I was invited to do a guest blog on my friend, Rob Rife’s, blog “Eyes in the Alley.” You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/robert.rife/posts/10202701320888522

It is a Lenten kind of day here at this old house. It is snowing on the daffodils. Those harbingers of spring are having to humble themselves under winter’s last attempts to stay in power. Spring will ultimately triumph, though it doesn’t necessarily feel that way right now . I am making a Lenten dessert to take to dinner at friend’s tonight. Nothing flashy and extravagant: the vanilla pudding recipe I posted several weeks ago here with fruit. For those who have given up sugar for Lent, this shouldn’t cause feelings of guilt. The law of hospitality, which always trumps the rule of fasting.

I plan to nap later due to a less-than-restful night. Was it caffeine too late in the day? Was it a call deep in my soul to be praying throughout the night for those in need? Whatever caused it is immaterial; a nap is the solution.

I am also grieving with friends over the untimely death of a their great-nephew in an unfortunate bike/truck accident. Ash Wednesday’s words of “from dust you came and to dust you shall return” do not seem as poetic when applied to a young man in the prime of life, taken through an unfortunate set of bad choices: no bike helmet and driver not paying attention to everyone else stopped at a pedestrian right-of-way crossing. A bike helmet may not have even been enough due to the severity of accident. We can never take things for granted: that cars will stop in crosswalks or even life itself. We truly do not know the day or the hour, another good reflection theme during Lent. I tend to like those kinds of reflections to stay more abstract though. I don’t like it when I have a name to put with it.

The rest of his young, healthy organs, which survived the impact in tact, are giving life to others, small consolation to grieving family and friends. What would it be like to know that my health came through someone else’s death? Organ transplants are the closest thing I know of to a visceral understanding of substitutionary atonement: someone dies to give life to someone else. For an organ transplant to happen, a thing of life, someone else had to die. That is very much a theme of Lent.

It can be hard to understand that concept. We can be so familiar with the Passion story that our minds automatically go to the happy ending of Easter. Yet, for us to even begin to grasp the riotous, transforming joy that first Easter caused, we need to embrace Lent and its themes of dust and death. We need to find visceral ways to look at our mortality and what is sacrificed to keep us alive each day. The full life cycle of plants and animals are interrupted in order to sustain human life. Many young children, when they first encounter this notion, become instant vegetarians!

Deep down, I suspect we really dislike the idea that we are not completely autonomous. We do not like being dependent on other aspects of creation to sustain our own lives. We want to believe that we can “do it on our own.” Lent teaches us otherwise and that is where meditating on organ transplants can be so good. There is life that comes out of someone else’s death. That can keep us humble, more so than giving up dessert for six weeks will, if we will let it.

 

 

http://conversationsjournal.com/2014/03/a-fasting-free-pass/

At Conversations Journal this month, the topic is fasting. Click on the link above or copy and paste it into your browser to see my thoughts on the subject.

It has been spring break here in this old house. One daughter and a friend came down from Alaska and spent a week with us. We had a blast. There was beer drinking (we live in an area that has a lot of craft breweries) as well as shopping. (Alaska airlines allows Alaskans to have two free checked bags on the plane as they know that many Alaskans fly long-distances to shop. My daughter was on one segment of the the flight with a woman from a small village heading to Anchorage for groceries she couldn’t get out in the bush!) There were hikes, trips to the mountains, and connections with friend: a typical spring break list and a privilege to share it with two wonderful young women.

In the midst of it all, the washer died in the middle of the load that had clothes being readied for the return trip to Alaska. We quickly became re-acquainted with a local laundromat I hadn’t used in decades. In 25 minutes, start to finish, those commercial washers did a large load of laundry. Impressive and itt was all brought home to dry as the dryer was still working just fine. A new washer, itself made with commercial parts, is on order but there will be a few more trips to the laundromat before that arrives.

The weather held out beautifully: Colorado blue skies and 50 to 60 degree temperatures. There was only one day of cold and snow but it didn’t interfere with anything planned for that day. We aren’t usually as lucky. I remember a family spring break trip to south Texas that was so rainy and cold, we never got to the beach. We looked at every T-shirt shop there was in town trying to keep the kids entertained. It was a real gift that the weather for this spring break trip was so lovely.

The friend had never been to IKEA so we made the 50-mile trek down to south Denver one day. IKEA is a fun and fascinating place. Besides being huge, the merchandise can be found no where else. After lunch in their cafeteria, complete with Swedish meatballs, we contributed significantly to their bottom line for the day! In Beijing,China, people make IKEA their social center. It is not unusual to see people sleeping in the beds or using the tables to play games or eat lunch they brought from home. The manager of IKEA–Pacific and Asia told us that the company simply goes with the flow there. It is good business for them to do so. Now, every time I go into one, I look around, half-expecting to see someone has moved permanently into the 590 SF display house!

 

IKEA is the master of outfitting small spaces and an inspiration to many in the world who live in very small dwellings. Two people can live very comfortably in less than 600 SF when it is designed well, though that is hard for many Americans to fathom. There is a small living space movement that is gaining ground even this country. Maybe we are finally coming to realize that “more” does not always equal a  better life.

Spring break is over, the house is clean, the laundromat handled all the linens in 25 minutes, and I am ready for a bit of quiet. Vacations are wonderful but it is always good to come home.

 

 

Lent has begun and here in this old house, we are focusing in our daily readings on the battle between the good that we want to do and don’t, and the bad we don’t want to do and do. Even the weather is in a tug-of-war between winter one day, spring the next, and back to snow the following day.

On the first Sunday in Lent, the Church begins with the Gospel reading focusing on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Living here in Colorado, wilderness is a lovely thing. We fight to protect our wilderness areas that are often breathtakingly beautiful: mountains, streams, forests. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago when I first saw the Judean wilderness in Israel that I understood the Biblical concept of wilderness. The Judean wilderness is stark, barren, monochromatic (except for a short time after the spring rains), desolate, deadly. The Dead Sea is in the heart of it and symbolizes the lifeless feeling of the area. The thought of spending forty days and nights in that place by myself with no provision or protection gave me a whole new appreciation for Jesus’ strength that came through his fasting as well as his ability to say no to rocks-turned-into-bread. I wonder if Satan made those rocks smell like a local bakery, heightening the hunger pangs Jesus was experiencing by then.

 

It took me a long time to not be afraid of the wilderness near my house, one that interfaces pretty closely with the urban environment but still has elements of wildness about it. I was raised to be afraid of the woods. My grandparents had a farm in Illinois and a small child lost in those immense cornfields is a dangerous situation. Children have died of dehydration before being found in the immensity of those tall, close together stocks. Unfortunately, I was kept from dashing into them to explore by frightening me with the idea of snakes in there (which there were but I don’t think I had ever even seen at that young age). This is a fear I have not fully overcome in my adult life. It used to be I couldn’t even see a picture of a snake in a book without a violent, visceral response but I am better now.

One of two times in  30 years that I have called my husband at work and demanded he come home immediately was when what I thought there was a small rattlesnake wedged between the screen and hardware cloth in our lower front door. By the time he drove the two miles home, I was starting to pack to move out. Because this old house has no foundation, I was sure there was a nest of rattlesnakes down in our dirt-walled crawl space.

It turned out to be a bull snake.

I learned to appreciate bull snakes, even as I didn’t want to see them or have them close to the house, because if you have bull snakes, you will not have rattlesnakes. Bull snakes kill rattlers. Rattlers don’t have to be as fast as they are poisonous and so a faster bull snake can kill a rattlesnake. I have never seen it happen, nor do I care to, but I would always rescue the bull snakes from the cats. I would spray the cat in the face with water so it would drop the snake, letting it escape to freedom, if a bit worse for the wear.

With that history, learning to walk in the woods everyday behind my house for exercise was an act of sheer will. I made myself go farther and farther until I had a 3 1/4 mile exercise loop. There are still days when I am up there with few to no other hikers around that I feel a bit spooked, more now by an awareness of mountain lions. I sing or call “here, kitty, kitty” just to let them and any bears, especially mothers with cubs, know that I am in the area. And it seems like once a year, I come across a huge bull snake in the path. They still freak me out. I must be quite a sight hopping up and down and yelling at the snake to move, which it never seems to be in a hurry to do.

But compared to what Jesus must have encountered in that wilderness in Judea, a five-foot bull snake seems pretty minor.

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