A to Z Blogging Challenge · Faith · Writing

Words

I like words.

If you think about it, they’re pretty amazing things.

I remember as a child being amazed at my father’s vast vocabulary. He knew a lot of words. I forget what the exact challenge was, but I was scouring the dictionary for a word he didn’t know. (Aside: I realized as I wrote those words that kids today don’t have that dictionary-searching experience. If they need to look up a word, they don’t pull out an enormous heavy book; they simply type the word into a search bar, or click on the word, and ~ poof! ~ there’s the definition.)

Anyway, I was searching the dictionary and found a word that I was sure he wouldn’t know: Quisling. He not only knew the word, he knew the origins. For the record, a quisling is a traitor who collaborates with an enemy occupying force for personal gain. Vidkun Quisling did just that in Norway in WWII.

That kind of word is called an eponym, a word that was a person’s name. In looking up the definition of eponym, I found that the word boycott is an eponym. Charles Boycott, an English landowner in Ireland back in 1880 treated his tenants so badly that they decided just to ignore him.

Fascinating, right?

Last Sunday, I was preparing for a class at church. For a year or more I’ve been attending an Episcopal church, but honestly, I still don’t know what I’m doing. All this standing, kneeling, sitting, genuflecting, making-the-sign-of-the-cross stuff gets confusing. I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t entirely care if I forget to genuflect before I enter the pew. Still, I’d like to understand the whys and try to be respectful. So the rector invited me to a book study on Walk In Love: Episcopal Beliefs & Practices (by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe). The topic last week was the Eucharist.

It turns out that the prayer book has six different terms for this thing that we do in church. “The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord’s Supper, and Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offering.”

I love when other languages have words for which we have no English equivalent. For example, there’s Danish hygge (warm, fuzzy, sitting-by-the-fire feeling), German schadenfreude (getting pleasure from someone’s misfortune), and Hawaiian pana po’o (scratching your head when you can’t find something). I particularly liked discovering this Halloween-y word, vybafnout, Czech for jumping out and saying “Boo!”.

Back to Eucharist, though, I can’t help but wonder if we don’t have a human equivalent of what God intended in this sacrament. We don’t have one word for it. We don’t have even one way of doing it.

I’ve taking communion with matzo crackers and little individual cups of grape juice, hunks of leavened bread ripped from a whole loaf and dunked in juice, little round wafers dipped in real wine, and even Girl Scout cookies with a little milk. You may think that last one sacrilegious, but I’d go back to God looking at our hearts.

In the class someone asked about the elements becoming the body and blood of Christ. “Is it magic?” she asked.

“It’s mystery,” I blurted out, and Father went with that, expounding on sacramental mystery.

In preparing for class, I followed rabbit trails, as I am wont to do. I came across the word aumbry and looked it up (not in a dictionary, but in the search bar). An aumbry is a recessed cupboard in a church where sacred vessels and vestments are stored.

From there I found pyx, a small round container where the consecrated host can be stored.

And then I came across monstrance. Such a Halloween-y word with such a non-Halloween-y meaning. No monsters, but instead a vessel in which the consecrated host is displayed.

Monstrance

Words — they’re pretty amazing, right?

But I also don’t like when people’s words don’t match their lives (my own included).

I recently came across a quote from Thomas Fuller that I keep thinking about: “How easy is pen and paper piety for one to write religiously! I will not say it costeth nothing, but it is far cheaper to work one’s head than one’s heart to goodness.”

Surely somewhere there is a word for just that.

A to Z Blogging Challenge · Faith · family

Questions

I have a thousand questions.

Maybe more.

I think I’ve always been this way, too. I have two distinct memories of my mother expressing her frustration to me regarding all my questions.

One was when she was pregnant with my youngest brother and a button flew off her housecoat. I don’t remember the actual question I asked, but I do remember her response — “It’s because of the baby!” I suppose I should I have known that but I didn’t. Maybe I had already asked her 653 questions about her growing belly or maybe she had already tried to tell me 653 times about this new member of the family who would be arriving soon. In any event, it all became real when the button flew off her housecoat.

A few weeks after the housecoat fiasco

The second time was several years later. On the kitchen counter I had found this interesting looking plastic circle thing. I could spin it and I could see that there were little pills inside. My mother saw me playing with it and snatched it away.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s mine,” she said.

“But what is it?” I persisted.

“It’s so I won’t have any more babies,” she snapped, and she sounded so angry at me and all my questions that I learned to keep most of them to myself. I had a lot more questions about that plastic circular pill dispenser — but those questions wouldn’t be answered for many years.

But questions — I love questions.

I started gathering all the questions in the Bible into my journals.

Reducing a story to questions brings out a poignancy we might miss otherwise. Take these four questions, all asked by Isaac in the same chapter:

  • Who are you, my son?
  • How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?
  • Are you really my son Esau?
  • Who are you?

I’m always working through a section of the Old Testament and a section of the New Testament concurrently — one OT question per day and one NT question per day. The same same few days when I was writing Isaac’s questions, I journaled these questions asked by Jesus in the book of Matthew:

  • Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
  • But who do you say that I am?

The very first question in the book of John is “Who are you?”

So many questions about identity!

When I was reading Howard Thurman’s books and books about Howard Thurman, I found that he had three questions he liked to ask young people. I scribbled them down on a post-it note that I keep handy

  • Who are you? Who are you really? (identity)
  • What are you for? Or, what do you want? (purpose)
  • How will you get it? (means)

Sometimes, in yoga, when I’m trying to relax into long pose, I ponder those questions.

I ask God those questions, too — sometimes about Him, more often about me. Who am I? Who am I really?

God hasn’t snapped at me yet.


Things I like: questions.

Things I don’t like: When people look at me like I just asked the stupidest question on the face of the earth.

A to Z Blogging Challenge · Faith · Life

K

Back at the beginning of June I had this brilliant idea to encourage myself to write — I would do my own A-to-Z Challenge for the month, choosing things I like and don’t like that begin with the letter of the day. Pshaw. Looky here. June is almost over and I’m only up to K. Still I will forge ahead with the goal of completing this before 2022 ends. Today I will tackle K.

I’m also using Linda Hill’s Stream Consciousness writing challenge to further encourage me and to get the job done. This week’s challenge is “product/produce.” She says, “Use one, use them both, use them any way you’d like. Bonus points if you use both. Have fun!”


K was a tough letter for me. I can think of a thousand things that I like that begin with the letter K — my son, Karl, being at the top of the list. I also like kayaks and kangaroos, kids, kindred spirits, and kookaburras. I could go on.

However, because I recently started delving into Kierkegaard, I’m going to use him as my like.

Soren Kierkegaard is fascinating. Utterly fascinating. He’s way over my head, but I feel like a beginner swimmer (I used to teach them) who delights each small success. I put my face in the water! I floated! I’m a long way from actually swimming, but when a tiny bit of understanding lights up my dense gray matter, I am thrilled.

At first, I dug in by trying to read one of his books. I was like a newborn baby trying to eat a steak. It didn’t go very well. So I started listening to podcasts discussing him. I started reading about him.

Since this is stream of consciousness, please forgive me if I don’t get this exactly right — but I heard this Kierkegaard quote, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” And whoever the podcaster was talked about anxiety being that staring into the abyss of too many choices. Whew! Yes!

Another podcaster (or maybe the same one) talked about Kierkegaard’s idea of losing yourself in the infinite — that dizziness of freedom — but also losing yourself in the finite — where you aren’t allowed to be yourself because you’re so busy conforming to prescribed ideas of who others think you should be.

It’s heady, mind-boggling, and I’m loving it.


(Non-Stream-of-Consciousness warning. I wrote this post just writing — true stream of consciousness — but I have a thousand and one misgivings about delving into controversial topics. Please feel free to stop reading here. I won’t be offended. And if abortion is a hot button topic, by all means stop reading. I’m not trying to push anybody’s buttons.)


What don’t I like that begins with K? This was hard. Even things that didn’t make my “like” list — for example, kebabs — didn’t make my dislike list either — I’m kind of neutral on kebabs.

However, yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on abortion left me with so many mixed feelings. Please bear with me as I sort them.

I don’t like killing — that’s my K. I don’t like war. I don’t like murder. I don’t like the death penalty. I don’t like abortion.

However, abortion is such a complicated issue. When we reduce it to slogans on t-shirts or on protest signs, we miss that fact.

I know people who have had abortions. A high school friend. One of my freshman college roommates. Another woman who got pregnant in college. The wife of a Bible study leader. Yep — you read that one correctly. She was a diabetic and her kidneys started shutting down. Her husband said, “We can find another way to have a baby, but I can’t get another (fill in the wife’s name).”

I know people who have chosen to carry the baby despite adverse circumstances. The woman who cuts my hair. The daughter of some missionaries.

I know people who have adopted babies carried by unwed mothers.

In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller talks about listening to other people’s stories instead of judging. It’s been years since I read that book, but I remember a part where he set up a confession booth, not to hear other people’s confessions, but to confess his own judgmental-ness.

We’re too programmed with our knee-jerk reactions. I’m too programmed with my own knee-jerk reactions.

I hate killing. I don’t like abortion. But, then, there aren’t too many people who seriously like abortion. The issue is just so much more complicated than that.

If you are 110% pro-life, you need to sit at a table opposite someone who has made that awful decision and listen to their story of their hows and whys. If you are 110% pro-choice, you need to sit at a table opposite someone who has lived with the regret of that decision, or who was forced into that decision by some well-meaning person, and you need to go watch an ultrasound of a 10 week old fetus moving and see its tiny heart beating.

It’s complicated.


I realize that I have not used produce or product once in this post. But, hey, I produced a post! There!

How about you? What’s something you like that begins with K? What’s something you don’t like?

Faith · Leaning In

Isaiah and Incompetence

This is my own A-to-Z Challenge for the month of June — likes and dislikes. I’ve fallen behind but haven’t given up! If you want to join me, just add a comment naming something you like and something you don’t like that begin with the letter I.


My favorite book in the Old Testament is Isaiah.

It was maybe 10 years ago when I started memorizing chapters from Isaiah. Whole chapters. I started with Isaiah 43, then did chapter 6, then 50, 51, 52… all the way up to 63. A few years ago, my memory cache was full — over-full, in fact, because when I look back at those last chapters that I “memorized”, I remember very little of them.

I can, however, say this with some level of confidence. Memorizing chapters straight through — and thereby memorizing verses that didn’t initially “speak” to me — was a life-changing experience. My view on many issues did an about-face. I can’t point to a single verse that led me there — I only know I got there, and I credit Isaiah’s words with speaking deeply to my soul — Love people. Love them where they are.

Part of my memorization process was writing the chapters out over and over, and sometimes I would write them in my own words. I published a post in 2015 of a paraphrase of Isaiah 56. Looking back at it, I see how Isaiah was shaping me.


Initially, I was going to use incompetence for my “I” dislike. Let’s just say I am frustrated at work.

“Are you sure you want to write about that?” one of my daughters asked. “It might be kind of pointed.”

Ahh — she was right. I would be venting — via blog — about mistakes someone else made and that doesn’t profit anything.

The Peter Principle is that people are promoted to the level of their incompetence. The Dilbert Principle is that incompetent people are promoted to get them out of the workflow. Either way, the result is incompetent people at high levels in organizations.

One day, as I was grumbling in my heart about incompetent people in management positions, I caught a glimpse of someone’s insecurity — and I can honestly say that my grumbling heart was flooded with compassion. It washed away my resentments.

How awful it must feel to realize that you are in over your head!

How terrible to look back at a job you were really good at — and that you aren’t doing any more — with longing while you’re stuck in an office trying to do a job that requires skills you don’t have!

And here’s the real rub — everyone resents you. Everyone complains about you. You’re alone in your little office struggling, and you can’t admit that you can’t do the job because that would be failure. That would be a losing face, losing respect from other people. You used to receive accolades for a job well-done. Now it’s the opposite.

Insecurity raises its ugly head — and you begin to lash out.

I don’t like incompetence, but I think I dislike even more the insecurity that comes out of it.


Scottish Gaelic:
Is toil leam Isaiah. I like Isaiah.
Cha toil leam mì-thèarainteachd agus an dòigh anns a bheil e a’ toirt air daoine a dhol an sàs. I don’t like insecurity and the way it makes people act.


How about you? What’s something you like that begins with I? What’s something you don’t like?

Faith · Grief · people

Lenten Rabbits

Five years ago for Lent, I carried a rabbit in my pocket as a tool for mindfulness. I wanted to remember that people are often smiling on the outside but hurting on the inside. I know, I know — this may not make much sense to you unless you followed my Lenten journey in 2017. If you want to read about it, here’s a semi-explanatory post from that year: Tuga and Aleluja.

Tuga is the Bosnian word for sorrow. Aleluja is the Bosnian word for — can you guess? — Allelujah.

This year I have two more little rabbits. Meet Dòchas and Bròn.

Dòchas is the Scottish Gaelic word for hope. Bròn is the Gaelic word for grief. I gave them last names, too. Dòchas a-Maireach and Bròn an-Diugh. Hope Tomorrow and Grief Today.

I carry them both in my pocket — separate pockets, of course.

For this Lenten season, I want to become friends with Bròn. Bròn an-diugh. (Pronunciation — and I may not have this totally correct — Bròn is like our word “brawn” but you need to roll that “r” a little. An-diugh sounds like on-jew, because the “di-” in Gaelic is our soft “g” sound as in giraffe, and the -gh at the end is silent.) Grief today.

I listened to a woman last week go into a long tirade full of conspiracy misinformation. She had told me weeks before that wearing a mask was the equivalent of the Nazis requiring Jews to wear yellow stars. Another gym member had started the whole confrontation by shouting at me about the masks — “This is BULLSH-T! This is BULLSH-T!” After the Nazi comment, I had turned and walked away from the desk.

Later that same day I put a check-in note on the woman’s membership — that if she checked in again, I wanted to speak to her. She finally came back on Friday — and I spoke to her a little and listened to her a lot. She has such deep fears and hurts.

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.”
Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

While she was talking, I reached in my pocket and held Bròn. I don’t know if hers was grief or just unhappiness at our world today. She needed to talk, though.

And I listened.

At the end of her diatribe, she extended her hand across the counter. “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her. “It was so nice to meet you,” she said.

“What just happened?” my co-worker asked after the woman had headed to the pool. She had been sitting there listening to the whole thing.

“I’m not sure,” I told her.

But I stuck my hand in my other pocket — and there was Dòchas, hope.

Blogging Challenge · Faith · family · Life

Anticipation

Dear Kim,

When I was trying to choose a word for 2022, I confess that anticipation didn’t make the list. It’s cousin, expectancy, did. (For the record, I ended up choosing aware and I’ll explain it another time.)

Anticipation (today’s prompt word) walks a little too closely with anxiety. To anticipate what’s coming next may feel thrilling, but it may also shift into dread.

I nixed expectancy for similar reasons. Expectancy sounded too much like expectation — and you and I both know that expectations from others can feel like a heavy thumb pressing down on us.

But, you know, I have been an expectant mother nine times over (if you count my one miscarriage) and that kind of expectancy is pretty wonderful. Each time, though, I remember in the early days holding the secret close and not telling anyone because I needed to get used to the idea of my life changing — again. I’ve loved being a mom. I truly have.

About that miscarriage, he or she would have been child #2. I hadn’t even told my husband about the positive pregnancy test. He was going away to a class and was going to be gone for a week or more. I wanted to think of a special way to break the news. I remember spending that short period of time whispering secrets to the little person inside me, with my hand on my abdomen, while I lay in bed at night alone. My first son was sleeping in the next room and he had already been such a joy.

Anyway, the night before Bud was to come home, I started bleeding. This was back before cell phones and I think he was already at the airport for his first flight. I had no way to reach him. I called my closest friend and she came to take care of my son while I went to the hospital.

I was alone when they did the ultrasound and then the laparoscopy. I was alone when they gave me the news — an ectopic pregnancy. Honestly, it was probably one of the loneliest times in my life.

But I had a son who needed me and a husband, home again, who had picked up a virus somewhere in his travels and wasn’t feeling well.

You know how we women do it. We get up and we start the next day and the next day and the next day. We make breakfast and do laundry. We change diapers and go to the grocery store. We press on — because what is the alternative?

I think back then was when I first chose to live in hope. Hope is also a cousin to anticipation and expectancy. They’re all good words. It’s that looking ahead that keeps me going.

Why does God allow us to go through awful things? I don’t know except that our experiences in the hard places build compassion and hope — and for that I am grateful.

Sorry for such a heavy letter.

Love,

Sally

the sign I painted and put on our barn
Faith · Life · prayer

Eclipse

Dear God,

The eclipse of the moon this morning was amazing.

Thank you that I have a job that gets me up early enough to see it. As I drove to work at 4:50 am, I looked at the sliver of moon and said to it, “How pretty you are!”

Thank you for my co-worker who asked me if I saw the eclipse. “I saw the moon,” I said. “It’s eclipsing,” he replied, and we walked to the window together where I saw a half-moon with a rounded edge between the black and white. If it had been a cookie, it might have been a reject; but it was the real moon and it was lovely.

Thank you for the big windows where I work. I walked to them frequently over the next 45 minutes and watched the moon wax. (Or is it wane? Or is there another term for the changes during an eclipse?)

Thank you for the camera that I carry in my pocket, a.k.a. my phone. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have been able to easily photograph moments like these.

Thank you, too, that I forgot about the camera in my pocket, so I stayed in the moment. This morning I didn’t snap a photo until it was almost too late.

Thank you for lousy photos that still help me remember a magical moment.

Thank you for the eclipses I see in people, like the grumpy man who growled at me that one morning when he first walked in and came back to apologize after his workout. Endorphins pushed the shadows back for him.

Thank you for endorphins, those neurotransmitters that trigger positive emotions. They relieve pain and stress. Exercise helps release them. So does chocolate.

Thank you for chocolate.

Thank you for co-workers who share their chocolate.

Thank you for the chocolate side of half-moon cookies, which I like slightly less than the vanilla side, but the chocolate makes me appreciate the vanilla.

Thank you for contrasts like that.

Thank you for the eclipse, for dark and light, earth and moon, people, chocolate, and life itself.

Amen.

Faith

(not) Insignificant

A few weeks ago, when Texas had their devastating freeze, I listened to a news story about all the people impacted by the loss of crops. The farmers suffered the most obvious loss. The consumers would feel it, without their leafy greens in the grocery store or on their dinner table. I hadn’t thought about the migrant workers who now had no crop to harvest, or the people who work in the processing plants where the produce would have been cleaned and packaged, and the truckers who would have transported it.

Unseen does not mean insignificant.

My Lenten reading brought me to Luke 22 — the story of the disciples getting the room ready for that last Passover meal.

So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room…’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.”

Luke 22:8-12

I followed Peter and John into the city where they met the man carrying a jar of water. I found myself wondering about that man. Why was he there? Was he sent there specifically to watch for Jesus’ followers? Or, was this one of his daily tasks, fetching water, and Jesus knew he would be there? Was he waiting? Or, as always, was God’s timing just so very perfect?

The master of the house had the room ready. What did he know? Did he always have that room ready for guests? Had God impressed something specific on his heart that morning? Or that week? Or, was it years before, so that he always had his guest room ready because, who knows, perhaps God would have need of it? Had he graciously let the room out to others who asked or had need? Had he grown weary of hospitality?Or was it his calling and he found it fulfilling even if he didn’t always receive the gratitude he may have been due?

Did Peter and John have to go to the market to purchase the bread and the wine that we know they had that night? Did the market vendors know the great purpose of the items they were selling?

Did the one who baked the bread know about the breaking of his bread by the One who was the Bread of Life? Could the vintner have possibly imagined that his wine would represent the blood of a New Covenant?

I mentally followed the people-trail in that story trying to see the unnamed and unseen people. They’re everywhere.

During this time of mask-wearing and isolation, I think many may feel unseen and insignificant. May I encourage you today to keep carrying your water. Keep your guest room ready. Keep baking bread and growing grapes.

And if your job has been taken from you because of weather or a pandemic or some other unforeseen circumstance, be faithful with whatever is put before you.

Keep doing those daily tasks that no one sees.

Because “no one” is a misnomer.

There is One who sees and values what you do. You may be serving Him in ways you cannot imagine.

Faith

Highest Possibility

I can love you only when I meet you where you are, as you are, and treat you there as if you were where you ought to be. I see you where are, striving and struggling, and in the light of the highest possibility of personality, I deal with you there.

Howard Thurman, The Growing Edge

I came across this quote a while ago and copied it out.

I wrote it again this morning in my journal, thinking about the idea of meeting someone where they are but treating them as if they were where they ought to be.

So, so hard.

In 1949, Howard Thurman wrote a book called Jesus and the Disinherited. It is said that Martin Luther King, Jr. carried two books with him all the time — The Bible and Jesus and the Disinherited.

Thurman was an African-American theologian-mystic-teacher-author. He was raised by his grandmother who had been a slave.

Let that sink in.

We are not far removed from slavery.

Does that change how you read the words of that quote?

How about knowing that he was mistaken for the custodian while he was the dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University? Does that change how you read his words?


It’s been a crap day for me. People close to me have behaved in awful ways. When I wrote those words in my journal this morning, I had no idea how much I would need them this evening.

But if I can just remind myself that those people who are behaving awfully are striving and struggling. I need to seem them in the light of the highest possibility of personality. I need to deal with them there.

Faith · family · prayer

Bedside Prayer for an Aging Parent

The following prayer was written nearly six years ago when my mother was hospitalized. She was eventually discharged, but then died later that year.

I share it today because I know so many people are now caring for their own elderly family members. I want to encourage those of you who are in that position to use those quiet bedside moments to talk to God. Offer your thoughts, your observations, your concerns and your memories to Him — maybe in gratitude or maybe as a way of reconciling. The single most important thing that got me through those days was prayer.


O Great Physician —

You love the hoary head,
including my mother’s silver waves,
now matted from too much time on the pillow.

As I sit beside my mother’s bed
and study her lined face,
I watch each breath pass through her lips
with an effort she did not used to exert.
Occasionally, her weary eyes open,
but, Lord,
she doesn’t even know me!

Heavenly Father, cradle her.
She worked hard in this life,
raising five children,
supporting her husband,
preparing meal after meal
for family, friends, and strangers,
using her nursing skills
to give hope to others,
using her tragedies
to encourage those
who encounter the same.

Let her know the rest
that only You can give.

While I sit here
don’t mind me.
I’ll just hold her hand
and weep a little.
I’m content to wipe her face,
give her sips of water,
and wait.

Amen.