Category Archives: Faith and Spirituality

My Father, His Life Well Lived

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My wonderful father left this life in the early hours of July 22. It was a peaceful transition, with Mama and me by his side.  He lingered a while, for nearly nine days, as if to break it to us gently.
Those final days were oddly beautiful.  Daddy was kind, sweet and gracious to the end.

While we will miss him everyday, we’re confident that his loving spirit has found its true and joyful eternal home.  And we will carry his love for us always in our hearts. 

Dear Daddy, I will be forever blessed to be your girl!  

Thoughts on Good Friday

 

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Our pale pink trellis roses will be flowering in gorgeous abundance in about six weeks.  They grow up from massive vines.  In stark contrast to the delicate, graceful flowers, the vines are rough-skinned, tough, craggy, crude, and studded all over with the sharpest of thorns.  Barbaric, like an implement of torture.  Barbaric, like the crown of thorns.  Barbaric, like the cross. 

The cross casts its long shadow on Good Friday, this darkest day of the Christian year.   Worshippers the world over pause on this day to mourn the death of a loving and sinless brother, the one who took our ugliness upon himself and carried it with him to the cross. 

Good Friday ends with the death of the Son of God.  But as this church sign in Providence, Rhode Island proclaims, death isn’t the end of the story. 

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No.  Not by far.  Easter’s coming. 

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For previous Good Friday posts, see Our Good Friday God, and Good Friday: It is Finished. Let Life Begin

Palm Sunday 2016

 

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It’s a gray, chilly first day of spring here in northern Virginia. 

It’s also Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of the holiest week of the year for Christians.  On this day we look back to Jesus’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, when he was hailed as a hero.  The enthusiastic adoration of the crowd was with him, for the moment. 

Less than a week later, he would be dead. 

Next Sunday marks Jesus’s true triumph, of course, on Easter Sunday.  But before that, he faced betrayal, the cross, agony, and death.  It’s tempting for us today to skip from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, from joy to joy.  But Christians are called to spend some time this week contemplating those exceedingly dark days between.  Not to do so lessens the power of the risen Christ.   

 

For additional thoughts on Palm Sunday and Holy Week, see this post from 2012:  Palm Sunday: Everyone Loves a Winner. 

Saved from the Ashes

Some months ago I awoke in the night from what is, as of yet, the most horrific dream of my life.  Nothing really happened in the dream, so I won’t bore you with details.  My husband is quick to remind me that nothing is more tedious than listening to another person’s dreams.  I saw an image, a murky, indescribable image, that somehow engendered an overwhelming and bone-deep sensation of foreboding and dread.  I was paralyzed with fear, but the feeling went far beyond fright. The vision was one of doom, of being trapped for all eternity in a state of absolute and utter hopelessness. 

The effects of the dream persisted.  I couldn’t shake the sense of helplessness and loss.  There was no question of returning to sleep anytime soon.  I looked at my little dog, curled peacefully in his bed just a few feet away.  He appeared blissfully oblivious to the terror that swirled around me like a storm cloud.  Because of his gentleness and sweet demeanor, he has become for me a symbol of all that’s good and right in the world.  Yet his presence lacked any power to comfort me that night.  I wandered silently from room to room, but could find no sense of peace.  No human touch, no human words would help, I knew.  The fear went too deep.  The sense of isolation was too complete. 

Eventually it struck me that the essence of my nightmare vision was that of complete abandonment by God.  And then I saw that hope surely remained.  The comforting words of the Twenty-third Psalm came to me like a gift:

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me. 

In my dream, I had seen the hopelessness of a life of Ash Wednesday ashes.  Without God’s love, we are doomed to the ashes, to the dust and the darkness. 

We turn away from God.  We turn away repeatedly.  But God never turns away from us. He does not abandon his children. 

Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

–Romans 10:13

That night I was too rattled to pray my own prayers.  But the words of the Lord’s prayer were within my grasp.  I knew I was not abandoned to the darkness. 

That night I thanked God for his grace.  Since then, having glimpsed the desolation of hopeless gloom, I almost always remember to thank him every day.  On this Ash Wednesday, I thank him again. 

 

For additional thoughts on Ash Wednesday, see these earlier posts:  What’s with the Ashes?; Ashes to Ashes; and Those Gray Smudges.

 

Extreme Gift Wrapping, Christmas 2015

It’s well past Christmas, I realize, but I’m running behind in this new year, just as I was in the old year.  It’s consistent, then, that my last Christmas post, an annual update on extreme gift wrapping, appears two weeks into January. 

Thanks to my husband and daughter, it’s hard to predict what might appear around the tree in the days leading up to Christmas:  a family of enormous cylinders, a tall skinny pyramid, a child-sized obelisk, a gift tower ten feet high.  Not all packages appear under the tree; some have been suspended from the ceiling.  Certainly one of the most original and unexpected presentations was the pentagon and five pyramids that came together to form a star on Christmas morning.  My husband, searching for ideas for this year’s wrapping scheme, found that when he Googled “Extreme Gift Wrapping,” the first image that popped up was that very star he’d made in 2012.  He and my daughter have set the bar high. We’re prepared to be wowed.  (For previous years, see  here, here, and here.)

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Getting to “wow” becomes all the more unlikely when one expects it.  Subtler strategies must evolve.  When the first gift from my husband to my daughter appeared a few days before Christmas, it was an ordinary square box, wrapped in plaid paper.  On one side there was a wedge-shaped section of silver paper.  Simple.  Not showy.  If you didn’t know better you might think he’d run out of paper. 

My daughter countered with a more emphatic gesture:  she transformed a gift to her father into a gold and white-patterned Droid.  Her Star Wars tribute, she called it. 

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My husband was impressed and intrigued.  (Kiko, not so much.  He showed mild interest when H made it move.) 

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Eight more gifts for our daughter appeared during the next several days.  Each one was wrapped in the same size square box.  Most, but not all, had an apparently random section of shiny silver paper on one side.  On Christmas Eve, the gifts were piled seemingly haphazardly around the tree. 

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On Christmas morning, the square packages for our daughter were stacked, as if by Santa, so that the silver paper formed the letter J, her first initial.  (When I refer to her as “D,” it stands for “daughter.”)

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The “J Wall” as I think of it, lacks the visual impact of the star.  Indeed, that star is hard to surpass.  But it’s clever.  If you think about it philosophically, you could say it reshuffles chaos into order, into meaning.  Sort of the way the divine magic of Christmas can inject order and meaning into our lives, if we let it. 

And  if you simply consider how the J Wall looks, you’d probably say it serves as a very pleasing complement to the Droid, a charming creation on its own. 

Hats off, again, to H & D for keeping the ball in play during their ongoing volley of extreme gift wrapping!  What, I wonder, will they do next year?  (Glad I’m only a spectator in the game.)

Christmas Eve 2015: Magic in the Live Nativity

039Christmas Eve is here again.  Much like last year, the day is wet, cloudy, and unseasonably warm.  It’s time again for the live nativity at our church.  The baby Jesus, of course, is the real star of the show, but he’s small.  The camel, however, is quite large, and he tends to be the traffic-stopper.  Last year, our camel was not Samson, who was busy elsewhere, but his colleague Zeke.  Zeke enjoyed kneeling in the mud, and he therefore appeared in many selfies.  

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Kiko had the privilege of meeting Zeke, since the camel leaned down for a hello sniff.  The year before, Samson stood so tall and aloof that Kiko never seemed to notice him. 

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We also welcomed this little ox and burro, as well as a sheep and a goat.  I’m hoping we’ll see the whole gang again today.

If you have the opportunity to experience a live nativity in your area, I advise you not to miss it.  The shepherds and kings may be rag-tag; the baby Jesus may be a doll; Mary and Joseph may be played by a teenaged brother and sister.  With luck, there will be a few real animals.  I hope you get to meet a camel, an elegant and surprisingly sweet regal creature. 

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Give the humble tableau a chance, and perhaps, unexpectedly, your heart will be touched.  The make-shift nativity could speak to you of a God who turns the world upside down, who sent his own Son to live among us, in the mud and grit, to suffer and die, just as we must do, to wipe away our sin and invite us into the heavenly fold.  There is a chance that you might be overwhelmed by a sense of majesty.  Stranger things have happened, after all, on Christmas. 

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May you rejoice in the off-key songs of the tinsel-haloed angels with their awkward cardboard wings.  May you feel the power of the light in the darkness, the divine, holy light that will never be extinguished.  No matter what.  No matter what.  Amen. 

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For a previous Christmas Eve post, with more about that light in the darkness, see here.    

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Acknowledging that it’s December. . .

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Once again, it’s December.  Too soon, as always.  Although the pre-Christmas busy-ness has been no more extreme than usual, the details have kept my mind too crowded to devote time to writing.  Or to much thought, in general, for that matter.  It’s hard not to let the post-Thanksgiving lead-up to December 25 become an endurance game of checking off never-ending lists.  Lights replaced on the playroom tree?  Yes. Whew. Cross that out.  One small victory.  On to the next task, with many more to follow. 

Last year I wrote about the fine line between reveling in the spirit of Christmas and veering off the deep end into holiday excess.  (See here.)  It’s an issue I guess I’ll grapple with until I’m physically unable to haul out the decorations.  But that might not stop me.  Will I be directing my daughter, or some kindly, younger neighbor?  I hope not.  But then again, no one else could do it to please me. 

Anyway, the wreaths are up on our house and on the old maple stump out front by the road.  The stump survived another year. This summer it played host to a thicket of tall green foliage. 

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As long as any part of the decaying tree remains, we’ll decorate it in December.  For me, it’s a reminder of the true spirit of Christmas: because a baby was born many years ago in Bethlehem, out of death comes new life.  That is the best antidote to holiday excess I can imagine. 

For my first post on this subject, see Deck the Tree Stump, posted almost exactly two years ago.