It’s Just The Astonishing Appetizer

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This place, these cabins in Chile along Lake Llanquihue, it has the most magical light.  We would descend upon this place all tired and ministry-worn, we’d come to be renewed and refreshed.  It did not disappoint.  There’s a wood fire-heated swimming pool.  There’s plantings of all sorts of native flowers and trees.  There’s blackberries growing wild, and wind-whipped waves thrashing across the lake.

We cooked in the tidy little kitchens, everything seeming homier and cozier with all that wicked wind tearing around outside.  We enjoyed comfy couches and a television and the novelty of being away.  We swam in the warm waters, we ate heartily, we walked along the blue lake and watched how the light shifted.

This was our place of shalom, our place of peaceful rest, of restoration.  The food seemed to taste better, the colors made to appear deeper, and the scriptures sunk into our hearts with weighted intensity and purpose.  There were no beggars at our gate or phone calls ringing or meetings or obligations of any sort other than the parental kind.  Beautiful gift of God.

 I know Heaven is beyond what my mind can conceive of, but I think I’ve experienced some lovely foretastes.  They cast my heart in eternity’s shape, they aim me aright.  They enable me to say to Suffering, “You’ll not always be with me; I’ll hold your hand and lean into you for what you’ll teach me and how you’ll make me ever more like Jesus”.  To say to Discontent, “Of course you are here, for I was never made to be satisfied with life’s fare”.  To say to Worldly Goods, “You are not my aim, you are an empty promise, you are a food which when eaten, causes hunger”.

God scatters his beauty like invitations, not that we fall in love with the creation, but with the Creator, the Artist, the Maker of all that jaw-dropping splendor.  That we read the promises He whispers in the smell of rain, the embrace of a grandmother, and the fierce red of a tulip.  God inviting.

It Can All Rage And Yet…

It can all rage ugly and hurt and rending,

And yet,

Here and there, pockets of deep peace,

And glory,

And joy.

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Dipping candles yesterday.  What a peaceful, contemplative craft.  Talk about slowing down.  The barely susceptible progress made with each deliberate dip made me think of spiritual progress; that I should not despair when it looks as though I am not growing spiritually.  If God has promised to complete His work within me, He will do it, He is doing it, though I see the changes only through the lens of years.ImageImage

A morning spent drawing with my son.  Gregorian chants and the fifteenth century choral music wrapping us in beauty as we deliberately sketched and colored, slowly.  A thousand thoughts pinged through my mind, on heresies currently rending the patchwork quilt of our church family, leaving my eyes reddened and my stomach hurting, on Ukraine, the tumult and the suffering and my prayers seeming so small against all that.  But for all that inner noise and clang, I had to apply pencil to paper, and eye the lay of the feathers, and the attention brought a borrowed peace.Image

Playmobile ships, stuffed animals dressed as soccer players, presidents, and babies, riding “the train” (a.k.a. the couch).  All his little conversations and sound effects and stories.  I feel the joy of childhood filling up the room and my grown-up worries have to retreat for a while.Image

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It can all rage and yet the seeds still germinate and the nasturtiums still reach for the sun.  And my God is sovereign and good.  And I’ll praise Him in the pockets of peace and in the turbulent places too.  For Christ is our peace, and Christ is portable.

 

Nouwen, Candles, and Presence, Oh MY!

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“We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.

Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

That is why it is so important to “set” the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, ‘This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!'”      

-Henri Nouwen

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The really busy mama had told me with a mix of shame and defeat that she only got one meal out of a week of days with her children anymore, sitting down together around a table.  They all had these activities, these schedules, these demands upon their presence.

What I’m not going to do is get up on my soap box about busyness, not right now.  I’d rather submit a few thoughts about the times when we can be around a table together, scooping up and doling out life one to another, in the big holy ordinary of eating a meal in common.

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1) Light some candles.  I can’t think of a better way to get people drawn-in to the table, to the people seated ’round it, than candlelight.  The surrounding darkness makes the table the middle of our story, a place of importance, the rest of the house no longer competes with it’s piles of mail to be sorted and discarded backpacks and lost shoes.  It’s calming (unless you have a budding pyro in the bunch….I hear tell that they make electric tea lights now).

2)  Music?  Yes, please.  There’s some out there that just lifts your day right off your shoulders and whisks it away, beyond the candle’s light.

3)  Flowers, branches, a tablecloth, some bit of beauty there that says that this space was made mindfully.  Flowers usually mean something important is happening, right?  A prom, a wedding, a funeral, a new relationship, the celebration of an old one.

4)  Ditch the paper plates or plasticware (unless you have a budding destructo little person, of course).  The tactile and aural qualities of eating on ceramic or porcelain is worth that extra effort.  I almost think it makes the food taste better :).

5)  Ditch the electronics; no tv babbling in the background nor texting.  If your phone keeps dinging in the next room, go turn it off during dinner so that you’re present at the table, fully there.

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Happy feasting…

 

Presence

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Do you remember when we used to look at faces?  When a meal time was spent with the people at the actual physical table we were sitting at?  Do you remember how we’d mutually try to remember the name of that actor in that one show who later was in that other movie about the heist, and how that wondering and brain-racking ended in a triumphal, “AHA!” when we figured it out together?  Before the age of swiftly answering the question with a quick jab at Google?  Do you remember being present?

Because I think we’re forgetting.

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One of the major culture shocks upon returning from six years in Chile was that young and old alike were to be seen everywhere, bent over their phones, thumbs busy, in their own little worlds.  Even if they were waiting in a grocery line, one person deep, out came the phone, flying went the thumbs, away went the presence.  This was now normal?

I admit that I am a dinosaur.  I have no cell phone and do not desire one.  I still write letters and cards on paper.  Once when I asked for someone’s phone number and handed them my little notebook, they laughed and couldn’t remember the last time they had written a number on paper instead of keying it into a phone.

I am exasperating to my friends.  If we’ve agreed to meet at a park at 11:00 and I’ve left my home at 10:30 to drive there, there is no way to change plans last minute; they know I’ll be at the park wondering where they are.  They can’t get a hold of me if I’m not home, so admittedly I miss out on some fun outings, but you know what?  I am present where I am.

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Along the Caribbean Sea in Honduras

I don’t always handle things graciously.

We had three dear friends visit us in Chile from North America.  They had traveled thousands of miles to see us, to see Chile, to get it all into their hearts and memories.  One evening as we all sat in the living room, I realized that everyone but me was staring at a screen, laptops or phones, all around.  I was alone in a crowd.  I flipped out.  “What are you doing?!?  HELLO!  Why did you travel to another hemisphere just to be looking at that screen when you’re here?!”

I suppress it, but I have an aching desire to throw an adult temper tantrum when I see a couple out on a date, both absorbed in their phones.  I want to go up to them, tap one of them on the shoulder, point at their significant other across the table and say in a voice of awe “Looooook!  There’s a PERSON across from you!  WOW!!!”  Then I would take their cell phone, unceremoniously dunk it into their drink, and walk away.  I assume I’d be charged with destruction of property, but I think I’d smile in my mug shot.

I have found one peaceful way to express my sentiments.  Now, when my husband takes out his phone when we’re together with friends, I quietly leave the table.  If he asks where I’m going, I simply say “I’m sorry, you have left the table, and so I will also”.  He puts his phone away, smiling and rolling his eyes.

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Presence.

It is most heart-breaking to see the lack of it between a parent and their child.

“Mommy, look at me!  Look at me!”, cries the child, bravely balancing on one foot at the top of the slide.

“Uh-huh”, mumbles the mom, staring down at her phone.

“No, Mommy, you aren’t looking!”

“That’s great, honey”, she says, barely looking up before she’s back to that all-absorbing screen.

The child sits down, the child learns that whatever world is accessed through that screen is much more interesting than the one she’s currently exploring.  She can’t wait to have her own screen.

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I am deeply disturbed by how all this technology is affecting kids, not only by robbing them of Mom and Dad’s presence, but of their own.  If a child needs to sit for more than a few minutes, they are handed a cell phone to watch a movie or play games on.  Like boredom and the space for their own thoughts are not important building blocks for hearty imaginations and creativity.  They are being taught that we must be entertained, always.

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It takes away the marvel, doesn’t it?  The awesomeness of this world, even at a grocery store.  As a child, I made up stories in my mind about the people in line with us.  Sometimes we even (gasp!) talked to them.  I read the magazine covers and wondered if Elvis really was hiding out in California instead of being long-dead.

I don’t expect anyone to live as I do, phone-free.  Many use cell phones wisely and kindly, use them to bless others and encourage others, and call tow trucks for stranded old ladies along the road.  Cell phones have saved lives, but also cost lives through misuse while driving.  They are neutral objects in and of themselves, but our use of them, or misuse of them, can cause great harm.

It may help if you think about your cell phone as a book.  Would you get out a book, mid-conversation with someone, and look through it’s pages?  Would you put it right on the table during a lunch date, and repeatedly pick it up and stare at it?  It would only be appropriate if you picked up the book, opened it to the other person with you and showed them something you found interesting.  That would be lovely, no?

With your kids, can you leave the phone at home when you’re at a park, or turn it off when they come home from school?   Can you carve out hours of full presence?  Can you let them squirm and fidget and sprout some imagination while waiting in line, instead of rushing to entertain?  Can we revive being present?  Can we afford to not do so?