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Mary

by Heidi White  

My heart still aches with love and loss when I remember that he was a baby.

I am an old woman now, and the years have dissolved the memory of his newborn face, but I remember the weight and the wonder of holding him after he had slidden out of me.  I throbbed and bled, like all mothers.  I nursed him and wrapped him and caressed him, like most mothers.  But I have not since encountered a mother as startled as I at the little one that had emerged from her body.

You see, I had prepared to bear the burden of the Messiah.  The Shining One had come to me and prophesied the holy mystery that I was to carry and birth the hope of my people.  I was unworthy of this greatest of honors.  My heart almost burst at his words, for I was young and humble in origin.  I was then and now God’s handmaiden, and His command was a great wonder to me.  The child would be far greater than I, I knew.  I was only the vessel, I reminded myself as he swelled my maiden body with his expanding life.  I was only Mary, simple and artless, from a pious but inconsequential family.  I was like an ordinary leather pouch, selected from a heap of other such pouches to shelter a priceless gem.

In my mind, I imagined him a strong champion.  I envisioned him at the head of Israel’s armies as a great hero, a warrior that felled our foes and restored all things. In my heart I pondered the words of the prophets concerning him, that he would save his people from oppression and exile.  He would blaze with glory, this child I carried for God.  When he kicked in my belly, I imagined him scaling a Roman wall.  When he rolled and tumbled in my womb, I visualized him leading slaves to freedom.  I always thought of him as a man, which puzzles me now, but that is the way that it was.

My pains came upon me in Bethlehem.  I knew the prophets so I was not surprised.  As the birth pangs grew stronger, they swept me away.  I was suddenly lost in the fierce waves of bringing forth not an idea, but a life.  As my body writhed and pulsed, I thought of nothing; I only strained taut with exertion and cried out for release.  After the long hours of travail, he came with gushes of blood and water.  I sobbed with relief.  I reached for him, my body still trembling from the throes.  I remember how I ached and yearned to hold him in my arms.

He was warm and small, smeared with blood and vernix.  His eyes were swollen and his forehead wrinkled. I was afraid that he would be cold in the night, so I laid his tiny body over my heart, where he quieted himself and nestled into my bosom. I looked into his face for the first time and gasped, for his lips were shaped like mine.  I traced them over and over in wonder as I wept.  I kissed his sweet lips and crooned his name to him, over and over.  “Jesus, my son, Jesus, my baby, Jesus, my own, my very own little child.”  I looked up to heaven, then down at the babe in my arms.  I was undone.  I counted and caressed his velvet fingers, marveling that not only were they the fingers of God, but also of my son.  The babe, Jesus, was my own flesh, my own bone and blood, my own heart. Many years later, as I watched him die, I remembered that moment of revelation when I comprehended that my salvation was my son. I had kissed all of heaven and earth when I kissed those newborn lips that looked like mine.  I remembered too the prophet in the temple speaking over me, “A sword shall pierce your own heart too.”  The sword has pierced my heart, but it is all mysterious and mighty grace, because He Himself has been my Comforter.  My Jesus whom I held to my heart for many years, the Son of God and Son of Man, sits at the right hand of God in heaven. It is finished. I will go to Him soon, I think, and I am eager to kiss his feet in worship and his face with a mother’s love.  I do not know if the world will remember my name, for I am only Mary, simple and artless; but Jesus, my savior and my son, knows and loves me. I have always been only the handmaiden of my God.

Anna

by Katie Joy Nellis

I have lost count of years, and today

they do not matter

at all.

To the young, years are important;

to we who wait so long,

each added hour feeds our small

abyss, waiting for His greater one

to swallow up the whole.

There is no counting

love or prayers on fingers.

Everything is given, heady

with abandon,

even if the gasps of wonder at it

rasp out like a senile

cough.

They hear me laugh, cackle,

'The old prophetess,

she has worn away her mind at last

with all that prayer and fasting.'

But I see blazing in the wraps

at the pap of His mother

the kingly one,

the one the stars are singing for,

drooling, wide-eyed, pink-fingered

perfection.

Children of today are solemn things;

I am happier than they.

Reflections on Chesterton

Imagination always.

C. C. Elfstrom

I have come to believe in the idea that there might be more drama going on in my own backyard at noon than there is downtown at midnight!  This is the kind of imagination I have learned from the outlandish, dearly eccentric, and very wise G. K. Chesterton.  His writings were the ones to ignite my Christian imagination.  And I am eternally grateful that my imagination has served me well.  Chesterton taught me how to see circumstances not as they seem, but upside down and backward, so as to see them more clearly.  Not simply as a child reading Alice (the author of which was a dear friend of George MacDonald), but as a mature person understanding the "romance of orthodoxy." How fun it is to learn from him.

Chesterton attended art school in London and then became a writer.  He wore a cape and carried a swordstick.  He looked like nobody.  His thoughts were new and challenging.  But how did he come to think with such a fresh perspective?  Chesterson said, "I for one can testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start; . . . Of all the stories I have read, . . . it remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life.  It is called The Princess and the Goblin and is by George MacDonald."  It was the place of fairy and imagination that spoke to Chesterton so deeply, so accurately.  (Of course, C.S. Lewis gave to MacDonald the same honor.)

Absorbing good, fantastic stories of bravery can be the underpinnings for the times we become the real travelers in dark places, where we need the foundation of God's true fairyland of imagination to carry us through.  We can be brave enough, with God's guidance, to rename that place and see it with new eyes.  But what if our challenge most often occurs in the everyday moments, the routine.  To see the familiar with new eyes, with the right kind of imagination?  Why is imagination important when things seem ordinary?  I believe it is because it brings us Joy. (Chesterton might have learned this lesson first in his art classes.  It is there you are taught to see before you can draw.)

One of my favorite passages of Chesterton's is in Orthodoxy (1908).  Chesterton is describing the repetition we see in nature and gives a fanciful thought to why this is not simply routine clockwork:

"The sun rises every morning.  I do not rise every morning. . . . It might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. . . . The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy.  A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.  Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.  They always say, "Do it again" and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.  For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.  But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.  It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon.  It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.  It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. . . . "

"I had always believed that the world involved some magic:  now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician.  And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person.  I had always felt life first as a story:  and if there is a story there is a story-teller."

Thank you, dear Chesterton, forever!  For whenever I think of God as younger than we are, my heart is struck with your wonder!

C. C. Elfstrom loves music (always!), classic films (on weekends; even the B's), reading (at night), and vintage things (of all sorts); married a guy who likes the same.

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An Antidote for Busyness

In a world of technology and fast-paced lives, we can find a hidden rhythm rooted in more permanent things.

Sarah Clarkson

______ When I was nine years old, my family moved to the middle-of-nowhere, Texas, and there I found a companion that I treasure to this day: the earth. Until then, I had brushed up against sky and trees and bugs in my big Tennessee back yard and in smidgens of park visits. But never had I gotten to know the earth on its own terms, away from the crowded room of streets and houses. In my new home, the chatter of the suburban world died away and I found myself able to get far enough into the hot quiet of a summer day that no voice could shatter the watchful silence of the trees. And I began to know the earth.

My new house was a kindly, weather-beaten, yellow rancher set on what we called “The Ranch.” This wildly creative name was the family's affectionate title for two hundred scraggly acres of Texas hill country for which my grandmother had long ago abandoned Fort Worth society. It was pure Texas; crackly grassland with the click of grasshoppers, worn fields bristling with cedars and jeweled by two small lakes where a loose herd of cattle came to drink. Before I go all dewy-eyed about roaming the land, I must note that the first day we arrived, my dad was attacked by a copperhead snake, the second morning, we woke to a bathtub full of wolf spiders.

Despite these terrors, my inner picture of that first Texas summer is dreamlike in its loveliness. Equipped with an apple and a notebook, I'd slip out the door in the early morning to roam the land until lunch. I followed old cattle trails and scraped for fossils in the shale and found the far corner of the orchard where the butterflies flocked the thickest. That summer was a dance, an open-armed, wide-eyed, little girl twirl into the wild music of the natural world, a music I had only faintly heard in my neighborhood-bound experience thus far. But it was also a season of epiphany.

(Continued below)
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IMG_6583-2-wb-690x1024Register now for the Anselm Society's event with Dr. Michael Ward, C.S. Lewis expert and author of Planet Narnia:

"Is Faith Without Imagination Dead? C.S. Lewis on Imagination and the Christian Life"

Sunday, September 28, 2014 at 6:30pm at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Gleneagle

Register

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I remember the day when the sky grew gray and autumn first descended over the sun-crisped fields. The wind, my balmy friend, grew restless and chill, and the earth seemed almost to step back from me. I roamed that day with timid feet and quiet eyes. The cold was imbued with a presence; the wind bore whispers of something I had not yet encountered. That night, I mulled the changed face of the land before I went to sleep. My bedroom door had been gently shut, a nightlight glimmered in the corner, but my eight-year-old eyes were wide with wakefulness. I squirmed under my quilts. To be stowed in bed and not ready for sleep is a torture. So I sat up and turned to the window behind my head. My grandmother's shades covered the glass, but I lifted one, and stuck my head under it so that I was nose to nose with the glass.

Chill as ice, it stung my skin and the pane blushed with my breath. I stared through the mist it made on the window into the wide black of empty Texas fields, darkness filling the flatlands as if with water. The rise of it came to my window; I felt dark lapping the ledge beneath my face and I pulled back. I looked up to the sky and my eyes were tangled in a net of stars. Cold, countless, spattering a blackness whose start and end I never could find, they stared hard at me until I drew my quilt tighter round me. It came then, a sense of my own smallness. The sense of being a thing so tiny I didn't merit a glance from those proud stars or that enveloping dark.

Abruptly, the feeling that had simmered in my heart all day rose to a sudden boil that closed my throat. What I felt was fear. Not terror as of under-the-bed-monsters, but a wordless, choking awe at the realization that something lay behind the beauty of the earth I loved and it was far bigger than I had ever dreamed. I ran for my parent's room and found my dad. It took him a good half hour of holding me close and telling me that the presence I felt was God and it was Love's immensity brooding out there in the stars before I consented to get under my covers again. When he was gone, I lifted the shade an inch one more time.

I will never forget that night; it was my first brush with eternity, my first comeuppance against something so much bigger than myself that I must be terrified or thrilled. But I will also never forget it because it was the first time I understood with unmitigated clarity that nature speaks. That skies shout and trees write words across a wide-eyed sky. I realized that the black eternity of the night and those high, proud stars were speaking with wordless voices, meaning in every atom of their pulsing dark and bright. And all through the summer the wind had sung and the fields had shimmered with secrets, and the trees had bent to share their counsel.

That night, I learned a truth that haunts me still: to step out of my air-conditioned, insulated house into the wind and tumbling atoms of the atmosphere is to enter a world that daily tells a story, a cosmic narrative told anew with each rising of the sun. And I think that story is one we were meant to taste and see, touch and love every day of our lives.

One of the "issues" I write and speak about is the loss of story in our culture. I am a little terrified of the way that children are growing up without the riches of good books to shape their imaginations and form the eyes with which they perceive the world and their own tale within it. But the deeper I delve into the world of story and the impact that great narratives have on our view of ourselves, the more I find that there are different kinds of storytellers. Books are certainly one, and one I will fight for children to have in every phase of soul formation and mental growth. But nature is another. And children are getting separated from the wild glory of the earth just as quickly as they are forgetting to read.

I am bothered greatly by the realization of how technological and synthetic our daily worlds have become. When I examine my own usual rhythms, something akin to panic rises in my throat as I realize the way in which Internet, iPhone, and Facebook have increasingly claimed my days. Technology is a ceaseless, relentless presence, eating hours of time, hours often spent in the car with a regulated, air-conditioned atmosphere. I live in a modern house that keeps the outdoors entirely at bay. And while I know that these are "modern conveniences" that make life much more comfortable and (supposedly) connected than it was in the past, I also am becoming aware that many things were lost in order to gain these gifts. Like a close knowledge of the seasons, a personal awareness and dependence on the bounty of the earth for food, a rhythm of life lived by the light and dark of the sky. A life lived in conversation with those stars whose voice "has gone out to the ends of the earth."

The reason this particularly concerns me is that I've been going back through Genesis, studying the patterns and forms by which we were originally made to live. I'm possessed by a white-hot determination to identify, out of the countless competing philosophies, what a meaningful life looked like right at the dawn of human existence. In my Scriptural search, the most basic mandates I've found to inform us how to exist as human beings regard our relationship to God, our connection to family and community, and our charge to rule and subdue the earth.

I have been mightily struck with this realization. Though we are fallen, caught in the circles of a broken world, the gift of the plentiful earth remains. The ancient rhythm endures: light and dark, summer and autumn, star and sunlight. Our senses are still intact. So are our stewardships of family, and home, which constitutes our place within the earth we have helped to cultivate. And however imperfectly we now live out God's original commands for us to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue, cultivate, and tend the earth, we ignore those fundamental trusts to our peril.

In an age when few of us live anymore in the country, I think it is easy to forget that one of our primary charges is to intimately know and graciously rule the earth. And though a dozen more practical reasons for this charge could be named, I think one of the primary reasons is that it embodies and signifies the goodness of God. It speaks of his imagination and sets us amidst his thought enfleshed. "In the beginning, God created," and every atom came from his imagination. I believe he made the world in such a way that to tend it, to touch it, to crumble its dirt between our fingers, to scent the tang of coming rain, to watch the sunset, would be to know His nature. He told a story into the earth, and it is the tale of his bounteous heart. We were given the uplifted arms of pines, and the generosity of a summer garden, the laden arms of apple trees, and the dark patience of mountains to keep us alive every day to all that God is and will continue to be. And I think this remains despite the fall.

So here's my inner struggle: how can we in a modern age truly live out the original forms of life that include our stewardship of and immersion in the beauty of the earth? I'm not a farmer. I didn't grow up working the land. I, and most of the people I know, live in suburban or city areas, with feet striking concrete or accelerator pedals most of the times we venture out. I go for walks on nature trails, I plant my little pot of flowers. But I have to work and plan hard to spend time firmly in the company of the earth. To dwell for more than a few cursory minutes in the outdoors or actually grow a living thing from the soil requires planning and dedication. Often, it feels awkward, like cramming something unwieldy into a tiny box that cannot quite contain it.

But when I investigate Scripture, examine the rhythms of my own life, and become aware of my increasing disconnection from nature and community, I feel that the cultivation of the earth is something that is both desire and conviction for me. A work for which I was made, yes, but also an atmosphere, an experience, a daily narrative I need in order to remember my place in the story of the world. Of course, my first idealistic impulse is to abandon everything and buy a farm. (Never mind that I haven't yet made my fortune.)

But when my fervor settles and my eyes look honestly at the life I have right here and now, I begin to understand that while land ownership may be out of my reach for the moment, I do have the power to alter the rhythms of my life. And this alone can be a mighty step of return to a life centered on the story, the "taste and see" evidence of God's kindness in creation. Farmer or not, I do have the power to form the habits, spaces, and cadence of my days to allow me, even in suburbia, to enter the work and story of the earth, for I can choose to live according to the rhythm of the Internet, the highway, the fastfood beat of modern life. Or I can stand aside from that wild, endless race, and return to a cadence of life set in place with the dawn of creation.

For me, this began with a break from Facebook. When I made that first baby decision at the beginning of the summer, I didn't realize the full impact this choice would have on my thoughts regarding the earth. But after two months of absence from the Facebook world, and a few other like decisions, I was aware of my mind returning to quiet, my thoughts slowing, my eyes able to focus, my days restructured around work, light, and relationship, rather than the online world. A couple of months in, I realized that my increasing involvement with the online world for work, friendship, and entertainment in the past years meant that I was submitting my mind to the rhythms and patterns of its universe. And as I did, I was disconnecting myself from the patterns of earth, home, and community.

The virtual world never rests. Hush, pause, stillness are antithetical to the nature of the Internet which is to produce "new" information every hour of the day. It resists moderation and even mental limitation. I can scan an almost incredible amount of information in an hour on the Internet, and I need never rest on one page for long. There is always the next thing to scan, check, discover, and in that rush, I become increasingly disconnected from the world, the day, the people before me right in the present moment. It's a disconnection writ large in the way we moderns work, in our hurry to achieve many things or attend many activities, in our restless need for stimulation, our hunger for the next job, the perfect person, the new place. Our movement, our yearning, our ceaseless need to know, gain, do, in many ways reflects the pace and goals of the virtual world that has shaped our consciousness, our imagination, and our desires.

And so, my first act of resistance this summer was to spend each dusk in a rocking chair on the front porch. The next was to try my hand at gardening the tiny bit of earth available to me. I forsook my screens in favor of long walks in which I noticed the weather as "news from God" (in the words of the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins). I've watered flowers, watched birds, cooked with just what I could rummage from the farmer's market, and eaten it slowly, by candlelight, and taken the time to invite other friends to join me. I've read. I've listened. I've breathed, with greater depth and ease than I have in many months.

And in so doing, I feel that I have reclaimed an ancient cadence, a rhythm of life based not on the machinistic schedule of a sleepless Internet, but rather on the dance of day and night, rest and work, silence and song. And I am learning so much from my tiny corner of the earth. I find that there is a patience that only an old tree can teach. Faithfulness that only the unquestioning, trusty ground can model in its ceaseless readiness to yield in season. I find joy in the birdsong, with an illusive note of hope. And in those stars, in the night sky whose acquaintance I have reclaimed, I taste again that sense of eternity, staring down at me through the mask of the heavens. I am awed, and afraid, and glad.

Once again, I am a child in heart, and in the hush I have reclaimed, the earth is telling me its great story all over again.

Sarah loves good books and thinks everyone else should too. She's editor and queen at storyformed.com, where she hosts a website on reading and imagination, and she just published her third book, Caught Up in a Story.

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Image via Creative Commons.

Southwell Litany, Day 4

From dullness of conscience, from feeble sense of, duty from thoughtless disregard of consequences to others, from a low idea of the obligations of our calling, and from half-heartedness in our service:     … Save us and help us, o Lord (The Southwell Litany)