Thursday, May 27, 2010

While the cat is away... (by Judy)

... I will blog again! (can you find the subject of this blog in the photo?)

In my growing role at school as the manager of our farmstead, I have become the repository of articles, jokes, and books. If it has to do with growing things, both animal and vegetable, people think, Oh, I’ll bet Judy would like this – and it appears on my desk. So it was no surprise when someone sent me a butterfly joke by email. But as I read it, I thought – this is a perfect blog entry!

Two caterpillars are sitting happily on a log. They look up and see a butterfly float by overhead. One turns to the other and says, “No way you’ll ever catch me up on one of those things.” I can imagine them grinning at each other, and continuing to chew a leaf, ignorant of the process of metamorphosis and the fact that soon they themselves will be soaring.

I was once that caterpillar. I was happy in my grounded life. I watched people head off to worship each Sunday, as I drank my second cup of coffee and dug deeper into the New York Times. I had a collection of Bibles gathering dust on my shelf, though I delighted in the heritage of strong Christian ancestors which they represented. I took pride in my Episcopal background, and deeply loved allowing the familiar cadences of the Book of Common Prayer roll over me. Churches and cathedrals represented the highest of architectural design, stained glass beauty, and acoustical harmony.

Then, when I was fifty years old, something happened. I can’t explain it. I changed. I couldn’t get enough Bible study. Sunday mornings (and evenings) at church were the highlight of my week. I listened to Christian music as I commuted to work. It was not a result of my good works, holy attitude or deep study. Trying to explain it was like trying to explain where the wind would next blow. Jesus says to the seeker Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." Go figure. Try and explain that one!

There is one thing for sure. I would never want to go back. And I have to think that soaring butterfly feels the same way when she looks down and sees two earthbound caterpillars watching her from their low point on the log. I am eternally grateful for that inexplicable wind, called the Spirit. The apostle Paul used to drive me crazy when I was a caterpillar. I didn’t understand his passion. Now when I read, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” I know he was speaking from personal experience, as I am today.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Beauty from Ashes (by Judy)

At the school where I work, I have worn many hats over 30 years, but one of my current jobs is the most fun – gardener and beekeeper. Any readers of this blog will see many entries on these subjects over time, for there is so much of God in nature, as there should be, since He is Creator as well as Lord.

This week, Carolyn and I traveled up to the Botanical Gardens in Cleveland, which was an inspirational experience. One of my favorite places there was the Children’s Garden, where they have taken old, undesirable throw-aways and recycled them as planters for lovely flowers. This model of reversing construction, taking materials that in the past were destined for landfills and creating something beautiful makes good sense, for it is socially responsible and sustainable – and it makes God sense, for it reminds me of some of my favorite verses in the Bible – verses that I have asked to have read at my funeral.

The verses appear in two places, and their location has offered ministers volumes of sermon material over time. The first place is in the Old Testament, in the magnificent book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."

The second place is in the New Testament gospel of Luke, where after being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus quotes these words at his home synagogue in Nazareth. He opened the holy scroll, read the words, sat down, and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Beauty from ashes – prophecy and fulfillment. Darkness and sin exchanged for hope, joy, grace, mercy, love. Do you see, gentle readers, why these words are funeral-worthy?!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Achoo! (by Carolyn)

Bless you!

Huh? Why?

There are some common beliefs about the orgin of "Bless you!" after a sneeze although none are definitive. One is familiar to most. Legend says people once believed the heart stopped beating during a sneeze and a hearty bless you encouraged it to start again.

One reaches back to the bubonic plague. According to Wikipedia, Pope Gregory I was installed about the time the plague was reaching Rome. To fight off the illness he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets of Rome because sneezing was thought to be the first symptom . People prayed for God's blessing and favor to keep them safe.

Another says people believed the soul was thrown from the body during a sneeze leaving the body open to invasion by Satan or his minions, or conversely that the evil spirits already possessed the body and this was its way of expelling them. Either way, to be blessed was to be protected from evil.

When our pastor mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking. As a Christian is that all the witnessing I do? Is all I can muster a hearty "Bless you!" as a way of communicating to others that I believe in God and they should too? What about Jesus? I have left Him out entirely. How pathetic is that? It occurred to me, I am the one in desperate need of courage and conviction.

Recently, a guest pastor from India preached passionately about Christians in his country and many countries who are so hated for their beliefs they are killed. Others are subject to brutal beatings, family members might be killed, or their livelihoods destroyed and their churches burned. How are they known for their faith? They say so. Publicly. In the square.

What am I afraid of? Offending someone? That IS pathetic. The Bible says in Galatians 5:11 that people don't want to be told they cannot manage their own salvation. Some don't acknowledge they need salvation, or that there is salvation at all. Our pride and arrogance don't want to admit we cannot save ourselves, or that there is something to be saved from. The cross is offensive. So is its exclusivity.

Christians believe only the Holy Spirit working through the heart of man, can save. Revelation 3:20 says, "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." But we have responsibility too. Jesus laid it out in Mark 16:15. "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation!" Message to self, "Say so!" Oh, and by the way, may God bless you heartily, whether you sneeze...........or not!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lover of Hyacinths, Lilies and Us (by Judy)

My grandmother, Anna Pearce, was a beautiful woman. My memory of her is vivid color – petite, always fashionably dressed, with pure white hair which waved naturally. She adored her husband, played bridge brilliantly, delighted in social gatherings and was an excellent cook. Her challenges were certainly great, living as an adult through the Depression and two World Wars with a demanding spouse, in-laws who shared the same house, and three daughters. But I have no memory of any response except kindness, wit and grace. Perhaps she is a lot like your grandmother, dear reader.

My own mother, the oldest daughter of my grandmother, died young. I was sorrowfully sorting through her possessions, when I came upon her wallet. I opened it, and was immediately taken back to my teenage years. There was a faded newspaper clipping, yellowed and crumbling. Clearly a treasure. The words on the clipping were ones my grandmother quoted often –

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft
And of thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

(Sadi, Persian poet, 1184 - 1291)

I don’t know who Sadi was, but I do know what his words represent to me almost a thousand years after he wrote them. They are a reminder of two things – first a grandmother who was as lovely as the fragrant, purple, pink, or white hyacinth on the outside, and even more on the inside – a woman who found beauty and joy when it wasn’t easy, a woman who knew the simplicity of feeding the soul, which was even more important than feeding the body.

A greater reminder is to consider what Jesus said –

And why are you anxious about what to wear? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say to you, that even Solomon in all his glory is not arrayed like one of these.

(Matthew 6:28-29)

God will provide. I am released from that fear. I am freed to consider matters spiritual, which is a joy and delight, and what I am called to do. I can appreciate memorable, poetic words, and then look beyond them to God's superior nature, to learn about Him and ourselves in Him.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sunrise, Sunset, Son Rise! (by Carolyn)

"Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don't remember growing older
When did they?
Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze."

That's the truth from "Fiddler on the Roof!"

With Mother's Day recently celebrated, many mothers, if they had time, probably waxed a little more sentimental than usual. I am no exception. While children are growing up there is little time to consider how quickly they grow, how soon they will be gone. But it can stop you in your tracks when you turn around and realize that baby you once held in your arms has grown up.

It sent me scurrying to the Bible wondering about mothers. They are honored in the Bible. The word mother or mothers appears almost 300 times and the word mother-in-law 11 times, most always in reference to Naomi, mother-in-law to Ruth.

Hebrew women longed to become mothers. Think of Sarah, Hannah, Rachel and Elizabeth, each of whom "longed" for a very long time. But Mary, the mother of Jesus, an unusual woman filled with faith and humilty, did not have to wait. What did an older Mary think about when she reflected on all those things Luke tells us "She treasured up and pondered in her heart."?

Her joy in giving birth to Jesus must have been dwarfed by her joy in seeing Him raised to life after suffering mockery, shame, torture and a horrific death on a cross. Her Son, whose tears she wiped away, did nothing to deserve such a punishment. His cries on the cross must have pierced her heart. And yet, she stayed. Can you imagine her searing pain as she heard Jesus say while He was dying on the cross, " Dear woman, here is your son." And then to John, His disciple "Behold thy Mother." as He gave His mother into John's care. (John 19:26-27)

Had she known the future would she have agreed to carry God's Son? "I am the Lord's servant. May it be unto me as you have said." (Luke 1:38) Her innocent but trusting "yes" to God's plan included horrible pain and sacrifice. Had she really "found favor with God?" (Luke 1:30) Yes! Jesus fullfilled the prophecy in Genesis 3:15 and overcame death saving us from the "wages of sin." (Romans 6:23) "For just as through the disobedience of one man (Adam) many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man (Jesus) many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:19) "The death He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. (Romans 6:10) His victory over death to eternal life was the final triumph for us all! Mary knew the future was secure for all who would believe. Oh, yes! She would see Him again. Only this time, He would dry her tears.

"Where are you going, my little one, little one,
Where are going my baby my own?
Turn around and you're two
Turn around and you're four
Turn around and you're a young man
Going out of the door."

Queen Bee (by Judy)

Last night we inducted two queen bees into their hives on our school farm. We tried to do it a couple of days ago, but the vibes weren’t right. It felt too much like some of the workers, who are all female, didn’t like the queens and might have caused mayhem and carnage. Yesterday everything was different. It felt just right. We shook the queens out of their little boxes and they immediately crawled down into the hive to begin doing their “queen thing,” meaning to lay eggs so the hive stays populated. Every hive needs a healthy and happy queen!

The worker bees are all female. They tend the babies, clean the hive, stand guard against intruders, attend to the queen, and travel far and wide, gathering pollen to make honey, and nectar and water to feed the babies. Then there are the drones. They are male, and they have only one purpose – (gulp) sex. Yep, their only job is to mate with the queen. When summer turns to fall, and the hive must hunker down for winter, the drones have no purpose and they will eat too much of the stored honey, so they are all chased from the hive by the workers.

This probably all sounds very prosaic, but the order of it fills me with wonder. When female scouts find abundant sources of nectar, they come back to the hive and dance. If the nectar is close, they dance in circles – a distance away, they dance in figure-8s. There is an amazing division of labor, including undertaker bees who remove dead bodies. All the jobs are done responsibility, with huge effort, and with a completely selfless attitude. Everything they do is in the best interest of the group, including possibly giving their lives. They do the work they have been created to perform, and by their model, they show us what we, God’s creations, should be doing every day, to fulfill His plan – one where we glorify God and draw others closer to Him.

How do I know? The Bible tells me so! Second chapter of Acts: “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe... All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Sounds a lot like my hives. I have a lot to learn from bees and the Bible as I consider my place in my Father’s world. I’ll keep sharing as I learn.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sigh ( by Carolyn )

According to the American Heritage Dictionary to sigh is to "exhale audibly in a long, deep breath, as in sorrow, weariness or relief. " When do you sigh?

I never considered it until about a month ago. My little, three year old friend, Sara, and I were washing dishes in the kitchen sink. She was standing on a chair doing all the washing and I was standing right behind her (just in case!). For no reason, other than maybe to get a deep breath, I sighed. She quickly whirled around and said, "What's wrong?" There was worry in her voice and face. Knowing I had upset her, just as quickly I responded, "Why nothing is wrong Sara. Why do you ask?" She wasn't sure. She said, "I don't know. You just sounded different."

The following Sunday our pastor was preaching on Mark 7:31-37, the story of the healing of the deaf and mute man. Verses 33-34 say, "After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh, said to him, "Ephphatha!' which means, "Be opened!" While there's much to be said about this story, our pastor paused and asked, "Why does Jesus sigh? Why is this noted?" I'm glad he is the pastor and I am not, for I was clueless! He didn't have all the answers, but suggested that we seldom get an emotional response from Jesus, but when we do it is generally a response to sin.

If you combine the "look up to heaven" with his sigh, it absolutely makes sense. Sin again. Makes me sigh, just thinking about it. Since Jesus had taken the man aside, the man must have told others that Jesus sighed, or some witnesses, maybe even Mark, must have been within earshot. How amazing this tiny, seemingly inconsequential detail is even noted in Scripture!

Days later, I was running on the treadmill when I heard a familiar song by Keith and Kristin Getty called "Don't Let Me Lose My Wonder." There is was again! "I've heard you laugh and cry in a single sigh, and a story formed within..." There are many movies and t.v. programs that can make you laugh and cry at once but in a single sigh?

Finally, I saw a video recently of my nephew's wedding. As the bride and groom turned to greet the congregation after the ceremony was complete, the bride sighed a deep breath of relief and a smile spread across her face.

What about all this? "Sigh. I don't know. Do you?"