Wednesday, December 06, 2017

But I Don't Want to Be Still

"Why is it that when we speak to God, we are called pray-ers but when He speaks to us, we are called schizophrenic?" ~Lily Tomlin
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
and with fear and trembling stand
Ponder nothing worldly minded
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descended
our full homage to demand.
My life is noisy. Rarely in any given day do I keep silence. Even now, as I sit in the early morning, with the waning "super moon" still high, the ambient noise invades. As the rotating earth allows the sun to speak light into the morning, the house breathes and creaks. Furnace hums. Grandfather clock ticktocks. My body speaks: tinnitus in my ears, an allergic sneeze. Creation groans: the Northern Flicker comes in search of suet, non-migrating geese fly their arrow overhead, rush hour traffic builds a wall of red taillights likely related to the sirens that woke me. An impatient driver squeals out a u-turn toward a self-devised detour.
It’s a shushing we resist. Reach for the radio. Pick up the iPhone. Plug in the earbuds. Turn on the TV. Whistle a happy tune. Check social media. Talk to oneself. Even the ever-so-brief prayer time at the Tuesday Bible study ramps up with chatter instead of reverence and supplication. Our brief foray into listening prayer had to be guided, met with strong resistance, was forgotten soon after.
“Be still and know I am God.”
Even in intentional silence, when I “still” my body, my mind is still noisy. Searching, thinking, Googling. In the writing of these few words, I have searched out the answers to at least two questions, learned a new musical phrase, and the origins of the hymn first quoted. This is part of the drawback of using a laptop for word processing: the internet is a click away. Thus I am not mentally silent. Not listening, but asking, talking, questioning, resisting. I have a curious mind. Love learning. Want to know. This is a compulsion paired with Attention Deficit Disorder. Silence seems a horrific distraction. An impossible quest. Even now, the dog barks two doors down. I wonder if he’s neglected.

Pink and blue watercolor stretch the sky. The earth exhales.

Humans abhor silence like nature abhors a vacuum. Or is it just me? I want to speak into the silence, make sense of the noise of the day. Even meditation begs an object. Ignatius Loyola was on to something with the Examen but even after professing and attempting to "follow God" most of my life, I have not yet disciplined myself to regularly (habitually, daily) invite God into my busy mind.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Silence pairs well with love. With all my heart. soul. mind. body. If I love something, I give it my time and attention. If I love someone, I listen. When my spouse and I need meaningful conversation, we turn off the TV and look at each other. I don’t seek out conversation in the theatre or at a concert. The person talking incessantly at the Diana Krall concert last night disrespected everyone with her lack of silence.
And with fear and trembling stand
Am I afraid of what I may hear? Noise helps drown out pain, the memory of failure. But is it also, perhaps, a barrier to grace? Perhaps loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and body means I embark on the quest to learn how to be fully silent before God: quiet my heart, still my soul, rest my mind, relax my flesh, so that I can hear Love.
For with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descended
The blessing is God's presence. Emmanuel, "God with us."
Our full homage to demand
I shall begin today.

If you wish to embark on your own quest, consider clicking the links in this blog, practice a bit of silence today, and join me tomorrow to share what you learn?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Recommended Reading List: Fiction

I was brought up “in the fear and admonition of the Lord" in an area of Missouri known as “the "golden belt buckle" of the Bible Belt. My folks instilled a love of reading in me, and my library included Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, the encyclopedia, Reader’s Digest, the Bible, Danny Orlis, and other primarily Christian titles.

As a child, books occupied my free time. In grade three, my teacher, dear Miss Snyder, sponsored a contest to see who could read the most books throughout the school year. I won the award but was somewhat non-plussed when my prize was… wait for it… another book. Even then, I felt reading had to be for some ultimate purpose beyond just the love of reading.

I read ravenously as a teen, chewing through mysteries and “Christian romance” novels, until I entered university. The academic research and reading load was so great, I simply burned out on reading as entertainment and set it aside. As an adult, reading became utilitarian. I focused on self-help and how-to, but hardly any fiction, with the notable exception of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, of course. As my own child grew, my desire was to cultivate a love of reading in him also. We read together, I read to him, and my library expanded to include children’s classics, youth, comedy, graphic novels and YA books. Other than that, my exploration into the fiction genre has been quite limited and unfulfilling. Something was missing. I decided in retirement, it was time to change that.

So, I asked my Facebook friend, John D Blase, for a favor in compiling a recommended reading list of Fiction titles. As an author, poet and editor, John seemed the most credible literary candidate within my circle to help with this. Being the thoughtful and approachable gentleman he is, John responded in fairly short time, recruiting input from his own Facebook friends and followers.

Here was the criteria:
What are the top seven fiction titles you believe every person of faith should read? These would be titles to stretch your mind, challenge your worldview, crack you open with beauty, inspire you, bring you to tears or belly laughter or both. If you can't conjure up seven, at least try for four. And remember - fiction.
John started with his top titles and many of his friends responded. You can read the raw data on Facebook here. I collected and sorted those recommendations, which initially included 153 titles but I excluded a few nonfiction that snuck in and where a recommended book was part of a collection, I combined them. What follows is the list of books that received nods, sorted by number of mentions, then by author. I have included the title, author, year originally published and, in some cases, the sub-genre. At the end, I include the list of books only recommended by one person, sorted by Title.

Disclaimer: This list is not a personal endorsement of any title. If you'd like this list in an Excel spreadsheet to sort and expand on yourself, click here to access a copy in Dropbox. Typographical errors may exist.

Enjoy, and happy reading.

11 Recommended
Peace Like a River, Leif Enger, 2001
Gilead Triology, Marilynne Robinson, 2004

8 Recommended
All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, 2014
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1880, classic
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving, 1989

7 Recommended
Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis, 1956
The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell, 1994, scifi (has a sequel)

5 Recommended
Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, 1949, fantasy
East of Eden, John Steinbeck, 1952
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo, 1862, classic

4 Recommended
Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis, 1943, scifi
Godric, Frederick Buechner, 1981
Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954, fantasy
A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L'Engle, 1980
Silence, Shusaku Endo, 1966
Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry, 2000

3 Recommended
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver, 1998
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith, 1943
The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay, 1989
My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok , 1972
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, 1945
Harry Potter Series, JK Rowling, 1997
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood, 1985
The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd, 2001
The Confessions of X: A Novel, Suzanne M. Wolfe, 2016

2 Recommended
Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton, 1948
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas, 1844
Selected Stories, Andre Dubus, 1995
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, 2017
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis, 1945
Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, 1996
Hyperion, Dan Simmons, 1989
The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor, 1971
The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor, 1960
Son of Laughter, Frederick Buechner, 1993
Lilith, George MacDonald, 1895, fantasy
Phantastes, George MacDonald, 1858, fantasy
Robert Falconer, George MacDonald, 1870
Tenth of December, George Saunders, 2013
Returning to Earth, Jim Harrison, 2007
Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamilo, 2006
Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill, 2016
Benediction, Kent Haruf, 2013
Eventide, Kent Haruf, 2004
Plainsong, Kent Haruf, 1999
Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery, 1908
The Giver, Lois Lowry, 1993
Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich, 1984
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle, 1962
Don Quixote, Saavedra, 1615
Anything by PG Wodehouse, P.G. Wodehouse, 1900-1970s, humour
The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck, 1931
Beloved, Toni Morrison, 1987
Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner, 1987
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner, 1971
Book of the Dun Cow, Walter Wangerin Jr., 1978
Anything by Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry, 2000
Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry, 2004
Life of Pi, Yann Martel, 2001

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

My Father's Poems

Some of you know I was born and raised in a singing family. I was the last of eight children and the only daughter of a preacher-poet father and missionary-minded stay-at-home mother. I have never known anyone who worked harder than my folks, both who were raised on farms by parents who instilled in them the very strong work-ethic of their Mennonite ancestors. Dad, as a pastor, teacher, preacher, inventor, mechanic, songwriter and poet; Mom as a nurturer, servant, laundry-tamer, canner, cinnamon bun baker, reader, letter-writing, pot-roasting aficionado. Yet while they worked tirelessly, both my parents were Contemplatives in their own right. They both spent many long hours (together and alone) reading and studying the scripture, and down on their knees in prayer, interceding for their family, friends, needs, wisdom, and for the Gospel to advance in the world.

From the time I was 18 months old until I was 19 years old, our family travelled and sang at various churches, camps, nursing homes and community events across the USA and Canada. By the time we stopped touring and Dad accepted a pastorate, we had visited 47 states and seven Canadian provinces. During that time he wrote hundreds of poems and songs of faith and comfort, and the family made seven vinyl recordings (and one cassette tape) with an average of 18 songs on each album. We also published a song book and a poem book of favorites, including a number of Dad's original works under the auspices of "Radiant Light Enterprises." We traveled under the name "The Nickel Family Singers."

To honor the desire of my oldest brother to preserve our father's legacy, I accepted the task of transcribing all our Dad's poems to make them more widely accessible. I began posting them on a blog called, "My Father's Poems." Well it grew, as these projects tend to do, and as I was seeing the end of the stack of my dad's poems, I  expanded it to include some of his songs, sermons, and now, I've begun to create videos of our family recordings, linking them to the lyrics on the blog.

As for our musical style, Dad valued four part harmony and lyrics based firmly upon scripture. His poetry style uses traditional meter and rhyme, fashioned after a century of the hymns that had become so dear to him. Though we lived smack dab in the center of gospel music country, the family sang more "hymnal" style than southern gospel. In our later ministry years, as contemporary Christian music began to explode, the younger offspring did introduce music from their generation into our programs.

With all that as background, I'm happy to share a bit of nostalgia with a video I created to go along with one of the songs we recorded, "Peace Like a River." My brothers fell in love with this song from a Blackwood Brothers' recording. It was recorded by the older boys' quartet on our third album. Enjoy!

Click here to go to the video and blog post: "Peace Like a River"

If you like what you hear/see and want to explore more, click here: My Father's Poems. Read older posts, Search by subject and key words, or Subscribe in the right side bar to receive new poems and songs by email as they are published.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Dear Younger Me

I recently was honored to do an interview with my friend Kevann Carter for the podcast, "Grow on the Go" (Season 2, Episode 7). In it, we discuss the question: "What would you say to your younger self?" My answer, along with some of the difficult lessons I learned, can be heard on this half-hour podcast.

For those of you who have found your way to this blog from the podcast, Welcome!

You may be wondering, "What happened to your first marriage?" We didn't address that part of my story in the interview, but you can read about it (and the aftermath) here, here and here.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Set An Example

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

“Don’t let?” You can’t stop others from thinking whatever it is they choose to think. None of us can. Age (youth or maturity) has very little to do with controlling the viewpoints of others about us. Paul also isn’t giving Timothy license to rebuke others for looking down on him.

But let’s not focus so much on the first sentence that we overlook the primary point the Apostle Paul is trying to make with the “dear son” he is mentoring. He speaks in a way that is based on their relationship: deeply loving, mentor to student, a caring father instructing his prodigy.

Indulge your sanctified imagination for a moment to consider how Paul is helping this young man, the son he loves, understand how to be most effective in his life and ministry. Paul says there’s a proven way to avoid others looking down on you: Don’t act your age, like your peers are doing. Don’t be immature and inconsiderate, but rather, in the way you live, be your best self. In the larger context around verse 12, Paul says, “Train yourself to be godly (v. 7), put your hope in the living God (v. 10), devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching (v. 13). Exercise your gift (v. 14), be diligent so others can see your progress (v. 15).”

I can picture Paul with his arm around his young student, urging him: “Be the example others can point to and say, look how well he speaks, look at how he conducts himself with such integrity! So loving, so full of faith and true doctrine!” (v. 16)

So I offer this paraphrase, Paul’s instruction as a loving mentor, for us to receive and apply in our own lives:

Don’t live in a way that gives others reasons to look down on you. Be mature. Set the example. Ignore the distraction of how others live, what others think, what they may say about you. Keep your eyes on Jesus and live in integrity. Keep reading and studying God’s word. Trust Him with your reputation. Release the urge to defend yourself. Give up your need to explain yourself. Haters gonna hate. You live right anyway.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime

There are a number of bumper-sticker quotes like the one in this picture. While I generally agree with what it says, the exact opposite type of person can sometimes be a conundrum that won't go away, even making it difficult to try to be our best selves. I'm more drawn to the idea of relationships being for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

I've had great conversations with total strangers whom I would never see again, who taught me nothing but we enjoyed the moment together. If you want to learn and grow and be present, you can find something for which to be grateful about every encounter.

Some people more readily serve as blessing-bringers. Others more readily teach you lessons (positive or negative). Sometimes both. Sometimes neither. Live is very rarely "all or nothing." I believe I can learn something from every person who intersects my path, even if it is just learning how to set a healthy boundary.

So I try to be as alert and present as I'm able to be in each moment, in each encounter. To move gently, listen more than speak, act in loving ways, to learn, to share, to grow, to give, to receive. To, above all, be whole-heartedly human.

When I posted the above on Facebook, here are a few responses:

"We may not always meet and interact with people for our benefit. We may meet for theirs. We may never know." ~Anna-Marie

"I've always felt encounters are like the flowers in a garden, some only blossom briefly, others blossom year after year. But all bring joy and a bright spot to my life. Now my job is to blossom to bring joy to others!" ~Elaine

"I fall in love with strangers all the time - you know what I mean? Something in them is a certain je ne sais quoi and I identify or I desire that quality. I remember an elderly English man at the checkout at (the grocery store) and he was kind and charming to everyone around and I just wanted to take him home for the way he made me feel." ~Melora

In response to Melora, Cathy writes, "I know exactly what you mean! I've met people, while travelling, or just crossing paths briefly, and I know we would be great friends in different circumstances."

What's your experience? Are there more things would you add or change?