30 May 2004


30 May 2004

Most days I don’t allow myself to believe in an afterlife.  I think that Jesus did the world disservice by coming back from the dead, though I realize that it is necessary to show that he is indeed part of God and so completing the cycle of birth and death that shows us that God lived and died with us.

As a Christian it can be difficult to remove myself from the afterlife.  It permeates scripture, the prayer book and our hymns.  I think that is one of the many reasons that I do not make it to church on a regular basis, even though I think about God and my relationship to the divine almost every day.

These past few months I have been making some effort to attend church more regularly.  I do consider myself to be a Christian and feel that part of that is going to church.  I believe that my son should learn the ins-and-outs of church, which book to use when and the tunes to most of the hymns so he will have a framework to structure his own search for the divine.

I don’t believe that there is only one path to the divine.  Saying there is only one path puts god in a box and is dismissive of the journeys of other people.  If there is only one path, then those who are on the path are tempted to look down on those not on the path.  If there are many paths and many ways to see the divine then we each retain our humanity and find that we are all searching together.  

Any religion that claims to be the one true path is one that has been corrupted by the human need for power and control.  Looking at the world we live in, I believe that the only thing I can control is my own behavior: how I choose to act toward the people around me, how I choose to spend the resources given to me, where and with who I choose to spend my time.

I cannot control the weather.  I cannot control my own health (except in very limited ways).  I cannot control the health and well being of my friends and family.  I cannot even control my own moods (though I can do things to influence them).  This is all very difficult for me.  I have an urge to control things, to put things into order and the church exacerbates that tendency.  With the structure of the service, with the prayers, and with the sermon it tries to give some structure to a chaotic and unpredictable world.

Church life creates the illusion of control in the structure of the service and regularity of the rituals.  It sometimes forgets that the rituals that comfort us are also those which constrain us.  For me, putting the divine in a box, hemming God in, creates a tension that must be released.  I need time away from church before God explodes out of the box.

The one place that I do not feel this tension in the church is in the singing.  The poetry of the hymns ranges from ethereal to prosaic, and is, for me a living testament to the different ways people understand god.  Each hymn is different and they are contradictory in their presentations of God and God’s will but they tap into something that reaches beyond my day-to-day self.  When I sing the hymns I feel a close connection to all those who have sung them before me.  There is a feeling of both timelessness and individuality that comes to me when we sing.  It is the one time during the service that I feel connected to the community of believers and it is wonderful that all sing and sing loudly together.

So for all the issues that I have with the church, all the contradictions, all the limitations, sometimes I just need to join in and belt out “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” and feel a truth flow though me that cannot come if I am silent.

14 May 2004

Grace Notes

14 May 2004

I have a very clear memory of whiling away at least one science class thinking about what I would name my children when I had them.  

Keep in mind that there was no prospective mate in the picture when I was dreaming up baby-names.  There was also no interest on my part in having children until I had completed college.  Apparently coming up with names for potential children was more interesting than what ever the teacher had on his agenda that day (the feminist in me requires me to note that the use of the male pronoun is intentional as there were no female science teachers at my high school).

I have always had a very strong connection to my family.  Even when I was a teenager and was having difficulties with family of the specific kind, family in general, family history, and family stories were things that I have found compelling.  It was natural that I would think about continuing my family, at least in the abstract.

For nearly fourteen years, those names were dormant in my memory, popping up every now an then as I remembered bits and pieces about high school or as I thought about what the future would bring.  I went to college, met my future husband, got my degree, got married, moved, got work, lost work, moved again, found more work, saved, bought a house and finally had a child.  He didn't end up with any of the names I had picked out when I was day-dreaming in class.   

My life took the path I expected when I was sixteen but I find, looking back on those dreams, that I was sorely lacking in imagination.  I dreamt that I would attend college with my best friends.  Instead I choose to go to a small strange school a thousand miles from my hometown.  I dreamed that I would get married before having children.  I never could have imagined what a smart, creative, loving, kind, generous, and above all persistent person I would ultimately fall in love with and marry.  I dreamed that I would live in a house with a yard.   I was surprised to find that the house for me would include a wonderful housemate as well as husband and that the house itself, along with being funky, would be one long, on-going project.

All this was brought home for me last Saturday as I watched my five-year-old son perform in a mass violin concert put on by his music school.  He stood up with fifty or more people, ranging in age from four to full grown adult, in the dressy outfit that he had picked out himself.  He paid attention to the teachers and played when he was supposed to.  As one of four people who got to hold him just after he was born, I was deeply moved to see him so grown up. It was equally amazing to see him return to his more casual self and insist on staying after the concert to give all of the teachers a triumphal high-five.

My life is just what I have imagined, but it is also so much more.  My dreams were pedestrian and mundane compared to the wondrous life I have stumbled into.

This is not to say that I do not have difficult times, but rather that, for that one moment Saturday last week, I was given grace to see clearly the amazing people that share my life.

My moment of glory did not center around a thing, or accomplishment, or anything that I could control.  The light fantastic that brushed by me reminded me that my gold, my treasure lives in the souls of my family of blood, family of choice, and in my friends.  That shining moment also reminded me that such treasure is ephemeral and should be cherished even more highly because it cannot be earned. It is a gift bestowed by those who choose to let me into their lives.  It is a gift of grace, and love.

07 May 2004


7 May 2004

Earlier this week I had someone ask me if I was a grammarian.  I immediately said ‘no’ and I was taken aback at the vehemence of my own denial.   It seemed odd for someone whose favorite occupations are reading and writing

In school I was exposed to grammar in several different ways.  The most obvious was the classic grammar unit in English class, complete with diagramming sentences, verb tenses, and all the other components that sent me fleeing for the hills for fear of losing my mind.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was actually learning grammar though reading and writing.

Reading has always been a joy for me.  I enjoy sinking into a book and losing track of my surroundings.  I can not remember a time when I could not read, and more than that, I can not remember a time when concentrating on reading was at all difficult for me.  I could read anywhere there was enough light.  My surroundings could be noisy or quiet.  I could be travelling or curled up on the couch.  My parents, and now my husband, would have to repeat my name several times to pull me out of what ever I was reading at the time.

Writing has never been easy for me, but I enjoy doing it none-the-less.  I like words and I find it stimulating to try to convey an idea to someone else via the written word.  My writing has always been marred by grammar and spelling idiosyncrasies, though with the advent of spell checkers, a husband who is a natural copy editor, and twenty-plus years of trial and error it has seen some improvement.

Throughout my years of struggle with the written word, I have never considered myself a grammarian, but the more I have read over the years, the more I have come to respect the need for structure in language– a certain rigidity that forces authors to mold their thoughts in patterns that readers can understand.  When I first started to write, I felt that others should make the effort to understand me.  Then I learned the lesson we all learn, which is that the world does not revolve around me and, if I want people to understand my thoughts, the effort would have to be mine.
I learned various bits and pieces of grammar with each paper that came back covered in red or purple ink.  Each teacher that took time to mark awkward sentences, explain the importance of the serial comma, or try to get me to understand the uses of the every mysterious semi-colon helped me build a style manual in my head.  My style manual still contains some of my own idiosyncrasies but each year I learn more.

This was recently brought home to me in my Norwegian language class.  I have gotten to the point where I know enough words that I can make baby sentences, and I have enough dictionaries that I can get myself in real trouble when I try to write something on my own.  In order to go further, I have to start paying attention to grammar and the rules and exceptions that make words and phrases ‘sound right.’  Unfortunately for me, regardless of the language, I seem to have a hard time understanding the rules that people have distilled from the way language is used.   Past tense, participles, prepositions, all dance around in my head and refuse to be pinned down into rules I can use until I can set up a feedback loop.  Once I am shown something, try to do it myself, and am then corrected (many times) I can then create a rule I can remember. 

For me the rules and structure of language come long after I know what it should sound like.  I don’t know that I will ever be a grammarian, but that will not stop me from loving words and the structure they need to thrive.