Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thursday Thirteen--Smells

Our ability to smell is amazing, if you think about it. God created us with a complicated system of nerves, including the olfactory nerves, which are “the first pair of cranial nerves that arise in the mucous membranes within the upper part of the nose and transmit impulses concerned with the sense of smell to the forebrain” (Webster)! In a less technical sense, odors and fragrances can bring us many pleasant sensations and even trigger memories.

Here are thirteen of the most delightful smells I can think of:

1. lilacs—When I was a child, I spent a lot of time playing under a huge lilac bush, and I have always loved the fragrance of the blooms.

2. gardenias—My father bought my mother a corsage of gardenias when they got married; my brother and I bought a big bouquet of gardenias for our parents’ fiftieth wedding celebration.

3. honeysuckle—During my growing-up years, there was a big honeysuckle vine outside my bedroom window, and I could smell it at night during the summer; those were pre-air-conditioner days, and the windows were always open.

4. dill pickles—Yum! They are the best on sandwiches.

5. fresh mint—I love fresh mint in iced tea.

6. garlic—I’m trying to learn to cook with fresh garlic; it is so much better than canned garlic.

7. vanilla—We have a twenty-year-old Christmas ornament, a bird made from vanilla beans from South America. During the year, it lives in a can. When we open the can, the whole room smells like vanilla for a little bit. We let our 7-year-old grandson open it this year; his eyes grew big, and he said, “Wow! Smell this bird!”

8. cinnamon—It makes chocolate chip cookies smell and taste even better.

9. the air just before it rains—There’s a dusty-leafy smell in the air. Sometimes the tap water in our small town smells and tastes this way.

10. coffee—Ah, yes! A steaming, hot cup, as I curl up on the couch to read my Bible early in the morning.

11. pine cones and all evergreen trees

12. a fire in a fireplace

13. compost—leaf mould—dirt

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lectio Divina

A few weeks ago, Carolyn, a good friend of mine, went on a Saturday “retreat of silence” with a group of friends from her church. They spent the day apart from each other--alone, in meditation, contemplation, and prayer. There were no organized lessons, lectures, or exercises. They had only their Bibles and pen and paper. It would be important to listen for God’s soft voice, speaking to them.

Carolyn said it was a little daunting at first. People are so used to constant noise—talking, music, television, traffic, cell phones. She wondered how she would get through the time. But it turned out to be a surprising time of closeness to God, of intimacy with his Spirit. The hours passed quickly.

What they were doing sounds loosely like lectio divina, an ancient technique of reading, meditating, and praying scripture; I just stumbled across a web site about it. According to an article by Father Luke Dysinger, lectio divina was “practiced at one time by all Christians.” Father Dysinger explains that this art involves

a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God. This ancient practice has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, and is one of the precious treasures of Benedictine monastics and oblates. Together with the Liturgy and daily manual labor, time set aside in a special way for lectio divina enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Father, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.

I have loosely done this myself, I realize, but I didn’t know to call it lectio divina; I always called it “praying the scriptures.” The Psalms, the book of John, the letters of John, and some of Paul’s letters especially lead me to read slowly, contemplating, praying, listening for God’s voice. Sometimes I use the references in daily devotionals by Oswald Chambers.

As my friend Carolyn said, “We’re always in such a hurry, even with our Bible reading.” Surely we can slow down and allow our hearts and minds to open to our God, who is always there when we seek him.

The Bible tells us that God says to the Israelites, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). He says the same thing to us, through the scriptures—we can hear his heart speaking to ours if we listen.

This note was attached at the bottom of the web site about lectio divina:

“The author considers this article to be in the Public Domain. This article may therefore be downloaded, reproduced and distributed without special permission from the author. It was first published in the Spring, 1990 (vol.1, no.1) edition of Valyermo Benedictine. It has subsequently been reprinted as (1) “Appendix 2” in The Art and Vocation of Caring for People in Pain by Karl A. Schultz (Paulist Press, 1993), pp. 98-110; and in (2) An Invitation to Centering Prayer with and Introduction to Lectio Divina, by Basil Pennington and Luke Dysinger (Liguori/Triumph, 2001)”

Monday, November 27, 2006


I am in love with words. I am amazed at how the human mind can wrap itself around ideas and express them.

My college English students like to think that nobody writes poetry any more and that nobody can understand it. That’s not true, I always tell them. People everywhere are closet poets; they write down their lives in private ways, telling their emotions. I can see by their eyes that many of the students do it too, but peer-fear keeps them from admitting the truth! Here’s a link to a lot of poetry, if you’d like to sample it.

I can identify with what Tim Challies wrote about poetry, in his blog:

As I've thought about words, I've thought about the power of words used in poetry (and song, for what is song but verse set to music?). While I love prose and spend some time out of every day engaged in creating it, there is something about poetry that grabs my soul. There is quality in poetry that allows so much to be said in so few words. So often I can hold onto a line of a word or a poem in a way that just is not possible with prose. A memorable piece of prose may be several sentences or paragraphs. A memorable piece of poetry may be only a few scant words. And yet often the poetry seems to say so much more. John Wain said "Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking." Something in poetry just stirs the soul in a way prose cannot, just as there is a beauty inherent in dancing that is missing in walking.

I love a poem with ideas clothed in beautiful images. One of my favorites is “The Passing of Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The best part is near the end of the long poem (469 lines) when Sir Bedivere sees that he will be the only survivor of the “last weird battle in the west”—even King Arthur has been mortally wounded and is being taken away to the Isle of Avilion. The old way of life when people lived by their ideals is passing away. Bedivere is alarmed; he cries out,

Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?

Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?

For now I see the true old times are dead,

When every morning brought a noble chance,

And every chance brought out a noble knight. . . .”

Arthur struggles to answer him:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfills himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world. . . .

Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God. . . .”

I think Tennyson, through King Arthur, was exhorting the people of Victorian England not to fall away from their faith in God. It was a time of great change—not only because of industrialization, but also because of the proclamations of science and the writings of Charles Darwin. I believe these ideas are applicable to our lives today. More things are accomplished by prayer than we can imagine; therefore, we must keep a fountain of prayer rising to God always.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thirteen: I Am Thankful . . .

I am thankful . . .

For my family, not in any particular order:
1. My two sons and my daughter, who grew up to be good, kind, loving people, in spite of us.

2. My two daughters-in-law and my son-in-law; they are loving and dedicated in marriage and parenthood. They are sweet and good to us.

3. My eight grandchildren, who are these ages: 9, 7, 6, 5, 4, 18 months, 18 months, and three weeks. (No, the “18 months, 18 months” is not a mistake. They were born two days and 200 miles apart. That was a wild time!)

4. My husband, who is loyal, loving, and generous. And as one of my college students (a girl!) once said, “He’s a cute older guy.” He liked that, but didn’t like it at the same time.

5. My mother, who is 90 years old now. She is sweet and precious and needs my help a lot now-- I gladly give it. She took care of me for years while I was growing up and helped me endlessly all the rest of these years. She and my father taught my brother and me about unconditional love by living it.

6. My father, who died 18 years ago. He was quiet and shy, loving and generous beyond imagination. I never stop missing him.

7. My brother and his family. He is a good, sweet man, surrounded by his large family-- my three nieces and my nephew and all their children. He is ahead of us in the Grandchildren Count—he has ten.

8. I’m thankful for good friends. What would I ever do without them?

9. I’m thankful for God’s wonderful creation—

10. and for his gift of his son Jesus to the world

For people like . . .

11. Martin Luther, who was courageous enough to stand up against oppressive religious practices like the sale of indulgences and pardons. He insisted that the church recognize that we are saved by grace through faith and that we can have a direct relationship with God through Christ. We can’t earn or buy forgiveness.

12. Mother Theresa, who lived among and cared for the poor, sick and dying in India. She was a living example of what a Christian should be like.

13. Shane Claiborne, who went and spent the summer with Mother Theresa to find out what real Christianity is.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chocolate: No More Guilt

I knew it! God invented chocolate for a good reason!

My favorite food no longer makes me feel guilty. According to a recent study, dark chocolate is full of healthy antioxidants that will help my blood to flow freely. I must eat some every day. I can handle this new assignment; I am sure of it. This BBC article says its flavanols even will help me not have high blood pressure or diabetes. the way....Ghirardelli makes the world's best chocolate.

Here is part of a Web MD report on the study by a group of European doctors; an article about it appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dark chocolate -- but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk -- is a potent antioxidant, report Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy's National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, and colleagues. Their report appears in the Aug. 28 issue of Nature. Antioxidants gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.

"Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate ... and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate."

Translation: Say "Dark, please," when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don't even think of washing it down with milk. And if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, remember the word "moderate" as you nibble.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Anne Rice, Christian

We flew up to the Frozen North yesterday. During a layover in the airport at Salt Lake City, we entertained ourselves by browsing through books. I bought a paperback by Anne Rice--Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt.

I remembered reading a few months ago that Rice had shocked the vampire lovers of the world by becoming a Christian. She spent a couple of years reading and researching, and the Christ the Lord novel is the result. The Christianity Today web site tells a little about this.

The novel is at least partially based on the Gospel of Thomas. I will report on it when I finish reading the book!

(By the way, we came up here to meet my new granddaughter. She is very sweet and precious--mellow and peaceful. I would like to take her home with me, but they decline to let me.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: Problem Stuff

Thirteen things I have a hard time getting rid of:

1. fire ants

2. gray hair

3. ten pounds

4. impulsiveness

5. a fear of spiders

6. love of chocolate

7. lack of muscle tone

8. the habit of being almost late

9. my habit of letting stacks of paper grow

10. a tendency to wake up just before the alarm does

11. the idea that I always have to be busy doing something

12. the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the papers I need to grade

13. a sneaking suspicion that people don’t care as much about the doings of Britney and “Fed-Ex,” Angie and Brad, and Tom and Katie as the news media seem to think they do

14. my tendency to be intimidated sometimes, rather than speaking up about things, even though I fully believe what Paul wrote: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-8).

Well, okay, I see that's fourteen! Oh, well!

jesUSAves T-Shirts--Hmmmm.

And in addition to the Bush fish, here’s something else disturbing. These images are on T-shirts you can buy.

“Jesus saves” is there, to be sure. But “USA” is dominant. Are we being a bit self-absorbed here—a little self-glorification going on, perhaps?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bush Fish . . .

I believe the focus here might be a bit skewed. Who saves?

In his book Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne points out this car sign. He comments, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

He says, “It is a dangerous day when we can take the cross out of the church more easily than the flag. No wonder it is hard for seekers to find God nowadays. It’s difficult to know where Christianity ends and America begins."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Speaking in Tongues

I myself have never spoken in tongues, although I believe that I very often feel intensely the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I believe that speaking in tongues is a valid way of communicating with God on the spirit level. It is certainly Biblical. I know a number of people who do speak in tongues on a regular basis, and I have been in services in evangelical churches when they did, both in the United States and in Mexico.

In the church I belong to (Methodist), we don’t speak in tongues, although officially, the church has nothing against it, as far as I know. Recently, the Southern Baptists have decreed that they will not encourage the speaking of tongues. I feel fairly sure that people in my church would not encourage it. I think many of them might be shocked if somebody began speaking in tongues in a service.

According to the web site “Religious Tolerance,” "’Speaking in tongues’ forms a major part of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christian life. This behavior is linked to an individual's salvation, and subsequent ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit.’

Although the phenomenon of ‘tongues’ plays a large role in the lives of many tens of millions of conservative Christians, little attention has been paid to it by the scientific community. It is also essentially ignored or looked upon with suspicion by many other Christians.”

My friend TS wrote an interesting entry in his blog, “Wayfaring Stranger,” about this phenomenon. He quotes a New York Times article that describes a scientific study done at the University of Pennsylvania about brain activity during the singing of spiritual songs and speaking in tongues.

The study found that when people are engaged in these activities, the blood flow in the brain measures higher. The frontal lobes of the brain, which control language use and willful thinking, appear to be fairly calm, and this spiritual activity is driven by some other area of the brain that is hard to pinpoint.

Too, the area of the brain that controls motor and emotional activity appears not to be active, the study showed. The author of the study said, “It may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions.” In other words, deep within their brains, they somehow give over control.

How does that work? The thing is, it seems pretty clear that the Holy Spirit has the controls, doesn’t it? I can understand that, and it happens to me pretty often. But not in tongues. I feel a little bit . . . left out? Incomplete? Am I somehow missing the boat, so to speak?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: What Is Love?

It sounds like kind of a corny question: What is love?

Real love is different from the usual, common ol’ ordinary, everyday love. It is different from “luv” that we see splayed out in movies and on TV. It is not the same thing as desire—or sex. In a time when half of all marriages end in divorce, we could use some real love.

How do I know what real love is? I learned it from First Corinthians 13, which has thirteen verses. The writer is Paul, who understood love because he learned it from God, who is love. Here’s what he says, in the modern-day language of The New International Readers Version:

(1) Suppose I speak in the languages of human beings and of angels. If I don't have love, I am only a loud gong or a noisy cymbal. (2) Suppose I have the gift of prophecy. Suppose I can understand all the secret things of God and know everything about him. And suppose I have enough faith to move mountains. If I don't have love, I am nothing at all. (3) Suppose I give everything I have to poor people. And suppose I give my body to be burned. If I don't have love, I get nothing at all.

(4) Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not want what belongs to others. It does not brag. It is not proud. (5) It is not rude. It does not look out for its own interests. It does not easily become angry. It does not keep track of other people's wrongs.

(6) Love is not happy with evil. But it is full of joy when the truth is spoken. (7) It always protects. It always trusts. It always hopes. It never gives up.

(8) Love never fails. But prophecy will pass away. Speaking in languages that had not been known before will end. And knowledge will pass away.

(9) What we know now is not complete. What we prophesy now is not perfect. (10) But when what is perfect comes, the things that are not perfect will pass away.

(11) When I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child. I had the understanding of a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

(12) Now we see only a dim likeness of things. It is as if we were seeing them in a mirror. But someday we will see clearly. We will see face to face. What I know now is not complete. But someday I will know completely, just as God knows me completely.

(13) The three most important things to have are faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love.

That's what real love is. Is your love like that? Is mine?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ted Haggard: More Thoughts

While I wrote this entry about Ted Haggard a few days ago, I had a hard time with one part. I said,

I hate when things like this happen. It is a tragedy for all of us. Nobody is perfect, and when one suffers, we all do. When a Christian is shown to have clay feet—especially a prominent one—the whole body of Christ suffers a tarnished reputation.

But at first, I wrote this: Nobody is perfect, and when one suffers, we all do. We all have darkness in our hearts. We all have secrets in our lives that we hope won’t come to the light. That’s because we are humans and therefore fallen creatures. We all would be entirely without hope if it were not for the mercy and gracious forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ.

I took out the last three sentences before I posted the entry—I don’t know why; I shouldn’t have.

When I said “the whole body of Christ suffers a tarnished reputation” when something like this happens, I meant that some people who are nonbelievers like to point out the hypocrisy. They say, see, here’s what you people are really like. And they use that as one more excuse for not believing in God. They form their clouded perceptions of God from their perceptions of his people, and when his people are exposed as sinners, they have what they think is ammunition against God. I know, because I know some people who do this.

The truth is, yes, we are really like that. Everybody is.

A friend sent me a link to this blog article by Tim Challies. In describing his changing emotions in the Ted Haggard situation, Challies says, “I went from wanting to know details, to feeling pity to feeling terror to pleading with God to continue to extend His grace to me that I would not fall.”

He quotes Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” And he applies Edwards’ thoughts to this situation. He says, “What is true of eternity, is equally true of the temporal. Just as nothing but God's hand keeps both Christian and non-Christian from death at any given moment, the same hand is all that restrains any of us from falling into sin as dreadful as Haggard's, or sin that is far worse.”

We should examine our own hearts before we get too tangled up in criticizing Haggard.

Monday, November 06, 2006

New Baby Arrival!

Here’s our precious new grandbaby I wrote about last week! She weighs 6 pounds, 12 ounces, and is 18 ¾ inches long. She was born Friday morning, and she and her mommy are both in great shape, thank God. Her name is Alaina.

Look at that sweet little rosebud mouth!

I get to fly up to the Frozen Wastelands next week to see her—I can’t wait.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Fall of Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard was a well-known evangelist, the pastor of a mega-church, and a politically influential opponent of same-sex marriage—until a few days ago when it was revealed that he had been involved in drugs and homosexual activity. He fell, in disgrace.

I hate when things like this happen. It is a tragedy for all of us. Nobody is perfect, and when one suffers, we all do. When a Christian is shown to have clay feet—especially a prominent one—the whole body of Christ suffers a tarnished reputation. I fear this is one of the consequences of “the Church” becoming so deeply involved in politics and social battling. I hope we (“the Church”) will handle this in a loving way that will glorify God, as that should be the aim of all that we do and say. Forgiveness comes through the grace and mercy of God, through Jesus.

Here is a Yahoo article that comes from Reuters:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - Disgraced U.S. evangelist Ted Haggard, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, said on Sunday that he was guilty of "sexual immorality" and that he had long battled with a "repulsive" side of his life.

"I am guilty of sexual immorality, I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark and I've been warring against it my entire adult life," Haggard said in a letter that was read to his New Life Church in Colorado Springs by a church overseer.

Haggard resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals on Thursday after being accused by a male escort of having had a sexual relationship with him. He also agreed to step down as senior pastor of the New Life Church on Saturday."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thursday Thirteen--Classy Insults

Here are thirteen ways to insult somebody in really classy language taken from Shakespeare’s plays. This comes from an article by Jerry Maguire, called “Create Your Own Shakespearean Insults.”

Here’s how to do it: “Combine one word from each of the columns below, preface with ‘Thou . . . ,” and thus shalt thou have the perfect insult. Let thyself go—mix and match to find a barb worthy of the Bard!”

Example: Thou gorbellied fool-born lewdster!

gorbellied~~~~~~~fool-born ~~~~~~~lewdster
Puking ~~~~~~~~~hell-hated~~~~~~~moldwarp
Weedy ~~~~~~~~~folly-fallen~~~~~~jolthead