Thursday, December 9, 2010

"She lived her loves." Reflections on Grandma's life

Yesterday we remembered and buried David's grandmother, Margaret (Peg) Mary Theising--October 27, 1916 to December 4, 2010. She lived 94 years of a full life. David and I have had many conversations, reflecting on Grandma (she was a grandma to me, as well) and her impact on our lives. Yesterday, David put words to what we witnessed in her: "She lived her loves."

Grandma lived her loves. She took effort and initiative to pursue and enjoy what brought her the most pleasure: family and friends, good food, fishing, nature, ceramics, nice things and good books. (Up until a few months ago, Grandma was a regular patron of the Mooresville library, often reading a couple of books a week!) Many of David's and my loves today were influenced by Grandma and Grandpa's loves. (They introduced me to a love of birds, for those who know that about me.) What we love says much about us. What Grandma loved gave shape to her beautiful soul and beautiful life.

Two hours before Grandma died, David witnessed a peculiar, once-in-a-lifetime sight. He was shoveling snow, heard a loud, wild sound above his head and saw 50 or more white egret flying in an arc. They were heading southwest (the direction of Mooresville). After we found out that Grandma had died, he reflected on that experience and wrote this poem. He gave me permission to share it with you.

I am 
yet happy

The life
lived before me
lives on

A wild migration
by 50 great winged ones

The simple and true one
Positivity, optimism
Yet lingering long,
an unforgettable
breathed in
as a kiss.

Another artist
of exotic cooking,
ceramics and canning
A reader of stories
who mended her mind
with determined pleasure
A woman in waders
or furs
risking desire unafraid.

My history
merges with so many others
with her
most of all

Her story woven
in treasured
memories, photographs,
furnishings and trinkets.

A life has a halo
an after effect
that changes
we who watch.

Changes we who are touched
by a grace
seldom seen.

Breathe again
united to deeper loves
Rest in renewed
Strengthened and carried
to love
and live
here and

The first volume
The pen returned
the tale savored
and retired
with a smile.

12/5/2010 (Grandma Theising is gone.)


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Reflections 2010

I'm full. Very full. And it's undeniable that I ate too many carbs and calories over the holidays. But the fullness I'm talking about isn't from over indulging. It's from enjoying an unusually wonderful time with our family this Thanksgiving. We're at a sweet time--all four of our kids are young adults, all living in Indianapolis and we are experiencing the pleasure of adult relationships. We have one adorable grandson, Eli. He's fourteen months old and we are absolutely smitten! We followed tradition and ate turkey and pumpkin pie and hung leaves on our Thanksgiving tree. We listened to David pray and read a poem he wrote. We played a game and watched Toy Story 3. We laughed, told stories, snuggled and teased. We reenacted the rituals that have defined our Thanksgivings for many years. I am full because I participated in them. I am full because I am so grateful for my family.

Monday, September 6, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 19: Campfire

Last night, as I laid my head on the pillow, a cloud of smoky smell drifted by my nose and floated off into the air, carried by the cool breeze floating in through the open windows. In other circumstances, the scent of smoke would have alarmed me. It didn’t last night because I knew immediately what it was from. Over the weekend, we went camping with some friends, partaking in the ritual of campfire (no s’mores, however) and sleeping under the stars. I had forgotten to change our pillowcases.

After we came home on Saturday and I took a shower, I remember smelling the strong aroma of campfire as the water rinsed over my body. It’s interesting how we can be covered in the stench of smoke but not know it. It seeps into our pores, absorbed by our hair and clothes. Smoke soaks into us like a filmy residue, often difficult to eliminate—as those who have had a house fire can attest.

Do you remember the story of Daniel and his two friends who were thrown into the fiery furnace? After they were brought out, unscathed by the fire, “the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke” (Daniel 3:27)!

I thought about this story, as I smelled lingering smoke. I have been through a few fiery ordeals in my life. I wonder if the “smell of smoke” still loiters. Can you smell it on my clothes and in my hair? Do you catch a whiff of it in my singed heart? I do. I still notice an occasional waft of sarcasm and cynicism related to a blazing trial of a few years ago. I don’t know that, like Daniel, I have come through absent of the smoky residue from the ordeal—although, as time goes on, I see far less charring and more of Christ’s healing and wholeness.

As you think about the times you have gotten close to the fire, absorbed the smoke from difficult trials in your life, when do you still smell the scent? Does it drift off you at night as you lay your head on your pillow? I am mindful of my need to keep turning to Jesus to cleanse and restore me so that I don’t smell of the dregs of my own fiery furnace. How about you?

Friday, August 27, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 18: Hospital

Walking down the hallway of the surgical floor, the permeating smell of antiseptic-adhesive-gauze—the smell of a Band-Aids—registered with my olfactory sense. Even now, I can recall it, a familiar smell, not altogether pleasant or repugnant, but one that makes my stomach stir.

We were there to pray with a very dear friend who underwent a daunting, extremely serious surgery. At 30 years old, an athlete her entire life, she needed to have an operation to reconstruct her hip. As I visited the hospital, twice in two days, I noticed the hospital smell. I’ve known people who can’t stand that particular odor—it brings back too many bad memories or incites too many overwhelming fears. Not for me.

I do have strong, difficult memories of hospitals and they all do seem to smell the same. But for me, I think of a hospital as a sacred shelter, a place where sick people can be held in stillness so that others who know how to care for them can do so. I feel a profound gratefulness for hospitals, for all the care we have at our disposal in this country—at least many of us.

In another hospital only a few miles from my friend, two of my daughters stood vigil with another 30-year-old woman. This one is fighting for her life. She has cancer and yesterday took a surprising and devastating turn. Her family and close friends gathered to form a circle of support, their aching, breaking hearts clasped together.

When I smell hospital, I envision holy ground. As a pastor, I have prayed many times with people in the hospital. For me, it is a place of healing and sometimes a place to walk with God and another through the valley of the shadow of death. I have no doubt that the Spirit hovers amidst the blend of medicinal smells, ministering through the prayers of those who bleed them, doing the work of healing and in some cases extricating—extricating spirits from their earthly bodies, releasing them to their eternal home.

Would you mind taking some time right now and praying with me for these two women? Pray for those you know whom are sick, perhaps in a hospital. Ask the Spirit to anoint them in the healing name of Jesus.

“Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well.” James 5:14, 15

Saturday, August 21, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 17: Sour

When we talk about the sense of smell, we must inevitably acknowledge the many unpleasant smells that accost our nostrils—and one of those sickening smells to me is “sour.” You know what smell I am referring to? Sour—as in sour milk or cottage cheese; sour towels; and sour from the odor of vomit. It is by far one of the most off-putting smells. And right now, sour is lingering on my sofa!

On Monday morning, our dear sweet pup, Bongo, decided to help himself to a tub of butter when I wasn’t looking. I had just opened it—of course. So, he consumed about 8 ounces of real butter with canola oil and then proceeded to vomit, spontaneously with out any warning, for the next 48 hours. (And you know what comes after vomit…) One of the places he projectiled was at the end of a sofa in our family room.

I immediately tried to remove the contents and smell by washing it with baking soda and water. No improvement. Then I took the cover off (it is at the dry cleaners) and washed the inside of the cushion with all-purpose cleaner. Still only a little improvement. Today, I will try again, though I’m not sure I know what product I will use. Any suggestions?

Sour. A putrid smell develops because of something going bad — staying too long in a refrigerator, a closed hamper or a living being’s stomach. But what about stuff that stays too long inside our hearts? As I ponder this smell and am guided by the Spirit to let this sense teach me, I think of how certain attitudes sour within me and when I vomit them, they smell vile.

Anger stuffed inside comes out sour and accusing. It often has a rancid smell as it brews in my heart and turns rank. Bitterness and resentment has the same shelf life—it doesn’t take long when left inside, closed up in the dark recesses of my heart, to turn bile-like. A critical spirit is another attitude that just this week the Spirit opened my eyes to, a souring disposition stewing inside me that in a matter of time will explode.

Attitudes turn sour because they are kept bottled up until they erupt like vomit, often onto the nearest person we can find to blame. The secret to keeping these feelings from turning noxious is to confess them to God before they turn sour. No matter how awful they are, whom they are directed toward or what language through which they are spoken--honest, ruthlessly raw confession is the best anecdote for removing sour smells from our own heart. In the presence of God, we have a Gentle Counselor who listens without judgment, glad that we trust him enough to share our rank, stinky thoughts before they spoil.

So, what feelings have you stuffed inside that are about to turn sour? Take some time to write in your journal or take a prayer walk and come clean before God.

Monday, August 16, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 16: Valve Oil

On Saturday, I did something I haven’t done in a couple of years. I got out my French horn and played it for our grandson. He is almost a year old but seems to love music and sounds. He plunks the piano, bangs on our tom-tom, and when I got out my horn and played it, he sat listening--mesmerized.

For not having played in a couple of years, I didn’t sound too bad. I was a French horn performance major at Indiana University and my tone had the reminiscence of someone who once played well, but my technique was a different story. I felt clumsy and had no embouchure what so ever. What really stood out to me through this experience was all the seminal smells.

When I got my horn out of its case, I smelled the scent of must and brass inside. I cradled my horn in my arms, slipped in the mouthpiece and could smell the inside of the lead pipe--a combination of old saliva and metal. I took out some valve oil and oiled the rotary valves. Wow. I had strong, distinctive memories flood my mind: my first horn professor, John Miller who played with the ISO; Philip Farkas, my horn prof at IU; playing in orchestras in high school and college; friends who were horn players like Patti, Jill, Eric and Chris. I wonder what has happened to them?

These aromas were nostalgic ones—some of the most powerful smells I have smelled. In part, it might be because they were not subtle odors. Valve oil, slide grease and musty brass are very strong and distinctive smells. But what I think made them really powerful was the ambush of profound memories of people and experiences that have shaped my life.

Even though I don’t play my French horn much now, I know that my experience as a young musician molded me in significant ways. Even today, I think my sense of cadence in writing and speaking was shaped through learning to phrase music. My love of the arts, the intangible gifts of sound and sight that speak so directly to my heart were nurtured through learning this wonderful instrument.

Even to this day, no matter where I am, if I hear the sound of a French horn, I am immediately and uncontrollably drawn to the sound—just like Eli--mesmerized! How has learning a musical instrument shaped your soul? What smells do you associate with that instrument?

Friday, August 13, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 15: Smelling Yourself

It’s been said that women don’t sweat—they glisten. I don’t buy it. It’s a polite way of avoiding the awkward truth that we all smell, women and men alike, and sometimes that odor isn’t very pleasant. So why is it that we have such an aversion to the natural smell of body odor? I guess for the obvious—it isn’t a very agreeable smell and offends our noses.

In fact, a whole industry exists for the elimination of bodily, human smells. Body washes, deodorants, body sprays, colognes and perfumes have been designed to wash away, protect against and cover up our natural scent when we sweat. These products are not always successful but they do a pretty good job of masking the discomforting, stinky smell of b.o.

When I smell myself--after I’ve worked out, gardened, or been in my un-airconditioned car too long (yeah, it’s now on the fritz—great timing with this blast of scorching, drenching heat!)--I can’t wait to take a shower or douse myself with body spray. My initial reaction is to quickly eliminate the odor my body naturally emits from sweating. (Or did I mean, glistening?)

That reminds me of the tendency I have to cover up other issues of my life that I find embarrassing—things like my sensitivity to criticism, my over-reaction to blame, my pettiness. The emotion that ties these two reactions together—the reaction of smelling myself and my “stuff”—is shame. Shame is self rejection; it’s the reaction of self-embarrassment, self-loathing, the need to hide.

We all stink, inside and out. Wouldn’t it be much healthier to accept the earthy, human smell of ourselves than quickly and anxiously try to cover it up? (I'm not advocating a deodorant-less free-for-all!)

So, here’s an unusual spiritual practice I bet you've never tried: the next time you catch a whiff of yourself, instead of running off to take a shower or re-apply your deodorant, why not smell yourself. As you breathe in the odor of your own sweat, ask God to help you fully accept your humanity, your body, your earthiness. Open yourself to be loved and embraced by God in your own stink.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 14: Old English Almond Oil

It’s Saturday and for me, that means it’s time to reclaim my home. After a week of work, living with a very hairy dog and often having kids or company of some sort in during the week, I am keenly aware that my house needs some attention. So, I started this morning with the kitchen floor. As it was drying, I moved to polishing the furniture. Usually I use lemon oil, but the store was out, so I bought, instead, some Old English almond oil.

I opened the bottle (actually I had to have David give me a hand—don’t know why they make tamper resistant tops so resistant!) and began to sprinkle it on top of a large wooden chest we use for a coffee table. Ahhhh….the fragrance was wonderful. It filled the room with this warm, luscious nutty scent. After that, I found great pleasure in lathering anything that required polish with this new found favorite polish.

As I dusted and enjoyed the bouquet of almondy fragrance, I thought of how this smell speaks to me about my spiritual life. Almonds are probably my favorite nut. I love to sprinkle them on our yogurt in the morning. The flavor and texture are so satisfying to me. And then I thought, to top it off, God not only made almonds with a fabulous taste, he gave them a wonderful aroma.

I think that provides some insight into what God is like. He is a sensual creator. God is anything but pragmatic. If he were, everything he made would serve a utilitarian purpose. It would meet our needs but it wouldn’t satisfy us—our love for beauty, pleasure and delight. Instead, God created a world bursting with sights, smells, tastes, textures and sounds that are as diverse as they are magnificent.

I love that almonds not only have an amazing taste but they also have a delicious smell. I love that they produce oil that restores moisture and sheen to my furniture. Sometimes I am just amazed at how God thought of it all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 13: Organic sweat

With record-breaking temperatures and humidity oppressing large areas of our country, it’s no wonder today’s smell is one my husband described as “organic sweat.” We went for a walk early this morning, and though it was before 8 am, the temperature felt in the 90’s with 99% humidity. As we slogged along our usual loop, I asked David how he would describe the smell outside. About that time, we caught a very strong whiff of steamy compost coming up from the ground and then he named it—organic sweat. Yes. Very apropos.

It’s the smell of wet, earthy, decomposing plant matter. It’s heavy in the air; hanging like a damp sheet on a line, unable to dry. Another name for it might be humus—an organic brew of decayed plants and animal excrement that gardeners add to soil to enrich it. (Not to be confused with hummus—a wonderful, Middle Eastern dish made from chickpeas and tahini.) As we smelled organic sweat, it had this intense quality—natural but not all together pleasant.

For that matter, human sweat is no different. Our bodies have a built-in cooling system that excretes moisture to decrease our body temperature. The moisture we produce is a combination of oily, glandular, stinky, sweaty smells—natural but not all together pleasant. Among both vegetation and humanity, sweat helps maintain life and keep us hydrated. Today’s smell leads me to the question, “What do I learn about life in the Spirit from sweat, organic or human?”

I think of times when life around me feels humid, hot and heavy. Circumstances, expectations, schedules lay on me like a wet, cumbersome blanket. The temperature of my life situation feels like a pressure-cooker. During a heat wave, nature compensates by becoming very still--you can almost feel it's breath. In the same way, I need to become still and resist unnecessary movement. I need to conserve my energy and preserve a spiritual and emotional temperature that enables me to remain calm and hydrated.

When the heat is turned up in our life, we won’t be able to throw it off by brute force any more than we can throw off this oppressive heat. Rather, we must find shade, a place where we can wait it out, until the oppressive temperature lifts. So, where do you find shade? How can God become your shelter? Take some time to meditate on the image in this Psalm and see where God invites you to rest: “The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night." Psalm 121: 5, 6

Sunday, August 1, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 12: Smelling Fiesta

Thursday night, we hosted a fiesta in celebration of our oldest daughter’s birthday. I love to fix a meal that is a particular favorite of that son or daughter and so Mexican was the obvious choice for Britt. The night before, I roasted poblano peppers and prepared chilies rellenos. I smelled the tangy, peppery smell as they popped and sizzled in the oven.

The next afternoon, we grilled Yucatan chicken, a spicy dish that I marinated all night in ancho chili pepper and lime juice. The smoky, zesty fragrance must have made the neighbors hungry. Not long before the guests arrived, I prepared queso fundito, a famous Bobby Flay recipe from the Mesa Grill. It was fabulous—a bubbly hot mess of Monterey jack cheese and goat cheese with a green chili vinaigrette garnish—savory to smell.

I served each dish tapas style and we dove into each one and relished the zesty combinations of smells and flavors. But food wasn't the only smell filling the air. I could smell the party. It was the aroma of celebration, being family, enjoying each other. It was the scent of festivity, the fun of being adults, having grown-up conversations, everyone old enough to drink a margarita. I smelled the aroma of home, the place David and I have created together; the place that still draws us together.

I love the smell of fiesta—especially when it involves my family. I’m already planning my next.

Monday, July 26, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 11: Mystery Smell

I opened the refrigerator yesterday and began to sniff. A smell wafted by my nose from some deep, concealed place—the smell of rotten. I began to look for it, trace it down. I started with the vegetable drawer where I often find the culprit, although not this time. I spun jars and bottles around on the door to look for expiration dates. Nothing obvious there. Finally, in the top shelf toward the back I saw an old container of hummus. I picked it up, looked at the date—which was well past due—and saw on the inside a clump of gangrenous-looking mold. Yuck!

My sleuthing and finding of the mystery smell took the use of all my senses. I looked around. I heard containers clang as I shifted them, careful not to knock them over. I touched them and rotated them for better viewing. I let my smeller direct me toward the source of the stench. The only sense I didn’t use was taste—for obvious reasons! My other senses provided enough evidence to be convinced that I had found the offender.

This experience makes me think of Martha’s protest when Jesus suggested that someone role away the stone at Lazarus’ tomb. “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” Refrigerators are a bit like tombs: cold, dark and dank. Sometimes they conceal dead things, rotting things that indeed stinketh.

Even within our own hearts are concealed places, cut off from light and cold as death. In those places lurk past wounds, sinister lies and cruel secrets. To discover them, we must trace the rank smell of death. That requires all of our senses and the desire to eliminate the source. Do you long to search out the places in your own heart that stinketh? Why not begin with some questions for spiritual direction:

• Where do you smell the stench of rottenness in your life?
• If you were to hunt it down, what containers would you open?
• What experiences, events or relationships have left a bitter taste in your mouth?
• What’s the expiration date? When were these hurts sealed inside you?
• Where do you hear the cries of your soul for healing and resurrection?
• Are you willing to open the container to God and let him deal with the contents?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 9: Hypnotic Poison

Last night, David and I stopped by a local restaurant where our youngest daughter works. She had been a hostess for a couple of years and recently graduated to server status. When she saw us, her face lit up and she came over and gave me a big hug. The first words out of my mouth were, “Oh, you smell so good!” I immediately identified the scent of her perfume—Hypnotic Poison by Dior—one that has been a favorite of mine since the first time I bought it for one of her sisters. (It's a strange name—like who wants to wear poison--but a wonderful fragrance.)

Every time Brooke came to our table (and by the way, the service was excellent!), I caught a whiff of her perfume. It has an unusual combination of smells: sweet, musky, heavy, dark and spicy. I really love it! It is the most memorable fragrance I know. After we left the restaurant, we went shopping and I could still detect the scent—somehow it stayed with me. Even this morning as I was reading, once again I became aware of Hypnotic Poison. (Maybe the name is apropos. It’s certainly hypnotized me!)

Have you ever had a perfume or cologne become a memory-trigger of someone in your life? I have known many friends who identify certain fragrances with a loved one. One friend told me that she kept a bottle of her mother’s perfume after she died. Occasionally, my friend opens it and smells it and when she does, she has an intense memory of her mom.

When we smell a familiar and potent fragrance that evokes the memory of someone, why not allow that to be the spark for prayer: a prayer of thanksgiving for that person; a prayer of healing for that relationship; a prayer of blessing for him or her. As I sat and smelled Hypnotic Poison this morning, I thought of Brooke and prayed for her. It was a sweet prompt that allowed me to enter into her life through prayer, asking God to keep her close, draw her near and help her find her way in this world.

Monday, July 19, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 9: Lake

Over the weekend, David and I went to Lake Wawasee with our house church. We had a blast! (That sounds so high school—but fitting, maybe because we acted like we were in high school!) Numerous times while I was there, I smelled the close scent of lake water. I noticed that when we were on the boat, I even felt the smell of it as it whipped across my face, slicing by my nostrils, clinging to my skin. It was the odor of algae, fish and soggy wetness.

I wouldn’t describe it as pleasant nor unpleasant. It’s a nostalgic smell with strong associations of wet bathing suites and slippery docks; spray on your face and coolness on your skin. It evokes thoughts of summertime, friends, laughter, play and sunburns. It’s a weathered smell, filled with old, musty sentiments. I like it. It has a lot of character.

Jesus spent a great deal of time around lakes—fishing, walking on them, napping in a boat as it rocked in a storm or speaking from its bow. He smelled all the smells of lake. I have a hunch he liked them, too. In fact, I picture Jesus being most at home by a lake. It suits him—a weathered, earthy, unpretentious man who wasn’t afraid to get wet, brave the elements and let the spray hit his face. I like that about him.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 8: Filled with the fragrance

You know those stargazer lilies I wrote about on Day 7? Yesterday, I went around the house to see them, take a moment to intoxicate myself with their heavenly fragrance and to my dismay, they were toppled over! The weight of the flower heads was too much for the stalks to bear. I saw only two options: allow their petals to fall to the ground and wither or cut them and bring them inside. I chose the later.

I cut two large clumps and placed them in a vase in my sitting room—the room I look into when I come in the front door or see when I walk from the upstairs to the downstairs. I placed them their so that I could see their beauty. Little did I know, I would also become aware of their fragrance every time I walked by.

I’m amazed at how permeating their scent is to the entire entrance of our home. Each time I pass by, they remind me they are there by the lovely, sweet, light perfume they emit. I thought of a passage of Scripture I read just the other day. It takes place in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus during a dinner party in honor of Jesus. In the story, Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume, anointed Jesus’ feet with it and wiped his feet with her hair. Then John records, “The house was filled with the fragrance.”(John 12:3)

Filled with the fragrance. That’s what happens when we bring something fragrant into our home; it intensifies the scent because it is concentrated in the space of those walls. Though I had a hard time smelling the lilies’ perfume outside until I got close and stuck my nose in their blossoms, I had no trouble smelling them inside my home. My house was filled with their fragrance.

When we receive Christ, we receive his fragrance into our interior lives, permeating our being. We become filled with Christ’s Spirit, the scent of his nature permeating our true self. This image prompts me to open my heart and bring Christ deeper in so that his aroma is more concentrated within my very being. How does this experience speak to you?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 7: Lilies

On the west side of the house, standing tall and proud, is a throng of Georgia O’Keefe lilies—blossoms so akin to her paintings, it’s impossible not to make the association. The difference is—these are real. David told me to make sure and look at them today. They are in brilliant bloom, gorgeous and lush, pink and prestigious-looking. As I walked to that side of the house, I felt immediate surprise to see them, like an unexpected visitor knocking at my door.

I leaned in to smell. At first, my olfactory didn’t pick up any fragrance. Then, I moved closer—stuck my nose right down into a big blossom and breathed in through my nose. Ahhhh. The waft of sweet, delicate fragrance floated into my nostrils and registered “lilies” in my brain.

I thought about the fact that these beauties, though striking and bold in appearance, possess a very faint, subtle smell. In some ways, their scent doesn’t match their dramatic appearance. Yet, it does. Something so lovely must have an equally lovely smell. But I wouldn’t know it unless I bothered to stick my nose in its business.

How much do I miss of the fragrance of life and its characters; the fragrance of the Author of life, because I don’t bother to lean in and get close enough for a whiff? Keeping a safe distance won’t do if I want to gather their perfumes, the fragrance of God within them.

I end with a question for you and myself:

Who or what do I need to move closer to in order to enjoy its scent?

Monday, July 5, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 7: Sulfur

Last night, we met some friends along the canal in downtown Indianapolis to watch the fireworks. Before they began, someone lit some sparklers next to us. The sulfur smell caught my attention and took me back to childhood. I remember being a bit afraid of sparklers, yet mesmerized by them. We would take them in our hands and circle our arms wide, making an arc. The hot sparks would fall of on my wrists, smarting them, but not enough to stop playing.

Once the fireworks started, the sulfur smell hovered in the hot, humid air of the evening. The odor was mildly unpleasant—sort of a burnt, eggy aroma. It lingered way past the time when any smoke from the fireworks remained. It’s a distinctive scent with strong associations. I don’t think I notice it during any other time than around the 4th of July.

Sulfur is what I would call an “anniversary smell.” It happens yearly at a predictable time and evokes images of celebrations, patriotic music, and red, white and blue. In fact, a friend said to me recently that when she smells a sparkler, she “feels” blissfully patriotic. I don’t know that I have the same reaction or feel compelled to hum “America, the Beautiful.” I do feel deeply grateful for the freedom and privileges I enjoy because I live in this country. Sulfur may be a disagreeable smell, but it stirs a good feeling.

Friday, July 2, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 6: Pot Roast

As I stood in front of the open freezer, I saw a pot roast staring back at me. Typically, it wouldn’t sound good during the hot summer months. But, I bought the roast two weeks ago because it was on sale and since the temperature around here has dipped—it’s felt almost fall-like—it sounded good and so out it came and into my slow cooker. Then all day long, the aroma of simmering beef, potatoes and carrots filled the house. Mmmm!

Beef cooking on the stove, roasting in the oven or grilled over charcoal has a tantalizing smell. It makes me hungry to think about it. A warm, comforting and filling aroma, it makes me think of home, growing up and Sunday dinners. It has a permeating, savory fragrance undoubtedly because of all the fat it contains. Meat, in general, has a much stronger odor while cooking than other foods. And beef, above all, awakens the olfactory glands with its strong, greasy, juicy bouquet.

It seems odd to me that rarely do I make the connection between the beef I am browning and the docile creature from where it comes. It’s as though I forget that it was once a living being—the blood that oozes from the package is a liquid of some other source than a life. When the Israelites brought their animal sacrifices to a priest, how did they experience its slaughter and then later sit down to a meal of its meat? Did they more readily smell and make the association? I wonder what that was like.

Another realization has provoked David and me. Recently, he read these disturbing statistics: *“The facts are now out on the price the Earth and the poor are paying to continue the meat addiction of rich countries. Twenty times more people can be fed from an acre of land if they are eating a vegetarian diet than if they are eating a typical American meat-oriented diet. The water required to raise livestock for a meat eater is 4,000 gallons per day; for a vegetarian, it is 300 gallons per day. Over 50 percent of the total amount of water consumed in the United States goes to irrigate land growing feed and fodder for livestock. In addition, ‘the livestock of the United State produces twenty times as much excrement as the entire human population of the country.’”

Though the delicious smell of pot roast bubbling in my slow cooker is enticing, we’ve made the decision that it will only be an occasional pleasure—once a month, or so. I don’t know that we are ready to become vegetarians. However, we do sense the need to reduce significantly our consumption of beef. It’s too easy in the 21st century, in our country, to live far from the food we eat, without connecting the dots that this is a living being I am consuming and it is costing our earth dearly to sustain this habit. So—savory as it is, the pot roast and all its relations will be a delicacy in the Booram home.

The Reinvention of Work, Matthew Fox, pg. 149

Monday, June 28, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 5: Gardenia

Of all the floral fragrances, gardenia is by far my favorite. I fell in love with gardenias on my wedding day. My bouquet ensconced several blossoms and created a trail of the most luxurious scent throughout our entire celebration. Ever since, I have had a romantic attachment to this delicate fragrance. In fact, whenever David buys me perfume, he looks for something that is a variation on the theme of gardenia.

On our anniversary this year, David gave me a small gardenia plant. Because they are typically grown in a warm, humid climate, I decided to place it in our dining room between two windows in order to stay warm and get enough sunlight. Then on Saturday, as I was cleaning, I noticed my dear plant looking very forlorn. Many of its leaves had turned brown; the blossoms were not opening; and there was no fragrance what so ever.

I’m not sure why. I suspect it’s getting too much of something or not enough of something else. The environment obviously isn't quite right for this somewhat temperamental flower. As a result, the wonderful fragrance native to its blossoms is non-existent. What a shame!

As I pondered the quandary of my gardenia and ask for God to speak his wisdom, I thought of what it means to be a “fragrance of Christ.” Paul writes in II Corinthians 2: 14-15, “Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.” So, I ask myself (and encourage you to do the same):

  • Is my life emanating the fragrance of one who knows Jesus?
  • What of my environment or the way I live life stunts my growth and blossoming?

The amazing scent of the gardenia is a byproduct of a healthy, growing plant. The only way it gives off its natural perfume is by flourishing in an environment conducive to its peculiarities. I am a peculiar person and so are you. We must not apologize for or neglect pursuing a life that fits the particularities of our nature.

For instance, I know that I need extended times of solitude, several “slow” mornings each week in order to be at my best. I must walk regularly in natural settings and drink in creation in order to keep my soul alive. I thrive when I have deep conversations with God and others, sharing the real and hidden secrets of my heart. I often need times to be creative, to participate in some expression of art.

What do you need in order to be at your best? If you were to write "care instructions" like you find on a tag with a new plant, what would they be? Why not take some time and jot them down.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 4: Cedar

We recently acquired a bedroom suite that belonged to David’s grandma. She is almost 94 and needed to move into a nursing home. Most of her earthly belongings are being dispersed among kids, grand kids and great-grand kids. Grandma gave us a set of depression-era bedroom furniture from her spare room, including a beautiful cedar chest.

I opened the chest today and was surprised at the strong, enveloping smell of cedar. The scent is sweet, woody and piney, like a forest-in-a-box. David’s dad said that if the scent fades, we can lightly sand the inside and it will release the cedar fragrance once again.

I have very specific memories associated with cedar. I think of my grandmother’s cedar chest, which I keep in our closet. She gave it to me years ago before she died. Inside the chest, I used to keep her fur muff—a gift of my grandfather—with a little note pinned inside, “To my darling Lillian, Merry Christmas, Walter.” Along with it, Grandma also gave me a braid of her hair, probably ten inches long and a beautiful, golden blond.

Cedar has long been used to protect and preserve things—it has a natural resistance to destructive insects and decay. For me, the fragrance of cedar also preserves something else—the past. Its aromatic smell carries me away to memories of two grandmas who have meant and mean the world to me. My two cedar chests hold the legacy of these two women in the memories evoked as I lift their lids and inhale long and deep.


Thank you, for two beautiful, loving and vibrant grandmothers whose memories I long to cherish. Every time I see or open one of their cedar chests, bring to my mind their legacy of love. I pray that their lives will stay with me, just as the fragrance of cedar lingers. And when my recall of them begins to fade, sand the surface of my mind and reawaken my sense of them and all the ways they have blessed my life. Amen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 3: Murphy’s Oil Soap

It was Saturday morning and we were intent about our goal of cleaning the house. For years, our weekly Saturday rhythm has included a couple of hours of home hygiene. In fact, I find myself consoled by this ritual. I know that if the house begins to lose its luster and clutter starts to pile up, on Saturday, I will tackle it and restored it to a place of order and sanctity.

As I was wiping down the counters, I sprayed some Murphy’s Oil Soap and began to mop it up. The familiar smell lingered in the air as it drifted down onto the counter tops. I noticed how much I liked the fragrance—a mix of woody, piney, clean scents—yet, more subtle and natural than strong detergents. The aroma lingered long after I’d coiffed the counters and furniture, leaving behind an invisible olfactory witness of a clean house.

I enjoy the act of caring for my home. The visible, measurable, noticeable work of cleaning is satisfying. I rub down counters and furniture, remove sticky dribbles and dust and I immediately see a difference. A shine re-appears; a clean fragrance loiters; and I feel satisfied knowing that I’ve nurtured the environment in which my family and I live.

A couple of weeks ago, right before our son and daughter-in-law moved in to a new house, we went over to help them clean. Right away, Laura handed me a bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap. She said that when she and Brandt were at the store buying cleaning supplies, he opened a bottle and smelled it. He remembered that this is what we used when we cleaned our home growing up.

I was amused and encouraged that he would remember the scent and that it was a positive association. Smells are often one of the strongest memory makers. Evidently, for our family, the fragrance of Murphy’s Oil Soap is an aromatic icon of hearth and home—one that conjures recollections of weekly cleaning rituals and the place we inhabit together.

Friday, June 18, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 2: Old, hot dust

On Wednesday night, we slept with our windows open. The temperature had settled down, as well as the humidity. I much prefer sleeping in fresh, night air. Though it was cooler, we still needed a fan to keep the air moving. So, David plugged one in—a fan that had belonged to his Grandma, one from her old farm house.

As I lay in the dark, I began to smell a familiar, nostalgic smell—the smell of old, hot dust. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? When I was a little girl, we had an attic fan. Once the sun went down and we prepared for bed, my parents would open all the windows and turn on the attic fan. With tremendous force, it would begin to draw all the hot air up and out of the house and pull the cool air from outside in. And I would begin to smell old, hot dust.

I don’t know how else to describe it. It wasn’t musty air. It was dusty. It wasn’t fresh air, it smelled old and stale. And it felt warm, as it swirled past me, drawn upward, into the attic. That’s the sensation I experienced Wednesday night.

Dusty air
Wafting by
On it’s way out
Tickling my nose
Ushering in
Clean air

A prayer of response:
Spirit of the Living God,
Blow through my life, drawing out from it all the stale leftovers of your breath and replacing them with new breath, new life—fresh and clean.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 1: A Daughter’s Scent

I have three lovely daughters. Each one is unique, like three exotic flowers bursting with vibrant colors and aromatic fragrance. Yesterday, I walked into my middle daughter’s room to get something—she hasn’t lived at home for a few years—and I could smell her scent. To try to portray it causes me to confront the challenge of this new 30-day experiment. It’s difficult to describe smells.

Here’ what comes to mind: musky, natural, spicy, patchouli, pungent and earthy.

After I left my middle daughter’s room, I went into my youngest daughter’s room. She hasn’t lived at home for a couple of years, either. Once again, I caught a waft of her scent. It was different from my middle daughter’s.

Here’s how I would describe it: sweet, rich, fruity, nutty and grassy.

When I hug each of my girls, I notice their scents. They are subtle but very much a part of them. I love the way they smell! Each fragrance captures their essence in a complex, intangible and wonderful way. I am struck with the fact that even years after they no longer live in our home, I can still smell them.

As I think of these scents and ponder their significance, I feel a flood of gratefulness for my girls. I love and appreciate each one and savor them for their differences and the qualities they share because they are sisters, my daughters. I celebrate them and thank God for them. They are adorable, beautiful, striking young women—full of life and promise. My heart is filled with delight as I savor the fragrance of their lives, an aroma which will linger with me forever.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Last chance to come to your senses!

Many of you know that I am in the process of writing my next book, Awakening Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God (InterVarsity Press/2011), along with co-author, Brent Bill. Beginning last fall, Brent and I initiated a series of 30 day experiments focusing on each of the senses. We are on our fifth and final one--30 Days of Smell--and would love for you to join us as we begin this olfactory journey. The purpose is to hone our sense of smell and let it teach us to notice the fragrance of God in our world. Brent and I invite you on one last adventure beginning Monday, June 7th. Fire up your smeller! Like a hound dog on a trail, attune your nose to the potpourri of fragrances around you and see what you find.

Here's how you can participate:

  • Put a note in your calendar for the next 30 days that reminds you to pay attention to what you smell.
  • Each day, notice fragrances, whether pleasant or repugnant, and ask God to speak to you through them.
  • Keep a journal of your experiences and what you learn.
  • Follow my blog or join me on Facebook and contribute your own stories. I look forward to hearing what you learn!

Warmly, Beth

Sunday, May 16, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 30: Encouragement

Today I will conclude 30-days of hearing. As you may have noticed, I’ve taken a slower pace; I’m simply not able to write each day because of my increased volume of work. Even though I haven’t written daily, I have been conducting this experiment in earnest—particularly regarding the practice of listening. I'm sure my heightened attention has a lot to do with the fact that I am currently studying to become a spiritual director. Since January, I have read half-a-dozen books on the topic for my program. Through learning, my desire to be present to others has definitely increased.

Just this week, I had a number of meaningful conversations. In each case, I found myself recalling the dialogue and cherishing the privelege ot bearing witness to another’s life and story. I think of Jesus' words after his disciples found him listening and talking with a Samaritan woman. He told them, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” (John 4:24) Deep listening nourishes my soul.

Through listening, I also received a gift in return--the gift of encouragement. On Friday, someone sent me an email that expressed what my listening meant to him. As I read his words, I experience almost a physical sensation--like my heart was glowing.

By definition, encouragement means, “support of a kind that inspires confidence and will to continue or develop.” That’s exactly how I felt. I had a full heart and a desire to continue to develop as a listener. It’s not surprising that encouragement is a gift of the Spirit. Though I am convinced in the power of presence and active listening, I am also reminded of the equally powerful impact of encouraging words. I hope you are receiving and offering a generous dose of both!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 29: Active Listening

I sat with a woman for two hours, listening to generous details of her life and journey. It was hard work. Hard work to stay present with her, to not zone out and take a mental holiday some place else. I was aware of my need to pray and stay connected to God as I stayed connected to her and her story.

After some time, the folds of her heart began to open. Tears flowed freely, pooling in her eyes and overflowing onto her cheeks. She spoke of things that she hadn’t expressed outside her own head. She spoke words that for the first time her ears heard her own voice speak. Words that needed to come out. Words that had been imprisoned and longed to be set free.

As I listened, occasionally asking a question, adding a cup full of thoughts in a torrent of hers, I knew some things. I knew, as I listened to her and listened to the Spirit, that she needed me to give her “permission” to feel. She needed to know that she wasn't crazy or cruel to desire what she desires. I affirmed her longings and her questions.

Afterwards, she hugged and thanked me for listening. Something so ordinary, a gift that one would think natural and to be expected. She expressed to me how much it meant to be heard. I have pondered her response and felt deep joy while at the same time perplexed. Why is active listening so hard to do? Why is active listening so rarely offered? How many people in my life have I missed hearing? Has anyone really heard me?

Here are some questions to help you be an active listener. The next time you sit with a friend, set the table for rich conversation by asking:
  • What is important to you right now that you would like for me to know?
  • How did/do you feel about that?
  • Can you tell me more?
  • What do you mean? Can you give me an example?
  • Where is God in this?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 28: Songs that make me cry

Saturday morning was colored in a shade of melancholy blue. I don’t know exactly why. Both David and I felt it. Perhaps it was tinted by a conversation we had with his grandma who is 93 and not doing so well. We love her dearly and it hurts our hearts to think of a day when we can’t hear her voice or experience her presence.

During breakfast, we listened to some music by a wonderful Italian composer/pianist named Ludivico Einaudi. You have to listen to this song called Svanire. I'm telling you, it is exquisite, heavenly-sounding. Here’s a link: Svanire We sat together speechless, allowing the beauty of this sweet, melancholy music to wash over us. It made us cry.

Why? What is it about the nature of some music, some songs, that can dissolve us into tears? I think it’s summed up in the word transcendence. This song conveys so vividly to me that there is a world “out there”, beyond me and beyond the world I am sitting in. It reminds me that I know “this world” isn’t forever and that world is. It helps me touch that world; taste that world; live for a moment in the bliss and uncertainly of that world.

I know that some of you find the blues of a melancholy day un-useful or disturbing. I’m sorry—but I think you are missing something. Hearing the sounds of music that make you cry deepens you and stirs your soul toward God who is transcendent. Please take some time to listen to this amazing song and allow the blues to enter you and connect you with him and heaven.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 27: If battlefields could talk

It’s a good 10 hour drive to Gettysburg from Indianapolis. I know because I road in a van there and back this past week—along with the other staff from my church. While there, we walked the battlefields of Gettysburg, reliving history and the very trying time in our nation we call (in the north) the Civil War.

If battlefields could talk—what would they say, what would we hear? Tom, our guide, told us stories of conflict, bravery and bloodshed. If battlefields could talk, we would hear cries and screams; cheers of victory and sobs from defeat; cursing and congratulating. We would hear the stories of young men, mere boys, whose lives were cut very short. We would hear stories of seasoned men driven by pride, prompted by character, and pressured by fear.

If battlefields could talk, I think we would be overwhelmed by the clamor of stories and the screams of the dying. If they could talk, I don’t think we could bear to listen. Yet, here we are—reaping the benefits from those who freed us, kept us unified, led us toward freedom. Maybe we need to let the battlefields talk.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 26: Opening our heart to God’s voice

I’m an avid reader. I’m looking at my nightstand right now—a modest stack of books on top, another pile next to it. If you walked into my office, you would see the same--piles of books, great and small, all beckoning to be read.

Though I am an serious reader and can’t imagine having a serious appetite for God without enlarging my appetite through reading, I don’t always read to hear—I read to read. I know the difference. For me, I am reading just to read when I gloss over the words on the page as if I’m in a race to reach the bottom of the page, the next page or the end of the chapter.

When I read to hear, I am more deliberate and measured. I stop at profound sentences and re-read them. I write notes in the margin; underline sentences; place question or exclamation marks off to the side. That’s when I am reading to digest. I am reading to nourish my hunger for God.

This week, I received an email from the Henri Nouwen society—something a friend of mine put me on to. I love Nouwen’s thoughts and musings and this quote was about spiritual reading—reading to hear. Here is what he had to say:

“Reading often means gathering information, acquiring new insight and knowledge, and mastering a new field. It can lead us to degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Spiritual reading, however, is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but also to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words. As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual lives. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people.

As we read spiritually about spiritual things, we open our hearts to God's voice. Sometimes we must be willing to put down the book we are reading and just listen to what God is saying to us through its words.” Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

Keep reading. But not only that, keep reading to hear God's voice.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 26: Song in my head

I woke up this morning with a song in my head. Does that ever happen to you? Lately, the songs playing involuntarily inside my brain have usually been by Ingrid Michaelson—the singer I talked about a few days ago. There have been times in the last week when I began to hum a tune and David has said, “That song was in my head, too.” Weird how that happens.

So, what is that about? Why do some songs get stuck in our auditory memory and replay on their own? This phenomenon certainly testifies to the power of music. It carves an indelible impression into the folds of the mind. Composed of melody, harmony and rhythm, tunes are sticky and for some reason our memory latches onto them.

So, back to this morning’s tune. It was Ingrid’s song, The Mountain and the Sea. Once I realized that this was the melody playing in my mind, I decided to listen to it, almost as I listen to a Lectio Divina of Scripture, to hear if God wanted to speak to me through it.

As I listened, I was struck with the fact that though the song more than likely speaks of human love, it can also translate into lyrics about Divine love. In this song, Ingrid speaks of being a mountain and her lover being the sea. She says, “You can move me, if you want to. You can move a mountain, you can move everything.”

My mind connected her words with the words of Jesus, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20) While Jesus can move me if he wants to, he tells me that I can also move mountains with a small seed of faith. Hmmm….

Here are some questions for spiritual direction. Why not ask them for yourself.

  • What mountains are before me?
  • How might God move them through my faith?
  • How does God want to move me?

Monday, April 12, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 25: Groanings too deep for words

I know that I have dreams and longings that live unnoticed and unnamed within my soul. Sometimes those yearnings bubble up within me, groanings too deep for words, and surface in ways that surprise me—like the sudden impulse to cry, to act, to investigate. I see that same phenomena in others.

I don’t always know what to do with my dreams and desires—a topic of discussion this last week with my spiritual director. I don’t always notice them for what they are. Recently, I listened to a friend share some deep longings that have been gurgling inside her. She knows the sound but doesn’t know what to make of it. Neither do I.

As the Proverbs says, “A person heart is deep waters.” I find the deep waters of my heart to be murky at times. Yet, as I strain my ears to hear, as I slow down and attend, the waters still a bit and I hear God’s Spirit in the yearnings within me.

Here are some questions to help you listen to the cries of your soul and attend to the voice of the Spirit within them:

  • Where are my thoughts and preoccupations led when I let my mind wander?
  • What stirs up anxious feelings? Why? What am I avoiding?
  • What thoughts or actions bring pleasure and life to me?
  • What ideas, thoughts, or movements do I keep circling back to? Where is God in the circling?

Friday, April 9, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 24: Antiphonal Psalms

We have had some uncharacteristic spring days for early April. Hence, windows have been opened. I’ve gone without a jacket. The daffodils, crocuses and Bradford pear’s have burst into glorious bloom. And the birds have been happy—oh, so happy!

I sat next to my open window early in the morning and listened to the delight in their songs. Chirping in a chorus of a dozen different voices, I drank in their delight as the sun was dawning. Then I noticed. One bird—I don’t know what kind—would call out and another would answer in like song—an antiphonal psalm.

Antiphony is a musical term that refers to a hymn or song sung alternately by two groups of singers. When I was a music major and played in brass ensembles, we often played antiphonal music. It has the quality of an echo; one section plays a melody and then the other section answers back. The effect is quite beautiful!

The little birds answering one another in antiphonal psalms reminded me of the liturgy in Roman Catholic or Episcopal churches that incorporate antiphonal responses as part of the liturgy. The echo of human voices reflects the contagious nature of praise. One group speaks forth their praise and the other answers in like fashion.

The birds clearly enjoyed “encouraging one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with gratitude in their hearts toward God.” (Colossians 3:16) Do I inspire an antiphony of psalms to be sung in my world? How might I spread a contagion of praise?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 23: Listening to Ingrid

Last Thursday night, we jammed into the dank confines of Bloomington’s Blue Bird and grooved to the tunes of Ingrid Michaelson—along with 400 college students. I don’t know when I have ever felt like such an young old person!

I’m listening to Ingrid right now as I write this blog. Her music can be haunting and melodic; silly and profound. Her voice has a unique quality but not one that is “pretend.” She sings from her natural voice with a clear, focused tone. The words to her songs are often singable—something I witnessed at the concert as 400 college students serenaded her by singing along.

Ingrid’s voice, words and music move me. I identify with many of her sentiments and acknowledge my human condition as I listen and join in her songs. Music is an amazing gift. Maybe, along with creation, it’s one of the most convincing apologetics for the existence of God.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 22: “I just want to see what’s on top, Dad.”

On Thursday, David took me away on a surprise overnight trip to celebrate my birthday. We had extraordinary weather--especially for April—I’ve had it snow or rain cats-and-dogs on other birthdays!. The first leg of my surprise trip, we went to Brown County and had a gorgeous hike down a deep ravine to a lake and back. Then we picnicked along a creek.

While we were eating, a little boy and his dad hiked by on the other side of the creek. I was amused, watching the lad tramp along, exploring everything he encountered. At one point, I heard him say, “I just want to see what’s on top, Dad.” Then without pausing, this little guy turned upward, clinging desperately to the steep hill above him. His father watched below, patiently waiting as his son gave into his quest to discover what he couldn’t see.

This boy’s spirit stirred me. For no reason other than the love of adventure, he leaned hard into this upward climb and conquered it. He inspired me and scolded me all at once. I want to live with the same curiosity, boldness, and willingness to risk and expend myself for the sake of seeing what’s on top.

I sense that God longs for me to be an explorer but it will require mustering my own determination to conquer the next hill and find out what’s on top. What does that mean for you? What new horizon might the Spirit lead you to investigate? Let’s go for it!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 21: Texting

I heard that oh-so-familiar blurp from David’s phone last night: a text! It was from our daughter, Brooke, who incidentally was in a college class at the time. (She reminded us of what a good multi-tasker she is.) For several minutes, we went back and forth, discussing options for the birthday cake Brooke is baking for Easter/my birthday/Laura’s birthday.

I thought later about the sound when a text arrives and how when I hear that sound I immediately check my phone. It’s like I’m a “Pavlov’s dog” and have been trained to respond to the buzzer and salivate. I don’t even answer my phone calls with that kind of diligence. A text happens in real time. It conveys short, vital bits of information and it usually warrants a response.

So, how does hearing the sound of a text speak to me spiritually? It causes me to ask, “Do I respond with that kind of trained intention when the Spirit sends me a message?” Of course, the answer is no. I often get those nudges to say or do something and too often I tune them out. How might I become more responsive to the sound of the Spirit’s texts? What would it be like if I acted with the same curiosity and interest? I think I will find out!

Monday, March 29, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 20: Laughter

Today is the second day of Holy week, a week that descends toward the dark desolation of Jesus’ betrayal, abandonment and death. It seems strange to write about the sound of laughter while on such a somber trajectory. Be patient with me.

When I awoke this morning, I had the odd recollection that at some point in the night, David woke me up laughing. I confirmed my suspicion and asked if he recalled doing so. He said, “Yes,” though he couldn’t remember what he was dreaming or why he was laughing as he lay next to me chuckling, spastically at first, and then almost uncontrollably. It made me laugh and still does as I think about it.

Laughter is such a contagious and unusual sound. Most people have a laugh all their very own. For instance, Eli, my grandson, is laughing now--sometimes even cackling. I have another friend whose piercing laugh is so jolting that in public it makes head’s turn. My mother-in-law has an hysterical laugh and when she gets going, she usually ends up crying she laughs so hard. Who can argue that laughter is a gift from God?

This morning as I meditated on this sound, I had an unusual picture come to mind. I imagined laughter as a spirit set free from a deep catacomb within my soul, released to dance and play. The scene that played in my mind was on Resurrection Sunday. Matthew 27: 51-53 records, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

This morning, I heard laughter as a sign of resurrection, what I look forward to at the culmination of this week. It’s the signal that death did not triumph; the tomb has been emptied; the spirit of laughter has been set free within each of us because Jesus died and rose again in victory over all that makes his and our heart weep.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 19: Rain

I awoke early this morning to the sound of rain. Yesterday was such a beautiful day, full of sunshine. I admit I felt disappointed. The sound of rain conjured the image of gloom and dreariness. Yet, after I got up and listened, the rain became an invitation to snuggle into the day and be still.

Whenever it rains, I often have the sensation of wanting to curl up in my bed or on my sofa and be still. Rain brings out my contemplative nature. I am aware of being inside, away from the elements of cold drizzle. I seek shelter and find security in being home.

So, this morning, the rain led me to seek the shelter of home—my home in God. As the droplets sputtered on the roof and windows of my house, my heart, in prayer, meandered toward my haven of Grace.

As I prayed, the image of God hiding me in the shelter of his wings, away from the drenching shower was a wonderful comfort to my heart. I know that right now you might feel a craving for shelter from the elements of your life. Might you turn into the path of prayer and seek refuge in him? Will you seek shelter in his presence?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 18: Hearing Confession

This morning, I sat in my usual spot--a low-to-the-ground, over-stuffed chair in my office--as I read and prayed. My laptop was to my right and open on my desk. The sound of the McAfee security system hummed as it scanned the entire contents of my hard drive and inbox, cleaning contaminants—anything of a virus-like nature.

I listened subconsciously as I sat in my chair. Then, at some point, I read in I Kings 15: 5. “For David had done what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and had obeyed the Lord’s commands throughout his life, except in the affair concerning Uriah the Hittite.” I was struck by the grace of God toward David that rather than define David’s life by this event of moral failure, God extended forgiveness and grace and took in the whole of David’s life.

At that point, I felt led into the Jesus prayer that I wrote about a few days ago: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I felt grateful and relieved to turn to Jesus and confess my own failures to him and receive his cleansing wash.

Confession is a gift. It’s that moment in our lives when we offer our tormented selves and twisted acts to Jesus. Immediately, what could have been the devastating and defining moments of our lives no longer are. Instead, the next step, the new day before us become the page upon which God continues our story.

How is it for you? Do you experience confession as a gift? Take some time right now and let the Spirit "scan your hard drive and inbox" and see if there is anything that needs cleansed. Receive Jesus' forgiveness as a gift and this new day as a clean page!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 16: Recurring Themes

One of my favorite symphonies is Dvorak’s New World. As a teenager, I would listen to it in my room and pretend that I was a conducting it. (Okay, I don’t know that I have ever admitted that to anyone.) It is a glorious piece of music with several prominent, recurring themes. I am humming one in my mind right now.

Recurring themes show up not only in music but also in literature, art and even conversations. Often, when I hear repeating ideas in different conversations I have with people, I take notice. I find it to be one of the ways that God speaks to me.

I had lunch with two friends yesterday. In the course of the exchange, we talked about some things we have been learning. What I found interesting is how all three of us have been thinking and reading about many of the same things. I heard recurring themes.

Do you notice when you begin to hear similar thoughts and expressions? As you participate in 30 Days of Hearing, don’t forget to listen to repeating patterns in the conversations you have. If you hear some, take time to ask God what they mean.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 16: Disquieted

I woke up this morning disquieted. I don’t know why, except that I remember dreaming a lot. The dreams I remember were not nightmarish, but for some reason unsettled my heart.

The sounds of my disquieted soul provoked me to seek God’s peace. I remembered the Jesus prayer and began to meditate on it. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This ancient prayer, practiced over centuries, has been a mantra of saints who long to live from a peaceful union with Christ.

The desert fathers and mothers of the 4th and 5th centuries used the Jesus prayer to practice “hesychia”, a Greek word for tranquility or peace, “a state in which the Christian, through grace and intense asceticism, reintegrated his or her whole being into a single person who is placed completely under the direct influence of the Trinity dwelling within….” (The Power of the Name, Alphonse and Rachel Goettmann)

As I repeated the Jesus prayer, meditated on each word, I was reminded that when I bring myself into God’s presence, it isn’t my ability to purge myself of sin or produce perfect piety that warrants Christ’s presence. It is Jesus’ mercy on me, a sinner—grace emanating from his nature--that welcomes me into his presence.

My heart is quiet now. It is well with my soul.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 15: Loud voices

I declared yesterday a personal health day. As you may have noticed, I haven’t blogged as regularly as in past 30 Days experiments. That’s because the last two months I have been working three jobs. Yeh. Not exactly the life of a contemplative. I am a part time resource consultant, a spiritual formation director and I have had speaking engagements almost every weekend in February and March. So, yesterday, with nothing on my calendar (except a hair appointment, which I would NEVER miss!), I declared a personal health day, or “Beth” day, as I often call it.

The whole point of a “Beth” day is to let my heart lead me toward whatever sounds good, sounds soul renewing. So, after my all-important hair appointment, I spontaneously called my son to see if he would like to go to lunch. (Did I mention that Brandt’s wife, Laura, is my stylist. Lucky her, right--having her mother-in-law for a client!) Brandt met me for lunch with our grandson, Eli, which is a big reason why my heart prompted me to make this call. Eli totally fills my heart with joy and refreshment.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Paradise Bakery was how loud it was. I sat waiting for Brandt and was almost deafened by the clamor of human voices echoing all around me. It wasn’t a pleasant sound but one I found myself wanting to get away from. When Brandt arrived, thankfully, we moved outside where it was more quiet.

After lunch, I headed to a favorite walking path that follows along a canal. Ahhhh….quiet, finally, except for the fact that it was a lovely spring day and there were many people walking on the path, often with a friend. Every time someone would pass me, my reverie was interrupted with loud voices.

Next, I decided to pop into the Indianapolis Art Museum. As I walked from the parking lot into this fabulous building, I thanked God for such an amazing gift—all free to the public. I started on the third floor with contemporary art. It didn’t really do it for me. Then I went to the American art floor and found more that drew my heart. As I positioned myself on a bench to absorb a particular painting, in walked a three-some who seemed to follow me the rest of my time. One of the persons, a female, had a particularly loud voice. Every time she saw a painting, she had the same reaction: “Oh, look at this one. I like this one. Isn’t it cool?” (Okay, so I thought to my self, “Surely you have a more elaborate vocabulary to describe your reaction to this masterpiece?!" I was a little cynical at this point.)

My last stop was a favorite coffee shop—where I actually had a glass of red wine. I chose a sunny spot, sat with my journal from this last year, reading through the pages, asking God to show me where I have been, where He has been with me over these last months. Sitting next to me was another women—another loud woman. She was talking on her phone to her parents. Sweet. But her voice was so loud!

If you haven’t discovered by now, my hearing experiment centered on picking up the piercing sound of human voices. As I reflect on this, I realize how distracted I am by the voices of people, unable to filter them like I might filter other sounds. Is that because they are my species? Is it because I am nosey and can’t help but hear what they say? Is it because they speak in a language I understand?

The human voice is a penetrating sound of which I contend every day. Sometimes, I need to not. I need to not hear people and just hear birds or water or wind. But for whatever reason, though yesterday felt like one of those days, it wasn’t to be. So, I finally gave in, talked to the woman next to me after she got off her cell phone. Heard all about her African Gray—a bird. (Don’t ask me how we got on the subject.) And then I came home and welcomed the quiet.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 13: White noise

We had house guests staying with us the last two nights—a family with two small girls. I noticed that when they put the girls to bed, they turned on a white noise fan. When I came upstairs, I could hear the dull hum coming from their room.

As I’m sure you know, the whole purpose of white noise is to drown out extraneous sounds that might otherwise distract or awaken us from our sleep. As I listened to the constant, monotonous din emanating from the girls room, it sounded so loud to me that I wondered how they were able to fall asleep. Perhaps they’ve been conditioned.

I wonder if I've been conditioned. What do I turn on to drown out sounds that I want to block? Or, maybe it’s not that intentional. I unconsciously turn to different forms of white noise and the affect is that I miss what’s going on around me and how the Spirit is speaking to me.

My white noise is most often the constant thoughts drumming through my head. I am always “processing” something and “in the process,” I undoubtedly miss important voices, songs, calls and echoes of life.

Do you know what the source of your white noise is? Is it external things you turn to like television, radio, computer, or Face book? Or is it internal, like mine? A churning mind, thinking about what you have to get done next, or reliving the past. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to turn the white noise fan off.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 12: Three-Dog Day

I grew up listening to the band, Three Dog Night. Loved their music. Loved to dance to their music! Any fans out there? Well, yesterday, I experienced a “three-dog day”—music that was not so pleasant nor inspiring to dance to.

My daughter Bri is on spring break from IU and home for a few days, along with her adorable pup, Rufio. Meanwhile, Brandt and Laura were in Chicago and left their dog, Amos, in our keep. So, Bongo, our canine creature makes for a “three dog day.”

As you can imagine, all this dog fur and dog paws makes it tough to keep the house clean. So, yesterday (and because we are having houseguests tonight:), I decided to mop the floor. Consequently, Bri had the odious job of taking the three dogs upstairs to my bedroom.

You would have thought they were being tortured! Amos, with his forlorn and desperate moan, began to howl. Bongo and Rufio joined in a chorus of yips, punctuated by moments of irritating playful yelps. Even from my vantage point downstairs, mopping the floor, I was about to lose my mind.

Their continuous and unrelenting barks were so distracting, I felt miserable that I couldn’t respond by letting them out. Their commotion pierced my hearing and became fodder for my 30 Days of Hearing and my spiritual journey. As I reflect, I think of the passage in Exodus 2 where God heard the desperate cries of the Israelites, suffering under Egyptian rule, and those cries got to him. He responded by sending Moses to lead them out of Egypt and back to the land that he promised them.

The mournful, desperate cries of the oppressed should wear on us. If we don’t hear, don’t notice, don’t attend to them, we are deaf to the world of which God tunes in. Whose pitiful calls for help are you responding to? Who of the oppressed and marginalized, those suffering injustice, do you notice and move toward to free? Pay attention today to the sounds of the living around you who feel locked up in a room somewhere, longing to be set free.

Monday, March 15, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 11: Counsel

To whom do you go for counsel? If you were to seek advice about God’s path for you, whose guidance would you listen to?

Yesterday, I read an odd story in I Kings 13—one that I didn’t remember reading before. It told of a prophet whom God sent to prophesy against King Jeroboam. Afterwards, God gave him strict instructions to leave by a different route than he came and not to eat anything while he was there. But on his way home, an old prophet from the town came after him. The old prophet contradicted God’s directions to the man, but because he was a prophet, the man followed his counsel. This decision ultimately led to his death.

The story piqued my interest. I found myself identifying with the prophet, knowing that I would likely have done the same—listened to the counsel of someone whom I perceived to be from "the same school” as me. I am more susceptible to believe another’s counsel who is like me, who speaks my language. What the story underscores is how important it is to know your own heart’s counsel, what God has made clear to you. Even people who think like you and come from a similar place can lead you off-track.

Here are some questions for spiritual direction:
  • What do you know to be God’s values and directions for you today?
  • Whose advice are you listening to? Does it confirm what you already know in your heart?
  • Have you veered away from following God’s path? If so, how can you return to the path he has called you to follow?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 10: Listening to the voices within

I am currently receiving training to offer spiritual direction; a wonderful ministry of attentive listening, helping a person identify where God is at work in his or her life and how God is inviting him or her to respond. In many ways, it is helping a person listen to the voices within—the voice of the Abiding Christ and the voice of one’s own abiding heart.

For whatever reason, we all experience resistance when it comes to listening to both voices. This morning, as I spent time praying, I found myself distracted, drawn away from “being” with God and switching gears toward “doing” for God. It seems that being held in silence by God is an uncomfortable and unnatural venture. Yet, of all spiritual practices, it may be the one that is most restoring and re-pairing.

Consider the words of Henri Nouwen about listening to the voice within:

“Have you ever tried to spend a whole hour doing nothing but listening to the voice that dwells deep in your heart? ... It is not easy to enter into the silence and reach beyond the many boisterous and demanding voices of our world and to discover there the small intimate voice saying: "You are my Beloved Child, on you my favor rests." Still, if we dare to embrace our solitude and befriend our silence, we will come to know that voice.”

Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

Rather than an hour, why not spend five or ten minutes of listening to the voice that dwells deep in your heart? Here are some suggestions:

  • Begin by breathing deeply, calming yourself and “locating” yourself within your own body. (That may sound strange, but often we are so over-identified with our thinking that we forget we are not our thinking and that we live in our body.)
  • Feel the presence of God within you. Sometimes it helps to imagine an image, like John 15, where Jesus describes himself as a vine, you, and me as a branch. Picture abiding in Jesus like a branch in a vine.
  • Stay still in that place. “Cease striving and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10).” Rest. Relax. Dwell with Christ.
  • When your mind moves you away with a distracting thought, brush it aside with a mental broom. Don’t get down on yourself. Just say, “No, not now.” And then return to your place of abiding with Jesus.
  • Listen. Listen for the voices within. What is your heart telling you? Lean into Christ with great attention, eager to hear his whisper. What is he saying? If nothing comes, just enjoy being with Jesus. Like a little child, enjoy resting with him.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 9: Fiddlin’ and toe tappin

On Tuesday, I drove to Angola and Ft. Wayne related to my role as a resource consultant with the Center for Congregations. It was a 2 ½ hour drive each way. Thankfully, the sun was shining and the traffic was sparse. On the way there, I purposefully didn’t listen to the radio or a CD. I basked in the silence and sunshine of the morning and spent a good deal of the time praying.

On the way back, I was a little tired and sleepy. So, I popped in a CD of the group, Time for Three, a group of three hip, young fiddlers, and let them help me pass the time. Their music is a wonderful fusion of old tunes improvised with fresh style and, occasionally, they break out in blue grass fashion. That’s when my toe started tapping.

I noticed that I couldn’t restrain my left foot from keeping time with the music. I had to move as I listened. I’m that way. Even when I played French horn in an orchestra (my major at IU), I always tapped my foot with the music. These fiddles were no exception. The punch of their down beat, the edge of their rhythms, got my blood flowin’ and my foot tappin’ all the way home.

Isn’t it interesting that often when we hear music we want to dance? What is it about certain kinds of music that entice our bodies to keep time with the sounds we hear? For me, it’s an uncontrolled response. Certain rhythms wake up my limbs and provoke my feet to move. I want to participate with the sounds, not just observe them.

Yesterday, I was thankful to have an accompaniment to my journey home. How might the sounds of the Spirit accompany me throughout my day? How can the daily rhythms of life invite me to dance with God?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 8: Bird Songs

The sun has been shining for three days—an occasion to celebrate for those who live in this part of the country! Spring is teasing us, playing peek-a-boo and today I fell for it. I had to get out and take a walk, drink in the sunshine. As I walked on a familiar path, I noticed a symphony of bird songs in surround sound.

Cardinals sang their lyrical songs.
Red-winged blackbirds blew their whistled songs.
A flicker of red-bellied woodpecker hammered his song.
Robins composed their common, modest songs.
Flocks of Canadian geese honked in chorus—sounding the most boisterous songs.
Tree swallows chirped while playing catch-me-if-you-can.
Blue birds—yes, two!—made no discernable sound but dazzled in the morning light.

I thoroughly enjoyed a concert this morning. The field was the stage upon which each bird played his or her tune. At the end, I gave them and their Conductor a standing ovation!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 4 – 7: My hearing journal

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been out of town for a few days. I went to Cincinnati to participate in the School of Spiritual Direction at Sustainable Faith. We meet in a former convent. Then on Friday afternoon, I headed back to Indianapolis to speak at a retreat. Even though I didn’t have the ability to blog, I did listen for sounds of God in each day. Here is a journal of what I heard.

Wednesday night, I lay in bed in black darkness and heard the sound of a train in the distance. The whistle sounded lonely—perhaps because it had no company in the silence of the night. It was a nostalgic sound, taking me back to my childhood when I would lie in bed and listen to the whistle of a train that ran close to my home. The piercing trill established a truth in me, one of reckoning with the fact that there is a world “out there” that is separate from me and me from it.
My heart:
Thursday, I spent the morning listening to my heart. I had things planned to do, but my purpose in going a day early to the convent was to listen to what was going on inside my heart. I discovered something surprising—a belief that God was holding back from me. Once I realized my folly, God and I talked with renewed intensity and intimacy. The next morning, as I was waking up, I “heard” the Scripture running through my mind, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

On Friday, our spiritual direction cohort met for the first time. I sat next to Todd, a very funny and tender man who often keeps us in stitches. We were discussing how our commitments to certain spiritual practices were going and in the midst, from my left, I heard that unique, one-of-a-kind sound of Velcro. Todd was putting on his yoga shoes! (I had never seen yoga shoes—quite interesting, if I might add.) Velcro makes such an unusual sound; I think I would recognize it anywhere. As I heard the Velcro, I was aware of the tightly enmeshed bond the two pieces of fabric make with each other. A tight bond is formed that requires effort and exertion to tear loose. It reminded me of the bond I have with God, with David and my kids, with friends.

I spoke at a retreat on Friday and Saturday, which was held at a Catholic retreat center. While I was there, a number of times I heard chimes, presumably a signal for one of the fixed hours of prayer. What a different life, to be governed by prayer, by rhythms of prayer that are initiated by the sounds of lyrical chimes. I find myself drawn to a monastic life, at times. I imagine each day having a slower, more deliberate, pace. My heart tells me that I would be living closer to God, perhaps closer to the way God intended me to live, if I quit living by a clock and, instead, lived by fixed hours of prayer.

Ludivico Einaudi
It’s Sunday afternoon, probably my favorite time of my week. As is often the case, David and I are relaxing, listening to music. He found a new pianist named Ludivico Einaudi. His music is haunting, melancholy and passionate. I treasure being home, sitting in the same room with my lover, hearing music with the ears of my soul and "being." I appreciate the simple pleasures of life, pleasures that are so abundant to me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

30 Days of Hearing

Day 3: Splash

This morning, David and I took our dog, Bongo, and Brandt and Laura’s dog, Amos, for a walk on the golf course near our home. Clipping along at a pretty good pace, suddenly we heard a splash! I turned around and looked behind us and saw that Amos had gotten separated from us by a creek and tried to cross it to catch up. Once he decided that wasn't such a good idea, he began to claw feverishly at the soft earth of the embankment, scaling up its steep side. It was a tense moment as this 90 lb. dog, strong but cumbersome, made his way to land and back across the bridge to us.

As I thought about sounds today, the sound of splash stood out. I heard it before I saw it. That kind of sound can often be frightening, at least when the sound is dramatic, loud or unexpected. Had we not heard, we might have continued on, not noticing that Amos was not with us.
Sound is often used as a warning—like a siren or storm alert to stop us in our tracks.

How has God used sound to stop me in my tracks? To signal that I have become separated from him?

· The sound of tears—my own or those of a loved one.
· The sound of angry words—my own or those of a loved one.
· The sound of crashing—when I drop things, bump into things, hit things because I am moving too fast.
· The sound of noise in my head—when I can’t rest or when I have no peace.

How has God used sound to stop you? What signals are you hearing as warnings? Will you listen?

P.S. I will be gone for a few days to participate in my second School of Spiritual Direction Cohort at Sustainable Faith Community in Cincinnati. I will catch you up on my hearing when I return on Sunday.