Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Of jam and sermonating

I think I've been a minister's wife too long, either that or I'm ready for the Women's Conference speaking circuit.  I made peach jam the other day and all I can think is how nice of a sermon illustration it is!  I've never made jam before, but I couldn't resist the beautiful peaches on sale at the grocery store, so I brought them home, dreaming of crisps and cobblers and jam.  I had no pectin, but happily found a recipe online calling for simply sugar and lemon juice and peaches, even better I could use the whole peach: no waste or peeling!  My frugal, simple heart was in heaven.  I cut up the fruit, pureed it, added the sugar and lemon, and began stirring over a very hot burner.  It was a hot, sticky mess, something like a churning cauldron of lava, but after covering my kitchen in sticky ooze and burning myself a few times, I figured it would be well worth it.  I tried my hard won, beautiful jam…all I could taste was the lemon!  My beautiful perfect peaches had absolutely no flavor and what could I do with two quarts of lemon jam?

I bemoaned my sad fate at church the next day to a friend, and instead of condoling with me, she rather decided to be my fairy godmother, saying she had a bunch of peaches going soft and would happily donate them to me if I'd like, and they were wonderful sweet, juicy things.  I figured they might add a little flavor to my pathetic attempt at jam making, so I accepted.  They were the sorriest bunch of fruit I have ever seen: soft, brown, a few moldy.  But I took out my knife and hacked out the good flesh, discarding the rest, and they were excellent fruit, just past their prime.  I used the same recipe, except there was no churning lava this time, just a vigorous and smooth boil, no burns, no mess, and the loveliest jam!  I thought for a moment to mix the two, but then I would have a gallon of mediocre jam, instead I opted to toss the former on the compost heap and save the latter, in all its pristine tastiness.

Obviously this tale is ripe for exploitation: the salt losing its savor, new wine in new wine skins…feel free to write your own sermon(s) but I shall limit myself to a metaphor of what is truly valuable and good, despite outward appearances.  Those store bought peaches were so lovely, but at heart they had no flavor and thus no value, sadly akin to many of the shiny souls we adore or wish to emulate.  Those ugly, mushy, brown peaches are a perfect analogy for fallen man: past his prime, sad to look upon and think about, but not without worth, if it can be dug out and perfected through sorrow, trial, and perseverance, much as it took the knife and heat to make proper jam, but no matter how sad that fruit, it was not without hope, as are we, but will we submit to the process and allow ourselves to be redeemed or will we rot into mushy uselessness?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Finding Nessie

I have been to Loch Ness, I saw the 'Nessie 2000' exhibit which said she might be a boat wake, an otter, a seal, a log…recently I saw a photo purported to be the legend herself, but whether it is real or not, whether it is Nessie or not, I can't help but feel that a real picture of Nessie or Big Foot or aliens or fairies or ghosts or whatever is something quite undesirable.  I am a very scientific person, but I also believe in fairies, even if I am fairly certain they aren't real, in our world at least.  Come again?  There is just something about Nessie and Big Foot and unicorns, or at least the potential that they might be out there, that adds mystery and wonder and a greater sense of significance to a day cruising Loch Ness or hiking the Pacific Northwest.  A world without fairies is a very dull world indeed!  And if we should happen to get a picture of them, or some other incontrovertible evidence of their existence?  It would just be another species to record in the biology books, ah, a Unicornus unicornus, I've always wanted to see one, maybe I can see a moose next…

But when there might be a mermaid you just missed glimpsing alongside your boat or a fairy dance somewhere in that moonlit wood, it adds a magic and a splendor missing from our hectic, predictable, drab day to day lives.  Perhaps that is why we can't prove God or He doesn't just step out of the closet and say 'hello!'  And why we are told to have hearts like children, who have not yet lost their sense of wonder and can therefore not only enter, but can truly see the Kingdom of Heaven.  That's the magic of faith, the wonder of hope!  If we know everything, see everything, understand everything, what then are we left with?  It is the mystery, the wonder, the revelation, the guessing, the chase that keeps us young and gives us a reason to keep getting out of bed of a morning, no matter how many times we have done it before, for who knows what the day may reveal?

The Israelites saw God, or great manifestations of His power at least, in their dealings with Moses, any scientist among them could not help but being convinced by the data, yet they would not believe!  They grumbled and complained and eventually it destroyed them.  And later we were told, 'blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe!'  It literally turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).  How strange people are!  We don't like facts and figures and graphs or cold, hard data, we want fairy tales and mysteries, something to tickle our fancy and tease our sensibilities.  What is this longing for Nessie, this hope that she might be real?  Nothing but the 'eternity written in our hearts.'  We know this humdrum mortal world isn't our true home, that's why it doesn't satisfy or long make us happy, that's why tales of elves and goblins are as old as humanity; we've always known they are real, but we've become too 'wise' to believe in the any longer, hence our discontent.  But you are never too old to start believing in fairies again.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Getting out of the picture

I spent an afternoon on Loch Ness once, it was beautifully mysterious, the play of light and cloud over deep water; I can see why people believe in Nessie.  What I glimpsed there, I lived for several days on our recent Alaska cruise.  Between the shadowy mountains and the startlingly blue water, the ever present mist and cloud, and the haunting light of dawn and evening, one felt as if you had somehow slipped out of the sphere of this world and found another, mysterious, solemn, joyous, ancient but ever young, untainted by the sorrows and sins of men.  It was wonderful, I spent long hours on deck just watching (and photographing) the play of light on the water, despite drizzling rain, cold, and a vigorous wind.  It was a strange contrast to life onboard the vessel.  I've never been cruising before and felt as if I was trapped in a floating mall/informercial encased in all the gaudy splendor of a carnival where physical health, gourmet food, abstract art, and expensive trinkets were the be all and end all of life.

We were cheap, we booked an inside cabin with no windows and happily we weren't quartered next to any live chickens, but we certainly didn't have access to a private balcony.  I thought I would have to fight the other plebs for a spot on deck to bird watch, sight see, and photograph, but strangely, I had most of the boat to myself, aside for an occasional selfie taker who seemed to think the scene unworthy of memorializing without themselves in the picture.  It seemed a very commentary on our western culture, unable to step away from gazing at itself long enough to bask in the splendor around it.

There was only one time I had to fight for my spot, it was when the entire cruise ship sailed down the Endicott Arm to give us a glimpse of a glacier.  I was out first thing in the morning, but was forced under cover by the constant drizzle (you can't see or record anything with water on your lens), but happily found a spot where I could open a window and still get good pictures.  There were half a dozen hearty souls (out of 3000) doing likewise, but eventually the horde came to pay its respects at the last moment, oohing and aching and snapping photos (selfies mostly) with their smart phones before heading inside for an early lunch while the boat turned around and made its way out of the fjord, missing the best part of the journey through the ghostly light of dawn.

Why does it feel like life (at least modern western life) is perceived as just that: a cruise on which you are a prime passenger and entitled to all these 'ooh' moments but in-between you can just kick back and relax and complain over any little thing, not having to work or grieve or sorrow or toil, but supposedly happy and content the whole time.  I don't even know why most people were on that boat, they missed the very reason to go!  You can buy a watch or a purse or eat snails whenever, but how often do you get a chance to float through the mist with great and shadowy heights on either side with water as blue as a September sky beneath you while every moment the light dances and plays over the water and in the ridges of the hills, in and out of cloud and shadow, mist and rainbow.  It was wonderful!  But the gaudy shallowness of the cruise itself called them away from all that: it is cold, it is wet, maybe when the wind doesn't blow so much they cried.  But I was there, I got a picture with it in the background, check it off my bucket list, what do I go see next?

Is that how we see God?  He's there, glorious, splendid, huge, wonderful, awful, we'll snap a selfie when life gets a little scary, but otherwise He can just stay there, unseen, unheard, unnecessary, just as long as we are as happy and unbothered as we deserve to be, but then something happens, and it is His fault, we'll blame Him, we don't deserve this after all!  I just want to be happy and live my life my way. But it isn't your life, no more than those haunting mountains and eerily blue water are yours.  They are yours to enjoy, but they are not enhanced or benefited by being caught in a snapshot with your face in the fore and pasted on your social media site.  Rather get your silly head out of the picture, be humbled and awed before the vast natural beauty before you, let it remind you of Him who wrought it, the Artist who dreamed it up and gave it birth, the same who made you!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Remember your hat!

All the old tales seem to imply that the hero was designed for the quest or vice versa, but life rather seems to be more falling into something rather haphazardly or simply slipping into it gradually, hardly noticing that you have begun until you are in the middle.  That is perhaps the hardest lesson of growing up: learning that 'your story' isn't so neat and clean and straightforward as the stories lead us to believe.  You have a story, you have things to do in your life, but until you can see it from one end to the other, edited as it were, to leave out all the dead ends and idle time, we only frustrate ourselves by trying to make sense of everything while in the midst of it or repining that things aren't happening 'as they ought.'  It is also wise to remember that sometimes the completely unexpected will eventually turn out to be the most important part of the plot.  We all like to plan and dream, but we must leave room for a bit of spontaneity and unlooked for adventure, or we may end up with a dull tale indeed.  Just because where we seem to be going isn't in our plans or our ideal, doesn't mean it is a bad, indeed, it may prove to be vital to the plot; the key to a life well lived is learning to walk down an unexpected turning in eagerness, rather than with dread and dragging feet or running in the opposite direction.

I now own a guitar, a guitar with no strings and a missing bridge.  I have no desire to play the guitar, but there it sat in a corner of the flea market and I knew I should ask about it.  $2?!  I was willing to part with $5, so rather astonished, I took it home and began researching how to make it functional.  I don't know what will come of it, but it will certainly be an adventure, perhaps a dead end, but an adventure nonetheless!

I don't want to go to Alaska either, especially in a floating tourist trap with 3000 other people!  I don't like crowds, I don't like strangers, I'm claustrophobic, my stomach doesn't do well with food not cooked at home, I'm very much a homebody except for a few adventures to certain scenic natural areas within driving distance, so why do I want to go on a cruise?  Good question, but that's what is going to happen in just a few days.  The scenery will be gorgeous, I'm sure, and once I'm there, it will be fun, but right now the dread far outweighs the excitement.  But we're going and that's that.  And yes, it will be good for me, and may even be the highlight of the decade, but it is the adventure currently set before me and endure it I must.  I don't think our travel insurance gives us a refund for 'cold feet.'

So what is your adventure?  What are you dreading or ignoring or scoffing at?  What are you hoping will happen or are waiting for that may never be realized, on which you have focused all your dreams and hopes and ambitions, putting life on hold until that fateful day?  Don't put life on hold, go down those seemingly insignificant side paths, live while you're waiting, and even if it doesn't happen, your life won't have been pointless and you may even find what you were looking for where you least expected to find it!  But unlike Bilbo, remember to take your hat and pocket kerchief!