Friday, September 13, 2013

"Bless the Lord, O my soul."

My Joyful Voices singers are working on this anthem by Ruth Watson Henderson. Here's a performance by the Northfield, Minnesota, Youth Choir, Anima.

My girls--well, if I could clone the four of them several times over, they might sound something like this. They're good singers and they're growing up as artists and musicians.

The text is Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul. All that is within me bless his holy name. The Lord is full of compassion and gracious. Long-suffering and of great goodness. He will not always be chiding, be chiding. . . 

To not always be chiding--that is indeed compassionate and wise. Constant scolding is tough on people, whether it's the "you did this wrong" variety or the "you still haven't done this, this, and this" variation. One's focused on the past, the other stresses over the future. Listen to that stuff all the time and it's pretty hard to bless the Lord in the present. There are studies that demonstrate this.

Of course the chiding that is going on in my head a lot lately is speaking in my own voice. The message is often attributed to others, but mostly the criticism is me on me. "Why don't you?" "Why can't you?""Why are you?"

There's a homemade wicker-weave basket sitting on the stack of books next to me on the table. This was only my second attempt at making this type of basket. The sides are woven in three-rod wale: three weavers, each in its turn going over two spokes and under one. Even if you don't understand what that means, your eyes would still see the regularity of the pattern. They would also notice the mistakes in my basket--places where the weavers went over three spokes, or just one. The glitches are all on one side--I was struggling to understand the "step-up," which is how you move from one row to the next without a break in the pattern. Breaks in the pattern stand out--like dissonance or syncopation in music. But these breaks in my basket were not planned--they stand out because I goofed.

The bottom of the basket has problems, too. The center is an eight-pointed star, with sides of the octagon made of four-piece bundles of reed. As the base gets bigger these groups of four swirl around, and weave over and under. Eventually they divide into groups of two which continue to weave and swirl. At some point, in the middle of a round, I lost track of which pairs had actually been woven into place and which ones had sprung into position--the wrong positions--on their own. After forty-five minutes of struggling to make sense of it all I decided to call it a learning experience and let it be--off-center and imperfect. I curved the spokes upward, wove the sides, and finished off the top.

Enough chiding for one basket. It's imperfect, and yet I keep it around. It's light and strong and the top border is pleasing. It can hold balls of yarn. I like to look at it. Even imperfectly, it blesses its maker.

Compassion and mercy--not just for baskets, thank God.

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Monday, September 02, 2013


Sitting in the back yard, drinking beer. It's Island Wheat, in a blue can that says Capital Brewery and displays a golden map of the waters around Washington Island, Wisconsin.

I am not ready for summer to be over. I have to finish painting the garage. And I am not yet full up with the peace and quiet that comes from yard-sitting in the morning, in the evening, in the heat or in an early September chill.

Who am I? Who else could I be?

I looked last night at hundreds of pictures from my son and daughter-in-law's wedding. I'm in many of these, wearing as fancy a dress as I've had in decades, hair straight and smooth, make-up and bright lipstick sharpening my features. I know that's me. It was a very happy night. But outside-in looks different from how inside-to-out feels.

This afternoon I've been writing Bible stories for a project at my church. I am very conscious that the words I choose affect how people will understand these stories. One rewrites the words of the Bible with caution, but also with the awareness that the gospel writers themselves were interpreters of an oral tradition, that they, like me, tried to imagine what it was like to follow Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem. Even if they were working with sources or oral traditions that originated with Jesus disciples, people who were there, they still wrote from a specific theological point of view, to meet the needs of specific readers.

You write a face onto a story--the words on the page. If you're telling the story out loud, you add gestures, emotion, tempo, according to the reactions of your listeners. If you're writing it, you guess at these things. You use your skill to prepare for the big moments, for the surprises, for the touching of hearts. But others will read from outside in, what it is you put in from inside out.

Soon the maple over my head will turn gold. And then its leaves will fall and crumble and blow up against the fence. The tree will be faceless through the winter. What will it be thinking?