Friday, December 14, 2012

Beauty for Ashes

HUGO- the movie.  I LOVED it! It was deliberate without being draggy, emotional without being overly sentimental, antique and modern all at the same time. There was a message within it that resonated with me, one I want to try to nail down with words.

George was on the cutting edge of cinema creation when this art form was in its infancy in France. He enjoyed the thrill of creating, directing, acting, casting, writing---a stimulating blend of artistry. His movies were celebrated and he was so successful that he was able to construct a glass building in which to build his sets and capture the light perfectly for shooting his films.That glass building epitomized his success.

Alas, along came the great war. The public taste changed. The soldiers who returned home after the war no longer had an interest in the sweet and innocent tales that George portrayed on cinema. People had been sobered, and the popular culture swung in a different direction. George no longer enjoyed the thrill of popularity and his movie making venture crashed to a halt. He tore down his glass building and in a fit of passion burned the films, the props, and sets that had been icons of days gone by.

George became morose, with a bitter edge. He opened a shop in which he tinkered with repairing toys but he was unfulfilled, forgotten, and secretive about his past. His deep loss was a festering wound but he sought to hide it and go on with his life.

Unbeknownst to him, at the heyday of his cinema making career, a young and starry-eyed boy had idolized him from afar, devouring each and every film, visiting the glass house, relishing every new thing that George created. That young man grew up to collect every bit of film and memorabilia he could get his hands on, compiling an astounding collection of George's work and even writing an in-depth book on the subject. George's genius, his passion, and the value of his pioneering artistry-- all of it was fully grasped by this dedicated admirer.

As fate would have it, Hugo---the movie's namesake---was able to bring George and the young protege together. This meeting culminated in a huge, public reminisce in which George was able to share with an adoring audience the slice of history with which he was so intimately acquainted. His movies had come full circle; he enjoyed a revival of interest in his work because in hindsight all could now see clearly that they laid the foundation for an art form that has enjoyed a permanency that no one could have foreseen in the early 20th century.

The kernels of truth here, for me, had application to my own life. The spiritual movement to which I have given my best years enjoyed a heyday in the 1970s and 80s. Even in the 90s there was a residual flush of popularity that remained. But we are in a new time and culture has shifted. The movement is no longer the new, the exciting, the popular. In many ways I could relate to George as he watched his beloved glass movie house being bulldozed. My life pursuits have been less tangible than George's, being spiritual investments in people rather than to an art form. Layers of ashes cloak the glowing ember that has burned brightly so many years.

Oh but wait! There is a young person in the wings, an enthusiastic disciple waiting to take up that ember and light a torch with it and hold it up high. The value of the pursuit is not lost on this individual, indeed he seeks to fan it to flame once again and carry on the work. Oh joy! The last is better than the first because it has gained the perspective of years and the contributions of youth.

As I watched that huge audience cheering for George in his final public presentation, I thought of the great cloud of witnesses that are cheering me on, cheering me home. Be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

~ I Corinthians 15:58 NKJV

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Be Cookin'

With five hungry teenagers and a husband to cook for, I've been in the kitchen a lot this summer! I might add that I've enjoyed every minute. Well, ALMOST every minute. I don't enjoy clean-up so much. What I do appreciate is the fellowship around the table, the shared conversation, and the satisfaction of knowing I've expressed my love by providing the best possible for my family. Some of the menu items we've enjoyed:
  • Roasted Chickpeas--tossed in a little olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and chili powder. These make a great snack and also add interest to a salad.
  • Black bean/mango salsa--yummy with Trader Joe's Tortilla/Flax chips
  • Smoked Salmon/cream cheese log--spreadable high protein snack for my youngest
  • Gluten-Free Bread--My gluten-free boarder likes my loaf better than the Udi's brand!
  • Cabbage wedges-- lightly buttered, a little Worcestershire and a few bacon bits added, then baked in foil in a hot oven
  • Quinoa with chunks of cucumbers, tomatoes, diced onion, black beans and dressed lightly with a drizzle of olive oil/lime juice/garlic and sprinkled generously with Penzey's Florida Pepper blend.
  • Steel Cut Oats or Pearl Barley--I make a big batch, stirring applesauce in with the water and setting the bowl in a crock pot full of water. It cooks gently in about 4 hours and is ready to pop in the refrigerator. So handy to heat up one bowlful at a time in the mornings and it is yummy with snipped, dried prunes, fresh blueberries, raisins, or a dash of cinnamon and stevia.
  • Meat rub--I've been trying to duplicate a special rib rub my friend Mary gave me for my birthday. I've come pretty close! The secret ingredient is a tablespoon of ground coffee + kosher salt, coarse ground pepper, garlic, onion, chili powder, and a touch of brown sugar.
How about you? What are you cooking these days?

The Penzey Spice company's motto is a winner in my book: LOVE TO COOK--COOK TO LOVE

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Poem on a Plate

The Farmer Takes a Wife: The Poetry of Love and War


The fictional Clovis Fossey, a farmer from the pages of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, does not want to attend any book meetings. "My farm is a lot of work, and I did not want to spend my time reading about people who never was, doing things they never did." He's not much interested in poetry, either, but thinks that it might give him an edge in wooing an eligible widow. Mr. Fossey's exploration of poetry leads him to Wordsworth on behalf of the widow and then to Wilfred Owen for his own edification. Owens' WWI poems struck a chord in Fossey's heart because he, too had served in the trenches.

A friend put The Oxford Book of Verse- 1892 to 1935 into Fossey's hands. The revered William Butler Yeats chose the verses in this anthology, and Clovis Fossey has a strong opinion about his selections:

"They let a man named Yeats make the choosings. They shouldn't have. Who is he and what does he know about verse? I hunted all through the book for poems by Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sasson. There weren't any--nary a one. And do you know why not? Because Mr Yeats said--he said 'I deliberately chose not to include any poems from WWI. I have distaste for them. Passive suffering is not a theme for poetry.'

Passive suffering? ...I nearly seized up. What ailed the man? Lieutenant Owens, he wrote a line,
 'What passing bells for those who die like cattle? 
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.' 

What is passive about that, I'd like to know. That is exactly how they do die. I saw it with my own eyes, and I say to hell with Mr. Yeats."

I love Mr. Fossey, the literate farmer. He imbibes poetry that embrace the great themes love and war--classic fodder for the poets' pen. Some folks think poetry is for dreamy-eyed visionaries, but  this war veteran-cum-farmer finds it of great benefit. The Wordsworth poems roll off his tongue and he snags the charming widow. The war poems of Owens and Sasson are healing salve, helping him make sense of the horrors he witnessed.

Most of all, I love how poetry makes Clovis Fossey a man of confident opinion. He has a view of the world, and he isn't afraid to defy even the great William Butler Yeats.

It was Wordsworth who noted that  "poet is man speaking to man".  The Clovis Fossey vignette is a perfect illustration of this lovely truth.


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Book Review: The Tehran Initiative

The Tehran InitiativeThe Tehran Initiative by Joel C. Rosenberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the most exciting of Joel Rosenberg's books, in my opinion. Fast paced, full of intrigue and numerous twists and turns, the reader is allowed a glimpse inside the CIA, the Mossad, the Middle Eastern Caliphate, and the Iranian ring of nuclear scientists. The time comes when Israel must take a pre-emptive strike on Iran in order to spare their country from a nuclear holocaust. The action wins the displeasure of the U.S. Commander in Chief, President Jackson. Jackson drags his feet on taking any action to assist Israel, instead taking the bait of the Twelfth Imam (Religious leader of the Caliphate) by agreeing to seek diplomatic measures.

This book is a great adventure novel, but is so accurate in portraying our country's  precarious position in world affairs that it renders me a little uncomfortable. There are no easy answers to the problems in our world today and this novel reveals the sad consequences of weak leadership and ignorance of the great destruction that can result from misplaced religious fervor.

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

On Teaching Poetry

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm," according to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Do you agree?
As a teacher, I greatly desire for my students to "catch" my enthusiasm for poetry. It can be disappointing when they look bored or stare blankly at my best efforts to share a literary favorite. I know better than to take it too personally; I just keep on reading a poem everyday and have confidence that as I sow beautiful words, some are bound to take root.

 The wait is worth it. When I witness that "spark" from page to pupil, I inwardly rejoice! The late John Ciardi, whom some knew as "Mr. Poet", expresses it perfectly: 

"I don't think it is possible to teach anything until the teacher has elicited some enthusiasm. That is where teaching begins. As far as poetry is concerned, the job is not simple, but it reduces to one thing. Somehow the student has to be led to read a poem, to put it down, and to say, "Wow!"  From that point on he is teachable, but until that excitement has been elicited, until that response has been there, no teaching is possible. You may train, you may discipline, you may cause poems to be memorized by unexcited people, but only the excited can learn." ~ Ciardi himself: fifteen essays in the reading, writing, and teaching of poetry

Enthusiasm. Now that is a God word.  The archaic en + theos means inspired by God.  The second member of the trinity is called "The Word" in the gospel of John. And that whoosh! of enthusiasm that transpires between written word and student is an evidence that we humans bear His image. How mysterious this transfer, and what a privilege I have as a teacher to witness the edges of His ways.


Thursday, April 05, 2012

maggie and milly and molly and may by ee cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

~biographer Sawyer-Lauçanno on ee cummings:

 "He consistently celebrated the ordinary, reviled pretentiousness, scourged conformity, ardently championed the individual (and nature) against the machine."

"an American original"

Cummings unique style included his signature uncapitalized "i", jamming words together, the creation of adverbs (example: "sayingly"), unorthodox use of punctuation and parentheses.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Malignant Beauty: The Cancer Cells

 Cancer Cells Image: GE Healthcare

I often read a poetry book at night before dropping off to sleep: John Ciardi's How Does a Poem Mean?  I came across this most unusual poem at about the same time a dear friend was diagnosed with incurable cancer. I've been musing on it ever since.  It is strange that something so murderous--cancer cells--could have such an outward appearance of beauty.

 The Cancer Cells

Today I saw a picture of the cancer cells,
Sinister shapes with menacing attitudes.
They had outgrown their test-tube and advanced,
Sinister shapes with menacing attitudes.
Into a world beyond, a virulent laughing gang.
They looked like art itself, like the artist's mind,
Powerful shaker, and taker of new forms.
Some are revulsed to see these spiky shapes;
It is the world of the future too come to.
Nothing could be more vivid than their language,
Lethal, sparkling and irregular stars,
The murderous design of the universe,
The hectic dance of the passionate cancer cells.
O just phenomena to the calculating eye,
originals of imagination. I flew
With them in a piled exuberance of time,
My own malignance in their racy, beautiful gestures
Quick and lean: and in their riot too
I saw the stance of the artist's make,
The fixed form in the massive fluxion.

I think Leonardo would have in his disinterest
Enjoyed them precisely with a sharp pencil.

~Poem by Richard Eberhart

My thoughts on the poem:
  • Eberhart mentions "sinister shapes with menacing attitudes" twice, personifying the cancer cells.
  • The cells are seen as a gang causing a riot.
  • The author recognizes "my own malignance" in the image of the death cells.
  • "The future too come to" is not a misspelling.  The future is coming too fast, accelerating b/c of the cancer cells.
  • The last 2 lines stand alone and were puzzling to me, until I remembered that Leonardo did autopsies on cadavers in order to improve his ability to render the human body accurately in his art. Perhaps his interest in art made him disinterested in the deceased.
  • "Precisely with a sharp pencil" was/is equally enigmatic. Was he saying that Leonardo would have enjoyed the new scientific knowledge and incorporated it dispassionately into his understanding of the human body?
John Ciardi contributes a bit of insight on the last 2 lines of the poem:
"....note how the last two lines are thrust against the first passage. That is the essence of the poem. I want to argue that a poem consists of one thing thrust against another across a silence. It is like music, in that you set up a passage, you pause, and against it you set up a counter passage. That is not a statement; that is an experience, a shape, a thing made. It is like a statue, like a painting." from his book Ciardi Himself: fifteen essays

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

How To Be a Poet

By Wendell Berry
(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   


Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   


Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.

Monday, April 02, 2012

National Poetry Month: Poetry on the Big Screen

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. ~T.S. Eliot

If April is the cruellest month, the fact that it is National Poetry Month softens the cruelties considerably. I love reading the poems that other bloggers post during this month; invariably these offerings give me the pleasure of revisiting old favorites and discovering new voices.

When reading great poetry, I find myself musing and carrying on an inner conversation. It's very satisfying to the soul, but HEARING great poetry adds another layer of gratification.

Here are three movies that have contributed to my enjoyment of poetry:

Bright Star (2008)- A biographical memoir of John Keats. It is a voluptuous visual feast, with outstanding period costumes and piercing renditions of the romanticist's poems. Although it borders on being sentimental, there was a fair amount of tension successfully portrayed as Keats spent the final years of his short life feverishly "gleaning his teeming brain" but constantly distracted by the captivating Fanny Brawne. A nice review of the movie can be found here.

Wit (2001)--a poignant cancer story, interlaced with John Donne's poetry.The most memorable line was from "Death Be Not Proud" : 
'And death shall be no more' comma 'death, thou shalt die.'
 Nothing but a breath, a comma separates life from life everlasting.

The Dead Poets Society (1989)--one of my all time favorite movies. John Keating is the inspiring and very unconventional teacher in a conservative, stringent boys' school. His own joy of living is contagious and sparks a love of poetry in these boys that is heartwarming to behold. Tinged with a bit of tragedy, but overall a bracing, thrilling, tonic for the soul. I periodically go to YouTube and watch segments such as "O CAPTAIN! my Captain!" and "Carpe Diem".  Memorable and timeless.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Mark of a Great Teacher

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." ~Jesus in John 16:12

I tend to see life through the lens of teaching, because that is my gift and passion. As I study the life of Christ via the scriptures, it strikes me that here is THE most elegant model for teaching:
  •  Dialogue in an informal setting
  •  Answering questions with questions
  •  Learning from nature
  •  Parables
  •  Investing in a small circle of disciples

John 16:12 adds another nugget of truth to that list: knowing exactly how much the student can take and not exceeding that limit.

How difficult it is for me to place a limit on myself! I want to pour into my students' heads all the treasure that I've managed to store in my small cache of wisdom.. How prideful that is--they cannot bear it now. But the Spirit of truth will take any seed of wisdom that I sow in the fertile hearts of my students and He will continue to lead them into all truth. It's a promise: "When He, the spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all the truth..." John 16:13

This is so freeing for any teacher. When the student can bear no more, STOP! The Holy Spirit is able to finish the teaching session at a future time and place. He even has the capacity to create a hunger for learning and when that happens the student will leave no stone unturned until he has satisfied the need to know.

An old proverb sums this idea up pretty accurately: strike while the iron is hot.
Conversely, if you don't strike oil, stop boring!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Poem: The H. Scriptures I by George Herbert

George Herbert at Bemerton by William Dyce
Oh Book! infinite sweetness! let my heart
Suck ev'ry letter, and a honey gain,
Precious for any grief in any part;
To clear the breast, to mollify all pain.
Thou art all health, health thriving, till it make
A full eternity: thou art a mass
Of strange delights, where we may wish and take.
Ladies, look here; this is the thankfull glass,
That mends the looker's eyes: this is the well
That washes what it shows. Who can endear
Thy praise too much? thou art heav'n's Lidger here,
Working against the states of death and hell.
Thou art joy's handsel: heav'n lies flat in thee,
Subject to ev'ry mounter's bended knee. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

How Do You Bookmark?

How do you bookmark?

This article gave me a chuckle. I have a drawer full of "nice" bookmarks, but in a pinch I've been known to  use:

  •  a tissue (unused!)
  •  a grocery list
  •  a piece of junk mail
  •  a dollar bill
  •  a gum wrapper
  •  a paper clip  
  •  a library receipt

But I will never, never dog-ear a page.

How about you?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Amy Carmichael's Words on Motherhood

Maternal Caress by Mary Cassatt

  “These children are dear to Me.  Be a mother to them, and more than a mother.  Watch over them tenderly, be just and kind.  If thy heart is not large enough to embrace them, I will enlarge it after a pattern of My own.  If these young children are docile and obedient, bless Me for it; if they are froward, call upon Me for help; if they weary thee, I will be thy consolation; if thou sink under thy burden, I will be thy Reward.”

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Story of "Grace"

           Grace by Eric Enstrom 1918

The article in today's newspaper caught my eye, announcing the death of 95 year old Rhoda Enstrom Nyberg. Rhoda is credited with bring color into her father's famous black-and-white photo by painting it with heavy oils. The painting is very familiar to me but I did not know the story behind it until today.

In 1918, a bearded peddler came calling at Eric Enstrom's photography studio in Bovey, Minnesota."There was something about the old gentleman's face that immediately impressed me. I saw that he had a kind face... there weren't any harsh lines in it," Eric recalled. After arranging bread, gruel, and a book before the old gentleman, the man struck a pose of uncontrived thankfulness, and the resulting photo captured perfectly the message Eric sought to convey: gratefulness was a grace to be cultivated even in the midst of war time sacrifice.

Enstrom sold the black-and-white photos by framing them and displaying them in his studio window. Later, his daughter precipitated more widespread distribution when she colored the photo with oils.

Evidence abounds that Enstrom's artistic eye had captured something timeless. Nearly a century later, the image is still hanging in many homes and churches. The Minnesota State Legislature has even given it a place of honor by designating it the state photo.

My Grandparents had "Grace" hanging in their home, along with the "Gratitude" painting by a different artist. My husband has the photo in his office at church.
Where have you encountered "Grace"?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Filled with the Fragrance

"Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." John 12:3

Perhaps Mary, after witnessing the miraculous resurrection of her brother Lazarus, now felt the spikenard non-essential. Death no longer held power over her. The sweet fragrance, originally intended for the anointing of the dead, was now being enjoyed by the living. Mary lavished the spikenard upon Jesus, the author and the sweetness of life.

Celebrate life! Celebrate Jesus' presence at the table! Let the whole house be permeated with the oil of gladness!

"Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life." 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

"And we desire that each one of you
show the same diligence--->
to the full assurance of hope-->
until the end." Hebrews 6:11
Some twenty years ago, I was studying about the resurrection from the classic passage in I Corinthians 15. Although the doctrine of the resurrection had been deeply ingrained in my theology since childhood, it suddenly--whoosh!!--became a hope so sure, so solid that I was literally engulfed in the sweetness of it. The ancient fear of death vacated my heart and the full assurance of hope took up residency in its stead.

What if I had not exerted the effort to study that passage of scripture? The diligence of study was an invitation for the Holy Spirit to breath life into the truth, transferring it out of the mind's data bank and into the treasure vault of my heart.

Full assurance isn't obtained by minimal exposure to truth, but by diving into the depths. There is a labor involved in mining, a diligence required of the "workman who needs not to be ashamed, handling accurately the Word of truth." That diligence must extend PAST the assurance of hope. Once that assurance has been obtained, the directive in Hebrews 6:12 further warns us:

"do not become sluggish"

Human nature pulls me back, tempts me to be sluggish. The Apostle Paul is an example here: at the latter end of his years he continued in fruitful service even when confined to a Roman prison. He said, "I press on..."

"imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." Hebrews 6:12b

That is why I like to read biographies. They are the ongoing chapters of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, the flesh and blood examples of saints who have inherited the promises via their persevering faith.

Some scriptural promises are not realized at all apart from persevering faith. My own perseverance is stimulated by the examples of those who have walked the road ahead of me. I take courage from their possession of the goods.

Christianity is a marathon, not a sprint.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book Review: Island of the World by Michael D. O'Brien

The Island of the WorldThe Island of the World by Michael D. O'Brien

My rating: 41/2 of 5 stars

The Island of the World is not reached by swimming the shallows. This is a book with depth and pathos, a tale of a Croatian who suffered unspeakable horrors and loss as the winds of war engulfed his country. An 800+ page tome, the lengthy story begins in 1933, painting the picture of the idyllic and remote mountain village into which Josip Lasta is born. The author takes great pains not to sweep over this happy season quickly, imbedding vivid scenes of Josip's simple and wholesome childhood deeply in the reader's mind. Tender moments with his Father, books he loved, the first stirrings of love, the little game he plays with his Mother as she is hanging out the laundry---evocative pleasures are painted in a way that leaves one feeling the way a child feels; the days are long but the years are short. Because the reader has lived with Josip during his brief, happy years, the stage is set to also deeply feel the loss he endures during the later phases of his life.

One would think that a handful of apolitical peasants in a mountain village, tucked away from the strategic centers of war, would be safe. But no one was safe during the storm of WWII. Josip Lasta suffered unimaginable loss and witnessed horrific scenes of such violence that it took his entire life to wrestle with their aftermath.

Michael D. O'Brien's talents lie not just in storytelling, but in art and iconography as well. The reader will pick up and collect many icons along the way, just as Josip Lasta does: the swallow, the dolphin, the white stag. There are many layers of spiritual depth in much of the reading, many wisdom nuggets to pick up. Most of it was enriching but toward the end of the book I felt it was becoming a little too much. One can only pick up so many nuggets before they become heavy.

That was a small fault, however, and gladly exchanged for the privilege of the interior ruminations of a man who clung to life and love with a tenacity that was remarkable. Josip Lasta's life was ultimately a triumph of faith and sacrifice over a set of circumstances that can only be described as "hellish". A truly brilliant picture of a simple kind of hero.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

OrthodoxyOrthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I waited too long to read this book, probably because the title makes it sound like something boring and straight-laced. It is not! Chesterton engages in a game of verbal ping-pong, bouncing around modernist notions such as evolution, progress, equality, materialism, crime as a disease, miracles, and science. Sometimes I would get bogged down because he can talk an issue to death. But most of the time I found him pithy, witty, humorous, and profound. Always, Chesterton was able to lucidly argue his way through modern truisms and come to the finish line: TRUTH as contained in orthodox Christianity. Highly recommended.

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