Tuesday, March 29, 2011

By Its Cover No. 1 - encaustic, book pages and cover 10 x 8 x 3" - 2009 - Shannon Newby, artist

I have always loved libraries. One of my strongest memories is walking from home to the old Seattle Public Library in Ballard on Market Street. In order to check out a book you had to know your address and be able to sign your name on a small yellow card. This meant that you had to be able to write in cursive which meant—in the 1960’s at any rate—you were in the second grade.

Once I knew my address and could write my name, my mother took my younger sister and I to the library and I filled out the precious yellow card that would be like a passport to other worlds; I loaded up my arms with children’s books.

The old Ballard Public Library exuded mystery and a sense of the holy. It was an old brick building set up off the main street with many stairs leading to the entrance. Once inside there were even more stairs that wound around each side of the main entrance finally leading to the actual library.

It was a hushed place with lots of dark wood and leaded glass and rows upon rows of books. And this was the thing that astonished my second grade self and astonishes me still today—they let you take books home! Can you imagine that?

These people trusted me enough to give me books for a certain space of time after I signed a small yellow card on which I promised to bring them back! Wow! Where else does this kind of trust exist?

Over the years I have realized that when I purchase a book, if I believe that I “own” it, I have a much harder time reading it than if I check it out of the library. When I own the book I can read it anytime which translates for me as sometime off in the future.

For me, library books command a different kind of attention. You run the book’s bar code under the scanner and your time starts now! Maybe you’ll be able to renew the book and maybe not. Maybe other people want to read it too. Maybe you yourself waited quite some time for someone else to read it and return it and you want to keep the book in circulation and move it along to the next patron.

It got me thinking about life, about the gift of life, about this quality of living on borrowed time, that none of us will live forever, that at some point we will be returned to our Creator’s love and care. In the meantime we do not have an endless supply of days in which to offer our gifts to the world, to be present, to be a present.

As we walk through these last days of Lent leading to Easter we will hear again the story of Jesus’ last days. We will learn what was important to him as he faced impending death: bread and wine, gathering around a table to share a meal with friends and enemies, robust prayer that cries out to God, truth-telling to those who held his fate in their hands, and a steadfast commitment to love that overcame the most tortuous kind of suffering imaginable.

Everything is borrowed.

Everything is a gift.

Maybe you too signed a small yellow card at sometime in your life and pledged to return your life to God as a gift of love.

On my better days I can see us all out there circulating around, books of God as if on loan. It fills me with joy to imagine us “checked-out” to the world.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The other morning I looked out the window onto the bird feeder and a small bird with bright yellow striping, a Townsend’s Warbler, caught my eye.

Underneath the bird feeder amongst the fir cones and leaf litter still cluttering the wood deck a Rufous-sided Towhee scratched for seeds alongside three Dark-eyed Juncos. Then a few Chickadees flew in for a landing on the feeder each taking one seed and flying off to the rhododendron for shelter.

A few years back I took a morning bird watching class at Discovery Park. I learned some about our native birds and was able to catch a glimpse of a juvenile Spotted Owl.

For a while I took my binoculars on my morning walk and enjoyed hearing bird calls and then searching to find them. After a while I stopped taking my binoculars but I continue to listen for bird calls which fill me with delight.

This year the time between Christmas and Easter is about as long as it can get, from December 25 to April 24, so we’ve had a little extra time to move through the hardest parts of winter. The returning light feels particularly welcome this year and I have taken heart in the courage of the sturdy daylilies beginning to poke their leaves up into these really, really cold days.

As we approach Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6, there is still time to think about what steps you might want to take to include time for prayer and reflection in your daily journey.

For many years now I have made it a practice to start some kind of spiritual practice each Lent.

One year I began a prayer journal, clipped pictures from magazines, glued them in the journal, and then wrote short prayers.

One year I began a time of focused reflection on the work of the writer Parker Palmer.

One year I played music and moved my body in ways that felt a lot like prayer.

And one year I sat in quiet meditation soaking up God’s love and mercy.

From these experiences what I know is that the form of prayer does not matter. What matters is that I choose something and do it.

From these experiences what I know is that it is really, really difficult to do one thing (other than brush my teeth) every single day.

And from these experiences what I know is that the important thing is to pick up the practice again and again and again.

I’m not sure yet what form my Lenten practice will take this year but I’m looking forward to it.

Maybe I’ll sit in the living room and stare out at the birdfeeder and offer simple prayers for the birds of the air who, as Jesus observes, “neither toil nor reap” but know God’s tender care nonetheless.

Something tells me I could learn a lot from them.