Silence

Silence Some seasons of silence speak of an extravagant knowing, how our cousins and kin need food, laughter, and mercy more than mere platitudes.

"Grief and joy are not equal opposites," he says, by which he is asking permission to wield inappropriate hope. We nod in unison, eyes toward the carpet.

There is stewed pork in the dutch oven; fat and collagen have melted through meat, and it is as tender as the memory of a moment. This is an Ebenezer to the passing of kin's lights.

By supper we say we are sorry; we are here for everything or nothing. Is this God? It is the least of love, the most human thing mustered.

Some seasons of silence speak of an extravagant knowing, how our cousins and kin need food, laughter, and mercy more than mere platitudes.

Cliches (And Parenthetical Asides)

Things have turned here in the Ozarks. After a spell of wicked weather--ice, snow, wind, and such--winter's wrath has given way to milder temperatures. (Ah, the portent of Old Man Winter's demise, the foreshadowing of spring!) The snow has melted, has seeped into the good earth down to where the spring shoots are coming to life. This weekend the boys and I cleaned the last of the Fall leaves from the yard. We raked pile after pile from near the walkway, and under one such pile we uncovered two surprise lilly shoots stretching up through the already composting fallen foliage.  Ian squatted over them, smiled and said, "look daddy, something is growing!"

"That something," I said, "is the shoot of a surprise lilly. It'll bloom in a few weeks."

"It's turning spring!" Ian declared, then added, "woo-hoo! Spring break!"

Yes, spring is on its way; it is coming with its its dogwood and redbud beauty, its Bradford Pear stench, too. I'm rather looking forward to the new season this year, because the weather across the more southern reaches of Middle America have been what the meteorologists call "wonky." It's been so off-kilter, in fact, that the boys have missed eleven days of school. And as we all know, eleven days is an eternity in the Benchmark-Test Era of public school. (Will the teachers have enough time to prepare our chidden for the standardized exam? Will the students measure up? We're always teaching our kids about measurements.)

In an effort to mitigate the inevitability of low test scores, our district has taken an aggressive approach, scheduling a Saturday school day or two, and cutting into Ian's spring break. As we all know, to an elementary-aged boy, there are only two things worse than catching Lizzie McGirl's cooties during freeze-tag (when did she get so tall, and fast, and when did her voice get deeper than mine?)--Saturday school and a shortened spring break. Not to be undone by Saturday school, though, my children have upped their game, have taken to feigning illnesses that would impress even the most skilled physician.  (As an aside, I'm starting to wonder whether my children have the ability run a fever and vomit on demand.) Children are Houdinis, skirting every inconvenience if allowed.

Maybe we're not all that different.

I was with a friend this week, and we were discussing some of the nuances of life. We spoke of growing older (when did my lower-back start aching again?), of unmet expectations (will God ever fully heal my Titus?), of the joys of parenting (see previous comment regarding vomiting on command). We spoke of darker days, like the season I spent self-medicating, or the season he spent in the corporate grind. We laughed as we discussed our own coping mechanisms, how they weren't that much different than those of our children.

We spoke of the lighter things, too, though. We have both found good community among the good people of God. He (emphasis added) is finding joy in the quiet things, the things that will "never make me famous," as he says. We have good wives, good kids, love.

We unpacked life, layer after layer, and the more I thought about it, the more I considered the breadth and scope of our time here. It's a wild ride; isn't that cliche? Apologies. I've always been predisposed to cliche. Old habits die hard. Shoot; there I go again! Let me try again, because if at first I didn't succeed, and all of that.

We unpacked life and I considered how it is composed  of a series of both unfortunate and fortunate events. I considered how both pain and joy are gifts, how they teach us what it means to be alive to the presence of God around us, in us, and through us. Without pain, where is the need for communion with God? Without joy, where is the thankfulness cultivated by God at work in us? Joy and pain, yin and yang--they bring the balance to this thing we call grace.

All is grace.

This could become cliche if we let it, almost the stuff of silver linings. But it's much more than that. Consider it. The snow of winter--its melting gives way to the shoots of spring. The sickness of the child--it draw us deeper into our need for trust in an eternal God. The community of faith, the wife, the children--they keep us moving forward.

I could write another thousand words in an attempt to convince you that the phrase all is grace is really no cliche at all. I could scrawl, and scrawl, and scrawl, beg you to unpack every life event and see the good grace behind it. Somehow, though, I think the begging would take the fun out of it. Maybe there'd be grace in that, too.

Today I'm remaining in the language--all is grace. Everything. Even the rotting, composting leaves. Even the tender shoots of spring. It's all a grace.

(Exceptions for Saturday school and shortened spring breaks are duly noted.)

The Cushite Photo

Deep in the heart of nomad country, an old clan leader asked if we would help him carry a briar bed to his compound.  His goat pen was running a bit sparse and there had been hyenas casing the joint. These were good thorns, long and sharp, good pastoralist barbed wire.  We agreed, so he hoisted the brush atop the luggage rack and held on to the Cruiser's ladder.  It was only a couple hundred meters, he said in his Cushite language. I think of  Moses' father-in-law.  Was he small and wispy like this clan leader?  Did he light a fire at the midnight heckle of the hyenas?  Was he a thorn dweller; did he make gates from desert quills?

I wonder about Moses.  Those years before he turned the Nile to blood, did he wander with the camels?  Did he rediscover his nomadic roots, the roots of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  What better preparation for a forty year wandering, I think.

We find the clan leaders hut and he unloads the thorns.  He looks at me, sizes me up and points to my camera.  He smiles broadly, laughs,and asks the translator if I could take his photograph.  I oblige.

Then, he reaches for the camera, takes it from my neck with authority, and turns the lens to me.  He holds the body a foot away from his eye, tries his best to frame me up.  I half push the shutter button, in part to focus, in part to teach him how to capture a picture.  He presses and the camera fires.  He jumps a bit, surprised by the click.  He sees the image display on the back of the camera and laughs with an ancient joy.

These people, they are good.