Monday, June 6, 2011

Tempus Fugit

Okay. I know. It’s only been two weeks since my last post, but evidently I’m not finished with this topic of time. I subscribe to Weavings Journal, an Upper Room publication that comes out once a quarter. I just got an email notifying me that their upcoming issue will be on the subject of…guess what?  “What Then Is Time?”

 This happens to me often. I’ll post a blog or muse on a book title or prepare a message for some speaking invitation and voila` – I’ll see the topic appearing all around me. Lance Wallnau calls that having your reticular activator turned on. You know, you buy a red Ford Explorer and suddenly you see red Ford Explorers all over the place.

 But what if it’s more than that? What if there is really a collective consciousness or a current message to the universe whose vibes are coming from God? I figure whatever it is, I’m either tapping into it too late to capture the right timing, or not acting on those vibrations fast enough to coincide with their purpose. Having worked for two years on a new book titled The Scent of Water, it was a grave disappointment to discover Ravi Zacharias’s daughter just released her first book with that same title. Once again, I waited too long to move on my impressions.

 “So many priceless hours from the platter of my living.
 Now with precious care I nibble the edges of moments, savoring each crumb,
treasuring the taste of life against my larder's dwindling supply.”1

 As I mulled over those words, I couldn’t help but see my last post about the apple core, fish nibbling sweetness of it away, a picture of how I savor all the crumbs of time I have left from my life’s dwindling supply.

Tempus Fugit. Remember seeing that inscripted on the grandfather clock in the hallway? Why was it there? What did it mean? It’s a Latin phrase, often inscribed on timepieces, which means “Time Flees.” Or, we would say, “time flies.” It was first used by the Roman poet, Virgil. Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore, which means, "But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail."

Instead of micromanaging details, what if I savored them? At 68, I feel like I’m just waking up to a world of wonder, surrounded by whole kingdoms of life I never took time before to observe. This morning alone I watched a redwing blackbird on the feeder unexpectedly assert his preeminence over a bold bluejay. In fact, that blackbird has run off just about anything that tried to get to the feeder – even birds three times its size.

 Then Bob and I noticed two moorhens in the water, a mother and her duckling. The moorhen or Gallinule is a small duck-like bird that has a distinctive back and forth movement as it swims. It’s much smaller than a wood duck, but has a bright red shield over its beak and signature yellow feet. We were enjoying the little family when all of a sudden a great white egret flew into our cove and landed near the edge of the lake wall about 10 ft. away from the moorhens. I was surprised to watch that mother Gallinule begin swimming aggressively towards the egret who outsized her 10 to 1. She came so swiftly and with such determination that the egret spread his wings and took to the air. “And that’s that!” she seemed to say. “Get outta here.”

 Within a minute of that drama, a very large pileated woodpecker landed in the oak tree to the left of all the water action. He’s a striking black bird, not only because of his size (at 16-19 inches long he’s the largest woodpecker in North America), but because of the triangular red cap on his head and the black and white striations down the sides of his throat. He was after ants, his favorite breakfast food.

 Virgil was right about time fleeing irretrievably. But what if, in our daily wanderings, we become prisoners of details that reveal God’s presence all around us? What if we see Him laughing at the boldness of a smaller bird with a bigger bird? What if we translate that picture from the wildlife to our life and hear God say, “Don’t fear those circumstances or people who seem able to overcome you. I am here, and I will give you courage to do whatever is necessary.”

 Two Scriptures come readily to mind (italics are added):

 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.

Romans 1:20 AMP

 For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made

What surrounds us is speaking to us of divine and eternal things, revealing the very nature of God. His Word tells us that He is communicating intelligibly through the creation and He makes everything about His attributes clearly discernible in this way. No one has any excuse to say they didn’t know God.

In her book, Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver helps us feel both the smallness and the hugeness of the life that surrounds us. Search for prodigal summer

            “…solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot…”

We step on kingdoms beneath our feet and crush the life around us in our scurrying busyness. Why not make ourselves “prisoners of detail” to the intricacies and beauty around us that speaks of Him?

1 "Tempus by Sister Dorothy Anne Cahill, C.S.C. from "The Time is Ripe", Weavings,XIV/I, January/ February 1999.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Essence of Time

As I sat on the dock reading this morning—my early hour ritual these days—I ate an apple and threw the core in the lake. I watched for long minutes as tiny fish came and nibbled away at the sweet essence of that core. The southerly wind blew gently and the May sun felt warm on my skin. “Time is of the essence.” The words rose in my consciousness as a message, a warning, a grace. I looked away for a moment and turned back just in time to witness the apple core sink.

How brief are the moments given in which we can extract the essence of what makes up our days.

 Time is important as it is the space within which we live our lives. Nevertheless, it’s the essence of time and how we acknowledge it that matters. My struggle is with that inner voice that nags me to hurry up so I don’t waste time. Siphoning off the essence is more about slowing down to taste our moments.

I’m reminded of my favorite Frederick Buechner quote: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it.” ~Frederick Buechner
Poet of Israel, David confessed, “My times are in your hand…” Psalm 31:15.
We’re told in Ecclesiastes 3:1, there is a season, an appointed time, for everything.
Ephesians 5:16 cautions us to make the best use of our time as we consider the days we live in.

 I like the fact that I’m slowing down, changing into a person who can watch apple cores get nibbled to bits and finally sink. I’m learning to savor life, to extract the fundamental properties of a substance and distill them down to pure essence. We grumble about the fact that we can’t go at the pace we once did, but what if He’s planned this slowing for us, so we’ll notice His world, learn His ways, enjoy the trip?

 When I came back up to the house from the dock, something pink caught my eye. I stopped to examine the plant. My hydrangea bush is putting out her first ever bloom. I’ve waited twenty years for that bloom – not because the plant was dormant, but because I only recently moved to a zone that favors growing hydrangeas. It seemed I should take my sandals off, as if the bloom signaled God’s presence. How many burning bushes have I missed along the way in my hurriedness?

Last week in Costco, I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in five years. “How are you?” I asked. She seemed to hesitate momentarily and then said, “I’m doing okay.” We exchanged pleasantries, asked about each other’s families, and then, because something in her initial reply tipped me off that all was not well, I asked, “Are you still married?”

 She stared at me for a moment and answered, “Oh! I thought you knew. __________ was killed in a motorcycle accident last year. She stood there awash in sadness while I fumbled for words. Then she said this: “Those were the most precious three years of my life. I feel like everything that was stolen from me growing up and as a young adult was restored during our brief time together. I am whole now, but I miss my best friend.”

 We held each other right next to the cheese and salami case and cried. My heart told me she would be okay because she’s rendered the glory from those few precious years and she wears it like a tiara. She’s grateful rather than bitter or shattered and I almost got the impression she carries a small vial in her heart, not unlike the alabaster box, within which is the pure essence of those three years; a lovely scent that perfumes her days.

 I celebrated my sixty-eighth birthday this week and one card I received included a note that distills these thoughts about time and essence: “Can’t believe this season passed without us really getting together.” I had wondered if we’d make the time this year, if our friendship mattered enough for us to extract the sacred from the profane. I felt the loss of talking in depth with her about books we’ve read, dreams we still cling to, what Jesus is working out in our everyday lives. I don’t want to trade what is irreplaceable for a lifestyle crammed with meaningless dinner engagements or conversations that are satisfied with discussing FaceBook posts. I fear they only amount to so much dust. Still, some opportunities slip by.

In truth, our days are numbered, meted out to us by God from the foundation of the world. Looking back, I cannot see one advantage I’ve gained by hurrying through my days. Ann Voskamp says it beautifully in her book One Thousand Gifts. “I don’t really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh long, time to give You glory…”

O Lord, You alone are the keeper of my days.
Your presence is real and continual;
It is the essence of all that counts.
Help me choose to rest so deeply in You
That nothing can disturb or distract.
Today I walk in the peace of knowing
All manner of things shall be well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Felix Culpa

Before you accuse me of posting porn on my blog, hear me out. The painting posted here is a depiction of felix culpa, a Latin phrase that comes from the words Felix (happy, fortunate, blessed) and Culpa (which means “fault” or “fall”). It is thus translated “Happy Fault” or “Fortunate Fall.”

We Protestants are unfamiliar with this mostly Catholic term, but as I follow the line of thinking, I find I like it. A lot. First of all, most of us bemoan and gripe about that stupid Eve who ate the apple. She’s the butt of way too many jokes, i.e. “If it wasn’t for Eve we’d all be back in the garden eating strawberries.” She gets most of the blame when, truth be told, the Scriptures make clear she was deceived and it was Adam who took his bite with full knowledge of what he was doing.

Felix Culpa is known theologically as the source of original sin. The term is said to have originated in the Fourth Century with St. Augustine, but has been alluded to in many other contexts including poetry, literature, and film.

Here’s the idea behind it. During the hours of darkness between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter day there is the first celebration of the resurrection. It is sung in the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil and contains these words, “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.” It is an enactment of the truth that medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas cited when he explained how “God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom.”
In other words, had it not been for the Fall we would have no need of this glorious Redeemer, His incarnation or resurrection. Therefore, it is a Fortunate Fall or a Happy Fault. Doesn’t that turn the whole thing about the Fall around?

Robert Frost so beautifully captured this whole idea in his poem Nothing Gold Can Stay. In this piece of literature the metaphors of Eden and the Fall are reenacted and the idea of Felix Culpa is brought to bear on the creation.

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

And I wondered as I thought about all this, how things might be different for us if we viewed our misfortunes, our calamities, faults, and stupid choices with this truth in mind. So much in this life is fleeting and we are often distracted right at the moment when we should pay the most attention. What if we took the position that what we view as the world’s worst natural disaster might just be a happy fault. A blessed fall. That out of the ruins we made of things, something good and wonderful might just spring forth, like the Phoenix from the ashes. Might it be that in the end, it all counts for something?

In the first link the words to the Exultet scroll for you to read and in the background the antiphonal singing (where a hymn is performed by two groups of singers chanting alternate sections) is heard. Don’t be in a hurry. Let the music soak into you spirit.
The second link will take you to just the words. Scroll down a bit after you get to the page. . You may want to include this in your preparation for Easter morning. Such a clear story of the Gospel is given here in this hymn.

The day will come when the Second Law of Thermodynamics is no longer in play. When all things will be moving up, not tearing down. In that day, we will drink our fill of truth, goodness, and beauty, and all the gold will stay.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Baptist Observes Ash Wednesday

I enter the sanctuary and am immediately enveloped in a palpable calmness. Everything is draped in purple – the altar, the pulpit, and the cross that hangs high near the pine tongue and groove ceiling. All is hushed except a piano playing softly somewhere in the back, the only light that of candle glow.

What in the world am I doing here, Lord. I’m a Baptist!! It’s only the second time I’ve observed Ash Wednesday – the other visit maybe five years ago. A new friend gave me a copy of her book Love Beyond Degree – reflections to ready your heart for Easter a few weeks ago and I’ve been saving it for this day, the beginning of the Lenten Season. It just seems fitting that I attend a service where the day is marked out solemn, a day where I am asked to remember what He paid for my redemption.

I sit quietly among the smattering of people in the 8 o’clock service. I crave the solitude. For me it is a necessary heart prep for the season of Easter. Else I will sail right on through, maybe thinking of baskets, eggs, and colored grass, rather than what Easter is really all about. After all, I didn’t grow up in this tradition and probably looked upon the observance as some sort of cultish practice. I acknowledge my deep desire for this quiet, candle-lit morning.

The procession of the cross carried on a tall pole followed by the priest (a woman) and the other attendants comes down the center aisle in silence. Usually this part of an Episcopal service is conducted with great fanfare and majestic music, but today we are preparing ourselves to look inward, to ask hard questions, to quiet the shouting voices that drive our days. I notice that the cross is also shrouded in purple cloth, tied with a white bow. Purple symbolizes both the pain and suffering that led to the crucifixion of Jesus, but also pictures the suffering of humanity and the world under sin. Conversely, it is the accepted color of royalty and so anticipates that through the suffering and death of Christ there comes a resurrection and hope of new life which even Baptists celebrate on Easter Sunday.

What’s the Purpose of Lent?

Over the last years I’ve realized that in the evangelical, non-liturgical, churches to which I’ve linked myself, we begin our Christian heritage at Luther’s Reformation. Outside of a few references to “the early church” we ignore the centuries of historical practice of our faith and of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve come to believe it’s pretty ignorant of us, but for the most part, we haven’t known anything different. Lent, I come to find out, is a call to “Remember you are dust and to the dust you shall return.” This is what Rev. Elizabeth Myers says later in the service when she makes the sign of the cross on my forehead in dark ash. I enter a time of humility before God, and bear this symbol of mourning that dates back millenniums to Job.

Why has it taken me so long to get this?

I reflect on the consequences of sin that I witness daily and ask what needs to change in my life if I am to be fully Christian. Later I read that in the early church ashes were not offered to everyone but only marked the foreheads of those who made pubic confession of sin and sought to be restored to the fellowship of the community at the Easter service.

What sins do I need to confess today, Father?

When Elizabeth gets to the confession of sin found in the Book of Common Prayer, I find many answers to that question. In particular, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. Have mercy on us, Lord.”

If this is the rule, I have sinned. Not once, but many times over. This prayer covers all those things I so quickly forget, the things I overlook, ignore, deny, and hide. I am guilty.

Later, when I’m home again reflecting on what I just experienced, I hear a loud noise that sounds like a tree has just fallen on the roof. A flash of remembrance comes and I run to the TV to watch the last descent of Apollo’s Discovery, making her final landing at Kennedy Space Center. It’s a bittersweet moment for Floridians and the entire nation as we watch the huge spaceship land and come to a stop on the runway. Attendants go out to mark the exact spot.

Then I think of my mark – not just the one on my forehead today – but the mark I’ll leave when I come to my final spot in the road. I wonder if anyone will remember me then.

And so today I begin my 40 day pilgrimage of Lent. I will be mindful of what Jesus encountered during His last days on this earth, I will be mindful of what Starla Shattler wrote in her meditations that call me to repentance and awareness of sin. I will remember that I came from dust and to dust I will return. I will recall the final words of today’s service:

May the wounded feet of Jesus walk with you to the end of the road.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

His Name is Justice
posted February 26, 2011

I walk in the door and we make eye contact. He stares hard and I can tell the synapses are trying to connect; he takes his time. His expression communicates the difficulty required to use even the simplest brain functions.

Then in a flash the neurons connect and recognition dawns. A wide smile breaks on his face and a penetrating, ear-piercing shriek follows. Justice is saying, “Hi Gram!”

Almost 17 now, Justice has no expressive language. He once had a thirty word vocabulary but it receded as the years passed. No one really knows why. It’s not something that can be fixed.

He’s agile on his feet. More than once Bob and I have taken him to the Golden Arches, holding tightly to his hand, only to lose focus as we look at the menu and in a split second Justice has snagged French fries from the plate of a bewildered senior citizen. That was true until three months ago when he had a seizure in the night, fell out of bed, and broke his hip.

Some of my favorite Scriptures have the word justice in them. I can still hear that old master of black preaching, E.V. Hill thundering out in his rich, baritone voice: "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” ( Amos 5:24)

Both Abraham and David are described as men of justice. One is called “the friend of God” and the other “a man after God’s own heart.” This is because “God loves justice” (Ps.99:4).
“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3 NKJV).
But the question that has gnawed at me all these years – I’ve tried to deny it, stuff it, rationalize it away – is this one: Does God love Justice? It’s that age-old question of trying to balance a loving God with the injustices that surround our daily lives. So many things – like injustice and suffering – are a mystery.

Many are the times I’ve spoken to him about Jesus and he always gets very still. I think they know each other well and have a two-way communication that will someday stagger me. Even though Justice can’t tell me if he wants a sandwich, or his shoes hurt, I believe he has the knowledge that God is present with him. He always has a smile and I’ve seldom ever seen him show sadness or anger. He lives in peace and watching him has taught me much about how to let go of what is unimportant in the big scheme of things.

My heart is confident that God loves Justice and is fully aware of everything pertaining to his life. He is learning to walk again and pretty soon he’ll be up to his old tricks – snatching French fries off the plate of some unsuspecting diner.