Saturday, November 28, 2009

Silk Purses

Some of the imponderables of life. Chinese legend attributes silk making to the wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, 3000 something BC. Was she really the one who thought of soaking the cocoons of flightless butterflies, unraveling them, and twisting strands together to make threads to weave fabric? Cotton or wool or flax I can understand, much less time consuming. But silk making is the kind of process that leaves you scratching your head. Or take watermelon rind pickle. Did the lady of the house run out of cucumbers? I mean, pickles have been around before the Caesars. But taking something you usually toss and making it into food? That’s a concept. Here’s another, what guy in his right mind, chewed on the bark of a willow tree and discovered his headache went away? Hippocrates, 5th century BC, wrote about the bitter white powder from white willows that eased aches and fevers. Be honest now, which of you, when you have a wall-banger headache, go around chewing trees, even if you’re desperate? No, you’re in bed with the curtains drawn, and an ice pack on your head.

It makes you think. What mysteries are still out there to be discovered? Finding them is not a matter of status, wealth, power, or Mensa membership. It’s seeing everyday stuff in a slightly different way and poking around until they expose their secrets. Seeing the silk purses hidden in sow’s ears. So look, really look. Who knows what you’ll discover?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On Shooting Stars

November 17 was to have been a good early morning to spot them. I stood, head up, outside in the chill at 3:30 a.m., peering into the southeastern sky, waiting to see God’s glory. Just one. I wanted to see just one shooting star. But none came. Or at least none I could see. The stars blinked, mostly a steady white, some with a bluish tint, some red. Trees arched overhead, their branches playing with the sky. But no meteors. No great crackling flashes in the dark. Quiet. The steady hum of distant traffic and a few small rustling noises from night creatures. So I went inside.

But I had seen God’s glory. Not the mad flashes I hoped for, but the steady constant glory of stars and sky and trees with branches raised.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. Ps. 19:1-4a

Friday, November 13, 2009

Needs Vs. Wants

In the personal finance realm, this is the line that separates frugal wimps from triple black belt tightwads. It cuts to heart priorities. What must I have to be content? What must I have to survive? If I lose everything, will I really die? (As in, "I’ll die if I don’t have a cell phone.") It’s a useful exercise to take a sharp look at expenditures and priorities and align them with what they should be. Standard budgeting procedure.

A long time ago I co-taught a junior high Sunday school class. My friend Ruth used an ice breaker involving index cards. Each student wrote down the five most important things in their lives, one to a card. We formed a circle with our chairs. And so the story goes, disaster struck. A fire took one. They threw that card in onto the floor. A robber took another. Another discard. A flood took a third. An accident took the fourth. They were left with one card apiece. "Is this one thing the most important thing in your life? If it isn’t your relationship to Christ, it will not last." From there we segwayed into an overview of Job’s life, who having lost children, wealth, flocks, servants, health, the respect of his wife and friends, could still say, "the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord". So what do I really need?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thank You Nina Weissmann

Years ago, during an otherwise insipid vacation in Vermont, I attended a craft fair. (Do not vacation in a rural inn, with a friend on a liquid reducing diet, who brings work with her. Just so you know, I hooked a ride with someone else to get there.)

Clear light steaming through large windows filled the barn like exhibition space. Near the entrance stood a potter’s display. The pieces, though finely done, didn’t particularly resonate with me. Except for two matching bowls. I touched one. Picked it up and cradled in my palms. Totally satisfying. Subtle finger ripples curved up the sides, glazed inside and out in black with grey-green speckles. Sigh. They cost the equivalent of two hours’ net wages. Iffy for a freelancer with spotty job prospects. I put it down, and turned away.

Nearby a fellow played a hammered dulcimer of his own design. Crowds wandered in and out of the space. I must have stood there fifteen minutes soaking in the music. Then we talked. He described how he started making instruments, how his paying job was carpentry. Because he liked to hike, he designed the very narrow backpack guitar. It sounded surprisingly good. But it wasn’t for me. Those bowls kept imposing themselves on my mind. I thanked him and walked back to look again.

They would be beautiful filled with carrot circles. Or steamed bright green broccoli. Even oatmeal. The glaze was a delicious background to strong and soft colors alike. And that curve, not too squat, not too sharp. I pushed past the pottery table and climbed an open staircase to view weavings and art quilts. My ride popped out of no where and said it was time to go. "Can you give me a minute?" I impulsively hustled downstairs, plunked down money, and scribbled a short note in the mailing list book. "To Nina Weissmann, Thanks for your lovely bowls."