April 25, 2011
The Pregnant Pause
It's my last week in the office before I start my maternity leave and our little guy decides to make his first appearance in the world. This is my first child, so the whole pregnancy thing has been a new, fascinating and paradoxical experience. Of course there's the usual stuff: nausea, difficulty sleeping, the weirdness of watching your tummy grow bigger each day, and starting to see the movement of new life just under the surface of your own fragile skin.
But there are other things too, other "side-effects" of pregnancy that might not be so noticeable to the rest of the world. Like the way you become less and less able to do things for yourself, things that used to be no-brainers: putting on your shoes, reaching for a dish on the top shelf, carrying a heavy laundry basket or even just making it through a busy work day. Gradually your body itself forces you to slow down, rest more, ask for more help, postpone activities--and buy a foot-long shoehorn.
I've been thinking about what it means to have times of quiet and withdrawl from life, and how these kinds of pauses can be scary things, especially when we forget our identity is rooted in Christ and not the things we have to offer the world. These pauses make us face ourselves without all the trappings of our doing and giving and performing.
But there is something beautiful and meaningful in this kind of pause because it's not pulling away without a purpose.
A pregnant pause, whether it's the kind that eventually brings a baby into the world or the kind that happens before any big life transition--like going to college, getting married or starting a new job--is beautiful because of all the potential bound up in it. Yes, it's quiet. Yes, it's still. Sometimes it feels like not a lot is happening. We might even feel powerless or useless in those moments. But there is definitely something powerful happening. And think about a world without them. How much would be lost without the pregnant pauses?
It's the stillness before a crashing thunderstorm. It's the orchestra lingering on a fermata before the launch into the last, most dramatic movement. It's Bono, frozen in a two bar rest just before he belts out that last chorus that makes your spine tingle. It's the still, deep breath of the diver before plunging straight into the pool. It's the dark stage before the spotlight comes on and the actors burst on the scene. It's the moment before the big bang, full of the potential of everything that is about to happen. It's Holy Saturday before Easter Sunday. Without the pause before, the impact of what is to come is severely diminished. It's what gives life rhythm, and it's beautiful.
So as I head into the final days of my pregnant pause, I'm thankful for the slowing. I hope all goes well at IVP while I'm gone. I know my competent team will have no problem taking over my work (and many thanks to them for doing it!). I will probably still have some misgivings about what life will look like (heck, what I'll look like--on the inside and out) after the big event. But I'm looking forward to putting my feet up, closing my eyes, and taking this final, quiet, deep breath before I tackle the hardest and most rewarding work of my life.
See you all on the other side!Continue reading "The Pregnant Pause"
April 24, 2011
Five Little Letters: An Easter Reflection
The other day I found this sheet of paper sitting in the printer. About two thirds of the way down the page, about an inch in from the left margin, were five little letters in tiny little type: J-e-s-u-s. That's it - nothing else. Such a tiny little word, made more weighty by being surrounded by nothing.
It was an accident of formatting, I'm sure, that "Jesus" showed up all by himself on that page. Maybe a misplaced hard page break or a cell that spilled over the printable area on the page previous. These things happen in a publishing house. But it's an interesting way of looking at Jesus: five little letters, all by themselves, not where you'd expect them. It's arresting in its simplicity.
We're generally uncomfortable with simplicity attached to greatness. Simplicity isn't appropriate to superstars, we figure, and so we try to do them a favor by filling up the space with whatever gravitas we can. I'm reminded of King Saul, dressing up shepherd boy David in his kingly armor to the point that David couldn't even move. I'm reminded of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey, with random people making all sorts of obsequious gestures in his path. When simplicity is perpetrated upon us by people we admire, we overcompensate a bit; we offer what we can, even if no offering is solicited. Sometimes all we can think to contribute is our own beard-stroking, chin-tapping egos. If our heroes are going to be so stubbornly simple, we'll have to be pretentious on their behalf.
I'm reminded of one of the more remarkable meetings of the twentieth century, at least in terms of popular culture: John Lennon's first encounter with Yoko Ono. She, an avant-garde performance artist, was exhibiting at a gallery in London; he, a world-renowned singer-songwriter, was looking for a good time. Two giant personalities filling one room; simplicity was probably the last thing on anyone's mind.
Part of the exhibit was a white ladder to the ceiling, where the viewer would find a magnifying glass. Looking at the ceiling through the magnifying glass, the viewer would find three little letters: Y-e-s. Yes.
"You feel like a fool," John told an interviewer years later, "you could fall any minute - and you look through it and it just says 'YES.'" It was a stark contrast to the sort of hypercritical vibe that attends to much pretentiousness and characterized the time: "all anti-, anti-, anti-. Anti-art, anti-establishment." Lennon was hooked, and he soon came to be more identified with Yoko than anyone else in his life - even his songwriting partner Paul McCartney, even his iconic band The Beatles.
John eventually wrote "The Ballad of John and Yoko," a plainspoken chronicle of their relationship that compared their experience to that of Jesus: misunderstood, expected to behave in ways they were unwilling to behave, persecuted for being countercultural and having convictions and being, for lack of a better word, simple. "The way things are going," Lennon mused as he sang, "they're gonna crucify me." What sustained Lennon in the face of such pretentious backlash was those three little letters, that soft-spoken "Yes."
I'm reminded of the apostle Paul's declaration to the Corinthian church, an assurance that sustained them through the early decades of the church's formation, beset with persecution and misunderstanding: "No matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ." Yes is a hard word to come by, to be honest, particularly during a recession or a depression or a natural disaster or a nuclear calamity or whatever. I have a friend who once whispered to me gravely in the wee hours of the night that the world will be devastated within twenty years by at least one of three things: a global weather event, a global economic catastrophe, or a global war. So far it looks as though all he got wrong was the timing.
And yet still God has made these promises, and still by faith every Easter we declare with Paul that all those promises are "Yes" in Christ. It's an act of defiance that looks suspiciously like an act of naivete, even delusion, and yet what else can we say?
I'm reminded of three little days after the death of God, when a woman named Mary shuffled despondently, in her mourning clothes, into a garden to honor the dead. There, unexpectedly, she found Jesus--no big fanfare, no bold or italic or serifs or 40-point type; just Jesus, plain and simple, all five little letters of him. And while the Scriptures don't report this, I imagine when she cried out in awareness that she saw a resurrected Jesus standing there, he responded simply by whispering three little letters: "Yes."
April 11, 2011
All this talk about rabbits--as well as numerous signs all over these western Chicago suburbs about where and when the Easter Bunny will be appearing (it appears he has a very full schedule in the next couple weeks)--has me thinking about the first poem I remember writing. I was in second grade, and in my best cursive, with all the creative force I could muster, I wrote a touching (at least, my mom thought so) account of a particular rabbit and her habit. (Lest you get the wrong picture in your mind and then later feel disappointed, my poem was not the tale of a Catholic hare garbed in black and white, like Maria in The Sound of Music, though that, no doubt, would have been a much more interesting poem than the one I actually wrote.) Budding wordsmith that I was, I'm pretty sure the poem started very originally with "There once was a rabbit that had a habit." And I'm pretty sure the next two lines went something like this:
Unfortunately, I don't remember the rest of the poem (though I'm sure it was scintillating), so I'll have to leave you in suspense about what actually happened to the rabbit and its habit. But those few lines are enough to make me think that, even if my poetry skills were lacking a certain something, my theology may have been relatively advanced. Because, after all these years of thinking that the only two lines I remember don't even really make sense (though the rhyme scheme has a nice ring to it, you have to admit), it's struck me lately that they encapsulate Lent pretty well.
In Lent, we often name a habit that's bothering us by keeping us from God in some way. The habit might be a characteristic like our tendency toward anger or bitterness, or a propensity to lie. Or maybe it's an addiction: to food, exercise, television or affirmation from others, for example--things that can be good and healthy (and necessary) in moderation but that easily become idols, habits that hold a higher place in our lives than God.
Once we name the habit, Lent offers a built-in period of time during which we can intentionally engage in disciplines that "bother" that habit (though we can, and hopefully do, do this at other times of the year too). Essentially, Lent stirs things up; the disciplines we engage in upset the evil one's plans, and parry attacks from the likes of Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters. Moreover, facing, naming, mourning our bothersome, sinful habits as we ponder Christ's suffering can allow us to receive and experience his forgiveness and freedom. The writer of Hebrews offers us encouragement toward this end:
This is the hope of Lent that moves us forward toward Easter--the hope of his continued work in us that helps us persevere when we're tempted to believe that freedom from a particular sin [read: hindering habit] is impossible.
In second-grade-rabbit-poetry terms, I imagine the exhortation would sound something like this:
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 10:40 AM
April 1, 2011
Friday Rabbits!Lest you think we here at Strangely Dim take ourselves too seriously, we thought we'd ease your concern on that score and provide you with a lovely weekend project to enjoy. Or--go home early today, pick up the kids or some friends (it's Friday, after all, and raining--well . . . here in Chicagoland, anyway, and it's kind of a holiday) and try out this adorable bunny art project, which you can access by clicking here. The link will take you to a blog by Carla Sonheim, who has helpfully created a tutorial on how to do the project.
(The bunny drawing is from Sonheim's blog; the link was helpfully provided by Sally Craft.)
Following the Way of the RabbitIt is generally acknowledged that rabbits, being rather good eating, are not terribly good for conversation. They may seem skittish, running from what we think of as rather commonplace sounds (like cars driving past, or gunfire, or dogs running and barking at them), and they eat grass--which, as I am sure you will agree, is not very tasty, and, when chewed, tends to be a bit fibrous. Worse than celery, really.
But as with all good things, the wait is over for those who see rabbits as apt examples of what it truly means to live a fulfilled life--one of Christlike meekness, simplicity, contentment and awareness of the Way. Indeed, it is easier than you may think to walk this path, seeing the Way before you as one that, while not necessarily well-paved, is abundantly filled with the gracious provision of the One who leads us on it.
Ecila Lewoll's book begins with a story that may at first seem familiar to us, as we have all been on a path that has led to confusion and bewilderment, down dark rabbit trails, through knotted woods and deep into the abyss of false wonder. Any rabbit traveling alone through these desolate lands would understandably become fearful, desperate, and flee in the panic of being unprepared to face these trials. But Lewoll shows us the true way of the rabbit, describing the demeanor of one who, rather than being fearful and skittish, is confident in the face of danger and uncertainty, pure of heart in the midst of temptation, and focused on the leading of the Master who leads us through trails that our eyes may not yet be able to see.
Says Lewoll, "Rabbits are commonly seen as fearful, but a healthy sense of self-preservation never really did anyone any harm. And, if you ever really watch a rabbit, you will observe what careful attention they pay to their surroundings, no matter what task is in front of them. Usually, they are harvesting the abundant provision of foliage they encounter daily. But always are their eyes scanning the area for predators who may take advantage of an unsuspecting rabbit. Granted, not all rabbits are as careful as others (a lesson which we would do well to learn), but those who are attentive to the world around them will learn better what it is to be attentive to the One who gave them the ears to hear sounds of danger, and sounds of comfort. . . . What's truly difficult for many people to comprehend is the unending satisfaction Rabbitkind derives from a mundane diet of fibrous greenery, generally plucked straight from the earth and chewed endlessly until, at last, it is of a consistency worthy of swallowing. It is this contentment that I seek--that my weak rabbit eyes may not be limited to the obvious, but that my perspective may be changed so that I see the grass for what it is--the gracious provision of a wonderful creator who loves me and has set it in great supply over such an expanse of the earth that I shall never be in want. The endless chewing is a tender reminder of the patience we are asked to have in all things, even as we traverse the path ahead of us. What people have previously, and derisively, labeled "rabbit trails" are really the faithful meanderings of creatures who, while seemingly unaware of their ultimate destination, are unfalteringly aware that it exists, and that they will arrive there safely."
On purity, Ecila says, "Of course, the color most associated with purity is white--being white as snow, and so forth. This is difficult with rabbits because they come in such an array of wondrously diverse colors. The rabbit embodiment of cleanliness is clearly an invitation to purify oneself even as we are invited to travel the Way of Truth. As it has been said, "follow the White Rabbit." What this means is that those who choose to follow the Way, who desire to be purified, will take it upon themselves to diligently cleanse every part of their spiritual life--even as a rabbit methodically cleans its fur. Of particular importance is the cleaning of the spiritual ears--as these are the primary way with which we receive and comprehend the direction of the One who takes us safely along trails ahead of us."
Lewoll's controversial and trailblazing new spiritual guide is nicely completed with spiritual exercises that will help us see how following the Way of the Rabbit can be easily incorporated into our daily life. Perfect for Easter, this book carefully debunks notions of rabbits as mere purveyors of seasonally decorated eggs (which, as we are all aware, come from poultry, not rabbits). When you have completed this book, you will come to a new understanding of the Rabbit as a creature of serious devotion to the search for the Truth that comes only in attentiveness to the Way.