Religion, Relationship, and Resurrection Sunday

National Cathedral

I grew up hearing Christians say, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” Maybe you did too?

It’s a sentiment that makes sense to me. Plenty of not-so-great things (and some down-right awful) probably fall under the heading religion. Yet, in the days since Easter Sunday I’ve been thinking how grateful I am for relationship and religion.

Because Jesus came to us, we can see and know God. This is true not only because he died and defeated death, but because he lived. He lived. And now we know what life was always meant to be. Through Jesus we can relate to a God who is vast, beyond comprehension, and yet personal in his love for his creation. Now we live, not by bread only, but by relationship with the Word.

What good is religion, then? Isn’t it merely the false, the superficial, the man-made?

Perhaps. Sometimes.

It is also the form so many souls have given (and will give) to their worship. It is an often intangible relationship made material: in bread and wine, the washing of dirty feet, the standing, the kneeling, the hands reaching out in praise and in prayer.

It is candlelight. It is incense. It is light glinting on a gold cross. It is a crescendo of voices. It is one voice reading Scripture aloud for an entire hushed crowd.

It is astonishing and creative.

It is beautiful and traditional.

Of course, it can also be awkward and frustrating. The uncomfortable pew. The piano in need of tuning. My five-year-old deciding he must visit the bathroom just as our row is ushered forward for the Eucharist.

Sometimes we do religion well. Sometimes not so well. And it sure takes a whole lot of effort. The musicians spend hours practicing. The tech-savvy come in early, stay late, and shrug off the irritated looks when the sound system malfunctions through no fault of their own. A dedicated teacher takes the two-year-olds outside for an egg hunt, and some important but often unseen person lingers behind to turn off lights and lock doors.

Is it worthwhile?

Jesus showed us the value in celebration, in gathering, and in breaking bread together. He read Scripture aloud, and he taught. He often prayed alone, but he also begged his friends to pray with him. And in his eagerness to eat a Passover meal with his disciples (Luke 22:15), Jesus promised that our rituals and God-given traditions will one day find their fulfillment – their perfection – in the kingdom of God.

For now it takes effort, whether we gather in a home, a school gymnasium, or an art-filled, stained-glass space. The bread must be baked. The invitations delivered. The space cleaned before and after. But, together, we are creating an outward expression of an inner joy.

We are saying “thank you” and “please come” to all that has been promised.

 “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before

the Lord our Maker.”

Psalm 95:6

 

In Praise of Folly

DSC_3395_1

I’ve been sick and in bed a lot (Florida’s motto should be The Pollen State) and dreaming of everything I want to do when I’m feeling better. You know, practical, productive activities like cleaning my house, making dinner for my kids, and organizing my desk.

I kid! I’ve actually been dreaming of the wonderful and utterly nonessential. Things like making my own sourdough bread and picking a bouquet of teensy flowers for my daughter’s dollhouse. Oh, and writing out my favorite recipes to fill an antique recipe box. Why? Because it’s prettier than my binder full of recipe clippings, that’s why.

Illness has stripped away my ability to be energetic and efficient, but I am not daydreaming about regaining my productivity. I am daydreaming about Folly.

The capital F is important. Do you know about Follies? Those small architectural oddities which dotted the landscapes of eighteenth-century British aristocrats? If you’ve seen the latest film version of Pride and Prejudice you know what I’m referring to. Elizabeth and Darcy exchange words when they take shelter from the rain in a miniature reproduction of a Greek temple. That is a Folly with a capital F.

It serves no purpose. It has no point. It is as if those who built them said, “I am going to create something beautiful. And, then, I am going to look at it.” That is all.

We can easily criticize the Folly (and the one who built it) for its ridiculousness. Its wasteful extravagance. What is the point? What does it do? Aren’t there better uses for your time? Your money? Your life?

I have no desire to defend those eighteenth-century aristocrats. Is it a coincidence that this century ended in revolution or the threat of it all around the globe? Probably not.

Lying in my sickbed, however, I find a lot to like about the idea of Folly with a capital F. Folly, as it appeals to me, has more to do with beauty than foolishness. It means acknowledging that life is not Life if it is all efficiency, productivity, and utility. It must also make room for beauty, creativity, whimsy, and delight.

For homemade sourdough bread. For handwritten recipe cards. For tiny tabletop bouquets bestowed on a family of dolls.

For art.

For music.

For dance.

For embracing the Creator in whose image we are made.

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!

People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house;

you give them drink from your river of delights.

For with you is the fountain of life;

in your light we see light.”

(Psalm 36:7-9)

 I’d love to know: what is bringing you delight during these late winter days?

 

Advent (Day 21)

sitting with Daniel

 

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

A Poem (And a Pretty Picture) for Your Monday

weathered

 

The muscles in my legs have been achy and sore for two days.  No, I didn’t go jogging (horror!).  I spent most of Saturday rearranging my books, and it seems I vastly underestimated the after-effects of shuffling books from shelves to floor and back to different shelves.

The big book shuffle was prompted by a single new bookcase.  It arrived on Friday, packed in one slender yet unbelievably heavy box.  On Saturday morning the three boys tackled it with their respective hammers (plastic for the two-year-old, which pleased him not at all). 

Within half an hour I was standing in front of one of the loveliest sights I can imagine: pristine, empty bookshelves. 

They didn’t stay empty long.  I gathered up the piles of books which have quietly accumulated in the corners of my house, and, after much dusting and a thorough rearranging, discovered that I should have ordered two new bookcases. 

No matter.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a cloudy, drizzly Saturday than handling (and remembering) each of my books as I slide them into place.

It was only as I carried my poetry collection from family room built-ins to dining room shelves that my pleasure dimmed.  I haven’t reached for any of these books in such a long time (not since my last Intro. to Lit. class), and I felt suddenly sad to think of so much treasure sitting untouched, collecting dust.

I had the idea, then, to share some of these poems here on my blog.  I grant you, it’s very self-indulgent.  But isn’t blogging always that, to some extent? 

The thing I’ve long loved most about teaching is the simple act of sharing beautiful things.  I’ve missed that.

So, without further ado, a poem for you (inspired by last week’s post on the magic of mirrors):

                                                Miracle Glass Co.

                                Heavy mirror carried

                                Across the street,

                                I bow to you

                                And to everything that appears in you,

                                Momentarily

                                And never again the same way:

 

                                This street with its pink sky,

                                Row of gray tenements,

                                A lone dog,

                                Children on rollerskates,

                                Woman buying flowers,

                                Someone looking lost.

 

                                In you, mirror framed in gold

                                And carried across the street

                                By someone I can’t even see,

                                To whom, too, I bow.

                                              –     Charles Simic

 This is a perfect ode, in my opinion, for kicking off plans to reacquaint myself with the poetry on my shelves.  It reminds me that creating art is often as simple as reframing the everyday (as my sister’s photograph moves us to see peeling paint with new eyes). 

Within the gold frame of a poem, the ordinary is transformed.  Simic is right.  It is a miracle.

Blowing the dust off of a poem and reading it, we bow to the vision it offers, we bow to its maker, the poet, and we remember our own maker, who created us to create.

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