Monday, February 23, 2009

Conversations in Stone

I was listening to a feature about the composer Thomas Tallis on an older Mars Hill CD this morning. During an interview with Paul Walker, host Ken Myers made a comment about Tallis's music that made me stop and think about something only indirectly related: the two men were talking about Tallis's fondness for writing music that made the most of his instruments and singers in the sense of writing for the highest sopranos, the deepest basses, and so on.
One of the men -- I don't quite remember now which of them -- noted that such music was necessary to fill up the great churches and cathedrals of the time, then observed we wouldn't need such music now, as often, all we have to fill up is a Morton building.
We -- the Church -- have become quite used to modest church buildings. We've had to close up some of our most beautiful churches because the areas around them have changed and there aren't enough parishioners anymore to care for and support them. We don't build great cathedrals because they are too expensive. We don't need such extravagance, we tell ourselves; we could find God on the golf course if necessary.
And that's true. God, being omnipotent and omnipresent, can certainly be found on the golf course, but that's not really the point.
The great cathedrals and many less-impressive-but-nevertheless-beautiful churches were built with a commitment to excellence and loveliness out of a deep desire to honor God, to reflect in an architectural way the abiding truths of Scripture and the Gospel about who God is, and how He is, and what He is.
I'm blessed right now to attend church in a church building that is traditionally beautiful, in familiar ways -- stained glass windows, a carved altarpiece, glowing woods and soaring ceilings, with a bell tower that, while difficult to maintain, stands out over the countryside like a sentinel. On Sunday mornings the bell is rung to call us to worship, a hush falls over the sanctuary, and my heart rests in the peace of it.
There are many other ways to incorporate beauty and majesty into a church building, some of them traditional, some quite simple and lovely, some more modern. My argument isn't with them.
The churches I worry over are the ones that sacrifice that translation of who and how and what God is -- that conversation in stone -- into the place where they meet. They miss an important opportunity to speak in brick and mortar, or wood, or stone; they substitute sensible thrift for extravagant sacrifice, and are all the poorer for it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

25 Things . . .

* Letters, notes, cards, phone calls and visits from people I like and love
* Handel, Bach, Corelli, JanieS, Thelonius Monk, the Wesley brothers, Allison Krause, Anonymous 4, Brooks and Dunn, Trisha Yearwood, the Beach Boys, Bart Millard, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and other music makers -- so many I don't have room to list them all, but how they enrich life!
* Books -- and short stories and poems and magazines, oh my!
* Clean sheets, especially if they've spent time in the linen closet with some fresh lavender
* Birds who sing, especially the little song wren who comes to our little corner bird house each spring and spends her summers with us, and the birds' nests I find in the yard after a storm
* Fresh snow
* Hot coffee
* Cold lemonade and frosty watermelon
* Babies, especially the ones I get to hold and rock
* Toddlers, especially when they are making jokes
* School science fairs, and the kids who put them on, and the teachers who help them
* People who care more about loving someone than judging them
* Teen-agers who are genuinely polite
* Art galleries! and art fairs and museums
* Walking along the beach, the smell of it and the music of the wind and water
* Going to sleep with the sound of waves, or a thunderstorm rumbling far off, or with the moon shining in the window
* Waking up with birds singing, or a quiet rain, or sun shining in the window
*Speaking of windows: washing them til they shine
* Healthy house plants, and flowers in the garden and in vases all around the house, and trees standing tall in the yard
* The smell of something good cooking in the kitchen or out on the back patio
* Photographs of people I love
* Vintage handwork -- whitework, embroidery, crochet, tatting, quilting
* Valentines
* Grade school kids on the playground
* The Bible cover my daughter made for me when she was just a grade-school girl, and all the notes and pictures my kids and grandkids and other family members have given me over the years

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Perfect Start for February

One of my daughters posted a perfect February post to her blog today. You can read her “Things I'm Thankful For” and then -- write your own list of “Things I'm Thankful For.” Then, please share it with me.
I'm working on mine!

Signs of Spring

The sun is getting stronger, and the light has a glow, as if all of creation knows a secret and is smiling about it.
Often now when I go outside I hear at least one bird singing, and sometimes more than one. The snow is melting around the edges, and streets are clear of snow (but full of left-over salt.)
Our amaryllis has bloomed, and the pink carnations on the dining room table remind me that soon it will be time to cut some forsythia branches for forcing. Valentines are replacing the snowmen who've served as winter decor (do you suppose if we put away all the decorative snowmen it will stop snowing?)
We'll be celebrating Presidents Lincoln and Washington's birthdays this month, and then -- it will be March, and spring won't be just a promise.
It will be almost here, in all its mud-luscious glory.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Comfort Lunch -- JELLO

I had Jello for lunch.
Big deal, you say?
Specifically, orange Jello with shredded carrot, made by a Mrs. Smith of Downs, Illinois. One of my daughters brought it home as a special treat from a local meat shop that sells deli salads and meats on the side.
Why a big deal, you ask?
First, of course, because my daughter brought it as a gift, and second, because I belong to The Jello Generation.
The Jello Generation transcends artificial divisions like The Greatest Generation or Baby Boomers. Those of us who grew up with mothers enchanted with Jello know what I'm talking about -- rainbow Jello salad. Strawberry Jello with bananas. Lime Jello with cottage cheese and pineapple.
Or orange Jello with mandarin oranges and whipped orange sherbet.
Jello for salad. Jello for dessert. Jello for fun (remember Jello cubes?) Even Jello with meat -- shrimp, or shredded pork, or chopped hot dogs . . .
Oh, sure, my son-in-law was laughing, but I didn't care.
I had Mrs. Smith's orange Jello with shredded carrot to comfort me.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Preparing . . .

Being prepared, as Tim Russert noted in his book Big Russ and Me, is important.
I'm not necessarily thinking of the good old Scout motto, but of something more far-reaching. I'm thinking of being prepared for what God has next for us.
The problem is, how do we ever know what that is?
Some of “being prepared” in that sense is having the courage to try; some of it is making the time to watch and listen to what God is doing in your life. And some of it is being willing to do the hard work of getting ready.
When you read Russert's book, you realize he was thoroughly prepared for the interviews he conducted. He worked hard to get a good education, and brought that education and training to bear on the work he did. He researched, he thought and reflected, he honed the questions he asked. He paid attention to what was going on around him, asking questions and seeking to understand.
We might not know exactly what we are preparing for, but some things seem constant: educating ourselves to think and discern. Being willing to think about what is going on around us, honing our skills and paying attention -- those things help us to be prepared for whatever is next.
And who knows what that might be?