Monday, September 27, 2010

practicing

lately i've found such joy in: noticing, enjoying, thinking, savoring and being thankful. reading a book by desmond tutu, i discovered him calling them "disciplines". usually when i think of disciplines, i think of something hard up front that leads to delayed gratification. these five, however, are so much fun that i've begun calling them "spiritual pleasures" because the very act of practicing them is often reward enough.

there are additional payoffs too. i'm calmer. i seem to show up where i'm supposed to and have authentic conversations. my perspective has increased, as has my ability to create and share space. i appreciate things more.

(the contrast is stark. i have also experienced what i believe to be the opposites of these pleasures: rushing, mindlessness, inattention, hurriedness and complaining. when i am guilty of these, how much i miss!)

to be perfectly honest, practicing the pleasures also creates some tension. american society isn't a real friendly one when it comes to the art of paying attention and enjoying life. i also find there isn't time to talk about the exciting discoveries i've made along the way because that would require reflection and listening, two rare commodities in 2010. and, at other times, i am just plain overwhelmed by the speed and forcefulness that swirls around me. and role models? my teachers are mostly authors, some still alive & some not, who have shared their experiences, like bishop tutu, in book form.

i know that it is much, much more than a life of leisure. summer was a key time for an introduction, and the school year is a perfect venue in which to continue my practice of delight.
join me?

re-finding

while gardening this weekend, i found something of potential on an "old parts pile" from my landlord's remodeling/construction business. a tangled, burnt mass of wire wrapped itself in the other rusted items but already i could see that it formed a perfectly proportioned cross.

excited, i carefully salvaged it, straightening some of the wires and bending others. the middle was empty and needed just the right focal point. the red leather heart-shaped pilgrim's purse a friend brought back for me from france came to mind. and it was perfect! placing the heart in the middle of the coils, i hung the re-found cross the wall.

that was saturday. today is monday and when i went to school, i discovered that my boss, having no idea about my weekend creation, had placed a book in my mailbox for me called "making crosses: a creative connection to God" by ellen morris prewitt. looking at the found-object pictures, my eye fell on the chapter, "whatever we do, God can work with it."

i found out that the piece of metal served as the backing hook to an old holiday wreath and was all that remained after the bonfire. christmas for easter. i thought of Jesus' birth and how this hook now came to symbolize His ultimate sacrifice of transformative love on our behalf. the author writes, "you too, are trying to make a cross. together, we will build our crosses, we will share with each other what God means in our lives. And God, in the infinite wisdom that belongs to the Divine, will smile at our handmade, broken, inept gifts of glory."

what will you find to make your cross?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

the art of predecession

word of the day? predecessor. see also: lanette. not because i am one, but because i have a lot of them, tending as i do to fall into the category of professional place-taker. what got me thinking of this was that i'm getting ready to go to an art show of the woman who taught at our school for ten years. not only is she a professional artist, but she is an award-winning one. these are not the only huge mocassins i have been called to inhabit.

there was the beloved children's pastor, poster-child for grandmother of the year (retired)
and then the PhD in literature (died)
not to forget the revered professor of religious studies (sabbatical)

and...me, now known as the art teacher (she moved). it's humbling, really. at first it's all shock and nerves. then you come to realize that "whom God calls He also equips." in other words, folks, it's not about us! when we're nervous, though, we tend to try too hard (last year), be defensive, or prove something, forgetting that our best work comes when we relax, take a deep breath and quit trying to be something or someone we're not. with time, we inhabit our new role, wiggle around a bit, take risks, try new things and make it our own.

we, after all, are going to be a predecessor for someone else who might shake in our shoes, so we might as well just go ahead and be ourselves. now that's art.

hello, autumn

this week i celebrated the autumnal equinox by showing my students a youtube video about the earth's axis. it's not that i don't like summer. i know it seems counter-cultural to be excited about the days getting...shorter. but, ever the optimist, i know they'll get longer later so we always have something to look forward to, right?

what celebrating fall is about for me: the air's crispness, harvesting potatoes, being among raving fans at live football games, commutes to watch the changing colors, trying new recipes and hosting friends. then there's always those indian summer nights in early october that call for a firepit or one last stop at a farmer's market and concert ; a deja-vu of months gone by.

what are your thoughts on fall?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

beethoven or bust

my friends have this bust of beethoven in their dining room. it's great, you set the table and his scowl commands as if to say, "so, you're going to go ahead and serve pearl onions, are you?" (i hear he is partial to potatoes au gratin). regardless, one thing beethoven never was? passive.

while practicing his 5th symphony tonight at orchestra, our conductor told us that ludwig was so passionate, in fact, that he broke almost every piano he played. they kept making new ones and he kept on breaking them. but he could not bust the modern steinway. it is beethoven-proof.

so go ahead, eat the pearl onions and pound away on the piano. they're not going to hurt you and you couldn't possibly hurt it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

fibonacci

the fibonacci number series keeps popping up in ordinary art conversation. a retired friend of mine is into painting and not only did he tell me that fibonacci's number has been useful to his work, but that kids can learn to mark out their paintings according to this principle of aesthetics!

fibonacci's series is actually a geometric progression, "the common ratio of the series being none other than the golden ratio, Phi." (huntley, p. 145).

huntley, in his book the divine proportion, goes on to say that beauty in mathematics is a compound of several ingredients:
1) the alternation of tension and relief 2) the realization of expectation 3) surprise at the unexpected 4) the perception of unsuspected relationships 5) patterns and 6) unity in variety.

this explains not only how a nautilus shell grows (logarithmic spirals and golden triangles) but everything from the cross of lorraine's design (thank you, charles de gaulle) to the parthenon in athens. it explains phyllotaxis and leaf divergence in botany and the geometric perfection of honeycombs. not only does there exists a masterful reason behind why our eyes are drawn to things we find pleasing, but we can use it to create with as well!

daily bread

i woke up this morning to a radio interview of dave dahl of "dave's killer bread". he shared about how his teenage depression spiralled into a life of drugs and, eventually, crime. "i wasn't a very gifted criminal," he joked, "i got caught, i did a lot of time...and eventually i started playing guitar, working out in the jail yard, yeah, actually starting to like myself." after 15 years in prison, he went back to the family bakery business.

i just happened to have a loaf of his bread in my kitchen, a fitting toast to start the day. the name of one of his recipes is called "good seed" and, as he explains, "after seeing what i've seen and the negativity of it all, i just want to spread good seed, you know?" their company is booming and even goes as far as to hire ex-cons. more of his story is available at http://www.daveskillerbread.com/.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

made for goodness

i went to my favorite monastery today. the book i threw in my backpack was "made for goodness" by desmond tuto, co-authored with his daughter mpho. these are only a few of the quotes i copied while the rain came down:

"the practices of goodness--noticing, savoring, thinking, enjoying and being thankful--are not hard disciplines to learn. but they are disciplines and they take practice." (p. 92)

"before God made us, he loved us and this love has never slackened, nor ever shall." julian of norwich

"a teacher's lack of self regard is one demonstration of love in action. teachers set aside their own fatigue to care for the children in their charge. the parents who had their children into the caregivers' charge trust the innate goodness of these workers. they expect that, no matter what these workers feel on any given day, their actions will speak of love." (p. 34)

"perfect love is the love that is responsive rather than reactive." (p. 28)

"it is God's invitation to us to be life artists, to be those who create lives of beauty." (p. 48)

and, from the monastic office (psalm 62), "to love God is to live fully, to feast, to rest content, to be under a protective wing, to embrace and to be embraced."

teaching muscles

i thought i would blog today, utilizing words to say how very few words i have left. the first week of school could not have gone any better. and the introvert part of me could not be more shell-shocked.

it's not every week that you meet and intentionally relate with over three-hundred people. metaphorically speaking, it's a bit like going out and running 30 miles after sitting on the couch for three years. but my strength will again grow; gain social endurance. after about four weeks of training, my face muscles will endure and my vocal chords will last longer. pacing each day, each week, each month to finish the race strong.

if giving is any indication of teaching, so is receiving. a student brought me cookies and a note saying how glad they were that they were in my class. and a fellow teacher friend gave me a long-term gift of time, prayer and commitment that is still sinking in, it touched my heart that much.

there's nothing like this profession. if you and i were to swap a day in each other's work environments, we would probably both be overwhelmed. i wouldn't have a clue how to synchronize your computer files and you would have to balance a schedule of 3 subjects with kids ranging from age 5-14. i would probably not like how many meetings or conference calls you might have. and i would make sure to leave you lots of notes about our staff meetings, parent emails, classes of the week, chapels and announcements.

oh, and warning, the hallway is LOUD. but then again, so is the love.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

owl song part 2

fall is here and with it? owl song. it's truly amazing. in the middle of the night out the open window you can hear tonalities that sound like a distant marimba playing. upper and lower registers, haunting, melodic...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

first day

pouring in chatter
of returning rain
with fallen apples

the one on your desk
ripe, sticky
like leftover glue

so begins diurnal litanies
sacrament to socratic, is it--method?
and communion of not-so-saints

in new red shoes

Monday, September 6, 2010

quotes & things

a bevy of interesting finds:

"for us there is a special feeling that comes from living in the country and being alone. the peace enhances our closeness to the elements, and we have the knowlege that nature is always just around the corner for us to enjoy."

"a real spiritual life makes us so alert and aware of the world around us, that all that is and happens becomes part of our contemplation and meditation and invites us to a free and fearless response." --henri nouwen

"i know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else left to read, there where you have landed, stripped as you are." --adrienne rich from an atlas of the difficult world

books: acedia & me: a marriage, monks, and a writer's life by kathleen norris
soul survivor: how 13 unlikely mentors helped my faith by philip yancey
the revolution, the relevant nation both edited by heather zydek
hope in the dark with reflections by jena lee
world enough, poems by maureen n. mclane
made for goodness and why this makes all the difference by desmond & mpho tutu
geez magazine

http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/
http://www.authorsolutions.com/


and...the new word of the day: diurnal. daily, or relating to things occuring in the daytime.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

labor-free

non-labor day. connoting lakeside days for the working class. even though he never said it out loud, my father taught me the importance of hard work; of doing your best. from him i took on the "no job is beneath me" mentality, having done everything from scrubbing camp toilets to teaching in higher education.

and, while no job is beneath any of us, as any career counselor will tell you, not every job will satisfy our unique gifts and talents. being content to do anything as part of our universal act of reasonable service while also pressing in to those things for which we were particularly created for seems to be part of what it might mean to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

looking at the patterns of vocation as well as avocation, we may find ourselves happiest working with people or alone, creating or managing, researching or organizing. in our current economic state, i think most people are just glad to have a means of making money, without as much time maybe as they would like to luxuriate in their calling and passion. i am a teacher (although i always wanted to be a graphic designer) and wouldn't trade it for anything. somewhere along the way, i fell awake into the realization that i was meant to work with all ages in a variety of spiritual and academic settings. but, while i was searching, people even gave me copies of the book, "renaissance souls: a book for people with too many passions to pick just one."

job roles and titles come and go. but my avocation? friend. and that's something that needs no vacation day.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

space-givers

first blog entry of september and my extrovert & multitasking muscles are tired. i seem to have settled (for the first time in my life!) into an almost subterraneous peace sharable only with animals and young babies--who unknowingly serve as my litmus test of calm. while the pace is picking up (315+ students per week) i plan to keep honing my observation skills.

yesterday, after falling asleep in my car, i sat on a bench at school for hours. relishing the quiet, i noted the fir trees playing host to campus birds. will they be scared away come wednesday? will i? can i be present and attend to volumes of people in meaningful ways?

desiring to be a person who gives space (as opposed to just taking up space), today i worked in the yard for one of the last real times, scaring up flying grasshoppers and pre-hibernating lady bugs. a deer and i shared the yard, both of us feeling like a snack of blackberries. he didn't run away from me, so the peace must still be here. here's to carrying it with me into the happy mayhem.