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Archive for May 2009

poetry . Sympathy

This poem, one of my favorites, was written in 1893 by Paul Laurence Dunbar. It came to mind today.

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright in the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals–
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting–

I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,–
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings–
I know why the caged bird sings!

By way of recommendation, “Sympathy” is  included in an excellent book edited by Carolyn Kennedy called A Patriot’s Handbook. I read it to remember the truths we hold.

Holy Convocation


Shabbat. To cease.

In my Bible, it’s intoduced on page two. It has been observed by millions around the globe and through the centuries both religiously and half-heartedly. I think it’s the key to something that I’m only just now beginning to glimpse–something that can only be unlocked by truly observing it with intent and discipline. Yet, the benefits are powerful and rewarding enough for even the then solitary Being, the God of the universe to partake–no, initiate.

“Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (genesis 2:3)

harmony_postmark The fact that the Sabbath Day is a worthwhile, relevant and necessary habit is evidenced most powerfully by God’s own action–or inaction, by definition. Shabbat is translated throughout the Bible as “rest.” However, since God has never, nor will ever require rest, the more inspiring translation I found in my google/wikipedia-supplemented pondering is this:  “to cease.” I can’t help but believe that this stopping holds key principles for maintaining a life in true harmony of spirit, harmony within and with God. In fact, there’s a deep breath rising up in my spirit while I’m only thinking and writing about Shabbat. The simple thought of a designated ceasing brings an inexplicable sense of “this is as it should be.” The Jewish tradition of Shabbat observance may have gotten somewhat legalistic and removed from purpose over the centuries since Moses’ day, but I can’t help but think they got something right in their utterly thorough preparation and observance of this holy convocation.

“For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings.” (leviticus 23:3)

Shabbat is God’s own divine and perfect project management system, His omniscient, omnipotent scheduling method. It is a command he demonstrated in His own “work” of creating all that exists. The sentiment, and yes, the words are clear. Shabbat, the holy convocation, should be complete. It summons all my spirit, all my desires, all my actions, all my loves, all my hates, all the places where I truly dwell into the same assembled stop. The same assembled deep inhale and slow exhale that was God’s choice. To cease on the Sabbath was God’s choice to release Himself from the constraints of doing. The joy of Shabbat is to bring my spirit into harmony with His example by choosing to stop, to put down the schedule, to put down the constant pull to do something on my ever-increasing list. Even things that I love to do. Even things that I’m excited about or things that bring me joy. Shabbat is not just about stopping the mundane things or the things that tire me out or the things that distract me. It calls me to put down the need to do something, to put down the need to move along to the next. It forces me to bring everything into focus for this moment–not what needs to happen in the next one or what should have happened in the last one. What freedom!

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (deuteronomy 5:15)

At it’s core, Shabbat boils down to freedom. God commanded the people to use Shabbat to remember how He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Their liberation brought the freedom to stop, to rest. They were no longer beholden to task-masters to toil at the whim of another. Thus, the freedom of Shabbat is demonstrated, the freedom to allow the moment to take me where it wants, or the Spirit to take me where He wants. The freedom from ought tos, from should haves, from need tos. The freedom to fully, without reservation or guilt or sacrifice or multitasking, make a conscious choice about what I will do (or cease doing) in this moment.

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” (exodus 20:11)

Shabbat is a ceasing God, Himself, infused with meaning.  Although it is most often used for “church” in modern Christianity, Shabbat was not set aside for worship in its origin. It was set apart for ceasing. A fast from working, from doing. Shabbat is a God-given holy day in every week where time set apart for stopping is elevated to celebration status. A time to cease. It was the first holy day mentioned in the Bible, and God, Himself, was the first to observe it by example. If God can set aside His work, can’t I? If God saw value in incorporating the holy into the daily grind, shouldn’t I?

Yet, what is the inevitable outcome of this holy convocation? Yes, it is worship. It is delight. In the Lord. It is freedom, riding on heights. It is satisfaction, fed with God’s heritage.

“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and honor it, desisting from your ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word,then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (isaiah 58:13-14)

May you feed on the heritage of ceasing this Shabbat.

tiny messages . The Tiniest Turning


Last week Little Drummer Boy lied to me about getting in trouble at school. He knew he lied, and he knew that I knew he lied. He cried about everything but that lie during the early evening.  When I asked him again if he’d gotten in trouble, he told me the truth. And, he was able to eventually tell me what happened.  The “trouble” was not an earth-shattering thing, just the consequences of speaking words he didn’t fully understand. I assured him that I was not going to spank him, that I would only spank him if he lied to me, if he did not tell me the truth. For me, the issue was over. Only a small reminder that “I’m counting on you to obey your teachers” remained, and was reserved for the next morning’s goodbye hug and kiss.

Later, just before bathtime during our nightly family prayer, he resolved the whole experience in his own spirit. He came to give me an unsolicited hug:

LDB: “I’m sorry I lied to you.”

Mommy: “It’s ok.”

LDB: “Please forgive me, Mommy.”

Mommy: “I will. I forgive you. It’s ok. I love you, sweet.”

He looked me straight in the eye the whole time he said he was sorry and asked for forgiveness.  A parent can see a sincere heart. It was so easy to forgive him, second nature–the impulse to draw him into my arms, to give him total restoration, to lay aside his guilt, to let him know his guilt was laid aside. To forget it and move on as if it never happened.

The forgiveness between a parent and her child comes easy at this age, with open eyes and open hearts staring at you, with new words and new concepts spoken in sincerity. I imagine it would easy at any age, I’m just not there yet. Right now, it’s effortless. How often we forget that ease at other times with other people.  But, with a beloved child, a tiny repentant heart laid bare, disappointment is forgotten, grievances assauged, correction laid aside.  Forgiveness is freely, quickly and gladly given–along with a full-hearted, open-armed embrace.

The forgiveness of God is such with His beloved creation, those whom He has knit and molded and labored. He sees the sincerity of heart, even when we can’t adequately express it. At the moment of our asking, He stands ready–no, runs ready–to embrace, to lay sin aside, to absolve and restore. At the moment of our asking, it’s already done. There is no payback, no process of forgiveness, no 12 steps, no tentative trusting of motives. God, in His all-powerful knowing of us, asks nothing more than to ask. He is sensitive to the tiniest turning of our hearts toward Him. He leaps at the chance to love at the slightest provocation.  Just as easy as it was to restore and embrace my son, His eagerness is barely contained.

Why do I shy away? Why do I resist His presence? His love embraces, ever steadied against the push of my resistance. Like the times I beg a busy or reluctant son to sit in my lap only to watch him melt into my arms as he finally gives in to hearing Mommy say how much love he deserves, how much love he has, how much pride he brings forth. Then, to see him bask in the security of that moment.  Why do I resist? Why do I shy away?

The tiny messages God continues to include with our gifts — 2 little joys of boys and 1 little jewel of a girl, each with open eyes, open ears, open hearts, and much to teach. “Behold children are a gift of the Lord…” (psalm 127:1)

For the Love of a Boy



I’d do almost anything.
Happy Birthday, Little Drummer Boy!

you opened my heart and laid it bare to be loved on May 2, 2005

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