Monday, September 24, 2012

Sabbath Reflections

...waking before dawn with last night's book still lying across my chest. I rise, make hot sweet tea, savor every drop, then write a letter to Amanda before it is time to dress for church.

...singing the doxology with a two-month-old boy in my arms. When the trumpets sound, he stirs in his sleep but does not wake.

...puzzling over the map after yet another wrong turn. Just when we think we must be completely lost, we guess our way onto the right road. Soon we're at the house of new friend, fingering linen and beads, discussing the arts of a vanished age.

...knitting with the wool they gave me. The deep blue reminds me the Texas sky at night, and they intricate cables could be an emblem of friendship.

...tracing a pattern of snowdrops on linen. When the flowers are done, the motto around them will be "Al shall be wele," from Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love. 

...Skyping with my mother, showing one another recent treasures from thrift shops.

...sitting outside and giving thanks for the breeze. I miss the church that taught me to see the natural seasons as a counterpoint to liturgy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

How to be conservative. Or liberal. Or both.

The political inventories I take online usually report something like this: "You'll be dissatisfied with any candidate on the ballot! Your views are most in line with those of Gandhi, King Arthur, or the Amish."

I don't consider myself a cynic, but these quizzes confirm the lack of civic enthusiasm I feel during election years. I am thankful for democratic processes, and I care deeply about the welfare of my nation, yet I often balk at the idea of participating in a system in which no candidate nor party expresses a vision that looks anything like the Kingdom of God.  Even when I resolve to be practical and to vote anyway, I still have many fundamental questions about the proper functions of government. While I vote in each election, I have not yet claimed a political party, and partisan bickering does not endear me to either side.

Consequently, I have trouble answering people when they ask me if I am "liberal" or "conservative." As a citizen keenly sensitive to language, I mistrust people who use these words as though they are mutually exclusive. Both words point toward noble ideas--freedom and preservation--and I would be sorry to live in a nation that lacked either quality. As I listen to friends, mentors, and students discuss the current political situation in our country, I've tried to consider how my own life reflects these often-polarized terms.

I am conservative with my dress.
I am liberal with my laughter.
I am conservative in my methods of baking bread.
I am liberal with the food I set before my guests.
I am conservative regarding purchases for myself.
I am liberal when giving money to offering plates, panhandlers, and friends.
I am conservative with my admiration.
I am liberal with my affection.
I am conservative with my committments.
I am liberal in my hopes. 
I am conservative in my love for spinning wheels and backyard gardens.
I am liberal in my dreams for the Kingdom of God.

These reflections probably won't help me decide how to vote this fall, but they do remind me that I don't need to let diseased public discourse determine the meanings of words I cherish.

Are you "conservative" or "liberal" in senses that do not fit into the conventional political uses of these terms? 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tea and Silence

Having collected words for nearly thirty years, I rarely find myself at a loss. Yet I sat down this morning to write a few cheery paragraphs about life in Alabama, and an hour later I am still baffled. I'd like to write about my doors (home and office) and the new joy of people knocking on them; I'd like to write about the wisdom and gentleness of my colleagues; I'd like to write about my students with their brilliant works and plans and poems; I'd like to write about the bittersweet search for a church.....but all my sentences tumble into each other, images confused with tears that won't reveal whether they are grateful, homesick, hopeful or some tincture of all three. 

I have only one recourse when words fail: to put the kettle on, to pray "O Comforter, within me as I drink my tea...," and then to listen. To listen instead of describing, to watch instead of analyzing, to wait instead of working. 

The words will come back, for we trust one another. In the meantime, I'll just invite you in and share some tea with you:

Dr. Bear's Home-brewed Chai:

Makes 1/2 gallon 
4 1/2 cups water
4 cups organic whole milk 
10 teaspoons loose-leaf black tea (or 10 black tea bags)
1 stick whole cinnamon
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
10 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon orange zest, plus the orange
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
In a saucepan, bring the water to a rolling boil. Add the tea, spices, orange zest, and whole oranges.  Stir, remove from heat and let steep  20 minutes. Strain out the spices and tea and return the mixture to a low simmer. Add the brown sugar, honey and vanilla extract. Stir until sugar and honey are dissolved. If you wish to serve the chai warm, reduce heat, add the milk and stir until warm (be careful not to let the milk boil). If you wish to serve the chai chilled, let the concentrate cool before adding the milk, then serve over ice.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Letter to Hurricane Isaac

Dear Isaac,

I suppose I should be glad that you are gone. You spent most of your time lurking at our threshold, weeping and moaning like some adolescent demigod. Your tantrum caused a good bit of damage to some of my neighbors in Louisiana and Mississippi, and that was ill-mannered of you. Nevertheless, I must confess that I was a little sorry to see you go, and that I will always remember you fondly.

You were my first hurricane as a resident of the Gulf Coast. If nothing else, you encouraged to learn the practical preparations one must make for days without electricity or water. Like any guest, you also helped me see my home in new ways. You introduced me to the bizarre festival that folks here seem to make of a coming hurricane: even as they board up windows or map evacuation routes, they laugh and joke, often gathering to endure the storm together.

You also showed me what a wonderful home I already have here: I had more invitations than I could accept to keep company during the storm, and on the days when school was cancelled, students came to my door--singly and in bands--to laugh and share the strange holiday with me.

Perhaps most importantly, as I waited for you to arrive, I felt that flash--I hardly know a better word for it--that flash of connection with times beyond my own. I have felt it in the moments before a brother boarded a plane to go to war, and I have felt it in the hours I once I spent carrying water from a river to a parched garden. I think I might feel it if I were to have a child. It is a being-outside-oneself, a sense that my own ache or ecstasy has been alive for millenia, or, to say it another way, that I am receiving some ancient, new, deeply human feeling.  The Sunday before you came I asked, for the first time in my life, "Is it time to abandon my home? Where can I go? What if it is not safe to stay?" One could tell the whole narrative of human history in these terms: who was driven from home by storm, disaster, invader, or ambition, who remained, and what become of them all?

You turned out to be a milquetoast tempest, but you were my tempest, bringing yet another glimpse of this brave new world that is my home. For that, I will always thank you.

Ever yours,