Friday, March 6, 2015

It Only Takes a Spark

One of my favorite memories of last week-end when my sister and nephew were here revolves around our outdoor firepit.

Their plane landed at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, but my nephew was much too excited to go right to bed.  He's 8 years old, after all.  Finally, they had gotten to the warmth of Florida, the promise of time in the swimming pool in February.

We went to the backyard, and my spouse built a fire in the small, metal firepit that we bought a few weeks ago.  My nephew stood on the first step of the very chilly pool and decided to wait until morning to submerge himself.

We sat around the firepit and watched it flame into life.  We couldn't help ourselves; we started to sing:  "It only takes a spark, to get a fire going."  I noticed that we were all singing, even my nephew.  How did we learn this song?

My sister and I learned it at camp over many years and many firepits.  My spouse learned it at church youth groups.  It was a very popular song in the 70's. 

My nephew learned it because my sister used to sing it to him as a lullaby--and thus, the next generation learns this song!  For those of you in youth ministry and church camp work, when you wonder if your work makes a difference, I'm here to tell you that much of it will stick, even if you're not sure that any of it is sinking in.

We could remember most of the verses, but we weren't always sure of which lines went with which verse.  Luckily, we have a copy of that old standby, the fish book, the songbook that doesn't have a name, but has that Christian symbol on the cover.  In the 70's and 80's, that book always seemed to be in youth group rooms and music rooms and many a guitar player had a copy.

I thought of the lyrics of the song, which hold up well in terms of theology.  I thought of all the ways we learn theology, and once again, I'm in awe of the way the song can shape us.  Years after any one of us sang it, we could still remember all the words.  I'm not sure I could say that about a Gospel text that I hadn't read in 40 years.

I read the work of many church thinkers who tie themselves into knots and pretzel shapes about the best way to teach children and to transmit our faith.  While I enjoy these pedagogical debates as much as the next  person, maybe it's time to go back to something more basic. 

Let's start singing again.  That spark will flame up through the years and keep our fires lit.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Seasonal Shifts

When the late winter cold settles in for another stay--or maybe it never left--we wonder if the frozen ponds will ever thaw.

We examine the landscape for signs of a seasonal shift.  Has the red bird always lived here or is it a new part of the neighborhood?  Are we seeing a red bird or just a bit of bark?

We look for new growth, but some days, all we see are the same Christmas crimsons of the berries.

We have to look at the borders to see the new shoots, the promise of new growth.

And one day, when we least expect it, a daffodil announces the dawn of spring.

Redemption is just around the corner. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 8, 2015:

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm: Psalm 19

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Gospel: John 2:13-22

Ah, the moneychangers in the temple! Many of us as children (and perhaps as adults) loved this tale. Finally, a non-wimpy Jesus. A Jesus who wasn't afraid to take on the religious establishment. As a sullen teenager, I looked around church and thought, boy, Jesus would have his work cut out for him here.

Don't get the wrong idea--I wasn't going to some church that was transgressing on any large scale, and not on any small scale, that I knew about. I just looked around and saw lots of hypocrisy. Look at all this gold, I would say. We could sell the offering plates and give the money to the poor. Why do we all buy church clothes? We could come in our jeans, and give the money that we would have spent on fancy clothes to the poor. Why don't we invite the poor to our potluck dinners?

In retrospect, I'm surprised my parents still talk to me. What a tiresome child/teen I must have been, so self-righteous, so sure of everyone's faults and shortcomings.

As I've gotten older, I've become interested in this story from the moneychangers point of view. We often assume that the moneychangers were scurrilous men, out to make easy money, and I'm sure that some of them were.

However, I suspect that the majority of them would have told you that they were making salvation possible.

Under the old covenant, people had to go to the temple to make sacrifices to wash their sins away (it's a simplified version of a complicated theology, but let me continue for a few sentences). People who farmed had animals for sacrifice. Those who didn't, or those who came from far away, had to buy their sacrifice on site. And they needed help from the moneychangers and the animal sellers.

These people didn't know that Jesus had come to make a new covenant possible. They got up, went about their personal business, went to work, took care of their families--all the stuff that you and I do. They weren't focused on watching for the presence of God. They didn't know that they had been called to make way for a new Kingdom. They didn't know that the new Kingdom was breaking through, even as they showed up at their day jobs.

We might take a look at our own modern lives and institutions. In what ways do we think we're participating in God's law/kingdom/plan?  Are we doing the best we can? 

We might also take a look at our own modern institutions, especially religious ones. Where are we participating in God's plan? If Jesus showed up, what would he see as problematic? And how would we respond, if he pointed out something that needed some Spring cleaning, and it turned out that it was something we really cherished or thought that we were doing well?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Wisdom of Children

I was moved by this post on Bookgirl's site.  Her daughter created a beautiful piece of writing that explains why it's important to share resources.

I love these moments when the wisdom of children reminds me of why social justice should be simple.  I had a similar moment yesterday when I was taking my sister and 8 year old nephew to the airport.

My husband was trying to do an impression (of who?  I can't remember) and said, "Or am I channeling Henry Kissinger?" and I said, "Don't channel that evil man."

My nephew said, "Why is Henry Kissinger evil?"

I said, "Well, I probably shouldn't call him evil.  He just had a habit of supporting leaders who slaughtered their own people."  I was thinking primarily of Pinochet, but I didn't want to go into too much detail--I'm not sure I want to be the one who first lets children know of the scope of possible atrocity.

"Why would they slaughter their own people?" my nephew asked.  "They could just run away."

My spouse said, "But then they wouldn't have the money and the power."

My nephew said, "You don't need money and power.  You just need yourself!"

Well said.  I'm not sure how we translate that to global policy issues, but I'm glad that he seems clear about these issues on a personal level:  avoid ramped up conflict by running away if you have to do so, and always remember that you need yourself more than you need money and power.

I could argue that much spiritual wisdom boils down to what my nephew already knows.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dolphins in the Intracoastal

Yesterday, the weather turned perfect:  bright blue skies and blazing sun.  My sister got increasingly dire winter weather alert warnings on her phone, but they were for Maryland.  We continued to play in the pool, although it's quite chilly.

Later in the afternoon, worn out by all the sun and phone, we took naps.  When we got up, some of us were groggy, some a bit cranky, and one person was ready for a walk.

We had about decided that we wouldn't go, and then we did.  We walked down to the Intracoastal Waterway, where we got to see the bridge go up.  I thought that might be the highlight.

But when we walked down to the marina, we got the real highlight.  We saw the graceful swoop of a dolphin's back.  And then there were more!  We counted about 7.

Some of the boats in the Intracoastal noticed them too, but some just kept zooming by.  The restaurants that line the other bank had some patrons taking pictures, while others seemed uninterested.  Uninterested or unaware?

It would have been easy to miss, after all.  The dolphins' backs were the same color as the water, and if you didn't notice the fin, you might have thought you were seeing a swoosh of water from a passing boat.

I thought of how we almost missed the sight altogether--if we hadn't gone for a walk, we wouldn't have seen the dolphins.  But that's not all.  If we had decided not to walk to the marina, we wouldn't have seen them either.

I thought of all the people who were there too, but oblivious.  And that led me to think about all the other wondrous sightings I might be missing as I hurry through the day.

It was good to have time to take a simple walk.  It was good to be reminded of the wonders of our planet.  I said a prayer of gratitude and a prayer of hope that I'll continue to notice them.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Monastery Dog: A Brief PhotoEssay

Yesterday I wrote this post which was in part about a monastery dog. 

Here is a picture of the dog at the retreat center where visitors stay. 

And here's a picture of the dog at the labyrinth.  Does he walk the labyrinth when we're not around?

Notice that the monastic vow of hospitality extends to dogs.  Someone built this stray dog a house, complete with a welcome mat:

If it was a week ago, I'd have already been on the road for several hours on my way to the monastery. I am grateful for this place, which extends hospitality to stray dogs and wayfaring strangers and fellow monks and anyone who comes to them.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Monastery Dog and the Coffeemaker that Speaks to Satellites

This week, I thought I'd write a poem about the monastery dog.  At first I felt sorry for the monastery dog.  She seemed so eager for attention.  I thought about all the children who would never be part of her world.

Yet as my week-end at the monastery proceeded, I decided that the monastery dog was lucky.  She had a never-ending supply of visitors who would likely pet her.  The monks would take care of her.  Not every community has taken a vow of hospitality, after all. She could have been abandoned to a much worse fate.

And she had vast fields at her disposal.  No cooped up back yards for her.  Her joy at racing across the grounds made me happy too.

So, did I write that poem?  No, not yet. 

Instead, as I was catching up on old NPR shows, this line leapt out at me:  "My coffee maker is texting me again."  The rest of the show talked about technology and smart appliances (meaning wired and communicative) and smart houses. 

I thought, oh great, just what I need, inanimate objects announcing their needs.  Get in line, inanimate objects.  I thought about the coffee maker, who assumes its needs should take priority, and its bleating of its needs by way of text--a metaphor for modern life, to be sure.

I thought about Mepkin Abbey and the new retreat center:

The roof is made of copper.  The guestmaster monk said that an unexpected benefit of the roof is that copper blocks cell phone signals.

All of these items converged in my brain this morning.  The quote above starts my poem:  "My coffee maker is texting me again."

And I end this way:

I dream of draping every roof
in copper to block connectedness.
Once it seemed miraculous to speak to satellites.
Now I long for silence.