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The Garden by Joan Miro
Saying a fond farewell to March, whose drumbeat brought us an early and delightful spring.

March
Lucy Larcom

"March! March! March! They are coming
In troops to the tune of the wind. 
Redheaded woodpeckers drumming,
Gold - crested thrushes behind;

Sparrows in brown jackets, hopping
Past every gateway and door;
Finches, with crimson caps, stopping
Just where they stopped before.

March! March! March! They are slipping
Into their places at last. . . 
Literature white lily buds, dripping
Under the showers that fall fast;

Buttercups, violets, roses;
Snowdrop and bluebell and pink,
Throng upon throng of sweet posies
Bending the dewdrops to drink.

March! March!  March! They will hurry
Forth at the wild bugle sound,
Blossoms and birds  in a flurry,
Fluttering all over the ground.

Shake out your flags, birch  and willow!
Shake out your red tassels, larch!
Grass blades, up from  your earth - pillow.
Hear who is calling you. . . March." 
 
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"Where is Truth and Justice?" an arpillera from the Cachando Chile website.


This post is part of the Lenten series on hope.

"What is in your hand?" God wants to know from Moses. "How much oil do you have?" the prophet Elisha asks the widow. "How many loaves and fishes are here?" Jesus queries his disciples. In each of these cases, the answer isn't impressive. A staff. A small jar. Two loaves and five fishes. Yet with each of these simple items, God is able to work. The rod becomes a serpent, brings forth water from a rock, splits open the Red Sea. The small flask fills container after container, until the multitude of borrowed jars from neighbors is capped off, enough liquid gold to bankroll a hungry family for years to come. And the little boy's loaves and fishes? Blessed and broken, they are somehow mysteriously transformed into enough lunch for 5,000 men, not to mention women and children.

It is easy to be daunted when it seems we have limited resources with which to engage our world. What hope do we have, we may wonder, of taking care of ourselves, or of making a difference with only this? 

In 1998 our family moved to Chile for a year. As months passed, I became acquainted with the recent history of our new home. On September 11, 1973, a military coup had abruptly ended the presidency of  Salvador Allende and placed Augusto Pinochet in power.  Almost immediately, martial law was declared and dissenters were rounded up. Chileans called those arrested the desaparecidos (those who had disappeared), as in many cases they were never heard from again. Pinochet was moving out of power while we were in Chile, and the country was much calmer -had even seen remarkable economic growth - but even after 25 years, the aftershocks of the beginning of this regime were still evident in the psyche of the culture at large.
 
Although I had learned about the desaparecidos during that time, it wasn't until recently that I heard about the arpillera movement, which grew out of this period of political upheaval. With the incarceration and execution of thousands of husbands and fathers, many wives and children were left with no means to provide for themselves. And so, the Catholic church formed the Vicaria de la Solidaridad, an organization charged with caring for those who were in desperate circumstances.

During some of the workshops offered by the Vicaria, women began to come together, not only to learn new skills, but also to grieve and offer support. Some of these women began to embroider arpilleras  to sell as a means of providing for their families. These wall hangings, made from embroidery thread, scraps of material and burlap, had traditionally pictured scenes from the countryside. As time went by, however, the subject matter of these arpilleras became more and more political. Although the creators of these tapestries were anonymous, the stories depicted were of real events; the seamstresses kept the injustice of the regime alive, refusing to forget the desaparacidos, continuing to seek justice for the missing men. Here's a quote from Cachando Chile, a website with reflections on Chilean Culture.

These arpilleras began to tell a story, to leave a history, a testimony in cloth, of what the women were experiencing. It was an emotional release, and for many it was a way of expressing what they could not bring their voices to say.

As they pieced their stories together—often working late at night and by candle light so they wouldn’t be caught and charged with subversive activities—something amazing happened. The Vicaría began to sell them to foreigners who smuggled them out of the country, and these patchwork messages began to travel the world, telling the stories of people whose words could not be spoken or written. As these women perfected their craft, their needles and thread, scraps of cloth and bits of yarn became powerful language-independent tools with which to tell their tales.

I find myself inspired as I read this story. Who could imagine that thread and burlap could make a difference, that something as ordinary as sewing could have an impact? Perhaps those days of God using small things isn't over. And I begin to hope that what I have in my hand may be enough. Perhaps it may even be part of changing my world.
 

Does happiness really make a difference? Shawn Achor makes the case that a brain that is positive is more creative and learns better than a brain that's negative, neutral or stressed. Funny, enlightening and challenging.
 
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Wheat field with reaper and sun by Vincent Van Gogh


"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
  John 12:23,24

Several years ago our family moved to Chile, South America. We arrived on January 7, and exited the airport to a beautifully balmy day. Living for the first time south of the equator, we were about to experience "reverse seasons." In January, warm weather isn't so strange; after all, it's not much different from Florida, a typical mid-winter escape. But as February moved into March, it began to get chilly. And as Easter drew near, the walnut trees behind our house began to drop bushels of nuts onto our patio. Armed with hammers, my youngest daughter and a friend were tasked with cracking the shells and extracting the succulent meat. After soaking the nuts in sugared water and baking them in the oven we had an abundant supply of treats to pass out to friends.

No bunnies, no lilies, no tulips, no forsythia, just bags and bags of walnuts to mark the celebration of Easter in this new country. How do you celebrate Easter when the days are becoming shorter, the trees are becoming brown and dry, the earth turning cold? It was odd to realize how much the church calendar depends on the metaphors of the northern hemisphere. But we were no where near spring, and the images closest at hand (literally) were the nuts in my back yard. That year, as Holy week approached, I found it much easier to consider the events of Good Friday, more than those of Easter Sunday, and the words of Jesus ran fresh in my ear. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

In the following poem, Luci Shaw has us consider the seed of God, planted first in the womb of Mary, planted a second time in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea. There is a third planting, though, which she yearns for. It is what the prophet Jeremiah alludes to in the Old Testament reading when he quotes Yahweh's words" 

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

God is after nothing less than taking humans, made in the image of God, yet marred by sin, and transforming them into beings like himself. As surely as a walnut, planted in the ground will spring forth into a walnut tree, so the spirit of Christ, planted in each willing heart, will birth a true son or daughter of God, full of the fruit of every good thing.

Seed
Luci Shaw

God dug his seed
into dry, dark earth.
After a sprouting up
in hopeful birth
and healing bloom
and garland grace,
he buried it again
in a darker place.

Twice rudely planted seed,
root, rise in me
and grow your green again,
your fruited tree.

published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in Accompanied by Angels, Poems of the Incarnation. (2006) 

 

Even though the unseasonably warm weather this spring makes me worry that another freak snow (we had one in October which felled tree branches) or freeze might be disastrous to the fruit trees, I must admit I love the extra months of warmth! Spring, with all of its fresh energy is one of my favorite seasons. It gets me back outdoors, biking, kayaking, digging in my garden, breathing fresh air and moist soil.

In honor of springtime beauty, here's a section of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. Composed at the request of Martha Graham, the well-known choreographer, Copland did not have a title for the piece when he was writing it. According to WIkipedia, Graham  suggested a phrase from a poem by Hart Crane entitled The Dance.

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!

Although the spring mentioned in the poem is actually a spring of water, the poem does describe a "journey to meet the springtime." Throughout the suite, one can hear variations from Simple Gifts, a Shaker melody written by Joseph Elder. I remember learning this as a Girl Scout many years ago. The words describe the joy found in a life of simplicity, finding one's place in the world and in one's community.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
 
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

The lyricism of the music and its decidedly American roots have made it a well-loved and familiar piece of concert repertoire. The version above is performed by The Seattle Symphony.
 
During Lent, I've been using the Wednesday posts to reflect on hope. When I came across this poem by Rilke. I was struck by the strong message of hope I found within its lines. There is work for us to do - no doubt about that; the very act of reconciling the pieces of our life that don't match, that don't make sense, is difficult. But there is a reward that comes from graciously owning our past - the good, the bad, the perplexing. By refusing to see ourselves as victims, we turn the tables and become hosts. Rather than throwing a pity party, we anticipate a celebration with a gentle yet empowering guest. This partner in our loneliness, mysteriously responding to our monologues, has the ability to change us. And as we yield to this love we are stretched, infused, transformed until it is no longer clear who is being held and who is doing the holding - so interwoven we cannot tell where this mystical dance begins and where it ends.


She Who Reconciles

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth --
it's she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration
where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it's you she receives.
You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.


~
Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Addendum: I was reminded, after I wrote this post, of a verse from the book of Revelation. In the first part of this vision, Jesus  instructs the apostle John to write letters to seven of the churches scattered throughout modern day Turkey. He concludes one of these letters by saying:
 
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
 
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Children playing on the beach by Mary Cassatt
What do you do when you're happy? I tend to hum. A friend whistles.

I mentioned a few weeks before I went on vacation, that I was in search of playfulness, wanting to reconnect with the freedom and delight that comes in those moments when you're not trying to solve the world's problems, or even your own.

The energy of happiness, or the power of joy, is one that can take me a long way in my daily endeavors. While on vacation, I rediscovered the joy of playing the piano, painting and riding my bike. I found myself re-energized as I pedaled along the lake and up to the pool, smiling as I noticed vignettes that would make for good sketching, moved as my fingers flowed through DeBussy.

Coming home, I looked again at my kitchen and living room, waiting (as they have for the past several years) for a makeover that was "more me." At Christmas I had received two paintings from my eldest daughter, Aletheia, who has recently plunged into her artistic self. (You can find examples of her art work here). I loved the colors and movement in the pieces and had them framed and mounted on the wall between the kitchen and living room. Now the wall was dying for some color - the art needed a more suitable background.

I grabbed a friend to help with the multitude of cheery greens at Lowes, and came home with a can of paint. Two days later, the wall was pulsating with verditas (Hildegard of Bingen's favorite word), the power of spring, new birth, growth. Everytime I looked at the wall I smiled; some of that Florida sunshine seemed to have come north after all! Now tearing down the old wallpaper wasn't so daunting. The color suggested other options that I hadn't thought of before, and soon the kitchen project was taking shape in my mind.

We all live our lives from different centers. What works for me may not work for you, but then again, maybe it might. While in Florida I visited a long-time friend. "I'm remembering that one of my basic desires is to be happy," I said. "I like to have fun." She looked at me quizzically. "I know," she said, "I don't think about having fun much."  "Well," I said, "Maybe our ideas of fun are just different. If you were in charge of something big, coordinating a group of people to accomplish a meaningful objective, wouldn't that be fun?"  Her eyes lit up. "Yup," she said, "that would be fun." "Sounds like a lot of work to me," I said. "But you would be great."

Any personality test will help point out that we're wired differently. As someone certified with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, I know that some of us are happier when we're exploring new ideas, and others when we're getting things checked off a list. Intimate conversations will jazz some of us; large parties will get others stoked. And while a quiet walk, or an afternoon of music can be just what the doctor ordered, bungee jumping and white water rafting can make others feel alive. The important thing is to notice what we're doing when we feel the most "like ourselves."

So I'm paying attention to when I'm humming, choosing to do things that bring a smile. It may not seem like much, but I know that it's what makes life meaningful to me. And what energizes me to move forward with a sense of joy.
 
There was a feast in yesterday's liturgical readings; Dan and I spent an hour and a half with new friends Saturday morning, cradling cups of coffee and mugs of tea, letting images and questions rise from the words before us. It reminded me once again that you can come again and again to scriptures that you've seen before, and still find something new, something challenging.

There's too much still wandering around in my head to pull together a coherent post. Instead I'll send you over to a site I've recently discovered. In "The Painted Prayer Book," artist and writer Jan Richardson shares original art as well as thoughtful posts each Sunday, as well as each day through Lent. Her artwork is available as a liturgical resource for churches and events. I've enjoyed dipping into her images as well as her metaphors.

To visit Jan's site, click here.
 

I happened to overhear a bit of a conversation while sitting in the dentist's office this morning. "Ides of March? Well, that's when Caesar was betrayed by a bunch of his friends." I knew about the Ides of March (in high school, our English class, having just completed Julius Caesar commemorated it by wearing black armbands) but I'd forgotten to put it together with today. The reminder made me ponder again the power of words, especially those spoken by trusted friends. It was the eloquence of Brutus, whom Caesar counted on the most, which led to Caesar's death on the Senate floor.
 
Like Brutus, we can betray our friends with our words. They can be deft weapons used to wound, cause anxiety, debilitate and mis(in)form. On the other hand, we can use our words to bless those around us. Used in this way, what we say can bring healing, relaxation, laughter and inspiration to rise to new levels of competence.
 
Blessing is not a very common phrase these days, at least not outside the religious sphere. If we attend a worship service, we may be accustomed to the priest or officiant ending with a formal blessing as the congregation departs the sanctuary and heads into the work week. But in our normal, everday lives, I wonder how much the concept of blessing is integrated into our lives.

Until we come to St Patricks Day. Like corned beef and leprachauns, Irish blessings spring up as regular as the daffodils each spring. They proliferate on cards and cakes, songs and poetry. A well-known blessing, which is featured on the youtube above, begins wtih these familiar words:

May the road rise to meet  you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand
.

Leaving those we care about with a blessing until "we meet again," is a part of the Irish culture which I have always appreciated. For years I would ask to speak a blessing over friends as we parted ways. I had a sense that a blessing was a true gift, one with power that spoke into a future as of yet only imagined.

I wonder what it would take for us to re-incorporate blessings into our daily lives,  to imagine that our words are formative, that they not only encourage others around us, but may even call forth something new into their lives. To offer a true blessing, I need to move beyond merely wishing for someone's health and happiness. Instead, I slow down to look at what is, and what could be. I must start with a strong desire for that person's best, for their goodness to increase, their calling to be fulfilled.

The teacher who looks at a student and sees her potential, offers a blessing when he says, "You have an amazing gift with words. May your poetic talents flourish." A blessing comes to rest upon a struggling friend when he receives a call saying, "You have what it takes to make it through this difficulty. May you draw on resources that are deep inside of you."

These are examples of what blessing looks like in our lives, words that propel us powerfully toward the future that awaits, that focus us on what is and what is to come.  With that in mind, I offer this blessing:
  
May you live well each day in the warming power of God's love. 
May you be constantly refreshed by grace, sparkling like morning dew.
May you discover your true name, and embrace your calling with confidence. 
May the joyful wind of Spirit fill your sails as you embark
And may your eyes be newly opened to the power of your words
to strengthen, encourage and call life into being for those around you.
 
This is the fourth in a Lenten series on Hope.

The apostle Paul is sitting in a prison, penning a letter to his friends in Philippi. Life is uncertain, his future hopeless; death is imminent, only the date is unsure. How do you nurture hope when there is no hope for change? The trajectory of life, perhaps due to chronic pain or a terminal disease, offers no promise of relief.

Last week's post on hope brought into focus hope's relationship to the past. But what if there is no relationship between hope and your future? While Christians can move the marker of hope into the world that's coming, our certain future hope, is there a way that hope can still relate to our present?

Paul gives us an answer from his jail. 

"For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die."

Saturday evening we attended a benefit concert for a friend of our daughter's who is struggling with leukemia. The evening's outpouring of love and music was to encourage and honor a person whose gentle, humble character along with his amazing proficiency as an accompanist has touched many in our community. At the end of the concert, he took the podium to thank his wife and those who had come to honor him. He closed by saying, "All that I have ever done, I have done to bring glory to God." Then taking a seat at the piano, he played a heartfelt rendition of "To God Be the Glory."

When we feel as if it takes all of our energy just to perform the simple tasks of life, it is hard to hope that our lives might bring God glory, As our ability to "do" diminishes, life seems to close in upon us. Paul's hope is that he will continue to put his trust in God's grace to fill his life. "When I am weak, He is strong," he will say earlier in his life. (2 Cor 12:10).

Life with God is life in God. As we lessen, God's presence has more room to fill the space that constitutes our soul. Fear of diminishment may tempt us to close ourselves off from help, especially that which God is yearning to pour into us. But faith that we are connected with God, no matter what, keeps our souls open for loving strength to enter.

This daily strength, no matter what our circumstances or physical state, is what we can hope for. Not our ability to handle life, as much as our belief that our lives are knit together with God's. That no matter our situation, comfort, courage, and grace will flow as we stay open. This can be our hope, and acting on this hope, our lives bring glory to the one whose joy is to meet our every need.