6 10 2015

I am sitting outside at my little table, the cast aluminum one with the scrollwork. I pause my writing, and stare at the pen in my hand. As my body stops, my wondering (wandering?) mind takes off…

What is the force that connects atoms? Divides them from other atoms?

Hand rests on table. Head hovers above hand, breathing the air between and around table, hand and head. Book connects to paper, to pen, to ink inside pen. Ink is pressed onto paper, perceived by eyes and retina and brain. Because of reflected light. Sending messages to muscles and hands resting on the table, holding the pen.

Eyes look up. To clouds, “blue” sky, trees. Breeze pushes leaves connected to twigs and limbs, which also wave and flex with the touching. The limbs connect to the tree’s trunk, which is immovable, because of the roots and rootlets grasping the ground, taking nourishment and stability from the soil that surrounds them. The tree’s bark delivers that nourishment and water upward (against gravity’s pull) to the leaves using light to create energy the tree uses to grow. Released from the leaves’ pores is oxygen, which floats between my hands and my head, and I breathe it in.

And as I try to think about it, I’m “blown” away!

I think of the saying, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, a hurricane can occur in Japan,” which has countless iterations of specific locations and outcomes, depending upon what source is quoted. The original “butterfly effect” was named by Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist, whose weather prediction models drastically changed when a seemingly inconsequential change occurred in his original data, something as small as the flap of a butterfly wing.

Chaos theory describes the unpredictability (of weather, rolls of dice, other seemingly random happenings) of nature, based upon the fact that there are always minute differences in the original conditions that begin a series of events, or “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” (from Wikipedia— Then the math gets really complex and I again return to looking at the clouds. And wondering-wandering.

autumn leaves on bench 2014Chaotic or very ordered? Cyclical and predictable, or random? All of the above? Obviously, if I want air to breathe, and skin and bones to hold me together, I need the cycles and laws of nature—from the force that holds atoms together, to that which causes breezes to blow and planets to stay in their orbits. Yet, predicting the weather, or which autumn leaves will fall first, what I will eat tomorrow or who will start the next war or peace effort—impossible!

Does the stroke of my pen make a difference? Can your prayer set in motion a chain of events like a hurricane of healing? Will our use of resources affect the trees’ gifts of oxygen and shade to us? Does a baby’s cry elicit a response? Am I important?

What is the force that holds atoms together, and keeps them separated?

E-votions by efb, 10-5-2015


Fasting for Lent–I’m a Total Failure!

2 04 2015

I tried to give up daily crossword puzzles and sweets—and failed miserably! And the closer it gets to Easter, the worse I get in my self-discipline. Today, I’m beginning with new resolve—after all, it’s Holy Week! But even in failing to adhere to my fast, it has been a good fast.

I don’t think we are supposed to beat ourselves up over our failures, or our sins. As I see it, a Lenten fast, lasting 40 days, is not to test my resolve but to make me aware of how easily I can forget, or push out, true peace and hope in my life and seek it in unfruitful ways.

One benefit of this teeny-tiny fast came in the times I succeeded in replacing the crosswords habit and sweets craving with a prayer habit and “Jesus craving”. Sweet times of quiet and pondering the love and forgiveness without which I would not, could not live.

And lo and behold, the times I struggled with my choices yielded fruit as well! Picture the angel on my right shoulder and the devil on the left, arguing:
“Oh, you’re not at home, you don’t want to be impolite to your hostess—have dessert.” (I did.)
“You’re at the restaurant—it’s a celebratory time—you can abstain at home.” (I had a glass of wine.) I can rationalize with the best of ‘em! Put conditions on my obedience. Make excuses—lame ones.

“God is so forgiving, and this is so minor, you can just go ahead—well, God did give us all freedom to choose…It doesn’t really matter…” And the angel pops up, as Paul did, “Just because we are forgiven, does that mean we should keep sinning? NO!” Once in a while, the angel wins the arguments. But often, I have found myself presuming upon God’s forgiveness and mercy, while choosing sin or disobedience. Forgive me for taking You for granted, Lord!

I could choose to listen to that still-lingering devil saying, “You failure! Look at Jesus’ suffering! Geez, this is Holy Week—sure doesn’t describe you—not for a moment!” And I could walk away thinking certainly I am not “washed in the blood,” or worthy of forgiveness. Instead, the gentle angel whispers, “This is JUST why He died—he loves you, fallible though you are. ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…’ Learn from these failures.”

And so I learn. I become aware of the mind games I play in making decisions. How I use my time, my talents. My attitude toward my Creator, Savior, Redeemer. How I care for my body, the Spirit’s temple. This time of fasting for Lent, whether in success or failure, God has used for good. The hours I did take from doing crosswords were spent considering the wonderful Wangerin writings that helped me walk with Christ and his disciples as he approached his death; moving me to awe at the willing suffering for all of us, because of Love; and to grief that I, like the disciples, deserved what Christ endured. The times I craved sugar, or a glass of wine, I prayed that I would indeed yearn for a drink of living water so much the more.

We are beloved. Undeserving, fallible, yet fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, forgiven and redeemed. Seems like a pretty big realization for giving up doing a crossword!

Efb 4-19-11

The Spider and Reckless Self-Abandon-Part 2

28 01 2015

I know it’s midwinter, but I’m still thinking about that spider and her web. I wondered if hanging by a single microscopic fiber still was as precarious and frankly, foolish as it sounded.  Then I read more about her and her surprising feats.

That thread she’s anchored to? It has some pretty amazing qualities: Elasticity. Steel can be stretched 8% and nylon 20%. Spider silk can be stretched 140%. (That somewhat explains my ability to feel the tension of it as I walked into the fiber stretched across my path.) . Although the thread is about 3% as thick as a human hair, it can stop a bee flying at full speed. Tensile strength—the greatest stress a material will tolerate before failure. Silk is stronger than most natural materials and about half as strong as steel. Unlike other materials, including steel, it remains flexible in extreme cold. Strength per weight. Spider silk is considered to be 10 times stronger than Kevlar—the material used to make bullet-proof vests! It is so light that one pound of fiber would stretch around the equator. It so thin the human eye cannot see it. (We can see an object with a diameter of 25 mm. at a distance of 10 cm.). The only way we can see it is when sunlight reflects off of it. Hmmm…

The silk comes out of 4-6 organs in the spider’s body called spinnerets. Each of these “spigots” is a few thousandths of a millimeter thick. These several strands are twisted together, producing a thread 1/30 of the diameter of a human hair—and 5 times stronger than piano wire! Moreover, spiders have 7 different glands that produce silk, which is made up of proteins, for different purposes. Some produce sticky material for the thread; some produce walking thread; attaching thread; thread for encapsulating prey; thread for cocoons.

As you might imagine, scientists have studied the spider’s web, yearning to harvest or re-create its fiber’s capabilities for human use—better bullet-proof vests; lightweight support cables for bridges and other construction; surgical procedures, and many other possibilities. Alas, it is proving difficult.

Yet–there is a fascinating piece of textile that went on exhibit in 2009 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It was made from the silk of more than a million spiders, and is the only one of its kind in existence in the world! The process as described in an article on the science website WIRED is staggering. Seventy people in Madagascar collected golden orb spiders for 4 years, while dozens of “spider wranglers” extracted about 80 feet of silk from each spider. It was then spun together into thicker threads and woven into a lovely golden textile piece.

Another remarkable part of the history of the study of spider silk is that the means of “milking” the spiders was first developed by Father Combue` and his associate, M. Nogue, in the late 1890’s. They had deduced how to safely extract the silk from the wild spiders and even return them to their habitat to “donate” more silk several weeks later. From the silk they had produced “a complete set of bed hangings”* which were exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1898. Though the hangings have since been lost, their work nevertheless has continued to facilitate study and fascinate scholars a century later!

I now take back one thing I said about the spider in my previous article. She is not reckless at all! She may set out with TOTAL self-abandon, but not RECKLESS self-abandon. She has every reason to be secure in her daily “leap of faith.” I still desire to be like that spider, now more than ever. Not only does she have a sure anchor upon which she “hangs” (sorry for the pun) her entire life. The fiber she depends upon to hold her has qualities endowed by Nature which are mysteriously superior to human-made materials and so far unable to be reproduced in spite of a century of human inquiry and research. I want to be able to depend upon a Lifeline superior and more dependable than what we can explain or re-create.

I think the Creator of this marvelous creature and her amazing fiber must pretty superior and dependable. I wonder if there’s a Lifeline there for me.                                                                                                E-votions 1-28-2015

*I used several sources from the Internet to compile the previous facts about spiders and their webs. The website listed below details the story of the history and production of the textile on display in New York.                              

Reckless Self Abandon–Lessons from a Spider

23 09 2014

Amazing spiders! The first thing that grabs me (Ha!) is the web. I encounter, in many places and various sizes, that ornate wagon wheel web, having a center, straight spokes radiating outward and parallel strings of webbing circling evenly from the hub to the outer border.

Walking down the path to the lake in the morning, I often feel myself break through a single fiber of web, like a runner breaking through a tape at the finish line. I feel more than see it, at least at first, because it is unexpected and undetected. Then, through the glint of sun and my awareness, I see a couple more strands that I easily pass through as I walk on. The woven webs I see are inches wide, with structure and the ability to snare prey as well as stay attached in the wind. But these single fibers that go across the path are several feel long! What happened here? I imagine the spider starts out and attaches to her first point. She manufactures her filament (issuing from her body!) that is strong enough to hold her weight. (Where does she store all her materials?) Gravity guides her initial path, down, down, until she hangs suspended in mid-air. I wonder if she stops after a certain distance, regroups, rests, resets her machinery and gathers her materials for the next run. I think her next guide must be a breeze, which she must ride like a trapeze until she contacts (bangs into?) another (relatively) solid place on which to anchor the rope of her latest snare.

But in this case the snare did not materialize. As I investigate, I see there is only this single thread, which I, a much larger part of this same creation, stroll right through. This spider’s marvelous work is strong enough to stretch and hold me a moment before my effortless break of her filament.

What happened here? All that work and no food to come of it? Why? How?

IMG_1395I like to imagine that she eventually succeeded in catching her food and enjoying her hard-earned meal. I know she found at least one more solid anchor-spot, because that filament had stretched tautly across the path I walked. The web-snares I see all about give me hope maybe her third attachment was a little closer than the second and that she succeeded in her web-building from that point on. I’ll never know. But there is much I did observe, and do know, which is one reason why I call her ‘marvelous’. (I’ll share another reason soon…)

This creature set out from a single anchor point, doing what she was created to do, spinning that fiber. No GPS, no measuring out the area, calculating supplies, seeing her second anchor-point. That’s not her way. She attaches to one point, then spins, and spins, literally hanging by a thread, awaiting the unseen forces that will empower and guide the next steps in her journey. I imagine she is buffeted by the breeze, or even the wind. Does she hope I won’t come along and, well, do what I just did before? Can she and her web withstand the rain? Does she drop down to an anchor point below? How far does she have to spin and dangle before that happens?

I don’t think she can see the entire web plan; she does not know where this web-string will take her, yet she spins and swings, soaring, yet anchored securely, until her next step is revealed.

Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in one God. Many say, “A higher power”. I have a Single Anchor in whom I trust. I wonder if I ever can aspire to launch forth from that single anchor, entrusting my life to its hold, with such reckless abandon. Even joy? I wonder if I can spin and spin and work and do what I’m here to do as best I know it, even if I’m swaying in the breeze or cut down, until the next step becomes apparent and I can look forward to sustenance in the near future. It might be more fun and less worrisome, just spinning away confidently with reckless abandon…


The Giving Tree

19 08 2014

In the mid-70’s my college friend gave me Shel Silverstein’s picture book, The Giving Tree.  In it, a growing boy and a flourishing tree are friends.  The young boy rests in its shade and swings from its limbs.  He declares his adolescent love by carving a heart on the tree’s trunk.  The boy leaves home and returns; the tree gives its apples and the young man sells them.  The boy, now a man, uses the tree’s branches to build his house, and its trunk to make a boat to sail away.  When the “boy” finally returns, old and bent, the tree gives her stump to him—and he rests.

One of the story’s themes, I believe, is the idea that each of us is uniquely equipped to give, and what/how we give comes directly from that uniqueness—who we are and what we possess.  Furthermore, I believe that happens best when we are simply being ourselves–who we were created to be; AND in every life stage, age and ability.

The tree in its younger age offered shade, stability, rest and recreation.  It could not do that as a sapling.  In its middle age, it gave its fruit and its wood was used to build a home.  In its late age, even, it welcomed its old friend to rest awhile.

It may be simple, but it is not always easy.  Sometimes, I feel I am just beginning to FIND myself and discover my gifts in my seventh decade of life. The giving tree is simply nature’s example of just being itself, and in doing so, giving.  Freely. Whether I am aware of it, when I honor my sense of purpose and rightness on a daily basis,
I am giving.  I am a gift.

In my involvement with Senior Connections, matching weekly visitors with older adults, I think of young students bringing to their elder friend their energy and tech savvy, compassion and respect.  The elders offer welcome, wisdom, hospitality and acceptance.  Those who possess cars, transportation.  Those who are able-bodied, a strong arm to lean on. And babies, well they often bring the most joy just being babies!  Not a one can replace the other, or contribute what the other does.

Even in harsh realities of life, one’s unique contribution is crucial.  A helpless baby receives and grows because his mother nurtures her.  A troubled teen can be set on the right path through her mentor.  First responders endanger themselves to save others’ lives.  A gift of homemade chicken soup makes a new neighbor feel welcome.  Speaking of the nurture of food…

My mother-in-law lost her husband when the youngest of her 9 children was 3 years old.  She had no time or resources for “giving” something “special.”  She was just Marge.  One thing she always did, HAD to do–she cooked.  She made that food budget stretch, and every one of those children have grown into also-giving, uniquely-being adults.  She in later years came to our house often.  She would take off her coat, pull out the bowls and get her bread dough rising.  Then she started on two meatloaves and ended the afternoon with two apple pies.  I protested, “Ma, you don’t have to do this!” She said,  “This is what I do!  I enjoy it.  I don’t go off to work every day and the kids are grown. Relax, and let me enjoy this, honey!”  And, so I did!  Along with her son and our kids.  After she died, the family produced a cookbook of all her recipes titled, “I Did It Ma’s Way.”  She is still giving.

“Bloom where you are planted” is an expression that captures this idea that as we are created, so is our purpose. All the flower has to do, all it CAN do is grow and live as nature made it.  It’s win-win!  I call this “God’s economy,” where simply in the giving-being there is blessing.  Simply in the receiving-being there is blessing.  The Message, a translation of the Bible in everyday language says, “That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good”.  Our purpose, ready-made.

So do remember, please, that amid the sublime and the ridiculous, the mundane and the significant moments of your life, in every stage and at any age—that YOU, dear reader, in your unique, present, flawed perhaps, but one and only you, ARE a gift.
efb-(originally 12-19-11)

License Plates

9 06 2014

Having just returned from northern Wisconsin, I am thinking about license plates. With the ability we have to communicate with one another instantaneously, a large number of people are able to join in a cause, easily and rapidly, with amazing results. I am going for something much more humble than government overthrow: road blessings.

When I was young, my brother Jeff and I would play the “ABC” game, finding the letters of the alphabet A to Z in a race to see who finished first. I’m sure it was instigated by my folks to pass the time as we drove on long trips! (It works! I recently engaged my 8 year old niece in such a game—she caught on quickly, and it drew her attention to the wonders of the scenery outside, instead of the car’s familiar video playing inside.)

As an adult, I especially enjoy deciphering the “vanity plates,” those customized plates purchased by their owners according to their specifications and the 8-character limit of plate space—to convey a message, declare their line of work, initials, address, etc.

I have seen many fun, enjoyable, informative plate messages, and a few uplifting ones—BLEST, for example. I’ve been formulating over the years what I’d order as my vanity plate. Something about my joy in Christ, or a good wish for someone else. What if all of us display messages of joy and goodwill as we drive? We spend lots of time on the road. I know I am a Pollyanna, so I did a bit (teeny bit) of research—prices vary, but from what I could understand, the cost could be as low as $47, and high as $99. Unrealistic for many of our wallets, but still…If we give up 2 dinners in a restaurant, we could send out inspiring messages every time we drive! And guess what—JOYEAUX is available! My first try. So is ALLELU—with a 5 after it. What would be the effect of uplifting messages driving by during one’s commute?
(I think “God” and “Jesus” and words referring to deities may be prohibited, but I’m not sure about abbreviations
THXB2U (one of my personal favorites)
ALLELUIA (fits as is!)
I’ll add a few more, then perhaps you will dream up yours…
PRAY4ME (wonder what would come out of that one!)
Take the time to try some. It will make you smile. Share them with me, IFULIKE.

New Life in Springtime

20 04 2014

New Life! Like spring! How cliché. What an overused analogy…or is it?
act of burying—planting—every seed, bulb, rootling is to bring life, for the potential within to multiply and grow and transform. Even to the smallest parts of life we can see: the cell must divide to multiply; a “split” atom bursts with untold power and energy. Gold and silver are melted down in fire to refine and purify them and make them precious and useful. How relieved we are when the spring comes, the weather warms, and the chill and bleak and cold white starkness slink into the past. We see green blades emerging from the ground where last month there was frozen snow. We look for the first flowers to emerge, snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, first just green sprouts, then buds, then color returns to our world. Following them, the trees begin to bud.
Springtime (coincidentally?) is also the time Christians celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection, and I am reading Walter Wangerin Jr.’s Lenten reflections entitled “Reliving the Passion”.
He speaks of the “Merciful Paradox.” “Where then, is our window into heaven, to see and know and believe the nature of God?” He answers: “In his crucifixion, his death, his separation from God. That is how we enter the door of Heaven…”
Not in the miracles, the healings, the prayers is God revealed, so much as in Jesus’ death. The ultimate sacrifice. Willing to be abandoned so that we would not be. Willing to die. Came to earth to die, according to his own description of himself. Ironically, paradoxically, when the world gets dark, the earth quakes and the Savior seems to have died, when the end seems to have arrived, is when life begins. He has left the tomb–alive! And in the separation, God comes closest. In Jesus’ death, God redeems. The centurion recognizes in Jesus, the man dying on the cross, the Son of God. The curtain in the temple, separating the Holy of Holies where God dwelled, tore from the top to the bottom, allowing full access to a no longer separate and unapproachable God.
Paradox: As God goes, God comes. Death, resurrection. Jesus returns to heaven—the Holy Spirit is given to us, dwelling within us. Tragedies in our lives often make us stronger. Tear down, rebuild. In disasters, there are helpers, always helpers.
If Jesus in God died and was buried to bring LIFE ,then surely  there must be hope in our dark times. Meanwhile, we are promised strength for the journey. Let your losses, all your little (and big) deaths be your life-givers. Let your time in a dark place be a seed underground, just waiting its time, its spring time to burst forth—or at least sprout bravely with potential to grow and thrive.
The dark soil is a safe place in which to  “germinate;” to wait; to prepare for the death of the acorn and the emergence of the oak; watch the mustard seed produce a plant that offers a home to many birds. The teeny crocus that gives to those who see it great joy that spring is finally near—there is warmth and new life coming soon.
And so again, nature mimics and declares heaven. Heaven we cannot see is reflected in the nature we can see. Even paradoxes and mysteries unravel before our eyes sometimes. Was there a profound, universe-redeeming, life-giving death and resurrection which holds the promise of life today?
The crocus seems to answer—YES!