Meanderings on Comfort…

We used to jokingly call him King Henry The First. He died on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a cat’s life, well lived.

I never felt right feeding birds while he was around; scattered bird seed was limited to very heavy snows when Henry was kept inside.

So in December I bought a small feeder, some suet and black sunflower seeds. I hung everything outside the mud room window where Henry had once liked to lurk in the bushes. It took the chickadees a few days; the juncos were next; and then a band of blue jays appeared and I knew we were in.

 

I stood at the window often in the early winter trying to get some good bird photos with my iPhone, but it made them nervous each time I moved, so eventually I gave up and just enjoyed watching them and keeping track of who visited. There was no Henry to hog the chair by the window, only the two humans who politely take turns…

 

Lately I’ve had time to stand quietly at the window again. Spring is here and the birds still seem delighted to be fed. Earlier this week I transplanted a dozen sunflower sprouts to a spot in the sun. Spring has come. Flowers are blooming. Fruit trees are starting to blossom. I have started seeds in eggshells and planted some peas and lettuces. The rhythms of nature have not changed, though the human world is now a discordant bang.  Or perhaps a better analogy is the door to the world we knew slammed shut.

Where is your comfort when so much has been taken away?

Cat lounging on porch swing

My big physical comfort was Henry. There’s nothing like a warm cat cuddling on your lap, purring at you, touching your cheek with his gentle paw… We decided to not get another cat until we came back from our ten day Scotland vacation in June… Yeah, that’s gone too… And now I have no cat to physically comfort me, and no Scotland to look forward to. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much; I know that. 

We all have lost our comfort-able-ness, haven’t we? Some of us have lost more than others, but we all can lament on what’s been taken from us. We can mourn (it’s okay to mourn our losses, no matter how small) and then we must find new ways to regain our comfort. (Just as an aside, I looked up ways, and the online definition is methods of reducing damage...) 

The word comfort made me pause the other day, as I considered where my comfort comes from…

And what came into my head were the words to one of the best loved praise songs ever written:

My comfort, my shelter,

tower of refuge and strength,

Let every breath, all that I am,

Never cease to worship you…

Shout to the Lord by Darlene Zesch.

If our comfort is in work, family, health, money, entertainment, friends, houses, skills? It’s all up in the air, isn’t it? On hold. That’s not to say, those aren’t good things, but they aren’t the best thing. Earthly treasures disappear. Quickly, as we have learned.

I don’t write about faith often. It’s a tricky thing, and one that I denied for much of my adult life. It’s an unseen, not-easy-to-prove way in our modern, rational world that needs proven science to be considered authentic.

Cat in window

But sometimes the mystery is what we need to cling to when other idols have turned to clay. (That’s a biblical metaphor, by the way…)

I know believers aren’t supposed to quote scripture to prove their beliefs, because what non-believer cares about the Bible? But this quote on faith is one that I’ve grown to love: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.–Hebrews 11:1. Faith is so personal, yet those of us who have it long to share it with those who need it. Because we know how it has changed our lives. For good. For better. For best. It doesn’t eliminate struggles or pain; it simply reminds us of God’s promises, reminds us to be grateful, reminds us to love, and reminds us that dying as a believer is not the worst thing — it is simply the beginning of a new journey.

Kitty looking over back porch

These days, if your comfort is cold, and you are thinking hard on what is important in your life, give faith a chance. Not all Christians are looney-toon right wing nut cases. :-) Some of us are probably your friends. We are struggling to make sense of all this too, but the three things we do have are comfort and hope and faith–the assurance that things unseen are truths we know in our hearts, our minds, our souls. And it gives us a glimpse, a gift of peace that’s not present in this earth-bound world.

 

Here are some places to meander:

Read this: The Gospel of Luke in the New Testament; Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis; Letters from a Skeptic by Gregory Boyd, Corona Virus and Christ by John Piper; Be Still and Know that I Am God

Watch this: Hope in Times of Fear by Tim Keller;  A moment of Comfort by Kathy Troccoli;  Choose Faith, not Fear, a sermon by Nicky Gumbel

Listen to this: Shout to the Lord, sung by Darlene Zesch; In Christ Alone by Celtic Worship; No Longer Slaves sung by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser;  Finding God, sermon by Timothy Keller

 

 

 

 

Hope for 2019: Is it an Oxymoron?

We are 15 days in to 2019, and I’m just now getting around to a New Year’s post.

Hey, I’m retired. I’m allowed to be on my own schedule.

Yesterday, was my first day of my second retirement. I did Meals on Wheels in the morning, made white chicken chili for dinner, read 5 chapters in My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante while drinking cinnamon tea in front of the wood stove. And looked out at the snow. And contemplated not having to go to work tomorrow.

Today, my second day of retirement, I studied Psalm 44, cleaned the kitchen, made a loaf of sourdough bread, and contemplated whether I should continue this blog, or just let it die.

I still haven’t decided. Yes, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted on a regular basis. But now, the complicated life of the past six months is behind me, and I’m contemplating what my new life will look like. Did you notice I’ve used the word contemplate three times in the last three paragraphs?

I’ve never been one for New Years’ Resolutions. Why set yourself up for failure? For awhile the one-word for the year thing was popular, but one-word for the year is not enough for me. Perhaps I’m easily bored. But as I was cleaning my office of personal effects, I found this tacked on the wall:

Immediately, I knew that those would be my ten phrases for the year. One for each month + the two that are hardest for me, I would do for two months…

I clipped it on the side of the fridge by the coffeemaker — no missing it there — so I can see it every morning. Mr. H.C. commented on it right away. We both need reminders — especially the Answer Without Arguing one…

We need this in 2019 more than any other year I can remember. We need love, compassion, and listening; we need to remember how to speak without accusing; we need a “good news” channel; (I have once again sworn off watching the evening news –I figure if something bad happens, someone will tell me!); we need to remember how to enjoy without complaint…

Well, really, we need all of them. All the time. But I’m doing the best I can, with one a month.

And I’m going to be a good news channel.

January is listen without interrupting. That’s going to be a tough one for me. It might even be a two-monther. But it’s okay, because I have time to listen.

After all, I’m retired…

Mourning the semicolon; it turned into a wink and was gone…

I’m of an age when I can fondly remember articles, objects, bits and pieces, things that just don’t exist anymore…

Card Catalogs — Yes, I was a librarian who learned how to catalog and classify a book and type a perfect catalog card (in triplicate) with accurate punctuation, including semicolons; but we’ll get to that later…. (Old librarians never die, they just get reshelved.)

Electric typewriters  — especially the Selectric, which greatly aided in typing the aformentioned catalog cards in triplicate with semicolons.

LPs — Ah, the sound of the needle hitting the vinyl; wondering how many we could stack at a time; sprawling on the floor next to the speaker reading liner notes and the words to Leonard Cohen songs; filing the records alphabetically in orange crates; arguing if Old and In the Way should be filed under Garcia, Grateful, or Old… (Old guitarists never die, they just come unstrung.)

Words — Perfectly good words have been hijacked. Like hoe, cloud, text, troll, dirt, tablet. Being a country girl at heart, I was startled a few years ago when a colleague told me she would never read or tell a story that had the word hoe in it. “Really?” I asked. “I guess you wouldn’t read Peter Rabbit out loud?” Can I just say that in my garden, one of my favorite tools is a hoe? Although while using it, usually I’m staring at the clouds or watching for trolls in the dirt. (Old Gardeners never die, they just spade away.)

And now semicolons. Just in case this surprises you as much as it did me, use of a semi-colon now dates you; modern writing methods reject semicolon usage. So all of us who perfected the use of putting together two similar sentences and joining them with that lovely little winking punctuation mark? We are marked as over the hill; just like that, our skill is no longer needed. (Old semicolons never die; they just wink over the hill…)

I’m not sure how this has come about, but I can certainly posit theories with the best of old grammarians. (Old Grammarians never die, they just lose their verbs.)

Theory 1: The Internet has shortened everyone’s attention span, so that long sentences are simply an annoyance. Short sentences please. Or no sentences. Just a verb maybe? If a sentence is too long, shorten it. Have two thoughts joined together? A period in between will do just fine. Hey, the shorter the better. And no long words either. (Old programmers never die, they just cache in their chips.)

Theory 2: No one has time (or wants to take the time) to sit down and luxuriously read long novels with elegant prose and graceful sentences. We want that first chapter, no, the first paragraph to pull us in with action; if it doesn’t deliver, well there’s another book on the Kindle that will. I used to give a book sixty pages before I gave up on it; the other day a reader bragged that she never gave any book longer than the first paragraph… (Old writers never die, they just start a new chapter.)

Theory 3: Texting and emails and emoticons have ruined punctuation and spelling.  Nthng els 2 b sed ;-) The Carnegie Mellon professor, Scott E. Fahlman,  is credited with inventing the emoticon in 1982 when he used :-) and :-( on a bulletin board. (Old professors never die, they just lose their class.)

Graph from Grammarly.com

Theory 4: Simplicity in writing is now a virtue.  People who hate semicolons (Kurt Vonnegut, Cormac McCarthy, probably Hemingway) are terse, get to the point, and put-down-that-period writers. I don’t hold that against them, certainly, but it is their style, which goes hand in hand with Theories 1 and 2. (Old theorists never die, they just keep making assumptions.)

Theory 5: Readers want the sentence to be over before it’s over; a semicolon means there’s more to the story. There is beauty in a semicolon allowing the writer to build on a thought; a semicolon also allows the writer to believe that the reader can follow a semi-complicated sentence. It’s about trust between the writer and the reader; yet, a semicolon is also about tone and nuance in a sentence that commas and periods just can’t get across. (Old readers never die, they just turn the page.)

In researching semicolons (to find out if reports of their death were greatly exaggerated) I found this brilliant quote by Lewis Thomas, scientist, essayist, and lover of semicolons:

I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. . . . It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.

As an old librarian (who has not checked out quite yet) I suggest that we enjoy that pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is always more to the story….