Sunday, July 31, 2011

More Gifts of the Sea

In my former life as a scuba diver, I remember night dives as mysterious encounters in other-worldly landscapes.

verything moved in slow motion, wafting and waving gently in the undulating water as divers plunged into the night world of the sea. Quite a contrast to the vivid colors of reef life in sunlight, night dives offered pictures in shades of gray.

Field of vision was confined to the limits of hand-held lights. Particulate caught the light and revealed tiny inhabitants invisible by day. A slash of my hand through water left a comet of color in its wake--a trail of underwater dancing fireflies on a summer night as phosphorescence peppered the scene with neon sprinkles.

That karate chop of flashing color never fails to delight as I recall it even now. How often can we create light and color with the brush of a hand? A bit of undersea magic!

Then imagine the bleak wasteland of the ocean floor far below, where divers do not tread and the sun cannot pierce with shafts of light. Perpetual darkness. Or so I had thought.

But there is a strange shimmer scientists discovered decades ago at ridges deep under the sea. More than heat created by thermal vents, more than radiation said to be similar to the orange glow of a stove's hot eye, this glow actually has been found to have a source of illumination. This news causes us to rethink the lingering image of total blackness on the ocean floor.

The light source, invisible to the human eye, is real just the same. It confounds everything we thought we knew about what happens to the color spectrum in the absence of sunlight.

Hear that again: A mysterious light called "deep light" only captured on a special camera reveals that there is much we do not understand about our natural world. This discovery reminds me that there are forces we cannot see which uphold our world.

Gravity holds us.

Thermals carry birds when it looks like they are flying under their own power.

Currents in the air and sea would be invisible except that they determine our weather patterns and temperatures, and we can see the results in their wake.

Light waves behave in ways we thought impossible. Just when we think we've seen it all...

This image of light emanating from the depths reminds me to be open to the breaking through of the Spirit no matter how dark our surroundings, no matter how deep the pit we find ourselves in.

Light will always overcome the darkness.

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it. John 1:5

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Promises, Promises

Maybe Mom is right: The more things change, the more they remain the same

At first glance, this contraption looked pretty ghastly. Imagine, I thought, women strapping on that device at night before bed. What in the world would drive someone to sleep in that? Then I read the fine print:
"removes complexional imperfections"..."prevents and removes wrinkles"... completely "natural beautifier"...
Sound familiar? Its core claim is the same as one today: "safe, effective and saves money too." The image is dated, but the message still sells. All the way to the bank.

Well over 280 billion dollars (billion!) pour into promises of clear, beautiful skin.*
It might be as close as the sidebar ad on our computer screen or the facing page in any magazine for women.

The lyrics of an old Dionne Warwick song flood my mind: "Promises, promises I'm all through with promises, promises now...."

Technology has advanced beyond strapping on a sleeping mask; Today we can create a mask-like appearance without the mask! Medical marvels now can craft what some crave: the perfect face without a trace of wrinkles.

They say it's true. Apply or inject enough product in the right places, and we can be rid of those pesky lines and wrinkles for good...or for a few weeks anyway. Call me crazy, but this claim sounds eerily similar to the directions for makeup of the deceased in funeral homes. They, too, have their products with cozy-sounding names (how does the Final Touch grab you?), offering the promise of perfection. May we rest in peace.

Can we make peace with the notion that we live...and we age? To live is to age. I come face to face, as it were, with this reality in the mirror daily. The way of wisdom teaches me: Each of us must choose the vigor with which we confront aging, or the grace with which we receive the gift of living another year. The choice is ours.

Some of the most beautiful women I know are over 70. Or I could say 90, though that is a short list. Their facial lines and wrinkles bear witness to a generous life and lively spirit. They are among the models I long to emulate, not the excessively-airbrushed cover girls.

I caught a brief interview with a famous 1970's/80's cover girl this week, and grimaced to see her distorted new look. She is in the club of the 'world's most beautiful women' and also happened to have thin lips which, apparently, was okay at the time, but not today?

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should," comes to mind.

I pray that my notions of beauty will be informed by a source other than fashion magazines and companies that stand to profit from our collective insecurities about who we are. Our identity is more than skin deep.

Oh, sure...I'll still apply my makeup -- I'm not going cold turkey--as we all have our favorite masks we don, even if they do not strap on. But I yearn to age gracefully and to find contentment in whatever state--or at whatever age--I am. Maybe one day I'll be able to speak the words as a reality:

For I have learned in whatever stage I am therewith to be content. Philippians 4:11

*statistic from 2009 Worldwide Cosmetic Market Industry Report

Friday, July 22, 2011

Supersize Me!

Surely this is a distinctly American phenomenon: the six foot sub sandwich. Handy and celebratory when feeding a crowd, it reminds me of our collective obsession with things in grand scale and of our frequent progression from big, bigger, biggest.

Large was not big enough. We got Extra Large. Then Jumbo.

Any surprise that we have trouble with portion control when it comes to food, as well as other appetites?

We want more. It's an old, old story, this grasping for more. My brother tells the tale of the dog with a bone in his mouth who sees his reflection in the pool of water below. He wants the bone he sees in the grip of that other dog and--you guessed it--drops his bone, only to lose the other one too.

How often do we give up what we have in pursuit of something that may much like it in essence? Or some of us minimize the treasure of today while pining for a day we can visualize in the future: A bigger, better day beyond this one. We may imagine a reflection of something that looks like us--only happier, healthier, wealthier and wise, and we are drawn inexplicably to it.

Where is the wisdom in this?

I've heard young moms wish away the little years of their young ones, longing for a day when they are able to do things by themselves. A day when moms will have more time. When they can do something meaningful with their lives-- something that matters. And they miss it altogether, this treasure they held in their arms for a short while.

Likewise, I hear the lament of women who yearn for the chance to do it all over again, and-- this time--they'll get it right. Men, as well, discover all too late the chance that was theirs while they were busy looking at other reflections that beckoned to them.

And somewhere in the distance, I hear the refrain, "When will they ever learn...?" from the song that could have been a generation's wake-up call.

My mom always says, "What you're looking for is usually at the end of your nose." Sounds like that dog in the reflection to me.

Don't give up the treasure of what you have in a wild pursuit of something you think will make you happy--no matter how big it appears or what size box it comes packaged in to your door. Six foot subs are attention-getting, to be sure, but they eat just like anything else: one bite at a time.

What if we applied the same 'bigger is better' attitude to our hearts and to our capacity to forgive and accept others? Such a stretch may produce growing pains as we change from the inside out, but the results will reshape our lives and ripple outward to others. Remember how even the Grinch's heart grew three sizes that fateful day? Supersize my heart, Lord!

Godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:6

(Thanks, Sallie Kate, for the reference.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beach Days

Savoring this day.....

Ten years ago I had one week on the beach to myself. No car. No company. No laptop. Some would be miserable.

I embraced the solitude and beauty and found that I was never really alone. I felt myself growing in awareness of other things without the demands of meeting the needs of others which is a necessary part of life.

I chronicled the days to keep it alive in memory in my 2001 journal.

Today I have one such day alone!

One day every ten years. Does that make it a pattern? A beach day to cherish.

Alone on the beach...beginning the day from my perch with hot coffee in a favorite spot through the past 20 years...overlooking the dunes and tumbling surf...reading...walking... thinking...praying...processing life. And I am so thankful.

Out of a thankful heart come lessons and preparation for the seasons of life yet to come. I want to delight in this day.

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

Friday, July 15, 2011

Silent Weeping

31, 102:
The number of verses in the King James Bible.

The shortest verse in the Bible? “Jesus wept.” John 11:35

Interesting to me how those two words encapsulate so much more than this brief statistic presents. Consider this reflection on what it means to weep...

“Out of all the creatures in God’s creation, only people cry. Tears often say what words cannot. When Jesus cried outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus’ humanity cried out as loudly as his divinity would moments later when Jesus raised his friend from the dead. Jesus’ tears were different from those of many mourners surrounding him. Those people were wailing in accordance with Jewish custom. This tradition allowed community to fulfill a duty publicly and loudly lament personal tragedy more so than it allowed those who were grieving a personal release of emotion.

The Greek word used here for ‘wept’ is found nowhere else in Scripture. It means ‘to cry silently’.

Jesus didn’t cry for the benefit of others. He didn’t cry to make a point or to teach a lesson. He cried because his heart was broken.

God’s heart breaks because he has compassion for those he created. That means he does not take your pain, sorrow, grief, disappointment, or even physical death lightly. God knows he can bring good out of tragedy and enjoy eternal life with you after your days on earth are through, just as Jesus knew he could raise Lazarus from the dead. That doesn’t stop God from entering into your present sorrow with you, from reaching out in compassion to bring comfort when you need it most.

When you cry, cry out to him.

Jesus was not ashamed to express his emotions and let others see him cry. Follow his example of honest emotional vulnerability, while inviting him to help dry your tears from the inside out.”

From The 100 Most Important Bible Verses, pg. 144, W Publishing Group, Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Seeing from the Backside

Things are not always what they seem.

Dr. Ellsworth Kalas wrote a series of books taking a fresh look at ancient stories. He suggested we approach the familiar in an unfamiliar fashion, and referred to this as viewing from the backside. I like what that method does for us. Catches us off-guard. Makes us think or re-think possibilities.

The chapel pictured above is beautiful in its setting. Highly regarded designer uses natural materials to construct a family chapel. That is a story in itself. I loved the intimacy of it before I stepped foot through the doors. But it was upon seeing it from the back side that I discovered its real beauty.

The chapel's domed ceiling rose upward, and the windows were entirely open-air. Walls did not define the space, but provided frames for nature as far as the eye could see! The altar would not be contained within four walls. It was altogether lovely and refreshing as a design for worship, weddings and funerals. The expansive view allowed all of nature to join 'in manifold witness', as the old hymn says.

A gleaming cross stands watch as a focal point on the backless chapel of wood, stone, brick, iron and whitewashed stucco. When viewed from the back side, this chapel is turned inside out. Fresh air flows through the wooden benches and recirculates unhindered.

Do we ever feel more comfortable with "four walls and a ceiling" -- a predictable, reliable framework for living that does not call us to stretch the imagination and perhaps grow in a direction God may be leading us? Sometimes it is scary to venture beyond the familiar routine and commit to a new way of serving or living out the faith.

Maybe it is fear of what lies beyond the 'walls' that keeps us tethered to a pew-under-roof. Some would rather have the safety of a predictable, sheltered seat rather that risk the gusty wind of the hills and fields that beckon beyond.

I just talked with a friend whose mission field is her own hometown, but she ventured far from the walls of her neighborhood or church and out into a culturally distant land. She is living boldly and with great love. She is impassioned and courageous.

Her example makes me wonder, am I continuing to view things from the back side?

O, Lord, I pray that I do not try to confine You to a box of my own making. Help me to grasp how wide and how long and how high and how deep is the love of Christ, because I cannot fathom such love on my own. May this great love ignite a spark of showing bold love to others. Amen

Ephesians 3:18

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

Funny how quotes and short sayings can capture for us the essence of a thing, before we drape it in too much talk.

When I took this photo last week, I had you and me in mind. This encapsulates many posts into a vivid image. Enjoy the summer day, whatever awaits.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Let Freedom Ring

The American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation. ~ Woodrow Wilson
We celebrate this nation's Independence Day on July 4. For many, that means BBQ, hot dogs, fireworks, maybe a little homemade ice cream (fresh peach, vanilla, and lemon velvet come to mind...and the easy Orange Crush orange and pineapple sherbet, while we're on the subject...).

I just returned from Philadelphia and saw some sights from the birthplace of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. After learning more of the immense contributions of Benjamin Franklin, I need to read a biography of him. Long a Jefferson fan, I had rather neglected Ben Franklin and relegated him to 'elder sage' status, assigning him a role of author of clever aphorisms and pithy sayings.

I grossly underestimated the man.

We do that sometimes, do we not? We tend to label and box both people and ideas so they fit compactly into niches we create for them. Such action may come from ignorance or maybe from laziness. A well-informed citizenry is important, yet we get our news today 'pre-digested' and often fail to go to the source.

We get accustomed to a diet of sound bytes and high points, passing up the original source or document for a summary of what someone else says about it. Before long, we are living Cliff Note lives. We get our information from a scrolling band at the bottom of our TV screens or click to read thumbnail highlights. We do not have time for much more, it seems. I'm guilty too.

We can miss a big story and vivid pictures when we are satisfied with a brief summary crammed into a mere margin note. I want more color and flavor and the chance to make a personal decision about what is true and what it not. This will, understandably, take time.

When emerging from the Constitutional Convention of 1789, when our young confederation of states seemed about to implode, Ben Franklin was asked what form of government he had given us, a monarchy or a republic:

"A republic, Madam, if you can keep it," Franklin famously answered.

Let us endeavor to keep it.

May we be the land of the free and home of the brave for years to come.

This freedom is neither free nor cheap.

I pray for the courage and wisdom of leaders, for the conviction of ordinary folks to rise to extraordinary levels in matters of personal conduct, and for the support of those who defend our nation while we are free to enjoy the national holiday, eat BBQ and watch fireworks.

Liberty never sleeps.

Photo above taken at Longwood Gardens last week. Magnificent!

McHenry’s notes on Franklin were first published in The American Historical Review, vol. 11, 1906, and the anecdote on p. 618