Friday, March 21, 2008

A Good Friday Hymn . . .

The old hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus” is one I don't remember learning as a child.

I first came across it about 20 years ago, but recognized at once that it perfectly describes my feelings on Good Friday.

“Ah, holy Jesus – how hast thou offended?” the hymn asks.

How, indeed, has He offended? By loving people more than tradition? By caring for those the rest of us ignore or disdain? By serving us rather than celebrating Himself?

Jesus still wouldn't fit in, would He? If He showed up here this afternoon I'm afraid it would go the same way it did before. He would insist on interpreting Scripture – His own word – in ways we don't quite get. He would identify some things as important that we've ignored, and He would let some things go that we simply can't let go of.

He'd still want to please God rather than ingratiate Himself with men.

We'd still be confused, irritated, without understanding.

We'd probably still find a way to do away with Him.

Yet He would still lay His life down for us.

“Who was the guilty?” asks the second verse: “Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!”

It is this recognition of my own guilt that makes Good Friday such a long day.

The last verse identifies the only response I can make: “Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee, Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, Not my deserving.”

When Johann Heermann wrote this, sometime in the 1600s, he captured the heart of believers throughout time.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday – according to a note in the little gift book Happy Easter, published by Honor Books, the word Maundy comes from a Latin word meaning “a command.”

“It refers to when Jesus commanded His followers to love one another,” says the unidentified author, “On this special day many people, including world leaders, try to follow that command by giving maunds, or gifts, to the poor.”

That's an explanation I've not heard before. I always assumed that “maundy” meant what it kind of sounds like to me – mourning. It's the day we remember the Last Supper, and Jesus's time in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he prayed while His friends slept; a day when we mourn the sins that cost Him everything.

Usually on Maundy Thursday that's what I'm thinking of – my sins, both the things I've done that I shouldn't have done, and the things I should have done that I haven't. I'm thinking of the sharp words, the eye-rolling, the resentments and jealousies I harbor. I'm thinking of the times I choose my own comfort or entertainment over helping someone else, whether that help is practical or financial. I'm thinking of the times I choose the small lie, or turn away from doing what is right and good. It's hard to recognize and acknowledge those things in myself, but I know they are there.

One of the most painful lessons I've learned as a mother is how awful it is when I somehow cause my children pain, either through something I've done or because of something I haven't known or done, and the child suffered because of my mistake. It's horrible to know someone else suffers because of my shortcomings!

But isn't that what Jesus did for us? My sin caused His suffering. He suffered for our sin, went to the cross to make things right with God. I don't understand this all, but it seems like a wonderful gift to those of us who are poor in spirit, who cannot help but mourn our sin.

So today, I'll get out that old Latin book and look up “maund” to see if it really means “a command.” I'll think about the instructions Jesus gave to us to “love one another.”

And I'll mourn the sin that sent Him to the cross.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Making Bread, and Other Magical Things . . .

I've made a few recipes from Alice Waters, and always feel quite sophisticated when I do, although I suspect that sophistication is not precisely what Ms. Waters is after.

They are always delicious, so when her newest book The Art of Simple Food came out I was anxious to see it. Part cookbook, part theology of food, it's a book for dipping into for either recipes or contemplation.

Her statement about mixing flour, yeast, salt, and water together, then having it turn into a loaf of bread invites contemplation, I think. It is magical to see how it works in the kitchen, to smell the fragrance of the bread as it rises, as it bakes. It is magical to think of those simple ingredients coming together to make something so delicious, so nourishing.

Then I contemplate how similar bread-baking is to some of the other things we do. We mix people – some earthy, some bubbly, some well-seasoned, some quite fluid – together for various reasons and what do we get? Often, something delightful, something nourishing for our souls.

It can seem magical to mix together these various people, and have them turn into a cohesive group, able to accomplish varieties of things – worship, government, good works, relaxation – whatever they set their common mind to do, really.

A good mix is all about proportion, order of mixing, good ingredients. There are infinite variations of the recipe, some depending on location, some depending on weather, some depending on whim. They all hold in common the mixing, the blending, the result that pleases and delights – something magical, indeed.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Very Foxy . . .

Last week-end John was up early, watching the sun coming up, savoring a cup of hot coffee. Suddenly he called us to come quick.

Our little fox was curled up, sleeping beneath the lilac bush.

While we watched a careless squirrel came racing down a branch of the pine tree, chattering loudly enough to wake up the sleeping fox, who stretched, turned, and suddenly, alertly sat very quietly. I think he thought his breakfast had been delivered.

The squirrel, however, was careless, not stupid. As soon as he saw the fox moving he stopped and sat stone still.

The fox watched awhile, stretched a bit more, and eventually turned and trotted down the fencerow.

Then the squirrel relaxed, and went chattering back up the pine tree.

Election Notes . . .

Another evening, another newscast, and it seems as if it's all politics, all the time.

I wonder sometimes if that explains some of the silly, nasty exchanges between the three major candidates now.

Tonight we were treated to stories about how Mr. Obama's staffer insulted Mrs. Clinton; how Mrs. Clinton's staff person reminded us of Whitewater and Ken Starr by comparing Barack Obama to Starr; and a story about an exchange between John McCain, a pesky questioner and later on, a much peskier reporter.

None of these stories clarified any candidate's position on health care, the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, the price of oil or the unpleasant economy, or really, about anything other than how unpleasant the opposition/reporters/an opponent's history really is.

Even Jim Lehrer was unable to turn the conversation from these unhappy subjects on PBS. In the Shields and Brooks segment – one I usually enjoy – the two reporter/commentators seemed stuck on the political aspects of these exchanges.

Meanwhile I'm still hungry for details about how these candidates propose to lead our nation and address our problems, and curious about whether or not they can maintain a measure of civility and humanity while campaigning for office. It's a tall order. I'll be interested to see if any one of them can fill it.

Antiquing . . .

I visited the Illinois Antiques Center with my mom earlier this week.

It's always interesting to see what's featured; there always seem to be certain items that everyone has displayed. Mom and I walked past oak barrister bookcases and fireplace surrounds, lingered near some old kitchen gadgets, and investigated the display cases full of jewelry, pottery, dishes, and dolls, she sighed and said she felt like an antique herself.

She's not, really! But seeing so many things that date from her own childhood made her feel old. Mom was especially taken with the cobalt blue Shirley Temple glass tumblers we saw, very much like one she still has.

We saw several cases and shelves full of pink Depression glass, including a sugar/creamer set I've never seen before, a delicate tumbler mom wanted to use as a small vase, and a lovely biscuit barrel. Another thing we saw a lot of – alphabet blocks. We noticed several old (or old-fashioned) cotton dresses, and one full-length cotton apron. It was a navy blue print, and tied in the back; I could just imagine some woman tying on her apron early in the morning as she prepared to work through the day.

There were several boxes of old photographs, and postcards, even magazines, all revealing different styles in architecture, wedding dresses, or decor.

Because it's so close to the Easter holiday there were a lot of cute toy bunnies, garden cast-iron rabbits, and Easter books for children.

I love wandering through antique malls; it's like time traveling. It's a good reminder that some things might change, but other things are timeless.