Thursday, October 8, 2009

Do not be anxious about anything.  

It wasn't quite a stigmata, but there was definitely blood.  Doug and Johanna and Simeon  and I were driving through Toronto with our car backed on our way to an MCC event called "In all that we share," a weekend camping event on a reserve 7 hours North of Toronto.  Before we left we had one errand to run--take back the bag that someone left in our car the night before.   Doug went into the women's apartment and came back 5 minutes later with a stricken look and blood on his palm--he had just been poked by a needle.  The women who owned the bag worked in the sex trade. Doug knew that she was HIV positive and thought that she might also have Hepatitis C.  We rushed to the hospital.  We didn't know much about these matters, but I thought that there was some sort of prophylactic medicine that was given in these instances.  There was and an hour later completely stunned Doug has a good prognosis and a bag filled with AZT and other similar drugs that he was to take for the next 6 months.   

Seven weeks later Doug was due for a blood test.  I didn't sleep for the entire week.  Even though the statistical probability for contracting HIV was astonishingly low and Hepatitis C very low,  I was deeply troubled.  It was at this time I began to realize how very far I had come from a sustaining faith.  The trouble was not that I ever stopped believing in God, or believing in God's desire for justice for the world, or even believing that God loves me---but I suddenly realized how impossible it had become to believe that God really desired my happiness.  There was a lot of suffering in this world and over the last several years I have seen more and more of it... It was just very difficult for me to accept the fact that God's purposes for my life might include suffering.  That is not what I wanted.

I am still struggling with this matter.  Doug ended up being okay. However, the memory of those dark nights are not gone and I have yet gotten anywhere near the point of a non-anxious faith. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Song of Simeon and Visions of Johanna

When Simeon was born the idea of naming him after a wizened old man didn't seem so strange. He frowned, had a mole with a black hair squarely in the center of his head, and a double chin. He looked world worn and wise. We had just experience a mesmeriznic Christmas and this grand, post Christmas Saint was on our mind. Moreover, I truly have always loved the story of Simeon and Hannah who in the context of a Lukan account where no one seems to understand nothing--they get it! Moreover, I was reading the works of T.S. Eliot and loved his poem "Song of Simeon." But, to look at him now. Well, it just seems absurd. He is the most joyful, boyish, squirrel-ly little squirt. It is hard to imagine him growing into a name with such gravitas. But, there are times when I realize that there is more to Sim than meets the eye and that he has this deep, inner life that is hidden from me. I remember how much thoughts of God, Hell, Jesus, and Eternity animated my mind starting as a small child and I am intriqued to know what he thinks.  

Johanna was named in part after my Father, in part after the Apostle, in part after the Dylan song Visions of Johanna, and in part after Hannah in the Bible. (Doug always says she was named after Hannah Arendt as well, but I don't remember.) She might have been named Davita if she looked more serious or had darker hair. But, from the start she was blonde, blue eyed and fair and seemed to favor her parents Scandinavian side.  In the Dylan song, Johanna haunts the singer.  She is his Beatrice.  
I can imagine Jo in such a role.  I'm in love!  But, of course she is too young to be some poet's muse and much too young to finish up Arendt's final section of Life of the Mind, and it also might take a few more years before she can tell a story as well as her Grandpa John or craft a stunning prologue about the Word made flesh.  Although she can tell a good story and can wax eloquent about the peaceable kingdom--a topic that John could have perhaps expounded on a bit more in the book of Revelation.  

What a lot of hope is embedded in these names.   What if Simeon grows up to be an Industrialist and Johanna a fashion model?  What will we do?  What does it mean that we have put our hopes into these forms so frail but who possess the dynamo of their own wills and intellects.   I am not sure?  

In another sense, I feel ill equipped to pose this question.  We did give the names filling them with meaning and significance and a bit of an unspoken prayer.  But, it isn't the case that we are pushing them in any particular direction.  We are not placing babies in Sim's arms to see if he can make predictions or having Johanna read Aristotle.  In fact, we are pretty low key in general.  (See post below on parenting philosophy)  But, I hope that they will at least grow to love their names and to treasure the meanings that they have.  That they will know that the were given in love and that the names at least resonate with them--speak of things that they value--that they are proud of them.  

 T.S. Eliot
      A Song for Simeon
      Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
      The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
      The stubborn season has made stand.
      My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
      Like a feather on the back of my hand.
      Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
      Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
         Grant us thy peace.
      I have walked many years in this city,
      Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
      Have given and taken honour and ease.
      There never went any rejected from my door.
      Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children's children
      When the time of sorrow is come?
      They will take to the goat's path, and the fox's home,
      Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.
         Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
      Grant us thy peace.
      Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
      Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
      Now at this birth season of decease,
      Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
      Grant Israel's consolation
        To one who has eighty years and no tomorrow.
         According to thy word.
      They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
      With glory and derision,
      Light upon light, mounting the saints' stair.
      Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
      Not for me the ultimate vision.
      Grant me thy peace.
      (And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
      Thine also).
      I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
      I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
      Let thy servant depart,
      Having seen thy salvation.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Take my moments and my days let them flow in endless praise

I like to sing.  Every night I sing somewhere between 3-9 songs to Jo and Sim as I put them to bed.  Some kid's songs, a couple of folk favorites, but mostly I sing them hymns. To close our singing time I always sing a song Doug's mom made up and the Doxology.  We started to sing the Doxology before we joined a Russian Mennonite congregation that joyfully refers to the song as the Mennonite National Anthem.  The particular hymns that we sing tend to go through phases.  Currently, "They will Know we are Christians" is quite popular.  I especially like the line about "guarding each man's dignity and saving each man's pride."  It has a nice Trade Union sound to it and also fits my Father's ethic of never, ever embarrassing someone or making them covet you.  

Others that are on the top ten right now are "Forever Young" and "Simple Gifts.  "Forever Young" is a pretty perfect blessing for a kid.  I especially like the line "May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true, may you always know the truth and the light surrounding you, may always be courageous, be upright and be strong and may you stay forever young .. "  I also have been singing "Take My Life"   

I am not a good singer or even average.   Whenever I get to the line "take my voice and let me sing always only for my King."  I chuckle to myself.  My kids and God might be the only ones that want to hear me sing.  A select group.  However, singing is pretty hard to detach from being human and I feel like it important to sally forth with my nasally out of tune jubilations despite the ways in which my voice can falter and fail.  

It was during the stressful time that surrounded my comps that I found myself singing "Take My Life" to the kids.  It might have been at that time that the lines about intellect and will were especially resonate to me as I was pondering which had primacy.  But, I also think it was part of a clambering towards wholeness and a deep longing to feel like my days were part of a great symphony of praise.  Marilyn Robinson's Gilead helped me to see the degree to which there is praise embedded  in our very being in this world--a world that God had set apart by his presence.  

I recently has a friend refer me to a G.K. Chesterton quotation : "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly."  I have fallen in love with it.  I see the merits of excellence, but it has started to fail for me as a way of praising God.  I would like to return to a place when human excellence can once again feel doxological to me.   I realize that much of the dismissal of praise songs that occurred when I was at Calvin came from a strong commitment to the belief that God should only receive our best.  I can think of better reasons for not liking praise songs.  But, I think this is a particularly unhelpful one.  We praise a God who is high and holy and beyond us and we always fall utterly short in this.  Excellence as a measure of a life of endless praise fails me because I seek excellence for a whole host of other reasons as well--typically the real praise in the equation is the praise I hope to gain from others.  . 

During my time at Calvin I received lots of praise from my Professors.  I had never even been the biggest academic star in the very small Buckley, MI constellation.  Suddenly some of the smartest people I had ever met were giving me outrageous praise.  It all seemed to fit the idea of calling-- the fact that people were telling me how talented I was in something, the wonderful atmosphere of a Christian academic community. . .  It was easy for me to see how my papers, and test, and projects might be part of a larger project of praise and thanksgiving and joyful being.  It is tougher now.  Currently, I am trying to figure out what it might mean to let my moments and my days flow in endless praise and if that means an attitude change or something more drastic.

My singing is perhaps the least excellent thing that I do.  But, I have always sensed a blessing in singing words of resignation, praise, release, faith, boldness, and lament.  It may be that we are as likely to find a life that is doxological doing the things that we fail and falter at as those where we find our gifts. I have known this a long time.  But, I seem to need to be reminded hourly of it.  

Take my life and let it flow in endless praise...

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Sea, the Sea

Johanna lost a tooth yesterday. This is her fourth. She has managed to lose her teeth all over North America. She lost one tooth in Northern Michigan, one along the shores of the Atlantic, another at home in Toronto and last night she almost left her tooth on the beach. From sea to shining sea, the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Ontario to the shores of the mighty gitchi-gumme.

We travel alot.

This summer alone we have been in L.A., Boston, and New York. We have gone to Rhode Island twice. This despite the fact that we officially had a staycation this year and did all kinds of wonderful stuff in the greater Toronto Area (including the Toronto International Film Festival) not to mention a wonderful trip up to Algonquin Park.

I am a bit flabbergasted and feeling a wee bit profligate. There have been a lot of resources burned and I have failed to appreciate it fully while it was occurring.