Saturday, March 31, 2007

Attend a Passover Seder

Passover begins at sundown on April 2nd. This Jewish holiday recalls the Exodus from Egypt and is traditionally celebrated with a lengthy communal meal structured to include chants, stories, songs, and readings from a ritual text called a Haggadah. Many of the foods are symbolic; for example, horseradish is served because it brings tears to the eyes, reminding us of the tears shed while the children of Israel were in bondage to Egypt.

The Chabad-Lubavitch outreach organization extends a welcome to anyone who would like to participate in a seder, which is the proper name for the Passover meal. (The Chabad-Lubivitch group is one of the largest branches of Hasidic Judaism). To locate a seder near you, check out their website. You need not be observant to attend the seder.

Our church occasionally sponsors a Christian version of a seder, and it always makes for a memorable evening. Because the entire Haggadah would take something like 3 or 4 hours to complete, we have streamlined the event. The Christian can see hidden pictures of Christ the Messiah in so many of the elements of the seder: in the lamb, the Matza bread that is both pierced and striped, in the roasted egg that is set apart like the first-born son.

If you want to launch out on your own and have a Passover in your home, the complete Haggadah text is available here, along with instructions. Or, seek out a "Christ in the Passover" presentation sponsored by the Jews for Jesus.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Great Impressions

Our local art museum is currently exhibiting impressionistic art including Degas, Manet, Monet, Moisot, Pissarro, and Renoir. This is one of the featured items, by Edouard Manet entitled Moss Roses in a Vase. Pink is my favorite color, so I am drawn to this one! But notice the clarity of the water in the vase and the hourglass shape. Lovely, don't you think?

According to an article in our newspaper, art museums consider impressionists "great" for more reasons than one. Not only is it palatable to nearly every taste, this art lures more viewers to the museum than just about any other genre, which translates into financial benefits for the museum.

How much do you know about the Impressionists?

Here is a little quiz* to test your knowledge:

Match the artist with the fact about him.

1. Edgar Degas
2. Edouard Manet
3. Claude Monet
4. Camille Pissarro
5. Pierre-Auguste Renoir

A. Lost a foot because of a circulatory disease that eventually claimed his life.
B. Painted a portrait of composer Richard Wagner in 35 minutes
C. Renowned for his infatuation with dancers
D. Refined his style while serving with the French military in Algeria
E. Known as the father of Impressionism who inspired Paul Cezanne and Paul Gauguin.

(Answers: 1. C 2. A 3. D 4. E 5. B)

*Credit: Dane Stickney, World -Herald Staff Writer 3/25/07

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Singing Garlic

"There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger's origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes."
~ from The Wind in the Willows

Oh, it is passages like this one that make it so much fun to read Kenneth Grahame's classic Wind in the Willows. Now that it is springtime, this paragraph makes you want to grab the picnic basket and eat lunch outside. Alas, it was raining here today, but we did the second best thing. We verbally described what we would like to pack in our luncheon-basket. I am afraid our food descriptions were pretty lackluster compared to Mr. Grahame's, but it was a fun exercise anyway. I discovered it is very difficult to come up with descriptions of food that are unusual; the worn-out words like juicy, mouth-watering, tangy, etc. are so hard to supersede. It is a good thing for a teacher to do the things she assigns her students. Certainly it keeps her more empathetic!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Book Review: The Chosen by Chaim Potok

The Jewish Talmud exhorts a man to do two things for himself. First, acquire a teacher. The other is to choose a friend.

Danny Saunders got the package deal when he made the acquaintance of Reuven Malter. Theirs is a Jonathan and David friendship, the two-bodies-with-one-soul type of friendship that happens rarely in a lifetime.

As the oldest son of the tzaddik (righteous leader) of a strict, Hasidic Jewish sect, Danny is the chosen. Upon the death of his father, he will be expected to step up as head of the dynasty. Thus his father, the brilliant but eccentric Reb Saunders, focuses his full attention upon the proper upbringing of his son.

But what is a proper upbringing for a genius? Listen to the agonizing dilemma of Danny's father:

"A man is born into this world with only a tiny spark of goodness in him. The spark is God, it is the soul; the rest is ugliness and evil, a shell. The spark must be guarded like a treasure, it must be nurtured, it must be fanned into flame. {Snip} Anything can be a shell....anything. Indifference, laziness, brutality, and genius. Yes, even a great mind can be a shell and choke the spark.

Reuven, the Master of the Universe blessed me with a brilliant son. And he cursed me with all the problems of raising him. Ah, what it is to have a brilliant son! Not a smart son, Reuven, but a brilliant son, a Daniel, a boy with a mind like a jewel. Ah, what a curse it is, what an anguish it is to have a Daniel, whose mind is like a pearl, like a sun. Reuven, when my Daniel was four years old, I saw him reading a story from a book. And I was frightened. he did not read the story, he swallowed it, as one swallows food or water. There was no soul in my four-year-old Daniel, there was only his mind. He was a mind in a body without a soul. It was a story in a Yiddish book about a poor Jew and his struggles to get to Eretz Yisroel before he died. Ah, how that man suffered! And my Daniel enjoyed the story, he enjoyed the last terrible page, because when he finished it he realized for the first time what a memory he had. He looked at me proudly and told me back the story from memory, and I cried inside my heart. I went away and cried to the Master of the Universe, 'What have you done to me? A mind like this I need for a son? A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion I want from my son, righteousness, mercy, strength to suffer and carry pain, that I want from my son, not a mind without a soul!"

Reb Saunders makes a very unusual choice for his son. He chooses to raise him in silence. Except for weekly dialogue over the Talmud and Torah, no words pass between father and son. Though it seems cruel, it is the father's best hope that the suffering it creates will fan into flame that spark of a soul that lies within Danny.

Reuven becomes the counter-balance for Danny's relationship with his father. As a more liberal Jew, Reuven is able to bring a rational element into an otherwise emotionally volatile situation. Without their friendship, it is easy to see that Danny would crumple either from rage or simply from the heavy load of expectation he carries as a burden.

Ultimately, Reb Saunders can claim at least partial victory for his son's upbringing. Danny will break the the multi-generational traditions of his ancestors; he will not step into the chosen role of Tzaddik. Rather, he will be a "tzaddik for the world", a different kind of a healer in his chosen field of psychology. But he will remain a practicing Jew, a man with a soul in whom the spark of life burns brightly.

I loved this book. It was fascinating to look behind the scenes at the traditions of the most orthodox sect of Judaism. The Jews have remained a people apart, separate from the nations. This story gives a glimpse of the challenges they incurred as a people group after WWII. The struggle was to keep their traditions intact, but at the same time to acclimate to their new home country of America. Rich, rich, rich. I have scouted out two others by the same author The Promise, which is a sequel to The Chosen, and My Name is Asher Lev, which some feel is Chaim Potok's best work.

And yes, Janie, I learned some new words:

Reb- a Yiddish word used as a title of respect for a Jewish teacher or important other. It is always placed in front of a name.

Rebbe- (pronounced REBB-uh or REBB-ee) In Hasidic circles the Rebbe is a spiritual leader, usually of higher status than an ordinary rabbi.

Tzaddik- a righteous man who has conquered his own evil inclinations.

gematriya- a word derived from the Greek "geometry". The letters of the Hebrew alphabet have assigned numerical values; in studying the Torah, meaning can be read into these values, sometimes of a mystical nature.

Hasidism- orthodox Judaism of a mystical nature originating in the 1700's in Eastern Europe.

Yeshiva- A Jewish parochial school

Pilpul- empty, nonsensical arguments over minute points of the Talmud with no practical application to the world.

tzitzit- long fringes that hang from the four corners of the orthodox Jewish garment.

Postscript: The Chosen was made into a movie in 1982 ~~ one of the actors is Rod Steiger. Has anyone out there seen it?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A St. Patrick's Day Book Selection: How the Irish Saved Civilization

Because I have a little Irish in my blood (my maternal Grandfather was Irish), I thought I would pull a book off my library shelf that has contributed to my knowledge of the Celtic culture. It is entitled How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. This book is not fresh in my mind~~I read it several years back, but I still remember the horrific description of the fall of Rome. And along with that fall came the endangerment of Greek and Roman learning. Cahill's premise is that the Irish monks "saved" civilization by obtaining, preserving, and copying many precious and irreplaceable historical documents. The book has been accused of being "light" on history, but I enjoyed reading it. The premise that the Irish actually saved civilization is probably overstated; no doubt there were many other people groups who also contributed greatly to the preservation of knowledge. But I thought Cahill did a good job of humanizing the monks and giving them some of the credit for reintroducing culture and literacy back to the main continent. If you like to take little side trips into history, this one is is anything but boring.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Man of Sorrows

Albrecht Dürer
German (1470-1528)
Knight Death and the Devil

The strong man in his armour
Thou mettest in Thy grace
Did'st spoil the mighty charmer
Of our unhappy race.

The chains of man, his victim,
Were loosened by Thy hand;
No evils that afflict him
Before Thy power could stand.

Disease, and death, and demon,
All fled before Thy word,
As darkness the dominion
Of day's returning lord!

The love that bore our burden
On the accursed tree,
Would give the heart its pardon,
And set the sinner free!

Love, that made Thee a mourner
In this sad world of woe,
Made wretched man a scorner
Of grace--that brought Thee low.

Still in Thee love's sweet savour
Shone forth in every deed,
And showed God's loving favour
To every soul in need.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Facing the Giants : Infertility and Fear

If you have been fortunate enough to view the movie, Facing the Giants, you have no doubt reflected on the "giants", the major obstacles, in your own life.

The biggest giant I have ever faced, my "Goliath", was infertility. This is my story.

The first 8 years of my marriage I was engaged in career and church-planting in partnership with my husband. Starting a family was on the back burner.

But somewhere in that 8th year, the longing for children emerged. Why wasn't it happening?

Medical tests revealed no problems. As we consulted with physicians regarding our options, it became apparent that continuing on the path of medical intervention would require us to center our lives totally around the goal of having a baby. It would demand both our money and our time. It didn't feel right. We decided to stop medical procedures and just wait on God.

We prayed. We relinquished our desires to God. We hoped.

I made the personal decision during those years to live a fruitful life regardless of whether or not God chose to grant my request for a child. But emotions sometimes run counter to the decisions of the will. Before coming to a state of peace and restful acceptance, I would struggle through tears and entreaties. Scripture brought great hope, but the hope seemed to be dashed monthly. Then the emotional cycle would start over.

As time passed, my emotions stabilized and then I would think, "I have conquered this thing." But occasionally the wound would be reopened, like when I visited new mothers in the hospital, or when a circular would arrive in the mail advertising maternity clothes. Then the grief was fresh in me again.

This phase of life lasted about 7 years. Toward the end of that time, we decided to attend a seminar for people wishing to adopt children. As the date of the seminar neared, my husband uncharacteristically changed his mind about going. There was a pressing ministry concern that he felt took precedence. I was crushed and very, very angry.

The same week of the seminar, as I was delivering meals-on-wheels to an elderly client, the woman greeted me with excitement. "I had a dream about you last night!" she said eagerly, "I dreamed you were pregnant!" I was a little taken back by this. I barely knew this woman. She was foul-mouthed and had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. Not anything like the Gabriel that presented Mary with her good news! But like Mary, I pondered these things in my heart.

Another out-of-the-ordinary event happened a little later. We hosted a small gathering of believers in our home to listen to a missions report from Bulgaria. Pretty routine stuff for a ministry couple. But my heart was pierced. As I viewed the pictures of sweet little Bulgarian children attentively listening to the gospel message, I knew I had to go. If I couldn't have my own children, I would go to these and share my love with them.

My husband was in absolute oneness with me on this.. He had the same strong urging to go. We immediately began preparing for our first mission trip: passports, applications, training, videos, etc.

And then the day came for the required medical exam and immunizations. As I answered the routine questions that were a part of the exam, it became apparent that my cycle was askew. Would it be OK if they did a pregnancy test? I explained that I had been infertile for 15 years, but if they needed to do a test, fine.

The test was positive. At the age of 36, after 15 years of marriage, I was going to have a baby.

I laughed all the way home from the clinic; but the minute I walked through my front door into my husband's arms I dissolved into tears. Could such a gift truly be ours? It seemed surreal.

Our God is a super-abundant God. He blessed us with four children in quick succession between the years of 1993 and 1999 .

"He settles the barren woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord." Psalm 113:9

I am convinced that God ordains that each of His children face a giant at some point in life. When the Israelites spied giants in the land of promise, they shrank back in fear, causing their blessing to be postponed for 40 years. Surely the biggest giant we face is Fear. It was refreshing to see a movie, Facing the Giants, that realistically portrays the believer's battle with fear. One thing that stuck with me was a comment that there are 365 "fear not" verses in scripture. If that be true, then there is a "fear not" for every day of the year. I intend to keep a list of them in the coming year.

Here is my first one:

"Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil for Thou art with me." Psalm 23:4

Spring Reading Challenge

Janie at Seasonal Soundings is hosting the Spring Reading Challenge. It IS fun to set a reading goal and see how much is accomplished at the end of the season. I feel like a beginner next to the incredible lists I see from my blogging sisters!

Here I post my own humble list, kept necessarily small because I read aloud 2+ hours a day to my children, but also because I like to leave white space on my list for books I find by serendipity. Do you, too, find that wonderful books seem to fall into your hands by divine intention?

Here is my list:

  • Heaven by Randy Alcorn
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  • The One Year Book of Poetry
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • The Soloist by Mark Salzman

And these are books still in progress that are left over from the winter:

  • Wandering Through Winter by Edwin Way Teale
  • A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm by Edwin Way Teale
  • The Intellectual Life by A.G.Sertillanges, O.P.