31 Days of Photo Journaling: Day One – An Introduction

At the beginning of September, I had such high hopes for this year’s 31-day series. I wrote the introductory theme piece several weeks ago and never got back to add more. So I have decided to change course! I will be joining Kate Montaug’s 5 Minute Friday 31 day group, writing on a particular theme each day of the 31 days of October. Hopefully, it will happen each and every day this month. Time will tell, right?

So here is the intro piece to the first series I planned to write. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try this series idea next year!

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It’s (almost!) October again, and for the sixth year in a row, I am joining Crystal Stine’s 31 Day Challenge, choosing a theme to write on every day of the month. I am trying to be just a tiny bit more intentional about this blog space again, despite the loss of subscribers I experience every time I write here!

This space has been an important part of my life for the last decade and I’d like that to continue. One way for me to do that is to be disciplined about writing short, hopefully pithy, posts on a daily basis whenever the invitation arises. And this invitation is a big one! So . . . “once more, into the breach,” right?

The theme I’ve chosen for this year is Photo-Journaling, something I love to do and can easily transfer here. I take pictures a lot. A lot. And I always have — even before the invention of phone cameras! It’s a way of documenting, remembering and reflecting on my life. My photo folders tell our story as a family, my story as a pastor and as a child of God/wife/mother/grandmother/friend. I have often used my photos to organize my blog posts or my newsletters, weaving words around the pictures as I go. Something about the combination of the photo and the words tells the story more completely.

So here are a few thoughts for day one of our journey together this year. The photo above was taken on one of the walks I take several times each week. My husband and I have headed for the marina in our town quite a lot during the last few weeks and always see something fun/interesting/educational/inspiring when we do. This particular late afternoon was an interesting one. The fog had rolled out about midday, sitting like a lurking giant just beyond the breakwater. It was a low roll, however, leaving space for the clear blue skies which had become our predominant view just a few blocks further inland.

As we walked out on that concrete barrier that protects millions of dollars worth of yachts and fishing boats, a small sailboat was cutting across the water at exactly the right angle for me to capture both the fog and the blue, blue sky behind it. Something about that image grabbed my heart. I saw myself as that little boat, sailing across the vast mystery that is our life as followers of Jesus. Sometimes thick fog blurs my view and feels as though it is limiting my options. But what I need to remember during those times is that the blue sky is still there, somewhere just above me, encircling both my small boat/life and the fog bank, no matter how huge it may appear to be at any given moment. And that boat is heading straight for safe haven, making a bee-line for the harbor entrance. That’s where I want to be — en route home.

Can I hear an ‘amen?’

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 – Day One

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Our bodies still groaning from exorbitant amounts of delicious food spread generously across our tables during the biggest holiday of the fall season, today’s move into Advent feels abrupt and vaguely out of focus.

Nevertheless, the time is now.

Now is the time to prepare for his coming.

Now is the time to begin the long wait.

Now is the time to light the candle, to sing the old, sweet songs, to read from the prophets and the gospels, to pick up the subtlest hint of evergreen in the air.

Now is the time to make space for the longing, to seek the ‘desire of the nations,’ to turn our eyes and our hearts toward Bethlehem, towards the truest home we can ever know this side of heaven.

Are you ready?

Welcome to Advent!

31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Fourteen

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This was the view from that place of shadow and light I wrote about yesterday! A.Ma.Zing, right? The entire San Gabriel Valley was laid out below me, from the San Gabriel mountains all the way out to the foothills near Whittier and Covina. Stunning — there is no other word for it.

But. This view is not available to me while I’m walking the streets of Pasadena, where my husband and I spent 26 years of our lives. Nor is it available to my daughter and her family who live in Monrovia, just down the road a piece from my location that day. It’s there. It’s always there. But . . . unless you step out of your daily life for a bit and climb upwards, you truly have no clue.

Which is exactly why I am a big believer in retreats, especially retreats that take you somewhere with a unique vantage point . . . a view. What is about an expansive view that opens our souls?

Lots of things, I think.

We’re reminded of our own smallness, which is always a good thing. In the day to day, we can easily become overwhelmed with the myriad details and commitments of our lives. Taking intentional time away for a few hours can bring relief from that narrow focus.

A wide angle view also causes us to breathe more deeply — both physically and emotionally. Climb a bit of a hill and then turn around and look at what’s beneath you. I guarantee you will gasp, just a little bit. The wonder of it all forces your body to breathe differently for a second — and that is a very good thing. Learning to breathe with intentionality is a great prayer practice and often goes hand in hand with paying attention. If you live in a two-story house, just climbing the stairs and gazing out a window can sometimes do this very thing.

So . . . take a break. For 30 minutes or for a week! Lift yourself out of the dailyness for a small moment in time and see what you can see while you’re there.

You might be astonished.

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Full to the Brim . . .

Some days are like that. Just full, mostly of good stuff — gratitude, relief, satisfaction, contentment. Today was that kind of day for me. This helped:

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a 15-minute power walk on a wide beach this afternoon

The last few weeks? Not so much.

Two different days in the dentist’s chair, two overnight, quick turn-arounds to southern CA, one for a Grandparents’ Day, one for a memorial service for a friend of forty years. Unseasonably hot weather, with a rainstorm thrown in here and there, aching muscles from who knows what, a shorter fuse than usual, which I always find slightly disorienting. Who’s here right now, making me feisty and discontent?

It was Lunch with Mom Day again today, something I love more each time I do it. The change in my mom’s meds has wrought a near-miraculous change in her demeanor and happiness level. As I gazed at her sweet face across the table from me today, I found this glorious sense of fullness moving right up into my eyeballs and then spilling gently out onto my face. I am stunned at how much I love her, how grateful I am to see glimpses of the mama I once knew, to celebrate with her the change we both observe and take delight in. I have no clue how long this will last, but I am determined to inhale all of it for however long she’s here.

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she is savvy enough to recognize that my phone is also a camera these days!

On Saturday afternoon, we sat packed into the downstairs of our former church home, remembering with joy and gratitude the life of Roland Tabell, the Director of Worship in that place for almost 40 years. He planned his own service pretty much, and I thought some of it might be awkward and difficult. As it turned out, he knew better! About 250 of us sat and listened to a recording made about 35 years ago of a musical drama he had co-written and I helped to produce. And immediately, we were back there, rejoicing in the Lord’s gifts to us during those years. 

I think maybe that’s why our Scripture urges us so often to remember. It is good to tell our story, to celebrate it, not to wallow in it or regret it, but to re-connect with God’s work in the past as a means of re-discovering God at work in the present and anticipating its continuation into the future. We too often forget to do that, especially when we feel discouraged about the state of the world, or the state of our own souls.

People traveled from across the state and across the country to be there. Long threads were re-gathered into a lovely afternoon tapestry, one that will help sustain us, even as we return to our separate stories now.

I am grateful today. What about you?

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I include here the words I was asked to share at Roland’s service on Saturday. Some who read this blog knew him and could not be there with us. And I would like to put this ‘on record’ somewhere. He was a hugely important part of our story, Dick’s and mine, and we miss him already.

Remembering Roland
by Diana Trautwein (with help from Dick)
April 16, 2016 at Pasadena Covenant Church

It was the summer of 1963. I had just finished my first year at UCLA, where I met and began dating a guy named Dick Trautwein, and that summer, Dick was recruited by some friends to join their church softball team. That church was this church. As a player, Dick was required to attend one worship service per month, and we opted to come on Sunday evenings. We sat up there in the balcony, enjoying the breeze that wafted in from the then wide-open stained glass window, listening to Paul Larsen preach and watching as Roland Tabell led the congregation in worship from the piano.

Flash forward to 1975. We were now married, the parents of three little kids, aged 7, 5 and 3, living in Altadena, and looking for a neighborhood church after six years of commuting to my home church in Glendale. We chose to come here, at least partly because of that lovely summer experience twelve years earlier, and from the moment of our first Sunday morning worship service here, with Mel White preaching, the sanctuary filled with color and creativity and Roland Tabell still leading worship and also . . . directing a choir, a really good church choir — I knew immediately that I wanted to sing in that choir, I wanted to sing in Roland’s choir.

That was the beginning of a 21-year relationship with this community and a 40 plus year relationship with Roland and Betty. I would say that those two relationships — this community of people and the denomination from which they sprang and the Tabells — have been among the very best of God’s gifts to us over the course of our 50 year marriage.

I’d sung in choirs my whole life but this church choir was different from any of them, primarily because Roland was different from any choral director I’d ever seen. He was beyond gifted, never indulged in histrionics of any kind, was uniquely open to creative new ways of doing things, was always prodigiously arranging, researching, selecting anthems of power and beauty, helping us all to be the best possible singers we could be on two hours of practice per week.

He was soft-spoken, humble, nimble at the keyboard, thoughtfully reflective, always reading, asking questions, thinking things through from a different angle. I volunteered in his office two mornings per week for about a dozen years, helping to produce both of the musicals that he and Bryan Leech created together, gathering props, organizing costumes and music folders, even painting the choir room and hanging mini-blinds in those fall colors so popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. I have photos somewhere of Clara and Larry Spence helping me to hang those dang blinds!

During the early years of our friendship, Roland and Dick discovered a shared love for tennis, and played singles with each other weekly for twenty years. As couples, we traveled together to Hawaii, with Roland doing all the planning, finding great accommodations for not much money, even setting up side trips and must-see tourist experiences for us all. I remember stepping into one of those boats at the Cultural Center on Oahu and some other tourist recognizing him from a band they’d played in together years before –a Hawaiian band. Hawaiian band? Roland? When we all questioned him about it, he tossed it off, like he tossed off the years of music in the army, and the broad knowledge he had of all musical permutations from Gregorian chant through slack key guitar. He traveled easily through every musical genre (with the possible exception of hip-hop and rap), using it all to the glory of God and the enrichment of his chosen community of worshippers.

But here’s what I remember the most about this man, and here’s where his life intersected mine in ways that were profound and transformative. Roland saw gifts in people, and he called them out. He was the first person to ask me, in all seriousness, “Hey, have you ever considered being a pastor? You’ve really got the gifts for that.” That was in the late 70’s, after I had to fill in at the last minute for someone who became ill and ended up leading an entire worship service on the fly. It took about ten years for me to heed those words and to see in them God’s prophetic call on my own life. Time and again, he gave me opportunity to use my gifts — musically, administratively, devotionally. He pushed me and he pushed others into the front of things, always ready to step back, to stand in the shadows, providing encouragement, insightful critique, and even a little arm-twisting, from time to time.

He was such a gifted man. Even more remarkably, given the depth and breadth of those gifts, he was such a good man. His presence in this place was gift, from beginning to end. He was faithful and true, strong and steady, winsome, occasionally quirky, and always interesting. I thank God for his life, I thank God for the ways in which his life intersected my own, I thank God for Roland Tabell.

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The Joy of Poetry — a Book Review

I don’t ‘do’ poems. But I do do poetry. I have always loved it. Maybe because my first, early foray into public speaking involved reading one dramatically. Remember “Casey at the Bat?” Yeah, well, I recited it for a teacher’s luncheon when I was in grade school, coached by my mama. It was well received and quite fun, as I recall. So I kept reading poetry. Regularly.

I am not a particular fan of studying poems, to tell you the truth. Dissection is not my forte. But reading it is a favorite pastime — I have a couple of entire shelves in my personal library dedicated to poetry collections, some of them quite worn and threadbare.

So when I discovered my friend Megan Willome was working on a book about poetry, I was delighted and waited eagerly for that tome to fall into my greedy little hands. She does not disappoint, this Megan. No, she does not. At all.

“The Joy of Poetry: how to keep, save, & make your life with poems,” is exactly what the title says it is — a joy. She sprinkles all kinds of poems throughout this small book, among them some of her own, written in a time of grief and loss as her mother was dying of cancer. I read that entire cycle of poems on her blog before I ever met her and felt as if I had discovered a sister heretofore unknown to me. My own mom was beginning the long downhill slide into dementia and I resonated with every word of her beautiful collection. Every word.

Be advised that I know nothing about poetic forms, styles, line breaks or other specialized vocabulary. I simply know what I like, what ‘speaks’ to me, what makes me think/cry/laugh/wonder/reflect. Because I know so little about the formal grammar of the genre, I have never attempted to create what I always understood to be ‘poetry’ with my own hand and mind. However, as I read through Megan’s lovely reflections, as I marked lines and printed small asterisks and dogeared page corners, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve been going about this whole poetry thing the wrong way.

Megan’s book underlines the importance of integrating the poetic into everyday life, it encourages us to look for poetry in the mundane, in our favorite music, in the books we read, in our conversations, in our lived experience. And after I finished the book (which took me little time at all, even with all the ah-ha-ing and the underlining), I had a great big ah-ha moment of my own. Because of my own particular faith and professional journey, the poetry of my life — and the poetry that has come via my own mind and hand — looks like this: prayer. The prayers I love to read, the prayers I memorize, the prayers I write . . . are pretty much all poems. Who knew??

Although I know faith to be part of Megan’s own story, it does not make much of an appearance in this particular book. For me, that’s a small hole in the fabric of an otherwise gorgeous tapestry of love and delight. I loved reading about her ‘poetry buddy’ relationships with a couple of other friends of mine and appreciated the practical suggestions that serve as a kind of appendix to the end of this slim volume. Most of all, I loved Megan’s own words. Here are a few of my favorites:

on spying a small purple flower in an alleyway: “Between the trash can and the gas meter stood spring.”

“But taking poems in small doses, one a day, or even one a week, is like a soaker hose for the soul.”

While pondering her mom’s imminent death:
After she’s gone will I still orbit her earth?

     Will her tides still move my every wave?”

“How much more good poetry might be generated if we didn’t endlessly evaluate our efforts — if we wrote, and wrote and wrote and got through the bad, the sentimental, the therapeutic and made way for the occasional good poem?”

“Why write poetry? Because poets have perfect pitch.”

“Poetry has the power to transform the truth.”

“Poetry is my prescription for adversity. It can touch hidden places in ways prose can’t. When I am heartbroken and read a poem that seems to have been written from someone else’s dark place, I can sit among the broken eggshells and know I’m not alone. I don’t need to know how the eggshells got broken.”

So here’s the upshot for me: I loved reading this book. I loved learning a little bit more about her life, about how she thinks, about how she works. I loved the poems she selected and the topics she wrote about. Maybe most of all, I love that her thoughtful work has pushed me to think more poetically about about my life, about my relationship with my mom, about why poetry is so important to me. An added bonus is the impetus for new prayer writing/wrangling, which seems to be the way in which I can personally wrestle with the poet within. Maybe a small collection for each Sunday of the year? Yeah, that’s a poetry joy for me.

Thank you, Megan! And thank you, T.S. Poetry Press.

Here is a link to this lovely volume – it’s available in paperback and Kindle format.

And Then . . . There Is Light

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And it looks like music and laughter.

My mama’s neurologist has slowly been re-introducing her to Aricept since the new year. Initially, her caregivers and I were not at all sure about this. She was easily frightened, tearful and terribly, terribly confused for several weeks. At the same time, we also began to notice slight cognitive improvements here and there. So we hung in there, letting her hole-y brain slowly catch on to the new med.

I am so glad we did.

About two weeks ago, we began to see noticeable signs of improvement and my mom became a much happier and more restful person to be with, generally happy to be alive, delighted to see the sunshine, enjoying the taste of good food.

And she started to sing again. Praises be.
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When I arrived to pick her up for lunch today, she was seated in her chair in the corner, with sunlight streaming through the window behind her. On her lap was one of her small menagerie of stuffed animals, this one a teddy bear, and she was speak-singing something to him.

“Hi, Mom! How are you today? Watcha doing?” I sang to her from the doorway.

“Oh, I’m just telling my friend here about the cross, that old rugged cross.”

“Great idea,” said I, “no better thing to talk about.”

And she began to sing in her quavery alto a few lines from that old hymn.

As we drove south through the hazy sunlight, she sang it off and on, until I found one on YouTube and played it for her to sing along with on my iPhone. I sang in my own quavery alto (!!), and she was delighted.

The lines of that old hymn kept reoccurring to her throughout our lunch on the wharf, showing up whenever the space between us was not filled with conversation. It has always pleased and astonished me that so many old song lyrics are still in there, somehow conserved through all the jumbled mess of her synapses. I am so pleased to hear them again. So pleased.

Always when we meet, it is happening-for-the-first-time-all-over-again. Always, she is delighted to take an adventure outside. Always, she loves driving in the car. 

Always.

There is seldom any memory of our many previous visits to the same place, especially as we are on our way. “We come out here every few days, Mom,” I tell her with a smile. 

“Are you sure it was me you took?” she asks sincerely.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I tell her. 

“Oh, well,” she says, “My brain is kinda weird, isn’t it?”

“Yup, Mama, it is. It is.”

Today there was a large cruise ship in port. This always means many, MANY more people in the waterfront area, and more people in all the local restaurants. The wait staff at our favorite place to sit and savor the view was hard-pressed to keep up with today’s onslaught. And while we were looking out the window, talking about how many children I have and how old they are (at least five times in the space of fifteen minutes), this sweet and funny thing happened:

The words to that old hymn came out of my mama’s mouth, though this time they were spoken rather than sung. That, in itself, is a small miracle, as the tune is usually required to spark that space in her diminishing memory bank. 

“So I’ll cling to that old rugged cross,” she said.

Pause.

“And exchange it some day for a crown.”

Pause.

“And sometime in between there, it would be really good if I could have a little something to eat!”

I tell you, I guffawed. And so did she. What a delightful moment that was. A brilliant flash of the mom I have known most of my life — quick witted, deadpan delivery, followed by riotous laughter.

That was much more satisfying to me than any single piece of the meal we enjoyed together today.

With the possible exception of a phenomenal scoop of vanilla ice cream which we shared, courtesy of the kitchen, in apology for the extended wait time today.

Now that, my friends, is a very good day. Very good, indeed.

Dearest Addie . . . (a letter, a book review and a synchroblog)

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Do you remember this lovely box, exploding with sunshine?

I surely do. It arrived on my doorstep in the earliest days of my recovery from nasty foot surgery, in mid-June, 2014. I’d injured myself and then discovered there was a whole lot more goin’ on in that dang foot than what I’d done to it. I was facing into a long recovery (much longer than we knew back then) and I was feeling L O W.

And then a lot of my internet friends did some remarkable things, and YOU were among the first. YOU sent me this box of yellow love. Every bright and lovely piece of this glory broke right through my sadness, my loneliness, my pain (both physical and emotional), and helped me to hang on during a long and difficult time in my life.

Now, sweetheart — look again at that date up there, okay? 2 0 1 4. Just a few short months after the journey you took with your boys, that long trek to Florida and back, the one you’ve written about so magnificently well in this new book of yours:

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I had no idea you had struggled so earlier in that year. But somehow, it seemed important, as I write this strange epistle/review/blog post, it seemed important for me to remind you of how good, kind, thoughtful, insightful, intuitive and gifted you are even when you’re in the middle of a long, dark season in your own spiritual journey.

BTW, that cover? One of the best depictions of what’s actually inside the book that I’ve about ever seen. Genius! Not all of this tender journal was easy to read. I hate that you do battle with depression, that you sometimes have such a low view of your own, wonderful self. So some of this was painful to read. 

But all of it was so good to read. Because what you come to, where you arrive, as you drive through the cold and the dark, as you deal with two pre-schoolers caged inside a small space for hours at a time, as you read your first book aloud in small town libraries and book stores and church basements, as you stay with friends and family, as you struggle to get those boys to sleep, as you eat at way too many MacDonald’s, and do a little bit (a very little bit) of sight-seeing — what you come to, in the end, is yourself. 

And that, my dear, is the point. The goal. The reward. In this second book, you continue to do the good work started in “When We Were on Fire,” the good work of jettisoning the crap gathered in way too many rah-rah, emotion-heavy, guilt-inducing, misguided youth events. And you begin to see the light. The LIGHT. The truth that the Jesus walk is not so much about ‘re-discovering’ the emotional highs of adolescence, but about the steady, day-by-day commitment to putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s about seeing the light in small things, like the sun shining on your son’s hair, or smelling the first real cup of coffee after too many cups of tea, (or, if you’re a tea-drinker like I am, savoring the spicy scent of chai after too many stale coffee-breath greetings from friends!). It’s about accepting the truth that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are pretty much meaningless terms when we’re talking about real life. It’s about letting go of the lists — you know the lists! Those things we’re ‘supposed’ to do to be ‘good’ Christians, the things we’re supposed to feel, or even believe, in order to pass muster.

It’s about letting go of all of that, and leaning hard into the truth of grace. It’s about learning to trust that there is not one thing we can do or not do that will make God love us any less or any more than God already does. It’s about breathing in and breathing out and saying the name of Jesus when we do. It’s about seeing and being seen. It’s about really, really, living. Not ‘living it up,’ not living on an emotional high forever, not even ‘living for Jesus,’ whatever the heck that means.

It’s about living real. Because I’m here to tell  you, there is NOTHING more real than God, even when God seems absent, even when you’re driving in the dark of night, even when you’re struggling hard to re-create old experiences that simply are no longer possible or even desirable. You put it beautifully on page 225 (and a lot of other places, too, but this one’s the shortest:

“It’s not up to me to flip on the lights. the Light is already here.”

YES, Addie!! Yes, yes, yes. The Light is already here.

Thank you for writing this searingly honest book, for owning your own weaknesses, for showing us the shadow side. And here’s why I thank  you — because with  your exceptional writing grace, your skill, you illustrate this powerful truth: the shadow side is our teacher. Yes, there are parts of the shadow that we need to shine a bright, harsh light on, that we need to clean up and clear out. BUT . . . those shadow parts of us are also primary avenues through which God can show us more about grace, more about love, more about the human condition, more about truth than anywhere else. Like Barbara Brown Taylor (another one of my FAVES) in “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” you have shown us more about the light than any 1000 titles about sunshine-theology. 

So, I thank you. I thank you for the box of sunshine at a dark time in my own journey. And I thank you for this beautiful book. May you be blessed beyond measure by the way people respond to it.

Much, much love,

Diana

Oh! Before I go, I wanted to share with  you a couple of quotes that landed in my inbox today from a journal I subscribed to for many years, one that I used frequently in sermon prep and for devotional reading. It’s called “Weavings,” and if you don’t know it, I highly recommend it. These were in a monthly devo kinda thing, but each of them spoke to some of what “Night Driving” deals with, so I thought maybe you might enjoy them:

As people of faith, we need to remember that the resurrection tosses out all standard expectations and measurements of failure and success. Neither failure nor success is good or evil; both can result in growth, stagnation, or regression. In our struggle with failure and success, we may find a hidden strength as we commend our spirits to our Creator and seek to yield our lives to love. Our challenge is to have faith—in failure, in success, in whatever life brings. The unexpected turns, the painful endings, the precarious beginnings are all part of the path of faith, where we are reminded with each step that the resurrection did not happen only once long ago—it happens each day of our lives.  — Jean M. Blomquist, “Weavings”

Pure faith hears the full silence of God, and believes—for the absence of God touches one’s thirst more than the presence of everything else. “In the desert we go on serving the God whom we do not see, loving [the God] whom we do not feel, adoring [the God] whom we do not understand, and thanking [the God] who has taken from us everything but [God’s self]” (Charles Cummings,Spirituality and Desert Experience). In time, the search becomes the goal, the longing becomes sufficient unto itself, and the perseverance transforms the meaning of success. Then some quiet evening, perhaps by full moon, it becomes strangely self-evident that we would not be searching had we not already been found. And the desert blooms when we find ourselves willing to be last—not because the last may become first, but because the game of “firsts” and “lasts” is no longer of interest.” — W. Paul Turner, “Weavings.” 

Eyes to See — A Book Review . . . and a Giveaway!!

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This book is a beautiful and deeply true gift to the world. It is a book to be savored, read over time, with pen in hand and fingertips at the ready — ready to bend down corners of page after page after page . . .

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Christie Purifoy invites us into her life, one year in her life, to be exact. Moving through the seasons from autumn through summer, from late pregnancy to early toddlerhood, from the wilderness of Florida to the welcoming joys of a very old house on a hilltop in Pennsylvania, she lets us see life through her eyes.

And what beauty-seeking eyes she has! Her reflections on the life she lives are deep, rich, honest and gloriously articulate and thoughtful. Maplehurst is an old, brick farmhouse, now surrounded by a brand-new neighborhood of tract homes, a place far from family, yet a place that becomes home in every way you can think of.

Along the way, she reflects on things like post-partum depression, sleep deprivation, gardening (oh my, gardening!!!), the liturgical year, life, death, joy, sorrow. She reflects on this life we live, all of us, but she does it in a way too few of us take the time to — and with a skill very few of us enjoy. 

I’ve pulled out some sloppy photos of a few favorite passages, but believe me when I tell you this — there are too many to count. 

On what following in the steps of the Magi might really be about:

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On caring for the dying of things as well as the living of things:

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On enjoying beauty — the beauty that is easy to spot and the beauty that we must earnestly seek, each and every day.

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I am delighted to offer a brand new copy of this remarkable book. If you are interested in having your name dropped in the hat, please say so in the comments. I’ll select a winner one week from today and post your name on the blog and on Facebook. I can’t think of a better gift to offer you, my friends. Truly.

Touching the Holy

Every once in a while, life grants me a transcendent moment. Often, this happens when I am out of doors, gaping at the sea, the mountains, a redwood forest; snorkeling above coral reefs, standing in the wind on the deck of a ship, or staring down at the world from 35,000 feet. These moments are gifts, glimpses of the Mystery, those thin places between earth and heaven, a place/person/? which I choose to believe is much nearer to us than we can imagine, close enough to touch.

And once in a while, we do.

Music is often an entryway to heaven for me. Especially choral music. I’ve written before about my lifelong love for choral singing — listening to it, but mostly, singing it. Standing with a larger group of singers, making Beauty together is a privilege and a joy; I do not take it for granted.

Here is an example of a small piece of music that was instrumental in my own deeper awakening to the Spirit about twenty years ago. It is an audio recording of a piece that hit me right between the eyes when first I heard it up in the tower office that was mine when I worked on staff in our home church. I have listened to it hundreds of times and always, always  it moves me to tears and wonder. I had the privilege of singing it (though we did not sing it very well, I fear) in the choir I joined last year. This is one piece of nine that are part of a spectacular requiem mass written by Maurice Durufle, a French composer from the early-to-mid 20th century. There are frequently changing time signatures and many different keys throughout the entire mass, but this piece is one of the simpler ones, as written. But it is the most difficult to sing exactly right. Robert Shaw and his famous Chorale got it exactly right. Close your eyes and let this music wash over you.

“Sanctus” – by Maurice Durufle, using the text of the requiem Mass:

Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth,
pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis! Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis!

Holy, Lord God of hosts.
The heavens and the earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He Who cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Do you see what I mean? Or perhaps this particular piece doesn’t lead you across the threshold in the same way it did me. I’m willing to bet however, that somewhere in your life there is one piece — or perhaps several — that help you to do just that.

Last week, our choir met again to prepare for our spring concert. We are doing a variety of anthems and folk songs, about five of which we’ve looked at so far. Of those five, two of them, TWO OF THEM, opened that door to the Holy in me as we sight-read them. The act of sight-reading is exhilarating, all by itself. It is one of my favorite things to do in the world: to take a stack of unseen music and work through it for the first time. So fun.

But these two? Oh, glory! The words simply stopped me. STOPPED me. And the close harmonies and moving choral parts? Well  . . . that was three days ago and I am still awash with gratitude and glory.  This first one pretty well sums up what I believe and have experienced with music . . . sing me to heaven, indeed.

“Sing Me to Heaven,” words by Jane Griner, music by Daniel E. Gawthrop

In my heart’s sequestered chambers lie truths stripped of poets’ gloss
Words alone are vain and vacant, and my heart is mute
In response to aching silence, memory summons half-heard voices
And my soul finds primal eloquence, and wraps me in song
If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
sing me a requiem, sing me to Heaven
Touch in me all love and passion, pain and pleasure
Touch in me grief and comfort, love and passion, pain and pleasure
Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a requiem
Love me, comfort me, bring me to God
Sing me a love song, sing me to Heaven

And number two? Yes, yes. This is the cry of my heart for me and for all those I know and love who are struggling to see God in the midst of their pain, to believe in the midst of crushing doubt, to take a step into the unknown when it feels dark and murky and above all, lonely. 

I invite you to take steps into the holy, my friends. To look for thresholds in your day-to-day living, to ask for eyes to see and ears to hear. May you find small moments when loneliness recedes and hope rises, rises, rises.

“Even When He Is Silent” – music by Kim Andre Arnesen
          The text for the piece was found in a concentration camp after World War 2:
          The key signature encourages director and singer to set the metronome for 54 per quarter note and adds these remarkable words, ‘with hope.’ Indeed, indeed.
I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.

Inspiration

Do you all know Seth Haines? He’s written one of the best books I read in 2015, “Coming Clean,” (reviewed here on this blog) He also writes an occasional Tiny Letter and was one of those who inspired me to begin writing my own version of that. In the last few of those letters, he has begun to do what he once did for a small group of email friends — provide inspiration for writing on a topic. Today’s letter inspired these thoughts and THIS  is what I need in my writing life right now. I’ve been tired, lethargic, uninspired for many months now. I’m sure that enervating fatigue is connected to the stresses of the last eighteen months or so, from foot surgery and recovery to emergency hospital stays, to a major move across town, interwoven with the continuing disappearance of my mother into the mists of dementia and the inevitable toll of a long life on the bodies and psyches of both my husband and myself. But today, his own reflection (which is stunningly gorgeous – go over to his blog and sign up for his letter right this minute!) invited me to just sit and reflect on the presence of God in the ordinary. My response to that invitation:


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The clouds are low to the ground this week, hovering over our city like a pale gray shawl, hiding the view, softening the noise, slowing my breath. Today’s clouds carry water, gentle but steady, trundling its way down the drainpipe behind the bedroom wall, glistening on the ground outside the sliding door.

I’ve just come from a long lunch with a friend, someone I trust, someone I love. And I heard such sadness, sadness I knew nothing about. And my eyes well with tears for her . . . and for me, because I did not know. And I did not ask. Until today.

The gray dampness of the day seemed appropriate somehow. And the Beauty in the midst of that gray was her lovely face, sincere, concerned, honest, receptive. We talked long past the 90 minutes of free parking and I left a more generous tip than usual. Story-sharing costs us something, you know? It is never cheap.

When I returned home, driving up the winding hill with the wipers going full tilt, I shared the saddest parts with my husband. He, too, was hit hard. He, too, feels that pull to re-commit to friendship, to share the load, to pay something for the privilege of inclusion, even if it costs nothing more than time and empathy. Those are never cheap, either, are they?

I made myself some tea, a new flavor – Peppermint Chocolate – and settled into reading and writing for a while. But my eye was caught by some new blooms on the vine that covers our low-slung back fence, the one over which we usually have a soaring city and mountain view. The wide view is unavailable during this grayness, this shawl-covering season. But the narrow one is always there.

I took my camera out into the gentle rain and aimed it toward those gold and lavender throated cups that were pointing every which way along the rail. The drops of water somehow multiplied their loveliness and I gasped as I gingerly stepped from concrete to grass to flagstone pavers. I snapped the pictures and I remembered a truth I too often neglect or downright forget: there is Beauty everywhere. Everywhere.

Even on a gray day, even when friends are sad, even when I forget to ask.

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Where are you finding Beauty in the midst of the grayness, in the humdrum of day-to-day life?