Friday, April 27, 2007

Angelus & Amazing Grace!

It seems spring has finally arrived just today! And so have the barn swallows who swoop through our dairy barn and build mud nests on the rafters. Husband says they are already busy repairing the nests with fresh mud. What amazing creatures!

The week started cold and rainy, but by today the warmth of the sun seems to have overtaken the unspringlike weather pattern we've been in. That's good, because my perennials have been but timidly peeking out of their winter hiding places; they need the encouragement of warm sunshine in order to fully reveal themselves.

I mustn't sit here too long, but the following incident which took place last Friday is worth recording. I love it when cool little things like this happen! (First let me say that for several years I have had it in my mind to try and find a copy of the painting "Angelus" to hang in our living room. Not long ago I almost ordered a $40 copy of it from a catalog.) Anyway, on Friday evening, my high school freshman son asked if I would take him and a vanload of his friends to a neighboring town for a movie and bowling. I willingly agreed to do so, because it gives me a chance to get better acquainted with the friends he hangs out with. In another year or so, they will all be driving on their own, and I will no longer be asked to accompany them.

Anyway, when we arrived at the movie theater, we found that we were about 30 minutes early. The kids (4 boys and 2 girls) spied the Goodwill Store across the street, and decided to look around in there. I tagged along and browsed amongst the shelves of glassware and knicknacks, trying also to stay aware of the kids, to make sure they didn't get too noisy or goofy. You know how a group of young teenagers can be. My son and another boy found bowling balls to purchase for $1 each. I had spied a nice votive holder for 50 cents, and proceeded to the checkout counter. While handing over my two quarters, something on the floor behind the clerk caught my was two matching "Angelus" prints, oval, in metal filigree frames, the praying man in one, and the woman in the other. I immediately pointed at them and asked, "Are they for sale?" They were, and very inexpensively, too, so I became the proud owner of half an "Angelus". Why, thank you, Lord, I thought, for that little miracle, or serendipity, or synchronicity.......whatever best describes an experience like that.

Across the street, at the theater, another minor miracle of the two movies listed on the marquee was one that I actually had wanted to see, but I didn't think it was around in theaters anymore. It was "Amazing Grace", the film about William Wilberforce, the Englishman who in the late 1700's had been instrumental in ending the slave trade. The Parliament scenes were fascinating, with all the fervent debate and powdered wigs. I noticed that Patricia Heaton was named as one of the producers.....I think she had played Ray's wife on the sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond". I once read an article about her Christian convictions, so it was good to see that she had been involved in the making of "Amazing Grace". This movie was named for that famous hymn written by John Newton, who was part of the story in the film. He had formerly been a slave trader, who after his conversion to Christianity, was full of regret over all the suffering he had caused. He lamented that that he felt as if he lived surrounded by 20,000 ghosts of the slaves he had so horridly transported across the Atlantic Ocean on his ships. He served as an inspiration for William Wilberforce's obsession with halting the slave trade. And then the way they finally accomplished that was amazing......Amazing Grace, I guess!

Now back to the "Angelus" painting for a moment. It was done in 1859 by a French artist, Jean Francois Millet. It depicts workers in a field standing with their heads bowed and hands folded in prayer. Way in the background is a church steeple. Evidently, the church bells had pealed to signal that it was time to pray the "Angelus", a prayer which was said three times a day. This picture is moving and inspiring to me, as it shows everyday people stopping in the middle of their everyday lives to pray.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Seeding Oats Fit For Ceres

It's cool and windy, but sunny today. This morning I spent pushing my big Rubbermaid cart around the lawn, gathering up stray branches and corn husks that keep blowing in from the fields. I haven't mowed the grass yet----that can wait until next week when hopefully the days will be warmer. I've been fighting a raw throat and cough for almost three weeks. The doctor did a strep test which was negative, and told me to take allergy medicine and be patient. Great. I've been trying to stay warm and get enough rest, but I feel like a microwave oven whose power level has been lowered from 10 to around 6. The normal energy is just not there, and I feel achy and chilly in the evenings.

On Tuesday, Husband seeded oats. He uses a grain drill which plants the oats and alfalfa seed into the ground in close-knit rows. When I was a kid we planted oats by "sowing" them from a sowing apparatus attached to the back end of a flare-box wagon. It threw the seeds out, broadcasting them onto the top of the ground. My sister and I would ride in the wagon and keep the hoppers filled with oats and grass seed. I can still hear the sound of the sower chains starting up as we headed across the field. The wagon would jerk ahead and we would fall backwards into the pile of oats which would cushion us during the bumpy ride. Probably no farmers, except maybe the Amish, use an oat sower like that anymore. Actually, not many farmers plant oats, period. We do because Husband uses oats in livestock feed, plus we make straw bales every summer for livestock bedding.

On a calendar website that I look at everyday, it said that today is the last day of the ancient Roman celebration of "Cerealia", in honor of Ceres. She was the goddess of grain plants and motherly love. She was depicted in art with a sceptre, a basket of flowers and fruit, and wearing a garland made of wheat ears.
Also, the Romans used an expression, "fit for Ceres", which meant splendid.

May everyone's day today be "fit for Ceres"!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Snow and a Prayer Corner

It seems I haven't accomplished much the last several days. The snowstorm on Wednesday was just too much for my April-minded sensibilities. I curled up and read books when my services weren't needed for meals, laundry, and barn chores.
School was even cancelled that day! I wonder how long its been since that happened in April?

Yesterday I mustered enough motivation to bake bread from scratch. What could possibly beat the aroma of bread baking in the oven.

This morning the milk truck driver and I had a nice visit in the milkhouse. Somehow the conversation moved from tax time worries to college costs to working mothers. We both agree that kids are better off having stay-at-home moms, and its unfortunate that financial pressures (or the perception of such pressures) so often prevent that. We discussed all the running around that parents do for their kids' sake nowadays, and how ridiculous and exhausting that can be. Oh, well, what do we know, standing here in our little corner of the world, but maybe talking about it will help somehow.

This afternoon I sorted through clothes and odds and ends that my daughter had removed from her room, in preparation for the move to college next fall. I made three piles, one for Goodwill, one for nieces, and one for the dumpster. Actually, there were a couple things I kept for myself, too----as if that it a good idea. Here's a quote I saw the other day: "One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries."-----A.A. Milne. Believe me, I can totally identify with that thought! Because I tend to keep so much stuff around (waste not, want not, you know......and well, I might find a use for it someday), I do often discover wonderful treasures stuffed in drawers and closets from years past. It does add excitement to life!

Somehow, in the course of my day, I also decided to arrange a prayer table in an unused corner of the living room. A place where I can sit in the morning, or whenever, and pray. The items I chose for the table will be reminders of what's important to in God, home, husband, children, parents, siblings, friends. A couple of the items are from way in my past......a rock I painted in Bible School many years ago, and a tiny globe in a cube of lucite that was a Christmas gift from my parents one year----it has always fascinated me. Four candles, also, one for each of my children. A little painting of Jesus knocking on the door, also, and a clear glass angel holding my birthstone, which was one of the last gifts I received from my namesake aunt before she died. And, of course, an old Bible which I received upon graduation from high school. It has many notations and underlined verses in it, because I used to read it faithfully-----a habit I've fallen away from, and that needs to change.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Gentle Whirlwind

Such a dismal, cold day in April......the two just don't fit together......April and cold/dismal. But, here we are in the midst of the misfit day, anyway.

After calf chores this morning, I helped Husband round up two steers to load on the trailer. They were an obstinate duo, unwilling to go through a wide open gate! The two big brutes would gallop up to it, and then whip around and go back the wrong way......right toward cowardly me. Being no match for them in size, I quickly clambered up and sat on top of a panel gate and stayed out of their way. I waved my arms and shouted as needed, and finally one of the steers found his way through the open gate and the other one quickly followed. Surprisingly, after their initial stubbornness, they went through the barn and onto the trailer without incident.

After Husband left, I started laundry, grabbed a cup of coffee and turned on the computer. The Church Year Calendar on the wall informed me that today is the day to remember the biblical Prophetess Huldah. So I quickly Googled her to see what I could learn. Huldah is mentioned in II Kings 22. King Josiah was having the "house of the Lord" renovated, during which was discovered an old "book of the Law". King Josiah, who wished to obey God, wanted to know more about the book. He ordered five of his advisors to "Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book.....". (My Bible's notes say that "inquire" is a technical term for divining or seeking an oracle from God.) So they went to consult with the Prophetess Huldah, who spoke the oracle of the Lord to them. Is it odd that they would seek out a woman to speak the Word of the Lord to them?

It's too cold to take a walk today. Maybe I'll just run up and down the steps here in the house for exercise. Yesterday, when I headed out to walk, I wondered if anything unusual would come my way. It's fun to be attentive out in nature.....not for divining reasons, but just because it can be very thought-provoking. And I was not disappointed. While walking along our long farm driveway, I heard a rustling in the cornfield to my right. I glanced over, figuring it was a bunch of birds on the ground. Instead, there was one of those little whirlwinds coming at me, sending loose cornstalk residue and dust swirling up into the air. Like a tornado in its embryonic stage. Soon I was enveloped in the gently whirling, swirling air and bits of debris. The mysterious phenomenon then continued on across the driveway and into a hayfield, creating short-lived circle motifs in the alfalfa as it moved along. I shivered, thinking about how things in life can be like that whirlwind. A situation, or a person, comes whirling into your path, and you are touched by the ensuing disturbance of your territory. The effect may be temporary, as with the harmless little whirlwind, or more lasting, depending on the speed and strength of the wind. Anyway, something to think about......complements of nature.

If on your path today you encounter a whirlwind.......may it be a gentle one!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Help From Mother-in-law

The weather remains cold and windy. If good for nothing else, at least the cold temperatures cause the fields to stay solid enough for all-day manure-hauling. Husband has our son busy hauling manure out of the pit by the barn. It's good to be able to get that job done before spring fieldwork.

I'm trying to keep the house warm by baking cookies this afternoon. Daughter is giving her bedroom a thorough cleaning, which it definitely needs. In between cookie batches, I've been looking for some recipes to use for Easter dinner tomorrow. Ham balls are one dish I want to make, but locating a recipe was proving difficult. Finally, I opened a cookbook which I inherited from my mother-in-law, who passed away 13 years ago. Normally, I don't use it......not sure why. Anyway, the first page it opened to contained a piece of notepaper on which was a recipe for Ham Balls, handwritten by my mother-in-law. Just what I was looking for! When Husband came in for lunch, I startled him by saying that his mother had paid me a visit. Actually......I think maybe she did.

Blessings on this Easter Saturday!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

This is a very cold, windy Good Friday. Old-timers used to plant potatoes on Good Friday, so I've been told, but in weather like today, that would be an unpleasant task.

Our rural church still holds its Good Friday service in the morning, at 10 a.m. Husband stayed home to clean the cattleshed, and our two high-schoolers and I ventured to church. Our pastor uses a Stations of the Cross devotion booklet on Good Friday. According to the back page, the devotion was put together by Rev. John Fenton, from a text put out by the Order of St. Benedict. Included with each of the 14 "stations" is a meditation from the writings of Martin Luther. Anyway, I recognize Rev. Fenton's name, as he was also the compiler of the catechesis book that our pastor used to teach my son in Confirmation class last year. Rev. Fenton is very orthodox, and I think I read somewhere recently that he has now left the Lutheran Church and joined the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Anyway, I tried to move into the right frame of mind for the occasion of remembering the suffering and death of Jesus. The back of the service booklet said ".....this devotion aims not to encourage sympathy for our Lord or to pull the worshipper into the event, but to allow the pious to ponder and meditate on what our Lord had to endure to procure the soul's salvation." I guess that means to be an appreciative and reverent, but emotionally detached observer. And observe was all I could do in church this morning, as I've been fighting an aggravating cough. To avoid making a scene with a coughing fit, I popped cough drops and did not sing or speak.

The Lutherans kind of pride themselves on not being emotional about religious matters. Sometimes I view church as a place to just follow along, numbly. I've been steeped in Christianity since childhood. Sometimes, in some distant part of the ocean of my mind, a thought will try to surface concerning some aspect of what I've been taught......a thought like "Do you really feel that teaching rings true? Does it resonate as truth?". Usually, I just have to push the thought right back into the ocean. To do otherwise is to allow faulty human reason to rule, right? Here's an example: Pastors seem to think that we are all constantly burdened by overwhelming guilt over our sins. But, if we haven't committed heinous sins like murder or adultery, in my view, it seems a struggle to conjure up the weight of guilt all the time. And Lutheran teachings never seem to allow us to reach the point described in II Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" We're always spinning our wheels in the "old" weight and guilt. But, St.Paul says "the old has gone" what does that mean, anyway? Should I ask my pastor? He would reach for the Book of Concord, and then I would be out the door. I'll just keep my mouth shut.....even if I don't have a cough.

Obviously, I'm not a very good Lutheran. I follow the things I'm supposed to do-----be present for the Word to be put in my ears and in my mouth-----but my heart is simply not entirely Lutheran.

As always on Good Friday, the service atmosphere was very solemn. There were no flowers anywhere. The cross on the altar was covered with a black cloth, and Pastor wore a plain black robe. The congregation was silent on the way into the sanctuary and on the way out. That was fine with me......I could do that every Sunday. No yak, yak, are you.....oh,, smile, smile.

Now, for the rest of the day, it will feel like Sunday, after having attended church this morning. My son turned on the TV after church.....I think he was expecting to find a sports broadcast on, instead of weekday soap operas. For lunch I fixed pancakes and a vegetable omelet. Everyone around this house just loves pancakes......I hear more "Thanks, Mom, that was good!" after a pancake meal than any other!

Blessings to all on this Holy Day!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Meaning of Maundy

Today is Maundy Thursday, celebrated by Christians. I've never heard the exact definition of "maundy", so here it is from my big fat World Book dictionary:

maundy, (a noun): 1. An old ceremony of washing the feet of a number of poor people to commemorate the Last Supper and Christ's washing the feet of his disciples, performed as a religious rite, as by a sovereign or an ecclesiastic, on the Thursday before Good Friday. 2. Alms distributed at the ceremony or on this day. (Sometimes special coins were minted for the occasion.)

The next entry in the dictionary is "Maundy money": Coins given to the poor on Maundy Thursday. In England, special coins are frequently minted for the occasion in denominations of 1 to 4 pence and presented by the sovereign.

Once, in the church I grew up in, we had a foot-washing ceremony. Each person washed the feet of the next person in line. It was humbling. We won't make it to church tonight because the service starts too early. They will have Communion because tonight was the night of the Last Supper, celebrated by Jesus and the Disciples. After that most famous of meals, Jesus, accompanied by Peter, James and John, went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The three disciples, of course, notoriously dozed off there while Jesus prayed. Later in the night, Jesus was arrested in that garden, also.

Ponder anew this ancient story, especially on these days of remembrance during Holy Week.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Grouchy Clouds and Comments

Br-r! This morning started with a hint of sunny warmth after a stormy night, but that was quickly overtaken by grouchy gray clouds and a very strong northwest wind. You better believe I put the flannel sheets back on the bed! There is even snow in the forecast, to contrast with the thunderstorm last night. I was awakened several times by amazingly bright flashes of lightning. We don't have a rain gauge in place yet this spring, but a neighbor mentioned today that he had two inches in his.

Husband sent me to town to get a new tire for the skid loader. While that was being mounted, I shopped for groceries. It didn't take long to gather a heaping cart-full of items. The bags pretty much filled the seat and floor on the passenger side of the pickup. Then back at home, it was a marathon of sack-carrying and putting away all the groceries. I was ready to sit and rest awhile after that was done.

Today I was thinking about Sunday's church service and our church's situation. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, which is also Confirmation Sunday in our Lutheran Church. Usually, the fact that it is Palm Sunday is hardly mentioned, but this time Pastor did read John 12:12-19 before the service started. What perplexed me though, was that the Gospel reading before the sermon was the whole chapter 23 of Luke, which relates what took place on the day Jesus was crucified. Why doesn't that get saved for Good Friday? Plus, Pastor didn't preach at all on the Gospel reading he had just read. Instead, he spoke to the Confirmands, lamenting that often Confirmation is viewed as a "graduation" of sorts, and that afterwards the kids don't show up often in church. I thought that was a bit off target. For one thing, kids that get confirmed are only 14 years old, and should have several more years of being under their parents guiding influence to get to church services and events. I wished he would have emphasized that important role that parents have. And then he went on to criticize "church growth" proponents who want to plan fun activities to keep the teenagers interested in church. Whew, I was relieved to hear he would keep our church away from that sort of undesirable rut.

Our youth group activities have dwindled to practically nothing. When I joined this Lutheran church many years ago, it had an active, thriving youth group. They had regular meetings and Bible studies. The pastor at that time, and his wife, were the leaders. One of the annual traditions for the youth was to put on the Easter sunrise service. That tradition ended when this new young orthodox pastor arrived. He evidently believes it improper for anyone other than himself to be involved in leading a church service, even though a regular 10 a.m. Divine Service would follow the sunrise service. Anyway, Pastor hijacked the sunrise service from the youth group, and so now we have only one Easter morning service, sort of a combination sunrise/regular service. But it is at 7:30 a.m., which is way too early for dairy farmers, so Husband can't even attend church on Easter now. I could get my calf chores done early and go to the service, but I'm not going to. Why should I go when Husband can't go. The whole thing irks me. I feel the pastor focuses way too much on doctrine and properness. They must learn that at seminary.

Well, enough of my complaining. I need to tend to supper which is bubbling in the oven and on the stove. The wind howls outside, but it is warm here in the house.