Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bits of this and that

"I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees. " --Pablo Neruda.

Hang out with this one for a little bit. Yowza.

Nobel Prize poets deserve more than yowza, but it is all I have at the moment. Forgive me, Mr. Neruda. I hope you know that it is because of you I love the white statues drowsing in the parks, 
the white statues that have neither voice nor sight...

This weekend I went to the Italian market with my friend Judith and we bought gorgeous cheeses and pasta and vegetables. It was a breezy, blue-sky day and every tree was heavy laden with pink blossoms. It was unimaginably perfect. I stopped multiple times to scoop up large handfuls of soft, pastel bliss. Even the drains along the streets were filled with pink petals rather than the normal decaying leaves and bits of trash. Aaaah, spring. Finally!

Here's something I've been thinking about today: technology (weird, I know). Technology has given us the gift of virtual friendship and community, but it has its limitations.

If I haven't mentioned it before, I love reading your blog and facebook posts. I like reading about your babies and your fears and joys, but don't worry, I know you do not share everything. I know you probably left out the part about being so jealous and angry this week that you threw the phone across the room. You probably left out the part about the nagging loneliness that plagues you at night and perhaps you left the part out about some insane delight you can't quite put into words. Well, for the record, I like you. For all the parts you share and all the parts you don't. Today I am grateful for spring and for asking boys out and friendship and new jobs and all the bits we share. And all the things we don't.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Theological Ponderings

What is the difference between providence and serendipity?

I was going to randomly post this on my facebook page, but as I imagined all the mad, weird, pietistic, annoying, sappy answers I would get I decided to share the question on my blog instead. Fewer readers. Hopefully less crazies.

Seriously. Tonight I had a serendipitous moment with a friend. Or a providential one. Something. One of those moments that was precious and surprising to me and to my friend and it gives me pause. Cosmic influence? Random occurrence? Influenced by the Divine?

Supposedly since I am a Presbyterian minister I should have some strong notion of providence. Supposedly.

Do you think that God actually orchestrates the meeting between two people? I know plenty of people who believe this about their partner/lover/spouse. But, from my observation, some relationships work out and some romances die and often this seems completely dependent on timing. Happenstance.

People pray for all kinds of intercession. Watch the NCAA basketball finals. You've got mamas on both sides of the court praying for divine guidance as their sons clamor for victory. I'm no expert, but I have the sneaking suspicion that God has bigger fish to fry than the NCAA finals. :-)

Winners love to claim providential care.

I don't know. I like to think that God loves all of us deeply, passionately and yes, even delights in college basketball-- draws near to those mamas as well as all who grieve and suffer and suffocate and soar. But does God orchestrate winning and losing? Living and dying? Maybe... yes... in a way. But not in that weird wizard-like fashion some of us imagine in our prayers. I hate the notion of an old, wand-carrying Diety granting wishes left and right to those he deems fit. I like the idea of a solidarity-God. But some people view the solidarity God as impotent. Tricky.

All I know is that I have had plenty of lost loves who are happily married to other women or are traipsing about the world with new lovers and I am not sure what to make of it. What feels like providence to one person is pain to another.

I don't have any clear-cut answers to any of these questions and I beg you to graciously keep silent if you do. You'll just break the hearts of the rest of us angsty folk that prefer pondering the questions.

My friend Micke reminded me tonight there is a difference between hope and belief. And a difference between belief and knowledge. There are some things I have known deep in my bones: Divine comfort, peace, and heart-breaking healing. But most days I live in hope. Hope and gratitude for all those serendipitous moments. Those two things are usually enough. They'll be enough for tonight.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

To Cape Town and back again

Nothing like taxes will sober you right up. I worked all afternoon on my tax return, so to avoid some serious depression I went to the movies as a reward after slugging through the dirty details. I went to see the movie Avatar in an IMAX theater -- really spectacular. As I stood considering ticket prices I struck up a conversation with a man who turned out to be a curator at the museum. He kindly opened his wallet and put four free passes into my hand. "Welcome to Philadelphia," he said. Welcome, indeed.

Just two weeks ago I was on the beautiful beaches of Southern Africa. After the wedding I went to Cape Town for a few days, which is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

It is a complicated place. Breathtaking landscapes and seascapes and mountains are home to universities and vacation homes as well as townships and beggars and serious violence. When you stand nearly any where in the city your eyes are drawn upward and outward. The towering mountains have given witness to all kinds of beauty and all kinds of ugliness in their long history. I, of course, spent my time doing touristy things. I drove around the Cape of Good Hope, swam, hiked, and had lots of good conversation with my friend Kevin (a friend from seminary) who was a lovely host and companion.

Time rightly ushers us forward, but on occasion, it is good to go back. It was good to return to Cape Town and stand on a beach with a Malawian named Robert and admire the Twelve Apostles. It was good to dig my toes into the warm sand at Camp's Bay and laugh at the darling penguins at Boulder's beach. It was good to ponder the complexities of life post-apartheid with new friends and reflect on love and justice and all the possibilities life holds. Not bad for 2.5 days.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Southern Africa Part I: Baie Dankie

“Buy A Donkey.” Say this phrase quickly and you are well on your way to being polite in Afrikaans. I guess it is more like “Buy a dunky,” but close enough.

I am feeling quite invigorated after 2 weeks in Southern Africa. I was invited to officiate at the wedding of my dear friends Jaco and Gharde in beautiful George, a small community along the Garden Route in South Africa. I met wonderful people and spent more time swimming in the ocean and playing at the beach in one week than I have in well over a year.

Gharde and I met 10 years ago at the University of Washington and I asked her if there was anything I should bring her from the States. She requested the cereal Captain Crunch (gross) and S’mores.

S’mores. Now that is what I am talking about! I brought the makings for this marshmallow/graham cracker/chocolate delicacy for the Braai (Afrikaans for barbecue) held the night before the wedding, which was a massive hit, even amongst the men who consider chicken an appropriate “salad” to accompany beef and ostrich and other game meats that were grilled with meticulous care by a crew of massive, sweaty men.

The wedding ceremony took place outdoors in a valley just minutes from the ocean. It was beautiful, even sacred as weddings ought to be.

A few moments stand out. Just before the wedding I stood with the groom, his father, and the groomsmen; I wore a little black dress and the five men looked dashing in their suits, the pitch of their laughter revealing the nerves they attempted to mask with cigars. As the five of us prayed, a flock of white Egrits assembled themselves in the nearby trees to participate in the festivities. A gentle breeze blew throughout the wedding and I was charmed by a fluffy gray cat who sauntered up to the front row and sat preening and cleaning her front paws as Gharde and Jaco said their wedding vows. The cat and the birds and the breeze all served as quiet witnesses, simultaneously magnificent and mundane. Just like us.

There was lots of drinking and dancing at the reception and I learned that Afrikaners are serious about dancing. They are brilliant at this dance that is a cross between the tango and a waltz. I had lots of partners who insisted that this was easy to learn, but I was a disaster. Thanks to my ‘31-year-old crisis heels’ I maintained some of my pride, but preferred to watch awestruck from a safe distance with a glass of champagne in hand.

The day after the wedding a big group gathered for breakfast at a venue overlooking the ocean and then we went to the beach to body surf before going our separate ways. What a gift.

Baie Dankie, South African friends! Thank you for an extraordinary week!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Brown Skin

"Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

Finally, spring has arrived. The winter cold has lost its grip and the flowers and trees are blooming! It has been good to return to Philadelphia "brown as a berry" (as my mother used to say) after a wonderful 2 weeks in beautiful, sunny Southern Africa. Today included an easter celebration with friends and plenty of relaxation and good conversation. The fragrance of easter lilies, magnolia trees and the white blossoms on the cherry trees have been a gift. I believe my heart and my mind and my body have officially thawed.

I will share some pictures and stories from my trip when I am feeling more lucid and clever. Jet lag is still curbing the creative juices. Happy Easter to you!