Monday, November 08, 2010

Bent World

I was reading an article tonight by N.T. Wright, on "How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?" It was originally given as a lecture, and it's really worth reading, mainly for what I believe to be very worthwhile thinking about the questions involved. I also have to give credit to anyone who can write about the Bible and questions of authority--and work Shakespeare, the piano, and G.M. Hopkins into the mix! An author after my own heart!

Because of the Hopkins connection, I want to share this on my Hopkins-inspired blog:

In a paragraph on how "the church is always in danger of getting too like the world," Wright writes,

We then have to allow the story to challenge our traditions, not to get rid of traditions but in order to see where we've come from, and who we are as the people of God in the 20th century, and to reshape our traditions honestly and properly. But, also, we must allow scripture to stretch our reason back into shape. We must allow scripture to teach us how to think straight, because by ourselves we don't; we think bent, we think crooked. Gerard Manley Hopkins said, "The Holy Spirit over the bent world broods with warm breast and with Ah! bright wings." And the Spirit broods over us as we read this book, to straighten out our bent thinking; the world-views that have got twisted so that they are like the world's world-views. God wants us to be people, not puppets; to love him with our mind as well as our soul and our strength.

From what I know of Hopkins and Wright, I kind of think they would probably get along well with each other. I know I'm thankful to both of them for their relentless search for truth, their fresh ways of seeing and writing about it, and their willingness to share what they write (even if Hopkins made us wait a while before reading his.)

From what I know of myself, I do need scripture to teach me how to think straight, because by myself I don't. Sometimes I try to imagine what I would be like without the influence of the Bible in my life. Of course it's impossible to know and practically impossible to imagine. But when I try, the result is not very pretty!

And trying to imagine western civilization without the influence of the Judeo-Christian scripture is just as impossible a task. As bent and crooked as the world is now, how much more so would it be without "Love thy neighbor as thyself," without "God is love," without the story of the "good Samaritan," or without the belief in a God who forgives and teaches us to forgive?

Tonight I'm thankful for Hopkins, thankful for N.T. Wright, and thankful for the Spirit that broods. And thankful to be a little bent part of this bent, crooked world.

Monday, November 01, 2010

All Saints

It is November 1st. All Saints Day, for those who follow the church calendar.

This weekend I went for my annual fall retreat at St. Columba. (The photos are from a past visit there.)

Yesterday I looked for a hymn for today and found one that immediately became a favorite. It's "Who are these like stars appearing?"

Who are these like stars appearing,
these, before God's throne who stand?
Each a golden crown is wearing;
who are all this glorious band?
Alleluia! Hark, they sing,
praising loud their heavenly King.

It has quite a lot of such glorious descriptions of the saints around the throne. But what made it a favorite is the fourth verse:

These are they whose hearts were riven,
sore with woe and anguish tried,
who in prayer full oft have striven
with the God they glorified;
now, their painful conflict o'er,
God has bid them weep no more.

God knows I've done my share of striving with Him, of having my heart torn apart (riven), and while I sometimes dare to hope the worst of it may be behind me, it's hard to believe it's over at this point in life.

While on retreat I also read over half of Come, Be My Light, the account of Mother Teresa's spiritual struggles as shared largely in letters to her spiritual directors. Her story certainly fits the image of striving with God even while glorifying Him, about a thousand times more than mine.

I have a hard time reading her story, and stories of other people of faith, because as I read them, a part of my mind is almost continually hearing a critical voice, the voice of an imaginary psychologist, I suppose, who attempts to explain everything away with some kind of diagnosis, or at least to show that the people living these lives had unrealistic or perhaps "neurotic," as the word is still used, thinking and emotional experiences.

And you have to wonder, would Mother Teresa have suffered so much if she just hadn't believed in God so much?

And almost certainly the answer is no, she would not have. You could say she brought on the suffering because of her belief system and the crazy choice it led her to make with her life. (She did fear greatly at the beginning that people would call her crazy for doing what she felt called to do.)

The problem with that critical psychologizing voice, however, is that she and many others have had such spiritual experiences, and many have suffered in their faith, and yet their thinking and behavior in all other respects cannot be shown to be aberrant, unrealistic, or neurotic. In fact, their thinking and living were (and are, for those still living) much healthier thinking and living than that of people with more "realistic" ways of looking at life. Mother Teresa functioned extremely well, under extremely difficult circumstances that would break most people emotionally, if not physically and mentally.

In fact, it's people like her--and many others, like my friends who have just moved to a remote region of India where he will travel to even more remote places to give medical care to people who would not get it otherwise--who fly in the face of my inner psychologizing voice which sometimes mimics the ideas of skeptics who insist that belief in God is a way of comforting ourselves, of making life easier, of not having to face the hard realities of life.

The people I know who truly believe in God live harder lives than just about anyone else, and they do it by choice, not by chance.

And so, Mother Teresa strove with God even as she glorified Him in her relentless commitment to love others, no matter what she felt, or didn't feel, and couldn't feel, inside.

And I trust (because, despite my inner psychologist critic, I'm one of those people who share her basic belief system) that one day we will see her, and she will appear like a star--a real star, not the kind of people we call "stars" in our crazy, neurotic, unhealthy world.

He will be her Light, as He was all along, even though she experienced such darkness.

And her tears will have been wiped away at last, forever.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Prayer for the Homeless

Tonight a man came into church late. Although he sat down quietly, he stood out. No one else in the group had a baseball cap on. And except for the minister, who was from Kenya, everyone else was white. Except for this late-arriving visitor.

I went to speak to him after the service. He said he had come into the church to pray, not realizing he would be entering a service, quite late. He said that since there were people there, he would also ask for help, and said he needed twenty dollars to pay for the boarding house where he was staying. He said he had been doing lawnwork that usually paid for his stay, but the past few days had not been able to get any work.

Intuition told me he was telling the truth. I asked various questions to see if my intuition might be right, and his answers and his demeanor seemed to fit with my initial impression.

I don't know if I was right or not, but since the Kenyan minister was not allowed to administer church funds and could only encourage the man to come back tomorrow and speak with the appropriate person, I felt the right thing to do was to try to help the man. After all, we were in a church, had just heard a sermon on prayer; and here was this man saying he had come to the church to pray for help, and now he was asking in a very respectful, non-manipulative, I-understand-if-you-can't-help-me sort of way.

So, I walked with him to our house, talked with my husband about it (I didn't have any cash with me), and we gave him twenty dollars. I also told him about HopeWorks and our program, gave him the phone number and the name of the person he needed to talk with if he were interested.

Two things from our conversation have stayed on my mind. At some point he asked, "So, you went to college?" and I said, "Yes, I did." He responded, "Wow, you were lucky. That's really good, that you got to do that."

And when he said something about how nice the people at church had been, I asked, "So, did you grow up going to church?" And he said, "No, I didn't. My parents were good parents, they did the best they could; but they didn't take us to church. I think that's part of why my life has been so....well, has lacked direction. I didn't have any direction in my life, and it just kind of came apart. I was thirty before I finally realized I needed to get to know God and find some direction for my life. And since I did that, things have been going better. I started to have some hope."

I remember a graduation speech based on Paul's words to Timothy, "What do you have that you were not given?" and the encouragement to remember always that anything we have (education, talents, abilities, economic resources, friends, family, whatever) has been given to us by someone. Even if we worked for it--and in the case of that degree, worked hard for it!--still, we didn't build the school, or supply the scholarships, or provide our own professors. Everything we have is given to us in one way or another.

And so, here was this man, Michael, walking down the street with me. He wasn't given a way to discover faith in his younger years. He wasn't given the means to go to college. And now he struggles with life, is transitioning out of living a homeless lifestyle, and is very aware of his dependency on others simply to have shelter over his head.

Something else about the evening stays in my mind. I was reading the blog of my spiritual director, who wrote about a couple who came to his church looking for help.

He makes an interesting point that I've never heard anyone make before. Lots of people in this culture (like the couple who came to his church) say they believe in God, say they are "spiritual," even say they have a personal relationship with Jesus and try to live according to his words--but they don't go to church and don't want to be part of a church.

There are all kinds of theological and logical problems with this thinking, but in this land of the free and home of the not-always-so-brave, it's a common thing to hear. Theology and logic aside, Jeff points out a very practical problem with this thinking: If people who say they believe just stop being part of a church, eventually there will be no churches to help these people who show up at churches asking for help. People seem to expect the churches to be there if they need them, but they don't see why it matters for them to commit to being there for others.

Hmmmm....He has a point.

Meanwhile, I'm glad there was a church for Michael that I met this evening. I hope he was teling the truth. I hope he will be able to follow through and continue getting his life going in a better direction. I hope he will continue to pray, and to find nice, caring people in churches.

Maybe someday he will have what we often call "a church home." Maybe it will be the one just up the street, as he indicated he hoped to see me again there.

And my guess is that if he does make that church, or any church, his home, he will remember better than I do sometimes that anything he has was given to him. My guess is that people coming for help will find it if they ask him.

You know, tonight's sermon was on prayer. And I'm realizing that this is not just a bunch of hopes, maybes, and guesses. It's a prayer.

It's a prayer.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Missing My Feet

No, my feet haven't gone missing. I've had no accident or extreme surgery. The title just kind of came to me like that.

As I was walking the other day, in my Nike Run Free Plus shoes, the ones that can catch a twig and hold onto it as seen in the previous post, I realized that I really miss walking and running barefoot.

About a year ago I wrote some about this, about the knee injuries and giving up running when it seemed I couldn't run without re-injuring. Then about the friend who recommended running barefoot, and how I tried it.

I tried it and liked it! Not only could I run without hurting my knee (without my knee even all!), but I just relished the sensation of being barefoot outside. The softness of moss, the coolness of grass, the squishiness of mud, the cushion of dust, the splashing of puddles. Even the roughness of bark when I walked along a fallen tree trunk.

I had to stop when the weather got too cold. I tried several times to purchase a pair of Vibram FiveFinger shoes (and always thought I'd blog about them once I got them), but they kept selling out before I could get any.

So I settled for the Nikes and continued running once I got them.

And in the meantime we moved to this new house. And that's part of why I miss going barefoot.

At our old house, I could drive to one of the biggest parks in the city in just a couple of minutes. That's where I'd go, either to the public area or sometimes to the Botanic Garden--and usually in the mornings, no one was around. Or just one or two people, and once we had the conversation about why I was barefoot, they didn't think it odd, so it was fine. One woman, in fact, told me she was friends with a major Memphis runner and that he had begun running barefoot not long before.

From our new house, it takes me ten minutes to get to that park. And because of starting the new job, my morning time is more limited than before, so I just haven't been going there.

There's a wonderful park, pictured above, closer to our new house. It's really beautiful--smaller than the other, but with a lake and an island bird sanctuary. It's lovely. But it's also in the middle of a very nice neighborhood, and people do walk their dogs there each morning, or just walk themselves around the lake. It isn't really crowded, but it isn't as uncrowded as the first park. And I just get the feeling that the people there would look at me funny if I were barefoot.

Besides that, it doesn't have the large stretches of grass that the other one has. Going barefoot on dried magnolia leaves is not as pleasant as being on grass. And because of all the dog-walking at the new park, I end up having to be on the sidewalk a good deal. Which is not painful, despite what you might expect; but neither is it especially pleasant.

So, I'm thinking I'll have to give up either a bit of sleep, or a bit of workout time if I want the true barefoot experience again. I think it's worth the sacrifice, though it's hard to think that when I'm just waking up and it's still darkish.

Now that I'm thinking about this, I'm thinking that yet a third park may be quicker to get to than my old park. It has a golf area that I don't think anyone uses for golf early in the morning, because that woman I met in the park actually put me in touch with her barefoot running friend, and he told me that's where he runs. Hmmmmm. I'll just have to check it out.

Anyway, if you haven't gone barefoot outside for a while, I highly encourage it, before it gets too cold. I have this theory that the soles of our feet are connected pretty directly to our s-o-u-l souls, somehow. Because the barefoot time I had last fall just seemed to do something deep inside that can't be explained simply by nerve endings. It has to do with being connected to the earth, and to childhood, and to life, in a way that shoes just get in the way of.

Do it for your soles. Do it for your soul.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Yikes and Nikes

"Yikes," because I just saw that it's been over two weeks since I wrote a thing here. Not a huge surprise that I haven't written often, but I didn't realize it had been that long.

Have I mentioned my new part-time job? That would be the main reason for my scarce appearances here lately. While we were in Croatia, I received an email from the director of HopeWorks, where I had applied and interviewed back in January. They hired someone else in January, but when that person decided to leave, the director contacted me about coming.

So I'm working there three days a week, and loving it. Do check out our website:

--and you will see why I love working there.

"Nikes," because despite my not blogging as often as I'd like, I have been walking/running more often than I did when it was so hot. Pictured above is the underside of my new Nike Free Run Plus shoes. They are the lightest weight running shoes I've ever had, and you can see that the soles are not quite your typical athletic shoe soles. They're made to have very little structure, to give more flexibility, so that the feet can walk and run more like the way they do when they don't have shoes on.

It's not quite the same, of course, but I've learned you can't walk or run barefoot everywhere (e.g., the gym where I run when it's blazing hot outside requires shoes) or all year round (e.g., last January, the coldest I remember it ever being since we moved to Memphis.) So, I got these during the summer and have been thankful for them.

I took the picture just because I thought it was funny how the shoes caught hold of this stick and didn't let go! First time I've had that happen, and it could only happen because of the pattern on the bottom.

Well, now that I've experienced this "yikes" moment, I will try to get back here more often. I really do have some lovely photos and lovely stories to share from the Europe trip, not to mention ongoing life here at home.

Till next time, may your "yikes" moments be few and far between, and may you enjoy some barefoot moments in the meantime.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

First Day in Florence

Florence on a sunny day is a beautiful place to be. Of course, I think Florence is a great place to be anytime, but we were blessed with some really bellissimi blue-sky days with perfect temperatures.

So, even though I have plenty of pictures of the Duomo, I just had to make some more.

I don't know how many times I've been to Florence since leaving there in 1990. Quite a few. Even so, I'm always struck by the Duomo: the architectural marvel of the cupola itself, as well as the incredible detail of the facade--which is so much prettier now after cleaning than it was when I first saw it in 1987 as a student.

Coming to this area around the cathedral often reminds me of the first time my eyes beheld it as a student. I wonder if anyone could see then on my face how amazed I was by everything. It was so much to take in for a 21-year-old who had grown up in an Arkansas town of then about 10,000 people. I had traveled some in the States and seen some beautiful and very interesting places (thanks to chorus trips, mainly), but there simply is nothing in the States to compare with a European city that was the center of the Renaissance!

Seeing these buildings also reminds me of how as a student, I wondered if I would ever get to come back. Little did I know then that this city would become a second home to me.

Now I've opened a can of memories, so to speak, but it's getting toward bedtime, so I won't indulge in letting them out to wriggle around. They'll have to wait for another time....Buona notte!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Home Front

Well, actually three of these pictures are from the back of our home, not the front.

I just thought I'd better put them in now, or they'll be forgotten forever. They were all taken before the trip to Europe, but never made it beyond the storage phase....

Here is one of the first mushrooms that sprouted in our backyard after an unusual amount of summer rain.

And here is wisteria attacking our garage. This stuff must be related to kudzu. It grows so fast, it is truly amazing...and annoying! Thanks to the help of a dear friend, all that is reachable has now been cut down to the base, and I plan to start applying poison this weekend. (Goes against my grain, but so does having a plant do this to our garage!)

And here is the first sweet little tomato I have ever grown. So cute! Unfortunately, the tomatoes for the most part came of age while we were on another continent, so I didn't get to enjoy seeing them ripen and all that should come after that. We do, however, have one more that has appeared since our return, and I must say it looks an awful lot like this one did.

And here are shots of our Tosca and Paolo during their first unleashed visit to the front porch. Drazen was working on something, just what I don't recall. For whatever reason, we decided we would put up the gate and let them go out onto the porch. It was so cute watching them venture out, with our encouragement, to an area they are consistently not allowed to go to. They sniffed and looked, and raised their ears, and probably lowered their ears at certain moments. All in all, they seemed to enjoy it, and we certainly did.

The pictures are all strange. It was dusk, and I think I had the flash on for this first one, which made everything else look much darker than it was.

And then I don't know what I did, but Paolo looks a bit like a ghost after that, especially in that last picture. With a digital camera, I often have no idea how I get what I get....

Back to Italy next time!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tree Trunks and Train Station: Milano

We were late leaving the hotel because one man, for whatever reason, was late getting out the door to the shuttle.

The highlight of my morning at the hotel was asking the concierge for a safety pin, but not knowing the name for it in Italian, having to draw a picture and explain it. Do hotels even keep such things? Well, sure enough, the lady downstairs (a cleaning lady perhaps? I never knew for sure) had one, and the young man at the desk went down for it and taught me to say spilla da balia. Funny how I could live two years in Italy and never need a safety pin, or at least not need to know how to say it.

The shuttle took us to the airport, where I caught the bus that takes people to the train station. No problems there.

My plan was to buy a ticket to Florence at the train station. I could have bought one while in the States, but since I didn't know for sure what time the shuttle would go, what time the bus would go, and what time I would be able to catch a train, I figured it was better to just wait and get the ticket at the station, as I had generally done when buying tickets from Florence to Milano.

I hoped for the 11:00ish, a slower train, which would cost less and get me to Florence in time for supper. I turned the corner and went down the hall, following the signs for BIGLIETTI (tickets).

GASP! GASP! And a long sigh.........

The line for tickets was the longest I've ever seen anywhere in real life. It came out both doors to the ticket area, spilling into the huge hallway. People and their bags as far as you could see.

After a moment of surveying the situation, weighing pros and cons, I headed for one of the many automatic machines over in the corner, where the lines were only 5-10 people at each--only to have one machine break just as I was next in line, and a second deny my credit card once I'd finally navigated my way through the many screens and choices to the point of purchasing.

I gave up and entered the real-people-will-help-you ticket line. I counted approximately 150 people in line! Fortunately it turned out to be two lines, and there were three or four counters for each line.

I was in line behind a nice gentleman. I asked if this were typical for the station. He said he didn't know: he had lived in Milano his whole life, but it was his first time to take a train out of the city, as his car was in the shop. At least I had someone pleasant to talk with, making the wait seem shorter. hour and a half after entering the station, I finally had a ticket in hand. But I'd missed the morning and earlier afternoon trains and had to wait a couple of hours before my train left.

I decided to exit the station and get some lunch. I found a nice little pizza place with outdoor tables, so there was room for the huge suitcase I was rolling around behind me.

I'm not a great admirer of the city of Milano. Especially driving in from the airport to the station, it seems you see the ugliest areas....And then all around the station is just traffic and crowds and noise. I imagine a hundred years ago when they were planning to build it, it was a lovely area, but the automobile changed that.

So this row of trees really caught my eye, a bit of green in the midst of all that manmade chaos. I just thought they were lovely with their wavy branches, so I took the picture seen above.

Then it was back into the station to wait. Jetlag had hit by this time, and I fell asleep more than once in the big Sala di Attesa (Hall of Waiting.)

It was the first time I'd ever sat and waited there, rather than just rushing through. So between naps I enjoyed looking around--and mostly up. The train station at Milano is quite an accomplishment.

I just read that 320,000 people a day use the station; so maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised at the line for tickets. Maybe I got off easy, who knows?

Looking up from my napping place.

Looking up and over.

Looking toward the opposite end of the Sala di Attesa.

And looking out toward the tracks, looking for my train.

A nice site by the Italian train system is available if you'd like to see more of this architectural marvel of a station (you'll have to open a new browser and cut and paste, as I've forgotten again how to add a link:

Just click on the map, on Milano, and click on "English" (at the top) if you want to read about it. I just thought you might like to see the photos, since I didn't take any of the outside of the building.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Beginning of the Buon Viaggio

I jumped into telling about my trip with Monteriggioni, because of the Alpha and Omega symbol, the Beginning and the End.

From a chronological perspective, the journey began at an airport, of course. Not much of interest to share about my flights--except that I did have an empty seat next to me all the way across the Atlantic, a rare and welcome experience.

And then there was the Amsterdam-Milano flight that had an interesting twist: We had fully boarded and loaded the plane and then were told that it could not fly, because--get ready--a lavatory door was missing. This was not a safety issue, we were assured, but it was a liability concern, and therefore the plane could not fly. We would have to wait for a second plane to land, disembark, and load and board the other plane.

How a lavatory door could be removed from a plane without anyone noticing until the plane was completely set to take off is beyond me. It's a mystery I'll have to live with, though.

So, I arrived at Milano more than an hour late, but that was fine, as I had nothing to do but call this Ramada Inn Hotel and wait for a shuttle to come pick me up. And that's what I did, once I figured out how to get change for a phonecall on a Sunday, when almost everything in the airport was closed....

I was driven to the hotel by a sweet older Italian man, who was surprised to hear me speaking Italian and happy to converse about the importance of travel and languages. He had spent a total of six years of his life in India! A very interesting man, somewhat unusual for an Italian, from my experience.

I'm not one to splurge on hotels, but I learned last time I traveled alone to Italy that spending the money for one good night's sleep after that long flight (rather than going straight from air travel to train travel, and arriving truly exhausted at my destination) was well worth the expense.

I was happy that the same hotel I stayed in two years ago had room for me, even though I arranged it very late in the game. I wrote about this place in my May 12 and 19, 2008, posts, if you want to check it out. Two years ago I had the energy and motivation to walk to the nearby town of Oleggio--the motivation being to avoid paying hotel restaurant prices for food! In the older posts, you can see some shots of architecture in the city and of the cows in the country!

This year, I was less motivated since everything in town would be closed, it being Sunday. But the hotel itself is pleasant, and I paid the circa $17 for a plate of risotto alla Milanese and a bottle of water, and didn't regret it too much. You gotta love a hotel that has this many bicycles out front, anyway!

So, the next morning I took a walk along the nearby streets, where I saw this metal banner for one of the businesses on the street. I never saw the name of the place, but I loved their creative sign.

Walking around the grounds of the hotel itself wasn't too boring, either. They've done a nice job with the landscaping, and the tower section of the hotel adds a note of interest.

I am still in denial about the reality of the European Union. All throughout the years of its being talked about, I hoped it wouldn't come to pass. I'm sure I absorbed some of that attegimento via my Italian friends, who tended not to think it a very good idea. Many still think it was a mistake, from what I hear. But it happened: the flags are seen here and there, usually, as here, next to the Italian flag; the license plates all look the same; the money is boring, as it is the same all over most of Europe; people lament about how countries are losing their distinctiveness; and life goes on.

I end with this photo and its teasing "what's around the corner?" feel, and I'll try to let you know that soon.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Monteriggioni, Up Close

Okay, if you haven't seen the photo from the previous post, you must go look at it now, before reading or looking any further here. Context is everything.

Somehow Monteriggioni had escaped my notice until about two years ago. It is near San Gimignano, which is so well-known among Italian, and especially Tuscan, visitors, that I suppose it has just escaped the media machine, largely.

But our friends who grew up in the area insisted two years ago that I should visit it when possible, so this time, with other friends, I did.

According to what I read (on Wikipedia), the fortress city was built in 1213 by the Sienese, as a lookout and base of operations in defending themselves against the Florentines, who wanted to enlarge their territory.

The Wikipedia article states, "Except for some work done in the late 15th century, very little has been done to Monteriggioni's walls or buildings since they were first erected. Monteriggioni's walls and the buildings that make up the town within are the best preserved example of their kind in all of Italy, attracting tourists, architects, medieval historians and archaeologists. The town appears to float above the valley at night due to the hillside walls and towers being lit from below with light."

Well, I would love to see that nighttime view, but it will have to wait until another visit. If it's waited this long, I suppose another couple or few years won't increase the risk of the city disappearing. Meanwhile, I have happy memories of our daytime visit.

Looking up at the city walls from the parking lot.

Proof that I was there.

With my friends.

Despite what the Wikipedia article said, I'm thinking the walkways were probably added later than the late 15th century. It's really nice how they did this, so you can walk around part of the walls--though you're not allowed to walk on the walls, as I suppose soldiers would have done centuries ago.

I love the way plants grow anywhere they can! (As long as it's not where I don't want them.) I learned on this trip that these are the plants from which we get capers.

The back of the church, seen from atop the wall.

The front of the church, seen from the city square.

The colored stone used in the church is just beautiful! I don't recall ever seeing such stone anywhere else.

I was intrigued and encouraged by a sign inside the church that read, essentially and in Italian, "We may be a small church in a very small town, but we are 42 active Christians who worship God here, and we welcome you to our church." I also saw information about that tiny church helping support mission work in Tanzania. It's not simply a museum in a tourist town.

Ah, Italy!

Standing at the bottom of one of the city's two streets. Walking the street and coming upon this view was breathtaking.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


The lovely tiny city of Monteriggioni sits atop its hill like the sentinel it was designed to be.

(This is a photo of a bookmark I bought in the town. We just weren't able to get this good a picture from the car windows as we approached or left the area. So, to give credit where credit is due, the original photographer was Paolo Busato. It's really neat how much you can see if you enlarge it twice. Gives it a grainy look, but that kind of goes well with it, kind of like a watercolor.)

Tomorrow I'll try to put some of my own photos of the town up, but you just have to see it this way, from afar, to understand why it holds such a sense of wonder. Monteriggioni is near Strove, the hometown of our dear friend Paolo Chesi, where he and his wife Tosca now have a weekend home. (Yes, they are the ones for whom our little dogs are named.)

When Tosca and I were walking the roads around Strove, we weren't quite as close to Monteriggioni as was Mr. Busato when he took this photo, but the view was rather similar to this, only from further away. It's really breathtaking. For a moment I had the sense of walking through a storybook, because we pretty much don't see such things except in storybooks--at least not in the life I've lived!

So, here's the view from afar, and next post I'll share some "closer-ups."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beginning and End

I wish I could tell you what larger object this image is a smaller part of, but the truth is that I don't remember. I just noticed this decorative section and took a picture of it.

It's from the tiny medieval town of Monteriggioni, about an hour south of Florence. Not very far from San Gimignano, for those familiar with Tuscan towns.

I realized yesterday that it has been over a month and a half since I "blogged," so it seemed that I really should write something. But, having just returned from almost a month spent in Italy and Croatia, I couldn't think where to begin! I'm not planning to attempt a full report of the trip; when I tried that two years ago, it just didn't work, because current life kept giving me ideas to write about, and I eventually gave up on trying to finish the account.

So, for now, here is this photo from my trip. It mentions the Alpha and the Omega, which brings to mind the presence of God, certainly an important reality of the past month of my life.

And it mentions the Via Francigena, a path I was unaware of until two years ago. It is a travel route between Canterbury and Rome used by pilgrims and other travelers from early centuries into the present. (My friend and I even met some modern-day pilgrims on the road as we walked one afternoon.) Monteriggioni, one of the cities along the route, had various ways of welcoming pilgrims and offering hospitality to them. I suppose this little sign was one of those ways.

So, my trip has had its beginning and its end, although I think the trip itself brought about some new things that may be just beginning. That remains to be seen. (Now, aren't you curious?)

Whatever the "via" (way, path) of my life holds, I'm thankful to walk it in confidence that it's not just up to me to find the way, but that there are strangers who have offered, and will offer, hospitality; there are signs to mark the way; there are countless others who have walked before me; and there is the Alpha and Omega who gives strength and guidance to all who want to walk with Him.

And maybe I'll share some more pictures and stories in coming days. (No promises, though. Still a lot of laundry and cleaning going on here! And translating to do!)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stop and Smell, Taste and See

A popular saying is "Take time to smell the roses." What does this mean? To enjoy the rose it is necessary to focus on it and bring the rose as fully before our senses and mind as possible. To smell a rose you must get close, and you must linger. When we do so, we delight in it. We love it.

Taking time to smell the roses leaves enduring impressions of a dear glory that, if sufficiently reengaged, can chage the quality of our entire life. The rose in a very special way--and more generally the flower, even in its most humble forms--is a fragile but irrepressible witness on earth to a "larger" world where good is somehow safe.

This simple illustration contains profound truths. If anyone is to love God and have his or her life filled with that love, God in his glorious reality must be brought before the mind and kept there in such a way that the mind takes root and stays fixed there.

--Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

(I highly recommend enlarging the photos for greater viewing pleasure. Sorry I can't provide scents to go with them....)

Pansies on our deck, from the spring.

My all-time favorite flowerpot.

Poppies and primrose in the Cancer Survivors' Park, before the scorching heat hit.

What is it about these flowers? I just adore them!

Roses from sweet piano students at our recent recital.

Hydrangeas in the backyard, when they'd just come into bloom.

The last hydrangea blooms, rescued before summer heat took its complete toll.

Brown-eyed Susans...

...which popped up by our front porch, a welcome surprise.

O, taste and see that the Lord is good!

--The Psalmist, 34:8

Monday, June 14, 2010


It's that time of year again. Time to hibernate. My recessive English and Scots-Irish genes somehow overpowered the Cherokee and Choctaw in me, and I have almost no heat tolerance. Today for the first time, I walked and ran in the gym instead of outside. The heat index was 106 the other day. I've taken to wearing a wide-brimmed hat if I have to walk across huge parking lots. For the next two-plus months, I won't walk anywhere except across parking lots, probably.

Except that last night, we did go for a walk late in the evening, and thanks to the breezes, it was bearable.

And I'll be in Europe part of the next two-plus months, so of course I'll be walking all over the place there.

But while in the South, it's hibernation time for the most part.

Even so, I love this time of year because of the flowers. My petunias look great, the portulica is so colorful, and unexpected trumpet vine added a shock of color recently to our chaotic hedgerow.

And magnolias are just magical. I walked by a tree this morning (en route from the gym; it was still bearable enough, in the shade, to walk a block and a half) and smelled its perfume from ten feet away.

That scent, and those larger-than-life, creamy flowers are irresistable to me. When I'm in the park, I have to stop and put my face down inside any flower near enough to the ground.

And now and then one comes home with me, as in the photo above. This one came from a tree that gets climbed a lot and has graffiti all over the lower part. I figured it would be better appreciated at home than remaining on the tree.

Here's to the beauty of summer that makes the heat worth it.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Why do I like this picture?

Yes, this is a picture of my kitchen sink as it appeared earlier this afternoon. Why a photo?

Reasons abound:

1. It shows the remnants of a happy visit with my mom, sister and niece earlier today. Among other things, we got Lenny's sandwiches and brought them home to eat.

2. The reason I have styrofoam rinsed and drying in the sink is that Whole Foods is now recycling it! Yea! I still try to avoid using it, but it's not altogether possible in my life yet. I'm so glad it's not just going in the trash.

3. It reminds me of how funny it was that all four of us ordered the very same sandwich--turkey on a round wheat bun. What are the odds? We all got lemonade, and two of us got Cheetos and the other two got baked bbq chips. You'd think we had planned it!

4. I thought it was sweet that the Lenny's worker wrote "Mom" on the box to show which sandwich was which. The other says "pickles" and was ID'd by another worker. I liked the personal touch. And it was only after I saw she'd written that I realized I had ordered the sandwich by saying, "Let's see, my mom wants...." even though it mattered not in the least to Ms. Lenny's who the sandwich was for. And she heard me say it, obviously.

5. It's cute how "MOM" looks like "WOW" upside down.

And last but not least....

6. Beneath all this styrofoam, there really aren't many dishes to do!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

For the Gulf Coast

I was struck hard yesterday looking at photos of birds, snails, and the general area now being so unnaturally covered with oil along the coast. The friend who had posted the link referred to the photos as gut-wrenching, and they were. My tear ducts were wrenched along with my gut as I saw a small heron dying because of the oil around it.

Wondering how long this will go on, how much can be cleaned up, and how long it will take for the area to recover, was overwhelming.

I had to focus on the possibility of recovery. It seems pointless to me right now for people to try to guess how much oil there is, how much damage it will do, how long it will take to clean it, etc. The one thing that seems clear is that no one knows, and they've just got to do everything possible to manage the mess that's been made. And help the people and animals affected.

And little images came to my mind of green plants growing out of cracks in asphalt or concrete where it seemed impossible, and then the reminder of a piece I'd just read of the way the buffalo are increasing and starting to roam again, and stories I've heard of how quickly an area can be retaken over by wild plants if given a chance.

The sadness at what man's ignorance and greed have done and the thoughts of hope and regeneration reminded me of the words, "for all this, nature is never spent...." When I looked up the poem it was a bit of a shock to remember that Hopkins used oil itself as an image in his first lines. Certainly he wasn't thinking of BP's oil refinery type oil, but still it was strange to find the very word here.

And comforting, very comforting, in that moment to be reminded that this dear, bent earth is not alone in the universe without a Holy Spirit brooding over her with ah! bright wings and doing things we cannot now even imagine, things that will and do continue to charge her with God's grandeur.

I pray for the people of the coast, that they may not despair.

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

--G.M. Hopkins

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Walker Percy Quote

This life is far too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer "Scientific humanism." That won't do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God....I refuse to settle for anything less.

From an article comparing Walker Percy and Martin Buber's thinking. I've been sick the past few days and reading more than usual. Am thinking I'd like to read some Walker Percy but am not sure where to start.