Saturday, November 28, 2009

advent #2

table all set for Alex' 16th-birthday dinner

In the history of Advent, many have observed a season of fasting similar to the Lenten season.  In the Murphy house, we celebrate a wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, Alex' birthday & Natalie's birthday all between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There's only feasting around here!

Even though the Advent observance doesn't officially start until tomorrow, I've been reading ahead. (kind of telling, that I can't wait the time it takes to focus on the waiting of time!)  I've posted it at least two other times in the history of this blog, but every time I read this Sylvia Plath poem, I want to weep.  (and I highly recommend listening to this while you read)

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers
in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather
some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects
now and then --
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate,
I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape);
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know
that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you dare to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's 
begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

Descend to us, we pray.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

advent #1

I am a person who labors over words in order to express my deep thoughts, reflections, insights, ideas and longings.  Perhaps this is why I have grown so attached to the liturgical calendar.  As the planets revolve around the sun each year, I find peace in the rhythm of intangibles made tangible.  The Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us.

For now, mystery wrapped in song.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

i wanna marry you all over again

November 24, 1990

I have now spent as many years of my life married as I did unmarried.  I really can't believe it.  Yesterday Brian and I took a walk at Greenwood Park.  We used to push a stroller, now we chase our dog around the dead logs and leaves.  We sat at a picnic table looking out over a lake full of squawking geese draining out the last bits of autumn in the Northeast.  Brian talked about work, I reached up and brushed back some of the grey hair that seemed to arrive just this month.

It's all grace -- crazy, ridiculous, unearned grace.

We're going away to the City again next week to celebrate.  In the meantime I put together a digital anniversary card that I just can't help but post here, hoping you also might get a kick out of this crazy grace.  I re-read the letter I wrote to him five years ago at our fourteenth anniversary.
Dear Brian,

This album is full of almost every letter, note or scribble we ever gave each other during our junior high and high school years.

Of course during those years, I read and re-read each one until the paper was well-worn (I'm sure you did the same, right?!?) And then we got married and moved your Adidas shoebox of love letters and my red, plastic Gap shopping bag of love letters in together. Somehow over the years they got moved to a corner in the basement and no one remembered they existed. A few times over the last fourteen years I stumbled over them while putting away Christmas decorations or looking for garage sale items. A few times I took them out and re-read each one.

I have to be honest with you. Those few times I looked at the pages and pages of our dating history I did not feel a "warm fuzzy" feeling at all. Instead I thought and felt things like:

We were so young and stupid! How could we possibly know whether we loved each other or not?!?
Why wasn't anyone paying attention to how insecure we were? This was spelling disaster from the beginning!
I am so embarrassed by how  much I gushed over Brian all the time. I must have driven him crazy!

And then, I believed, the ultimate craziness was that our dating years ended while we were so young. Who in the world encouraged a 19 and 20-year-old with no education, no home and no money to gt married?!? What was anyone thinking??  How much more foolish could we  be?

So the letters and notes have been sitting silently in their respective storage places -- until a couple of weeks ago [when I realized through a story I heard of another marriage] the great amount of self-protection [I] still held [our] marriage....Even in all the tough stuff we have worked through over the last couple of years and all of the forgiveness and love and respect and trust God has given us for each other, I knew that many places of my heart were still closed off from you.

While thinking about this late that night, I was reminded of our letters in the basement. Maybe if I looked at just a few of them, I could uncover those parts of my heart again. One letter ran into another and then another -- late hours into the night as I unfolded each one and read them again. This time, though, God granted me new eyes (or maybe old ones!) In my healed perspective, I was able to see through the insecurity and flaws of our  youth and see our hearts. This time I thought and felt things like:

Thank you, God, for giving us such a great friendship during those painful teen years.
Thank you, God, for protecting us. Even in our sins and mistakes, You preserved our desire to please You.
Thank you, God, for the many, many prayers our struggling -- and flawed -- parents prayed for us. Thank you for preserving their desire to raise us in a way that honors You.

I could see -- for the first time in many years -- the beauty of our hearts for each other. There was still no qustion that we were young, immature, self-righteous, manipulative and even disobedient much of the time. But I could clearly see how God connected those dots with grace and truth and protection.

I could see again what an amazing  person you were and wasn't I smart to fall in love with you ! Your children and grandchildren will be blessed for generations by the work ethic and tenacity you demonstrated from your youth. You also took great, scary risks in opening your heart to me during some very painful days in your family's life. I am so thankful!

I can even look at myself and see the heart of worship God instilled in my from my childhood. I could also look clearly -- without shame -- at the great capacity for love that He gifted to me....

I love you, Brian Murphy. When I look at this book, I realize that in some ways, God never even gave me much of a choice. I first fell in love with your picture in the yearbook -- the goofy one from Spirit Week when you were in 7th grade and I was in 6th...and as hard as I've tried at times, I've never been able to get away from that commitement since!  Your love and friendship has added great, eternal value to my life and, of course, A WHOLE LOT OF CRAZY FUN, too!

I can't imagine my life without you, and am grateful beyond words, that I don't have to.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

on grieving again

I'm thinking about grief again.  In fact, the subject keeps coming up everywhere I turn. Several of my friends are mourning the loss of a loved one, some are mourning the loss of relationship and a few are mourning the loss of certain childhood privileges - for example unconditional love from a parent or ever hearing the words I love you from any trusted adult in their growing up years.

Our nation grieved the loss of thirteen soldiers last week.  We lose soldiers all the time, but we sit up and take notice when they are lost on our own soil at the hands of one of our own countrymen.  This waste of life haunts us and we try to figure out how to lament nobly and adequately without upsetting our entire emotional landscape.

My friend Margaret lost her mom this week.  For over six years since her mom's diagnosis of ovarian cancer she has tried to imagine what these days would be like -- when would they happen, how would she respond, what would moving forward without her mom cost her family?  I wonder if she'll really ever be able to answer those questions?

A week ago -- on a Friday morning -- we visited Margaret's parents Toby and Peggy.  We arrived at their home and tried to enter the reality of their long good-bye.  We walked around their house and behaved as if we'd been invited over for a spaghetti supper -- noticing pictures on the wall, wandering around the space making small talk.  To me the whole house seemed lopsided, almost dizzying it its architectural imbalance.  None of the weight of lovely furniture, books, china, or beloved piano could balance the floors that seemed to literally slope down the hall toward Peggy's bedroom.  For many long months the entire center of their universe was located in that bedroom, their energies absorbed in the tasks of comfort and homely care, love and unexercised grief.  It's as if the gravity of their weighty love drew us in.  We walked the long hallway into Peggy's room and encircled her with hymn-singing, small talk, Scripture-reading, prayer, laughter.

We are rusty in our hymns, the four of us friends.  But we worked through The Church's One Foundation, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and others, trying to read the old black notes moving up and down between sharps, flats and naturals on the page.  We laughed to ourselves that we'd be in a position to sing these great old songs to the man and wife who'd mastered them their whole lives.  Peggy was certainly humble to receive our gift with no look of horror at our missed notes in her lovely, large blue eyes.  I noticed her eyes most when they were fixed on Toby while he spoon-fed her ice chips.  I'm not sure I've ever seen such naked trust in an adult face before.

The whole love between this husband and wife -- it's gritty, imperfect reality -- was far better than any movie story of love I've ever seen.  I'm thankful I got to tell Peggy how much I'd learned from her dying.  How much I learned about the value of long years with my husband.  About the charity that suffers through horrors as well as delights.  The charity that causes one spouse to sleep in a recliner chair next to his wife's bedside for night after long night.  I also learned -- again-- the violence of death.  The sturdiness of our insistence on living is one miserable bugger to someone who is suffering and ready to go to her true home.  Everything is ready, everyone is ready but that body that insists on trying to cope with suffering and go on living.  Eventually, death comes and does it grim work tearing families apart.  I learn each time to embrace the glory of Christ's resurrection more.

I'm thankful for last Friday morning with Peggy and Toby and Margaret and Lori and Andrea and two-year-old Katie.  Eventually we swum back out of the gravity of that room and walked back up the hall toward the piano.  We sang more.  I'm thankful for my new friend Brian Moss who gave us his sheet music to the Psalms that have been sustaining Margaret all these long days.  We were asked again later that week to sing another Brian Moss song at Peggy's funeral.  Between that and an old Don Wyrtzen anthem that Toby requested, once again, we novices felt humbled to sing for this musical family.  And we slid back and forth between the extraordinary extremes of grieving and giggling at the absurdity of it.

Margaret, I'm saving up some funny stories for you.  It's occurred to us that your mom might have been able to laugh along with our fumbling, stumbling attempts to sing for her family this week.  I know the day will come for you to laugh, too.

In the meantime, tears.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

kindness from a stranger

When is the last time you experienced the kind of generosity that just sort of feels too good to be true?  For me, it's been this week from the completely, out-of-the-blue offer from a fellow blogger, Sharon, at  Good, True and Beautiful.

She has taken a challenge in the month of November from another fellow blogger: the 30-day giving  challenge.  On her first day she offered to create a new header or button for anyone who left a comment on her post.  Before I could think too long about it (and talk myself out of it) I left my comment.  What an amazing -- and somewhat humbling -- experience to accept this gift from a stranger.  She not only created an updated header for me, she took the time to ask me questions about what I most wanted and allowed me to ask for several options.  And, guess what?  She's not selling anything!   Just giving it away.

What wasteful and precious generosity.  I am grateful.  Thank you, Sharon.  May our most generous Father multiply blessing (and time!) back to you and your family.  For me, on this occasion, it was truly more blessed to receive.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Happy All Saints Day

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Allelu...
--For All the Saints, William How and Ralph Vaughan Williams
I'm on a week-long "comp time" vacation and since my work is in my church I chose to worship with another congregation today. There's approximately ten churches within walking distance of my house so I picked the Presbyterian church about four blocks away and loved the joy of wrapping up in my fall coat and walking to worship almost as much as the service itself.

  I do not know why I do not do this kind of visit more often.  It is a true gift to be able to walk into a church on a Sunday morning and not have to do a single thing other than be greeted by God and His people and to respond in worship along with them.  It is a beautiful reminder of the universal Church and my place in its family.  I do not go in with an ignorance that the grass is greener there; that they don't have their own concerns, strifes, disagreements and disobediences to contend with, but for that one service I am able to be blissfully ignorant.

I also find that every time I do this I cry during the Lord's Supper.  I can't get over the beauty of people of all types and backgrounds re-enacting this holy remembrance each week.  (although my church does not do this each week, still...)  I truly almost lost it in my pew this morning watching the minister break the loaf of bread and bless the cup.  The drama of people giving each other a place in line to wait for their taste of this holy, ancient supper is magnificent to me.  The undying symbolism of our Lord's broken body and blood that purchased these men and women around me for God is brighter when I'm outside of my normal place of worship.  The ordinary tastes of yeasty bread dipped into rosy, sweet  juice do not detract from the glory, but only enhance the mystery for me.

This is All Saints Day.  I've never celebrated All Saints Day, not ever before in my lifetime.  In fact, up until an embarrassingly few years ago I wasn't sure if that was even an appropriate remembrance for a Christian.  In the fuzzy catechism of my upbringing, saint-remembering equaled saint-worshipping and wasn't that an awful lot like ancestor worship of the pagans?  It was a joy to sit in this marvelously, gloriously ordinary gathering of neighborhood people and join in the remembering of the men and women who also had been purchased for God -- by the same body and blood we remembered together today -- but who were no longer physically present in the weekly bread line of communion.  I did not recognize one single name or photo projected onto the screen during the lovely special song from the worship team, but it didn't matter.  My heart and mind and body were lifted with hope of that future rest.  I am loathe to admit that I could barely remember the names of the saints my own congregation had lost this past year.  Shame on my forgetfulness -- not my lack of sentimentality over death, mind you -- but my utter self-absorption in the here and now-ness of my own life. This is shallow living and shallow worshipping and I no longer am content to live and worship that way.

After the benediction, I walked the four or so blocks to the coffee shop, drawn by the desire for more of this season's pumpkin-flavored coffees and sweets.  Rounding the neighborhood back toward my house, I stopped in the memorial park between the high school and the police station.  It seemed fitting to savor the intinction of muffin and latte in the midst of my community's fallen, but not-forgotten, soldiers.  Surrounded by the vibrancy of swirling autumn leaves and scampering squirrels I read the signs of the dead and remembered.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Allelu...
2. Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Allelu...
3. O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Allelu...
4. The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Allelu...
5. But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way,
Alleluia, Allelu...
6. From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia, Alleluia!

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