Falling Fruit

25

“Hurry up, now, we don’t want to be late for the Blue and Gold Banquet!”  I was really talking to myself since getting everyone spruced up and out the door usually fell to me. Being a first class Den Mother of my son’s Cub pack, I insisted we all be present and ready on time. The family Scout was fixing his scarf, excited to be going to this very important event. Little brother, too young at 5 to have such a neat uniform, had to settle with wearing what Mother thought was important: his best Sunday clothes.  Grey slacks and red blazer topped a freshly pressed white shirt and looked especially fine with his polished black oxfords.

It was time to leave. Husband made sure to get home early from his commute to the city and was now standing, jiggling the car keys in readiness. “Everybody all set?” “Mark, have you been to the bath room? You need to go. Hurry now!”

We waited. Impatiently. Then we heard him coming. Step, squish. Step, squish. Stomp, squish. Young Mark appeared with one leg of his slacks wet to the knee and water oozing from his one shoe. “WHAT HAPPENED? For heavens sake, what did you do? You can’t go like that!” “He’ll have to change,” said Father. “He only has one good outfit and his other shoes are a disaster,” my voice was rising out of the well modulated range.

Mark shrank under the accusing gaze of three big people towering over him. “Explain yourself, young man!” “Umm, well, I stepped into the toilet.”

WHAT?  All of us were trying to picture how tending to his business could have risk attached to it. “You stepped into the toilet??!” “How on earth did you do that?”

With chin beginning to quaver, he answered “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

That’s when I had to leave the room.

Fast forward now, calendar pages falling like leaves. The scene shifts to a kitchen four states away. Father of the household is engrossed in the morning newspaper while his wife is tending to the stove. Domestic quiet prevails.  “Matthew! It’s time for breakfast. Come!” the mother calls out as she put things on the table. Suddenly Step, Squish, step, squish, step, squish is heard coming down the hall. The boy in question appears, pant leg wet to the knee, with water oozing from one shoe.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? You are all wet. What in the world happened?” His mother’s voice rises with that tone of aggravation familiar to most mothers. She drew in a breath ready for the next explosion. “Umm, I stepped in the toilet.” he replied.

“You did WHAT?”

“I wasn’t looking where I was going,” he stood hanging his head, waiting for the next angry outburst of parental wrath.

Just then, Mark dropped the paper and jumped to his feet. “That will do,” he admonished the boy’s mother, “that will do. There is nothing wrong with the boy, absolutely nothing wrong.”

‘The Small Heart of Things’ by Julian Hoffman

Bookish Nature

It’s been, I think, just a year and a few months since I first discovered Julian Hoffman’s beautiful writing via his blog, Notes from Near and Far. But already, it feels as if the places, scenes and wildlife he writes about are old, old friends – familiar from afar; because Julian imbues his descriptions with such close and detailed attention – and fills them with his own sense of belonging and finding home.

It is a sense which, as we read Julian’s words, is infectious. When I first discovered Notes from Near and Far, I knew absolutely nothing about the Prespa Lakes area of Greece, where Julian lives and gathers much of the rich material woven through the beauty of his words and photographs. I arrived at his blog, like a stranger in a new country – my eyes gradually opening to an intriguing discovery of unfamiliar terrain, unfamiliar…

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The Gathering Place

Have you heard about thin places? These are not diet farms where overstuffed people go to trim down. They are not rows of narrow houses built to accommodate more people per acre. I first heard of thin places a few years ago when a visitor said he thought my home was such a place.

As I researched, I discovered the term is known in some circles of the spiritually discerning. The ancient Celts found that there are places on earth where God’s Spirit is more easily accessible… They called these places “Thin places” because the distance between God and man seemed somehow thinner there and it was easier to pray.

Who is there that does not want to have a shorter distance between themselves and God? To have an easier time praying? Spiritually inclined people travel miles to seek out such places. Where there has been a history of “something happening” people will be drawn by their hunger, need or curiosity. They want a touch from outside themselves, a connection with that “otherness” which is known intuitively. As word of the extraordinary is spread, pilgrimages are made and crowds gather. They bring an openness to things spiritual so that often something does happen.  The burdens of life are lifted; healings occur; prayers are heard.

When there has been a continual seeking after, and finding God in a place, it seems that the Spirit of God remains in a fuller measure than in other places. Those who visit sites of earlier revivals or action of the Spirit can still sense His presence there centuries later.This opens up all kinds of theological questions, of course. Isn’t it a given doctrine that God is omnipresent?  Always the same? How is it that He is more notably one place than another? Are some places “more equal than others?”

St. Patrick is renowned as a holy man of God, a life-changer in Ireland centuries ago. To this day, the little stone church where he preached carries a strong sense of the Spirit, which cannot be said for the large cathedral bearing his name, built years later nearby. Those who visit the site of the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky have reported sensing the Spirit strongly there. There are dozens of sites around the world which have become  and remained holy places as earnest seekers gather. Lourdes Shrine in France has a large collection of canes, crutches and wheel chairs from the sick and infirm who made the trek there seeking healing.  Scoffers and doubters raise the point that perhaps they were healed by their expectations, that it is a psychological rather than spiritual phenomenon after all. But the pilgrims to Lourdes declare otherwise. To them it is a “thin place” well worth the effort to reach.

2 Kings 13:21  Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb.  When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

This one verse is tucked in the ongoing account of Israel’s oppression by her enemies. Elisha had received the double anointing he had asked for, had served as a mighty prophet, and eventually sickened and died. In this account, he had been dead long enough to be reduced to bones, but his very bones still retained something of that touch of God, enough to raise a dead man to life. Can you picture the shock of that revived man, and those who were burying him?  I can imagine the whooping and hollering that went on. This could not be interpreted as a feel good, subjective sense of Spirit; this was a presence with power to restore to life. Nothing vague or abstract about it. There was a corpse; now there is a man on his feet, undoubtedly dazed and wondering what happened.

In other places in Scripture, God commands his people to gather at certain prescribed places. He is particular about it. “You shall worship me here, not there.” He called the Hebrews out of Egypt to worship him in the wilderness.  It was necessary to leave Egypt because the large amount of worship given to other gods had defiled the land spiritually, in effect making it a very thick place.  He desired to have them experience him, worshiping him and being aware of his presence on a daily basis. For that reason his commands were clear: This is the way; this is the place.

There are several accounts of the Ark of His Presence in the Old Testament which clearly show how an object (the Ark, in this case) carries a residual power and presence. When the Philistines captured it and placed it in their shrine next to Dagon, old Dagon was knocked off his pedestal where he was found the next morning lying face down before the Ark. The bewildered Philistines set him back up, but the next day Dagon was broken to pieces, with his head and hands lying on the doorstep. It is interesting to note that the first night the idol was prostrate before the Ark, giving clear demonstration of “Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10,11. The second night the idol lost both head and hands, declaring the complete powerlessness of any entity that sets itself up against the power and presence of the one true God. The local priests quickly concluded the Ark should be sent somewhere else; it was shipped to a succession of towns and villages where people immediately became ill with tumors. Some even died.That was enough for the Philistines. There was something about that box which was good for the Israelites, and very bad for them.

After they put it on a cart and sent it homeward, the Ark continued to carry a particular presence. While it remained with Obed-Edom for three months, everything in and around his household prospered.  As a God-fearing Israelite, he experienced blessing upon blessing, unlike the idol-worshiping Philistines. The presence of blessing was so attractive that when the Ark was moved to Jerusalem, Obed-Edom went along to become a doorkeeper. He had tasted the Presence; he had to go where it went.

So it is with thin places. Wherever God’s presence is experienced or “felt,” is where people will gather.

No one can prescribe the conditions for creating such a place, but there are a few hindrances or blockages to God’s manifest presence. One, already mentioned, is idolatry.  Any focus on or worship of another deity will bring contamination and defilement of the building and the land on which it stands. Another serious cause of defilement is violence and bloodshed. Where blood has been shed the land cries out. Beginning with Cain’s murder of his brother in Genesis 4:10, God has talked about blood crying from the land.  “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.” Numbers 35:33

Other sins such as prostitution, greed and dishonesty can and do pollute the land which prevents it from becoming a “thin place.”  God is holy, which means He is set apart from all sin. There is no sin in heaven; there is no sin in His presence. Therefore, if we desire that thin place where earth and heaven meet, it is necessary to deal with all the unconfessed sin in our lives, striving to follow His command: “Be holy, for the LORD your God is Holy.”

“But,” people say, “isn’t it impossible to be holy?  Isn’t such a life like living in a convent, a boring life totally devoid of interest?”  For those who have never experienced any God encounter, this may be an understandable response. But once you become spiritually awakened to His reality, there is nothing more desirable than to be in His presence. Like Obed-Edom, you will go anywhere, giving up your familiar ways just to be where He is. That includes leaving the sin which we all secretly enjoy. Choosing to keep our old ways, habits and sins in preference to living in a “thin place” is like trading a valuable birthright for a bowl of lentils. Far better to listen and follow “Be holy, for the LORD your God is holy.”

An important caveat here.  Yes, it is true that God’s holiness and sin are far apart. However, He is found in the worst imaginable places when someone cries out to Him. Then He is close as the sinner’s breath. “There is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents than over the ninety nine who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7 His very reason for the Incarnation and the Cross was to defeat sin and its damage to the people He loves. He came to rescue mankind from the morass we were in, setting our feet on solid ground.

Once rescued, set free from the unholy, man is then able to approach God unencumbered by sin. He can begin to live life righteously, in a new dimension as it were. It is in that new condition of holiness, or set-apartness that we seek out those “thin places” to be wherever He is.

Questions

960692_93021290The Affordable Healthcare Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, is being launched surrounded by a whirl of aggravation, mis-information, confusion, ineptitude, mis-management, hype and hyperbole.

It is my observation that everything man does or has ever done results in consequences that were not foreseen. In the pursuit of solving a problem another sometimes more serious problem is created. Remember when DDT was going to be the answer to the world hunger problem? The Interstate Highway system caused the death and closure of thousands of Mom and Pop businesses along the U.S. highways it replaced. Did the men who developed the first computer and Internet system have any idea that their inventions would lead to an explosion of pornography distribution with its accompanying ills? In the sincere desire to stamp out some deadly disease, scientists have developed vaccines which have been found to cause others more debilitating. To be fair, some of the unexpected results are positive as well. James Burke’s excellent series, Connections, http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/james-burke-connections/ shows this clearly.

This very short list illustrates my point: we do not see ahead to the possibility of unintended consequences.

So I as Joanna Q. Citizen have some questions of my own.

  • What is the real motivation behind this bill in its entirety? Is it truly altruism, the desire to meet the medical needs of the populace? Or do we need to look at the money – where it is coming from and where it goes? Who will be the ultimate profiteer?
  • If the available doctors cannot maintain their practice on the small amount allotted to them, they may decide to quit altogether. Some already have. How is this helping?
  • When business men lose money paying for mandated coverage, they will no longer hire new employees. Some have already declared it is less costly to pay overtime to the few they retain. How is this helping the employment figures?
  • With more unemployed needing coverage, and less income taxes now with which to help pay for it, how is this helping our economy or our national financial rating?
  • If those with means to choose their providers cannot do so, what has happened to freedom of choice?
  • If the bill is such a good thing for the general public, why does it not apply to every citizen? Why is the illegal alien covered, yet the Congress and President exempt?
  • Insurance companies have for some time been “practicing medicine” to the annoyance of doctors who consider their arbitrary decisions as interference in good medical care. How is this picture to improve with increased pressure on profitability and cost cutting?
  • Ultimately, this bill is going to have far reaching ramifications as yet unseen or thought about. Is there a visionary anywhere who has explored the possibilities? If so, who and where are they and is anybody listening? In other words, do they have a voice?

Naturally I think these are valid questions above and beyond partisanship. Naturally there are those who will think otherwise. I would appreciate some knowledgeable answers.

Do Extra-dimensional Beings Exist? Nature of God

This is a great article for those who live in a world of science, faith in God, stretching ideas, and above all, a world of wonder.

If you spend your time thinking of theology, poetry and space-time dimensions, you may find this a good read. If you are enthralled by the beauty of the star-filled cosmos above,image

 

image     down to the Cosmos flower in the garden, welcome to my world.

Do Extra-dimensional Beings Exist? Nature of God.

Disappearing Words

I was pondering today about the disappearance of some words from common use in our culture. Words like splendor and majestic. Integrity and honor. Virtue. On the negative side we have lost words used to describe disapproved societal values: vile, fornication, sin.

When was the last time you heard or used them?

Words are powerful, more powerful than we realize at first look. The words we use shape the very way we think, the way we relate to one another. They can be curse or blessing. In our personal dialog the wrongful use of words is the chief reason for breakdown in relationships. Careless use of words has often caused lasting pain. Nothing is more inaccurate than the childhood singsong: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

New ideas begin as thoughts. Thinking uses words as building blocks; it is hard to imagine thinking anything without words, which represent concepts, being a part of the process. Our vocabulary is the stockpile of building materials available to us. Therefore, if it is common or vile, our thoughts will rise no higher than the bricks we have to use. For many, their list of adjectives has few words that exceed four letters.

There are, of course, morally neutral words, e.g. the cat is under the bench, but my concern is the diminishing of grandeur, culture, dignity, grace and virtue which is concurrent with the loss of those words is the public dialog.

As the common vocabulary, both spoken and written, has changed, so has our behavior. That which was once considered shameful or unspeakable is now accepted. Boundaries have been breached, jettisoned. There seem to be no restraints. In fact, the concept of restraint has changed from personal self-discipline to physical things like handcuffs and white jackets.

To change public behavior, then, would require a change in the way we talk and write. Society will rise or fall to the level of our language. Let’s talk (and think) it up.

Cats and Critters

I watched Ginger disappear down the driveway headed for his new life in the Southland, and turned back to my house, now empty. No Husband, no cat, all sons grown and gone. It was strange, not having anything or any one to spar with. How would I adjust? What was next?

There was no time even to ponder such heavy topics. Son No. 3 called. “Have I got an offer for you!” Ever the salesman, he continued, “How would you like to have a new kitten? Our neighbor was neglecting it so we did an intervention, but we really can’t add another pet right now, and please, please, don’t you need a cat? You do need a companion.”  Then he added, “It’s a beautiful Maine Coon cat named Natalie.”  Ah, I thought, a girl cat at last!

Ah, no. It seems that after everyone including the animal was happy with Natalie, the local vet announced (what is this, a family thing?) that it was indeed a boy kitty. Sigh. Yes, I will take Natalie, the boy cat. Isn’t he going to be a bit conflicted? Should I call him Natalie-he?

I soon learned he was a cat with an attitude. A royal attitude.  He would sit in my lap, but on his terms. He wanted his water source to be a slight flow from the faucet, if you don’t mind. When I went away for any length of time he would make his disapproval clear by turning his back on me for half a day, minimum. He had full confidence in and understanding of his identity; I need not have worried about any inner conflict. He was certain he was descended from the King of the Jungle.

Life took on a new rhythm as we both, Natalie and I, settled into our changed status.

Church had finished, and with gray skies gloomy above me, I looked forward to a quiet time at home catching up on my reading. The living room of our two story colonial had recently been redone.  Fitted with new paper on the walls, carpet on the floor, reupholstered chairs and especially fine sheers at the windows, it was warm and welcoming even on the grayest of days. As I settled to read, Natalie hung around close by; he was too royal a cat to jump in your lap at first.  He had to prove that he didn’t really need my lap and attention.

Quiet prevailed, disturbed only by his soft purring. Suddenly a thumpety bump followed by a crashing sound and screech brought us with a start to our feet.  In the fireplace behind the screen, a thoroughly dazed squirrel cowered, gathering his wits after falling down the chimney past the baffle plate. Instantly Natalie was on duty, nose to screen, tail switching madly.  He was on point like the best of our hunting dogs, fully focused on this interloper who responded by freezing his position.  We were at a stand off.

The question now was, what to do next? It would be impossible for him to get back up the chimney. If I moved the screen, the squirrel would be out of there like a shot and the last thing I wanted was wild life ricocheting around my lovely living room – or the rest of the house, for that matter. Clearly, we had a problem.

I called my neighbor for suggestions – no answer. I called the mayor down the street – no answer. Finally I called the fire department, explaining the situation in detail.  “I don’t need sirens and big trucks. Just please send a man who can catch a squirrel in the house.”

In short order a large fire truck with lights flashing pulled up in front of the house. Two young fire fighters, dressed in full regalia and large rubber boots came up the walk, empty handed.  “Where is your net? Won’t you be needing a net to catch him?”  My voice was getting a bit tight.  “Oh no, Ma’am, we’ll be able to get him all right. Don’t you worry.”  I was not comforted.

With cocky boldness the first man went up to the screen where Natalie was still on duty. “Surely you don’t want to move the screen,” I said, “because he will get loose, and then what?”  “I’ll just get him with my bare hands,” he replied. “Don’t you worry.”

He moved the screen. The next few moments were a blur of activity.  The fireman made a lunge for the squirrel, missing him completely. Immediately freed from his prison, the squirrel zipped to his freedom with Natalie right behind him, the two men behind the cat and me wringing my hands, worrying. Seeing daylight behind the sheer curtains, our home invader made a dash for the window. Cat made a dash too, climbing the sheers with his sharp claws.  “Do something!” I yelled. I could envision the curtains being torn to shreds. One of the men grasped awkwardly at the squirrel behind the curtain, hoping to capture him in the cloth.  “That’s the very thing I was afraid of,” I groused in exasperation.

Suddenly the squirrel managed to maneuver past lunging hands and guarding cat, streaking out of the living room, into the front hall and up the stairs. The chase was on. Natalie moved faster than I had ever known him to do, definitely faster than the two boot-laden firemen.  I stood there listening to the thump and thunder of feet going through the upstairs hall.  Our home had a back staircase as well as the formal stairs in the front; it led down to the kitchen which was at the back of the house. From there you could take a lower hall past the little office/den back to the living room.

The commotion continued.  I stood at the foot of the stairs and then looked into the living room noticing the door to the side porch just to the left of the fireplace.  Aha! If we could just get him to see real daylight…  Opening the porch door, I put the slider in place to keep it open and returned to the hall.  A grey streak zoomed toward me from the kitchen, paused a split second, saw the open door and was gone.  Natalie was next, tearing around the corner.  When he saw the squirrel was gone, he sat down as if nothing at all had just happened.  Making their appearance last, here came the two men down the back stairs working their way to the front.

“He’s gone!”  I walked over to shut the porch door, thinking to myself, no thanks to you.

“Yes, Ma’am, that’s good,” the first man said as they headed to the front door.  “If you ever need our help again, just give us a call!”

Wits and Nitwits

Occasionally while on a website I read the comments posted in reply to a presentation on that site. And I am appalled. It matters not whether it is a YouTube video, news item, article on either side of the political divide, or heaven forbid, religion. The language – vocabulary, grammar, spelling and punctuation – is atrocious. Manners have taken a hike. Courtesy, gone. Civilized thoughtful discourse almost extinct.

The most common thought held by the faceless public seems to be to attack everyone, including their heritage, parentage and their character using every kind of vulgarity in the process. Many equate vulgarity with wit when it is the antithesis of it. I suspect they would not even understand that last sentence.

Now, to interrupt myself, I have read some discussion threads that amazed me because of the broad or detailed knowledge of not-so-recent current events being shared. In some cases I learned things done in different administrations which I had been too distracted at the time to become informed about. This is good; this is the Net at its finest. It is also not common.

The gift of wit includes the ability to see things from differing perspectives, to spin them as it were, and play with the presented ideas to the amusement of all. It requires a quickness of mind, without malice or meanness, yet meanness is what I see and hear in many of the exchanges on line.

H.L. Mencken is highly regarded as a man of wit. His quotes can be found and enjoyed on Brainy Quotes. Here is one example: “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” This has enough truth, with enough exaggeration and twist to bring a smile to the reader. It is witty. There is no coarseness needed to reveal the author as a person of power. His mind, and the words he chooses reveal that.

A gift similar to wit, but different from it, is a sense of humor. With common sense and a sense of humor a person will have all he needs to make his way in life. The ability to see something amusing at even the most troubling times has carried many people through. To be able to see the ridiculous, the absurd, the pomposities of the self-important is a gift to be treasured. Many of the best comedians are those who see with clear eyes and then tell the public the truth. They are the secular prophets of the day. Humor is a great defense against tyranny. When jokes start coming about something or someone previously held in high regard you can know a change is coming.

Those with no sense of humor, I posit, are easy to deceive. Without the ability to see the twists, the absurd, the funny, they will in their seriousness believe whatever is presented to them as factual. Satire will be received as truth. A play on word or idea is lost to them.
Yet playing with words and ideas is grist for the mill of the humorist, satirist or punster to the delight of the rest of us.

It is fully possible to be witty without four letter words and defamation of character. I submit Will Rogers as another example. “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.” This will bring a wry smile to most people, with possible exception of the politicians.

Our words have power, more than generally realized. They reflect our personhood. Therefore, I suspect that the way to improve the public dialog is to begin within, to clean up the dark corners of hatred, insecurity, inadequacy and any other character issues which defile. The educated person who is secure in his own identity does not need to use his assault weaponry of foul, small-minded words. He can, instead, begin to work on his wit.

The Restoring Gift

While I have been watching the rapid decline and fall of much that I hold dear, it has been difficult to stay focused on the things which truly matter. I was one of the millions of Americans who poured out of their homes into the streets on V-J Day – a day of wild joy and abandon. Horns honking, people weeping with relief, hugging and kissing, yes of strangers even. We were overcome by unrestrained emotion. Pent up tension erupted all over the country as if a compressed spring had just been let loose somewhere. We had no place to go, but we had to go somewhere just to let the emotions of happiness and worry flow out. It was over, and we were safe. There had been a challenge, a huge one, and America had risen to meet it. We had made it through. Part of the emotional release rose from the very real uncertainly of victory. There had been some dark, scary times which we as a nation absorbed without wanting to acknowledge. But now we were safe.

Fast forward to today – and indeed it has been fast, trust me – and the nation that was celebrating then is not recognizable. The state of our country is in such disarray that if some Rip Van Winkle from that day came back he would think he had gone mad. Today I read that a school in Ohio had to take down a picture of Jesus because “it could cause someone irreparable harm.” On top of that they were assessed a fine around $90,000. Then I read of a busload of tourists, both American seniors and foreign travelers were turned out of a hotel in Yellowstone at gunpoint! I could go on and on, but the point is, we as a nation have gone mad. The division, rancor and restiveness increases daily. The war has been declared and many of us are just now realizing it.The question is, is it too late to muster the troops necessary to turn it around, to reclaim that which has been lost? Do we have the resolve and character to do it? The uproar over shutting the World War II vets out of their memorial says that at least there are some who honor who they were, and are, and what they represent in our history.

So as I watched, and grieved tonight, I started playing some of my music. Bach’s Passacaglia in C Minor filled the room and suddenly my spirit soared, lifted on the wings of sound, the work of a creative genius. Surrounded by weavings of chords, heavenly sounds indeed, restoration came to my troubled heart, reminding me there is a higher reality, an unchanging truth. There is where I need to keep my mind and heart. All else is chaos.