson Awards Ceremony, which honors people for their volunteer work. Friends and I were there in honor of our dear Carolyn Batey, an amazing woman in many ways. It was humbling to sit there and hear person after person introduced, with a synopsis of the lives they live and the service they provide. Not because someone expects them to, or because they have to. But because they are willing to. And often they do it without pay.

In Italy, when someone asks you if you can do something, or would like to do something, a common response is, "Volentieri!" In my dictionary it is translated, "Certainly!" or "I'd be glad to!"

And, basically, that's how it's used in common parlance. (Although "common parlance" isn't reaaly common parlance anymore, is it?) It is always said with an exclamation mark, and generally when the idea is a pleasing one. As in, "Would you like to come with us for ice cream?" "O, si', volentieri!"

I have found it easy to think of volunteering as something done in free time, without pay, and the common use of the Italian word would add the idea of always enjoying the activity to the word.

And not all of us can "volunteer" a lot in that sense. After the ceremony last night, we were talking with a shop employee in the mall. As we told her about the ceremony, she lamented that she works 50 hours a week and spends time with her several grandchildren, and simply doesn't have time for the "volunteer" work she used to do.

But today I am thinking about the word and the fact that it comes from the word for will, as in our will to do or not do whatever it is we do. My dictionary says a volunteer is "one who enters into or offers himself for a service of his own free will."

So, even if we are paid, and even if we don't always take delight in what we do, if we do it out of our own free will, we are volunteering.

In a sense, then, we are all volunteers. Whether we have a paying job or work at home, or are in the process of trying to figure out what to do, we have made choices of our own will to do what we are doing. Even if we are in a state of life we have not chosen, from our own free will we choose what our attitude to that state of life will be.

And perhaps it is our attitudes more than anything that make us like the flowers that "volunteer." When someone lives their life with purpose, with gratitude, with grace, that is the surprise. Because no one can make another person do that. Even God, the original gardener, can't make us work with our will.

Come to think of it, that is what really warmed my heart last night. It wasn't just what the award recipients had done that made such an impression, although that was important. It was that through their stories, and in their faces, it was clear that they believed in what they did, and they did it from the heart.

They live their lives "volentieri." And so can we all.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediment. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Love's not time's fool. O, no,
It is an ever fixed mark
Which looks on tempests and is not shaken.
It is the star to every wandring bark....

And that's what comes out of my feeble memory from ninth grade English class as I think about the mysterious man in the photo above. (I promise to give the real thing, Shakespeare's version, at the end, and it will be interesting to see what 26 years did to the poor sonnet!)

When I was in ninth grade, we had to do a poetry notebook, and I chose that poem because even at that age, I yearned for something or someone who did not alter when it alteration finds. That looks on tempests and is not shaken.

Because the truth is, life brings a lot of alterations, a lot of tempests. And I tend to feel pretty shaken up sometimes, and certainly did in the ninth grade.

When I read the poem back then, I thought about God and His love. He was the ever-fixed mark in my life.

And He still is.

And while no human being should ever be expected to take that place, or to give ultimate stability, I have to say that the tall, dark (at least in this photo), handsome man pictured above comes as close to being an ever-fixed mark as just about anybody could.

Once my nephew drew a picture of us.

The figure to the left has long, tall legs; is about twice as tall as the other; and as in children's drawings, the feet are even, at the bottom of the page.

The figure on the right is smaller. You can tell it's the woman because he gave it longer hair. The legs are bent as if dancing, and the feet are nowhere near the "ground."

I marveled at the child's perception. How did he know I generally don't quite have my feet on the ground?

My better half does, however. And not only are his feet solidly on the ground; but his heart is also grounded.

And so, fifteen years after kneeling on the ground for prayer at our wedding, we are still standing together. And I am thankful.

And I guess next time I'll say more about the anniversary itself. But tonight I want to say thank you to my love, who is not time's fool, who has been through several tempests with me and who is still there.

And now, as Shakespeare put it . . . .

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

. . .Well, as you can see, the ideas stayed with me longer than the words themselves did! I'm sure being near the edge of doom several times did something to my memory.

And thanks to the God, the real Unaltering One, who has given us the grace needed for these fifteen years.