Friday, December 31, 2010


A fat December fly, awakened by today's 50-degree temperatures, made weird shadows around the light fixture as I finished up my yoga routine, getting my back and sacrum  lined up for standing around at tonight's new year celebration. I've been making resolutions today. Nothing momentous--quilt the quilt tops, get out more, try something new, keep the weight off--pretty much the things that are right there in front of me anyway, making decisions like that fly buzzing around doing what flies do.

David Brooks in this morning's New York Times writes about a book by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly titled “All Things Shining” that proposes that we moderns find life's meaning in "whooshes" or "whooshing moments," the feelings of insight or exhilaration that accompany peak experiences--sporting events, civil rights speeches, whatever greatness and transcendence we can hitch our ponies to. Many of the commenters found this to be meaningless. There's not rigor of thought involved, no coherence required, just an emotional high. And as Brooks points out, such highs can come from speeches by nationalist dictators as well as tellers of more complicated, nuanced truths. Heck, complicated truths probably don't score high on the whoosh scale.

I wanted to leave a comment myself, but the comments were closed by the time I read the piece. (I did enjoy the comment that closed with "How's that navel, David?") One thing I thought was missing was the acknowledgment that many of life's whooshier moments don't come out of sports or election victories or from encounters with great works of art or great men and women. They come from encounters with sorrow  and grief, with violence and despair. I've watched many people meet serious trouble in the past year and those are the places where meaningless and meaning meet, where the boundaries between our world and God's kingdom are just vapors, where insight and peace come from being able to despair and have faith both at once.

I ate a piece of Lebkuchen on my way to the computer--a substantial chunk of cookie, sweeter because of the spices, more substantial in the mouth because of the almonds. Whoosh.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Christ with clouds

"It's all about clouds." That's what my friend said as she checked through her music for this afternoon's Bach cantata service.

"Why is it so dark?" asked my daughter, Eliza, as we crossed the street to go to church this morning. "Because it's a cloudy day," I said. "It might rain. It rained last night."

"The Clouds of Judgment Gather" and "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending"--these were the hymns this afternoon to go with "Wachet auf!" Bach didn't have Christ the King Sunday. He had the end-of-the-church-year lessons about Christ's return and Judgment Day, the ones that kept me awake in bed late into November nights when I was a child. I hoped against hope that I would live a long life and die. That seemed less frightening than a supersize Jesus appearing suddenly in storm clouds above my head.* I didn't want to stand in the line of sheep and goats, or in the line-up where he pointed out that I had seen him many times naked and hungry, hadn't recognized him, hadn't helped and had blown my chance at heaven.

Of course, this isn't what's in the cantata. The bridesmaids are waiting, not for a judge, but for the bridegroom. There's some seriously passionate longing going on in the first duet between soprano and bass, the soul and her Lord. In the second duet where they're united, well, the flights of ecstasy in the music can be experienced with more than just the ears. The vocal music has all the urgency of lovers singing together at the opera. And then there's that sensuous oboe.

But what about those foolish virgins whose lamps ran out of oil? More than likely that's me. My planning-ahead skills are good--when I remember to use them. I don't much expect to be the one hanging out with the bridegroom. It's been decades since I sang a love duet, metaphorically or for real.

But there is Christ the King, ascended until the clouds hid him from view, enthroned with God. Jesus who walked the walk down here, perfectly, and now reigns over a kingdom that theologians describe as "both here and not yet."

On the way to writing this blog post, I got distracted and ended up trying yet again to sync my phone calendar, my computer calendar, and my online calendar without producing two and three copies on each machine of every choir rehearsal and day off from school. Compared to this, wrapping my mind around "here and not yet" is easy. I do believe that God's kingdom comes on earth, that the transcendant compassion that Buddhists speak of points to this, that the kingdom is seen where two or three gather together in Christ's name, that humans live collectively in hope, and this is wise, not foolish.

But not yet have I let go of the fear of being judged and, inevitably, found wanting. It's like seeing shapes in the clouds--your brain goes there because it tries to make sense of things. Why is it so dark? Why can't we see and understand God fully? Yet that passionate union seems so close, so knowable.

Cloudy tomorrow?

*Anyone who has ever visited St. John, Forest Park, the church of my childhood, has seen exactly what I saw when I closed my eyes on those nights.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Do something creative first thing in the morning. I read this advice somewhere recently.

It makes sense to me. There's only so much good energy in a day, and it is soon dissipated. So it should be spent wisely, on something that matters. Probably not on reading the New York Times online. Not that what I read there doesn't matter--there's just not much I can do anything about.

The one thing I read this morning was an op-ed piece on how consumer spending drives the nation's economy. Consumer debt is the grease that helps those gears grind. We're all in this together--my spending creates your job, and your job gives you the income that funds my job. Interdependence. Not the fuzzy, sharing meals together, I'll support you through a crisis kind of interdependence. It's what? Structural? Unavoidable? An economic parable for the rest of our lives? Maybe even for the rest of the social contract.

That's a thesis that 's more involved than I care to argue before 8:00 a.m. Maybe I should just go read the paper.

Monday, October 04, 2010

In which she turns little things into bigger questions

Kurt and I switched bedrooms over the weekend. Actually the switch is still going on. The dining room table is loaded with stuff that came out of his closet. His desk, which he doesn't want any more, is still in my room. It turns into a trapezoid when pulled out of the corner. The rectangular piece of heavy cardboard that's supposed to hold it square has mostly come away from the edges. Angle irons, I'm thinking, from the hardware store. But I'll have to find the power screwdriver first. My sewing machines and the storage units that go with it are in the living room and the dining room. And meanwhile, here at my desk, last Saturday's cleaning operation was interrupted halfway through by my niece's car accident. (Nobody hurt, but she had Eliza in the car, so off I went.)

So the house is not just cluttered or messy. It's completely out of sorts. I'm very tolerant of clutter--in fact, I need to see things out, not put away. But this is too much. Until I get it all sorted out, I don't know exactly how to live. And I won't get it all sorted out for a couple weeks, because I have to figure out how to wake up in a new space, how not to head upstairs to change clothes, where to knit and watch TV, where to knit and prop a book.

Is this a sign of age? Being such a creature of habit? I'm not against new habits. I just don't want to do the work of figuring out what they should be. It's just like figuring out what to wear these days, after losing 30-plus pounds over the summer. None of the old solutions work. I've bought new clothes. Moving closets forced me to weed out much of the too-big stuff yesterday. But how will it all work? How will it all end? Why am I here? Where am I going? And as my high school German teacher used to say, "Wo kommt es alle zu ende?"

It's not quite like what Jesus said about leaving mother and father and husband and wife behind. But still.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Morgenlich leuchtend in rosigen Schein"

I was out walking this evening, pounding along to the jazz trio on my iPhone. The playlist ran out. I stopped. What to listen to next?

It's not an easy decision. The wrong music at the wrong time irritates me. No, not those Bach cello suites again. (And I love Bach cello suites--at certain moments.) Ella Fitzgerald? Good for walking fast. When she sings Cole Porter, man, it takes energy to listen. Good for a burst of speed in the middle of a walk, but not for the winding-down stretch.

I tapped W and went to Wagner. Yes, I have the Solti "Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg" on my iPhone. I don't think the whole thing is there--one of those syncs where I'm not really sure what happens. I looked at the lines of German dialogue in the playlist and tapped something I thought would be from Act IV.  I was hoping for Walter's prize song, but I didn't get it. What I heard, I think, was Beckmesser's rather pedantic effort. The beautiful voice was persuasive, not unpleasant to listen to, but the music did not go anywhere.

I kept listening, kept walking, and about four blocks from home, there it was. Three still, shining tonic chords to establish the tonality, and then a big ringing romantic tenor (literally big--Ben Heppner) at center stage singing "Morgenlich leuchtend . . . "  Finishes the first stanza, the crowd reacts--cautiously. He sings another, there's a buzz. He keeps going, the crowd is swept up in the music.

Here is Ben Heppner in a concert version. Or listen and watch Johan Botha here.  He sings beautiful phrases, although he looks kind of silly standing on that box. I liked the reaction shots of the crowd, everyone listening thoughtfully. But the staging doesn't show the crowd's excitement, which Wagner wrote so vividly into the music. To do justice to Wagner's music for the  townspeople I suppose you'd have to have a movie set with cameras zooming in from up high, quick cuts, a swirl of pleasure and discovery.

There was a big smile on my face as I walked that last quarter mile tonight. I came back in the house with my heart sitting six inches higher in my chest.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Eighth Grade Confirmation

I agreed to co-teach Sunday morning eighth-grade confirmation class. From now until mid-April it's a merry chase through half the catchism: the commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. The teacher's guide provides eight times as much activity as a sane, middle-aged adult could possibly want to tackle with 20-plus kids in 55 minutes. I could drink more coffee on Sunday mornings, but the result of that would not be pretty.

Still, this will be interesting, especially the commandments. How do they hook up with the grace and love of God that young teens need to experience? What's good about being shown your sin? And what are these sins in today's world. I spent this afternoon shopping for new pants--remembering the sabbath? How do you judge if someone purporting to speak for God is using God's name in truth or in vain?

I sat in on this morning's class, taught by the other teacher. A reality bath. Eighth graders are restless, wary, self-conscious, and oh, so very hard to engage. One young man suggested something was a metaphor for God, which led me to be hopeful--someone understands that God is more than the words in which we try to describe something both immanent and unknowable. Other kids searched for "right" answers--some for the ones the teacher was looking for, some for the ones that seemed right to them. Some wanted to be noticed. Some wanted to escape.  They were all acutely aware of one another.

Yeah. I'm either gonna like this or be very frustrated.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


I am approximately thirty pounds lighter than I was at the end of May. Thirty years ago I would have expected this to change my life. I would have expected to get great parts on stage. I would have expected to be much more attractive to men. I would have expected to be happier.

This time, I am simply thinner. I am eating better. I'm approaching the normal range for BMI, so presumably I'm healthier. I am fascinated by the whole process. If you limit yourself to about a thousand calories a day, the red numbers in the LED display on the bathroom scale go down as the weeks go by. Relentlessly. And skirts and pants and t-shirts that used to be tight hang low on my hips, flap around my middle.

People ask, so I have to tell them what I did. It's seems odd to be discussing this with others--it's not that interesting to me. No sugar. Only fruits and vegetables for snacks, not boxes of crackers or bags of chips. And I eat when my body needs nourishment. I don't eat because I'm unhappy or lonely. I'm still unhappy and lonely and stressed-out. But it's not a reason to eat a bowl of cereal, much less to open a bag of potato chips. Celebrating is no excuse either.

I'm thinner, but I'm not younger. My face is thinner, and that makes the sags and bags more obvious. I walk lighter. I do feel better about how I look and I want to wear younger-looking clothes, but without looking ridiculous. I still don't know how a person my age is supposed to act.

It's all pretty superficial. Yet we judge people by their weight. Hmm.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Morning post

Perhaps I need a vacation from screen time.

Too many ideas? Too few pursued and incorporated into my own? Too much abstract back and forth and not enough solid imagery that connects with the heart as well as the head--even if that heart, logically, must be located in my head.

Blog posts here often begin with an image--physical, or at least a moment in time or a specific interaction. Blog-reading, website-reading leave impressions that come and go too quickly, as soon as you click the link to the next item.

I've stayed home at the computer to listen to Carl Grapentine on WFMT, Chicago's classic radio station. Carl is a friend from church and I've been informed that between 8:00 and 8:30 this morning he's playing a recording of the Grace Senior Choir singing a piece by Paul Bouman that I wrote about on this blog a couple years ago.

Here it comes: strings introducing "Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow." It's Paul's birthday. The sopranos have the first stanza. Oooh, a little flat over the top. Better at the second shot at that melodic line. One could wish for a little less violin and a little more choir, 'cause it's the melody line that's lovely: "Let praise to your Creator rise."

"Lord Jesus, since you love me." Good job tenors. This is the verse Paul made much of in his setting--a prayer prayed through a long life, from childhood to deathbeds. all the counterpoint coming to rest in Jesus with  "I rest in your protecting arms."

And then there's a choral setting of stanza three. Not heavenly-perfected chorale singing. The sound is not quite together--perhaps mostly because the congregation is singing along and there's lag time in the building acoustics and recording. But that imperfection that includes everyone--surely that's more like the kingdom of God than exclusive excellence.

There's my image for the day. Put that on a sampler.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Came in from a 45-minute walk thinking about having a beer--just a beer--for supper. Guess I didn't come back in a significantly better mood than I was in when I left. I had Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter on my iPod, which set a pretty good pace. But I walked directly west for the first 20 minutes, right into the sun. The afternoon's scowl from looking into the computer screen was heat-set between my eyebrows by the light of the sun just above the housetops.

That's the same sun whose setting I enjoyed so much last week on vacation.

But sitting and watching and talking--or not--to my kids is not the same as trying to walk off the piling-up anxiety and pressure of being back at work, getting ready for a new school year, and wildly thinking of more things to do than can ever be done in the time there is to do them. Where will my effort go? To the low spot in the ground to which it will most easily flow? Or will I dig some new channels, find new things to do, new ways to publish and present them? Will I keep on caring?

 What's the trick of living one year after another?

Not beer for supper. I had a salad--organic greens, cottage cheese, carrots, sweet peppers, and some green grapes.

Maybe a glass  of red wine for dessert?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


"Don't you love farce?"

That's the question posed in "Send in the Clowns," the best-known song from Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," which I am currently directing. The show opens July 16. The next ten days are about putting the bits and pieces together into a cohesive, stylish whole.

The bits and pieces include plenty of farce: a cuckolded older man, a jealous pea-brained lover tripping on his trousers, a scorned wife, earthy lovers, young stupid romantics, and a schemer whose plots work despite her best efforts, not because of them. Yet the characters, even the ones we thought several weeks ago were kind of shallow show unexpected depth when confronted with their own foolishness.

Partly this is a choice made in this production--to consider the possibility that people change and learn, rather than stage a cynical ending and assume that the character's lives will go on as screwed-up as before but with new partners.  Partly this is the poetry of the show, the summer night smiling on God's creatures in need of grace. And it's very much the music: despite a great deal of dissonance and uncertainty about tonal centers all the way through the second act, the show ends with a solo violin's upward winding scale resolving into major-key tonality in the last chord.

I can't wait.

Tuesday's Child presents
Stephen Sondheim's
"A Little Night Music"
July 16-18, 23-25
Tickets online

Friday, July 02, 2010

Baby birds

In the past few weeks I've noticed robins making dive-bomb runs across our patio. They swoop by, low and fast and angry, and fly to the tree outside the gate. Sometimes it's a female alone. Sometimes it's one bird on the tail of another.

I've seen this behavior before. In past summers, I've seen robins dive at our dogs and then dash outside the fence. It's a diversionary tactic, the mama robin's way of quickly distracting attention away from her nest at the top of the tall pole that supports a Concord grape vine on the edge of our patio. It's left over from a huge but ugly arbor that I ripped down several years ago. The vine still produces grapes, and lots and lots of leaves. Robins have been nesting there for many years.

So as I sat on the patio the other morning growing bored with my book, I looked hard into the green umbrella of the grape vine, and found the dense twiggery of the nest. 

I even saw two tiny beaks, open to the sky. I heard the babies' tiny chirp, answered with a tiny, soothing chirp from the mother who was in the tree outside the gate. She understands that flying to her babies' aid puts them in danger. They are better hidden without her presence. But today, when I looked very closely, I saw the spotted breast of one of these babies. It's towards the center of the circle, at about ten o'clock.

I've seen robins' nests in our backyard before, seen robin's-egg-blue shells on the ground. Many years ago I saw a fledgling on the ground, trying to figure out how to fly. But I've never seen such a healthy baby in the next waiting for its next meal.

This is the first summer in the twenty-four years I've lived in this house that there is no dog in the back yard. I used to think that any mother robin who built a nest in our back yard had a few screws loose, or didn't have the brains it would take for her genes to survive in her offspring. Backyard dogs will bark and bark and eat anything that ends up on the ground in front of them.

I have high hopes for these babies. I'll watch the nest closely in the the next couple weeks. I'll listen for that mother chirping at a distance. It reminds me, oddly, of myself, sending my teenager gentle, carefully worded text messages about staying safe and coming home at a reasonable hour. Mama robin is busy gathering worms and whatever else these growing infants eat. I forage at Jewel and bring home sweet cider from the Farmers' Market.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father." Matthew 10:29

Sparrows, robins, teenagers--all are cared for by a mothering God.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Binge reading

I love to read.

That's not the exact way to express my relationship with reading.  It's not like a hobby for which I set aside time, or make special trips to buy supplies. It's not like the obsession I sometimes have with knitting, where the wonder of seeing something grow on my needles compels me to sit down with it night after night until it's finished.

Reading is more like eating. I do it every day, sometimes thoughtfully and in celebration, often with little conscious thought, just to keep going.

So I guess I'd have to say I've been binge-reading for the last 24 hours. I went through half a novel yesterday, with little thought for the consequences.* This morning it was long, serious pieces as I wandered through various blogs and internet sites. Kind of like the days of getting lost in the library as an undergraduate.

I am looking for new ways to think, new things to think about.

And could the binge-reading be connected to efforts to change my eating habits?

* "The Help" -- story, story, story; interesting because a white female author has used the first person to give voices to black female domestics in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962-63

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I took off the rumpled linen blouse, folded the long red scarf, left the shoes at the foot of the stairs. Pentecost Sunday is about over, and if I were somewhere in the middle of a good book, I'd be in bed nodding off with that book. It is so much easier to read than to reflect. 

The female cardinal appeared in the tree outside my kitchen window this morning. She flashed her brown-red color here and there, sideways on the branch. The movement caught my eye. She is not bright startling red like her mate, but still red and regal from top to tail. She feeds in a tree, and I suspect, nests in the forsythia bush.

I had a bright red dress once, close-fitting, scarlet. I was in a show at the time, playing Sally Bowles in Cabaret. My body was on display that spring, especially on stage. The red dress was not in the show, but still it said, Look at me, I'm bright and not afraid to be looked at. I sewed a red satin dress that spring, too, with spaghetti straps and not much room for a bra underneath. But worn on me, rather than on a character, I didn't know how to bring it off. I felt conspicuous and awkward.

I cannot imagine myself in a red dress now. The red scarf was about as much red as I could wear on this May mid-life day. Red for the fire of Pentecost. Red for the Holy Spirit--that person of the Triune God often pictured as a white dove. Go figure.

The preacher at the cantata this afternoon used the pronoun "she" for the Holy Spirit. I like that, more because it's startling than inclusive. How do you picture rushing wind and Spirit moving on the waters? How do you recognize truth and wisdom, creativity and the fire of love? Does the Spirit wear red sometimes--red of blood, red of passion?  Red that suffers and celebrates.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Jack, the dog

Took Jack, our thirteen-year-old dog to the vet this afternoon for euthanasia. Her back legs have been giving her trouble for the last year or more. She could hardly walk. She cried and barked in frustration. She struggled to get around the house to be with us. She couldn't run along the fence outside and bark at strangers passing by, though she continued to bark at squirrels in trees across the street.

Jack was sent by God to our family. She was the little black puppy, abandoned late at night in our back yard when our old dog, Max, was dying of cancer. My younger son, who was four, had prayed for a new puppy. God delivered. (Few things have been that simple since.)

Jack chewed up a couple of cowboy hats, chewed the noses off teddy bears, and one memorable day chewed a hole in a sweater back I had just finished knitting. It took hours and hours to reknit it. But on the whole, she was a great dog, a true member of the pack. She loved and trusted her boys, Kris and Kurt. She grew to be wary of Lon as his dementia worsened. He kicked her from time to time, but this only meant she spent more time with the rest of us, sleeping on top of my feet if Lon was prowling about.

It is yet another sign of the end of an era, the end of romping and wrestling and playing young'uns at our house. Another milepost that reminds us that life is ever-changing, with many comings and goings. Jack's chair, which absolutely reeks of acrid dog smells, will go out to the garbage, her bowls will go to the basement. Eliza is watching the video she took yesterday of Kris feeding Jack a bacon cheeseburger. Here's a photo:

I am relieved it's over with for her. Some would say I took too long in coming to this decision, that she suffered. But she soldiered on, for us. I tear up as I think of that love--or that hard-wired dog behavior that looks like love. Nah. She loved us. God sent her here to do just that.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Lusty Month

May arrived early this morning with bright blue, clear skies.

I looked out the bedroom window and went back to sleep.

Now, mid-day, it's cloudy. The flush of morning coffee has worn off, with only one load of laundry underway and a few miscellaneous computer tasks completed. We need a new mower to cut the dandelions that are eight inches deep in the backyard. And the spring cold/allergy thing in my head and throat has thickened and settled.

Such is the rhythm of Saturday. How soon before I can go back to sleep?

There is hope on the horizon. Kurt has gone off to buy charcoal, to grill hamburgers. You gotta love a kid who cooks for himself and shares with his old mom. And then it will be time for me to head off to the fabric store, for the pink glittery fabric that will become Eliza's prom dress--part her fantasy, part mine.

There may yet be life in this lusty month of lilacs and leafy green.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

2.5 days is not enough

My sister and I took our annual trip to Paducah, Kentucky, to the American Quilters' Society show. We left at 3:00 Thursday afternoon, drove 300 miles south to Mt. Vernon, Illinois, drove another 60 or 70 miles on Friday morning, saw the show, at the Olive Garden, stayed overnight in Metropolis, Illinois, took pictures with the giant statue of Superman, went to the quilt museum in Paducah, the yarn store, the fabric store, and drove 360 miles home.

The last hundred miles is when you get to anticipate returning to everything at home. Everything that hasn't budged since you left.

Is that why I was so angry all day? A couple of days in which to begin to think creatively, long car rides for knitting, reading, and daydreaming, a jelly roll of bright red-to-orange-to-yellow batiks, and now, no time to follow through with any of it.

Seriously bummed.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why do I hate cleaning?

Been cleaning the house. Dusting, floors, putting away clutter. There are people who are neither relatives nor bosom friends coming for dinner tomorrow.

I so not enjoy this. Today's theory on why: cleaning is aspirational. It's work towards a home I aspire to have: pleasing, interesting, comfortable, warmly welcoming. But removing dirt is tedious. The hand-work of cleaning aggravates everything in my wrist that doesn't work well. And the wanting others to think well of my home makes me very anxious.

There! Have I named the problem precisely? Now, according to what I read last night about some-kind-or-another of Buddhist mindfulness, I'm supposed to hold it with gentleness. Which involves being gentle with myself, even as I finish up the work in the next hours.

What was step three? Accept it, or let it go? Probably in Buddhism those two things are the same. Let it go by accepting it.

I may have to sit for a while before I can mindfully clean the bathroom.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I saw Sameuel Beckett's "Endgame" at Steppenwolf Theatre tonight, after a day of toothache, two hours at the endodontist, and other challenges.

I liked it. It wasn't very entertaining, but it wasn't repulsive either. Repulsive, I think, was the takeaway when I read the play back in college or grad school.

This time, the poetry spoke. Which is what tends to happen when you perform plays out loud. The images get out there, resound in the empty spaces around the audience. You could get all caught up in the rejection of meaning in life and time and Western culture. (God help you if you read the program note on Mad Men and Endgame!) Or you could listen and notice and wonder. In the face of everything, there are still attempts at stories and sugarplums and prayer. There's a faint vision of unattained happiness. The will to power coexists confusedly with a will to save. Of course, it isn't enough: "You're on earth. There's no cure."

When you come out of the show, for a while ordinary conversation sounds like Beckett-speech. I came home, looked at my email, and had to go look up John 20:19-31, last Sunday's Gospel, Jesus and Thomas, for tomorrow's chapel reading.

So I read that story through Beckett speech, or at least saw the story set in the dirty upper room with the garbage cans that house Nagg and Nell and the windows high on the wall. Ham confined to a throne on wheels. Clov in and Clov out, the only activity in the play. The apostles whose preaching and teaching founded Christianity cowering in the dim corner light. Wasteland?

In John there is revelation. Jesus appears, "Peace be with you here," shows Thomas his damaged hands and side, and utters a blessing on the unknown ones "who have not seen and yet believe."

Does it make any more sense than "Endgame"?

"You remain," says Ham at the end.

Remain. Yet.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Root canal tomorrow afternoon, followed by an evening at the theater: "Endgame" by Samuel Beckett. The show will start right about when the Novocaine wears off.

There is nothing much to be said about my teeth. They're not high quality teeth. My grandmother had dentures by the time she was forty, and I think if I were her contemporary, I'd probably have them too. I still have most of my teeth, but the ones with live nerves in them are increasingly rare. The good news: the hot-cold sensitivity thing is getting better. Except for right now. This aching tooth reacts immediately to hot food, slowly but more globally to ice cream. And the ache caused by singing is proof that a well-placed voice causes facial bones to vibrate.

More good news: I am getting this root canal a mere five days after the tooth began to hurt. I usually spend a couple weeks convincing myself that it's not that bad, or that the ache will go away when my sinuses clear up (like that ever happens). I have my Bible study group to thank for this. In the "joys and concerns" portion of the session, I mentioned that my tooth hurt, so in the prayers part of the morning, Pastor Kelly (bless her thirty-something heart--I bet she's got fine teeth) prayed that I might have discernment about what to do about my tooth. That put God on the side of the endodontist. Who am I to resist the Spirit's wisdom?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Complementary colors

The liturgical color for Easter is white, but my color of the day is yellow. On my way to the garage this morning, headed for church, I turned to look back at the house and at the sky, the sun, the angular evergreen next to the basketball hoop, and the two forsythia bushes, singing of springtime and resurrection. In the evening, there was lemon meringue pie for dessert, lemon-yellow to sight and tastebuds.

My sister filled a vase with forsythia branches and daffodils for the center of her Easter dinner table, all cut from her yard. There were also purple Japanese irises from the store. Purple and yellow being complementary colors, they each made the other zing.

Purple is the color of Lent. Yellow may not be the official liturgical color of Easter, but it's there in church for Easter, in the white and gold and yellow banners, in the golden yellow threads that give the white vestments their elegance and Easter formality.

Here comes the metaphor.

Yellow is all the more intense when paired with purple. Lent brings focus to Easter. The repent and turn of the past six weeks, all the purple passion, prepare wintry spirits for the blazing splendor of the empty tomb, the sweetness of the risen Savior.

It's raining now. Will those yellow blossoms be on the ground in the morning?

Still the yellow and the purple are pressed into my brain. And I am still wearing the white linen shirt of Easter.

Christ is risen, alleluia.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Upon returning to my old college campus

The title sounds like something out of 19th century romantic poetry. A paean to bygone days, to a younger self, and a place that remains the same even though it's changed.

But it was like that.

I hadn't been back to Augustana College since 13 months after I graduated, but I returned there yesterday, on a Spring Preview Day for college-bound high school juniors. I am the mother of a high school junior who is bound for a liberal arts college. It's his spring break, so we went.

I admit I was looking forward to going, but that's because I seldom go anywhere. Who would have thought I could get so excited about driving past Old Main? About crossing Seventh Avenue on foot, stopping traffic, and trudging uphill towards the Union and the dorms? It felt like I had just climbed the stairs from the practice rooms in Bergendorf, after an hour and a half of wrestling with Beethoven and Bach, or just finished up my work in my theater office, the one with the space heater that glowed very hot and the IBM Selectric type-like typewriter that took me months to master.

I feel so much younger today. Which is odd, because I'm a long way from twenty.

What didn't I know back then? I knew about music and dramatic theory and literature and how to unravel the meaning buried in the writer's work. I didn't know much about the doing of these things, the making of art, or that even the most subtle and vivid piece of writing or composition is a long way from both the banality of real life and its glory.

What else didn't I know? I knew that I could pretty much get an A in anything I wanted to (as well as in classes I didn't care about). I did know there was a downside to being the smartest one in the room. I didn't know that I'd cease to care about that (though I would learn something about when to shut up).

I didn't know that I would reckon the years passing in my life by the losses and the ongoing challenges, not by the accomplishments.

I didn't know that I would be as lonely in middle age as I was during my junior year.

I didn't know that one day I'd sit on a bench by the slough with my daughter and talk nonsense about a duck. I didn't know how much that would lessen the loneliness.

I knew a lot about Brecht, whom I liked, and Tennessee Williams, whom I don't. The years have not changed those opinions. I didn't know then, though teachers tried to tell me, that I could trust my musical instincts--they were better than most people's.

My wardrobe isn't all that different from what it was in college, but my shoes and my bags are more comfortable. I tried knitting while reading for the first time while I was in college, because that theater history textbook was so dull. I've since discovered that knitting at the same time also helps me read complex material.

Back in college, I was an optimist, though an optimist with a cynical streak. Yesterday I felt that was still true, though the cynicism is less deep. It's been replaced by doubt and worry.

All the things I was then, what I worried about, what I thought about, what I obsessed about--those all happened in real places, and I saw those places yesterday, and it's almost as if I didn't know how things turned out for that girl.

I may have to visit some other places.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday of Holy Week, John 12:1-11

A few weeks ago, in a Wednesday morning chapel service, Mr. Brooks told us about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. He told how happy and excited everyone was—Lazarus, his sisters, Mary and Martha, the disciples and all the people who believed in Jesus after this. Here’s someone who has power even over death, they thought. He must be the Son of God!

And then—this part isn’t in the Bible, but it must have happened this way--Lazarus turned to Jesus and said, “We want to invite you over for dinner. Will you come for dinner? With your disciples? To celebrate. We want to thank you. What’s a good night for you?”

Now Jesus and his disciples were planning to go away for a while, because they knew that the news about Lazarus was going to get back to the chief priests and Pharisees—the guys in Jerusalem who didn’t like Jesus, didn’t like what he was preaching, and didn’t like the fact that people were saying he was the Son of God. So they were going to lay low for a few days.

But Jesus was planning on celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, and Bethany, Mary and Martha and Lazarus’s home town, was just two miles from Jerusalem. So they agreed that Jesus and the disciples would come for dinner on the next Saturday night, on their way back to Jerusalem.

Martha cooked a good dinner. Everyone sat around the table talking, telling stories, listening to Jesus. Mary disappeared for a few minutes and she came back carrying a special jar. When she took the lid off, a wonderful fragrance spread through the house. It was a jar of very expensive oil. It came from far away. It was worth lots of money—as much money as someone could earn in a whole year. She went over to Jesus and poured this oil on his feet. The fragrance filled the room. And then she took off the covering that she usually wore on her head, and wiped the extra oil off Jesus’s feet with her hair.

You can imagine how quiet everyone got, watching her. Everyone could see how much Mary loved Jesus.

But then Judas started to grumble. “What a waste,” he said. “This oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor.”

You can imagine the hurt look on Mary’s face. You can imagine how everyone else felt. “Way to go, Judas! Way to ruin the evening!” And they looked to Jesus. What would he say? They had heard him before tell people to sell all they had and give the money to the poor. What would he say about Mary’s gift to him?

“Leave her alone,” he said. “Leave her alone.” And he must have smiled at Mary, to reassure her. Everyone was relieved—but only for a moment. Because then Jesus said, “She bought it that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

His burial? Yes, people used expensive oil like that to cover up the bad smell of dead bodies before they were buried. But who said anything about Jesus dying? Here they were, celebrating life, celebrating how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and Jesus is talking like he’s going to die. Soon. Was this the Son of God they all believed in?

All of us are going to die. We don’t like to think about it, and we probably shouldn’t think about it constantly. A couple weeks ago—I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about—but I said to one of the junior high students, “You’re going to die someday, we’re all going to die.” And she said, “Yeah, I know. But you’re bringing me down, Ms. Gotsch, you’re bringing me down.”

We began the season of Lent with ashes on our foreheads and the pastors reminding us that we are dust, and to dust we will return—reminding us that we will die. This is one of the things that you have to put up with if you go to a Christian school—teachers and pastors remind you that you’re going to die.

Do we talk about death because we want to scare you? Or because we want to bring you down?

No. We talk about death because there is a connection between your death and Jesus dying. And it’s good news. Less than a week after the dinner at Bethany, Jesus the Son of God was crucified, died and was buried. But on the third day he rose again. From his death came new life. New life for us after we die, when we go to heaven to be with Jesus. New life right now. Because Jesus died for us, we can die every day to sin and rise again forgiven to live a new life, a life that is full of love for others, like Mary’s love for Jesus. Like Jesus’ love at the Last Supper before his death when he washed his disciples’ feet.

We’ll be back here in church every day this week, remembering Jesus’ death on the cross for us, talking about our own sinfulness and death. But don’t let that bring you down. The disciples at the dinner in Bethany didn’t know it yet—but you do: Dying is how Jesus brings you to new life.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday evening post

The pasta is baking in a 400-degree oven--hot enough to send a slightly smoky smell through the house, thanks to the grease that is burning away, grease left behind by a chicken recently roasted at that high temperature.

What else is burning away?

We celebrated the Annunciation in today's Bach Cantata Vespers. Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern--beautiful Jesus imagery, with horns and oboes. And "The Canticle of the Turning," a metered paraphrase of the Magnificat. And a sermon that left me a little confused about whether I should "be not afraid" when God's angels show up, or be very afraid because God is doing things all the time because that's what God-- who has nothing else to do--does.

Sometime this week or next I'll take the battery out of the smoke alarm, lock the oven and set it to clean itself. I'll run the fan in the stove hood, so that the smoke mostly goes outside. I'll do this when no children are home to complain.

That roast chicken was really good. Three or four cloves of garlic, chopped up small. Rosemary--the dry, sharp needle-y kind. Mash and crush it all together with some salt. Add some pepper, loosen the skin of the chicken, and rub the salt mixture underneath. Then roast the chicken at 400 degrees until it's done. Make a mental note to clean the oven later.

God however is in continuous-cleaning mode. Scraping, burning, making all things new. Bringing that new kingdom into being. Oh, the tension between God's world and our crummy, greasy smoky one.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


A day, it's been a day. Singing with the little girls in my choir this morning, leisurely reading of the New York Times, frustration, anger, melancholy, comporting myself as an adult (miraculous, that), and coming out of it cheerful in the end.

This Sunday's New York Times magazine has an article called "Depression's Upside." The idea is that something so prevalent as depression must have an evolutionary purpose. A couple of researchers have suggested that a depressed brain deliberates more, thinks more analytically. Ruminates, as a cow slowly chews its cud. And this focused rumination gets problems solved.

I'm not sure I've ever really, in my whole life, arrived at a good solution to any problem more complicated than cleaning a closet, arranging furniture, or getting a cast of fifty offstage and back on again for bows. But as I think back, serious depressions have prompted me to make changes. Or try to make changes.

The article cites research that says that writers have a much higher incidence of depression than other people. Depression makes you think slowly about hard stuff. It gives you time to think about how to write it down. And writing it down in turn helps you do the thinking. So writing and depression are natural partners. I'm sure this applies to me. I'm sure there's a strong correlation between the timing and frequency of blog posts and my mood. Gloomy moods are more interesting.

All this is making me feel better about feeling bad. Being cheerful, steady, and resilient is a gift, but not one that I'm given very often. But now, as long as I can crawl out of bed and make it to the computer, I can think of spells of depression as a gift, an opportunity not to be wasted.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Feast to Come

Do they sing "This Is the Feast" in heaven? In Richard Hillert's setting from the Lutheran Book of Worship?

The book of Revelation, the source of the text of the canticle (5:11-14), describes the words being sung in heaven, but it doesn't specify a tune. Handel's "Worthy is Christ" from the end of the Messiah is nice, but not really suitable for "myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands" to sing together with all the people of God.

Hillert's refrain can be sung by anyone and everyone, by four-year-olds, who really enjoy that upward leap of a major sixth on the voiced-V of victory. It is sung by Christians of many denominations, around the world, in unison with the organ, or with brass and descants blaring. It is sung at Easter and on Christ the King Sunday, and at funerals, when we need music to turn our hearts away from grief to see, to sense, the glorious light pouring forth from the open doors of Christ's kingdom.

So are they singing "This Is the Feast" in heaven today, in Hillert's presence? He died last Thursday, at the age of 86. Is he beaming as my sainted father, his friend, accompanies the heavenly choirs on the organ?

It's all a little silly to think about. The picture in my head makes me smile. But listen . . . .

"Sing with all the people of God, and join in the hymn of all creation: Blessing, honor, glory and might be to God and the Lamb, forever and ever."

A foretaste of the feast to come.

Richard Hillert
1923 - 2010
Funeral service at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, March 1, at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest Illinois

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Blog Anniversary Post: Glory

Transfiguration Sunday more or less marks the fourth anniversary of this blog. Reason enough to post.

The epistle lesson this morning put me in mind of my confirmation verse. Here's a bit of Paul from today's readings:

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

My confirmation verse was 1 Peter 2:9:

But you are chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

That's the RSV translation, typed from the bible that was my gift from my parents for confirmation. I always have to look the verse up, because the various translations are confused in my mind. The RSV and the NRSV don't have the phrase that pulled me in as a young teenager. They say "declare the wonderful deeds" or "proclaim the mighty acts" (NRSV). The King James Bible said "that you should show forth the glory of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

Glory is my subject today. Show forth the glory.

What attracted thirteen-year-old me to oh-vowles of that phrase and to that glory and that marvelous light? On the neediest level, I'm sure I saw myself shining in a God-powered follow spot, the center of attention who nevertheless faithfully remembered to give the glory to God. A little further up on the faith scale, I remember the thrill and assurance I felt when I said those words and thought of myself as someone called into God's warm and loving light. This thrill was only slightly dimmed by Pastor Paul's note to me in the envelope with my certificate of confirmation, a gruff message that reminded me of the responsibility that came with being a chosen race, etc.

The light I pictured was mostly white, with a little yellow to give it some heat and maybe a tinge of pink for flattering skin tones. And I, standing in the light, glowed with divine love and generosity.

This is not a bad image. I don't mean to belittle it, or to distance myself from that gifted young person who had been brought up to think of her talents (not always positively) as God-given responsibility. But I didn't know much about how to work my own powers, and I didn't know how God's glory is also reflected in powerlessness and in puzzles.

We, according to Paul, are being transformed from "one degree of glory to another" (whatever that means) and in that glory, he goes on to say, we do not lose heart, we do not hide in shame, we live openly and state the truth.

These are not always things that people welcome. Being "chosen by God" means bearing burdens and crossing through the valley of the shadow of death (this morning's sermon--a good one).

Light and glory appear in different colors. Grey, and green-grey before a storm. Purple and pink as light fades at the end of day. Soft and new at dawn. I did not imagine all this variety at thirteen. Nor did I imagine that declaring the wonderful deeds of God means that sometimes the truth you speak comes across as foolishness, as utter nonsense. Or that sometimes you declare and proclaim with tears, or rebuke, with patient suffering, with anger that only God can transform into something good.

It's more than forty years since my confirmation, four since I started writing as the Perverse Lutheran. Even as a naive young teen I tested my thinking often. "Is that really true? Isn't there another way to think about it?" I am not more content now than I was then--probably less so. I don't know why this is--heredity, environment, experience, a restless brain. God has become an ever-greater abstraction as I've grown older, even as the still, small voice of God's presence has become more specific. The words of blessing, no matter how you translate them--"show forth the glory," "declare the deeds," "proclaim the acts"--still fill me with joy.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Decided today to junk the old car rather than fix it.

It's a 1992 Oldsmobile Achieva and it's been in a steady decline for years now. Sensors and gauges don't work. The speedometer doesn't work. The front fender has been held together by duct tape for nine years. But it ran. One son drove it for two and a half years of high school and almost four years of college. Second son called it his own for the last nine months. But something--multiple things, are broken in the engine and it's no longer worth fixing. So I'm junking it.

But not without shedding a few tears. This was my husband's car, and when GM's ads used the slogan "It's not just your car, it's your freedom" they were talking about Lon. His freedom, his identity, his self-worth were tied up in the purchase of that car eighteen years ago, probably in more ways than I wanted to know at the time. It still carries many complicated memories of his eccentricities, the things he relished, as well as his faults and failures.

I never liked this car. It had a dependable GM engine, but so many other things about it were cheap. Pieces of interior trim have been coming loose and breaking for the last decade. The back seat was never large enough for our three children, especially when two were still in car seats. The electrical system was always doing odd things. Once, in the early morning hours of our annual summertime drive to northern Wisconsin, I had to dig out the owner's manual to figure out which fuse to pull to shut off the car's interior lights.

Still, it was Lon's car--a dark red, manly color. A General Motors car, made in America. Not a car for the type of consumer who researches quality and ends up with a Toyota or Honda. It was the car that seemed to fit his image, his personality when he bought it. He would have been happy to share it with his sons. I think he would have been happy to see it turn into the old beater that it was, suitable for parking near the high school, ideal for driving to DiNico's for a slice of pizza after school or after practice.

Lon used to name his cars. There was Reggie, the Buick Regal, and Kid Blue, the Chevy Malibu. If this car had a name, I don't remember it. I think it's dumb to name cars, and I never adopted the names Lon thought up for the cars I drove--the Dodge Dart, the Nissan, the Taurus. Cars are places to me, not companions--places in which I remember things happening, remember eras as well as trips and errands. Today has been a day for thinking about those bygone eras, and wondering what lies ahead.

So farewell, '92 Achieva. I'll say a prayer about the future.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Order, Imposed

I'm having a little trouble seeing meaning in life these days. Or seeing meaning in housework, which is much the same thing. Do the same things over and over, and then they're undone, and you have to do them again. Repeat over days, over years, over generations. True for life, true of housework.

It would be more pleasant to live in a clean house, I admit, but it doesn't seem worth the dedication required. Somehow, I have managed to reach middle age without a compelling sense of "ought" when it comes to cleaning. I clean out of embarassment, when guests are coming, but rarely because I think I can make myself feel better by clearing out dust bunnies and putting papers away.

Though oddly, I do feel better when the floors are clean. And the desk is orderly. And the dining room is not littered with odd things that have found their way to odd places (i.e., the dental floss and needle-nose pliers on the buffet, the washcloth on the old German bible, which in itself is a mystery).

No moral here. No insight. I could post a picture of the laundry on the dining room table, but it's not a pleasing sight.

By the way, I'm hosting a bridal shower for fifteen to twenty guests twelve days from now. The contemplating will have to end and the busy-ness begin. But not for a few days.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


The theme for what to think about today came out of the radio on a home-to-church-to-Grandma's-to-church-to home run. (Now you know why I don't look forward to Sunday mornings.)

The guy on NPR with a book to push was saying that humans and other higher primates are wired for empathy, to think along with one another, to be socially cohesive. I believe (though I'm not sure since I was calculating whether or not I'd make it through a green light at this point)--I believe he pronounced the end of the era of original sin and the beginning of an era where we would begin to understand that history should be written by the common folk who all get along with one another. Not by the powerful.

I'm oversimplifying. Big time. But never mind.

(I've really grown to dislike this short-sentence one-line paragraph transition gimmick, but that won't stop me from using it--I want to watch "Emma" on Masterpiece in 12 minutes. Masterpiece--the former Masterpiece Theater. Speaking of pretentiously short. Oh, never mind. Again.)

I don't doubt the research that says we're wired for empathy. This is how babies learn to interpret their social world. But there are so many challenges to that empathy, so many ways for it to get distorted.

Later this morning the sermon at church was called "Insider Outsider" (again, I am failing to check this for accuracy). Yes--those folks in Luke didn't like Jesus pointing out to them that God helped people from outside their community.

Empathy, which should link us to others, also locks us into thinking alike, thinking everyone in our social group thinks alike, because if they didn't think like us, they wouldn't be in our social group.

But boy, if we're all competing for the same cherries, or the same woolly mammoth meat, or the approval of someone powerful, charismatic, or mystical (i.e.,if we want that person to empathize with us), our wiring gets kinked. That distortion pulls us away from being the empathically-wired creature made by God as an image of the divine. And voila, injustice, selfishness, sin, societies at war with one another.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

. . . in a handbasket

On the downside, the Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

On the upside, crisis means opportunity. More opportunities to point out that congressional Republicans have nothing constructive to offer whatsoever.

On the downside, health-care reform is dead.

On the upside, insurance reform may live on, and forcing insurance companies to insure everyone without mandating that everyone buys insurance will create such an expensive mess that health-care reform will come back, with a vengeance.

On the downside, the crazies control the political rhetoric in America.

On the upside, powerful corporations will now be able to spend millions to counteract the crazies, because corporations have first amendment free speech rights just like people.

On the downside, free speech does not equal sensible debate, and the crazies are unable to tell the difference between sound policy and a sound byte.

(Why didn't Madison and Hamilton consider mass media markets when they wrote The Federalist Papers?)

On the upside (which sometimes gets confused with the downside), Obama will give his State of the Union address next week. He's got an opportunity to tell off the Republicans/shame the Democrats/inspire the American people/keep hope alive.

On the downside, if all he has to talk about are hard questions and difficult solutions, who will listen?

What is a handbasket anyway?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Thy will

"Let it be done to me according to your will."

The commenter on the previous post quoted Mary's response to the angel Gabriel's news that she would bear a son. That commenter, Patte, is an actor-friend from 30 years ago. She's the other "old lady" in the picture from Arsenic and Old Lace that I posted in early November. The show may have been thirty years ago, but neither one of us is yet as old as we pretended to be back in 1978.

Back to Mary--I heard those words read at the children's Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve by a young woman who knows something about how to read a story. She made Gabriel's voice strong and forceful, Mary's gentle and yielding. She read with confidence, but formed the words as if each phrase was a new discovery. But the most glorious moment in her reading was the smile that lit up her face as she said "Jesus"--"You will call his name Jesus." That smile was not Gabriel's smile. (Do angels smile?) It was her own. You knew that she knew Jesus--yes, him! You saw entire generations of Christians recognize the name of Jesus in this. And you knew that young Mary loved her baby from the moment she heard the angel pronounce his name. You knew that the world changed in that moment--not just for Mary, but for lots of other people alive then, and infinitely more since.

That baby--that creating Word of God made lovely, loving flesh--made it possible for Mary to say "Thy will be done," made it possible for her to trust that will through nine months of waiting and wondering and not being able to explain, through the dark night of labor, through the bearing down and the bringing forth.

It was not the faith she possessed. It was the grace of God that was shown to her-the grace of God shown to me, and shown to my young friend, the reader.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Three hundred words

Three hundred words a day. Every day.

This is what makes you a writer. Writing.

It's what the books say, what writers say (disciplined ones), what experience shows. It's like exercise. You have to do it repeatedly to get in shape, to get those muscles flexible and strong. And the first minutes out of the gate are often a bit slow.

(Sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three . . .