Friday, September 16, 2011

New Light on Dawn Birds

I had written of birds that sing while it is still dark--dawn birds, they call them in South Africa--which present a beautiful image of faith to me: singing in the dark, before the sun signals the beginning of a new day.

Today I add a tidbit.

Birds perched higher in the trees and those with larger eyes tend to start up first in the dawn chorus, leading researchers to believe their jump-start correlates with the amount of light they are able to perceive.

Able to perceive...I think on that.

Some birds are just better equipped physically to take in more light.

Individual differences account for varying abilities in the natural and the human world. We do not have the same attributes and strengths as someone else. There is the temptation to let a perceived limitation define us which could keep us in the dark far longer than we need be.

And some birds just position themselves at the place where the sun shines first. Sounds so simple: Go where the light is.

Are not our actions the result of what we habitually think, then do? Do we choose to position ourselves in the places where we can be infused with the warmth of supportive community? Do we go where we have the best chances of seeing the light of day--of getting clarity and vision and insight beyond our own perspective?

Charlie Peacock wrote a song in 1991--already a generation ago--with this catchy chorus my girls knew, complete with motions, from summer camp:

I wanna be in the light
As You are in the light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh Lord be my light and be my salvation
Because all I want is to be in the light

Images of light abound in scripture.

"And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises..." 2 Samuel 23:4

"The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?" Psalm 27:1

"For the Lord shall be your everlasting light." Isaiah 60:20

"In your light we see light." Psalm 36:9

"I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me, shall not abide in darkness." John 12:46

International Dawn Chorus Day-- did you know there was such a thing?-- urges all to rise early and listen for the songs of the dawn birds. I don't think we have that in the US, but surely we can tune in for each day's gift of God's presence at daybreak. In Him there is no darkness at all!


Photo of goldfinch (the last to sing of the most common dawn birds in the UK): ArminM, used with creative commons license permission

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lifelong Learners

Education would be so much more effective if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they don’t know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.”

– Sir William Haley

I am thankful for the early school years my children enjoyed in a place that made learning challenging and fun. I still think of learning as colorful, creative, tactile, wonderfully messy... and fun. There was a spirit of adventure and aliveness that undergirded our home's support of reading, puzzles, painting, cooking, travel and experimenting while learning to do our best in places where we could excel as well as when a child faced a challenge and surmounted the obstacle with effort.

I must confess, the photos in Ann Voskamp's blog post make me wish for the chance to be a homeschool mom and do it all over again--in the old school fashion--as her shots bring to mind memories of my own education in many ways. But we do not get to live our lives over again, so we deliberately choose our paths carefully.

Gifted teachers who poured energy and robust enthusiasm for life into their classrooms--for me and for our children--have a place in my heart. Others, undergoing a hard season personally, illustrated a quiet grace and confidence that they may have doubted occasionally as they led their students through the year the way they were learning to press on themselves: one day at a time. I had respect for their faithfulness in standing firm when life presented tough times.

Thank a teacher sounds like a worn bumper sticker, but I have been giving thanks for some memorable ones today.

My own dear fourth grade teacher is a woman of beauty and grace who has turned ninety years old. I thought of her again this week when I met her daughter and reminisced about my delight in her classroom.

And then it hit me: each of us is a teacher to someone. May we try to be among the best of them as God gives us grace to experience the joy of learning something new for a long, long time.

And I think again...

One daughter dressed herself for kindergarten and first grade career days in a smock and carried brushes and palette. Among all the veterinarians, doctors, nurses, firefighters and pro football players, she walked her little quiet self into the classroom and said she wanted to be an artist. Twice.

Years passed.

The little girl grew up.

She got her start in a place that encouraged a love of learning new things. She wrote an international training manual for a French company while in New York. She has researched human behavior and marketing and has worked in communications and product placement with some interesting people. She published a book chapter on autism in children. She appreciates a connection between creativity and the brain and may be continuing to pursue that point in her lifelong learning.

And recently, she began to put brush strokes on canvas. Small at a time... a bit of paint on the brush applied with, I suspect, the same spark of curiosity she displayed at age five. Isn't that we way we learn to do anything new?

Much to my delight and to her great enjoyment, she has completed some water colors and works of art in oil. She is taking the next step. That is all we have to do: just take the next step on the journey. Start something. Finish something. Learn from it.

May God guide our next step in living into who we are and who we want to be and do. Thank someone who has guided your next step as we continue to learn each day.

For in him we live, and move, and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also his offspring.' Acts 17:28

The Lord said to Moses, “See,...I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft." Exodus 31:1-6

Basket of Pears, by Rhymes Stabler taken from Photo by Rachel Kabukula who has other beautiful farmers' market finds on her blog.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Living in the Real World

"Real spirituality dawns when our life with God becomes as real as the problems and joys we experience each day. Until then we live in two different worlds: one, a seemingly real, practical and demanding world; the other, a wistful, so-called 'spiritual' world... This separation cannot remain if all our life is to be filled with real meaning."

~ from
Everyday Simplicity by Robert J.Wicks

Photo of sunrise over Mississippi dove field, September 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Night Musings Birthday

September marks the anniversary of my entry into the blog world with Meditations in the Night Watch. Thank you for your encouraging words along the way. I am thankful for each of you!

September is a month of beginnings and endings, of the old and new. Caught somewhere between summer and not-yet-autumn, September is God's pause for reflection, a half-rest in the annual score. It is a time when being pensive is not only permissible but so healthy for our journey into the approaching days of fall and winter. Perhaps you, too, share a wistful acceptance of September, understanding that 'new beginnings often start with a small tear'.

The annual excitement over each school year, new school supplies, and Friday Night Lights in Mississippi used to make September vibrate in my memory. Now in September's wake I see hollow backpacks, forlorn bicycles, and empty beds in our home. As an eleven year old Russell said, "It's all about moving on in life."

So, with my mother's admonition and reminder, I choose to see those empty backpacks and such as but more of the stuff of life that gets left behind when we learn to move on. It doesn't diminish their value or place in our family memories, but it helps us focus on the NEW THING that is coming. Embrace the next chapter, I know to tell myself. Rejoice in the new marriages and relationships that hold a new future for us. Give thanks in all things.

And so I move on with joy and thanksgiving for the day that is today. No time for wasted thinking or whining about aging. Seize this day and pack it full with gratitude! There is yet so much for which to be thankful.

We are surrounded by new beginnings each day!

In our end is our beginning;
In our time, infinity,
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.

In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory.
unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.
~Hymn of Promise, by Natalie Sleeth

(portion reposted from September 2010)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Clutching Mystery in Our Hands, 2

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.
~St. Augustine

The foxgloves pictured above remind me of the unseen mystery woven into creation that we cannot see while we are holding fast to what we want and living on accelerate at high speed. We see only what appears to be.

And we often see what we want to see.

It takes time to see with the heart.

Known as the fairy bell flower, the tall spires of purple enticed me to plant a few until the heat and drought in our climate defeated my best plans for gardening this blossom. Nature's indigenous beauty surrounds us, yet I try to fit square pegs into round holes, as I did when trying to force recalcitrant foxgloves to make a home in the deep south. I didn't have the touch.

We grow and cut and gather something as simple as flowers in a yard, never realizing that in our arms lies a possibility for healing
. I had young children at the time and was aware to be careful with this plant. The foxglove is said to be poisonous--poisonous yet miraculous in the same stem. Digitalis is a derivative of this plant and has been a staple in medicine. Yet, at a glance it is only a lovely bloom.

We cannot know what we hold in our hands because we only see from our limited perspective.

Life itself is a tremendous mystery.

Let us open our palms to receive it. There is always more than meets the eye.

Photo by Rob Kiser

Friday, September 2, 2011

Clutching Mystery in Our Hands 1

God is always trying to give good things to us but our hands are too full to receive them.
~ St. Augustine

These words from St. Augustine have been scrolling through my mind since I read them yesterday. We are often busy gathering, accumulating, processing things daily with arms and hands laden. Sometimes we do not even know what we have. We become masters at cross-training, demanding not singularity to one task, but multitasking as the rule in a high-performance culture.

When I was learning to drive a standard transmission as a young girl in my grandfather's pickup that resembled the one above, multitasking eluded me. My temptation was to keep one foot on the clutch, afraid to fully let off, fearing the car would die, and I would suffer that embarrassing lunging, choking halt in public. Ridin' the clutch, they called it in South Mississippi.

I had not developed the seamless transition of moving through gears rhythmically that my brothers generated when they stepped behind the wheel. Clutching was not a problem; they could even double-clutch with a split-second gear change.

We have to know when to give it gas and when to back off.

We can't stay on accelerate all the time, even while depressing the clutch as a safety valve.

There is a necessary rhythm of releasing, letting go, then applying the needed force.

Our clutching
, similarly, can be an attempt to provide security in others areas of our lives. We grasp, holding fast to what we want, afraid to let go. Our hands are so full holding onto what we have that it becomes a default position, figuratively, in life. Each of us comes into this world with clenched fists, and some continue to live that way.

Dr. Maxie Dunnam first taught me years ago the practice of coming to God with open palms. A meaningful posture for me, open-handed praying reminds me to be deliberate in recognizing who I am before God: one coming to be filled with the Spirit of God, emptying myself of all that would stand as a barrier.

My foot is off the clutch.

I will risk sputtering and embarrassment.

Can I honestly say I will risk more than that? I do hope so. But until I practice letting go--letting go of myself and what others think of me and risk being real before God and others--I will not be very good at it. I'll be only an amateur behind the wheel.