up in the air

I'm currently in LaGuardia airport in New York Citaaaaay waiting for my flight to Indianapolis to be called so I can head off to the Au Sable institute (driving to Michigan) to study field biology for a month. I've been chatting to the people around me--a dance company off to St. Paul for a week. They're connecting in Indy to a Chicago flight to do street performances for a few weeks. Airports are strange. At once you are nowhere, with a group of fellow (albeit anonymous) travelers, and yet you could be anywhere--prepared to travel to wherever you want "There" to be. There is a remarkable sense of freedom written into a terminal--the promise of "everywhere."

Yesterday was graduation. For upwards of 300 seniors, it marked entry into that oft-spoken of "real world." Because I was around for Residence Life duties (check-outs, cleaning the residence hall, etc.) I was asked by visitors and other campus drifters my plans for next year. "I don't have to know yet," I say. Because even next year, I don't have to know. As in the airport, I could be nowhere. Or I could be everywhere. Now, or when I graduate, or twenty years in the future.

It's been a good, hard, trying, challenging and amazing year, as most are bound to be if you were to make a list of their landmarks. And it would be easy to see getting on an airplane as an escape, to force myself into something New. But there's been an equipping this year, so that I am prepared to embark on my first-ever domestic flight and my first-ever time flying on my own. I imagine that's the gist of any commencement address and the goal of any speaker--to let graduates know that they have been PREPARED. It's the goal of any beginning, too--so that freshman and senior alike can feel safe up in the turbulent air that is any new experience.

As a variation on Southwest airline's slogan goes-you are now free to move...everywhere.

Peace this season, and godspeed.
Phototaxis is the biological term used to describe the movement of an entire organism to move toward the stimulus of light. I saw evidence of this on Saturday when I went for a hike with my family and dear roommate at nearby World's End, a beautiful set of islands connected by a natural bridge. Trees all over the area had branches pointed upwards, toward the sun and whatever nutrients could be gained from being those few inches closer to the center of our solar system. From a distance we watched the sun set over Boston, only to find out later that a water main had broken and made all the water undrinkable. That didn't matter to us, though, and the sunlight glimmered on the water despite whatever toxins might have been coursing through the city. People seem to function by phototaxis as well--my brother's college was nearby at an ultimate frisbee competition on Saturday. Strange cheers and tie-dyed shirts were all part of the team persona, and though they didn't win there was a charging positivity--the good weather was welcome.

This weekend had more than its share of reunions, which also serve as sources of joy. Those who spent the last year in Oxford came back after being delayed a week by the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano, and my best friend Hannah arrived after a year spent in San Francisco and Costa Rica. It's always a bit frightening to reconnect with people after such transformative and definitive experiences, but I've been blessed to have friends who are intentional about deepening relationships, even when a year abroad has separated us.

Finals begin this Friday--wish me luck!


"You must be an empty form."

So says Bruce Herman, an art professor at Gordon and one of the keynote speakers at a conference I attended this past weekend. Geared toward students taking titled leadership positions across campus for the upcoming year, Bruce gave his attentive audience a number of other points of advice, but I stopped listening and started thinking after that one. It's not just being EMPTY, as in nothing, useless, space. It's being an empty FORM, having something of substance that is at once moldable, bendable, usable, formable and even breakable. When put in positions of service, as I will be this upcoming year as a Gordon in Lynn intern working with adults with disabilities (newly dubbed by my friend Ellen as "Linterns"), we can't assume we are the all-powerful and all-knowing descending upon the inner-city needy and poor. We are going in to the city and actually into our LIVES with the hope of being a usable and empty and unbiased form.

Is that easy? No. Not at all. Because we know so much about God already, right? We know which jobs he'd put us in. We know what assignments he'd give out. We know those tasks at which we'd succeed. And yet we are often surprised. Even when we feel called, we are surprised. And if we're doing a good work, should we even know? If we are still looking for those "success stories," no matter how few or how small or how humble, are we truly submitting ourselves as empty forms before our God? I think these are hard questions, but good ones as I approach my senior year (I just got my application for graduation--CRAZY!!) and the thought of career and calling. To be doing God's work is a tremendous and frightening task; to be his puppet even more so. But He who holds the strings sees the whole play, and if the grand climax is transcendence and truly knowing God, then maybe the best thing I can do is be an empty form.

*Note to self: take a class with Bruce*

on home and art

I wish I could offer photos of this past weekend, because it was fantastic. Unfortunately, the nature of needingthistobedocumented moments detracts greatly from their significance and removes the viewer a bit from the experience. And there was much to experience this weekend. Friday night just about all of campus crammed into the chapel to watch class representatives dance, sing and act their ways into our laughter, vying for the coveted "Golden Goose." It's a campus quirk, but we've even made MTV news with our acts. The junior class was declared victorious by neutral faculty judges, so there was plenty of reason to celebrate with my peers.

Speaking of celebrating, 21st birthdays, it was my roommate Anna's 21st on Saturday, so we spent midnight at a nearby restaurant with a group of friends (ten loud girls arriving at a restaurant ten minutes before the kitchen closes=priceless. Be nice to your waitresses.). the next day I took Anna into Gloucester, a nearby fishing town (actually the location of the movie "The Perfect Storm") for lunch. We found a Portuguese restaurant and settled in for Bifana and another thing I can't quite remember the name of. DELICIOUS. I think I'd do quite well in Portugal. An art major, I thought she'd love to go to the art studio my floor frequented so often in the Fall, and my friend Dave was more than excited to show us around and update even me on the goings on. He's waiting to hear back from a $28,000 grant, and if he gets it is planning to expand the facilities! There are murals all around, too, testifying to the community's shared sense of struggle and identity that is valued highly enough to be displayed on alleyways and store walls.

We spent the evening at Anna's aunt's house. As much as I love Gordon, I love feeling at home in new places. I've had this conversation with a few people recently. Having moved often and spending the majority of the year in a dorm room that isn't really home makes me wonder what it is that I value and find important. And if I could define the word home it would probably be this: wherever the body of Christ is gathered. To be challenged by those who love the Lord and serve and offer hospitality in His name. We are called to be exiles, but also to find encouragement in our fellow exile. Quite heavy thoughts for a birthday weekend, but let's just say that Anna and I have made our own little dorm room into a home--it is possible:-).

It's a nice day, when you wake up in Disneyland...

Place that song lyric for ten bonus points.

Apologies for the delay between posts; exams got the better of me (although I am now quite the expert on plant survival strategies in harsh environments--ask me something!). But now I am home, at rest and in the middle of Holy Week services. I just finished watching Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, one of the best movies I've seen in years, and am trying to piece it together with my reactions to this Lenten season. Maybe there are no obvious connections. Watch the movie anyway. It has some wonderful thoughts on how to live a good life, and also has a carefully thoughtful approach to dying, with Mr. Magorium having worn out "his last pair of shoes." And the soundtrack? STUNNING.
A friend told me once that it always rains on Good Friday. Well, not this year. This year Good Friday brought with it (at least in Connecticut) a peepshow of sorts with baby leaves poking their little heads out from their respective branches. By the time school lets out in May there should be thick curtains between me and the rest of the forest--I can't wait. It's a beautiful time of year in New England--a redeeming kind of weather. The other day in New Haven (a mere 20 minutes from my home) the temperature--at somewhere around 93--was highest in the nation. Still, what to make of the rainy Good Friday comment? I wonder if we want it to rain, like the Hollywood movie scenes you KNOW are meant to manipulate tears. Does it lessen the weight of such a dark day to have sunlight streaming into our churches while we sing "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded?" I don't think so, if our hearts are right, and I hope this season is meaningful in and of itself.
I just know that world, and our God, is not beautiful because we see it in its best light. What a horrid world that would be! As C.S. Lewis writes in That Hideous Strength:

"That's why Camilla and I got married, " said Denniston as they drove off. "We both like Weather. Not this or that kind of weather, but just Weather. It's a useful taste if one lives in England."
"How ever did you learn to do that, Mr. Denniston?" said Jane. "I don't think I should ever learn to like rain and snow."
"It's the other way around," said Denniston. "Everyone begins as a child by liking Weather. You learn the art of disliking it is you grown up. Noticed it on a snowy day? The grown-ups are all going about with long faces, but look at the children - and the dogs?
They know what snow's made for."
"I'm sure I hated wet days as a child," said Jane.
"That's because the grown-ups kept you in," said Camilla. "Any child loves rain if allowed to go out and paddle about in it."
May you love this day's weather--wherever you are, whatever it is. :-)

I believe in miracles

We've been talking about miracles in my philosophy class--those events which so violently oppose the laws of nature we've formulated that they require some sort of supernatural explanation. Some suggest that certain laws can be violated, but only by other laws. For example, the law of gravity be superseded by aerodynamics. A more Christian question might ask whether God's grace supersedes the laws of sin and death, a deeply serious question centered around Christ's death and resurrection. I had lunch with a professor I trust deeply and asked him point blank whether he believes in miracles. "My daughter giving birth was a miracle," he responded after a moment, suggesting that perhaps miracles have been "prepared for," a thoughtful God writing their possibilities into the fabric of time and space, even if we don't understand how they fit into our physics. While that didn't entirely answer my question the way I'd posed it (as a scientific one--the framing of religious questions in scientific language is another conversation), but it did cause me more than a moment's humble pause. I struggle with the typical scientist's ego: I have studied this world enough that I can make assumptions about its behavior, and I know enough of the world's details to understand its grandeur.

*cue smack on the head*

While the definition of "miracle" is necessary (as is any definition when you want to have a thoughtful conversation about its implications), it is debated. Perhaps it requires supernatural explanation. Perhaps they don't happen (indeed, some thoughtful and God-fearing churches have the official stance that miracles were limited to the apostolic age). The mere fact that there are saliences in our world, the mere fact that sometimes things don't happen as we-in-our-wisdom would predict should be so incredibly humbling, and smacks, perhaps, of a God who still smiles when we try to amass all our knowledge and turn it into official canon of biblical proportions.

I was particularly struck by this in a sermon and a small experience I had on Sunday. Again I ventured into Boston to go to Park Street Church, this time with a group of girls from my floor. We were speaking in the car of disabilities, as one of my girls' sisters has severe dyslexia and has struggled for years with learning how to read, something I so flippantly regard as simple. Park Street Church was celebrating Enable Boston Sunday this particular day, a day to remember those in the congregation and greater Boston area who struggle with all sorts of disabilities. One woman gave a testimony, speaking of her son's head injury that has since left him with severe short-term memory loss, an inability to speak, and myriad other supposed "disabilities." Mrs. McLeod, however, spoke to her son's strange interactions with God, telling us stories of finding her son awake at 3 in the morning, praying at the side of his bed. Pastor Gordon Hugenberger then got up and spoke on Ehud, a man disabled in his right hand yet who used his right hand to slay the evil Moabite king (Judges 3 v 12-30). He then pointed out that we all suffer from a certain disability--the disability of sleep. We are all limited by this crazy one third of our lives that we spend asleep. Depriving ourselves of sleep is psychologically damaging at best, fatal at worst. He pointed out the Scripture that says:

Brothers, think of what you were wh
en you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

left the church in a weird mood. Moving forward with my group's lunch plans--a visit to an improvisational restaurant called "Fire and Ice," which lets you watch your (unlimited) choice of raw vegetables, meats, pastas, etc. and sauce be cooked by master chefs on a giant center flat grill. I was waiting for a brunch omelette to be prepared when there was a little commotion beside me. A group of disabled adults from a home in Boston had come to Fire and Ice on a field trip, and the man next to me didn't realize that you're not supposed to mix your sauce with your food before giving it to the chef. It makes the food more flavourful and easier to cook if the sauce is added to the mix toward the end, and so while the chef gently suggested that Tom (the man next to me) hold onto his sauce the next time so he could enjoy an even yummier plate, Tom just couldn't process what was being said to him, and he looked at me with the most sorrowful expression of guilt--what had he done wrong?? And so I gently and more slowly explained what I thought the chef was trying to say. Perhaps he was grateful for my kind voice, or perhaps he was just excited to talk to someone (and show off his nifty ID card:-)), but his genuine appreciation--difficult as it was for him to express in more than a huge smile--was so overwhelming that I had to go to the bathroom to cry for a few minutes.

I think humility is a miracle. I think I tend SO MUCH toward pride and arrogance that any small act of gratefulness toward me that drives me to my modest knees can't be part of the way I naturally function. In all my egoism and smugness as to how much knowledge I've accrued in my short time here, I'm still at the mercy of God, and how much he knows about what I truly care about. That he knows me so well to bless me as he wills and to show me the depths of my sin--I can think of no other word than miracle, natural or otherwise.

Another miracle: the gloriously sunny day we had on Saturday--a trip to nearby West Beach was in order. :-)

rain rain, stay a day

DAY ONE back at Gordon after a marvelous Spring Break involved rain, rain, rain, rain and rain. Trudging around a wet and wild campus could easily plant the idea in my mind to pack up my things and head to sunny California forever, but I think there's something entirely wonderful about a campus full of people all frustrated by the same thing. In a weird way, we're drawn closer together in our apparent discomfort--all umbrellas open, all rainboots on, all puddles avoided and all hairstyles ruined within five minutes of leaving our dorms.

I had to meet with a philosophy professor on one similarly rainy day last semester, and as I am not easily bothered by this sort of weather, we had a wonderful conversation about what he ended up referring to as "insideness," a made-up word (because we're allowed to do that in philosophy) that sees being forced into more intimate spaces as good opportunities to be still on purpose. I think we take stillness and quietness for granted a lot of the time, something I was made quite aware of over break. I decided to forego offers to travel to Florida and other warm places to just be still at home with my family, and it was a wonderful time of relaxation that wouldn't have come with the busyness of travels or crowds; while I'm not averse to those things, and while I do gain most of my energy from interactions with people, it doesn't allow much space for reflection and stillness.

Today in chapel Greg Carmer, our chapel dean, spoke on friendship and the often disinterested approach we take to friendships, seeing sunny weather and easy sailing as vital when it is the things like poignant and intentional questions that offer our friendships the same sort of "insideness" that today's weather does. We were challenged to think about our friendships and the thoughtfulness (or lack thereof) that we grant them, and I personally was grateful to have found some of my best friends here at Gordon. I've gathered around me a group of wonderfully giving and thoughtful seekers, who want to know and be known, and even though there is little sun today, there is joy in the comfort and peace of kindred spirits who seek truth, and God, and love, and even better when we all have to find our comfort in the community of earnest souls.

And so I am grateful for the rain.