Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sixth Day of Christmas

Since discovering the church calendar, I have come to love experiencing Christmas as a twelve-day celebration. Not only does it free me up to send "late" Christmas cards and gifts, but it really does provide more opportunities to think about what it means that God became man, Word became flesh.

Today I read from N.T. Wright's Christmas Day sermon, which held Psalm 85 up as a background to John 1, and will share his summary paragraph:

But if that larger, global picture gives a brief indication of why John’s repeated ‘grace and truth’ matters, and matters urgently, in the wider world and church, we cannot of course ignore its message for our own lives. One of the great truths of spirituality is that you become like what you worship. We beheld his glory, says John: we gazed at it, long and lovingly, with adoration and worship, so that the marriage of grace and truth which we see and know in the Christ-child can be born in us as well, so that we can be people, we can become communities, in whom God’s grace generates and sustains a human integrity, a wholeness and holiness of character. And the definition of mission . . . can be restated in exactly the same terms: we are to become people in and through whom God’s grace overflows to the world around, producing a new integrity, a new truth and truthfulness, at every level from politics to university study to sexual morality to ecology (where the image of grace from above producing fruitfulness below is especially poignant), and reaching out into human hearts and lives and imaginations with the news that there is such a thing as truth, because there is such a thing as grace, because there is such a person as Jesus, and because in him we see and know God’s living word made living flesh and are summoned to become living words in living flesh ourselves. Grace and truth have met together; justice and peace have kissed each other; truth springs up from the earth, and justice looks down from heaven. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace; for the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Come to him today, taste his grace and truth in bread and wine, and become yourselves wedding guests, feasting at the marriage of heaven and earth.

Merry Christmas!
(This is our Christmas tree from our Christmas visit to Croatia four years ago.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Charlotte's Web

We just saw it tonight.

You need to see it.

Some people probably call me sentimental. Depending on which definition you use, I might or might not agree with that. But I don't see Charlotte's Web as sentimental. I think it really connects with some deep stuff of life.

At any rate, I was sobbing by the end of the movie and had to ask for Drazen's handkerchief. (His comment on the movie: "It was fun." Vive la difference.)

I remember this book so fondly from earlier years, and I enjoyed learning in later years that the author was the same E.B. White of Strunk and White, so well-known among English majors. I knew it wasn't "just" a children's book.

But it wasn't until tonight that I saw the story on a whole different level, the level that made me sob.

Because it hit me tonight that it is truly because of friends, mostly older friends, who have written or spoken special words about me, that I am alive today. Not that I would have ended up in the smokehouse like Wilbur. But several times in my life I am quite sure I would have died inside, and almost did, had it not been for the words others had applied to me.

Words that told me I was loved.

Words that helped me believe in a "me" beyond the one I was able to see at the time.

Words that pointed me to the One who gave me life to begin with.

Words that gave me hope and a future.

And some of those who wrote and spoke those words have, like Charlotte, left this life. And death will eventually separate us from all those we love . . . for a while.

And that's why I sat there with tears streaming down my face, thinking of Grandmother, and Mr. Wright, and other precious people who are still living and will go unmentioned because they are humble and might be embarrassed.

They are all some friends, terrific, and radiant, as well.

If you haven't seen the movie, go see it. See it in honor of the people who have found the right words for you, who have seen your soul in a way you could not. For the people who have saved your life.

And go find words for others who need them.

(And enjoy it, too: it really is fun!)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Flying Dreams

In fifth grade I had a dream of flying over the playground at school. I've never forgotten it, but I had no more dreams of flying until about two weeks before going to Lookout Mountain.

Interpretations about flying dreams abound, but the main issue for me was that dreaming of flying was so lovely, such a beautiful and free feeling, I wondered if hang gliding might not be a disappointment after the dream flight.

I'm happy to report that my first experience with hang gliding, despite the lack of visual romance alluded to in the earlier post, did not let me down.

Not only that: it outdid my dreams.

The plane took us up to an altitude of 4,000 feet. Up until this time the plane's motor was a constant companion, and of course we were moving pretty quickly, so it felt fast and fairly bumpy. Then Eric said, "I'm going to release us from the plane now. It's going to feel like a big bump."

And it did, and my tummy felt much the way you feel when a fast elevator stops or takes off.

(Here you can see the rope that held us, about to be released.)

But then . . . but then . . . it was just us and the wind.

It was breathtakingly beautiful. I remember saying, "Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness." And "Beautiful. This is beautiful. This is just beautiful."

It was a clear day, and we could see so far in every direction. Not like being in a airplane at all, really, because then you can only see out windows.

It was amazing. It was beautiful.

And so quiet. The peacefulness struck me as much as the beauty.

I would have been happy to just hang there and say nothing (except I couldn't stop saying "this is beautiful....")

But this was supposed to be in part a lesson, not just a dream fulfilled.

So, at some point Eric let me turn the glider left and right and showed me how he slowed it down and made it go faster. I was struck by two things: how relatively simple it was to maneuver the glider, and how much I need to get in better shape. Because even though it's simple, it does take strength.

He pointed out Cloud Canyon State Park, and we wondered at a large green forest atop a plateau in the midst of all the autumn leaves. The leaves, of course, were a big part of why I kept saying "beautiful." They were at their autumn peak, and when you can see them for miles and miles around, the intensity of the color is almost overwhelming.

It was fascinating, too, to have seen them quite close as we were leaving the ground; and then to see the shapes and colors merge into a sort of impressionist painting as we were pulled higher and higher; and then as we began gliding down, to see them take shape again until we could point out individual trees to one another.

I remember asking Eric how long he had been gliding. Six years. What did he do before that? “I was in graduate school for an MBA.” How did he wind up doing this? “I just came up here one time and did it, and after that I was hooked.” After a moment of looking around at the beauty, he added, “I think I made the right decision.”

I remember showing Eric a brilliant red tree, probably a maple, growing in front of a house. And thinking how strange it was to have this view from this perspective. To see these people’s tree in a way that they may have never seen it themselves.

Eric would occasionally have me turn the glider. And sometimes he had me do other things. I always thought it had to do with the gliding lessons, but sometimes it turned out he was just wanting a pose for a photo.

Eventually we were back in the area of the flight park. Eric asked if I wanted to land the glider. I still don’t know if he was serious or not, but I said I thought it would be fine for him to land us! Then he asked how about if we first flew by the launch ramp to “say hello.” I said that was fine with me.

Well, “saying hello” to him meant swooping down over the group of folks gathered at the ramp, so close that we could see each individual face. I’m sure we could have heard their greetings if I had not been screaming. (I learned the following day from a man who was on the ramp at the time that we were going about 50 mph. No wonder it felt so fast!)

Happily I felt the peace and quiet resume as we glided into landing position in the remaining 1300 feet we had to go. I think in a way that was the most amazing part, being so close to the ground, and yet moving above it. I can’t find anything to compare it to.

Inch by inch we came closer to the ground until there was a very small bump and our wheels touched down, rolling to a stop. It took a moment to be unhooked and un-velcroed from the contraption I was in. And then walking was something else! Kind of like trying to walk after you’ve skated for a long time.

Within minutes, once I got my legs back, my main thought was that it already seemed like a dream. Being down on the ground, it was hard to believe that I really had been up there. It was such a very different perspective and experience, where different thoughts and feelings were possible. Much like a dream.

Except that it was real.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Day Before Hang Gliding

Well, I know you’ve all been waiting on the edges of your computer desk chairs to finally read about my in-the-air hang gliding adventure. (Remember, the part that I had written my heart out about, that got lost when I transferred to BloggerBeta?)

I hope tomorrow to have a good chunk of time to sit and re-reflect on that experience and write in a way that will do it justice.

So right now I thought it might help to share a bit of the journey I took en route to Lookout Mountain Flight Park. To prime my own pump, and perhaps to whet your whistle. (Messy metaphorical sentence, but at least they both have to do with water.)

I drove from Searcy to Memphis that day, went to church, and then drove from Memphis to Sewanee, a lovely mountaintop town in East Tennessee. It’s the home of the University of the South, where a friend of mine finished seminary recently.

This dear friend, when I told him I needed a place to stay in the area, told me about St. Mary’s convent having a guesthouse. “Tell them I sent you” was enough to convince me that I’d probably be welcome. And I was. I called a couple of days ahead of my trip, and they had a bed waiting for me.

I had been to the convent a few years ago, but that was in the daytime, and we walked from the retreat center where we were staying.

This time I got there after dark. I was a little nervous, making turn after turn when I could barely see the road, let alone the signs I’d been told to look for.

But I found it, without any wrong turns. Sister Elizabeth and a big dog named Sara greeted me, and after a quick supper and a walk in the moonlight, I spent a peaceful night.

The next morning I had time for another walk. As winter sets in, take a moment to enjoy these pictures of beautiful fall in the mountains.
This was my home for about eighteen hours! (My room was on the right side.)

The convent is built on the very edge of the mountain. Sorry for the bad lighting, but you can see through the windows and imagine looking from the inside out over a huge beautiful valley.

Autumn is the loveliest, is it not?

This tree branch amazed me. It grew sideways and curved back down to the ground.

If anyone has an explanation for how/why a tree would grow like that, I'd love to hear it. It looks like it is dancing to its own music, doesn't it? Or maybe it was afraid of heights?

And so, after a lovely walk, I got back in the car and after a quick call to the friend who had made the overnight stay possible, drove to Lookout Mountain. By that time, I have to admit, I was wondering if I ought to write a just-in-case goodbye letter to leave somewhere.

You know. Just in case.

And tomorrow I'll see if I can describe the actual flight for you.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rosemary the Cow

At some point in my childhood or early adolescence, I arrived at the idea that it would be a good thing for me to have a cow one day when the time was right.

It had nothing to do with the phrase “have a cow” that was heard so often for a while.

No, I really thought it would be good for me to own and be responsible for a cow. I suppose repeated readings of James Herriot books had something to do with it, along with Laura Ingalls Wilder being a part of my life.

The thing was, I knew that you had to milk a cow every morning, no matter what. Cold weather, rain, even waking up with a headache could not stop you from milking the cow, or else it would be very bad for the cow.

And I also knew that I struggled with being disciplined.

So, it just made sense to me that being responsible for a cow’s wellbeing was the answer. It would force me to develop a regular routine and be disciplined and committed to it, and I figured this would help transform my character and eventually affect my discipline in other areas of life. (The old-fashioned-ness of it appealed to me, as well. I also recall in fourth grade vowing that I would never have a computer or microwave in my house, the way the Weekly Reader was predicting people would.)

Fast forward to the present.

I haven’t yet had that little house in the country that would make adopting a cow possible. And I haven’t yet become the disciplined person I want to be.

A week or more ago I was shopping at Wild Oats and saw the most precious little rosemary bushes trained to grow like small Christmas trees. I immediately loved them for their Christmas-y look, their Italian connection, and their pungent aroma.

I went over to read the attached card. Among other things it said, “If kept in pot must be watered daily.”

I almost walked away.

But then I thought, “Here is my cow! Rosemary the cow!”

And I brought Rosemary home. She has been staying in my office, the sunniest room in the house. And I’ve been watering her every day.

Every day, that is, until . . . well, umm . . . I’m not sure exactly which day I managed to forget. I know it’s been at least two days. This evening I looked at her and was stricken to see drooping ends all over and some brown areas. I nearly had a cow, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Now her roots are in a bowl of water overnight as I seek to repair the damage. I just hope this little operation will go as well as some of James Herriott’s did. I feel bad about it, and I wonder how it is that I have twelve other houseplants that have been living for several years. I guess it’s because they don’t require daily watering. And it’s that grace at work in the universe, keeping things from going as badly as they ought.

So, whether it’s keeping a plant alive, or keeping my own soul alive, I’m thankful for new beginnings and the grace that keeps us going even when we neglect that daily care.