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.