Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sept 26, 2010

Dear Friends,

This past week has been filled with adventure. I spent several days with friends enjoying conversation, laughter, and good food while exploring parts of the Wyoming world.

One evening enroute home from a trip to the mountains, we stopped in a pullout. While stopping was a calm sensible act on the driver’s part, from my passenger perspective on the cliff side of the road I confess I felt a momentary wish for a parachute! Safely parked, however, I got over my qualms, and the three of us got out of the car, and stood together on the shoulder of that small space of ground looking down.

The valley stretching miles below us was bracketed by the massive Wind River Range on the east, and on the far west by the Tetons that formed a black jagged horizon against the late afternoon sky. We were looking down on a deep glacier lake already darkening with the shadows of the mountains that surrounded it. Our human smallness seemed the clearest thing about our identity in that immense world of wind and endless grass with its high sky and granite boundaries. We sensed too the briefness of our human existence measured against the massive mountains around us. We understood as well that the beauty that touched us in changing shape and shadow and color lay beyond the limits of our human language.

Then, as we turned to go, I saw a small bush clinging fiercely to the edge of the cliff.

“Is that some kind of mountain rose?” I asked my hostess, noticing the shape of the leaves.

“Let me see if I can find a rose hip,” she said, and reached into the bush. “Look here!” she exclaimed, and held out her hand, cupping in her palm a tiny red berry about the size of the nail on my small finger.

“It’s a wild raspberry,” I said surprised, examining it. “Well, so it is,” we agreed as the three of us passed that small bit of transitory life from hand to hand.

Later that night, drowsy but not yet asleep in my warm bed, my mind revisited both that resilient raspberry and the towering cliffs that form the Wind River Range.

“I think that today I recognized God’s shadow in two places,” I reported to myself, “—the raspberry and the rock.” I looked again at the picture in my mind of the mountains behind the lake, and of the tiny wild raspberry cupped in C.’s palm. I concluded drowsily, “They both are assigned to image You,” and drifted off.

Then, just before sleep silenced thinking completely, my eyes suddenly came wide open. Belatedly, I realized that my summary had omitted an important aspect of the rock/raspberry matter.

Awake now, I added, “God, You know that imaging business we were talking about—well, I get it—rock and raspberry and me, too. I understand—me, too.”

Thinking with you about what present Kingdom work looks like for mountains, for raspberries, and for you and me.

See you next week.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weeds This Time

Sept 19, 2010

Dear Friends,

The house project continues to provide thinking moments. Last week it was the lamps. This week it was the weeds.

A gifted friend (C.) who makes beautiful floral arrangements wrote that she would be in town briefly, and suggested that we have dinner together. She added casually that if I would gather some new and interesting weeds she would come early and make a new arrangement I could use on the piano or on the glass sofa table.

“Do I need to get all ‘new’ materials?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” C. answered, “—just some new interesting weeds and we’ll use them with some of the old arrangement you liked. The combination in that gold vase will look fine, and very different.”

The week developed into a non-stop round of activities with little time for weed-gathering. I shared my dilemma with my friend, L.

“Weeds?” asked another friend (L.) in a puzzled voice. “You mean you want weed weeds—weeds like those that grow in fields and fence rows?”

“Yep,” I said, “that’s exactly what I want.”

“Well, I’ll get some for you when I walk the dogs. What do I look for?”

“Weeds,” I said, “Look for some that are beautiful and have interesting shapes.”

A few days later, L. stopped by.

“I left some weeds in the garage,” she said, then added in a very doubtful tone, “but I don’t know about the big one I put on the floor. It’s—well, it’s odd, and it’s dark and heavy. I’ll take it and put it in the trash if you want me to. I can’t imagine how C. would ever use that.”

“No,” I said. “Just leave it all—let C. decide what will fit into what she has in mind.”

Later, visiting the weed harvest in the garage, I had my own doubts. That particular weed specimen that L. had left on the floor was big and heavy, and it looked dark and wild and somewhat ugly lying on the gray cement of the garage floor.

Shortly after C. arrived we went to inspect the weed supply in the garage.

“Oh, look!” C. said with delight. “Oh, look at this!! It’s heavy, and dark, and tall—just perfect for the center. The grasses and the golden rod and this stuff here—I don’t know its name is—it’s just beautiful, and together this is going to be wonderful. Wait and see.”

When C. was finished, the transformation of the weeds was visually astonishing. The specimen that L. had left alone on the dark cement garage floor assumed a dramatically different appearance when surrounded by the deep rust seed stalks of the dock weed, and the gold furry heads of foxtail. The slender stems of the curly willow looked oddly at home against the solid unbending strength of the dark centerpiece. Together with the wheat in the gold glass vase, all the weeds “belonged”, including the green, half-opened milkweed pods with their shining touch of silk.

“Hmm,” said L. when she saw the finished product. “Looks a lot different that it did on the garage floor.” Indeed.

N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope argues (persuasively, I think) for an organic continuity between this earth and the New Heaven and Earth that John describes in Revelation, and a parallel continuity between who we are, who we are becoming, and the person we will some day be. It is the mystery of the already-but-not-yet of the resurrection. I thought about this later as I sat in my favorite chair and watched the evening light alter the shapes and shades of color in C’s arrangement.

That centerpiece, casting its dark straight silhouette against the gold wall, was surrounded by wild goldenrod, nameless grass, rusty untidy red seed stalks combined with the gossamer silk of half-opened milkweed pod—weeds, all of them, just weeds, creatures of the earth from which they had sprung, shaped by wind and rain and sun throughout their brief attachment to this earth. They were weeds still, although now severed from the field in which they had first known life, and placed into a gold vase, their new position and companions assigned by C.’s gifted eye,. Yet—there was something profoundly different, a transformation, if you will that found them now paradoxically both what they always had been but now reshaped into a beauty only C. could imagine when they were weeds in the fence row, then cut and left lying on the garage floor.

John was thinking about this process of change when he wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (I John 3:2-3 RSV)

Be hopeful. The garage floor does not have the last word.

Grow with courage—you’re not alone.

See you next week.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The lamp adventure

September 12, 2010

Dear Friends,

My thinking this week has grown out of my adventure with lamps.

Arranging for sufficient light is an important part of making a room functional and comfortable. I thought about this as I began to put my house back together after the great painting episode. Common sense suggested that lamps be placed to provide adequate light in task-specific locations (by the piano, by the chair where I read, for example). The light is the important thing, I thought, and apart from their utilitarian function, I assigned lamps themselves a relatively minor significance in the house project.

Not so.

There was that lamp that hung over the dining room table—the black wrought iron one with odd looking little mini-shades. Plenty of light—but all the men and half the women who have eaten at that table have sooner or later hit their heads on that lamp. And it looked—well, that lamp looked downright peculiar seen against the new gold walls.

And then there was the lamp on the table by the loveseat. Plenty of light—it incorporated a hundred watt bulb. It had an attractive base, but by the end of the first week of reconstruction, I could see that that table and that lamp were never going to make a good fit. The table refused to grow any (it was small by any standard), and the tall lamp refused to shrink, so the two made a Mutt-and-Jeff combination that looked—well, they looked a bit like thrift store orphans when viewed alongside the new loveseat.

And then there was the problem posed by my much loved pair of Aynsley china lamps. The Pembroke pattern and the chaste white elegant shades continued to give me great visual joy. They provided more than sufficient light in the space by the china cabinet where I had placed them. However—and you may not be surprised—I soon lived into the truth that I had underestimated the power of the red accent wall in the dining room. After about two weeks I conceded: those lamps and the red wall, both beautiful, both loved, simply didn’t fit. Change was necessary. H-m-m-m.

As you know, I am teaching about change in the context of Christian spiritual formation, and the lamp adventure sparked some thinking along this line.

As Christians, we understand that through the indwelling Spirit it is the light of Christ that shines through us—His light, His life, through us. The lamp does not make the light. Paul was emphatic about this—Christ in us, Paul wrote, our hope of glory.

Don’t be conformed to this world, Paul warned those early Christians, yet at the same time he urged them to live in such a way that their lives in Christ were attractive to the world around them.

One part of spiritual formation is the Spirit’s work to increase those responses in us that enable others to see what Jesus was actually like—compassionate, loving and kind. This requires our cooperation. Another part of our spiritual formation is the Spirit’s work to enable us to live along side people in a way that encourages life-changing relationships. Similarly, this too requires our cooperation.

My lamps—bless them—had no choice. They are what they are. Not so for me in the way I through the Spirit reflect the Christ light I have been given. I remember singing energetically as a child in Sunday School: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine.” Today, thinking of my lamp adventure and the challenge of change in myself, I added: “Spirit God, shape me to shine with a beauty and grace-to-fit-in that draws others to Your light.”

What kind of a lamp are you providing for the Light in your life?

With you on the everyday journey.



Sunday, September 5, 2010

Knowing What We See

September 5, 2010
Dear Friends,

I was meeting a friend for lunch and arrived early. While waiting I overheard two women sitting near me talking with animation and an easily audible volume. One was recounting an event that she had recently experienced.

"I wouldn't have believed it unless I had seen it with my own eyes," she concluded emphatically.

Being incurably curious about people, I considered going over to the woman and asking her if she believed that her eyes were in every instance a reliable guide to truth--it appeared to me she had embraced a highly questionable epistomology without thinking the matter through. On second thought, being even more highly interested in keeping the public peace (particularly since at that moment I was part of this specific public), I remained at the table where the hostess had seated me, and sensibly minded my own business.

While waiting, however, I did continue to wonder if it had ever occurred to that woman to question what she saw, or to wonder if the meaning she had assigned to what she thought she had seen was truth. At this point, my friend arrived and my attention turned to the joy of time and conversation with her, and the pleasure of the fine food we were served.

Late afternoon when I had finished with clients, however, the issue returned in an interesting and surprisingly beautiful form.

There is a bank of three large windows at the west end of my living room. The window coverings include sheers that cast a rusty red glow when the afternoon sun comes through them. The sofa in front of the windows is a comfortable sort, and I lay down for a brief rest and the joy of watching the changing shadows in the angles of the walls and ceiling as the light changed and night began to move in.

The walls in this room have been recently painted what is to me a lovely shade of gold. To my fascinated eyes, however, the walls I now saw had become a rich salmon-tinted rose. A portion of the ceiling that had appeared its proper Aztec White when I left for lunch, was now touched by a pied and dappled patch of red and green that reached from the dining room arch to the kitchen door.

Remembering the woman's comment, I said to myself with a smile, "The paint on my walls has changed! I have seen it with my own eyes so I am sure I can believe it."

I did see an beautiful, luminous rose covering on my living room walls. The ceiling was patterned with moving patches of red and green. I saw this--I am sure that I did. I am less sure, however, that what I saw means that the paint changed.

There is the matter of those sheers to be taken into account. And there is also the Tiffany lamp through which the afternoon sunlight reached obliquely for that ceiling space.

Change comes. When change comes, we do not automatically understand the change we see. If seeing becomes believing without pause for question, we can find ourselves at odds with reality, and adrift from truth. Jesus did not seem to think that the seeing and hearing that matter are automatic or easy. He reminded his followers that those who had eyes needed to choose to see, and those with ears needed to choose to hear. One of the purposes for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus added comfortingly, was to make this seeing and hearing possible.

If you are interested in thinking about change, and how change occurs in the process of spiritual development, join our class at First Presbyterian Church, Golden, CO, beginning September 12 at 10:30. Call 303.279.3968 for further information.

See you next week.