I was doing some research this morning on potatoes, my mother-in-law having mentioned recently that they contain a significant amount of Vitamin C. In the process I came upon an excellent resource for nutritional information here. If you're curious to know the protein, mineral or vitamin content of a fruit, vegetable, grain or nut, these nutrient charts posted on chiropractor Dr. Decuypere's website will give you that information in an easy to read format.

I discovered that potatoes do indeed have Vitamin C, about 25% of the daily requirement (if you keep the skins on), and more potassium than a banana. I was surprised to see that nutritionally they beat out brown rice. That's, of course, without the sour cream, butter and other yummy additions!

We often bake extra potatoes in the oven and then refry them in olive oil (I know this is good for me!) and a little seasoned salt. Now I can enjoy the taste while feeling good about the nutrition. Win - win!
 
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9-11)

This past week I was reading a book by a friend who had worked in Vietnam for many years. In one chapter she described her experience of learning the Vietnamese language, made more difficult by the six tones that accompany each syllable. Finally, she says, "after we declared it was ‘vomiting’ outside (instead of raining) and that I was giving birth in the guest room (instead of painting it), we learned the biggest lesson of all; to laugh at ourselves and enjoy their amusement – and their happiness that we were making an effort."

I was struck by this line. For years we lived overseas, but my desire to do things perfectly kept me from throwing myself with abandon into language acquisition. I was afraid that people would laught at me, revealing more perhaps about myself than about others. And so I monitored my use of Spanish, rather than turning off my inner critic and humbling myself to become a three-year-old. Even now, my husband takes every opportunity to use his Spanish, but I hold back, not willing to show that I'm not as competent as I think I should be.

It's this difference in attitude between my experience and my friend's that caught me. Jumping in feet first, she discovered that Instead of scorn, there was delight. The good-hearted amusement of her audience sprang from a sincere happiness that she was making an effort, along with a realistic expectation that, like any three-year-old, she would make mistakes. It was this grace and light-hearted acceptance of the process that allowed her to settle back and laugh at her own blunders, confident that they were not met with judgment, but with delight.

What does God require of us to be pleased? Not perfection, certainly, or we would spend our days in under a cloud of displeasure. Rather, it is to make an effort toward the good. It's the seeking to please that pleases God. The writer of yesterday's Psalm (25)  was committed to this principle:

Show me your ways, O LORD,
and teach me your paths. 
 
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation
.

and later:

Gracious and upright is the LORD;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way. 
 
He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly. 

God is a gracious teacher. Like the Vietnamese my friend encountered, God does not expect that we will do things perfectly. Full of wisdom and understanding, our loving parent knows our souls and our struggles more than we will ever understand. God knows where we have been, and what we need to unlearn in order to embrace the path of love. But that's not a concern. The desire is for the heart to be turned toward the good, for us to take the next right step, no matter the stumbling in the process.

It was Julian of Norwich who said, "In our eyes we fall, in God's eyes we stand. But God's insight is the greater." As children seeking to follow in our brother Jesus' footsteps, God is happy with us. Will we fall? Of course. But God calls us to share in the delight of the effort, knowing that we are beloved, and in us God is well pleased. 
 
Picture
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

The past few months have found me at the piano, brushing up on a skill that's become rusty over many years. I've especially enjoyed going through stacks of music I've collected, becoming reacquainted with songs I've loved and played in the past. One of these is the 3rd Nocturne in Liszt's piano set entitled Liebestraume (German for "Dreams of Love.)

The flowing melody, evoking as sense of longing, at times gentle, at times soaring, was inspired by a poem from Ferdinand Freiligrath. The first several lines are translated:

Oh love, love as long as you can, love as long as you are able
The hour is coming when you will be stand by the grave and weep.

The poem is written as an encouragement to love well the friends and lovers in one's life, as one day they will no longer be with us, and we may feel a strong sense of regret. Having spent some time recently with Dan's folks in a retirement community in Florida, I'm newly impressed with the inevitability of death, both one's own and that of  ones you love. When time is short, it's folly to get caught up in small concerns; important to forgive quickly and move on.
 
Although the poem is written about human relationships, I can't help but recommit myself to love as well the nature that surrounds me - the swirling colors of a flower, the strength of an osprey, talons grasping a fresh-caught fish, the crescent moon that garnishes a starlit sky. These are gifts I don't want to leave unopened, joys I want to savor while I can. To live well is to love well - as long as I can.

Here's a version for you to enjoy.
 
Two years ago I felt like my life was a long season of Lent, trudging through desert wastelands, hoping for some relief along the way. As Ash Wednesday approached, it occurred to me that giving up something for Lent was exactly the wrong idea. Rather than moving myself more towards a fast, I needed to add something nourishing. The something I added was the commitment to take more initiative where I could. Using the phrase, "Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem" from Luke 9 as my mantra, I decided to exercise the free will I had to make a decision every day. I was worn out, but the choice to choose kept me from plunging into depression.

It's easy, I think, to view Christianity as a set of negations. When I was growing up as a teenager, it seemed as if people were eager to tell you you couldn't do something, but rarely offered a healthy or life-giving alternative. If instead of worrying about getting rid of things, we consider what we would like to add - not so much "not being" as "becoming" -things might be a bit easier. Adding in the good makes less room for the not-so-good, while focusing on the best will make it even possible to drop what is good.

During this Lenten season, I'm choosing to add more hope to my life. "Love hopes all things," says Paul in his famous chapter on love sent to the Corinthian church. If I am intent on following the path of Jesus towards love, then being filled with hope will only help in my journey. As a way of keeping me on track, I'll be taking the Wednesday posts until Easter to blog about hope.

Maybe the language of acquisition rather than deprivation will put a different spin on your Lenten observance this year. Giving up chocolate as a means of adding self-control might still be the right idea, but only if you desire self-control as a means of loving yourself and others more or better. It might be more helpful to seek to be more generous; while looking for extra money to do so, the morning Starbucks latte might seem a good place to start. 

How do you want to become more like Christ, more full of his love? Let that be the guiding question as you ponder how best to enter into Lent. The Spirit of Christ will show you and then give you what you need to follow her lead.
 
Picture
I'm currently in the midst of reading Healing the Eight Stages of Life  by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant and Dennis Linn. Recommended to me by my friend Cathleen Lauer, a spiritual director and all around wise woman, the book is a real find.

The authors use the eight developmental stages of life delineated by Erik Erikson as a basis for their work. At each stage different virtues are garnered; competencies are gained or lost, leaving holes in our ability to navigate well. For example, the play age (from 3-5) offers the opportunity to develop initiative. If this is denied or stymied, an oversensitivity to guilt may ensue.
Other stages affect trust, autonomy, industry, identity, intimacy, generativity, and integrity.

What I appreciate most about the Linns and Fabricant, is their spiritual grounding as they work their way through the material. (Matthew and Dennis both come from Jesuit  backgrounds.) Several years ago, when my husband began to pastor, I learned firsthand about the importance of inner healing, and the power of forgiveness, prayer and positive affirmations of God's love and power. The prayer exercises that are offered at the end of each chapter provide good guidance for moving forward; they are specifically geared for healing of memories and patterns set during the time period covered. I'm finding good stuff for myself as I go back slowly through my life.

Unhealthy patterns keep us from becoming free, competent, and full of grace. I'm thankful for a thoughtful and careful resource to help me on my on-going quest for spiritual, emotional and cognitive health.

 

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to  Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one  for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For he did  not know what to answer; for they became terrified.Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!”  (Mark 9:2-7) 

My husband, Dan, is just finishing a book on Glory, the fruit of a seed planted some 30 years ago when as a student at Princeton Seminary he wrote a paper on the Transfiguration. The marvel of the transfiguration in his mind, is not only that Jesus’ glory shows his divinity, but also that this glory, encapsulated in a physical body, gives us a vision of what it means to be truly human.

It’s this idea of becoming truly human, following the path that Jesus marks out for us, that I’m trying to grab a hold of as we move from Transfiguration Sunday into Lent. Like my friend, David Henson, I was finding it difficult to put my thoughts into prose, and so opted instead for poetry. In the poem below, I imagine Peter, whose impulsive suggestion to build tents on the mountaintop makes it into Mark’s narrative, remembering this glimpse of glory and the transformation that marked out the rest of his life.


Transfiguration
Susan Schmidt

I wanted to stay a while more 
there up on that mountaintop:
Pitch a tent to mark the spot,
Take in the crazy wonder of it all,
And maybe in a couple days
(when I could breathe again)
Ask Elijah how things were.

But that idea got squelched.
The voice wouldn't take no talkin' back.
“Listen up to Jesus now!” 
Who then walked down into Jerusalem
And told us not to be afraid.
“Hold on tight to me,” he said.
“And don’t stop lovin' - 
even if it kills ya.”
 
When I saw him shine again
(up on another mountaintop)
He told us somethin' else. He said,
"You go and wait for heav'nly fire.
You'll know it's real, cause pow'r will come."
And so we did. 

And when they came, those glory flames
Ignited somethin' deep inside of me
And kept on burnin'.
Kept on burnin' 'til
I wasn't anymore
The man I was the day we saw
What men were really meant to be.

Note: Photo credit by Rich Gibson; Transfiguration - Mosaic in basilica of St. Peter
 
Picture
Starry Night over the Rhine by Vincent Van Gogh


God's Grandeur, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, is perhaps the first poem that ever captured my soul. Whenever I read it, I'm struck again by the power of the glory of God. It cannot be buried, suppressed or ignored. And when we are in need of a great renewal, when we yearn like a barren landscape to be reseeded with life and vitality, we can also rely on the brooding Holy Ghost. She rises daily to fill us with the dearest, freshness deep down things, so that once again we can flame out, like shining from shook foil. 


God's Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God. 
   It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
   It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil 
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell:
the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;  
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;          
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.



Note:
I'll be offline until Feb 20, resting and playing in the shadow of bright wings. See you then.
 
 

While the image of a single child lost in play is the stuff from which poetry springs, anyone who has been around a playground knows that children in groups are an entirely different kettle of fish. Bullying, name calling, fights, exclusion and shaming are just a few of the nastier sides of the recess hour. It is the rare group of children who can play well without supervision. The exceptions are those children who are extremely well-trained, naturally amiable, or willing to play a game with well-defined rules.

Although self-restraint can keep adults from play, it is almost a necessity for children to learn if they wish to engage peaceably with others. Good sportsmanship, awareness of the limits of the game, and a tolerable skill level make for engaging play. The same is true with adults; strong character, commitment to a common set of guidelines and honed talent make for a satisfying group experience, whether in a committee or on a volleyball court.

There is, however, another level of play that is possible when one adds an additional element, that of trust. My middle daughter recently started The Third Space Dance Company. On their webpage, the vision statement explains the company’s name: “The third space refers to an element created by the collaborative artistic energies of two (or more) people. This space can be seen as a potential waiting to be discovered, and we invite artists of all mediums to enter into this creative experience with us.” 

Trust can open the space to play without rules. When one knows that the people they're playing with have internalized what is good, both in terms of personal expression and specific technique, improvisation becomes a possibility. With trust in each other, trust in the process and trust in the potential of empty, yet pregnant space, dancers and other artists at Third Space Dance are able to collaborate in a deeply meaningful way. Co-creators step into rehearsals with an openness to where this time will lead, playing with and off each other in freedom and expectation.  
 
When I think of moving into play, I imagine not only what it means for me to be free to explore, imagine or create, but what it might look like to be a part of a group of people, young and old, who experience life playfully. We will bring our skills to the game, and have spent time on developing character. But more than that, we will have trust in each other, trust in the process, and trust that there is something out there pulling us all into the dance.


 
 
You know for sure you're a Type A sort of person when you put "play more" on your to-do list. Why is it hard for some people to be playful? I don't know the answer for the world in general, but I am taking a few minutes in today's post to figure out what keeps me from playing.

1. It seems like a waste of time.
2. I have to let go of being responsible for someone or something.
3. It requires turning my self-monitor off.

To play requires a certain amount of trust. One has to believe that doing something for the love of it is appropriate, and that risking time on something that may have no obvious value has inherent worth. There are many educational studies that tell us playing is crucial to children's learning process, but somehow the older one gets, the less important play seems.


Perhaps a little harder for me is taking off my referee cap. Letting go of responsibility also involves trust: the belief that the world will be OK while I take some time to do something fun. People won't crash and burn, stocks won't fall, termites won't invade the house, what truly needs to get done will get done in a timely (whatever that means) manner.

The third reason, however, is the one that honestly gives me the most trouble. To play means that I enter into a relationship with myself that is blind. To play means I’m so
caught up in what I love, or in the experience of discovery that I lose the sense of myself. To really jump into play I must let go of the awareness that other people might be watching me, that I might look foolish, or immature- especially to myself. For true play to happen, I need to stop caring so much about how things look, to toss out the score cards.

There is a freedom in play that I know I haven't yet attained, that I lost somewhere in my latter teens. I'm yearning to return to that realm where being responsible includes throwing cares aside, and being serious is measured by an ability to laugh and look foolish. Where I no longer have to choose joy, it just bubbles up from an eternal spring.

 
Picture
Little Girl in a Blue Armchair by Mary Cassatt

Twice in the last few days friends have looked at me and said, You need to chill out. You are working too hard.

Really? What do you do when people tell you stuff like that? Especially when it seems like you've already slowed down to a snail's pace and what you've done with your day looks rather lean. But when two people you respect say the same thing, then it's time to listen. And I wonder if God's trying to add a third voice.

The closing lines from yesterday's scripture from Isaiah are familiar ones. "Those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary,they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31).

In the shower this morning, I realized that once again I have to ask myself the question, Is
what I am doing empowered by the Spirit of God, or am I just barreling along on willpower? I'm not sure right now if I can answer that question. There are seasons in life that are just downright hard, and it's nobody's fault. If you're stuck in a desert, you're going to have to focus pretty hard if you want to survive.

On the other hand, maybe what looks like a desert is truly a mirage. Maybe oasis after oasis has slipped by because you're focusing on the sand, and protecting yourself from the heat. I don't know. I do know, like the Israelites whose shoes didn’t wear out in those 40 years, God has kept providing exactly what I’ve needed. And I also know that it's time to rest. To learn how to play again and unlearn how to care overmuch. (Thankfully a vacation to Florida is only days away.)

Jesus was often frustrated by those who didn't have faith. He wasn't able to do the healing in their lives that he was sent to accomplish. I can understand why. Resting when there seems to be so much still to do requires faith. It requires giving up the daytimer, the desires, the to-do-lists and dropping them at the feet of a loving God, to take them up again when the time is right. And to trust that things will be OK in the meantime, and that you won't miss out on something important while you're away 

But when I start wondering if this is really a good idea, I'm reminded of another passage from Isaiah, this from chapter 30:

For thus the Lord GOD,
the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your  strength.”
But you were not willing.

Rest is offered. Rest is what I need. Am I willing?