Nov 22 2010

Deeper Magic

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Worried about the future, a woman stepped out of the campus library into the cold winter darkness. Decisions yet to be made pressed in upon her. Hungry and tired, she waited for the bus in the street lamp’s glare, wearily wondering where God had gone.  She worried at the question as she worried at her frayed sleeve, plucking threads and watching the fabric unravel. Familiar tears prickled at the corners of her eyes.  She clenched her teeth against the ache and shoved her hands in her pockets, roughly setting her thoughts and eyes to look for distant headlights.

That’s when she saw them, on the sidewalk, just at the edge between light and dark:

Paw prints.

Large paw prints, like some gigantic creature only meant for the wilds had stepped through paint and then sprinted into the night.

She half-turned away. It was cold. Late. The tiny lights of a bus appeared in the distance. She imagined supper and bed, warmth and sleep.

Yet a little spark of adventure flickered to life in her heart, a little less weariness weighed down her limbs.

She hardly noticed stepping out from the certainty of the stop, questions stilled by curiosity.

She followed up and around, down and back, street lamps lighting her way, one moment certain she had lost the trail only to find it again further up and further in, until the paw prints finally stopped.

And she stopped, breathing deep from the chase, hope of a deeper magic rising in her heart.

At the end of the trail, scrawled joyfully on the pavement, were two shimmering words from her childhood, catching her up in the story, breaking past all her doubts, filling the ache, until her heart spilled over in laughter and tears and laughter again:

ASLAN LIVES!!

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Today I am grateful…

That Christ is risen indeed!

For C.S. Lewis, whom I remember today, and how the Narnia stories still speak to me of The Story, and that children are still reading them.

For the paw prints of God’s guidance: I may not know where following them will take me, but I know Who waits at the end.

For the story kernel, based on Deborah Smith Douglas’ mention of actually finding paw prints on Duke University’s campus and following them to the joyful words.  She writes: “I simply, with all my heart, recognized the transforming truth of the affirmation. Aslan is alive. Resurrection happens. Christ is risen.  In a single leap, Aslan had bounded past the watchful dragons of my mind and all the intervening years to return…Because my whole childhood rose up to greet the Lion, my tenuously sophisticated young-adult self had no defenses against the saving “allelujah!” truth of that moment.” (Weavings, Jan/Feb 1997, 21)

For my young friend, Jack, who has read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on his own for the first time.

And for this morning, like going through the Wardrobe, I look out on a snowy world,

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and the feathered friends who eat breakfast with me:

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Oct 27 2010

Luke 6:45

(I’m joining with Ann Voscamp’s Walk with Him Wednesday  blogging community and sharing about a scripture verse I’ve memorized.)

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I’d always focused on the negative side of Luke 6:45: an unloving heart speaks hurtful words and makes people sad, or a silly heart says embarrassing things, and on and on. So at some point, I decided to hide my hurtful words and my silly words, so my unloving and silly heart wouldn’t be found out and cause problems.

Of course, it didn’t work and just made me feel worse. What I really wanted was a heart that said loving words and words that weren’t embarassing.

A while ago, during the stress of comprehensive exams, I started doodling a story about Little Me and Jesus.

Little Me

Little Me took her heart to Jesus and something happened:

Little Me and New Heart

And then Jesus sent her on an adventure:

Little Me on an adventure

A few months ago, I read Luke 6:45 and realized that there was another side to the verse–the positive side–so I memorized it and it has been my prayer: that Jesus would give me the little glowing heart from my Little Me doodles so that it could be shared with others.

“The good woman out of the good treasure of the heart produces good…For it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

Only Jesus can give that abundance and does so with joy! And then he sends us on adventures….

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Oct 25 2010

40 Days

“The wind is blowing away the leaves.  I can see more of the bus barn, a field of yellow, and trucks like little toys coming and going.  They must use the parking lot to practice backing up because the semi’s do it over and over, the beep-beep warning a distant refrain under John Dowland lute music on Pandora.  If not for practice, then it must be a window into a level of transit hell where truck drivers must park exactly between the lines, and do it over and over till they get it right. As I watch yet another attempt, the fireplace rumbles and puffs, adding a soft percussive line, and occasionally a wind gust flutes across the chimney, blowing a deep under note.”

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On October 10th, I embarked on a 40 day experiment: no TV shows or movies.

While my media ingestion habits were not extreme, I found that the time I spent was affecting time in other activities: reading books, writing, engaging in conversation.  Passively watching media was an easy way to fill time when I was tired or when I didn’t know exactly what else to do.  And, more troubling, I suspected that screen media was encroaching on my enjoyment of reading and stealing time from things I delight in doing, simply because watching pre-packaged stories requires much less effort.

Honestly, even with all the good reasons for limiting screen media, and new research about media and learning, the main reason I pulled the plug was a challenge God put to me:

“How badly do you want this contemplative life, Susan? Are you will to put forth the effort?”

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“Exactly what did you have in mind, God?”

I’ve been trying to craft a life that is conducive to praying while doing sustained academic reflection, and then sharing the fruit of that reflection in intensive writing.  While that has involved setting up a daily schedule and activities, I hadn’t dealt with reality of extended times of solitude yet. The biggest surprise for this introvert girl: long periods of unscheduled openness and being alone makes me twitch!

DSC_0078As the rhythm has settled in, I’ve found I love the idea of such a life, fear the reality of it, and fail at it daily.  Thus, I prayed, “Help God!” and God’s always-wise questions laid bare a number issues, TV being one of them.

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Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace, suggests that the way out of attachments is not to find a replacement attachment or addiction–something healthier, yet just as much an idol–but to sit in the spaciousness of what was once present, in all the scary vulnerable openness.

As the leaves fall, only bare branches remain.

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So I’ve been sitting with the spaciousness, rather than filling it. A few times I’ve walked, pacing laps around my apartment, clearly uncomfortable with the silence.  The desert monks from the 2nd century say, “Stay in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”

Two weeks in, the results are becoming noticeable.  I no longer feel resistance toward paying attention to reading and writing. I feel more present to life in general and simply more joyful.

My own imagination seems to be dusting off spiders and cobwebs, sputtering a bit on the dust from disuse, and helping me to not only engage my life, but helping me find words to describe life.

So today, in gratitude…

3-D life

Imagination

For words, and that they show up when I wait patiently and attentively

Rich conversations with friends about life, God, faith and love

Falling leaves

Helicopter seeds blown in the wind

Determined hummingbirds flying fiercely against the gusts

Joy

Homemade muffins

And an inquiring Stellar Jay…Ah! such amazing blue!

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Oct 19 2010

Stories

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Sun is streaming through the windows as I wait for the first hummingbird to taste test the new batch of sugar syrup. Earlier, I watched as one by one they hovered around the space where the feeder should be, then checking the wider area, “Maybe its lower now or over here closer to the plants.” Some nuz the purple ribbon holding the glass spiral my friend Holly gave me, hoping for sweetness from something so like a delicate flower.

Soon the leaves will fall and reveal more of Queen Anne hill and the trains. The weather changed overnight, it seems, from balmy fall to crisp winter. I woke this morning to fog erasing all evidence of the city, diffusing the light, and muffling the industry. The smell of brown leaves reminds me that All Hallowed’s Eve comes soon. No need to decorate, the spiders have set up house in every bush, between poles and rails, their nets glistening with dew each morning.

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Stories. Little snippets of life.

On Sunday afternoon, my friend Kelly gave me the gift of time and beauty, taking me to the Kabota Gardens. What was once the landscaping of an family estate and business now is a Japanese-American park gifted to the city. Trees of every variety, rocks rising up from the earth, a little copse of pine, narrow paths into secret sanctuaries, hydrangea blues and pinks, autumn reds, and water. We wandered upwards, following a rivulet, delightful as it rushed and gurgled and swooshed over rocks and under bridges, to a waterfall with fuchsia-blooming moss lining its spillway. On most likely the last sunny warm day, we wandered and talked, sharing stories and enjoying the visual story of the garden.

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I have been reading author Rumer Godden’s memoir of her writing life from 1945 to 1985. For all the fantasy and mystery novels , literary classics and theology tomes I’ve read, never have I been so taken by non-fiction, nor so delighted by the gift of story-telling. I’m mere pages from the end and find that I’m reading more slowly, savoring the little details, the artful turn of phrases, the insights.

Children know the joy and pain of stories, and they beg for them each night or at the dinner table, or wrestle with sounding out the words in their first books, undaunted, to be caught up and transported. They can hear a loved story over and over, never bored.

Rumer’s writing has returned me to that love, seeped into me and ignited both a gratitude for, and a desire to tell, stories. To use words and writing (so hard for so, so long) not for conveying information, or to teach, but literally, to see words, taking the lessons photography has been teaching me this past year and approach writing more as a way to capture a moment in its fullness, to savor, to remember, to share.

As I photograph moments, and now have tried to write out those moments in words, the feeling is akin to prayer, and why not prayer be the word-photo, whispering, laughing, yelling, crying our story to the One who delights or weeps with us in the telling?

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Ah, a hummingbird has finally arrived, glinting green in the slanting morning light. He takes a sip, then another, then gently lights on the perch, drinking long and deep. It is good.

In gratitude for stories…

God writing and joining our story

Tea and conversations, walks and sharing

The joyous story of an adoption

Listening to Jack read aloud The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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Kabota Gardens, the story in their beauty

Lynne’s sermon and her gift of sharing stories

Photography’s continued lesson for living

Selling my first two photos and doors opening for more chances to capture moments and help stories be told with light and shadow.

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The Northern Flicker, whose visits add some lovely wild fun to my day, especially when he tries to land on the bird feeder–swinging it precariously.

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Aug 2 2010

Thank-Full

Mondays are for gratitude…counting to 1000 and beyond…

Ben and family

221. The twinfants were born to my dear friends Kimberlee and Doug: Ben and Luke.  After a scary week, my godson Ben is doing much better, breathing on his own now. So thankful! Photos coming soon.

222. For the team of dedicated people at Group Health and Childrens’ Hospital.

223. For the prayers of the church community for these little ones.

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224. A wonderful ordination service and send-off for my friends John and Tara.

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225. Continued gratitude for help getting settled: Cindy’s generous roadside find and her taking me on a trip to Fred Meyer to create a balcony haven.

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226. A little beauty to inspire restful sleep…

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227. My serene little guardian, Theophilus.

228.  Vivaldi

229.  Foggy mornings, sunny afternoons.

230. Good conversations with my parents.

231.  Red and yellow finches, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers feasting at the feeder.

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232. Redemption of the past and prayer’s wonderful retroactive aspect.

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Jul 19 2010

Three Weeks of Thanks

Mondays are for gratitude…counting to 1000 and beyond…

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“We never know where God hides His pools.  We see a rock, and we cannot guess it is the home of the spring.  We see a flinty place, and we cannot tell it is the hiding place of a fountain.  God leads me into the hard places, and then I find I have gone into the dwelling place of eternal springs.”  Streams in the Desert, July 5th

The past three weeks have been full of wonders and many things to be thankful for as I moved into my new apartment (aka The Contemplative Cottage) and spent time with friends.  Looking back on my worries about leaving Boston and then the fears about choosing this apartment, I can’t believe I doubted! The above quote from one of my favorite devotionals captures my feeling now as I sit at my desk.  God knew exactly what place I needed to embark on the next and final stage of my PhD.

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206. Wonderful furniture from friends, rides for moving stuff, and shelves for my books.

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207. Fourth of July beauty shared with friends.

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208. Little Sarah.

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209. An afternoon on a mountain river without a clock or email or cell phone (not having reception was a great Sabbath stop!).   Forever inspired by nature artist Andy Goldsworthy (a lovely excerpt from Rivers and Tides here), I tried my hand at building a cairn…

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…and discovered water bugs that look deceptively like little twigs–until they start walking around.  Yes, what you think are pieces of bark are really three life forms!

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210. Camping fun with friends.

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211. Exploring mossy woods with my young adventuring friend.

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212. A sunlit glen hidden off the trail.

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213. After giving myself a break the past few months, I finally had the feeling on Saturday, “It’s time to begin again,” so I stacked the main books for a dissertation chapter on my desk.  I had worried that the academic push of the last 5 years had permanently ended my love of reading and writing and even theological study, but each day I’ve been finding evidence that there are still embers of this vocation glowing, which God is gently fanning back into flame.

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214. A lovely afternoon at Kimberlee’s twinfant shower.

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215. Black-capped chickadee enjoying a feast.

216. Bible study books are not usually satisfying for me, but Cynthia Heald’s Becoming a Woman of Excellence has really opened my eyes to some life-giving insights. I’d love to go through it with a small group.

217. It seems that the twinfants have decided to stay put until they are full term.

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218. For the Word’s challenge and the Holy Spirit’s conviction this week,  and the hope that God provides the heart’s treasure.

220. Matt Maher’s song “Hold Us Together.”  On July 4th, Pastor Dan told the congregation that he was leaving Bethany in November and taking a position in California.  He has been our senior pastor for 11 years.  It was the last thing I expected, but I’m trusting that we can walk this path because Bethany is a community of people who love Jesus and love each other.  God has a plan, hope, and future for Dan and Anne, he also has one for the Bethany community.

You can listen to the full song one time here: http://bit.ly/ck52Tc

Hold Us Together

It don’t have a job,
It don’t pay your bills,
Won’t buy you a home
In Beverly Hills

Won’t fix your life
In five easy steps
Ain’t the law of the land
Or the government
But it’s all you need..

Love will hold us together
Make us a shelter
to weather the storm
And I’ll be my brothers keeper
So the whole world will know
That we’re not alone

It’s waiting for you
Knockin’ at your door!
Every moment of truth
When your heart hits the floor
When you’re on your knees then…

Love will hold us together
Make us a shelter
to weather the storm
And I’ll be my brothers keeper
So the whole world will know
That we’re not alone

This is the first, day of the rest of your life
This is the first, day of the rest of your life
‘Cause even in the dark you can still see the light
It’s gonna be alright, gonna be alright


Peace and Joy to you this week!

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