Monday, December 24, 2018

Light

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. ~~John 1:1-5

I heard a podcast this morning, “Speaking with Joy,” that gave me a new thought about these words, above, we hear so often on Christmas, Joy told a story from her childhood. She and her family attended a church when a terrible tragedy happened at it, a shooting that killed several people and wounded others. Joy and her family spent hours in front of the television watching the news until her parents finally decided they needed to do something else. They put in a movie to watch instead, a documentary about the star of Bethlehem. Joy says that day she had a thought that has stayed with her ever since, “that the world isn’t safe, but God is real.”

Why did that strike me in a way it had not before? I had not thought about the light of Jesus in that particular way. I thought of it more as enlightenment. Jesus and what we learn of him, all that he did, enlightened us to understand who he is and to follow him. But that statement, “the world isn’t safe,” is real to me -- to all of us. I have been thinking about the fact that the world isn’t the way we’d like it to be. People are not the way we want them to be. I am not who I want to be. Things don’t go the way I want them to go. And beyond that, the world is just plain unsafe. It’s not good. Not only do things not go as I want, they often go horribly. People are hurt. The earth is damaged. Terrible things happen. As true as that is, so is this true: “God is real.”

In one sense, these are parallel truths. Two truths side-by-side, seemingly unable to both be true, yet they both are, like the two lanes of a one-way street. But there’s a difference. The light on one side shines into the dark side. It doesn’t run beside, parallel, never touching. The light shines into the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

I’ve often written about “reflecting God’s love.” That has a deeper meaning to me now, too. Reflecting God’s light. In the darkness of the world, our light also will not be overcome. George H.W. Bush was mocked for talking about “a thousand points of light.” I don’t know if Bush meant anything related to Christ in his “points of light” statement, but it certainly meant people doing good. I thought of those “thousand points of light” as I meditated on Jesus as the light, and on us reflecting that light. As we try to reflect Jesus’ light, we are points of light in the darkness of the world.

On this eve of Christmas, celebrating the coming of the light of the world, I thank God for the light he shone into our dark world. I pray that I, and many, many others will reflect that light. I know the darkness will not overcome it.

I am adding this summary of our Advent series on "Places" that our pastor gave in his sermon Christmas Eve.

Sermon - Christmas Eve, 2018
Rev. Trent Elders, San Jose Christian Reformed Church

When you say yes to the light of Jesus,
    when you simply open yourself up to it
         your whole being can change.

You are Bethlehem,
     you were in a famine and now you are the house of bread.
You were barren Hannah,
    but the creative wind of Ruah,
         the deep magic from the beginning of time
              has blown into you,
                   it has taken the chaos and created order.
You are now the fruitful offspring of Abraham,
    the curtain separating the holy of holies has been torn,
          and the very spirit of Jesus has been born
           into your desolate stable of a body,
               and has been lain in the dirty feeding trough of your heart.
The word became flesh,
    and made its dwelling among us,
          and this changes everything,
for the light shines and the darkness has not overcome it.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

I Go Down To The Shore

I Go Down to the Shore
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
“Excuse me, I have work to do.”

― Mary Oliver

Don’t you love this poem? I’ve been reading a lot of poetry in the last few days, giving books and copies of poems to people for Christmas. I like the way poetry makes you slow down. This short poem by Mary Oliver makes me laugh and it also reminds me of the “Look at the lilies of the field” verses in the Bible.

The waves have work to do, they go about their business. It’s like, look at the waves of the sea -- they don’t worry about where they will go, how high they’ll rise, or whether the tide will go in or out, yet no timepiece is more regular, not even the most powerful king in the world is more majestic. How much more can you rely on God to care for you, to guide your direction?

I love the last line of the verses in Luke 12: “Do not be afraid, little flock,...” God loves me and you. We are part of his little flock.

Luke 12:22-32
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

What is God?

Last night I attended a monthly meeting called the Sierra Leadership Network where the leader, Paul Vander Kley, introduces a theological topic and those of us attending contribute questions and discussions. In the course of our discussion, Paul said he had heard that C.S. Lewis once asked, “Where in Middle Earth did Frodo see J.R.R. Tolkien?”

Fascinating question! The answer has to be: Everywhere and nowhere. He never literally saw Tolkien, the author who wrote the story, but all the characters -- even Frodo himself -- are Tolkien. People often theorize Gandalf is based on Tolkien, and Tolkien himself said, “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food...I go to bed late and get up late (when possible).” (J.R.R. Tolkien excerpted from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #213)

 As we talked about the concept, I said, “It sounds like ‘The Matrix!’” (I must admit, I never actually watched “The Matrix,” but I’ve heard it talked about many times.) Later I thought about how it reminds me of the movie “Stranger Than Fiction,” where the main character slowly realizes he is a character in a book, and he meets that author. I remember when we were kids my brother once wondered if we were all people in someone’s dream.

Any metaphor like this -- God as the author of creation -- is limited and can be carried too far. It is fun to wonder about, though. What would it be like to meet the author writing my life, like what happened in “Stranger Than Fiction”? Could miracles be God the author interrupting the story and doing something that doesn’t fit the established rules? Some writers use outlines and write the story knowing the entire beginning, middle, and end. Others describe the process more like writing down what they “watch” the characters do, without knowing beforehand exactly what will happen. Does that somehow translate to this metaphor? Is God a writer who uses outlines or who doesn’t?

One time I read a reflection on stories about a meaningful connection between animals and humans. In one story, a water mammal (I think it was a young whale) realized a woman was struggling and might drown. The whale swam with the woman, keeping her safe until she got help. The woman described meeting the eyes of the whale and feeling as if there was true communication between them -- the meeting of two worlds.

I wonder about a meaningful connection between us humans and God. I imagine myself as if I’m swimming in an ocean but I don’t know it. Our whole world, universe, all of creation, is in that ocean. To truly meet God, I somehow stick my head above the “water” of my world, and there he is. Maybe that’s what happens when we die.

But that mind-picture makes it seem like God is something in a similar way that we are something. That was also a topic of conversation last night. There’s a story (myth?) that the Russians, when their astronaut was the first to go to space, said he didn’t see God, therefore God doesn’t exist. It may be dangerous to think we can see God in that literal way. So, even if we poked our head out of the ocean in which we live and have our being, is there an author to see? What does that author look like? What is that author? What is God?
x

Sunday, December 16, 2018

A great weekend

It started Friday night. Cori texted she was nearby and wondered if she could say hi. Of course! She had dinner with us, and we spent the evening solving a crossword puzzle -- a HARD one. Teamwork and only a teeny tiny bit of Googling at the very end, and we did it!

Saturday I walked around San Jose Christian School's Boutique, then we decided to get a tree. We bought a little one we set up on "TV tray" in the family room. I don't know exactly why, but that tree is making me so happy. Every morning as I walk into the kitchen I see it and smile.


A quiet Saturday evening and church this morning. I did not have any "churchly duties" so I could take it a little more easy -- didn't have to get there early. I had time to take a nice shower and make a hearty breakfast with eggs, bacon, English muffins, and lattes. I read an article in the America magazine with a link to an Advent playlist, started listening to it while doing some more reading and suddenly Randy said, "Whoa, I didn't know it was so late!" and it was time to go.

At church today the kids sang, and that's always sweet. One song they led us in was "Mary Did You Know?" We had a guest pastor and he confessed that one line brought tears to his eyes. It did mine, too: "Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God?"

"Mary Did You Know?"
by Mark Lowry and music written by Buddy Greene

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God?

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect lamb?
That sleeping child you're holding is the great I am?

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?
Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Oh
Mary did you know?

Thinking of Mary is pretty amazing. Her magnificat, Luke 1:46-55, is incredible. I've read and heard several people say that it shows a deep knowledge of Scripture. Someone called her one of the first disciples. And each time I hear that Mary treasured what people told her and pondered them, my heart beats in sympathy. Maybe it's leaping, like the baby John the Baptist in Elizabeth's womb. What foretelling. I wonder if all those words came to her again as she stood at the foot of the cross, while Jesus told her and John to behold each other -- son and mother.

After church I went to the grocery store, then came home and made potato soup while listening to that same Advent playlist. It was delicious, if I do say so myself. A rainstorm started while it was cooking. A good afternoon for soup. Gezellig.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

God and the imagination are one!

Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour


Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous. 
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth, 
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole, 
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one... 
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind, 
We make a dwelling in the evening air, 
In which being there together is enough.
From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens.
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/final-soliloquy-interior-paramour
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/wallace-stevens

Padraig O'Tuama & Marie Howe at Faith & Writing Festival 2018

This was a beautiful session. I was there and I'm so glad to be able to hear it again.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Squishy

God has called you and you are his.

This week I heard a beautiful song I had not heard before, “I Have Loved You,” by Michael Joncas. The second line says, “I have called you and you are mine.” (Full lyrics below.) That line reminded me of a scene with Dory in “Finding Nemo” where she says, “I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine. And he shall be my Squishy.”




I love Dory!! (Ask my kids -- when she “speaks whale” I can hardly contain myself.) The artists who created her are amazing. How can you get that expression of adoration and love into a cartoon of a fish?

Of course, you know where I’m going with this, right? Another reminder of God’s love! God may not call you Squishy (although personally that would be fine with me), but he has called you and you are his.




Refrain:
I have loved you with an everlasting love,
I have called you and you are mine;
I have loved you with an everlasting love,
I have called you and you are mine.


Seek the face of the Lord and long for him:
he will bring you his light and his peace. (Refrain)


Seek the face of the Lord and long for him:
he will bring you his joy and his hope. (Refrain)


Seek the face of the Lord and long for him:
he will bring you his care and his love. (Refrain)


Composer: Michael Joncas © 1979, OCP Publications


~~Jeremiah 31:1-3
This is what the Lord says:
“The people who survive the sword
   will find favor in the wilderness;
   I will come to give rest to Israel.”
The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
   I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
~~Jeremiah 31:33
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
   after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
   and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
   and they will be my people.


What can I pray for you?

love and blessings,

Mavis

If you would like to send me specific prayer requests and are reading this as an email message, just reply. I will gladly pray with you. If you are reading this in my blog, email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc. I'll keep all communication confidential.

Gleeful and serious violence

Is this awesome or what? Look at their sweet, angelic faces -- and then read how they played! As a mom, I was always pretty terrified of rough play, but you can hear the love of the memory in this telling.

Life and Death in the Forest

Life and Death in the Forest

I suppose I shouldn’t have expected to find the old trails. We had our work cut out for us even then, when we were diligent about it. Proving up that territory took time, grit, and a hulking, battle-scarred maul with a wicked hook at the end, perfect for tearing the guts out of stickerbushes and orcs alike. I never Christened that instrument of destruction, at least not well enough to remember now, but I can still feel its nubs and cracks and splinters beneath my palms. That beast of a stick refused to yield a comfortable grip, and I refused to want one.
Somehow I re-discovered the maul every spring when it got warm and dry enough to venture to the othersideofthefence. Ben and I would tear through half a dozen rotten sticks in the first few days—soggy explosions of bark and moss and bugs that did nothing to beat back the hordes of plants that had invaded our forts. We’d lose skirmishes again and again until I found the maul half-buried under last year’s leaves, abandoned in a mess of once-conquered, now-thriving stickerbushes. I’d unearth its sun-bleached hilt, raise the muddy hook high, and like Aragorn and Andúril, or Luke and his lightsaber, or Link and the Master Sword, we’d change the tide.
Ben took the opposite approach and used whippers. He’d pinch a cedar bough just below the thick place where it met a larger branch, and he’d bend the bough until the bark split and the red-white core looked as tight as a rubber band. Cedar boughs are almost a sort of pre-wood, springy and flexible, more plant-y than tree-y, but a good one would split down the middle, and Ben would twist it around and around as the fibers spread and snapped one by one until the whole thing dangled like a broken arm. Then thirty-pound Ben would tug on the bough until the last fibers snapped, strip away the offshoots, and go to war.
Whippers cut through ferns like butter, while the maul, for all its heft and intimidation, could only bludgeon ferns to the ground and watch them rise right back up like a flock of demonic phoenix. Nettles crumpled under any stick, same as the swampy alien plants by the pond. But the real enemies were stickerbushes. The green ones broke easily enough if you had a decent weapon, and their thorns were too soft to plunge deep if one snagged you. Not so the old ones. The old stickerbushes had hardened into skeleton armies with thorns as tough and piercing as blasterfire. The old stickerbushes ruled the deepest parts of the othersideofthefence, so naturally, we carved our base out of the heart of their lair. I can still hear that the maul crashing into them. Sometimes they were stormtroopers. Sometimes Moria goblins. They moonlighted as battle droids after Episode I came out, and every now and then they were just stickerbushes. Deadly, evil stickerbushes.
I wore shorts exclusively for most of elementary school, dang the torpedoes, and my shins showed the cost of my conquest. Red lines ran knee to ankle, peppered here and there with tiny globes of blood. I sported bruises, too, these ones inflicted by Ben and Calvin and other friends.  We kept an arsenal of swords, shields, staves, and axes in my closet, weapons I had forged from PVC pipe, foam insulation, and duct tape. One hit to the torso killed you dead. Three hits to the same limb chopped it off. Head shots were off-limits by parental decree, but if they happened on accident you better recover quick before Calvin jabbed you in the belly with a two-handed sword.
No weapon inspired more fear than the ball and chain: a bag of rocks wrapped in an old bathrobe, stuffed into a beanie, and tied to an old jumprope. You could swing that rock bag with enough force that your opponent cared more about not getting hit than about winning or losing the match. That, and the time I miscalculated and overshot Ben’s chest in such a way that the ball and chain wrapped once around his neck, cinched itself tight, and smashed into his face. I panicked and pulled back, which jerked Ben straight to the ground like a horizontal hanging.
Mom and Dad never found out and Ben survived, and our fingers survived, too. After the first few swollen knuckles, I duct taped bits of padding onto ten pairs of cotton gloves I bought from the dollar store. Every Friday our friends would glove up, pick weapons and teams, and one side would get thirty seconds to run through the trails and take up defensive positions around the base. We’d fight among the ferns and stickerbushes until the battle spilled out to the yard and driveway and creek gully. The best areas were atop the rounds of wood waiting to be split, where we’d hop between platforms like Jedi; or on the curved cedar trees with exposed roots you could run along like Legolas; or in the passage between the fence and the compost pile, where a team’s single surviving warrior could force enemies to approach one at a time, at least until someone ran around to the other end of the passage, which left the stalwart defender no choice but to jump the fence and scramble into the creek gully, where footing was precarious and fighting wasn’t much fun.
The older we got the harder we hit, and the PVC cores cracked and broke and were fixed with duct tape and cracked and broke again. We lost the axe first, and then the longsword. The daggers and Darth Maul lightsaber survived longest, mostly because no one wanted to use them. But by that time we had discovered airsoft guns, and we started our evolution from flimsy plastic pistols to sporting-good store semi-automatics to metal sniper rifles to fully automatic $200 weapons from eBay that left welts and chipped windows.
I wandered through the other side of the fence a few weeks ago, pushing aside plants and ducking under branches. The trails had vanished. The stickerbushes won. As for the maul, I fear it’s joined the likes of Excalibur and Narsil. I could only find a small clearing that marked the heart of our old base, surrounded now by brush and memory. A last, lingering trace of our gleeful and serious violence.
Once called “a modern-day Jack Kerouac” by NPR after he hitchhiked 7,000 miles through the United States, Josh deLacy has since found homes in the Pacific Northwest, the Episcopal Church, and the post calvin. He is the managing director of Branded Look LLC and communications director at St. Luke’s Church. Josh’s writing has appeared in places such as The Emerson ReviewFront Porch Review, and Perspectives.

Friday, December 7, 2018

He came because he loves you.

This week I heard the poem “The Coming” by R.S. Thomas. It’s a good poem for Advent, as we wait for the Lord’s coming to earth.
The Coming
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
             On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
As in the stories of other globes, when the son in the poem looked at the small globe God held, he saw “as through water.” Some images I imagined:
  • Pippin, Aragorn, and Gandalf looking into the Palantir in The Lord of the Rings
  • Frodo looking into the mirror of Galadriel, also in The Lord of the Rings
  • Harry Potter looking into the memory bowl, or Pensieve
  • A gypsy looking into a crystal ball
As I’ve been reading and re-reading this poem, the beginning and ending lines especially stick in my mind. “And God held in his hand | A small globe. | Look he said | The son looked… | Let me go there, he said.”

It reminds me, too, of a scene in the beginning of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which I watch every year at some point during the holidays. (My family refuses to watch it with me any more, and the movie is often ridiculed. I know it’s cliche’ and sappy, but, despite it all, I still love it and it makes me cry.) In the beginning of that movie, some angels look at the world, and specifically George Bailey’s world, past and present. They watch George’s life up to that moment, at which point George is feeling life isn’t worth living. Clarence the angel, too, looks … and then wants to go there.

The poem portrays a beautiful image, doesn’t it? Jesus looks, sees the scorched land, the slimy serpent, the sad bare tree, the waiting people, and says, “Let me go there.” Why would he want to go to such a place? Because he loves us -- us the people, and all of creation. He loves you.
from the Selene Data Archive. https://darts.isas.jaxa.jp/planet/pdap/selene/