Category Archives: Awe

“Some Sweetness”

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“Grab somebody, come on down/ Bring your paintbrush, we’re paintin’ the town/ Oh there’s some sweetness goin’ ’round/  Catch it down in New Orleans…You wanna do some livin’ before you die/ Do it down in New Orleans…” The Princess and the Frog, “Down In New Orleans”

My final morning in the Big Easy started slowly.  I packed in a quiet apartment, before my hosts were awake, and thought about how quickly it all had passed.  I was so nervous about the trip, about everything involved, and now I wanted it to last indefinitely.  I straightened up the living room and tip-toed over the creaky wood floors, savoring each minute left in the city.

R and I drove back to the French Quarter for breakfast.  Early on a Sunday, it was just coming to life.  Families strolled the streets and vendors unloaded their wares.  It was just beginning to stretch out of sleep as we wandered in.  We walked down to the Mississippi River.  The Mississippi River.  It was surreal, something out of books and history, something huge and untamable.  We stood on its banks in the warming sun, staring out at the rippling water.  I may as well have been visiting the rings of Saturn.  It was all so mythic.  It was smaller than I thought, quieter, but still magical.

We walked the banks back to the historic Cafe du Monde.  Standing in the winding line, we watched people pass and eat.  We inched into the shade of the cafe, thankful for a little relief from the ever-hotter sun.  We picked our way to a table in the back, ready for the heavenly beignets to arrive.  We swooned over the cute children, covered in powdered sugar, being wheeled in in strollers.  Realizing that there is no dignified way to eat a beignet, I dove in.  R laughed as a fine, white dust settled on her black dress and I fought to find a way to bite without sugar coating my entire face.  Eating more than we should have, I finished my plate, reminding myself of Robert Frost’s insight: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way/ I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Breakfast at the Cafe du Monde!

After  breakfast, we walked back to the car, taking a detour through the French Market.  Looking through used books, shot glasses, produce and drinks, I picked up a small souvenir to send home and we hopped back in the car and headed to church.  I was a bit nervous about going to church, but R wanted me to see it and I wanted to enjoy all of her New Orleans.  We pulled up under a tree and she pointed out that we were parked next to a few of the remaining Projects.  Even they were beautiful.  Red brick houses with old trees lining the streets made even the neediest part of the city enchanting.  We walked into the building and I immediately felt out of place.  After growing up Protestant in a Catholic school, I still feel unwelcome when I attend mass.  I sat alone in the pew as R ran to the bathroom, and looked around the sanctuary.  Transported back to my theology classes in college, I noticed a lot about the church without speaking to anyone.  It was bright, open.  The colors were light and welcoming.  The Stations of the Cross were closer to folk art than anything else and beautiful.  R pointed out that there is only one crucifix in the building, and it is off to the side of the altar, out of sight.  People walked around, some praying, others chatting.  The choir warmed up, piano music floating through the room.

The choir leader emerged from behind the piano, which was adorned with a Saints pennant.  She walked to the front of the sanctuary, dressed in a Saints jersey, black leather pants, and a gold chain belt.  She talked to those of us who were seated, explaining the new language that has been added to the mass and how to follow along.  She was lively and funny, engaging as she readied the congregation for mass.  Then the service began.  The music was enlivening.  The piano played, a horn and saxophone joined in, a drum kept time and a tambourine made appearances.  People sang with joy, the priests swaying at the altar as they did.  Everything that could be sung was, and it was sung with zest.  The mass was familiar but new, welcoming in ways it never was before.  We sang the Lord’s Prayer.  We sang “Peace Like a River” after the sign of peace, which was mashed up with Sinatra’s “When You’re Smiling.”  It was a party, relevant and accessible in ways that I had never felt before.  The mass, which was the same one we crashed at the cathedral, was tailored to its congregation, meeting their passions and needs beautifully.

The priest’s homily hit me deeply.  Tears flooded my eyes as I realized why exactly I loved this city.  He talked about giving to Caesar what is his and God what is His.  He talked about life, how it is fleeting and the important things are what belong to God.  “Amens” filled the air as he continued, a far cry from the silent, formal masses I knew from childhood.  He talked about money belonging to Caesar, because it is stamped in his image, and us belonging to God, because we are created in His.  He instructed that we are to give everything to God, because our lives are His: money, time, burdens, joys.  As the mass concluded, the recessional hymn was a game day tradition: “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  And then a “Who dat?” chant started.  R grinned widely, at home in room of people in love with life and their city.

We got back in the car and I tried to explain what I was thinking and feeling.  We drove through New Orleans and down to the 9th Ward.  She explained the Ward system, described different neighborhoods, and prepared me for what I was about to see.  As we rolled through the streets, I caught glimpses of gutted houses, rotten porches.  Spray paint still marks homes, though I didn’t even want to ask what it all meant.  As we arrived in the Lower 9th, I was fascinated by it all.  I had expected something frightening, a graveyard of houses.  I imagined dark, decaying messes, frames falling apart, destruction everywhere.  In fact, there were cute little homes, brightly colored, all over.  They were smaller than the ones on St. Charles, but I couldn’t help but love them too.  She explained that every empty lot I saw was once a home.  I saw quite a few, filled with dirt or looking like a lawn with no home to claim it.  We crept over the jagged streets and asked if I truly understood what I was seeing.  I apparently wasn’t.  There were plenty of clear lots, but there were also countless homes in fields of grass, reaching at least shoulder-height.  These were once homes too.  What looked like a house built on a lot with meadows surrounding it was a neighbor to an un-kept lot.  Then it hit me just how much was missing, what was lost.  It was weird, driving past places where people died and entire lives were lost.  We talked about whether we would come back, if we lost everything, or if we would just rather not see it all.  She showed me the homes Brad Pitt was helping rebuild.  They were cool, but couldn’t hold a candle to the beauty of the aged New Orleans.

We got back on the Interstate, driving toward my trip home.  We passed through a massive cemetery, lining both sides of the freeway.  White tombs litter the graveyard, housing generations of families together.  They keep the dead away from the mud and rain, keep them buried in the storm.  As I hugged R goodbye, I was sad to leave it all.

I tried to explain to her what I had fallen in love with.  New Orleans is a city at ease with tragedy.  It is violent.  Cemeteries litter neighborhoods.  Brass bands lead funeral processions.  Katrina still lurks, a scar that they cannot shake.  In the middle of all of this is Bourbon Street, children dancing in church, artists lining the street.  There are festivals and music, drinks for everyone and hospitality freely shown.  It is a city with every reason to mourn and fear, but it chooses life.  There is a choice to live the little time we have, to accept that it will end, and the determination to taste all that we can of this world.  The passion and zeal of the city are inspiring, it bursts with energy and celebration.  They dance for marriages and deaths, communion and touch downs.  It is the opposite of my life–vivid and electric.  It refuses to give up or grow up, greeting each day like a child: twirling through life with wonder and radiance.

“Mardi Gras is the love of life.  It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living.  All at once.”  Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

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“Dreams do come true in New Orleans”

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“I’m not going to lay down in words the lure of this place.  Every great writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short.  It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of South Louisiana in words and try to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is.  It is home.”  –Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

There is a magic to New Orleans that cannot be put down in words–it must be lived.  On Saturday, R and I woke up a little later than planned and got dressed to go see the mythic French Quarter.  As we walked down the street to catch the Street Car, the sun was warm and a cool breeze sifted through our hair.  We climbed onto the full car and rattled down St. Charles.  As my curls tangled through the open window, whipped in the sun, I drank in more of the beautiful architecture.  R, being the girl she is, struck up a conversation with a lost couple next to us.  They asked where to get off for Lafayette Square and she directed them, asking what they were up to.  They told us there was a festival, so we decided to get off with them and see what was out there.  We wandered through booths and heard a little music.  R told me “I love a good festival!” and that summarizes New Orleans well.  We got breakfast–a beer for R and the best pina colada on earth for me–and walked on.  (One of the strangest, and most enjoyable aspects of New Orleans was the ability to drink on the streets.  It never felt normal to get a drink to go, but it was wonderful!)

R wanted me to see a Second Line, so we walked to City Hall for the Occupy NOLA protest, listening for the band.  As we sipped and watched, R saw some of her friends from school, who stopped to chat for a moment.  They told us that the band could not be booked, and no Second Line was coming, but they were heading our direction, so we joined them.  We were accidental protestors.  “This is what happens when you fly by the seat of your pants!” she said with a wide grin.  Walking with the protestors was surreal and we were glad to have alcohol on our side.  A young girl rode on her parent’s shoulders on the outskirts, taking in the scene.  Signs were everywhere, all angry about something different.  A woman marched in front of us with a sign on her backpack reading, “3 degrees, 2 jobs, and I can’t sell my house.  I’m tired and angry.”  A drummer walked next to us for a block, flanked by a saxophone player, as people shouted “This is what democracy looks like.”  As we entered the Quarter, we broke free and left behind the shouts of unrest.

We stopped in a stately hotel, cool behind its white pillars, and glimpsed the slowly turning Carousel that made up the bar.  After the pit stop, we strolled the streets, passing galleries and shops and a cat in a window.  We wandered the historic streets, older than the stars and stripes.  The corners bore tiled signs, proclaiming the names the streets were known as under Spanish rule.  Stone and brick sidewalks turn into cobbled alleys, old shuttered doors bright and warm.  We wound down to Jackson Square, arriving just as horns began to echo.  We were surprised by a Second Line!  We stopped to watch, as the band approached, and clapped as the bride and groom followed.  We walked past the artists, work strewn on tables and pinned on fence bars, and the fortune tellers, browning in the autumn sun.  Skinny streets with beautifully old names crisscrossed through history and we wound up next to the mule-drawn carriages.  Promised a cheap ride if we joined strangers, we toured the Quarter by carriage, listening to tidbits of history and lore, seeing the oldest bar in America (Jean Lafittes Black Smith Shop), the only business open during Katrina (Johnny White’s), and an elementary school just off Bourbon Street.  Back at Jackson Square, we admired Saint Louis Cathedral, popping in for a look around and a homily about economic justice.  We walked back past the art vendors, enamored with a collection of bird paintings, and then headed for lunch.

We entered an almost empty dining room at the Gumbo Shop, which I would have walked right past if R hadn’t stopped me.  We entered the cool restaurant, seated next to the window where we watched a large woman, dressed all in red, clean up her keyboard and seat for the day.  R ordered gumbo and I enjoyed my first po’ boy after we shared an order of alligator sausage.  It was all new, steps away from all that I know and have ever experienced, and it was delicious–just like the city itself.  Full, hydrated, and content, we left our first real meal of the day for more walking.  Our feet had grown tired and we had not drunk nearly enough for a day in the Quarter, so we made our way down Bourbon in and into Pat O’Brien’s, where we would stay for much longer than we intended.

In the dark, smoky piano bar, we found an empty table near the stage and sat down with my first hurricane.  Sipping and singing, we watched tables fill and empty and fill again.  We heard some songs three or four times, and grew excited when a new one was requested.  We were mesmerized by their fingers, pounding and flying, effortlessly creating every song we threw at them.  The players cycled through, as did our drinks, and we sang on.  Finally R’s roommate joined us, which called for another round of drinks, and shouted our day’s journey to her over the music.  Eventually we tottered our way out, squeezing between crowded tables, and found that it had grown dark outside as well.  We walked to the car, taking Bourbon just to say that I did, and slowly drove away from the Quarter, just beginning to pick up for the night.  We listened to her roommate’s day, filled in details of ours, and decided some food was in order.  We drove through Rally’s, another new taste, though much more familiar than alligator.  We limped home, tired and hungry, and snuggled in for a little television before sleep.

At the end of the day, it felt like we had live a week.  It felt forever ago that we climbed onto the Street Car, and we crammed as much into a day in the French Quarter as possible.  I got to see and taste the city, breathe in the pounding heart of New Orleans.  It is a place of history, rich in humanity.  The streets ring, sing right along with the brass bands marching.  People come to perform, to dance and play, to paint and predict.  People come to where the life is.  For one day, I was one of the people who came to the Quarter, one of the pulses creating the beat of the street.

“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands.  Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it.”  –John Updike

A Big Small-Town City

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“Got nothing against a big town/ Still hayseed enough to say/ Look who’s in the big town/ but my bed is in a small town/ Oh, that’s good enough for me…”  –John Mellencamp, “Small Town”

I’m a homebody.  I’m boring.  I like routine and familiar.  I like comfortable.  I grew up in a small town and, while I have enjoyed some of the luxuries of the big city, I miss it.  I don’t fly by the seat of my pants.  I don’t do adventure.  I don’t try new things and most of the time I regret it, and then do not try something new the next time I have the opportunity.  I’m predictable and small.  Sometimes, though, I dream about being big and having stories to tell.  I think about what it would be like to be different, to be interesting, to be alive.  So, when one of my closest friend, R, left for graduate school at Tulane and continually invited me to come visit her at Tulane, I planned a trip with every doubt and reservation in the world.

Nervous and unsure of what to really expect, I left home last Thursday and took flight to the Big Easy.  I was off to see how R lives, so far from everything I know.  Sitting on the plane, I worried about so much.  Would it be too hot?  Would it be filthy?  Would I find new food that I liked?  Would it be scary to walk around in such a violent place?  Would I be boring and disappointing as a guest and friend?  Would I overstay my welcome?  What in the world would I find?  Would it be a miserable weekend?  I was calmer flying than I expected, but the nerves came as I stepped into the airport.

I am not an adventurer.  I stepped into a new place, not sure of where to go.  I felt embarrassed, lost among the people who knew these walkways.  I made my way out the doors and found R waiting for me.  I hopped in the car and drank in the dark sights along the highway on the way home.  We wound through tight streets and sped through the gaps in the neutral ground, which I never got used to during my visit.  The sun had set, but I could still make out the neighborhoods that we drove through.  I fell immediately in love with the houses, the porches, the wrought iron railings, the old trees sweeping over head.  I could not drink in enough of the streets.

Feeling a little less nervous, we climbed the stairs in her quaint, beautiful building and dropped my bags off.  Lingering a little on the crystal door knob, I pulled the door closed and headed out for my first real steps into New Orleans.  We crept down the street, past a pale cemetery bathed in moonlight, and turned down Magazine Street.  I felt a funny recognition, the shops looking like our beach areas here.  We passed bars and boutiques, yoga centers and apartments.  We stopped for pizza–familiar and safe for my first venture into the unknown.  We sat on the sidewalk and watched people walk, and stumble, by.  We saw a couple of her friends from school and watched a man’s car get towed.  We chatted and it really didn’t feel like I was anywhere but home.

After dinner, we went to a small bar, favored by locals, and had my first drink in the city.  In a number of the bars we went to, mojitos were prominently advertised.  It was strange to see something other than margaritas being pushed, and exciting.  I had a blueberry mojito, boasted as the best in the city, and quickly decided that it would be my last.  But I was brave and fought every instinct that pushed me toward the familiar.  We sat on the patio, bathed in smoke (also VERY different from California) and talked about family and boys and work–the familiar in the new.  After our drinks we went home to settle in and watch a movie.  She had to work the next day and I was getting my sea-legs, easing into the big outside world.

That first night, I was comforted by how underwhelming some aspects of New Orleans are.  I expected a sensory overload, people everywhere and no escape from the party.  On the contrary, her neighborhood is quiet and calming.  Life is simple and casual, slow and easy.  I expected big city grandeur, the anxiety that comes with drowning in traffic, sky scrapers, people and rush.  Instead I found a city that reminded so much of home, of life in a town too small for a Costco.  The city is cozy, comfortable with its smallness.  I admire that.  I revel in it.

There is much more that I saw and loved about New Orleans.  That first night, I was surprised to be drawn in and embraced by the city, not swallowed alive.  As I leapt from my comfort zone and dove into travel, I found that I landed somewhere comforting and wonderful.

“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city/ Linger on the sidewalk/ Where the neon lights are pretty/ How can you lose?/ The lights are much brighter there/ You can forget all your troubles/ Forget all your cares…” –Petula Clark, “Downtown”

Plans

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“Have I ever given you reason not to trust me?” –Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

Today was a mess.  I was put in my place, reminded that hope is really not for me.  As my three o’clock meeting approached, my computer (yes, this one, that works so great right now) and internet decided to conspire against me.  I spent more than an hour trying to get it up and running and online.  Yesterday I downloaded every update, ran every scan possible, and was ready for my web conference.  I had an hour to just get onto the website and, go figure, couldn’t.  I did everything in my power and ended up in tears watching a job opportunity slip away.

I quickly called into the number listed with the web address and hoped I could get by with just listening in.  I was late and missed the first minute or two of the meeting.  I took notes the best I could, scribbling every term or direction that they gave, for a program that I could not see in front of me.  I tried to calm myself and focus and planned how to best send an apology email and ask to still be considered for this training session.  In less than half of the time we were told, the meeting ended.  I apparently understood more than most of the other candidates did, who asked questions, without ever seeing the website.  I got all of the information that I needed to log on (miraculously) after the meeting ended and was able to easily navigate the training site.

I called my mom, still shaking from the frustration and emotion racing through me.  (I may have used some very, very harsh expletives when yelling at my laptop.)  I calmed down as I told her all about the frustratingly unsurprising bad luck I had.  I tried to shake the tension with a quick shopping run before rush hour set in in the valley.  As I walked down the hall to my car, one thought flooded my whirling mind.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future.'” 

I have felt discouraged and hopeless about much in my life since graduating from college.  I have felt stuck, cornered in a place that I never intended to be.  I have tried, but grown so tired trying to find a way out, a way back.  At some point, I resigned myself to the fact that it doesn’t get much better than this.  So it goes.  And then, though I fought it, I allowed myself a little hope, a bit of dreaming.  And then it all failed me.  I barely made it through and it remains to be seen whether any of this will work out.  Yet in my frustration, through all my self-pity and self-loathing, I heard it:  “Plans to give you hope and a future.”

My plans are not His plans, and His are rarely mine.  Since graduating and losing (and perhaps leaving) much of my faith support system, it is far harder to hear His plan.  Perhaps I have not been seeking it, and that’s why it’s not clear.  I am still unhappy, still stressed about this new venture, but today I heard Him.  I know that, while I still doubt and fear, deep inside me is rooted this promise.  Somewhere, beyond what I was aware of or thinking about, His words echoed.  Somewhere, woven deeper within me than my skepticism and self-destruction, is the knowledge that He does have a plan to give me a future, one full of hope, worth hoping for. 

 

Sitting the Babies

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“Rest your head close to my heart/ Never to part, baby of mine”  —Dumbo

I have spent time (and made a little money) babysitting since I was nine years old.  When I started out, I was just a helper while the mother was home, but gradually I worked my way up to watching children on my own.  Usually I watched the children of family friends, but I’ve branched my way out to the families of strangers.  It’s a strange thing, babysitting.  When I was younger, I always secretly couldn’t believe I was old enough to be trusted to watch someone’s child.  I always felt like too much of a child to be responsible for another life, despite the fact that I really am a good sitter.  Suddenly, in the past couple of months, the opposite feeling has taken hold.  I’m watching the children of my friends, not my parents.  I could be a parent.  “Babysit” sounds so juvenile.  It’s a weird feeling.  I love watching kids and can think of no more enjoyable way to earn some money, but the term just never seems to fit.

This past week I had the pleasure of watching the little boy that I’ve watched for almost three years, his beautiful baby sister, and (surprise!) the little girl who was visiting them.  I watched the three year-olds run, chatter, jump and squeal throughout the house at nothing in particular.  I watched as they proudly showed me how they brush their teeth, something I do without thinking.  We played Candyland, but it took too long to hold their interest through the end.  We played hide-and-seek.  Both kids hid under the coffee table every time, and both pretended to look all over for each other before shrieking with laughter when “discovering” the other.  This never got old for them.  They are breathing energy, bouncing until the moment I put them into their beds, singing and talking to themselves long after I turned out the lights. 

All of the commotion woke the baby up.  At one point, while the two older kids played, I got the baby out of bed and held her to calm her down.  I’ve watched her for almost a year now, but haven’t seen her since the new year.  She had no idea who I was, but melted into my arms when I picked her up.  We sat on the couch and she instantly calmed down.  Laying on my chest, she layed her head on my shoulder and was silent.  I shifted her a couple of times to see if she was asleep.  She never closed her eyes, but lay still and quiet against me.  She folded and molded to my torso, as relaxed as I’ve ever seen her. 

It’s a special thing, holding a baby.  I remember when her brother was a baby, holding him outside on a cold night.  His tiny body against mine, with his blanket over him, was better than a heater.  He slept still and silent amidst the activity around him, warm and content.  Then I thought about how I sleep.  I never sleep on planes or in airports.  I never sleep on car trips.  I don’t even really like sharing a room.  I don’t trust people when I sleep.  I don’t think that my friends would harm me, but it’s not beyond them to pull a prank.  I don’t trust them not to judge me if I drool, or snore, or make a weird face.  Even in my sleep I’m self-conscious.  Babies aren’t like that.  They haven’t learned to fear, or worry, or care what others think.  They relax in the human contact, rest in the closeness of being held.  This night came shortly after I read a post on the blog 1000 Awesome Things.  A baby falling asleep on you comes in at number 520 on the list.  The smell of a baby, its soft breaths and skin, its tiny body curling up on you is like nothing else.  I reveled in the absolute trust and security of the baby. 

There is nothing like a baby falling asleep on you.  Somewhere, as we get older, we learn to create personal space.  We don’t let strangers embrace us, perhaps for good reasons.  We worry about others’ perceptions of us and their intentions toward us.  A baby does none of this.  I wonder what it would be like to find that peace and comfort again.  To fall asleep against the rising and falling chest of someone holding me, let them snuggle me in and simply drift off with no second thoughts.  What would it be like to be rocked before bed each night, be held until calm set in and sleep takes hold?  How would it be to not think about work or money or deadlines and simply let ourselves be loved to sleep?  There are a lot of perks that come with growing up, but somethings about childhood simply cannot compare. 

“Children make you want to start life over.”  -Muhammad Ali

The Ring and The Cross

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“It is a burden he should never have had to bear.”  –Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

In these last few minutes of Good Friday, I have been collecting my thoughts on what today means.  It means something slightly different every year that passes.  In the years that I went to Catalina for the days leading up to Easter, the death of my Savior meant something different from any year before.  When I was a child, we prepared for it with Stations of the Cross, washing of feet, and a Seder meal.  The choice of death, on my behalf, means something different every year because life means something different each year.  I mean something different. 

This week I watched the film Inglourious Basterds.  The film itself is relatively irrelevant here except for its violence.  While much less than I expected, its graphic nature was perhaps worse than I anticipated.  I flashed back to my Senior year of college.  As we finished studying the book of Mark, ending obviously with the Crucifixion, I was deeply struck by the gore of it, the depravity.  The way that humans torture each other, mock each other, humiliate and pain each other will never cease to perplex, sadden and sicken me.  We watched the death scene from Braveheart after reading the passage, a visual of the sort of scene we had just experienced.  I felt myself growing angry and disgusted as it played, looking away for much of it.  After reading about Jesus’ death, we watch a blockbuster film that profits from the depiction of a tortuous death.  It just sat entirely wrong with me.  Those feelings about violence came back to me watching Basterds and I really digress into this only to show that Easter means something different.  I still was uneasy with the violence, but not in the same heated, emotional way that I was on the island.  Life is different this year.

Tonight I sit in front of my television as the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy plays.  Appropriately enough, Gandalf just plunged into the depths of Moria with the scary fire monster.  All three films are playing this weekend, culminating on Sunday with the Return of the King.  The blueray dvds release next week, so I am sure this is tied to the sales of them, but I can’t help but think that it is also deeply tied to Easter.  As a literature and theology student, I spent a lot of time analyzing christ-figures in art.  Any number of characters in this epic qualify for that title, but I was thinking of Frodo in particular tonight.  He is similar to Jesus, but so different.  They both bear loads, on behalf of the world, that they did not deserve, if you will, to carry.  They travel through hell and back, literally seeing the “end of all things.”  They leave this world, at peace and ready, leaving behind a world that they saved.  Frodo is much more human, in some ways.  Jesus tells Peter to stay alert, reminding him that, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Mark 14:38)  I grew up thinking that this was in reference to His own feelings, to His sacrifice, but it refers to His companions.  When Frodo begins to fall under the ring’s power, this phrase comes to mind.  He wants to do right, to be good, but there are things that humans (or hobbits) fall prey to.  We are weak.  No matter how noble the intent, people are frail.  Eventually, Frodo ends the ring’s reign and Peter and the other disciples become the church, but it’s messy and a long road.  There are missteps and ugly mistakes, but the spirit’s willingness outlasts the flesh’s weakness. 

I’m going to leap again, since I’ve already been all over the place here, to Aslan.  As I’ve been rereading the Chronicles of Narnia, there has been so much that has amazed me.  Lewis is brilliant.  The thing that strikes me every time I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is the scene at the Stone Table.  This actually starts as Aslan quietly walks to his death, alone.  The girls watch him leave and follow for a bit until they are caught.  He tells them, when they beg to follow, “I should be glad of company tonight.”  This is the second thing that strikes me about Aslan, Frodo and Jesus.  There is an immense loneliness and isolation in their stories.  As the lion approaches his slaughter, he goes quietly and willingly, with no hesitation and fear.  Jesus’ prayer in the garden has always touched me.  He is a willing sacrifice, the payment for all sin, but He asks if there is another way.  It is not weak, nor cowardly, but honest.  He is willing to do His Father’s will, but if there is a way out of what is coming, He wants to take it.  He is sorrowful, scared, lonely and anxious.  This makes the whole story so much more beautiful, powerful.  He didn’t do something that was easy.  It was scary, and He wanted out.  He didn’t want out enough to deny God’s will, but He didn’t want what was waiting. 

I have perhaps the lowest pain tolerance in history.  I fear almost everything that might bring discomfort.  I know the feeling of dread, the clenching nausea that rolls from my stomach throughout my body.  I know fear.  I know loneliness.  I know what it is to feel, whether it is true or not, that no one else can possibly understand my pain, my isolation, my fears.  I can relate to a God who wants to do what’s right, but really is scared of the cost.  I like that my God knows what it is to feel alone.  Not because I want God to feel sad or be pained, but it means He knows how I feel.  He knows the desperate feeling of just wanting to feel connected, the empty ache of being left by those He loves.  He knows my racing heart as I wait to get a shot, because He felt the terror of impending pain.  While my pain cannot compare to His, my isolation paling in comparison, He knows how I feel. 

Today is a day to remember that Jesus, God with us, chose a brutal death.  He died.  A man that walked this earth and sat under this sun, that saw the flowers bloom in spring and had a favorite food and a family, died.  He chose death so that people He never knew, people who curse His name, people who killed Him, would have salvation from damnation.  He died.  He chose the hard, scary, lonely road to death for me.  His victory will be celebrated in a couple of days, but today, His lonely sacrifice is the focus. 

“I am sorry I brought this upon you, my boy. I’m sorry that… you must carry this burden. I’m sorry for everything.”  –Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring

“If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred”

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“I stand in awe of my body” –Henry David Thoreau

From time to time I become very aware of my body.  I am constantly self-conscious about it, but sometimes it catches me by surprise.  I don’t consider myself a tactile learner, but I am a much more physical person than I realize.  I touch and feel things as I walk past.  For example, when I drive, I prefer to be barefoot.  I like the feel of the pedals under my foot.  I know the resistance of the gas, the give of the break.  I drive better when I feel.   

Walking through the store a couple of weeks back, I was struck by the act and feel of walking.  It was a quiet moment with nothing in particular drawing my attention.  In that moment, the feel of my legs moving overwhelmed me.  The bend of my knees, the stretch of my muscles.  The momentum of my body as I propelled myself through space was the only thing I could concentrate on.  It boggles my mind how we walk every single day with no second thought.  I watch my cousin struggle to find his balance as he learns to stand and walk.  What is so intuitive to me is such a labor for him.  Beyond our toddler years, we walk on instinct.  We balance, move, coordinate our muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones while doing a hundred other things.  We don’t need to think about the act of walking.

Then I hurt my knee.  For no real reason, it simple betrayed me.  While it is nearly back to normal, it is still stiff.  I still can’t straighten it.  I feel weak.  A small sprain changed my body.  My back ached because my stride was off.  My calf cramped and hurt because it was stretched and used differently.  My hips didn’t align.  Something so small threw my whole body off.  It’s been said for ages that you don’t know what you have until it is gone.  I think we don’t appreciate our bodies until they malfunction, the routine and mundane until they are interrupted.

I think one of the most amazing sensations I’ve had recently is the first drink of cold water.  I guess it’s a similar feeling when you take a drink of something hot on a cold day, but for just a moment, that chill runs down my throat and I can feel it moving into my stomach.  Eating comes as naturally as walking.  While we eat we talk and watch movies and do so many other things.  We may savor flavors and enjoy the feeling of fullness, but how often do I stop and feel eating?  It’s incredibly rare that I appreciate the act of nourishing my body.  However, there are still those cold drinks that wake me up, pull me into this body that carries me around, that I ignore much of the time. 

The body is simply amazing.  I’ve been especially aware of it lately with my minor injury.  That’s not to say that I ignore it most of the time, because I’m a hypochondriac and notice every bump, itch or tenderness.  It just never fails to amaze me when I learn something new about me.  The mere fact that I have been breathing this entire entry is amazing.  I recently talked with a friend about the sense of smell.  It is so closely tied to memory recall, to attraction, to a mother knowing her baby (in under an hour, 90% of mothers can identify their babies by smell alone!).  However, if asked to give up a sense, so many people choose smell.  It goes unnoticed and, thus, unappreciated.  I was blown away when I started learning about the hormone oxytocin.  In part, it  is released in a woman’s body when she breastfeeds and has intercourse.  It is a bonding agent.  We are designed, in a chemical way, to love our babies that we nurture and our partners.  It’s old news that our pupils dilate when we look at something (or someone) pleasing.  There are millions of these crazy little facts that seem so trivial, but they add up to something huge: the human body.

All of this simply serves as proof to me, personally, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  There is so much that has to work perfectly, work together, so much in place to sustain us, that all of this isn’t chance.  I’m sure some will argue that it’s million of years of evolution and adaptation, but I tend to believe that it’s simply the mysterious beauty of creation.  We are so intricate and ornate, still so mysterious, that a Creator far beyond our understanding is seen whenever I learn more about me.  That’s really not where I mean for all of this to go, but it simply did. 

This is a little disjointed and random, no where near as complete as I would like to be, and not the real writing that I had hoped to be working on, but it’s been a constant thought for me lately.  I’m just amazed that I don’t think about it more.

“Your body is a wonderland” –John Mayer