Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Penguin In the Barnyard

Who would have thought it possible? Who would have thought that a penguin could survive, thrive even, in a barnyard? Common sense would tell us that the climate and environment of the average barnyard would not sustain such polar creatures. They need ice. They are sustained by sea life. Don’t they live half of their lives in the water? And aren’t they more of a herd animal, living in communities with other penguins? So how is it possible that I am now watching one waddle around with the pig and the horse and the cow and the rooster in our barnyard?
Leave it to Olivia, my two-year-old daughter to figure it out. She just pulled it out of her toy box, wound it up, and let it loose. At first it knocked over the horse and then banged repeatedly into the side of the barn, but in the long run, I think this arrangement will work out. Olivia has even made a bed for the penguin in the Silo conveniently attached to the barn. The rest of the animals were made by Fisher Price, but they seem to be accepting of this toy with no identity other than a tiny oval sticker on its bottom that reads, “Made In China.” The other animals are made of plastic, and it has fur. It hops around and they have to wait to be moved, but everyone seems to be getting along okay.
Toy mixing of this kind comes natural to Olivia, but it drives her father and me crazy- we want the big doll with snap on accessories to stay in her corner of the room while the little dollhouse family carries on in their own home. But she won’t hear of it. The afternoon is much more exciting for everyone when the oversized doll with snap on accessories comes over and crowds the entire dollhouse den. Don’t ask snap on doll to have a seat. For one thing, she’d never fit into any of the furniture, but she also doesn’t bend, so its not likely she can stay for dinner. However, I guess she could participate in the dollhouse family’s favorite after dinner activity-- sliding off the roof.
I guess at some point I’ll have to explain to my daughter that penguins have special needs which probably can’t be met in our barnyard. And if she ever brings home a giant friend, logistically we’ll have to have a picnic, but at least for now she is teaching me to unlearn some ideas I’ve bought into over the years. I need her to remind me that where you came from and what size you are doesn’t determine who you get to play with. And perhaps I should make it a practice to be more comfortable and intrigued by these unlikely marriages and be quicker to ask, “why not?” There’s something more to be learned here. I want her clearheadedness. I long for her unfettered imagination.
For the sake of convenience, my tendency is to categorize, compartmentalize, label. Not just toys, but people, roles, tasks, ideas, all of it. It is as if I believe that by placing something within a group, I’ll be able to master it, fully comprehend it, control it. I assign a definition to make it definite. But on a daily basis, and in the most creative ways, my daughter is teaching me that in doing this, I’m making each of these things less of what it could potentially be. In my desire to control, I limit. I take away possibilities when I choose these shortcuts to comprehension.
Where else can this apply? Am I missing entire portions of the life before me? What am I not letting in? Madeleine L’Engle once made the observation that the words healed, whole, and holy have the same root word. This rings true to me. To the extent that I am thinking, working, living within my determined “sections,” I am not witnessing or experiencing the whole. And where I am not whole, there I am broken, not well, unhealthy. And perhaps the holiest of moments are those in which I capture a glimpse of something beyond the range of my trained eyes. What is a holy moment if it is not a vision of something bigger than the comfortably familiar? Is it not a further understanding of what it could be like to live within the larger picture rather than just functioning within a few random puzzle pieces?
A few weeks ago in church, during the Litany of Healing, we spoke in chorus of abundant life, soundness of mind, serenity of spirit. We read together, “Lord, grant your healing grace to all who are sick, injured, or disabled, that they may be made whole.....Restore to wholeness whatever is broken by human sin, in our lives, in our nation, and in the world. ... O Lord of Life: Heal us, and make us whole.”
What I must acknowledge and confess is that more than not, I am functioning as a bunch of broken pieces, with a broken perspective on a broken world in which a bunch of other broken pieces are walking around. (Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece, anyone?) We all desire wholeness but then try to attain it through broken means. We want to “organize” our lives, we want to be “balanced,” we need to get “control” of things. And again we’re back to using the dirty devices that got us into so much trouble in the first place. No human should be summed up by their occupation, salary, familial title, or their blog. Everyone is so much more. We have curiosities, interests, ponderings, dreams, visions, conversations, pasts, and all of these little, immeasurable pieces work together to make us who we are. We, each of us, are magnificently complicated. On the few occasions that I do operate outside of my presupposed categories, new things happen.
So how do I pursue wholeness? How do I begin to mend? How do I escape these fragmented perceptions? Where do I start? I don’t know. No doubt it will be a life long pursuit. And I think it begins with this awareness, this commitment to take captive another thought, another circumstance that arises, and question my labels, my categories, my definitions. Invite the penguin into the barnyard and savor the beauty of unlikely marriages. Look for these holy moments in unlikely places. See the mundane as magical. Practice alchemy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Alma Mater

A friend sent this to me, and I had to share. As you watch, you might enjoy noting:
-It was in front of Krannert Center where Brett and I decided to give dating a try.
-Many nights were spent with friends up at Frost Chapel playing games and talking and singing.
-Some of us shadow danced in front of Hermann Hall and tried to figure out how to break in without causing too much trouble.
-The Ford Buildings. Ahhh, the Ford Buildings. They might be the main reason I chose Berry. Just look at them. I lived there all four years, worked there three of those years, and know their "off-limits" underground catacombs pretty extensively.
-The College Chapel is where Brett and I were married.
-Swan Lake is where I'd like to say I sat on a blanket and read the classics, but usually I just fell asleep.
-The House of Dreams (on top of the mountain) was a hiking/biking destination: Easter sunrise services, picnics, excellent views
-See that tower in the middle of the Reservoir? There's a tunnel that leads up to that and I climbed/shimmied up it with some friends one night- perhaps one of the scariest things I've ever done. Fortunately we didn't climb back down- we just jumped out when we got to the top and swam to land.
-And see those deer? Yes, they are everywhere. More deer than people. Once a girl was hit by a deer. He was trying to jump over her. Another time a girl hit a deer with her car. She then carried it up to the third floor hall bathroom in one of the Ford buildings and skinned it .
-Hacky Sack 101 is a required PE class for all freshmen.....not really, but I did get to take a mountain biking class. How many colleges will offer that?
Thanks for letting me reminisce.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Problem with Epiphanies...

"And the experience of the Present- the "saying"- recedes instantly into the Past (the "said") precisely in that moment when one's mind realizes an epiphany is occurring and tries to seize the mystery by closing one's hand over it. The problem for the artist, but equally for any human seeker, is to allow that moment of suspension to remain open so that it may do its work."

From Wayne L. Roosa's essay, "A Meditation on the Joint and Its Holy Ornaments"

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Keeping Warm...

Winter Is the Warmest Season
by Lauren Stringer
Here's another find. I wasn't really into it at first, but Olivia kept asking for it. We've checked it out from the library multiple times. She calls it the Hot Chocolate book which is a pretty good summary. It plays off the warm imagery from this cold season-- fluffy coats, grilled cheese sandwiches, dancing fires. In a word, this book is cozy.