Monday, April 30, 2012

Happy 44th Birthday to My Husband

I didn't know about that scar on your finger - 
after 18 years together I'm
still discovering, learning
new things about you and
isn't that what marriage is -
committing to be a life-long learner of you
until there's nothing left to know except

Here's to 44 more years of
discovering scars on fingers from
accidents when we were children,
playing hide-and-seek in bookshops and
behaving like "one of my typhoid patients."
Let us laugh at being middle-aged,
act like teenagers in love and 
look forward to our twilight years
as though it's only dawn,
the beginning of an exquisite day.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

I Kings 19: A Tornado of Emotions

When Elijah reached Horeb he hid in a cave.  It was only then - 40 days later - that God asked him, "Elijah, what are you doing here?"  Elijah spewed forth an answer drenched in anger and frustration.  God told him to go stand on the mountain for He was about to pass by.  Elijah did so, and God proceeded to send a terrible wind that shattered rocks, an earthquake, and a fire, but He didn't pass by in any of those.  No, God appeared in the form of a gentle whisper.  He then asked Elijah a second time, "What are you doing here?"  Elijah gave the same response, word for word.  Or did he?

Elijah's first answer was filled with frustration and anger.  He let God have it, so to speak, and the underlying text is "Where were You?" and maybe even "I'm angry with You, God!"

I'd like to think that God appreciated Elijah's honesty.  Just as we present a carefully-scripted self to others, I think we often present to God only one aspect of ourselves, rather than our whole self.  We put on an act, in other words. But not Elijah, and God responded by sending a series of powerful, natural disasters. Yet if God only appeared in the gentle whisper, why did He send the wind, earthquake and fire? 

I used to think that God did it to display His power and to remind Elijah with Whom he was speaking, as if to say, "I could blast you if I wanted, but I won't... at least for now."  I don't think that anymore.  I think God - in a strange show of compassion - was giving a physical manifestation to the turmoil of emotions that seethed inside Elijah.  I think God was entering into Elijah's emotions and validating them, giving Elijah space to voice them completely.

Then came the gentle whisper, and we finally see the real emotions behind Elijah's anger: hurt, fear, rejection.  "God, where were You? I did everything You asked!"  Elijah finished expressing the intensity of his emotions, the physical world responded in solidarity, and now he cries out in vulnerable humanity, "I'm hurt. I'm afaid. I'm alone."

Only there, in the honesty of a softened and raw heart, do Elijah and God have a meaningful dialogue.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Kings 19: The Power of Food

To set the scene, I Kings 19 begins with Elijah running for his life.  He's just pulled off two incredible miracles, has seen the power of God firsthand, and yet the words of one woman send him running for his life.  He dismisses his servant, travels a day's journey into the desert, and decides that he wants to die.  In other words, I Kings 19 begins with a cowardly, faithless, suicidal prophet.

If I were to imagine what God did next, I could guess several things:  1) Blast Elijah with a lightning bolt and incinerate him, 2) Give him the mother of all lectures and let him have it, or 3) Turn your back on him for being so faithless after such incredible displays of heavenly power.   But God didn't do that.  Oh no... God did something completely unexpected by human standards; He sent food. Yes, in I Kings 19 we have what might possibly be the world's first pizza delivery angel.
"All at once an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.' He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.  The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.' So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb." - vv. 5-8
There's something about food that breaks down walls, encourages fellowship, and facilitates meaningful conversations.  Put a hot cup of tea or coffee in someone's hand and the dialogue flows much easier than if they're sitting in a sterile office twiddling their thumbs.  Food nourishes, gives energy, and improves the mood, but that's not really what touches me here.

What touches me in this story is the incomprehensible compassion of God.  In many respects, Elijah had no reason to run for his life, let alone decide to end it!  He had no "right" to distrust God or walk away from his job.  But God never once chastised him.  He let Elijah vent, and then, without saying a word, put the kettle on and prepared a meal as if to say, "I understand. You are weary and afraid.  Here, take this and eat it.  I know the journey is too much for you."

A God who demonstrates such compassion in moments of weakness and failure completely overwhelms me.

I Kings 19: An Intro Explaining the Frenzy

I've been reading I Kings 19 like a kid in a candy store.  I can't get enough of it; there are so many stories and side stories that each speak to my soul somewhere deep. In fact, I'm so "hungry" for this chapter that I've read it in seven different translations and a few different languages, looking for more "crumbs" to be squeezed out of a word change here or a perspective shift there.

I can't remember a time when reading the Bible was so appealing to me that I couldn't get enough.  There were times when it came naturally and easily, there were times of reading that led to great growth, there were times when I read only out of "duty" or guilt, and there were times when I didn't want to read it at all.  But to read the same chapter over and over and over again... this is new for me.  I don't even know why this is so, or what prompted it.

I will share with you each of the "stories" in I Kings 19 that speaks to me, because I think it speaks to all of us on some level, but I'll break it up into smaller posts so the reading is a bit more manageable.  Can't wait to share!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Autumn Blossoms

There is always a tree blooming in South Africa, no matter the season.  This is one of the trees that flowers in autumn:

I love it how autumn leaves are falling off of certain trees while others are blooming.  It reminds me of people and how we're all at different stages of growth.  There is beauty in each stage, isn't there? (By the way, if anyone knows the name of this tree, please let me know!)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thoughts on Feeling Irritated

Perhaps you never become irritated by other people, but I am not so saintly. There is this one woman I know who never fails to irritate me.  No matter the day or what mood I'm in, her mannerisms and the things she says consistently rub me the wrong way.

This morning, I was complaining about her to my husband.  This afternoon, in the car, I suddenly had a thought:  if the last time I saw her was my last encounter with her ever, would I still have complained?  Surprisingly, the answer was no.  If I knew that my encounter with her was my last on earth, I think I would have tried to find something about her to appreciate.

So why does it make a difference whether it's the last time I see her or not?  It's a simple matter of perspective.  If I know I will see her often, I go into the encounter prepared to be irritated (which, by the way, is not only judging her, but subjugating her as well).  If I know it's the last time I'll ever see her, there is an awareness of her "otherness" - her uniqueness - and the reminder that she is to be respected and honoured.

I felt remorseful for being so petty and exclusive.  If I need to pretend that every time I see her is the last time, I will.  I only know that I want to honour her and respect her otherness rather than be irritated because she isn't like me.

"Every man is in some way my superior, in that I can learn from him." 
 - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, April 23, 2012

Thoughts on Appreciating Mystery

I've been thinking lately about the need of Westerners to have an answer for everything.  We seem to like having explanations and rationalisations for every little thing.  That which is unknown or unknowable bothers us because it is undefined.  In other words, we like to put things in neat, little boxes.

I am not speaking about the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. That is all well and good.  I am referring instead to the mysteries of life that can't be explained, the things that we would rather not deal with because we can't find the answers.  I wonder how much we miss because we won't entertain these mysteries with a sense of wonder and hospitality?
"The fruit of the Enlightenment has been a boringly small world devoid of both mystery and the sacred. Science offered us a brave new world of wonder-full technologies and products but has not lived up to its promises. A world devoid of mystery turns out to be a world that is too small for the human spirit. This is why Albert Einstein said, 'The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious... Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are diminished.'

"The great Jewish rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that there are two possible ways of knowing and responding to the world: the way of reason and the way of wonder. The way of reason seeks to eliminate mystery and bring the world under our control. The way of wonder accepts the mysteries of life and responds with something that is familiar to children but forgotten by most adults: awe."
-David Benner, Soulful Spirituality (Albert Einstein quote from Ideas and Opinions)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Thoughts on Seasons

"Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration." - Jeremiah 8:7

I love the different seasons - not only the beauty of each one but the purpose behind them as well.  Each season has such defined roles in terms of function.  I wonder how often we fail to realise that life has its seasons as well, and a purpose to each one.

(The photo is of some cupcakes I made to celebrate autumn here in South Africa (the toffee acorns were a tribute to my hometown in California, which boasts large oak trees)).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On Being Aware of the Pauses

Every symphony begins with silence.  The conductor raises the baton, there is a brief pause, and then he moves his arms, signaling the music to begin.  No one notices the pause, really, but it is this very pause about which I am curious. If we could freeze this pause - freeze the conductor with his baton poised artfully in the air - what would we notice? 
The audience has leaned forward a bit in their seats.  Perhaps they are unwittingly holding their breath.  Their eyes have opened a bit wider and their hearts beat slightly faster.  Perhaps the programmes are held carefully so as not to make noise.  The auditorium is absolutely silent except for one sound - the sound of this pause. 

It is the sound of anticipation, of hope.  It is the sound of every magical moment.  It is the sound of being enraptured.  And it is not only found just before a symphony.

The sound of this pause - so rich with possibility and potential - could easily be found before a conversation between two people if we would take the time to be aware of the sacredness of such a moment.  If we realised that every conversation with every person affects us in some way, the magnitude of the moment would fill the pause before that first word with the very same anticipation and hope.

Perhaps we might lean forward a bit or unwittingly hold our breath.  Perhaps our eyes would open a bit wider and our hearts beat slightly faster.  And perhaps we might notice and see with a new awareness how magical it is to connect with another human being.

Monday, April 16, 2012

An Interesting Quote

"The thing I love about the Bible - one of the things I feel is most misunderstood - is that it's not a book of rules, it's not about what we should be doing; it's about what God is doing.  It's not about people who got it all right; it's about flawed human beings and this overarching narrative about God intersecting humanity." - Sarah Groves

I'm sure some of you will take offense at this quote, though that is not my intent. Of course there is instruction in the Bible to be heeded and internalised.  Sometimes, though, I think we take it to be that and nothing more; we make it all about us and what we need to do, expect, receive.  To flip the tables and see it as being more about God and less about us is somehow freeing.  I don't have to be perfect anymore.  I can dance with Grace, flawed human that I am, and accept Love where I am and how I am, which gives me courage to work on the flaws.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A 180° Change in Perspective

I've been so self-absorbed lately, focusing on the challenges and what's wrong.  Then I read this statement:  "The conventional predictions are that within two to three generations at least half the world's six thousand or so languages will have disappeared." (Guy Deutscher)  That is a sad and shocking statement which got my mind off of myself!

I am reminded once again how fleeting life is.  Things we think will be around forever disappear in a moment.  We're not ready for it.  Dare I say, we're not even made for it, this ephemerality.  There's something hard-wired in us that wasn't designed to handle change - at least not the long-term, final kind of change. 

And then I read this: "If we do not truly love life, we will never fully love anything or anyone else. A genuine embrace of life makes it possible for us to embrace others. If, on the other hand, we are ambivalent about life, that ambivalence will permeate all other relationships." (David Benner)

Hope begins to stir in my heart.  There may be challenges and things that are wrong, but there is much about which to rejoice as well.  There is so much wonder and mystery and life in each day, and if it is fleeting then it should be cherished and celebrated all the more.

Suddenly the world looks differently.  My husband and I may argue, but I love him and want to grow old with him.  The flowers outside - have they always been so vividly coloured? My children - the teenager and the two pre-teens - they actually laugh together far more than they bicker. 

When I am faced with the ephemerality of all that surrounds me, I find that I want to savour every moment - even the challenging ones.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What I Learned Today

Hope rises on the exhaled breath of laughter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Importance of Awareness

Even on the worst of days, if you maintain an awareness of where you are physically and not just where you are mentally, you might look up to find this:
... and it might make your day a little bit better.

Photo courtesy of

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Quote

"In many places such miracle-anticipating imperatives sound strange but not in this miracle-prone community. Such miracle-anticipating imperatives sound embarrassing in a military-industrial community where everything is on program. They sound strange in church communities inured into technological horizons. They sound strange in bourgeois communities of the self-sufficient, where little is hoped and little is expected and, consequently, little is asked. And when asked, that little asking is timid and polite and deferential. But not here. Not in this community. Not with these bodies voiced. Not with pain brought candidly, hopefully to speech. Not in address to this Thou, whose work is in, with, under, and stunningly beyond our little systems that have their day and cease to be." - Walter Brueggemann, Disruptive Grace

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Thoughts on Dryness

I've been feeling "dry" lately.  I should be excited about Easter, I should be impassioned about my beliefs, but I'm not.  I feel... tired.  Weary.  In need of a long holiday.  Or as Bilbo Baggins said, "I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter, scraped over too much bread."

I've been studying the Old Testament - specifically the Psalms - and how the Jewish people weren't afraid to speak lament or vengeance or maybe even "dryness" to God.  They expressed their emotions fully and expected God to answer.

What happened to us?  Why do "modern Christians" deny the pain, grief and (sometimes) dryness of life, throw Romans 8:28 at each other like bandages or bumper stickers and then expect that to cure everything until our next scheduled "maintenance"?
"It is not a time in which I experience a special closeness to God; it is not a period of serious attentiveness to the divine mysteries.  I wish it were! On the contrary, it is full of distractions, inner restlessness, sleepiness, confusion, and boredom. It seldom, if ever, pleases my senses. But the simple fact of being for one hour in the presence of the Lord and of showing him all that I feel, think, sense and experience, without trying to hide anything, must please him. Somehow, somewhere, I know that he loves me, even though I do not feel that love as I can feel a human embrace, even though I do not hear a voice as I hear human words of consolation, even though I do not see a smile, as I can see in a human face. Still God speaks to me, looks at me, and embraces me there, where I am still unable to notice it." - Henri Nouwen

Onse Vader

I'm listening to the hymn "Onse Vader", the Afrikaans translation of The Lord's Prayer as sung by the University of Pretoria Camerata (if you really want to hear it, click here).  I don't know why, but I find reading (or listening) to the Bible in other languages to be so beautiful.  To think of prayers going up to God in every language from all over the world in one big cacophonous, impassioned plea not only gets me out of my English "bubble", but moves me - ironically - beyond words.