A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. John Steinbeck, Jr
The fog was thick and heavy; it was as if tears welled up within the clouds of heaven. My eyes could not see where I was going but droplets of water falling on windowed glass precipitated thought - one that refused to escape. It was a journey - it was a hope. Like sticks tied together with string, what began as a tiny collection of judgements were pounded into dust. It wasn't a surge of water really but rather a convolution of time and space and through the process, there was a change.
As a little girl, I went to my father's house where the atmosphere was one of turmoil. He was one of six children where the youngest was younger than me and ranged in ages up to my father, who was only in his twenties himself. We shared the same birth order as eldest of the family but here the distinction was blurred. Six siblings in his, three in ours as well as a myriad of others left the explosion of sound echoing through chamber doors. Yelling over a Sunday football game, or a free-for-all of food out of bags and tubs, dogs and cats coming and going, kids and sports and adults with cigarettes and cans of beer - it was a discord of sight and scent.
There was an upright piano that stood against the entry wall with a metronome on top along with figurines of the heads of Bach, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. I wondered who these Presidents were at first but was embarrassed to learn they were not leaders in democracy but composers of musical masterpieces. My aunt who was only a few years older was a natural leader and held the magic key into a language I wished I knew. Her presence at the piano seemed a juxtaposition to the sound around us. Large vintage pages with script and notes, it was a map into the Knights of the Roundtable and a world of imagination with the ticking of the metronome bringing order out of chaos.
Inevitably my grandmother, with a quick wit and great sense of fun, would enter the room with a gayety of spirit asking her daughter to play the piano and for me to sing the only song I knew: Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and I held the stage for a moment to the applause of possibility - not that I could sing, dance or play but that I could be the the center of a great story.
There were no lines drawn between God and everyday life. It was intertwined as the underlying melody to an ongoing conversation. There were pictures of Jesus and crosses and an exchange about the church. My Grandmother's sister was a Catholic nun in the Bronx of New York and taking her religious vows at only sixteen years of age, held an esteemed position in her sister's eyes. I was both intrigued and drawn toward faith - always. The devout obedience and holiness of one sister who lived her entire days into old age under the care of the convent and the other sister who always seemed to be surrounded by discord but was just as devout. I was in a circle about Jesus but somehow missed the message of the gospel.
Of Irish decent, this grandmother was a natural story teller with a vivid imagination and a deep, abiding trust. There was something else too ...
Literature, film and God. I love February, not because of the commercial expectation of cupid's arrow but because every February, it begins with the best of the best in football, ends with the best of the best in movies but sandwiched between the two, is the best of the best in God's love.
February - the Academy of Motion Pictures honors the talents of men and women who create an image that moves us. It begins with ordinary folks and an inspiration to write and a belief that they have a story worth telling. It is in the daringness to dream big alongside creativity, production, money and luck.
This past month, I decided to take a detour off highway 101 in California through the Salinas Valley and go to the John Steinbeck, Jr museum. Coincidentally, his birthday is this month - February 27th, 1902. It seemed a perfect month to wander through exhibits, pictures and stories about his life. Through the inspiration of his sisters, his childhood memories written on plagues, his friendships, three marriages, pictures, movie clips, the tales of economic woes and successes, the audience is led on a journey.
John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr was an American author of 27 books. His literary works include, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, The Red Pony, and Pulitzer prize winning, Grapes of Wrath. Interestingly, for many years I have traveled that stretch of highway but have never taken the time to stop. Years ago, I put into memory the brevity of his writing style. It was a tiny museum with movie clips playing in the background. Gleaning for a clue into his inspiration, an ordinary green truck with a white camper shell had the crisp, script lettering of the name: Rocinante, Don Quixote's horse and I was inspired.
The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true. John Steinbeck, Jr.
Like leaves, no two are alike and the story is struck with the hands of an old vintage typewriter with ink strokes on vellum paper. At eighteen, something had been taken from me and as a result a tiny seed of judgement was secretly buried beneath a pile of impressions. Yes, my honorary grandparents of faith had sprinkled droplets of water through a rolled-up sleeve of involvement and a dance-card dialog of example but it wasn't enough on it's own to change my perceptions.
Living on my own at nineteen and into my twenties, the Santa Barbara Mission bells not only rang out over the Pacific Ocean but rang out in the silence of my heart. Time had been erased and the childhood whispered prayers were answered in ways I didn't anticipate.
After months of asking, I finally accepted the invitation some ten years later to a Christian Women's luncheon. I had recently sought the counsel of an Episcopal priest who sacrificially suggested I attend another church where there was an abundance of other young mothers. With two young children, I agreed to an afternoon out and sat with 60+ women at round tables of food and conversation. It felt decidedly different than anything I had attended. Prayers spoken out loud, faith talked about casually, references to chapters in the bible. At the conclusion, there was a message about Jesus. I was too embarrassed to be singled out by raising my hand. I didn't want to be noticed, but in the secret of my heart, prayed ... "if you are real, leave just one brochure at the table."
When I opened my eyes, at least 100 brochures were before me. Coincidence, no doubt but it began a different conversation and the opening of a door and the commencing of a journey.
Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass. J Steinbeck
The movies nominated this year for best picture: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, LaLa Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight are rarely the feel good notes the audience is longing for but rather something that pricks our intellect to see life, people and stories with a different lens. Through sometimes heartbreaking struggle, the patrons are moved, hopefully toward action - a change in themselves.
There is a plethora of discussion around the movies, the industry and the collaborative voices standing divided. There is no doubt, there will be a platform for political commentary which will also be editorialized but stripping away to a single note, I commend the courage and creativity of men and women who began with an idea in their heads and moved it into a medium in which the audience may peer through a window of their imaginative souls. I was recently coined: loyal, driven, dreamer - and upon hearing it, smiled with affirmation because after standing beside a piano in a solo voice about water so many years ago, I gave up the dreamer part of me in a stack of moments when I made judgements about people.
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
Psalm 27 of David
The fog was thick and heavy; it was as if a sponge soaked in anointed oil was soothing my very breathe. I sat alone albeit the worship of the Lord. The Eucalyptus steam was hot; the water-moistened air was abundant. So dense and ponderous was the atmosphere that I could scarcely see my hands inches before my face. As I hummed softly staring up at otherwise would be a ceiling, I drew a deep breathe in - the ointment in the air compressed my lungs as I breathed acutely imagining the goodness of God and exhaling all else.
Change has taken place slowly. What once was on the right is now on the left. We are brought into a window of conversation, ideas and thought to be processed individually, and spun out as something new and decidedly better. A pile of judgements pounded into the trace of a new trail.
Several months ago, a couple of things happened related to finances and exercise but both of which was bathed in prayer. For the first time in my life, I am attempting to live fiscally differently and couldn't afford a gym but in a moment of collective answer, was offered up accountability and a facility (a home gym) as a solution. It is the perfect analogy for this month's post.
In the early morning hours, on some days, I leave my house in a darkened fog where just a hint of sunlight guides my way. Half asleep, I gather myself into some work-out clothes, water and a jeep trail up a narrow road to a large locked gate. I enter the code and wait for the copious doors to open. Learning a complicated dance-exercise routine, I muster up intellect and body into the hope of longevity. I exchange sweat for a cleaned up version of me and exit the same grand doors with a pause - a beautiful view - then head to work.
A good book, movie or experience, we hope to be changed for the better for having read, watched or experienced it. Never would I have imagined my life to be rich with the relationships of my father, his brothers, his sons ... and others with which I have yet to spend days. I would have missed the gifts had I not taken chances. I took the above time-lapse on my phone while I worked out - the sun was rising. I have also moved to the other side of the sidewalk hoping to live more freely in the footsteps of others and allowing God to not only pound my large piles of impressions into the dusty trails of a jeep trace but handing over the keys of my future as no longer clenching the tight-fisted pronouncement of inescapable poverty into provision. Why? Because I long to be in the presence of God all the days of my life.
I know what it is like to be alone, lonely or waiting for the mountain-top faith but I have also felt the abundance of His presence alongside the collaboration of people singing the same song of faith and like the cleansing atmosphere of Eucalyptus is changed from the inside out into faith, hope and love. The single keys played on a piano are brought into a masterpiece of sound through a great composer.
I once sat as an Elder for a three year term. At the time, there was a random conversation and a pledge to rescue large pewter pipes for a church organ that sat abandoned in an ol' storage facility. Forgotten and rusty without use, we voted to spend funds for what would someday be an organ in a new sanctuary. Vintage and old, the cleaned up version of the once forgotten pipes stood in elegance as I sat alone in church last week on an ordinary Wednesday. Sunlight was filtering in through angled colored glass casting hews of radiance upon carpeted floors. I imagined the singing of voices in collaboration with sound from the rescued pipes amid the powerful prayers whispered through the years of echoed cathedral doors through the generations of men and women contained not in buildings but in the beating of hearts.
Isn't that what faith is all about? Christ in you meeting Christ in me in a song but only sung through the metronome of nails on wood. My hope is you will give faith a chance. Open the scriptures, invite the holy spirit to illuminate the message of hope. I pray the maker of Heaven and Earth meets you in a simple note. I am just human - pointing you to Jesus and that is what I missed so many years ago standing and singing as my grandmother and her sister represented just another generation of women on their knees in prayer and laughter and in the company of a great composer passing the baton to the next broken and weak vestibule of clay.
May you forever be inspired ... through books, movies and ideas but most importantly,
through people, experiences and faith. gratefulBlessings to you - my friends. Amen
I began this month with an image of a pile of cinnamon sticks. At the same time, I found this short video which I didn't use in the post but am including it as reference. I was struck by the number of people and time it took to harvest a crop that has been around for centuries. Imagine the intricacy of us? Thank you, Lord for surrounding us with people and experiences that change us for the better.
Pictures were provided by myself or Fotolia.
Song clip 1: Harry Connick, Jr, Ava Maria
Song clip 2: Beck, Cycle on Morning Phase Album
Hillsong Worship, One Thing on Saviour King Album
Song clip 3: Andrea Bocelli and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Lord's Prayer
Reference found on Wikipedia, Cinnamon video on YouTube
Stories are my own and copy-written 2017
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.