Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Grace sightings, January 2013

My vocation of “seeing and saying the grace of God hidden in the ordinariness of life” keeps me alert. Here are just some of the sightings this past month, mostly small moments when my heart skipped a beat and my spirit said yes.
 --Fat rain drops clinging to the bare branches of the Japanese cherry tree outside my kitchen window.
--The ride to Maygar for the family reunion. The roads were clear, but snow covered the trees as we drove through the forest. Beautiful.
--Time talking with our nephew and his wife at the reunion, perhaps our first private extended conversation with them. They are serious, deeply thinking young people, finding their way as a newly married couple, and searching out God’s plans for their future.
--Hal’s hugs and kind words; the warmth and courage that comes from “old love.”
--Reading Father Brown mysteries (G. K. Chesterton) at night with Hal. I think I’ve found a new friend.
--Bev’s gift of organic gel to rub into Hal’s back and the relief it seems to give; spontaneous gifts and the people who give them.
--Fred Bush’s commentary on the book of Esther; people who make the academic calling a true gift to the church.
--The orange/yellow stripes on my cat’s back and tail, the upsidedown V of white on his face, his white belly and paws. Chiri knows he’s gorgeous. Such pride in his bearing, such stern eyes. He knows.
--Seeing the results as we finished the long project of taking out the ugly baseboard heaters, then repairing the walls and rugs. A good simplicity has emerged.
--The kindness and efficiency of the medical personnel in the Providence Hospital ER; getting the news that although Hal’s back distress is real, his heart is fine. Relief.
--Winter birds. The hummingbirds are draining our feeder twice as fast as they usually do.
--The bones of the maple tree outside the bedroom window. One day I saw the tree inhabited by a whole congress of small brown birds. At some hidden signal, they all lifted in mass and flew away. Later a large blue jay troubled the branches, while Chiri sat in the window watching intently.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The serious business of play: "Spirituality and the arts"

Last week was my turn to be the presenting artist at North Valley Friends’ seminar on Spirituality and the Arts. I shared from the position of poet. As I pondered and prepared on how my art and my spirituality intertwine, I came up with a list. I love making lists. They’re usually a bit arbitrary, but that’s one thing I like about them. If I were to come up with a list on the same topic next month, it would be different. And that’s OK.
Actually the list of ways my poetry contributes to my spirituality was enlightening to me, and apparently to the small group of people gathered on Wednesday evening. I gave it a simple heading: “Poetry helps me to…..” And then I read poems that illustrated each item on the list.
Here’s my list. “Poetry helps me to…
--see and say the grace of God hidden in the ordinariness of life.
--embrace what it means to be human.
--engage in the serious business of play.
--explore the Word, accidentally discover truth.
The poems under the category of “the serious business of play” were the most fun to read. I’m convinced of the necessity of play/fun/laughter to a healthy spirituality. I’m fascinated by the relation of the words “humor,” "humus” (as in dirt/ground), “human,” and “humility.” And of course the Spanish words always enlighten: gracia (meaning “grace”), gracias (meaning “thanks”), and gracioso (meaning “funny”). A humorous outlook is a good indication we’re trusting God, not taking our circumstances or ourselves more seriously than we ought.
I see art (or Art, if you prefer) as play. As serious play. I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ comment that “The serious business of heaven is joy.” Perhaps by writing poems (or reading and loving poems) we’re playing our way closer to heaven.
Here's one of the poems I read, an old poem actually.
“An Eccumenical Quaker Draws the Line”
 Can't say I'm not open.
I meditate with Mennonites,
chant with Catholics,
and belt out Baptist blues with the best of them.
I danced at my daughter's wedding to a Nazarene,
and once I even rolled the aisle with a Pentecostal.
But with funerals I reach my limit.
When my time comes
I will insist on my own homespun,
tried and true Quaker version.
I just wouldn't feel dead
without it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On oxymorons

I wrote this poem as a further response to the experience I blogged about a few days ago. I continue to reflect on the creative experience and how it interacts with our spirituality. It helps that "oxymoron" is one of my favorite words, such fun to say.


My friend can't decide
whether his creative process
is logically intuitive
or intuitively logical.
"Why not both?" I say.
One lone oxymoron
is simply a stupid cow.
But with a matched pair.
then, O then!,
you can plow a field.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A terrifying mystery: “Spirituality and the Arts”

Our local meeting is currently exploring the theme of how the arts affect our spirituality, as human beings created in the image of the Creator. We are doing this through a series of seminars on Wednesday evenings entitled “Spirituality and the Arts.” I love the subtitle, “At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” a phrase describing wisdom in the Proverbs 8 creation story. For each of the ten sessions we have invited a local artist to share from his/her own art and experience.
Bryan Boyd represented the theater arts in our first session, specifically set design. Funny how I had never really considered set design as art, but I see it differently now. It was a fascinating presentation that I am still processing. Bryan, a member of our meeting, teaches theater at George Fox University and is the resident scenic and lighting designer for their productions.
Not brought up Quaker, Bryan was attracted to this faith community as a student at GFU (and a classmate of my kids!), recognizing that this was his spiritual fit, his home. He told us that “A sense of being unprogrammed is at the center of my faith and life,” the Quaker way of saying that we need to attend to the living Christ, present with and among us.
He then presented the process he goes through in set design, starting from receiving the script on through to evaluating the finished product. The focus was on his creative process, rather than the product. He listed and illustrated the steps with the following verbs: arrive, listen, collect, wonder, ferment, discern, move forward, and return. Lists always seem so straight-forward and orderly, but his process is actually very intuitive with the “steps” circling and spiraling, with almost more waiting than walking forward. Sort of like the Spirit in the creation story, hovering over the chaos, waiting for the word that lets the light come forth.
He mentioned the tensions in this process: the tensions between personal creativity and the necessary collaboration of the community that will produce the play, tensions between intuition and reason, tensions between the need for time to let the process work and the pressure of deadlines. Being an artist is not comfortable. Bryan once used the phrase, “a terrifying mystery.” Yes. He also mentioned that all this is so integrated with who he is (and is becoming) that he can hardly analyze what part is creativity and what part is spirituality. I agree.
I encourage you to check out Bryan’s work at
I continue to reflect and find parallels with my experience as a poet, which, by the way, I get to present this week in the seminar.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sentimental “P” and New Year’s hopes

I usually approach a new year with enthusiasm, but for some reason I am cautious this year. I am discouraged by the tension in my work, and even more by my lack of discipline. I am struggling with loneliness and the whole aging process.
I clearly need perspective. The book of James encourages me today to ask for wisdom, to ask with faith in God who gives generously and without finding fault. It’s daily wisdom I need, the kind that enters into the nitty-gritty stuff of life. It’s wisdom for handling the minutes and hours of each day.
I am called this year (as in the past) to invest my life in prayer, poetry and people. How convenient that they all begin with the letter “P.”
“P” is a good letter. As a child I struggled with learning the alphabet song, especially the rush of the letters “L, M, N, O” that came right before “P.” I couldn’t distinguish them, much less sing them. So I substituted a word I had heard on the radio, a word with the same beat and number of syllables: “sentimental.” I sang, “…H, I, J, K, Sentimental P, Q, R, S…” etc. Consequently I felt great sympathy for the letter “P,” obviously a more emotional and sensitive phoneme than the other ingredients that went into the alphabet soup.
Prayer, poetry, people. I think I’ll add physicality to the list to remind me that if I don’t treat my body well (meaning sensible diet and regular exercise), none of the other will happen.
The keys are wisdom and the discipline to live it out day by day.
The goals are grace and glory. Gracious! My poetic propensity for alliteration is kicking in again. G, G and G. I’m hopeless.
Hopeless? No, not at all. But it’s Christ in me, the hope of glory. I’m reminding myself, even as I write.
Instead of resolutions, I will call the four “Ps” my hope list for 2013. It has a gentler feel than those tough-minded resolutions. More grace-filled. And I need all the grace I can get, now and every year.