Sunday, July 22, 2007

Why I like Cyrus

I like Cyrus Chestnut , but not just because he can play piano. Maybe it's his name that appeals to me. I know that can happen. But after reading the liner notes to "You Are My Sunshine," I think it may also be this:

Cyrus Chestnut says, "I have been told by many about my influences: jazz, gospel, classical, rhythm and blues, etc... and have been encouraged to make recordings addressing these idioms individually. I have never been interested in making repertory driven or stereotypical recordings- it has been my choice to take a different route."

Faith is important to Cyrus Chestnut. He doesn't hide it. The CD's I own reflect this. He is not an artist who occasionally does a gospel album. He can't separate love of God from love of jazz.

I have many interests and thought about having more than one blog. But I am one person who will try to blend them into one blog. Can I separate my stained glass designs from the fact that I have chosen a spot in church where I have a wonderful view of my favorite piece of glass? Is gardening just a pleasure or a constant reminder of blessings? And yes, gardening is also a constant reminder to persevere. But that is what living with faith seems like these days. Celebrate the blessings and keep going through the hard times.

Ten years ago when I was in my early mid thirties, I couldn't imagine writing any of this. I may have likely mocked the above. I was a fine humanist after all. But now it seems dishonest to come to blogging with several blogs and keep faith segregated to only one. Maybe that will happen, I'm not quite certain of the future these days.

Oh, yeah. Check out Cyrus Chestnut, he makes me happy.


Friday, July 6, 2007

gifts of love

What smells better than a Sweet Pepper grown in Lansdale, Pennsylvania
Yesterday I smelled joy. It has been pointed out, that I make a noise of sensual ecstasy when I smell fresh peppers from my garden. At work, I strongly require my students and assistants to take a sniff.

The peppers, the smell, and my noise will hopefully always remind of AC, who worked with me for a year or so and laughed at me every time she heard the noise. Where does this joy come from?

I am thinking of the joy brought out in receiving and giving love. Recently I asked Julian of Norwich to be my guide as I prayed through John's telling of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at the well. Asking help from a saint was new ground for me to walk on but every time I turned to Julian she provided me with some insight that took me deeper into the gospel story. Julian shared her visions with us through her writings. The woman who met Jesus at the well shared the messiah with her community.

Then there is the story of Hannah who is loved dearly by her husband but is mocked by his other wife for being barren. She prays so hard that Eli, the priest, accuses her of drunkenness. She pleads with Eli to hear her prayer and not to judge her as a drunkard. God and Eli bless her, and a son is born. In prayer she had promised God this miracle, and she follows through by delivering Samuel to Eli at the temple when she has weaned him.

In all these cases God provides joy and the gift is shared.

In his book, Here and Now, Henri J.M. Nouwen writes: "Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing- sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death- can take that love away."

Ok, so God loves me and I love the smell of peppers. Why is the scent so pleasing? Evolution has taken our brains in a direction that scents produce emotions and apparently causes spontaneous sighs of joy when it is pleasurable. I am loved. God has guided me to garden so now I have peppers and I experience the joy of creation at work and home. But what do I do now with that pepper. What do I do with that great gift?

The pepper shown above was used in making dinner, fake sausage sandwiches as we call them. At work, students get to smell what doesn't exist in grocery stores. Then I send my students out and my co-workers get to buy heirloom veggies grown organically. I have been doing this for eight years now and I try to sell for less than what they would cost at a store. I want the gift that brings me joy to become a bonus and blessing to those who work at and attend my school.

At work on Friday, thoughts of total chaos entered my mind, I could have become scared, negative, and down hearted, but it was time to cook. I led the students across the dry grass to the kitchen and we made brownies with fresh mint, and fudge with dried lavender. One student hated mint, but took a sample anyway. After he darted to a trash can to spit out the mint brownie, I gave him a handful of chocolate chips and told him to hang on, the fudge will be set on Monday.

With five minutes left in the school day, I walked back across the dry grass. We had less flour and chocolate, but we had three 9x13 inch pans of joy. That is when another student came running up to me and said, "Stratz, I have been looking all over for you."

I said, "I bet you have," while expecting the student to make a plea for a brownie. Instead he said, "Can I have a pepper?" I said: follow me. I set down the tray of brownies, and pulled a plastic bag from my fridge. Inside were three peppers and I passed the joy on.