Friday, June 16, 2017

"And Mary said..."

The heavy return of my brain cancer this month has put me into two straight weeks of full brain radiation, which has worn me out. My eyes, still blurred from their dry weeks under the chemo trial, have made it harder to read and write, though I'm giving it my best shot.

One thing I have decided to do in my Scripture reading is simply to "flee to the life of Jesus." Accordingly, I chose the gospel of Luke and began with its long first chapter -- one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture -- this morning.

I love the way Luke introduces us to the important people in his story and moves that story along. I love the symmetry of the encounters that Zechariah and Mary have with Gabriel, their similarities and their differences (especially in responses to the amazing bits of news they are receiving!). I love that Elizabeth, who does not receive a personal visitation, nonetheless is the first (or seems to be the first, see below!) to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to sing out. I love that Zechariah, bumbling in his "I believe, oh Lord, help my unbelief" sort of faith (and he, a priest!) eventually sings out a song so deep and true that it resonates with my heart today in tremendous power, especially the part about God, in his tender mercy, visiting his people who sit in the shadow of death with an incredible sunrise of light.

And of course, I have always loved Mary's song, the one in between, her amazing Magnificat.

But you know what I noticed today? Unlike Elizabeth and Zechariah, Luke does not tell us, before Mary sings her life-giving and prophetic words, that she was filled with the Holy Spirit. He simply says "And Mary said..."

That puzzled me this morning. For a moment, it seemed like a glaring omission (not something I would ever associate with the Scriptures, and certainly not with Luke, that careful and artful inspired historian). So why, I thought to myself, why would Luke not bring our attention to the fact that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit too?

And then it dawned on me...duh...I am slow...that he didn't have to. Because he already had. Gabriel had told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High overshadow her when Jesus was conceived. And once Jesus was conceived, she carried him inside her. How could it be any plainer? The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, clearly lived inside Mary! Truly and amazingly, in a way that he would never quite live inside anyone else! And in case we somehow missed this news, or had a hard time believing what has just happened to this young girl in her face to face encounter with Gabriel and her humble and loving acquiescence to God's plan and her part in it, he gives Mary (and us, as readers) confirmation of what has happened in Elizabeth's prophecy!

The role of these women in God's unfolding plan of salvation should stun us and compel us, both men and women, to stand in awe of the Lord and his plans for the world. His mercy and lovingkindness goes on and on, his creativity in bringing people into the dance of his mercy is breath-taking. He brings them in, young an old, believing and not fully believing, and once they bow to him and say "yes, Lord" in the face of what he is doing, he takes their readiness and rejoices in it and works through it, and they are set on fire with his Spirit and they sing forth his word. Perhaps we as women should take special encouragement that in the beginning of this gospel. two of the key witnesses and participants are women, because we live in a world (and sometimes a church) that has sometimes tried to sideline our involvement in the Lord's work in the name of cultural traditions.Here we see the kind of women God calls -- they are bold and they are prophetic and they are holding close to God and his promises as they live them and speak them out.

Let it be so in our lives, Lord. Let it be so.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

How Computers Have Changed the Way We Find Books

In recent years, a lot of people have written about the way our reading habits have changed thanks to technology. I am so behind the times...I didn't get a e-reader until last year, following my cancer diagnosis...that I'm not sure I've done enough e-book reading to really weigh in on that conversation. I do appreciate e-books, though I still say it's no contest between digital and physical reading for me...I just love the feel and smell of actual pages!

One thing I have noticed, however, is how different my approach to discovering and finding books has changed in recent years.

I guess I am thinking about that because it's the season for "summer reading lists..." you know, the lists where well-known people, or people you've never heard of who nevertheless have great blogs, post their list of recommended reading for the upcoming season. Summer reading generally means more fun, fluffy reading, the kind of reading people want to take to the beach, or books they imagine would be good at the beach even if they can't get there. Or in the event of kids' summer reading lists (which lots of homeschool bloggers like to post) books your kids will enjoy getting lost in during vacation time following the academic rigors of the school year.

I was just looking at a summer list that a friend posted on Faceboook, and I realized that, without really being conscious of it, I have developed a way of gathering new books when I read lists like that. I look for authors I know or genres that interest me, I skim what the recommendations have to say, and then there are a couple of directions I might go.

If I'm still not sure the book sounds like something I want to read, I pursue reviews...often on sites like Amazon or Good Reads. Having written reviews for a lot of years, I'm pretty good at skimming those quickly to get to the heart of the what the review writer is saying. If the book author mentioned is the author of a series (I'm often interested in mystery series) then I look up the author's website or  find them on Wikipedia and go to their full bibliography so I can find a list of their books in order and discover the first one.

That's always an eye-opening moment, when you discover the author is either the writer of three books that started appearing five years ago or a veteran with twenty-five books that started showing up twenty-five or thirty years ago. In any event, if it's a series, I usually start at the very beginning ("a very good place to start...") note the title (and keep the window open in case I forget it) then log into my account on my library's home page. I am hugely blessed to be connected to an excellent library system which has dozens of libraries with great collections.

I can usually find the book I want and put it on hold so it will get sent to my local library for pick-up. If I can't find it in the system, as will occasionally happen with older, out of print titles, or very new titles that none of the local libraries has happened to purchase, then I put a request through the library's inter library loan. The book usually takes longer to arrive on the hold shelf, but it can definitely be worth the wait. I've been able to read some very good books thanks to ILL.

I've worked this way so long now that it's almost hard for me to believe there was ever a time...before book bloggers, before library hold systems you could access easily with a few clicks of the keyboard or your phone (even in the middle of the night)! I don't get too nostalgic for the old days when you just wandered into a bookstore or a library and browsed the shelves and hoped you'd hit something wonderful...because I still do that kind of book gathering too. Though I'm still more likely to put a book on hold at the library after finding it at the bookstore, unless it's something I know for sure I want or need to own for a certain project or learning season.

However we find them, books are beautiful. They add so much richness to our lives, something I've always felt and known, but am feeling more conscious of than ever as I go through my long season of illness and healing.

With all this said...will I make a list of recommended reading for this summer? Hmm....I'm not sure, but I have a feeling I might. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Recounting the Deeds of the Lord

I was reading in the Scriptures this morning and came across these words in Psalm 78:

4 We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done.

There is something powerful in the simplicity and strength of this statement. For me, it felt a little bit like marching orders for the people of God.

It was not just their calling to live their lives in constant awareness of God's goodness and mercy, and to respond to God in faith, but also to show their love for him and their place in his story by faithfully living out their commitment to him by sharing what God had done in their lives and in the world with the next generations.

Live in God's presence.
Respond to his grace and mercy.
Be thankful at all times.
Praise him for all he is and all he has done.
Praise him in front of your children, and your children's children.
Teach the next generations about who he is and what he has done! For you, for the world!

That is what I am hearing today, on a morning when I woke up tired (as always) and was asking the Lord for my "marching orders." I do that a lot these days, for the shape of my days look different than they used to. I have days when just getting through a few things that need to be done is all I can manage before it's time to topple over again, still exhausted.  I have days where I think small, remembering my many limitations. I think things like "all I can do today is stay upright, do a little housework, pay a few bills, teach a bit of school to my daughter, write a page or two, handle my medical appointments, try to eat..." (and many days, it's just a couple of the things on that list not all of them). I could add other mundane but important things to that list too...refill a medication, write a thank you note, send an update to my extended family, handle a load of laundry.

And of course, all of those things are necessary, they need to be done. On the most challenging days, I try to remember why I am doing small things, why I am continuing to battle for health and life (with the Lord's strength and in his rest). I am trying to plod along doing the small stuff, but I don't want to forget the big stuff, the overarching vision. Not just for my life, but for all our lives. I need to remember kingdom vision.

And what does that look like? Well, one facet of the kingdom is surely this.

We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done.

(Psalm 78:4, BCP)

Or as Peterson puts is in the Message, "we're not keeping this to ourselves." God's goodness is meant to be shared!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Poem Modeling on Frost's "Dust of Snow"

It's hot enough outside this week that we've begun running the downstairs air conditioner. The only one installed upstairs is in the hallway, and we can't use it yet because sparrows built their nest ticked up right next to it and are still busy raising the family. We still need to get a couple of other small ACs into the bedrooms. In the meantime, we've flung open all the windows and have fans roaring and circulating air throughout the warmer upstairs spaces.

I'm talking about hot weather...but writing about a wintry poem. Why? Well, for one thing, because I love poems that deal with seasonal imagery whether they are "in season" or not, especially when they are as good as this one. For another, because the sweet girl (i.e. Jedi Teen, i.e. Sergeant Pepper, her newest name for herself) and I have grabbed a couple of days here near the end of the school year to read some poetry together. I wanted us to spend some time with Robert Frost and Langston Hughes, both poets I love and poets that well represent the modern history era (mostly 20th century) that she's been studying all year.

We started with "Dust of Snow," partly because it's short, and partly because it was the first Frost poem we came across in Classical Academic Press' The Art of Poetry, a good homeschooling resource I picked up on major sale a few months ago.

If you don't know this perfect postage stamp of a poem, I'll give it to you here in its entirety:

The way a crow
shook down on me
the dust of snow
from a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
a change of mood
and saved a part
of a day I had rued.

(~Robert Frost) 

I find something really remarkable in a one sentence poem that can paint such a vivid picture in your mind and do it so musically at the same time. Frost here primarily paints with iambic dimeter, but he slips in a few anapests to keep things interesting. 

What fascinates me too is how he manages to keep that simple rhyme while utilizing such an amazing opposition of colors: "crow" and "snow" give us about the purest "black" and "white" images you can imagine, while maintaining the rhyme. It is really hard to snitch this idea from Frost while trying to model off the poem. If you want to keep to his metrics, you need one syllable words, and it's very hard to come up with two one syllable rhyming words that manage to strongly evoke singular opposing colors. 

Try it. I tried to think of other things that were definitely black and white, but it's difficult to come up with a perfect one syllable rhyming pair like this one. Then I tried to come up with other words that represented other colors, but again it's hard to do because so many simple words, like sky or cloud, for instance, may evoke a definite color (blue or white) but really the sky can shift colors dramatically, and clouds can easily be gray (or gold or pink if they have morning or evening light filtering through). I considered "rose" -- because we do think of red roses first, don't we? And then was trying to come up with something definitively green to go opposite it, but there are so many hundreds of hues for roses really. Daffodil gives your mind yellow, nothing but yellow, but it is composed of three syllables, which makes things extra complicated.

Anyway, here's what I ended up with. 

The way the noon
winked bright at me
with daytime moon
by the apple tree

Has made me smile
at orb-like art
that spanned the mile
between head and the heart.

(~EMP, 5/19/17)

I did model off the Frost poem as much as I could, but I made a couple of twists. I played with "noon" and "moon," because I was going for two single syllable words that evoked, in this case (or so I hoped) gold and silver. I know the color association isn't as direct as Frost's crow and snow, but it did keep the poem in the realm of nature, and I liked the fact that even if the color association wasn't as direct, the two words definitely both evoked light. Then when I got to the line about a tree -- I had decided I wanted to stick with "me" and "tree" but change the tree type -- I decided to go for apple tree, because I was picturing someone who was suddenly struck by the beauty of roundness or circularity in nature....someone who is noticing the sun overhead, a nearly full moon in the daytime sky (and yes, I borrowed "daytime moon" from poet Dorothy Aldis) and then the firm roundness of a ripe apple on a branch. 

That threefold circularity makes the poet smile, because the "orb-like art" looks fascinating, but something strikes the poet on a deeper level than just the connection her mind makes about the shape of the three things. It strikes the poet on a heart level. I wanted to get heart in there somewhere in another nod to the Frost poem, though I did not succeed in showing the marvelous "change of mood" that Frost gets across. I would like to try another modeling poem off this one to see if I could capture more of that epiphany moment, that moving from sadness to comic gladness that Frost captures so well in the moment when the bird takes flight and the snow falls on the poet unexpectedly. I think Frost gets across movement in both spheres: the outside, natural world, and the quiet, interior world -- and I really don't get that across nearly as well. There's not really any movement in the poem in the natural outside part -- it's all just a combination of things that the poet sees that brings her unexpected pleasure.

I also messed up and left out the extra foot that Frost slips in during the turning line in the new stanza. He says "Has given to me" (iambic followed by anapest? I think...unstress, stress, stress, stress, unstress). Five syllables. I miss the opportunity to do anything unusual here and simply have another line of iambic dimeter: "Has made me smile." Unstress, stress, repeat. Four syllables. The only way I think I could change that is if I came up with another verb besides "made." Stealing Frost's "given" won't work, because he uses it with heart as an indirect object. I suppose I could go for two separate syllables (instead of a two syllable word like "given"). I could try "Has turned on my smile" (remember the next line..."at orb-like arft" -- it's the conjunction of three beautifully circular things all at once that makes the poet light up with a smile. Hmm...I like that...the idea that the poet is lighting up, in reflection of the fact that two of the three circular things she has seen are lights? And "turned on" gives you a sense of a light coming on, as though God has thrown the joy switch in the poet's mind which is connected (or wired?) to her heart. Although "spanned the mile" doesn't necessarily give you that sense of an electric connection. Anyway, I think I will make that little revision.

The way the noon
winked bright at me
with daytime moon
by the apple tree

Has turned on my smile
at orb-like art
that spanned the mile
between head and the heart.

(~EMP, 5/19/17)

Thanks for listening to these writing rambles!