Friday, March 28, 2008

Eternal life in the secret garden

Folk at work look at my long hair and assume things, so I often find myself joking with them about a hidden greenhouse back in the woods. Good luck trying to find what doesn't exist.

Some folk would say the same for eternal life, and even those who believe it is possible may have only rare moments of really believing all the way down through their gut to their toes.

Over the years I have heard many a book review on NPR, and now I can say that I have read one of those books. It was several weeks ago when I heard a review of The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. One day while my science students were in the school library, I thought of it.

It proved to be an enjoyable read. This quote which starts the 21st chapter caught my attention and I have wanted to blog about it ever since. Hope you enjoy it. Hope it makes you think of times when you were so in awe, you could...

" One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun--which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one's eyes....... "


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

100th post and I am almost ready for Easter

I am tired, and a bit frustrated with technology, but I do believe my (first ever) powerpoint presentation, which is on hot peppers, is saved on a CD... I enjoyed the project up to this point.

Saturday was a day when I planned to do everything I had put off doing on my week off, so when I sat down and read that I was to rest with those who were facing the longest Sabbath of their lives, I was defeated. How was I to give Peter the time as he faced his pain of having denied Jesus? Mary was being comforted by John, but he seemed a bit overwhelmed by this new role. Mary Magdalene was in tears as were most in the room. Jesus was dead.

The paper in my hand said to do this for a week. My spiritual director told me to do it in a day. I was defeated. I chose to keep busy, but I did skip going to the school.

Easter I drove to the school to check on things. Near full moon in front, sunrise behind...

The seedlings were fine. Moravians sang out Jesus Christ Has Risen Today, but unlike the last time I sang with them in Bethlehem, PA; it did not quake my soul... the doxology from my childhood did that. Family feasted.

Easter evening I sat to pray. I was still with the mourning believers in Jerusalem, and I was celebrating with Moravians. But I was not ready for Easter, and decided to wait on that celebration. I will explain that decision to my spiritual director tomorrow. For the last few nights I have gone back to that sad place. I need that sadness to fill me, then I will be ready to feel the joy.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Friday at the museum

I had a thought the other day while in Philly... I wonder what St Ignatius would have said about blogging through the spiritual exercises... not exactly silent.. is it?

I had other thoughts while at the Philadelphia museum of art, some prompted by women born in 1907.

Frida Kahlo's exhibit (till May 18, 2008) took us into her life in photographs and many self-portraits. She was not one to keep her emotions out of her work so we see the trauma experienced by a husband having an affair with her sister, a bus accident that crushed her leg and pelvis, two divorces from the same man, and a high protein diet prescribed by her doctor. Hard to look at because of their graphic nature, they showed a woman in pain. Made me curious what Jesus would have painted if he had taken some of his harder moments to canvas. What would I have painted? What would we see at your future exhibit?

20 years ago a friend looked at a doodle I had drawn and entitled it ... "a nice design ruined by a day at work." We taught at the same school.

Lee Miller had a nasty dose of childhood trauma, emerged as a model, made it onto the cover of Vogue, then said... "I want to be on the other side of the camera." And thus followed her dream and became a photographer. Who has benefited from your decision to ... ? Her exhibit will last till April 27, 2008 and featured 140 of her photographs.

After a snack, Mosaic Woman and I went our separate ways and soon enough I was sitting in front of Rogier vander Weyden's The Crucifixion with the Mourning Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist...

Which so matched what I prayed to that morning, John 19: 25-42, that I stayed on that stool and had me some more thoughts ... I think Ignatius would be OK with that.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I have written nearly 100 posts and there has been little or no talk about movies, my passion of which waxes and wanes... but I have seen many since August.

Most of the movies I see outside of my house are seen in the Ambler Theater, I went there by myself on Wednesday, then read about the good thief that night. Thursday morning I tried to tie it all together with my spiritual director.

Now I will try again.

In Bruges ended and I was an emotional wreck, movies can do that to me. If I want to be numb, I should avoid them. I wanted to scream out, "This is not the way movies are supposed to happen." And there I was at the foot of the cross understanding those who had believed but were seeing the wrong ending. No movie has gotten to me like this in a long time. Maybe back to when I saw Crash and came home and watched Johnny Cash making a nine inch nails song his own .... to truly let out the emotions.

How did I grow to care so much for a violent character, who would take money to take a life? Maybe it was the emotional pain he was going through while stuck in a town he hated. He is on one cross. By the end of the movie he knows he is supposed to be there, but has hope. Next to him playing the role of Jesus (only in my take of this film) is a friend who would likely give his life so that this man can repent and be saved. Maybe that was it. The Good Thief knows he is guilty, but wants a new life with Christ. There is nothing I see better in a human than a desire to turn away from what is preventing us from living a full life.

That is why I left the theater into a steady rain shocked by the violence I had encountered and like those who were shocked at the cross... trying to have some hope, in this case for the future life of a character written into a movie. Placed into my life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

numbing and mockery

"which he tasted but refused to drink"

I stay in Matthew 27, where verse 34 has really popped out at me this week. Part of me wants Jesus to numb himself with that concoction of wine and gall. The man is being crucified. Isn't that a time for a bit of anaesthetic? He does come close and it reaches his lips, but then he stops himself. I know what happens when a person doesn't stop. When the physical or emotional pain is so high, one leaps in and the numbing feels so good that the next thing you know years have passed and you need help.

Jesus could have numbed not only the physical pain, but also the emotional pain of being mocked. The priests and pharisees were having their moment of thinking they had been right all along and told Jesus that he was a phony. That I think Jesus could handle better than those whose hearts were breaking. These folk had believed, and now their leader was being crucified and was doing nothing to save himself. They felt tricked. So in their grief and anger they too mocked Jesus.

Yesterday I went to check on the plants at work, where I visited with a friend. I spoke of the teenagers I had seen singing praises to Jesus. I told her how I had spent that time of my life mocking those foolish enough to believe. I woke this morning with these thoughts floating in my head. What had led me to that mocking? If memory can be trusted, it too was a grand disappointment.

Last night at church, our leader spoke of the "Way." I had believed that was true as a child. That it was a way of life that made one a Christian and as a teen I focused on those who proclaimed faith but did not walk in the Way. I just may have been expecting perfection or more effort, but I was sad and angry and left the church.

Jesus chose to live out this experience without any numbing. So he cries out to the Lord and quotes the first line of Psalm 22, which goes on to say this...

"all who see me jeer me" (7)
"my strength is trickling away" (14)
"they divide my garments among them and cast lots" (18)
"the poor will eat and be filled, those who seek the Lord will praise him" (26)
"and these will tell his saving justice to a people yet unborn: he has fulfilled it" (closing line)

Jesus seemed to be aware of what was happening... it is a good thing when we don't numb ourselves from our own life, even if we just stop short of doing it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Christian music

A friend came up to me at school and the next thing I know I am listening to a praise band in a church of the Nazarene. Life is like that, if you open it up to things which are not in the comfort zone.

My friend's son was playing guitar and singing about Jesus and my thoughts wondered. I wished that I could interview these high school students in 30 years to see where their spiritual journey will lead them. For now it will lead them to compete against and meet other bands at a conference in Boston.

When I was their age I was headed away from church, while mosaic woman was immersed in the youth group. Now, I kiss her good bye on Sundays as I head off to church.

At one quieter point during the concert I leaned over to Mosaic Woman and said, "If we are lucky they will play a Mark Heard song."

Her eyes lit up and said, "do they know his music?"

I said, "I don't know, but if we are lucky...."

Mark Heard died at the age of 40 from cardiac arrest two weeks after having a heart attack on stage while performing with none other than Pierce Pettis, who I wrote about in the past. We left the concert without hearing a Mark Heard tune.

Finding a CD, that was put out to support Mark's widow and child, was much easier than trying to find the cassettes buried away of his own voice. Like I said, as a punk I left the church and freely mocked Christian rock, but in my late 30's the music of Mark, and Pierce led me back to God. And there on the CD are names of other musicians who influenced me in my journey: Victoria Williams, Bruce Cockburn, Julie Miller, Buddy Miller.

I get up from this post to start track 7, Pierce singing Nod Over Coffee, and tears enter my eyes. Are these the tears that formed last night as the spiritual exercises led to the nails entering Jesus. I wondered when they would flow.

Two songs later, I pause the CD and click this and there are Pierce and Mark joking with each other, then Mark is gone and Pierce is singing at a tribute concert. Half way though the video, Mosaic woman comes over and kisses me, as the curse of the second hand sends her off to work.....

All the unsaid words that I might be thinking
And all the little signs that I might give you
They would not be enough
No they would not be enough

So we nod over coffee and say goodbye
Smile over coffee and turn to go
We know the drill and we do it well
We love it, we hate it
Ain't that life

Ain't that the curse of the second hand
Ain't that the way of the hour and the day

If I weren't so alone and afraid
They might pay me what I am worth
But it would not be enough
You deserve better

So we nod over coffee and say goodbye
Do whatever has to be done again today
Get in the traffic and time will fly
Look at the sun and pray for rain

Ain't that the curse of the second hand
Ain't that the way of the hour and the day

The dam of time cannot hold back
The dust that will surely come of these bones
And I'm sure I will not have loved enough
Will not have loved enough

If we could see with wiser eyes
What is good and what is sad and what is true
Still it would not be enough
Could never be enough

So we nod over coffee and say goodbye
Bolt the door it's time to go
Into the car with the radio on
Roll down the window and blow the horn

Ain't that the curse of the second hand
Ain't that the way of the hour and the day

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Joy emerges

This is the story of a stained glass, it may have started long before I start the story, but most stories do. Tomato seedlings emerging at work were in my head when I headed to Telford, PA a few weeks ago for my Lenten retreat. Reflecting on Isaiah, the image of God holding me in the same manner as when I hold a seedling in the palm of my hand as I move it to a larger less crowded home. Then given some tools to play with, I made these prints....

since the previous week retreats had inspired stained glass (here and here) I imagined making a stained glass that spelled out JOY, but I didn't. The next week in Telford I was directed to do a collage, so being a good student.....

Then I was told to use my scraps to make a collage. The other man in our group had three pieces to work with, but I had plenty and it was a hoot. I loved the result more than my original...

A friend, and co-leader of the retreat, asked me to turn it upside down. A voice rang out, "I see a J." Others agreed, now I had two weeks to get JOY done. Yesterday, with 15 minutes to spare, I took this photo of the result before I headed out to my last Lenten retreat in Telford.....

I took it out of the box and hung it in a window and practiced taking compliments, and thanked them for inspiring me. The piece made it home and has been hanging in a window, which is just to my left. It did make a journey upstairs last night, and with the lights out in my studio, JOY shines out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

hectic pace

In 9 days starting on the first Sunday of March...

Jazz Vespers at St John's Lutheran Church in Ambler PA that evening. Very cool... their premise was not a bunch of structure, just open up a space for jazz musicians to praise God through their musical talents.

The next evening.... left a long short day of work to go to the Philadelphia Flower show. Internal response something like this--- awed by the immense displays, and curious how much waste is created. Evening included some Burmese cuisine at a place called Rangoon. after dinner we focused on the potted plants and I wondered why I never entered anything????

The next evening I led a Bible discussion at my church. We focused on Numbers 11: 4-9, or how we tend to murmur about what used to be good in our life instead of remembering the bad that went along with it.

The next evening.... to the gym with that free time

Thursday night... my class at Temple Ambler, where I saw three sings of spring... a dwarf Iris of immense beauty, at least three male red-winged blackbirds up from the not too distant south, and the Temple University baseball team outside practicing.

next day... after work I went on an over night retreat got home on Saturday in time to witness a nasty storm and then venture out for Vietnamese food.... one more thing about that retreat. After speaking out loud about my experience with the spiritual exercises, a woman came up to me and said she was compelled to tell me to be gentle with myself.

Sunday... Long trip to Philly featuring Belgium Food at a place called Monks and then to see the Pennsylvania Ballet Company dance to Handel's Messiah, which was played by the Ballet's orchestra and sung by Philadelphia Kantorei. Ended with the ascension of Jesus and the descending Holy Spirit.

Monday... a night off to exercise and pray and stained glass (yes, I am back to the Joy project and the spiritual exercises.)

Last night.... a celebration of something that started 35 years ago... a Jazz festival in Germany, a call for an jam session, two show up, a Jam duet begins what has not ended. The last of the paired down concerts took place last night and Chick Corea and Gary Burton were just amazing. Two man in their 60's filled with a passion for music and in front of an audience so receptive that I am not sure if I ever experienced anything quite like it before.

Tonight... blog than.... exercise, stained glass, prayer....

any of these happenings could have been a full post.... onward....

This is not the time to murmur about how good life used to be when it was not quite this full.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


The sheet had 39 names, by mine I wrote "renewal-- spiritual exercises."

It had been a hectic week with hectic days to come and I let the spiritual exercises slip from my life. Unexpected car problems led to cancelling my Thursday meeting with my spiritual director. My perfect attendance gone, a streak started at the end of August. My stained glass project spelling out Joy was completely stalled. Too much of my limited free time distracting myself on the computer.

So, I wrote I needed prayers for strength and renewal and then I sat and listened to what everyone one else at Mensch Mill retreat center desired in their life. We were a needy group. 25 minutes later, I went to Hannah's prayer in 1st Samuel and prayed. Then something became clear. All the above happened after I had (in imaginative prayer) told Jesus I would never desert him, and he had answered, "yes you will." I had fallen away from Jesus and the spiritual exercises. I was truly in a dry place when I wrote that last post.

Maybe I needed that time. I had imagined fleeing from his side after the arrest, and it had taken hold.

At Mensch I found myself in a small group with some friends from past retreats, and I spoke of where I was finding myself. I used the 20 hours to ask for renewal.

But where do I go from here? During the week before entering Jerusalem with Jesus, I asked myself this question... Do you know Jesus well enough to travel to the cross with him as his friend.

Where am I now? Jesus has been arrested and I am not by his side. Do I come back to him, or am I with the others who fled listening to news reports on what is happening? I am curious as to where my imagination will take me. What feels right in my soul?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

water in dry places

a dry place: imagination can take you there. Jesus says that the disciples will fall way from him. They say no, no, no, never. Jesus says, yes, you will.

I place myself there and I swear to Jesus I will never leave him. Jesus tells me that I will.

I am living water in a dry place, and this is the stained glass that came from feeling this way...

a photo story of how this came to be can be seen here....

it starts with the water color I made at the Lenten retreat .

it starts with a desire to no longer be thirsty.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Despair and Hope

are all books based on these two things? these days, it seems like it to me.

warning-- spoiler alert

My last enjoyable reading post featured a book, which talked a bit about these concepts as it explored a Jesuit's involvement in a play about Judas Iscariot ----- the idea of hell as being in such despair that one can not accept the loving forgiveness of Jesus. Today, we turn to one of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner.

I have read novels, memoirs, and theology by this man. Buechner believes in the power of telling one's story and the despair when stories are not allowed to be told. His childhood experience is no secret to those, who like me have read his nonfiction. Nine weeks ago today, I picked up a small novel (long story) by Buechner at the library. Renewed twice, it has to go back today, so that inspired me to read it this week.

The Wizard's Tide tells the story in a boy's voice, and as things progressed I began to wonder if this was turning into a story based on the author's life. By the end I was more certain in that belief, and a web search confirmed it, and also that it has been renamed to the Christmas Tide.

Buechner's dad fell into a great despair during the great depression and what occurred was a story not to be mentioned. The book ends a month later in a bedroom where the boy and his younger sister talk about a rare trip to a church service which had happened that night, Christmas Eve. And knowing this man's life from his words, the spark of hope carried him through till he got old enough to realize that emotional, physical, and spiritual health often comes from unlocking our secrets.

This I find to be a great truth.