Experiments in Psalms

Last January, our pastor, Rev. David Kalas, introduced a program for the year called the 3×5 Club.  This program is designed to help you read the bible in a year.  The meaning behind 3×5 is that you read 3 chapters every day except Sunday, on which you read 5.  In order to encourage us, he developed this fantastic web site (see link on the right) and teaches a class each month based on the readings.

I have read the bible front to back purposefully once as a young woman, and most of it at least once more in the last 22 years, some of it several times over.  The old testament is tough sometimes – reading all of the ‘begats’ and trying to understand the blood and violence of the early Hebrew nation.  However, I do love the history.  The stories of the judges and the early kings fascinate me, and I often wish I could go to Israel to see the biblical archeological sites.  I will, someday.

Anyway, we are reading Psalms right now, and our class tonight was dedicated to this lyrical book.  While I normally find these classes interesting and informative, tonight I was suffering from a really long weekend of extensive activity (Bellin Run, kayaking, Tour De World biking event), so mid way thru the class I was struggling to keep my eyes open.  Towards the end of the class, Pastor Dave began talking about Hebrew poetry, and examples of it in the Psalms.  That perked me right back up, and I listened intently as he described the various forms.

One of the forms he talked about involved using the first letter of the alphabet for each line or stanza.  We don’t notice this in our English translations because the affected Psalms were written based on the Hebrew alphabet.  He went on to say how the Psalms are also prayers, encompassing every emotion from joyous thanksgiving to requests for vengeance and death, and that the early Hebrews often used imagery in their prayers, something we no longer do.

Intrigued, I thought I would like to try my hand at crafting some modern day psalms, using imagery and Hebrew poetry forms.  I decided to use the alphabetical form first, and came up with most of this first attempt while I walked the dogs after I got home. I am not a great poet so bear with me, and realize that the letter X is very hard to incorporate :).  Although written tonight and not 3000 years ago, it’s not exactly ‘modern’, in that it does not reference modern day events or images.

I hope you like it.  Feel free to add your own Psalms in the comments if you like!

Apple, O Lord-

Bulbous

Crisp

Delicious apple of your

Eye.

Freely you have

Granted Grace.

Holy is Your name.

Infuse us with

Joy.

Keep us close,

Loving

Master!

Never leave us!

Oh

Prince of Peace,

Quench our wars.

Resurrected

Shepherd,

Touch our hearts and

Usurp the evil.

Victorious!

Wondrous!  Even

Xerxes bowed to

You, Babylon defeated.

Zealously we worship!

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TO MY KIDS ON MOTHER’S DAY

I know today is supposed to be about me.  Or…moms in general.  But really, it’s about you.  From the moment I first found out I was pregnant with you, it has been about you.

Your Dad and I laid awake that first night, nervously talking about our future.  Where we should live.  If I should keep my job.  Where we wanted you to go to school.  Every decision from that moment on was no longer about what was best for us as a couple, but what was best for us as a family.

When you were only a centimeter long, you had already changed what I ate, what I drank and how much I slept.  I quit smoking, not for my health, but for yours.

Because of you, we went back to church, worried about food additives, read parenting books, bought life insurance, created a will, bought MORE life insurance, moved to a better neighborhood, bought a bigger car, got rid of the evil cat, put all of our medicine where you couldn’t reach it (until you were about 2 and started climbing), stopped drinking alcohol, put child latches on all of the cupboards and covers on all of the outlets, got Pepper, a hamster, hermit crabs, Milo, Rocky, Midnight and the horrible disgusting rats.

You. Changed. Everything.  But especially me.

So many times, you hear in speeches or read in sappy stories about how “My parents made me who I am today”.  So seldom, however, do you hear about how children changed their parents, and made them into different people as well.

When you both were little, and whining for the millionth time about something completely ridiculous, I won’t lie and say I may not have wished for you to grow up.  That I may not have always appreciated little hands and little voices.  I can honestly say though, that this is the only regret I have of being a parent:  The regret of knowing that I could have been a better one.

And now you are both grown (or almost so) into amazing, smart, funny, loving, generous beautiful adult souls.  You are responsible, contributing members of society, hard working and learning the “cost of toilet paper”, as my own mother used to say when talking about the responsibilities of being an adult.  I am thrilled and proud that you grew up exactly as I had hoped – to be determined enough, strong enough, and confident enough to be independent.

But there is more that I hope you have learned, and it is this:

At the end of the day, what matters most is the people you love, the people you come home to each night.  It’s not how much money you make or what you do for a living.  It’s not how much education you have or who you know in high circles.  It’s not the conquering victories or the humiliating defeats.  It is your family.  Your friends.  Your loved ones.

The people who stick with you when you are happy or sad.  Angry or bad.  Succeeding or failing.  Poor or rich.  Sick or healthy.  Living or dying.  The ones who wipe your nose when you are sick.  The ones you celebrate birthdays with.  The ones you drive to the emergency room at 2am.  The ones who hold your hands so you don’t choke someone.  The ones you change your plans for.  The ones you change your mind for.  The ones you love without condition.  And they love you back.

When you were little, the best gift your Dad and I tried to give you was our love.  And you gave it right back to us, pressed down and overflowing.  And that is truly how you changed me and made me who I am today.  A mom, who cherishes and loves you, without rules or conditions, thrilled and proud to celebrate you, just for being you, on this Mother’s Day and all the days in between.

May God bless you and keep you all of your days.

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Dinosaurs and Pelicans

I came home from work today, kind of in a muddle.  It had been a long week,  my sense of God seemingly absent.  I had just finished up a book study on Francis Chan’s Crazy Love last week and it had opened up some pretty intense discussions and feelings, so this disconnection felt odd and out of place.

Anyway, by the time I got home, I decided I didn’t want to waste the rest of the sun, which has been hiding all week.  I ate a quick dinner and then grabbed my Townie and went for a ride.  While riding, I thought about how distant I felt from God.  I tried to think of times during the week where maybe I saw Him at work and while I am sure He had been very busy, I hadn’t been in the right frame of mind to notice.

As I mulled this over, I saw a group of about five pelicans pass over me.  My heart skipped a beat.  The late evening sun shone off their wings and it thrilled me to see them.  I love these large birds, and it makes me smile every spring when they return.  They hang out in front of the dam, the roiling water like a pelican playground, huddling on the few rocks that jut out, while others bob and toss in the river.

Pelicans on the Fox

I really can’t tell you why I am so attracted to them.  Maybe because it seems so odd to have pelicans in Wisconsin.  Or because I just like big birds, like sandhill cranes, eagles and herons.  Or because they remind me of dinosaurs.  And God.

When my son was little, he had a fascination for dinosaurs and the Jurassic Park movies.  My daughter did as well, but she dressed her dinosaurs in Barbie clothes and they went out on dates with Chuck the Red Eyed Dinosaur.  My son’s dinosaurs were man eaters, tromping thru the living room, messily eating plastic Jurassic Park figurines and crushing their dinosaur catching equipped jeeps.  We watched the movie so many times that my husband and I will still find our selves randomly saying “SHOOT HER!  SHOOT HER!” while wandering around the house.

In the first movie, the main character, Dr. Alan Grant, discusses often how dinosaurs are more like birds than reptiles – not really a comforting thought when the ‘bird’ is 30 feet tall.  At the end of the movie, when they are all escaping in the helicopter, they pass by a flock of pelicans, and you know he is thinking again about the likeness, and how our present day birds may well be dinosaur descendants.  I find it all fascinating and it brings out the wonder of creation in me, where some things just can’t be totally explained and answers just lead to more questions.

And this is where my pelican sighting lead me to God.  Because I had no explanation for why God created dinosaurs.  Or birds.  Or me.  I could try to guess, but who can guess the mind of God?  I could try to hypothesize or explain it with science or the bible, but where does God’s or my purpose fit in?  I could choose to believe God doesn’t exist, which would explain some things, but my life’s experiences fairly scream of His existence, so then what?

Today, it turned out to be a happy muddle to be in, because the lines of communication with God that I unconsciously blocked flared open when I started to question Him.  Suddenly, I was seeing Him in the sun shining off the wings of a pelican circling over the Fox, in the red flit of the cardinal in the branches and the white puff of a rabbit tail disappearing in the brush.  And then I was seeing him anew, in the faces of the people I passed, hearing His voice in the lilt of their conversations, feeling the wind of His fingers stroke thru my hair.

I didn’t have any more answers, but it no longer mattered.  The week fell away as I pedaled back home, racing God to my doorstep.

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The Long Ride Home

My daughter left a few days ago on a road trip with her best friend, to help her move to Florida.  She told me about it a month ago, and my first reaction was “Oh boy, I don’t think this is going to be as much fun as she thinks it is.”  A few seconds later, I was remembering my first road trip with my best friend, who had also moved away.  I was about my daughter’s same age, actually.  The memory cut short my reply, and instead I smiled and said, “That’s really nice of you to do that for Sam.”

After she left, I smiled to myself, knowing that she would probably really hate parts of the trip, like moving the boxes and unpacking.  But I also knew it would give her a lifetime of memories, that it would build character (couldn’t resist this truthful cliche!) and that it may even be a life changer.  My trip was, but I didn’t realize the impact until many years later.

My trip changed my life on the ride home.

My friend had moved to Albuquerque, NM, and had been home in Wisconsin for a short visit the summer of ’86.  I drove back with her to Albuquerque and stayed in the house she rented with a group of other people.  While I was there, she took me to her non-denominational evangelical church where I listened to her pastor, named “Skip” preach my very first non-Catholic sermon.  How do you end up being a pastor named Skip? I wondered.  It was a far cry from my Catholic upbringing.  Plus they had drums in the church.  I wanted to look at Donna and say “Did you know they have DRUMS in this church?  Are they going to play drums?  In church?”  but I certainly didn’t want to be the country mouse so I kept silent, although I am sure the size of my eyes betrayed me.

Skip preached on Psalm 23.  I think I had heard this psalm a few times – I can’t remember if I recognized it or not.  What I do remember is  Skip explaining how God is the shepherd and we are the sheep.  I was fascinated by his explanation of the shepherd’s staff, how he used it to fight off wild animals, to herd the obedient sheep and to rescue the silly, wandering, stupid sheep, that fell into crags and crevices and couldn’t seem to get out of their own stupid way.  I was one of those sheep, I realized.  And I truly felt comforted by the idea of God – big, strong, powerful, intelligent GOD, walking by my side, brandishing that bad ass staff.  Nothing, I realized, could touch me, when I was walking next to him.

The rest of my visit passed with us doing some fun things, none of which really pertain to this, other than to say we had a good time and soon I had to go home.  Being too afraid to fly (I never had before), I bought a bus ticket.  Greyhound.  From Albuquerque, NM to Green Bay, WI.  My fear of flying had me riding a bus for two and a half days, traveling thru the worst parts of every major city because even in 1986, buses were becoming outdated modes of transportation, and most bus terminals were in the oldest parts of town.  I think I saw every smoke stack and train yard in existence in those 1500 miles.

I remember being scared the first night on the bus, staring out the window and pretty much having an anxiety attack – wanting to be home so bad.  I remembered Skip’s sermon, and I pictured God, with his wolf beating staff in hand, and I felt a bit better.  I thought back on that sermon quite a bit that first night.  After that, things got a little easier – I made some friends on the bus who let me hang out with them in the terminals or would help me find my next bus if I had to switch.

In Tulsa, I met a woman who was very nice to me.  She seemed kind of hard, and a little weird.  She had a tiny tiny burn hole in her top – probably from cigarette ash- that niggled at my brain for some reason.  I can still see it.  Anyway, she talked to me all the way from Tulsa to Chicago.  It made the ride pass faster.  Once in Chicago, we found a fast food restaurant with some other people from the bus, and we all sat down to eat.  I made my bathroom break in there as well.  During the meal, many of the people left to go on with their journeys but this woman stayed with me.  Her stories began to get stranger and stranger – she talked about being kidnapped and chained in someones room and her apparent rescue and all the horrible things that person did to her.  I became skeptical – her story began to wind in on itself and my questions brought unsatisfactory answers.

Still, I didn’t break off conversation.  I wasn’t frightened – I just thought she was looking for attention.  I let her follow me down to my bus and sit with me there, and she continued to talk to me (Seriously, I know you are all screaming at me right now, but I was very naive).  She then asked me to go to the bathroom with her.  I told her I didn’t have to go.  She asked me again.  I still said no.  At this point, I wanted to be home so bad, that I was not budging from my gate until the bus came.  This was the last leg.  I had not bathed in 2 days and I was talking to a weird lady with a cigarette burn in her shirt.  She said she was going to go then, and she would see me later.

About 10 minutes later she was back.  She asked me AGAIN to go to the bathroom with her.  Finally, I dimly saw the bright red flags flying.  This woman just came from the bathroom.  Why did she want me to go in there with her again?  I again said no, and this time, I wouldn’t talk to her anymore.  She eventually gave up, and walked away.  I don’t remember being scared though.  I understood something was up, but really had no inkling as to how much danger I could have truly been in.  My bus came soon after, and the rest of my ride home was full of excitement over seeing familiar holstein cows and clapboard farm houses.  Being home never felt so good.

I look back on that bus ride now, and realize God the Good Shepherd was with me the whole way.  He kept his naive little sheep from going off with the wolf, from falling in the crevice, from getting stuck in the brambles, without me even knowing he was there.  It was the beginning of my adult faith journey, which has blossomed and grown despite my best efforts to derail it.  Sometimes I wonder if Skip is still preaching.  I hope so.  Turns out God can use a guy named Skip to reach a girl named Sue, and I’m so very thankful he did.

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Bjorklunden Part 2

This year, I could not wait to get to Bjorklunden.  We didn’t go last year, because my sister had an art show the same weekend.  It was disappointing but not earth shattering.  However, my job has become increasingly stressful, and I now had two years building of no spiritual R&R.  Although Dave and I took vacations and I have had some time off, these times were more for reconnecting in our marriage or for getting stuff done around the house.

I was a little nervous, that I was pinning too many expectations on this trip.  That I may remain closed off and in a spiritual hot mess, unable to or unwilling to let my guard down.  And to be honest, I didn’t end up having any extravagant spiritual awakening or aha moment or anything like that.   It was more as if all the stress and questions and craziness of life drained right out of me.

An excerpt from my journal:

“I’m sitting on the beach of Lake Michigan in March.  Yes, you heard me. March.  It’s about 50 degrees and windy but that’s because we are on the lake.  It’s about 65 in Green Bay.  I’m at Bjorklunden in Door County-been waiting what seems like forever to be here. I can feel the cool wind in my face, ruffling thru my hair, sounding in my ears like blowing air over a pop bottle.  The waves are in a constant rush to the shore – no intermittent pounding but rather a hurried rolling.  One right after the other, the sounds of each individual wave running into the sounds of the one coming behind it, next to it, five feet down from it until it sounds like one constant roar.  Like being in a crowded bar where all the voices meld together with only an occasional laugh rising like a popping balloon over the others.  One single sea gull.

No bugs yet, it being March, but some green starting along the beach grass from an unusually mild Wisconsin winter.  I should not be able to sit in the sand on this beach in March.  It should be wet, at the very least, if not still covered in snow and ice, with the ice flow from the lake pushing up against the shore like white stacked shale, similar to the rock formations behind me.  I do wish I had a cup of coffee.  But other than that, my portion of existence in this moment is complete.”

The rest of the day was spent hanging with the other women, doing Celeste’s bead class (we made some very cool knotted bracelets using colors from Winifred Boynton’s many murals) and eating (we ate a LOT – the food there is excellent) and checking out the basket and wool felting class.

Somewhere around 4pm, I excused myself and went on a purposeful walk to go find God.  I know that sounds funny – how do you do that?  It’s not like going to the house next door and knocking.  But I was determined to have a talk with Him, even if it was one sided.  Lately, I was questioning Him on everything.  I had been reading the Old Testament, which brought about many ambivalent feelings about God and what He was trying to accomplish not only while He led the Israelites thru the wilderness, but in the here and now.  I felt like a whiney, tired four year old, with every sentence beginning with the word “Why…”

I walked along the beach, which was harder than it sounds, as a lot of the beach is actually rock.  Loose rock, large slabs of rock and random large boulders, interspersed with sand, old seaweed and beach grass.  The old seaweed led to a discussion later with my sister about why we can’t eat sushi with the seaweed wrap but that’s a story for a different blog.

As I walked, I came upon a coffee table sized rock of black granite, rubbed smooth by years of erosion.  It was beautiful.  I squatted down beside it, and rubbed my hand along it’s surface.  Smooth like buttah.  I rubbed the sand and dirt off of it, feeling the warmth of the afternoon sun come off in my hand.  Smiling, I sat down on it and let my mind wander.  I apologized to God for being such a bag lately.  An unbelieving, ornery, questioning old bag.  He responded with a small smile, and came and sat beside me.

I leaned over, and purposefully bumped him, shoulder to shoulder.  He bumped me back.  I smiled.  He smiled.  I leaned in again, but this time, didn’t bump.  Just stayed there.  He let me lean on him, and looked down at me and smiled again.  And then, I started to kind of freak out.  I mean, who does this?  Imagines they are sitting next to God and shoulder bumping with Him?  Except if anyone would ask me, I would say if I was to have a personal, intimate relationship with God, this is what I would imagine it to be.

I had a dream once that Jesus and I were sitting next to each other in lawn chairs.  We were talking and interacting together, much like my imagined scenario on the rock.  I remember feeling accepted and loved and like I was worth something, and kind of in awe that Jesus was even there.  I kept expecting him to jump up to move on to another appointment or go talk to someone more important but he didn’t.  He was speaking with me like I was the only one that mattered even though I knew I wasn’t.

Which brings me to the parable about the man who found a treasure of unmeasurable wealth.  He buried the treasure where he found it, and then went and sold all he had and purchased that land.  When I first read this parable in Matthew, I thought it was about us as humans- that God is the treasure and we should give up all we have just to be with Him.  I believe this although it’s hard to even imagine giving up my ‘stuff’ for God much less have the courage to do it.  But I also believe this:  That WE are the treasure, and God is the man who gave up all he had, just to have us.  He paid for us with the life of his son.

I got up from my rock, pretty sure I was a little crazy but not really caring either.  I walked up the rest of the beach, saw two large long necked white birds (swans? albino geese? angels?) flying along the shoreline, too far away for me to tell exactly what they were, but close enough to see they were not your garden variety seagull.

I climbed up into the woods, and began walking back to Bjorklunden on the North Trail, stopping occasionally to place my hands on one of the large evergreens and then shut my eyes, feeling them swaying under the wind.  Then, I would open my eyes, and crane my neck up to watch their tops bend and dance, enjoying the thrill of trying to keep my balance.

And then it dawned on me.  God’s gift to me this weekend was time.  Time to enjoy the smell of the earth.  Time to feel the wind on my face and listen to the waves talk nonstop.  Time to have bark under my hands and a smooth rock under my butt.  Time to find Him again, and store up His treasure in my heart.

Until next time.

Peace.

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Bjorklunden

ImageOnce a year, I go with my sister, Celeste, to Bjorklunden in Door County, for a girls weekend via Lawrence University, where she works in the registrars office.  We spend the weekend shopping, eating, crafting and giggling, with many other women of Lawrence and their friends and family members.  There is always a basket class, a bead class and some other craft class (this year it was wool felting).  My sister teaches the bead class, and I assist her, as the classes are usually large.  It’s a wonderful two days away from the usual stresses of life, and I look forward to it for many reasons, not the least of which is the immediate feeling of peace I get the moment we drive on the property.

A bit of history, because I think it’s important to why this place holds such power over my spirit.  Specifically, Bjorklunden is the northern satellite campus of Lawrence University in Appleton, WI.  It didn’t start out that way, however.

The land, just south of Bailey’s Harbor, was purchased in 1928 by Winifred and Carelton Vail, who, like many Chicagoans of that era, built a summer home on it, naming it Björklunden vid Sjön (in Norwegian, “birch forest by the water”).  Thus began their family traditions of spending the summers on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Tragically, Carelton was killed in a car accident in 1932 (in Sturgeon Bay I think, which means it would have been the summer).  Thru her grieving process, Winifred determined to build a chapel at Björklunden similar to one she saw in Lillihammer, Norway, while traveling Europe the year following his death.  In 1934 she remarried to Don Boynton, and together, they made her vision of a “sanctuary of peace” come true.  In 1939 the chapel was built, but it was the next 9 years of labor that sets it apart.

Winifred and Donald had craftsmen build the foundation , wrought iron work, stained glass and physical structure.  

Winifred, already an established artist who had painted many murals of Norwegian culture, biblical verses and family in the lodge, would carry this over to the interior of the church.  However, they also did all of the wood carvings in the chapel – from the basic carvings of dragons heads on the ends of the joists to the elaborate baptismal font and pew ends.

The font in particular is an extraordinary piece of art.   It has all 12 disciples on it – three on each side.  The first time I saw it, I crouched down next to it, and lightly traced the figures, imagining the hours spent on it.  The Boynton’s would carve at home in Illinois during the winter months and bring the finished pieces up during the summer.

Baptismal Font

I first visited the chapel with my other sister, Maribeth, in 2010, on a similar weekend. It was a colder March than this past one, so we could see our breath inside the unheated chapel. It was dark inside, and hard to see everything at first. And oh so very quiet.


We spoke in hushed tones and took our pictures in silence. A hesitant hand would occasionally reach out to touch a carving or a mural, briefly intruding, and then drawing back to the safety of a jacket pocket.

I didn’t want to intrude on Winifred’s relationship with God, although I believe she built the chapel precisely for that reason – to share her love of God, her being in love with God. To show it, to be obedient to it, to express it.

We left after about 20 minutes, walking slowly back thru the woods, talking about what we had seen.  The rest of the afternoon was spent digging thru the history of Bjorklunden in the library, learning as much as we could about this fascinating woman and her journey to build a chapel.

This is the foundation, I believe, of the peace I feel on this stretch of Lake Michigan coast.  It culminates with long walks thru the woods and meditations and soul searching on the beach (regardless of the weather), which I will explore further in Part 2.

Until then-

Peace

Boynton Chapel, March 17th, 2012

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Thin Spaces

Hello!  I started this blog to relay stories of God sightings.  I believe He is all around us, and is always trying to break thru our walls of doubt to communicate with us.   It’s so easy to get caught up in negativity and stresses of our day to day lives and forget God is desiring to be a part of it.  

I heard a story about ‘thin spaces’ – areas of the world or circumstances in our lives where God is able to reach thru the veil to touch us.  I think it happens a lot more than we know because people aren’t always aware, or perhaps don’t share their experiences of thin spaces.   I guess when I think about it, it’s not something you would just blab to everyone.  My experiences have been pretty personal, and not necessarily something I would want to share with anyone I thought would try to negate it.

However, I decided I wanted to share my stories, and yours too, if you have any you would like share with me, despite naysayers.  I think we need to share them with others, because we don’t know when our experiences may help someone else, bringing them strength and hope.     

One of my favorite thin spaces is the labyrinth behind the Norbertine Abbey in Green Bay, WI.  For those that are unfamiliar, a prayer labyrinth is a place where you follow a maze like path ‘in’ to the center, and then back out, using the walk to meditate, pray and focus on God.  Whenever I go there to pray, I feel an immediate connection with God. 

Maybe the entire abbey is a thin space.  I am a runner, and  I get a spiritual boost just running past it.  It’s situated on a large piece of land, kind of between two local townships in the greater Green Bay area, and has an access road that runs east to west, connecting two of the main drags.  The land is beautiful, starting on a hill, and declining down almost to the Fox River.  

Besides the old architecture of the abbey, there is a pond, open fields, trees and a prevailing sense of peace.  I love running this route.   I try to time it so I am running thru at 10am when the bells ring.  I pull my ear buds out and feel the sounds of the bells pulse thru me as I run, booming in my ears like my pounding heart.  Then ‘sings my soul’, until the last echo fades and life starts again, normal sounds of cars, birds and the wind in the grass, but my legs are refreshed.   I’m grinning from ear to ear and pray a silent “Thank you” to God, and give him a mental wave of my hand.  I know he has my back as I begin the stretch back home.   


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