Saturday, December 26, 2009

Words we are given

I don't always know why I gravitate toward a particular writer during those rare days that reading time opens up. Most recently, I opened Annie Dillard's For the time being (1999). I have an odd relationship with her books, having shared a writing program with her (Hollins College) and having her former husband as my adviser. I loved her writing most before it became popular to say so.

As I read a segment of the narrative tonight, I came across words suited to this holiday season, when we so easily fall into the trap of trying to outdo ourselves or our neighbors in preparing elaborate meals, adorning ourselves in finery, or standing out as the most eloquent person at a party. Instead, listen to this:

"Seventh-century Chinese Chan Buddhist master Hongren advised: 'Work, work!...Work! Don't waste a moment...Calm yourself. Quiet yourself, master your senses. Work, work! Just dress in old clothes, eat simple food...feign ignorance, appear inarticulate. This is most economical with energy, yet effective."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The field is wide open

I served breakfast today at the Agape cafe to some 90 hungry, cold neighbors here in Iowa City, many still dressed in multiple layers as they placed their orders and waited for a hot breakfast. After the first rush ended, I spent a few minutes with our guests. Occasionally someone will recognize me from church. That happened this morning, even though I wore a big, fluffy Santa hat. "Aren't you that priest from Sunday?" a young man asked today.

"No kidding, she's the priest? Cool," said Keith, who doesn't mind if I use his name. "You know what," he continued, "that's big big job, being in the ministry. You take on a lot. I mean, the field's wide open."

I'm contemplating that field today. Our new home looks out on a grassy (snowy) expanse of field, also wide open. Maybe this house picked us.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Come for tea

In her book, The Meaning is in the waiting: the spirit of Advent, Paula Gooder writes, "When I was a child there was a song sung quite regularly in church that began, 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,' drawn from Isaiah 40. In the way that children do, because those words didn't make immediate sense to me, I translated them into words that did, and I was convinced they meant, 'Come for tea, come for tea my people.' I had a mental image of God, sitting in a comfortable chair with a huge teapot, inviting everyone in for a cup of tea."

So, what would it be like sitting at tea with God? Who would be there? (Everyone. Both sinners and saints whom I miss.) What would we wear to tea? (God doesn't care.) What would I say? (Nothing. Just listen. Or maybe, remembering the multitude of blessings easily overlooked in a fit of melancholy, I could say thank you, just thank you.)