Ineffable

Aviary Photo_130529384584576130For Christmas, a dear friend gave me a journal.  It has become my prayer journal, but not your typical prayer journal, where prayer requests are written. No, I write prayers in it, a new one for every week. The prayers come from a variety of sources and are written by a variety of authors ranging from St. Augustine to Tozer to my brother, Stewart.

Last week I chose a prayer from the Syrian Clementine Liturgy called A Prayer for Peace.  I was concerned about the strife in the Middle East and was touched that this prayer, probably from the 5th century, also concerned itself with that.

Plus, it had the word “ineffable.”

I love words.  Always have. Always will.

Ineffable — what a great word.

Ineffable is one of those words that I sort of knew what it meant, but not really.  I looked it up in the dictionary and learned that ineffable means not effable.  Thank you, Mr. Webster.

What, then, is effable? Effable is “able to be described with words.”

Ineffable, therefore, is that which cannot be described with words, and usually refers to something too wonderful for words.  Like God.

Aviary Photo_130529385440450075Here’s where God is funny — and by funny I mean all-seeing, amazing, and knowing why this was the perfect prayer for that week.  There was an abyss in the prayer.  The prayer begins,

O God,  you are the ineffable Ocean of love,
the unfathomable Abyss of peace …

Who knew that my news-feed would be abyss-full following the news of Robin Williams’ death?

Depression was described over and over in news stories as an abyss, an apt description if ever there was one.  I know, because I, too, have stood on its precipice, feeling the earth crumbling under my feet, knowing that even a breath too deep could push me into that abyss.

The abyss is dark and black and unfathomable.  It may even be ineffable.  Those who have experienced it may very well say that it is ineffable in the darkest sense of that word.

But, you see, God wanted to remind me that if there is a dark and scary abyss, so there is also an abyss that is Him, an abyss of peace.

While the black hole abyss is ineffable in its darkness, so is He, Jehovah, I AM THAT I AM, also ineffable, and He is an Ocean of love.

In the time that it has taken me to ponder this thing (days and days), the news stories have moved on to other tragedies, equally abysmal, equally unfathomable — Amish girls kidnapped and innocence stolen, a black youth shot, bloodthirsty jihadists slaughtering Christians.

Yet God is unchanged — an abyss of peace, and an ineffable ocean of love.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Psalm 139: 6

Geraniums

Red geraniums

Red geraniums

I can see through the fence to the outside,
where the Polish people live.
The ones who aren’t Jewish.

I see a white house with red geraniums in front.
What is it like to have flowers in your garden?
We only have vegetables.
It seems like a dream to live outside the ghetto.
The houses look so bright and clean.

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy

In World War II, over 200,000 Jews were herded into the Lodz ghetto in the city of Lodz, Poland.  Only 800 walked out after the war.  Of the 800, only 12 were children. Syvia Perlmutter, Jennifer Roy’s aunt, was one of those children.  Her words still haunt me as I try to wrap my mind around the unthinkable, the systematic annihilation of a people.

Since reading the book, I have often thought about that woman with the white house and the geraniums.  How could she live in such close proximity to squalor and mistreatment of her fellow-man and not do anything? And yet, what could she do?

It seems almost heartless, showing off her geraniums to the people trapped behind the fence.  I have something beautiful and you do not.

This weekend, I found myself rethinking those geraniums.

What if, in the greater battle of good versus evil, this was her way of fighting?  Perhaps her statement was not to the prisoners, but to their captors. You make the world ugly, with your killing and hatred, but I know there is still beauty in it. See? I have these red geraniums.

And to the prisoners she said, Look, there is still beauty in the world.  Hold onto the dream.

After following the horrible news stories of the past few days, I read this by author Jennifer Trafton Peterson,

I don’t know how to solve the terrible suffering in the world. All I can do is try to keep making beautiful things to push back the darkness.

IMG_4490

My kitchen counter

I went down to my flower garden, the first I’ve ever planted myself.  I cut flower after flower after flower to fill a bucket. My kitchen counter bears witness to this endeavor.  I wanted to fill my home with beauty as best I could.

And I wanted to push back the darkness.

Not with my head in the sand — for I know that politically, possibly militarily, and certainly humanitarian-aid-ishly, concrete action must be taken.  I can look for ways to help enact that change.

But I can also have a fuller understanding that the skirmishes of this greater battle — the good vs evil battle — the skirmishes that take place in my own heart, can be won with beauty, with love, and with kindness.

I can’t do any big thing.

But I can do some small things with great love and thereby try to make the world a little brighter.

Hmmm… now who would like some flowers?

Winslow Homer and Shoes

This past week, I took a group of campers to the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown to see the Winslow Homer exhibit that was on display.

I told the children to look at all the paintings in the gallery, choose their least favorite, and stand beside it.  Then I walked from child to child, asking them about their selection.  Here are a few things they said:

“It makes me feel cold.”

“I don’t like chickens.”

“The woman looks mad.  And I don’t like her shoes.”

Their comments were interesting.  Even more interesting was the fact that some of the same paintings were chosen when I told them to stand beside their favorite.  The favorable comments were:

“The ocean looks so real.”

“Roosters are pretty.”

“The woman looks strong.”

Winslow Homer's Watching the Breakers: A High Sea (1896) Arkell Museum at Canajoharie

Winslow Homer’s Watching the Breakers: A High Sea (1896) Arkell Museum at Canajoharie

Yes, the ocean looks very cold and very real in Watching the Breakers.  The bundled observers in the picture are undoubtedly feeling the spray of salt water as it crashes against the rocks.  I agreed with both comments on the picture.

The rooster painting — and I’m sorry I didn’t note the actual title of the painting, but I’m guessing that it is something like, “The Rooster” — evoked no response from me. It was, quite simply, a colorful rooster on a dark background. I suppose that if you don’t like chickens, you won’t like the painting, and if you do, you will.  I think I read somewhere that this painting was Sterling Clark’s first Winslow Homer acquisition, and he probably bought it because it reminded him of summers on the farm.

Winslow Homer's Inside the Bar (1883)

Winslow Homer’s Inside the Bar (1883) Metropolitan Museum of Art

But the woman, the painting of the woman on the beach, was very interesting. The little girl who didn’t like it was my youngest camper.  “She looks so mean,” she said to me, pointing at the woman’s expression, “and her shoes look like men’s shoes.”

I laughed at the shoe comment.  My main criteria for choosing shoes are functionality and comfort.  This woman’s shoes look very functional, although I can’t speak to their comfort.

The little girl who liked the picture was one of my oldest campers. At twelve, she was a full three years senior to the disliker. She was a pretty girl with delicate features. I loved the fact that she could look past the woman’s coarseness and see strength.

The woman in Homer’s painting is strong. Her face is set. Her stance says Don’t mess with me.  The wind is blowing at her apron, her hair, the ocean, and the boats, but she is unmoved by it.  She will go about her business in her sturdy shoes and pay no mind to the opposition.

I loved the painting.

I especially loved that a little girl showed it to me.

Two little girls, in fact. But one looked beyond the shoes.

Detail of a Cullercoats Fishlass, 1883.jpg
Detail of a Cullercoats Fishlass, 1883” by Winslow Homer
(Life time: 1910) – Original publication: Cullercoats
Immediate source: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/54.183. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Threshold

“Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam-when do I give you your ticket?”

I sniffed a few times, considering this.  “Why, just before we get on the train.”

“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need-just in time.”

Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place

In February, I traveled to Texas, to a place called Laity Lodge.  No other trip has come this close to filling me to the brim with rest and rejuvenation.

Of course, I didn’t know what was around the next bend in my life journey.  I didn’t know how much I would need those reserves.

Less than two weeks after I got home,  my brother died unexpectedly.  What with that and a few other large pot-holes, the road of late has been bumpy.

I keep going back, though, to Threshold, an art installation at Laity Lodge.  I spent hours there, alone, with friends, at dawn, at dusk, in the middle of the day.  If I were to choose a favorite place in the world, this would be in the running.

Sometimes we need a strong tower.

Today I’m thankful for Threshold.

Strong tower Mighty in love

Strong tower
High and glorious

Strong tower, High and glorious

Strong tower,
Mighty in love

Our refuge Our defender

Our refuge
Our defender

Strong tower Lord above

Strong tower
Lord above

The Newsboys, Strong Tower

Loaves and Fishes Revisited

I inwardly groaned when the minister started talking on Sunday.  The text was the feeding of the 5,000 from the book of Matthew.

IMG_2737[1]Everyone has their hot button issues.  One of my personal hot button church issues is the handling of the story about Jesus feeding the 5,000. I wrote about it Loaves and Fishes.

So there I was, sitting in church this week, listening to a story of how the people shared, and the crowd was fed.  The bottom line for the sermon was that when we all share what little we have, everyone has more than enough, too.  It’s a charming little sentiment.  And quite possibly true.

But no one will ever convince me that the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is about sharing.

I had just read the story earlier in the week — the version in Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:30-44) — and noticed something I hadn’t seen before.

In case you don’t know it, I’ll summarize.  Jesus and his disciples and a crowd of about 5000 people were off in the middle of nowhere.  So when the disciples told Jesus that the people were hungry, and his response was, “You give them something to eat,” they probably thought that he was crazy. Where would they get all that food?  To make a long story short, the two fish and five loaves (with a little help from Jesus) fed the crowd and twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered afterwards.

That’s pretty much the story.

The next thing that happened, though, was that Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat because he wanted to be by himself.  After he had a little alone time, he started walking across the water.  In fact, he meant to just slip past them, but they saw him and it scared them. They had been fighting a headwind all night. Seeing Jesus walk on the water in the midst of that, well, I can understand why they would be frightened.

Here’s the rest of the story as told in Mark:

But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

They had just witnessed the feeding of the 5000 AND saw Jesus walk on water.  Still, they were “utterly astounded because they didn’t understand about the loaves.”

I guess if the disciples didn’t understand about the loaves, I may need to cut these preachers a little slack when they don’t understand either.

They didn’t understand about the loaves.  Their hearts were hardened.

What things do I not understand?  In what ways is my heart hardened?

The Storm

I’ve gotten in the habit of having my camera with me when I’m out in the early morning.  Sometimes the sunrise is stunning.  Sometimes the moon surprises me.  Sometimes even the birds seem to forget that I’m there and land so close that I watch the rise and fall of their chests as they sing.

The other morning the sky was simply glorious.  Huge puffy clouds filled the horizon with the sun shining up underneath.  I snapped a photo.DSC02003

I was reading and didn’t notice the sky change.  A rumble of thunder gave me warning and I took this shot.DSC02008

Fast and furious, the sky was changing.  In less than a minute I heard the sound of rain on my neighbor’s metal garage roof.

Quickly I gathered my books and blanket and coffee.  I just barely made it under the porch roof when the heavy deluge came.

Of course, I tried to take a picture of the rain, but I think I need more than $59 camera to do that.DSC02019

In the stillness after the storm, the scent of grass and mud and rain filled the air.

Then the birds began to sing again.  The storm had officially passed.

It all put me in mind of one of my favorite Andrew Peterson songs:  The Reckoning.

Gratitude

My friend, Laura, said, “Five things, every day, a friend insisted once.”

I couldn’t keep it to five.

  1. A glorious sunrise.Aviary Photo_130509743950967406
  2. A bee visiting a coneflower in bloom.DSC01981
  3. Cucumbers on the vine.DSC01991
  4. A husband who is strong — and willing to help make cookies.IMG_4338[1]
  5. The joy of making cookies for friends.IMG_4339[1]
  6. Flowers for the wedding.DSC01999
  7. An ocean-colored bag.187
  8. Friends who critique, encourage, pray, and love.

Today I am simply grateful.