Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Chicks

They're here!
For a long time, it has been my dream to own a few hens – like 3 or 4 max. Last week it came true when 25 baby chicks arrived in a box at the post office early one morning. I rushed over like the deranged mother I’ve become and rang the buzzer repeatedly until someone let me in the back door and eventually brought a little box of peeping fluff. True,  I only needed four, but I had this idea it would be easy to get rid of extras via Craig’s List. So far eight have gone, and today, on Good Friday, another seven will be picked up. That still leaves five that need a home.

Setting up temporary digs in the basement wasn’t hard. An appliance box lined with a plastic garbage bag and covered with shavings is doing nicely. According to the website “MyPetChicken” the temp needed to be an even 95 degrees for the first week. Testing before they arrived proved I needed to adjust the height of the heat lamp to keep from broiling their little tushes at 120 degrees. These girls are unavailable however tempting they look.

I’m mesmerized by their little chicken-y antics. From day two they made clumsy efforts to scratch like big mamas do. When one finds something interesting to peck at – an odd colored shaving, the rings on my fingers – several run to investigate and steal it away if possible. They have tiny primary feathers sprouting from their wings which they preen and flutter. With breakneck runs they launch themselves one half inch above their neighbors landing on heads with no regard for whether one is napping or drinking.

They are a mix of breeds and it is difficult to decide which four to keep. So far I’ve decided on an Ameracauna that will lay the green or blue eggs I’ve always marveled at, a Black Astraulorp, a Barred Rock and a Buff Orpington. A friend identified them for me. I don’t know if I should trust her or not – she has fainting goats and to her surprise two of her does dropped three unexpected babies – one of the mothers had twins. Among the 25 chicks are three unusual brown-egg layers –   
Turkens. They have naked necks and are more common in Europe than here. The lack of feathers makes them look like they need a good moisturizer one their skinny little necks and a boost of vitamins, but they are supposed to be calm, friendly and good egg layers, and if its any indication these three readily run to my hand to see what I’m about. They have grown on me.

Beauty is often linked to the visual and isn’t always an advantage. Many ugly things, on inspection, reveal a depth of beauty that can go unnoticed unless time is taken to listen and watch. John Fowles observes in The Collector that “a lot of nice things are ugly and a lot of nasty things are beautiful.” This also being Good Friday – I’ve always wondered what Jesus looked like – especially on his way to the cross, since Isaiah described him as having no beauty or majesty that would attract us to him, and yet, and yet, here we are 2000 years later where like iron filings some of us still cling to the power of his love. So maybe I’ll keep a Turken to remind me.


Monday, February 22, 2016

First Tattoo

This past weekend Granddaughter turned eighteen – that magic age for getting certain things you have waited for so long to own. It was a good day to get her first tattoo because suddenly at eighteen it becomes a legal birthday gift from Grandpa and Grandma. For a long time she has known what it would be: A semicolon followed by a heartbeat.
semicolon with heartbeat
She explains it like this: You know how when a writer ends a sentence but then decides to go on writing? Rather than a period, you can use a semicolon. That’s what the semicolon tattoo means – you have decided not to end the sentence but to write another and go on living. I heard her telling the tattoo artist what it meant and I was pleased by his sincere response. He liked the image and thought it had great meaning, but he wanted to give her some advice and I heard him repeat it at least two times. “Remember,” he said, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” The phrase was rather like a sound bite from a therapist or the title of a Ted Talk, but what an unlikely setting! I guess I don’t need to say my heart was grinning from ear to ear as I listened to this exchange.
"Suicide: a permanent solution to a temporary problem"
I have always believed that for many tattoos hold a special meaning and purpose for the person who has them. The painful procedure that accompanies a tattoo can be a signal, a sign, that I am alive. I am not numb to life. (I’ve heard young people talk about feeling numb to the world, of wondering if life is an illusion or worth living.) Physical pain can actually stir hope in someone whose life has been filled with difficulties or depression. A tattoo can be a permanent reminder of an event or a love that imparts deep meaning. It tells the world “I have survived.” It is a reminder to the self to go on living even when things are hard.

Living with Granddaughter and loving her has been, in many ways a gift to us – a reminder of how difficult life can be for a young person and how thankful we are to have the place and space for her. But the next tattoo? Hers to pay – altogether.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

H is for Hawk or leaving the wild

H is for Hawk. By Helen Macdonald. This book has been winning awards and is wildly popular. As often is the case, I’m late to the party. But now I’m glad to have read it.
When Macdonald’s father died no one anticipated it, least of all Helen. In her grief she went a little crazy. As a child she was fascinated by birds of all kinds, but especially the predator birds – hawks, merlins, falcons, kites, kestrels. As an adult she learned how to train and fly some of the smaller species, but never the goshawk which is considered one of the most aggressive and difficult to train. Hawks, especially goshawks, are not pets in the way of dogs or cats, they remain ultimately wild and untamable. Intent on murder and blood, with their enormous talons and sharp beaks, they are perfectly, awesomely equipped to kill rabbits and pheasants. So in ways it felt natural to turn to the challenge of training Mabel, a young goshawk, in the hope that it would take her on a distracting journey out of grief. As the weeks passed she sank further into depression, withdrawing from friends and family, and identifying more and more with her goshawk. Until…

     It seems to me that the entire book could be summarized in this one paragraph. Don’t worry it’s not a spoiler – there is much more to the book that is fascinating: falconry –   what is required to train a hawk to fly free and then return to the gloved fist and Macdonald’s reflections on the layers of grief and the ways it manifests itself. As a research scholar at Cambridge, she was well equipped to write this book and also had the creative skill that makes it a good read.

     So here was the pivot – the wisdom garnered:

     “All the way home on the train I thought of Dad and the terrible mistake I had made. I’d thought that to heal my great hurt, I should flee to the wild. It was what people did. The nature books I’d read told me so. So many of them had been quests inspired by grief or sadness. Some had fixed themselves to the stars of elusive animals. Some sought snow geese. Others snow leopards. Others cleaved to the earth, walked trails, mountains, coasts and glens. Some sought wildness at a distance, others close to home. ‘Nature in her green tranquil woods heals and soothes all afflictions,’ wrote John Muir ‘Earth hath no sorrows that earth cannot heal.’ 
            Now I knew this for what it was: a beguiling but dangerous lie. I was furious with myself and my own unconscious certainty that this was the cure I needed. Hands are for other human hands to hold. They should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks. And the wild is not a panacea for the human soul; too much in the air can corrode it to nothing.”

     In a time when many believe that nature heals all afflictions, I admire Macdonald for bravely stating it does not, although I doubt she would call it brave. Because my roots grew out of a remote and rural place in northern Minnesota, I admit I’ve often been beguiled by the beauty of wild creation that can give a restorative perspective not found in an urban setting. At times in life I’ve been certain that leaving for the wild, perhaps forever, is what I need for calm and focus, but she’s right, the earth simply cannot heal everything. It cannot replace the community we were made to live in as human beings. We need relationships. It cannot heal all our sorrows – only God is able to do that even though we know not everything will necessarily be put to right until Jesus returns. So we wait for it in the now, but the not yet time. Meantime, I’m not quitting my jaunts to lonely places because they often serve to rephrase life, but it is good to remind your soul that those beautiful lonely places won’t deliver everything you need.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tracking the 4th dimension

Peering into another dimension
We, I, don’t see what is. I can’t see this other dimension. But there are tracks that lead me to a tiny sliver of what shimmers just beyond my knowing. We live bordering a park. The ravines behind our house are filled with lives we rarely see. As sure as I sit at my desk and look out my windows day after day and only see birds and a few squirrels, another unseen world exists. But let the land and woods surrounding us receive a fresh blanket of snow and suddenly, overnight, it reveals a universe of creatures that track all around us. Deer, raccoon, fox, coyote, owls who leave wingtip patterns in the snow when they capture mice, we are surrounded by life.

When I think of things I can’t see, of what powers, good or evil, exist “out there,” I sometimes recall Elisha, an Old Testament prophet, because he saw into a dimension of reality that surrounds us every day. It’s a reality I rarely think about and can’t remember if I ever saw it except maybe in a dream I once had long ago. That day that is written about may have started out like any other ordinary morning in Israel, but not to the servant who’d arrived on the rooftop minutes before Elisha to see that “an enormous army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city.” (I Kings 6:11) In that day, that amount of military power represented terrifying weapons of destruction aimed against an unarmed population without a rat’s chance in hell of saving themselves. Elisha took one look and with utter confidence in the God who surrounds and protects the lives of his people declared: “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (Really, Elisha?) Then he prayed and his servant’s eyes were opened and what he saw must have been so extreme it had to have beggared belief. He saw the sky and “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around.” The air must have shimmered and cracked with their presence, though the servant couldn’t see them at the time, nor can we now.

We, too, look out on the world to see our homes, our livelihoods, our countries, the hills around us bristling with enemies “full of an army and horses and chariots” who bring terrorism and destruction. And if not such graphic, physical destruction to us personally, we look closer to find threats against our hearts, our minds, our families. Those are also real enemies.

I’ll insult you if I push the analogy much further. But here’s the thing: when I am most inclined to despair or cynicism or the thought of “we’ve lost the war,” whatever battle we are fighting, I’m glad to be reminded of, “ You have not come to a mountain… to darkness, gloom and storm … But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.” (Hebrews 12:18, 22) I’m nearly undone by the thought of them and beg God to take my dull and unbelieving heart to this mountain. Make it snow right now.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Prayer Beads for the Forgetful and the Distracted

Rosaries always fascinated me because they were forbidden in the religious tradition I grew up in. They were one of those Catholic trappings, like incense and processing with a cross that smelt of idolatry, like one might just rely too much on them to get you on the good side of God when we knew only Jesus could do that. Of course, anything outlawed becomes what you want. So in high school, when I stayed with my best friend who was a devout Catholic and who slept with her Rosary, which entangled us during the night, I secretly fingered her beads and wondered about prayer. Did God hear us if we used a prop?

I don’t know much about the history of the Rosary, but I know that traditionally it included praying The Lord’s Prayer and saying The Apostle’s Creed which are pretty universally believed among Christians. I could see it being a cross-cultural help to many. Like, what if you didn’t know how to read? If you loved God, you would be happy for something that framed and directed your prayers to him.

Whether it’s my age or the pace of modern life, I don’t know, but the least thing can distract me from prayer. An Asian beetle crawling on the ceiling. My grocery list. The tag on the back of my shirt, and somehow I’ve leapt across three continents and an ocean to a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea. When a friend gave me a set of Anglican prayer beads, I was interested. First, their beauty pleased me – he made them out of jade and onyx. Second, their smoothness is calming, holding something physical in my hand helps keep me from wandering off to who-knows-where?

So the other day a friend contacted me. She had purchased several sets of prayer beads as Christmas gifts and wondered how I used them. She wrote, “I would love to include your suggestions for use. The ancient prayers that came with them just didn’t seem right for these particular friends.”  Somewhere in my murky past I had written about them, but I couldn’t find it, so, oh well, I started over and came up with this which I thought I’d share. You know. Just in case you are the friend who gets a set.  

Prayer Beads for the forgetful and the distracted.

There are four sections of seven beads each separated by a larger bead.

The larger beads, I use to frame my prayers. Beginning with the cross and moving around the circle, for me, the cross is, of course, obvious – we send all our troubles to the cross. We begin with the cross and end with it. (How appropriate!) The larger beads represent some aspect of Trinity – for example the desire of the Holy Spirit to comfort us. Or the Father to protect us. The Savior to rescue us. Sometimes I might have read a section of the Bible or a daily reading of some kind that reminds me of some characteristic of God and I use that large bead to thank Him and to ask for some of that holiness to be seen in me.

The first section of seven represents the world – what’s out there – outside my personal world and family. Crisis, tragedies in other countries, friends who may need prayer for something specific. I recognize my finiteness in trying to remember EVERYthing,  so this at least helps me to be focused outward and whoever or whatever comes to mind gets assigned a bead even if temporary.

The second section represents my primary family members. Some of them get their own bead!

The third section is me. All seven beads.  I always have a lot to pray about regarding myself. My work, my calling, my attitude, my body, etc etc. But the other sections help me not to be COMPLETELY self-focused.

The fourth section is Thanksgiving.  Each bead represents something I am thankful for.  I think of Phil. 4: 6-7   “Do not be anxious for anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

This is all purely my own invention. Nothing particularly sacred about it.
Hope this helps as you come to God with all your baggage and mess knowing he will receive a humble heart.