Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Happy Birthday, Harry and JKR!

I used to do an annual birthday post for JK Rowling and Harry Potter. Every July 31st, I'd roll out something from my Harry Potter archives in their honor.

It's been a couple of years since I've done one, but it seems super fitting to do one today since a) I am reading the Harry Potter books to my eleven year old this summer (and she loves them...yay!) and b) I just finished JKR's newest novel, the detective novel she wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. And I liked it very much. Review forthcoming on that some time.

So I'm actually in more of a Rowling/Harry mood than I've been in a long time, but alas, I am also exhausted after one of the hardest days I've had in a long time. My HP writings still occupy their own file, but it's been ages since I've culled through them. So I will cheerfully admit that you're getting one of the first things I happened to land on, a poem I wrote several years ago about Fred and George Weasley. It's based off a moment in Goblet of Fire, but presupposes that you know the whole seven book saga, including Fred's fate. So consider the spoiler alert issued.

Enjoy the poem. And happy birthday to Jo and Harry!

George Weasley Remembers

It’s hard to choose a favorite trick.
Pranking was our bailiwick.
We tried to do things with panache,
give fireworks some extra flash.
To laugh and make another smile
made all our efforts seem worthwhile.
So it’s hard to choose the best
and simply disregard the rest.

But now that I am quite alone
and laughter sometimes feels like stone
I think that there is just one joke
with the power to evoke
a smile but also deep regret.

When we tried to cross the line
and wound up aged for all to see,
I remember Fred’s gray hair and beard,
his lined face looking back at me.
We chortled and we shook with glee
to see ourselves so bent and old.
We loved the fact that we’d been had!
The pranksters pranked by joke so bold.

If only I had realized then
this funny glimpse was all I’d know
of old age with my brother Fred
I would have lingered longer so.


Friday, July 26, 2013

"He Put a New Song in My Mouth"

Once in a great while, I’m given the gift of a song. Although I write poetry fairly often, writing a song is much rarer occurrence. When words come to me with melody attached, I try very hard to listen and get it down.

That’s what happened this morning. I thought I'd share the result with you.

I couldn’t sing a song of love
If I forgot your name
The sun and moon and stars above
They all call out your name

But these tired ears are not in tune
And this heart so crammed there is no room
And I’ve forgotten how to dance in rain
Although the very drops sing out your name

I couldn’t sing a song of love
If I forgot your name
The blades of grass and blooming fields
They all announce your name

But these eyes are dry with unshed tears
And this back is bent from heavy fears
And I’ve lost my way upon this lane
Although every street sign bears your name

I couldn’t sing a song of love
If I forgot your name
The man who sits upon the bench
His face cries out your name

Open my eyes and ears to see and hear
Release my aching bones from doubt and fear
Remind me of your great and loving name
And set my whole self dancing in your rain

Oh I can sing a song of love
Because I know your name
I join a host of wondrous ones
Who all call out your name

And one day we’ll circle round your throne
We’ll come to know your name has been our home
And our memories will not fail again
We’ll dance forever in your reign

~EMP, 7/26/13

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

From the Day Book: Hannah More

My collection of quotes and small readings keeps growing, and I often find myself wanting to ruminate on them. Today, it's this quote from Hannah More that has me thinking.

More, by the way, was a member of the Clapham Sect, a group of British Christians responsible, in part, for the healthy reforming of English society and the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. She was also a devotional writer.


"Remember that life is not entirely made up of great evils or heavy trials. The perpetual recurrence of petty evils and small trials is the ordinary and appointed way to mature our Christian graces. To bear with the moodiness of those about us, with their infirmities, their bad judgments, their perverse tempers; to endure neglect where we feel we have deserved attention, and ingratitude where we expected thanks — to bear with the whole company of disagreeable people whom Divine Providence has placed in our way, and whom God has perhaps provided on purpose for the trial of our virtues — these are the best exercises for our graces; and the better because not chosen by ourselves. To meekly bear with . . .

continual vexations in our homes,
disappointments in our expectations,
interruptions in our times of rest,
the follies, intrusions, and disturbances of others;
in short, to meekly bear with whatever opposes our will and contradicts our desires is the very essence of self-denial. These constant, inevitable, and lesser evils, properly improved, furnish the best moral discipline for the Christian."
~Hannah More

 "The perpetual recurrence of petty evils and small trials" -- that covers a lot of our every-day lives, doesn't it? If we're honest, most of us don't deal with the big stuff on a regular basis: the major evils, the ordeals and trials that feel too heavy to bear. While we can be thankful that is not the stuff of every-day, sometimes the "small stuff" can be the most wearing...but also the most useful in terms of training us in holiness, "the best exercises for our graces."
I love the thought that graces, virtues, holy habits, need exercise. And we get the best exercise through learning to bear with those little things that almost drive us crazy. The tweak I would add to More's words above is that we don't just have to deal with *other* people's moodiness, infirmities, bad judgements, irritable tempers -- but with our own. Chances are, we've all been the "disagreeable person" that someone else has learned their graces through, and sometimes bearing with someone else's shortcomings can feel easier than bearing with our own. This is why we need times when we're just full-out honest before God, confessing to him all the petty stuff in our own hearts and letting him wash us clean. 
Self-denial isn't a very easy thing for most of us (and we like to relegate it to seasons, like Lent) but when we stop to consider, we really practice some form of it every day. Whenever we put aside our preferences and comfort for the sake of someone else's, that's a form of self-denial. It doesn't have to be a big deal, and if we've "done our exercises," hopefully we'll discover after a time that we do the small forms without thinking about it. Such actions become second nature -- literally a "second nature," because it's really only possible for us to live in such loving, freeing ways because we've been freely loved and forgiven. Life being what it is, generally once we learn one lesson we need to learn, in bearing with our own or someone else's frailties, we discover that's just a step toward learning something else we need to learn. We grow, we learn, and God stretches us to keep learning and growing. It's a lifelong process, and Jesus is unfailingly patient and kind as we fall down, get back up, and try again.  He sees who we are and who we are becoming, and he gives us the strength we need.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Inside a Theology Major's Brain

You know you've studied theology when...

you see that a friend has given a photo album the jaunty title of "Summa Pictures," and your first thought is: "Photographs of Thomas Aquinas?"

(Go ahead. You are now free to picture Aquinas on vacation -- water-skiing, picnicking, and making bunny ears behind a friend as they pose in front of the Washington Monument.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Singing in the Shadow

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. (Psalm 121:5-6)

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1) 

It’s hot.

I’ve never actually lived in a sandy desert (though I’ve visited one) but I often feel like I live in an asphalt one. When you live in a city with lots of concrete and relatively few trees, you begin to relate more to the biblical psalmists who spoke of the wilderness in such graphic terms.

When it’s really hot, like it’s been this week, it can be hard to feel like moving. Taking actual physical steps, especially after you’ve been walking awhile, requires effort. You become aware that you’re moving bulk (yourself) through air. Unlike actual deserts, which usually experience dry heat, summer heat in our parts contains humidity – and that brings its own discomfort. The moist dampness of the air makes it feel like you’re pushing through water. The sweat rolls down your back, neck, and face, and the back of your throat begins to sting. 

All you can think about is getting home and getting a cool drink of water. You try to trick your mind into thinking about something else – the number of steps to the end of the sidewalk, the flowers on the side of the road, the person you wanted to remember in prayer, the scene in the story you’re writing – so you don’t spend all your mental energy picturing condensation on the outside of a cold glass.

This morning I was having a walk like that and my mind kept straying to my need for shade. I was walking home on a street only recently built in our town. At the moment, it’s surrounded by lots full of broken rubble. No trees, no buildings of any sort, nothing that cast a shadow. Block after block was just concrete sidewalk, hardy flowering weeds, the sun glaring into my eyes. I felt huge relief as I turned at last onto the main street of town and stepped into the shade of an old vine-covered building whose roof awnings cast a comforting dark shadow. 

“The Lord is your shade at your right hand.” Oh, the beauty and blessedness of that cool shadow! This is who God is! He’s deep, cooling, calming relief from the smiting of the sun, from the weariness of the long and exhausting walk. God is our shade.

Of course, the psalmist isn’t content to give us just one metaphor for God, and sometimes the images overlap in their meaning and power. It’s no wonder David sometimes called God his rock – not just because a rock is strong and provides shelter and a place to lean and hide behind when pursued by enemies, but because a large enough rock, in a sandy desert, could cast some shade in a gaspingly hot desert with few trees. Like my vine-covered building here in town, a rock in the desert is a welcome sight. 

The Psalms also give us similes that help us understand our own gasping need for God. “My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” As hot as my walk got this morning, I knew that I was just a few minutes away from the cool oasis of my apartment. A place where the shades were down and I could turn on a fan. A place where I could rest and drink a cool drink of water. But what if I were miles from such comforts? What if such comforts didn’t exist where I was? What if I lived in “a dry and weary land where there is no water”?

 The psalmist tells us that our longing for God, our desperation for him, should be like that. We should be as desperate for him, as aware of our need for him, as someone gasping with heat and thirst in a parched land. But here’s the good news…the psalmist also reminds us that God is our shade. When he travels with us, as he surely does, he’s like a hovering bird who shelters us under his own wings (verse 7 in that same Psalm 63 says “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy”). 

And here’s the even better news: God is both the one who makes streams in the desert (Isaiah, and so many other places in the Scriptures) and is himself the living water (Jesus!). Living water – not just a well of water, which is wonderful enough when we’re parched -- but flowing, lively, gushing, unexpected water. Water that springs up inside us. 

I think one of the tricks of the enemy is to get us to think, when we’re exhausted and wearied by the changes and chances of our lives, that we live in place where there is no water. We know what it feels like when our flesh is truly fainting.  Our desert hearts pound and our parched wilderness throats sting and our gritty eyes smart with the glare of the world. No rocks in sight. No trees. Maybe not even one vine-covered building. We lose our bearings. We lose our perspective. We lose our hope. We can even lose, if we’re not careful, our grip on the realities of things outside of the immediate facts of our aches and sweat and tears. 


The reality is that he is our shade.

The reality is that he is our living water.

The reality is that, even if there’s no rock or building in sight, he travels with us and can cover us with his wings.

We live in a world that can sometimes feel as barren as a desert. You may be living in circumstances that feel like the worst kind of parched place – a sandy desert or an urban concrete one, or something else entirely. But remember the reality: you live in a land where there is shade and water. God himself is your shade, your water. If there are no other shadows in sight, he will keep you under his wings. Long for him and seek for him. You will find him, and he will give you rest. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Old Questions

While cleaning (or rather excavating) her room yesterday, the sweet girl came upon an old post-it note. About seven years old, I think, judging from what it had jotted on it...some questions she had asked me when she was about four or possibly five years old.

I had forgotten that I used to write her questions down. It's a great practice, and it was fun for both of us to see these, to remember a time when these were the burning questions on her mind, the things she was most curious about.

*Why do we eat with our mouths?

*Why is there no 13 o'clock? Why do we go round twice? (Meaning why does the clock go around twice in two segments of 12 hours each, rather than just counting up to 24...I remember when she asked that!)

*Why does the moon sometimes come up in the daytime?

That last one especially made her grin, since she's become something of a moon phase scholar in the past year.

Seeing these made me feel nostalgic, not just for the days of such innocent questions, but for the days when I felt at least semi-capable of answering what she asked.

The questions coming at us so quickly these days are more challenging. I know every season is good, every part of growing up a blessing -- so I don't really want to rewind or fast-forward (though fast-forward has felt like a temptation lately)! But every once in a while, it's definitely fun to revisit times gone by.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Practicing Patience

I am learning to practice patience.

I used to think I was already a pretty patient person, but in the past year or so, the Lord has been stretching and deepening me in so many ways in this one area that I know now it must be an area that needed lots more work than I thought.

Having a daughter who struggles with OCD and high anxiety levels, I’ve had to learn new levels of calm and patience. There are days I fail miserably, but there are other days, with God’s help, that I am discovering new levels of peace.

It’s hard, sometimes, to know what’s best in a given situation. On the one hand, the sweet girl needs to lean to deal with ordinary stress and brokenness in healthy ways – the things that cause her to bolt into worry-land. On the other hand, there are days when my own heart just can’t take any more of the worrying and anxiety and explosiveness (her struggling reactions in some moments). Keeping my own fretting levels to a minimum – and even finding laughter in a situation – helps to defuse the situation and keep the peace.

This is hard on days when I am just plain tired, and when life seems filled with little things that make me want to – well, be frustrated. But my seemingly normal levels of frustration, my “oh shoot, I dropped that!” or “arrrgh! This isn’t working!” can sometimes be enough to push her into more stress. She has a hard time discerning small, normal, ordinary, every-day stress from the bigger kinds. I am learning saying less often leads to more household peace. And discovering, as I learn the self-control of swallowing those exclamations, just how much of my speech could be taken as whining, complaining, or weariness by those around me.

I am a woman who has many blessings, and who likes to count them (in fact, I’m overdue for a blessings-counting post here) but I confess that occasionally I just need a safe place to whine a little bit, and sometimes that complaining makes its way to the blog. So in the interest of helping me say none of this aloud today, could I just say that both my small, falling-apart, duct-taped together fridge and my so-slow-it-may-as-well-be-working-backwards computer are driving me crazy? Thanks so much for listening.

I return now to my regularly scheduled bout of patience.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Summertime Learning: (Or, "We All Get To Be Unschoolers!")

A homeschooling forum I like to visit often makes me smile. I love seeing the posts from parents new to homeschooling who are raring to go and wondering how they're going "to fit it all in." I love seeing the "relax and calm down and let learning happen" posts from the veterans. And I especially love the occasional posts from the veterans who, in that beautiful human way we all have, sometimes lapse again into the "argh! how am I going to fit it all in?" cry.

As educators and parents, homeschoolers or not, I think we've all been there about a hundred times: there is just so much we want to show and teach and inspire our kids with (and in our information age, so much of it seems right at our fingertips) and yet our time is limited. The length of days and our own quotas of energy are finite. There is only so much learning one can bring into a day, week, month, or school year and still have it be effective. There comes a time when we have to take a break, relax, and play -- and yes, I know learning happens in those times too, because really learning never stops. We're always people in formation.

I know some people school year round with intermittent breaks. But for those who take long summer breaks, like we do in our household, I think it's important to remember some of the great ways more formal bits of learning can still infiltrate the summer hours. This is good news for those of us (pointing to myself) who occasionally freak out because we didn't quite make it through that last history or science unit at the end of the school year because we were just too tired -- and our kids were crazy with spring fever.

First, the obvious ways:

Camps/Family Trips/Gardening

Because all of those are great opportunities for learning new skills, seeing new places, and making new friends.

Summer Reading

There are so many ways to inspire your kids to summer reading: bookstore programs, library programs, family generated programs. And then, of course, there is just the old-fashioned way: put a lot of books in front of them and give them copious amounts of down time to read. Yesterday morning, my daughter woke up and didn't feel like getting up for the day, so I let her stay in bed an extra hour and read. She loved it. So hard to imagine doing that in...say...November...but it fits with July.

Quiz Games

My daughter loves trivia games, the question and answer kind like Brain Quest. I've come to love them too. We've been doing Brain Quest cards a lot this summer, using some of the 5th grade level ones we found at a recent library sale. They're not only fun, they help me see what "gaps" exist in my rising sixth graders' knowledge. Yes, sometimes that means I'm recalling the units and subjects we didn't get to as much as I planned last year (Native Americans, botany....) It's also fun to realize all the things your children know that you had no clue they knew. And it provides some mental math practice.

Creative Prompts

Summer is a great time to inspire your kids to write in a journal or to paint or write. If they need creative prompts, there are a variety you can use, online or homemade. We've been having a lot of fun with a set of "Story Cubes" my sister got for us during her recent birthday visit. It's a set of nine dice with different images on each surface. Roll the dice and let the images prompt you to wordplay and storytelling. You could make your own similar set of prompts. Picture prompts, household item prompts...whatever works.

Learning Links

There are so many good online sites that provide regularly updated or daily links. We use some of these during the school year, but in the midst of busy, routine days (when you're trying to make sure you get in all the grammar you need to) it's easy to forget. Summer is a fun time to refresh or update your bookmarks and to let yourselves spend some time just enjoying those resting places for hearts and minds. For instance, this summer my daughter has been making the re-acquaintance of Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Learning Trails

This might be my favorite part of relaxed, "down-time" learning -- the opportunity to chase down learning trails. Theoretically, we try to build this into our school year too -- if something really sparks a learning passion, I try to find ways to guide my daughter to learn more about it. Practically speaking, this is harder to encourage during the school year unless you're an unschooler who lives by that method of learning. The cool thing is that in summer, we all get to be unschoolers for a while! When you're not needing to make sure that the math test is completed, it's a lot easier to say "sure, why don't you learn everything you want to about the Apollo space missions?"  That's been my daughter's favorite learning trail this summer. She's also enjoyed learning about Helen Keller.

There are lots of other ways to build relaxed learning into the summer: cooking projects, craft projects, museums, sporting events, a poem a day. The possibilities are endless. And yes, a lot of these can be elements of a learning life no matter what time of year. There's just something about the less structured season of summer that lends itself to thinking outside the box.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Two Movements: Into and Out of the Sanctuary

This week I have my students thinking and writing about the different ways the Anglican church engaged the culture in the 19th century. The Oxford Movement, with its emphasis on the "church gathered" and the importance of gathering in worship to "be the church," sometimes had reservations about the Evangelical movement and its commitment to social action, the way it was "being the church" within the world. (This would be the second generation of the Evangelical revival, folks like Wilberforce and his Clapham friends.)

The distinction drawn, for the sake of the question, is purposefully overdrawn for the sake of compelling thought and discussion. Of course the higher church folk often engaged the culture "in the world" in specific ways, and of course the Evangelicals didn't cease to gather in worship to remember who they were. It's more a matter of emphasis, of looking at where each found its firmest understanding of who they were and where they stood. But it's a good question and a perennial one: what does it mean to be church, and how do we best relate to the world around us with fresh gospel energy?

So during my morning quiet time, when I came across this passage in Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book, I just had to chuckle:
 "The task of liturgy is to order the life of the holy community following the text of Holy Scripture. It consists of two movements. First it gets us into the sanctuary, the place of adoration and attention, listening and receiving and believing before God. There is a lot involved, all the parts of our lives ordered to all aspects of the revelation of God in Jesus.

Then it gets us out of the sanctuary into the world into places of obeying and loving, ordering our lives as living sacrifices in the world to the glory of God.  There is a lot involved, all the parts of our lives out on the street participating in the work of salvation."

Two movements. Into the sanctuary, out of the sanctuary. Both involving the same kinds of actions: listening, loving, obeying, believing, ordering, giving God glory. Both involving all parts of us. Amen. Yes.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

"A Song of Peace"

Thinking about independence day here in the U.S. And thinking about Egypt. And India. And Kenya. And Uganda. And Australia. And France. And Indonesia. And Brazil. And on and on.

And thinking about the Kingdom of God, with a story so much more vast and deep and wide than any nation's story, though it encompasses peoples of every nation and their stories too.

Thinking of "A Song of Peace."

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a prayer that peace transcends in every place;
and yet I pray for my beloved country --
the reassurance of continued grace:
Lord, help us find our one-ness in the Savior,
in spite of differences of age and race. 

May truth and freedom come to every nation;
May peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
A world united, righting every wrong;
A world united in its love for freedom,
Proclaiming peace together in one song.

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth's kingdoms:
Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,
And hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations;
Myself I give thee, let thy will be done.

(first stanzas by Lloyd Stone in 1934, last three by Georgia Harkness in 1939

Happy Landings

Summer seems to be flying by. I'm writing a lot...just not here. I miss blogging and hope to get back to it more regularly soon.

In the meantime, for the first time in quite a while, I looked over my blog stats. I always find it especially fun to see what searches bring people to this space. Tonight, it made me laugh with delight to see some of the recent reasons people landed here. I love that people find my words because they're looking for:

Jessica Powers poetry
Emily Dickinson poetry

And...oh yes...Veggie Tales.

It truly makes me happy to know when people are searching for beauty via poetry, art, novels, and flowers (not to mention talking vegetables) they land here.

Keep coming back. More beauty soon.