The Lingering Scent

A few weeks ago, our family read the story of Mary who, in an act of extravagant love, anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. In Behold the King of Glory, Russ Ramsey writes, “As the scent electrified the senses of everyone present, Jesus called it beautiful. Creation testified to a Maker who delighted in beauty for beauty’s sake… Jesus said to Mary’s critics, ‘She has given me this gift because she is preparing me for my burial, and history will never forget her act of beauty.’”

Our reading left me wondering. What would Mary’s beautiful act look like in our current culture?

Within days, I was given an answer.

* * *

Later that week, we had friends visiting from out of town. They were only here for a few days, and most of that time they spent exploring and enjoying the city. At the end of their trip, we were grateful to have them join us for church. As we sat side by side, I was conflicted. I love these friends and was delighted to have them step into our community for a few hours. But during the service, I was distracted. As the guitar strummed and the room swelled with song, I scanned the rows of chairs and saw not flesh and blood, but rather story after story. We’ve walked and crawled and danced among this community for twenty-one years. We’ve witnessed devastation and miracle. Heartbreak and redemption. I wanted to lean over to my friend and whisper hints of those holy narratives. For her to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, messy, struggling, transformed saints covered in flesh and cloaked in their Sunday best. I wanted her to hear the significant ways in which God had touched and changed lives. For the Father to reach down from above and kiss her forehead through the stories of his people.

The service ended and the spell was broken. We moved from the worship service to our adult Sunday school class. The leader announced that we’d be taking a break from our current teaching series, as we did once every month, in order for members of the class to come up and share a bit of their journey. The couple who took the seats up front had been acquaintances for years, but we hadn’t known them well. They were engaging and honest as they shared about coming from very different backgrounds, struggling to reconcile creative calling to the realities of limited job opportunities, and growing to find God’s provision in the most unexpected places. Yet in the span of the forty minutes they’d been given to talk, there was one particular moment on which the eternal and the temporal hinged.

The wife had been recounting the arduous journey of adopting from Liberia. After more than a year of preparing for and growing to love two children as their own, they learned that one, their new son, wouldn’t be able to return to America with them. In an honest moment of desperation, the mother cried out to God. A God who she trusted to be both good and sovereign. How could their situation possibly be His best?

While journaling her thoughts during the flight headed to Africa, something in her heart shifted. Or perhaps it was awakened. Just as her heart was gripped with anguish on behalf of her son, the Father of all aches – even more deeply – for every last one of his children. Through her excruciating pain, a young mother had been given a glimpse of the beautiful heart of God.

My friend soaked up the mother’s words, said her goodbyes, and returned to Tennessee to resume life as normal. Only something was churning inside her. The Lord’s faithfulness in the midst of unspeakable pain had purpose. It was a reminder that she needed, and that we all need, to hear. Being true to her beautiful, gracious, creative nature, she began to scratch lyrics to the song sung from the heart of an aching parent. She called upon her friends – world-renowned musicians, whose immense talent is surpassed by their humility and devotion to the Creator. Within days and across hundreds of miles, they had composed and recorded a song. My friend, who had never met the mother, had poured out her talents in response to the glimpse of Glory she’d been given. She quietly offered the final product, a video containing the lyrics, as a gift. It was an extravagant, spontaneous act of worship like few others I’ve experienced.

“Art, like Jesus’ tears and Mary’s nard, spreads in our lives, providing useless beauty for those willing to ponder. Many consider the arts to be the “extra” of our lives, an embellishment that is mere leisure. Yet how many hours of sacrifice go into being able to play a sonata by Chopin? Or a dancer’s flight on stage at the Lincoln Center? What many consider extra, and even wasteful, may come to define our humanity. That evening at Bethany, in that aroma that Mary spilled, there were Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas floating in the air as well (thanks to James Elaine, curator and artist, for this observation). Every act of creativity is, directly or indirectly, an intuitive response to offer to God what He has given to us.” Makoto Fujimura

 

To God Be the Glory.

 



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Grandma

photo-18
A few years ago at a little radio station in Mystic, Iowa.

We are burying my grandma today.

Friends have been so kind to offer words of comfort and support. Strangely, I’ve felt a twinge guilty to be on the receiving end of such emotional generosity. I’ve watched others endure a fierce anguish at the death of their loved ones. That hasn’t been the case for me. As I stood by my grandma’s bedside in her final hours, the primary feeling that flooded over me wasn’t grief – it was gratefulness.

We grew up 900 miles from my grandparents and were fortunate to see them once or twice a year. She was never part of my daily life, I can’t remember her babysitting us, and the longest period of time that we spent together would have been a week. We didn’t have deep, life-changing conversations and my children have only fleeting memories of her. Yet as I look back over the last four decades, I can see the significant impression that Grandma’s life has made upon my own – and in turn – on my family. When viewed as individual moments in time, our relationship looked like the close-up view of a Seurat painting – colorful, but lacking form and substance. I’m grateful that time has given me a larger perspective. Those individual dots of visits to Iowa and remembered birthdays and quilts made for babies were tiny brushstrokes of what became a masterpiece. Her life was a work of art in the truest sense – taking the raw materials of love for her Lord, her family, and all things creative – and transforming them into life-giving beauty.

Grandma’s life wasn’t easy. I don’t think she finished high school, she married young, and she and my grandpa endured the great depression on a coal-miner’s wage. They raised their four children in little more than a shack in a tiny town in Iowa. Yet they worked hard and dreamed of a better life, one where their children would thrive. And they did.

We remember Van Gogh for his bold use of color. Rembrandt, for his masterful use of light and shadow. Grandma’s life had distinct qualities that have marked her time on earth and those who knew her.

~ A quiet strength and steadfast faith. She was always a safe place for her grandchildren. No doubt, she prayed us into the Kingdom.

~ A home that welcomed all. And at all hours. When arriving after midnight on a trip from Tennessee to Iowa, she would stumble down the hall and greet us by sleepily asking, “Do you want some ice cream?” Every. Time. Candy dishes brimming with butterscotch , photo albums crammed with pictures of grandchildren (and the occasional newspaper clipping reporting that “Lem and Thelma Stolz had grandchildren in town visiting this week”), and walls covered in portraits that she had painted of her grandchildren, all declared that we were loved.

~ A love for all things creative. At 50 years old, she decided to learn to paint – because she wanted to paint her grandchildren. Within a year, she had won a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair for her work. Many years later, she learned to quilt. The embodiment of her warmth and creativity, she gave dozens of quilts to charity. Our home enjoys handmade quilts for holidays, each baby that’s been born, children’s rooms, and even baby dolls. Such heirlooms are a rare treasure. When I visited Grandma near her 90th birthday, she had recently given up cable television. “I just don’t understand those old people who sit around and watch television. I need the extra money for my crafts.” She painted and quilted until her final years. We are the grateful beneficiaries of her work and her spirit.

~ A grounded presence. She had the rare gift of being both practical and tender. When my grandfather died, grandma was beside herself. She had lived more than fifty years with one man – each life bleeding into the other. Shortly after his funeral, she sat at the kitchen table, memories and tears flowing. Then the tears stopped. “Well,” she said. “Now I can eat chicken. And I can go back to potluck at church.” Grandpa didn’t like chicken, and his declining health toward the end of his life made church attendance difficult. She loved him deeply. She grieved fully. But she chose to see the good in life as it was given to her.

~ A love for music. When my mother was young, she and Grandma had a spot on the local radio show. In homemade matching outfits, Grandma played the piano and they sang gospel songs together. Even in the past few years as her memory and eyesight failed her, the music she loved dearly did not. She couldn’t remember her children or grandchildren, yet she could sit at the piano and play beautifully.

My grandmother will be missed, but we are eternally grateful for her legacy of faith, creativity, steadfastness, and music.

We are burying my grandma today. But the melody of her beautiful life will continue to echo into future generations.

 

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The 90th birthday party.
August 2006 054
Grandma with her namesake (Caroline “Hamilton” – from Grandma’s lineage).


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The Lanyard

There was a time when treasures came in the form of trophies, grades, promotions and increased responsibility, yet the years have a way of sifting the through a multitude of souvenirs to reveal the few gems of great value. Of revealing that which was, and is, and always will be made of an eternal substance.

Today, I received one of those rare, imperishable gifts. My youngest returned from her first week of camp and proudly presented me with this:

lanyard
Which, of course, reminded me of this:

 

Sometimes a glimpse of heaven looks like red and yellow braided plastic.
I’m grateful.



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Summoned by Music and Light

Hungary Color

Today’s guest post was written by Carrie Givens – writer, teacher, editor, friend, and a member of the Greener Trees online discussion group. 

****

I have a friend who is a composer. One of his pieces, performed by a quartet of two violins, viola, and cello, he wrote following the sudden tragic death of a mentor and professor. There’s a moment, late in the fugue, when the first violin raises its voice to the heavens in a single, pure, heartbreaking note. It holds, longer than you think it should be able to hold, seeming to carry all the sorrow of the world.

There’s a moment that happens sometimes after a grey or rainy day when the sun breaks out below the clouds as it sets, turning all the world a rich, gold. As evening winds down, we are left in quiet with this strange and lovely light which tinges everything with beauty.

In Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, there’s a scene where the camera pulls back from the mother and daughter working at the table into the next room, and we watch the final moments of their conversation from afar, framed by the doorway, lit by the light coming in from an open door and interrupted by the gentle flapping of an apron hung on a wall hook blowing into the frame.

Michael Gungor, in his book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse, writes: “The single atom in the atomic bomb can lay waste to a city. Maybe one note of music holds within it the power to end war” (p. 62).

There is power in great beauty. Beauty heals, it soothes, it allures, it inspires. And when we see it, in a film, in a book, in a moment, it can catch us by surprise and stay with us forever. We can lift it up from the depths of our memory again and again, and every time it draws us toward the Creator of beauty, the Beautiful One Himself.

****

Jeffrey Overstreet begins Chapter 13 examining Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue. He writes, “Every scene—in fact, almost every shot—unfolds like a poem. . . .Kieslowski leaves clues for us to consider—little windows into understanding the state of Julie’s heart. When we take the time to think about them, we begin to participate in the film in a way that popular commercial cinema doesn’t allow. There are long passages in Blue in which no one says anything and we must shift our attention to what we see in order to discern what is happening.” (p. 305-306)

Are there other films that come to mind in which the filmmaker leaves clues like this—focus on particular objects, use of light, use of music or sound? Have you found yourself participating in those movies in the way Overstreet talks about above?

*

Blue became a way I could move through my loss by experiencing someone else’s journey rather than facing my own pain directly. It coaxed me to give creative shape to the grief.” (p. 308)

Have there been movies, other works of art, or moments of beauty that have helped you through a time of loss, sorrow, or grief? Has art ever helped you “to give creative shape to the grief”?

“The power of narrative lies in the succession of events: This happens and then that happens. . . . Imagery speaks even when nothing is happening, offering us something more than provocation to anticipate what’s next.” (p. 309)

What are some of the ways that the nature of film as a visual art form – one based in imagery – impacts how filmmakers approach narrative? Are there movies you’ve seen where the filmmaker has taken full advantage of the opportunity to tell stories through images?

*

“Saint John of the Cross wrote that man is like a window through which God is shining. If the window is clean and undefiled, it allows us to see past it, to the light. We hardly notice it at all. And yet, if a man gives evidence of any kind of arrogance or ego and self-interest, then that window becomes noticeable. It is not fulfilling its purpose. It is not merely a vessel for the light.” (p. 320)

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” (John 1: 6-8)

“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’. . . He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28, 30)

How do the words of Saint John of the Cross and John the Baptist speak to one another? Have you seen characters in movies or met individuals in life who have exemplified being a “window”? What have you learned from them?

*

“There have been so many moments at the movies that have become part of my history, giving me images that function as a vocabulary, enhancing what I experience when I am away from the screen.” (p. 322)

Much of Jeffrey Overstreet’s final chapter is made up of retelling the experiences he mentions in the quote above, when a moment from a movie enhances what he experiences away from the screen. Have you had moments like that?

 

Carolyn Clare Givens lives outside of Philadelphia where she’s a freelance editor and writer. She edits and writes for The Curator and teaches as an adjunct faculty member at Cairn University. She has bumped around the world, growing up as a missionary kid in Michigan and Hong Kong, and serving on staff at Alaska Bible College. 

****

If you’d like to join us or to catch up on the conversation:
Introduction/Schedule
Week 1 – How We Watch
Week 2 – Saving the World
Week 3 – Fools and Jokers
Intermission – Raising Arizona: An Appreciation
Week 4 – The Art of Darkness

 



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Grandma

9/11 – An Invitation

Friends,

Yesterday, I shared over at Story Warren. Typically, I don’t link to another blog, but this one is different.

I rarely re-read a book (unless it’s Lewis), but I’ve read Refractions by Makoto Fujimura three times. Mako has changed the way I look at life. Please take a few minutes and follow the link to Story Warren here, then make time (it’s worth it, I promise you) to watch (or listen to) the embedded video. For the next four weeks, we’ll be reading and discussing together. Please consider joining us. As always, feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

Grateful to walk alongside you in the journey,
Julie



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On Tiptoe

child on tiptoe

When my daughter was a toddler, she would stand on tiptoe beside the kitchen counter. Eyes twinkling with expectation and chubby fingers gripping the edge, she would strain to see what culinary adventure was unfolding. Her habit developed through time. It was reinforced with every loaf of bread kneaded, cake baked, and carrot chopped. She didn’t want to miss out on the action. Or the leftover cake batter on the beater.

Time passed, and the plump toddler legs grew long and thin. Words were spoken more clearly. Clumsy waddles were replaced by graceful pirouettes. One bright spring day, I was preparing dinner and felt a warm arm wrap around my waist. Beside me stood my girl. Tall enough to easily see the surface of the counter, yet still standing on tiptoe. The gesture had become habit. Expectation had become a posture.

Next week, our brood will be making the journey to Duke to attend Engaging Eliot: Four Quartets in Word, Sound, and Color. The exhibition will be a combination of music, art, and poetry – a perfect storm of the best kind. I’ve been a fan of T.S. Eliot since high school and have more recently become an admirer of the writings and artwork of Makoto Fujimura.  Despite my anticipation of the event, I’m very aware that I’ll be in a bit “over my head.” My degree is in business, not English. My experience of fine art was one of dancing on stage, not of painting on canvas. Although I’ve been reading The Art of T.S. Eliot with a group of folks, I’m probably in the bottom quarter of the class in regard to poetic experience and knowledge.  Or more likely the remedial group. Yet I look forward to gleaning what I can during the exhibition – even if it’s a stretch for me. You might say I’m standing on my tiptoes.

Just as the evening will stretch me, it is even more true for my children. They will most likely “understand” only a fraction of what they will see and hear – just a sliver of the goodness that will be present. Yet a sliver of beauty refracts as it passes through the eyes and finds its way to the human soul. It may seem foolish to take those so young to an evening that is “out of their reach.” But they are learning to stand on their tiptoes. To strain and catch a glimpse of something wonderful and worthy of experiencing. My deep hope is that through time, the gesture of standing on tiptoe will become more deeply ingrained. That the gesture of expectation will become a more permanent posture.

Beauty and truth surround us. At times, we see it clearly without effort.

But if we’re willing to stretch,
To live with an expectant and teachable heart,
To believe that more goodness exists than that which is directly in front of us,

We may be surprised
By the joy discovered
While living life on tiptoe.

**************************

In discussing the exhibition with my children, I found myself struggling to convey the beauty and power of collaboration between the artists, musician, and (unbeknownst to him) poet. I floundered while attempting to describe the complementary nature of abstract and realistic art.  On a whim, I asked the children to listen to one of my favorite pieces of music and paint in response. The only parameter given was that they were to paint what they felt. What stirred in their imaginations and emotions. More abstract and less concrete. I was asking them to stretch beyond their comfort zone.

Last Train Home by Pat Metheny

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No doubt,
We’ll be surprised
By the joy discovered
While living life on tiptoe.



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Sketchings

sketching monticello

This piece was originally posted in Story Warren, a project in which I’m delighted to play a small part. Drop by and visit. They’re great folks.

— — —

It had been a long day. We were exhausted. But we had traveled a long way, and the trip wouldn’t be complete until we found it.

In the prior week, our family had roamed the fields at Gettysburg, floated down the Charles River, cycled the picturesque trails of Nantucket, and skipped stones across Walden Pond.  We had endured long-winded tour guides on the Freedom Trail, haunted the House of Seven Gables, and foraged through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in search of Alcott, Emerson and Thoreau. Our family had gorged on history with the zeal of Templeton at the fair. I was full.

But not my daughter. She was on a mission. With quickened step and unshakable resolve, she scanned the horizon searching for her destination. No, not toward the crimson dappled Virginian mountains. No, not behind the gardens where slaves had toiled for decades. Where could it be?

Suddenly, she stopped. Her pause was not due to uncertainty or confusion, rather it resulted from her being absorbed in a moment of delight. Her gaze was fixed beyond the flowerbeds at the end of the meandering brick path.  There it was. The Reflecting Pool. She sprinted with abandon toward this, her final destination. Knowing the significance of her discovery, I dug the camera from my bag and prepared to capture the moment. “Not there,” I was instructed. “You have to take it from the other side – where the house is reflected in the pond.” The angle had to be just right. We were finally at her pond. It was perfect.

In preparation for our trip to New England, my children sketched landmarks which were included on our itinerary. They had taken a great deal of time and effort in selecting and recreating their building (or pond) of choice. A clever tactic, I thought. They would have exposure to the historical icons prior to experiencing them. We would optimize our time and financial investment in the trip.

The goal was indeed achieved. They did learn much about American history. Yet I was unaware of a deeper working in their hearts. What had started as a simple sketch had taken on dimension. As my daughter had considered angle, perspective, depth and shading of the Reflecting Pool, she had grown in attachment to it. She became intimately aware of each curve, shadow, and line. Through each stroke of pen on paper, the picture in her mind became more clear. As we roamed the grounds of that stately home, she knew exactly what she was looking for.  A similar pond wouldn’t do. She longed to see the real thing.

When our children experience goodness, glimpses of eternity are etched onto their hearts.

Each great story engraves lines of truth.
Each work of art imprints ultimate beauty.
Each symphony resonates loveliness.

They all leave their mark, their imprints reflecting the image of the Master Artist. Their effect, to woo His children to himself.

Our children’s lives will be full of adventure, detours, landmark moments and wrong turns. They will travel long distances and lose their way. I can think of no greater honor than to present a rich array of goodness from which they can choose. Goodness that will find its place in their souls. Goodness that will mark the way toward Home.

 

Monticello



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The Year in Review: Top Ten Books of 2012

books

This is so fun – I feel like I’m introducing you to dear friends.

Here are my favorite books of 2012 (in no particular order):

Refractions by Makoto Fujimura
Through a series of essays, Fujimura makes a compelling case for the crucial role of creativity in the midst of a dehumanizing culture. The thread running throughout Refractions is one of hope. Life is full of challenge, disappointment, and at times, great tragedy. Yet we can choose to bring light into darkness, create beauty from ashes, and bring order to chaos. This is an important book with a timely message. I can’t remember reading the same book twice in one year. Until Refractions.

You can find more of Mako’s writing (including additional Refractions essays) at his site here. If you missed reading Refractions with our reading group, I hope to have a reading guide posted on this site in the next few months.

Surprised by Joy/The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy tells the compelling story of Lewis’s early years. I was struck by the pivotal role that disappointment and hardship played in his spiritual formation. Already an admirer of Lewis’s intellect and faith, this book gave me a glimpse of his humanity. The Friendship essay in The Four Loves explores the nature of friendship in a way that was challenging and insightful. It made me think. About why we choose the friends that we do. About the role that friendship plays in society. About what binds us together.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This a devotional packed with deep truths about our Maker and way in which he sees his children.  I continue to be amazed at Sally Lloyd-Jones’s ability to take the most significant, poignant truths and distill them down to a limited number of words. Her writing is the case-in-point for Lewis’s quote, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” This book is the perfect present for everyone – from the newborn to the grandparent.

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson
N.D. Wilson’s writing has taken permanent residence in our home this year. My son, who is quite a discriminating reader, raved about Wilson’s 100 Cupboard series. After having read Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl, I wasn’t surprised. I can honestly say that Tilt-A-Whirl has had a significant impact on the choices made and life lived out in our home. Here’s a taste:

“This world is beautiful but badly broken . . . I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn’t stuck in one place. It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story, a world of surprises and questions to explore. And there’s someone behind it; there are uncomfortable answers to the hows and whys and whats. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him were all things made… Welcome to His poem. His play. His novel. Let the pages flick your thumbs.”

I’ve never read anything quite like it.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Often cited as J.K. Rowling’s favorite book from childhood, The Little White Horse is a children’s fantasy novel full of rich characters, longing, delight, self-sacrifice and redemption. Goudge is a master at weaving beauty and truth throughout her stories.

 

Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson
What’s not to love about an orphan’s adventure with pirates during the American Revolution? Fiddler’s Gun is a delight to read. The story is fast-paced, yet lyrical. The characters are well-developed and highly relatable. It’s a story about choices, consequences, and ultimately grace, yet doesn’t moralize.  Beware – this is one of those books that will keep you up late at night as you have to read “one more chapter.” The sequel, Fiddler’s Green, is on my list to read in 2013.

Culture Making by Andy Crouch
A provocative book to say the least. Culture Making successfully defines  and discusses an ambiguous, but incredibly important, concept. Culture. What is it? How is it made? What is our role and why does it matter? In particular, I was intrigued by Crouch’s observations of the ways in which we examine and interact with our culture (his section on “postures and gestures”). Culture Making is an artful blend of sociology, theology, and philosophy. It inspires and challenges us all to breathe life and goodness into the world in which we live.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I’m not sure how I missed this one in high school. No wonder Lee won the Pulitzer Prize. If you missed it as well, now’s the time.

Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner
This short book by Buechner offers a unique perspective of the gospel – as tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. It challenges and encourages us to take an honest look at life. “What is the kingdom of God?… He suggests rather than spells out. He evokes rather than explains. He catches by surprise. He doesn’t let the homiletic seams show. he is sometimes cryptic, sometimes obscure, sometimes irreverent, always provocative. He tells stories.” I’m a Buechner fan, and this may be my favorite of his books.

Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
This was the first book on the list for our reading group, and I’m not sure that I would have made it through (very effectively) without the insights and camaraderie of the other folks. That being said, it has become one of the most influential books that I’ve read. Sayers redefines the call and boundaries of creativity, walks through an amazing explanation of the nature of evil, and builds a framework through which the creative process can be understood. For our group’s written responses to specific chapters, you can visit here (this is the first week, with links to the following weeks found at the bottom of the page). The Mind of the Maker is well worth the time and energy invested. Highly recommended.

A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy
A beautiful, thoughtful book illustrating that even the smallest light can push back the darkness. A Tree for Peter has at its core the principles found in Refractions, Mind of the Maker, and Culture Making, yet all wrapped in a beautiful story that was written for children. It is outstanding. You can read more here.

 Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring by Andi Ashworth
In a society where efficiency and technology are held in highest esteem, we find ourselves busy and productive. Yet we are also more lonely and dehumanized as a result. Real Love for Real Life reminds us that at our core, we have all been created to care well for one another. A balanced blend of the philosophical and practical, this book is food for the soul of a people hungry for connection.

For you detail-oriented folks, yes, that was twelve. It’s been a good year.

If you’d like to join the Greener Trees Reading Group, we’ll be starting with The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner the week of January 7th.  Consider joining us!

What were your favorite books of the year? 

Happy New Year and happy reading to you!



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Back to School: Poetry 101

My alma mater. Where my soul and mind were well fed.

I’m going back to school.  Wanna come?

Don’t you remember the excitement of the new year?  A legion of sharpened pencils.  A carefully-selected notebook with neatly arranged folders.  A stark calendar awaiting the scribbled adornment of activities, assignments, and football games. But at the heart of all the frenzy is the promise of a new beginning.  A fresh start. The potential of the unknown.

As we grow older, the line between seasons begins to blur. The workplace rarely closes for summer vacation, and new starts are far less definitive.  We become pragmatic and resolved.  Too often, we trade in curiosity and imagination for practicality and security.  We deny an invaluable portion of our inheritance – the part of our souls that was designed to create.  Why?

“Children are more creative (than are adults) and are natural inventors.  Their worldview is incomplete and demands discovery. They prosper because they embrace their ignorance instead of ignoring it. And they are willing to explore, investigate, and put their ideas to the test because they are willing to fail.” (Sam McNerney. Killing Creativity: Why Kids Draw Pictures of Monsters & Adults Don’t )

 

We’re too busy.  Our schedules are packed with “have-tos” and we rarely venture to consider the “dream-ofs.”  I’d suggest, however, that under the emperor’s fine purple garments of busy schedules often exists the exposing, naked reality of our own fear. Fear of failure.  Fear of looking silly or impractical.  Or fear of wanting more.

My friend, John, is a gifted therapist who spends his days talking with folks as they struggle to make sense of the hard things in life.  John recently discovered that he has quite a talent for sculpting.  In writing about his journey, John notes that “Sometimes, the riskiest thing for us to do is to trust and try.”

So how about it?  You don’t have to step on the yellow school bus or move into a college dorm this fall in order to try something new.  If you could go back to school, what classes would you take that you missed the first time around?  What activities?  Why not trust and try?

I’ve always been a lover of the well-written word.  I enjoy discovering and reading poetry with my children, and have a special place in my heart for the prose of Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot. I dabbled in poetry in high school and college, yet I’ve settled comfortably into the role of a distanced appreciator.

This fall, Chris Yokel (who you may remember from Redeeming the Fall) will be offering two 4-week sessions for folks who have limited or no experience with poetry, but who’d like to learn more.  In a nutshell:

The Basics of Poetry (Sept.17 – Oct. 7): Basic literary elements of poetry.  Teaching videos will be posted on Youtube.

Poetry Writing Workshop (Oct. 15 – Nov.11): Poetry workshop including exercises to help challenge and prod you along.

The class has been designed for those who need flexibility and can commit varying degrees of time. You can find out more detail and sign up for the class at chrisyokel.com.

Whether it’s daring to venture into a poetry class or a pottery studio, exploring a new genre of music or learning the art of cooking Thai cuisine, take a chance. Excitement is drifting through the early autumn air. Breathe in deeply. Let it inspire you.

And if you’re afraid of trying something new, well, I’ll embarrass myself first on the world wide web, so whatever you choose to do may feel a bit less vulnerable. Here goes my first, timid, awkward attempt at haiku:

no more excuses
keyboard strokes dash through veiled pride
to create brings life

 
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Time Flies

time flies

time flies

Let me tell you about my 2-year-old. He loves life. He wakes early in the morning, eager for the adventures of the day. He is inquisitive about the way things work. He transforms long-forgotten remnants of this and that into tools, and he builds wood-block cities where the good guys decimate the bad guys on an hourly basis. He has a kind, generous heart and notices everything extraordinary that adults religiously dismiss. He has a sense of wonder and whimsy for which I yearn. He exudes the very essence of life.

I love my 2-year-old. But the thing is, he just turned 13. It happened when I blinked. As my eyes refocus on this newer version of my boy, I’m acutely aware that so much has changed. He has almost matched me in height.  He is the one recommending books to me, and I learn as much from our conversations (or more) than does he.  He is closer to a man than a boy, and the rate of change is just getting kicked into high gear.

Yet when I consider the best part of that 2-year-old, the truest, most human, most alive part of his soul, it is still just as present eleven years later.  The best part of my son is that which is eternal.  It doesn’t slip away with years, although I’ve been granted the privilege to see it grow and develop.  His joy, his compassion, his curiosity for life, his kindness and his creativity.  Those things remain. They were formed from a substance more foundational than atoms.  They are not bound (or marred) by the passage of time. The best part of my vibrant son, of my elderly grandmother, of you, and of me, won’t vanish with the years. It can’t be ended by a milestone birthday. Or even by a funeral.

Most of us have felt the twinge (or gut-wrenching) sadness that accompanies the milestones commemorated in our photo albums. We sigh, and with a mix of melancholy, nostalgia, sadness and yearning, we chant the parental mantra, “Time flies.”  Yet take heart.

Yes, time flies.

But I don’t want to stop it.  I want to climb on its back and soak up every inch of the scenery. I want to drink in the laughter, the tears, the soccer games, the visits to the ER, the blues skies and the torrential rains that this world has to offer. For when the cosmic clock is finally grounded, I will climb off its back, grateful for the wild and wonderful (full-of-wonder) ride.

So enjoy your toddlers, your teenagers, your grandchildren. Don’t miss one bit of the ride due to fear or regret. For the day is coming when the tarnish of time will be removed  from us all.  And underneath will be revealed the beauty, the creativity, the wonder, the whimsy, and the perfected love that was imprinted on our souls from the very foundations of the universe.

 

 



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