Seeking Refuge

KK_Boat_Drop-OffI’d just put my two young sons to bed when I opened the computer to see the picture of Aylan. My sons are two and five, and the youngest has round soft legs, like Aylan, and little shoes, like Aylan. I saw the picture of Aylan and felt my blood go cold.

That day I had been humming through hymns in some music planning for our small startup Episcopal community in rural Washington. “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord,” came to mind, an old camp song. Good energy for coming back together at the end of a summer. Now the music stopped.

One in the spirit and one in the Lord? I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind. How blind I was to God’s people struggling each day just to live? Aylan must have tussled and played with his older brother just like my little one, but his brother drowned too. Aylan’s mother must have tucked them both in the same way I tuck in my sons, until she drowned that same day. I started to feel desperate. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” the hymn goes. How was I showing Christ’s love?

My feeling of discomfort grew. I emailed a friend who does overseas mission work, but she didn’t know a way to plug in directly. What if my family flew somewhere, worked in a camp? There were places to give, but that didn’t seem enough. We could take a family into our home, but the US has only permitted immigration to 1,500 Syrian refugees. [Read more...]

The Dissonant Note

This post was made possible through the support of a grant from The BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution and Christian Faith program. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BioLogos.

debussyI have a heart arrhythmia that, though benign, is frustrating and feels like death despite its clinical insignificance. It has no cause and no effect; cardiologists call it capricious. It’s meaningless and unreasonable and irregular, and I hate it.

After a night of insomnia and errant heartbeats, I spend a comforting morning on the piano with Claude Debussy’s First Arabesque. Its rhythm is purposefully unpredictable, notes falling all over themselves.

I played the piano all the time when the arrhythmia was first monitored and diagnosed, drifting toward arrhythmic music I hated learning as a child. All those misplaced beats and skittering hands and attempts to hold multiple melodies in my head at the same time. It felt wrong, but my piano teacher knew: This one, she will never befriend the metronome.

The arabesque is a problem that never gets solved, an unanswered question. Playing it is like endlessly falling with nothing to right the body. It is all sky and no ground.

Arrhythmia is distressing in any form. Debussy’s use of arrhythmic structure—bitonality—got his music shunned by the artistic thought leaders of the day. In nineteenth-century Europe, tone was integral to composing music, tone being a steady sound in one key that predicts and guides the composition. Haydn and Bach were the greats, the ones to be emulated: repetition leading to rhythm, a diversionary tactic here to indicate that something is happening, a return to the source soon after. Set the metronome; do not deviate. [Read more...]

Learning to Pray

Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything. —Abba Moses

The way up and the way down are one and the same. —Heraclitus


Trinity IconIt is six o’clock in the morning. I am on an overnight business trip to New York, alone in my hotel room. Weak streams of dawn light leak around the edges of the blackout shades on the window of my room in the Club Quarters Midtown. For the moment, I have silenced the frenetic squawking of local traffic and crime updates on New York One, because I am about to pray, and I am trying to figure out which way is East.

Part of me feels completely ridiculous, but I have committed to this, and though I have brought nary an icon with me, I stand in the middle of the hotel room floor and pray in the direction that seems to be towards Jerusalem: I cross myself and touch my fingertips to the floor, then pray the Trisagion prayers—the most rock-bottom-basic prayer in the Eastern Orthodox prayer book, called such, as the Internet notes, for its “triple invocation of God as holy”:

Glory to Thee, our God, Glory to Thee.
O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come, and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us. (3 times)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake.
Lord, have mercy. (3 times)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Even in prayer, the lay critic in me bubbles up: All those thrice-repeated phrases, how can they not be a subtle Trinitarian dig at the overwhelmingly singular focus of the Shema, the foundational Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one…” But of course, I remember, we still believe that one too. [Read more...]

Divine Drudgery

vanTwo weeks after we moved to the Mennonite community in rural Illinois, a baby was born in a teepee in my backyard. My neighbor Angela was a doula and had agreed to let a friend give birth in her own home. I’m not sure even Angela had expected the full-sized teepee to be erected fifty feet from the double sliding glass doors that looked out onto the backyard we shared.

Really, though, we share more than a backyard. Along with five or so families, we live on 180 acres of woods and farmland and dwell in the seven or eight buildings constructed by community members in the seventies and eighties.

That night, the teepee, straight out of the movie Dances with Wolves, was full of smoke, fire, and rain from the fateful thunderstorm whose thrumming rose and fell in pitch with the mother’s vocal contractions.

I stood at the window early the next morning and heard the newborn’s very first cries. And despite the strangeness of it all, I cried too.

Witnessing an unusual birth, living on a farm, rubbing shoulders with hippies, growing and raising our own food: It all sounds so romantic and interesting when I describe it, doesn’t it? [Read more...]

Wanted: God—Dead or Alive?

305880083_7cf2d7bf10_mIf you practice a religion faithfully—faith-fully—, why do you do this? And why is it this particular religion that you practice?

“The embarrassing fact is that most religious people seem to believe in a religion for no better reason than that their parents believed in it.” So states poet and literary critic Adam Kirsch in his review-essay “Is Reason Enough?” in The New York Review of Books (April 23, 2015). [Read more...]