Minding the Bookstore

September 26, 2018

 

What could be better than minding a cozy store for part of an afternoon, especially when the store is owned by Dear Ones and contains a wealth of used books?  After selling a few of them—okay, they sold themselves and I managed to tally them and figure out the sales tax—I undertook a leisurely tour of the shelves.  Many a weighty title called me, something I ‘ought’ to read.  But I settled in the youth section. I read two chapters of Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, staple of my girlhood.  Then, one more attempt at Harry Potter.  I tried. I really tried.  Finally I wandered to a shelf of miscellany and drew forth a delightful collection of quotes called Poisonous Barbs.  I was happily engrossed in that when one of the shop’s owners returned.

 

Poisonous Barbs.  One man’s meat is another man’s poison, so they say.  My patio contains a heartbreaker, a specimen-vine called Gloriosa superba.

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I love its beauty, the whirly tips of its leaves.  Best of all, it was a gift from my ‘ishah chayil / woman of valor Janice Vaughn, of blessed memory.

 

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-friends forever-

On the other hand, the whole plant is poisonous (as are many ornamentals.)  Especially the brown tubers underground, from which it grows. Many there are in Gloriosa’s native land who should have been more careful about the crunchy element in their salad. Just saying.

 

This dangerous beauty is situated just past the glass through which I view the patio and back yard from my elliptical.  I enjoy the dark humor of the occasions when a hummingbird zooms up to a Gloriosa bloom, then swerves sharply away. How does it know?

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Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous anecdote in which an exasperated individual fantasizes aloud about giving poison to another person. The sharp rejoinder is surprising and hilarious. Usually the two named participants are Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill. Are you familiar with this story? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI of a strongly matching jest was published in November 1899. The excerpt below from an Oswego, New York newspaper acknowledged a source called the “Listener”. Neither participant was identified. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The “Listener” reports the following from the subway: On one of the recent warm days a sour-visaged, fussy lady got on one of the smoking seats on an open car in the subway.

Next her sat a man who was smoking a cigar. More than that, the lady, sniffing, easily made out that the man had been eating onions. Still more than that, she had the strongest kind of suspicion that he had been drinking beer. The lady fussed and wriggled, and grew angrier, and looked at the man scornfully. Presently she could endure it no longer. She looked squarely at him and said:

“If you were my husband, sir, I’d give you a dose of poison!”

The man looked at her. “If I were your husband,” said he,“I’d take it!”

The popular story above was reprinted with minor alterations in multiple newspapers in the following days, months, and years. An early instance in the “New York Tribune” acknowledged “The Boston Transcript”. 2 3 Top researcher Barry Popik identified this primordial version of the repartee and located other valuable citations. 4

This joke has been evolving for more than one hundred years.

To Janice Vaughn, Woman of Valor

September 24, 2018

 

The lesson I presented yesterday to my adult Sunday school class was an exploration of Proverbs 31:10-31. I titled it “’Ishah Chayil, Woman of Valor.” I used a very old translation—Douay-Rheims, a translation written in exile by English Catholic scholars, during the Protestant Reformation.  Curiously, the Catholic Douay-Rheims influenced the later writing of the Protestant King James Version!  The language of 1610 (revised 1750) I find musical, and refreshing in its way.  But puzzling in places. I added bracketed explanations of some of the words:

 

Who shall find a valiant woman? Far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her. The heart of her husband trusteth in her, and he shall have no need of spoils [he will not lack material goods.] She will render him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.  She hath sought wool and flax, and hath wrought by the counsel of her hands.  She is like the merchant’s ship, she bringeth her bread from afar.  And she hath risen in the night, and given a prey [food] to her household, and victuals [food] to her maidens.  She hath considered a field, and bought it: with the fruit of her hands she hath planted a vineyard.  She hath girded her loins with strength, and hath strengthened her arm.  She hath tasted and seen that her traffic [work] is good: her lamp shall not be put out at night.  She hath put out her hand to strong things, and her fingers have taken hold of the spindle.  She hath opened her hand to the needy, and stretched out her hands to the poor.  She shall not fear for her house in the cold of snow: for all her domestics are clothed with double garments.  She hath made herself clothing of tapestry: fine linen and purple is her covering.  Her husband is honorable in the gates, when he sitteth among the senators of the land. She made fine linen, and sold it, and delivered a girdle [decorative belt] to the Chanaanite [merchant]. Strength and beauty are her clothing, and she shall laugh in the latter day.  She hath opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency [forbearance, mercy] is on her tongue.  She hath looked well to the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idle.  Her children rose up, and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised her.  Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all.  Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: the woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands: and let her works praise her in the gates.

 

One interesting thing I found in researching this text:

 

Traditionally, in Judaism, this entire passage is recited in Hebrew by the husband at the Friday evening meal.  After the Shabbat candles are lit but before the meal is eaten, the wife is praised by the reading of this text, and then the children are blessed.

 

My class was very much intrigued by this concept! Male and female alike.  Though the men did look a little startled at first…

 

I took pains to point out that this ancient poem was never intended to be used prescriptively, as a to-do list for women. I don’t think it was, anyway.  A woman whose website I visited put it something like this:  The poem was intended to highlight the glory of everyday. It was intended to be a celebration of what we’ve accomplished by our energy and creativity, whatever that may be. To celebrate the daily acts of valor in each other’s lives. So, for every woman—married or single, mother or not:

 

‘Ishah chayil!

 

Carry on, warrior!

 

You go, girl!

 

Your life is worthy of poetry.

 

In the picture below you will see an ‘ishah chayil’ who played an important part in my life.  The year was 2009, I think.  We were at her farm in Kansas, and she was giving me prey (pheasant shot by her husband) and other delicious victuals, such as ham, rice, spiced fruit…  She also gave me a cake, as it was my birthday.  A charming, creative, generous woman of valor she was.  Her birth-month is October, so let today’s post serve as an early birthday card.

 

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-Janice and Phoebe-

 

 

Amelia Rising

September 18, 2018

 

Being (finally) of sound back I made a bee-line to resume my customary Tuesday mornings with Amelia. The rumors are true.  She’s pulling up.  Never have I seen such industry, such resourcefulness as to means of pulling up, such serene acceptance of setbacks. Over and over she rises, wobbles, sits down hard.  Sometimes she falls over backwards.  Now, you may think I’m doing some grandmotherly inflating, but her other grandmother saw it with me: she sat hard, fell over backwards and where an ordinary infant would have thumped its skull on the rug and howled, she caught herself on one elbow and turned neatly to the side.  I’m sure it doesn’t always go so well.  But Grammy and Honey agreed we’ve never seen such an eight-month-old, not even our own babies of  yore!

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To Bravely Bear, and Nobly Strive

September 17, 2018

 

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not to curse.

–from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter four

 

I like the word ‘noble.’  To bravely bear, and nobly strive.

 

I had a noble friend with whom I taught Sunday school and practiced yoga for many years. He grew sick and the last time I spoke with him face to face (this does not count hospice-time), he was bearing as bravely as he could.  Me too—we were ‘keeping our chins up’ by discussing what we would teach next, when he got better and came back to our class.  I suggested an exploration of the word ‘noble.’  There ensued a sprightly (for the circumstances) discussion of this word.  He wondered if I knew about the ‘noble gasses’ (he was a chemical engineer.)  I did not.  Now I do!  They are non-reactive.  Someday I may teach that lesson.  But not just yet.

 

There is a nobility about my eight-month-old granddaughter Amelia.  As you know, Amelia means ‘hardworking.’  She is certainly that.  Such determination to grow up as fast as she can and take her place in the world.  Yesterday she sat in a restaurant high chair for the first time.  Upright, at the table, in the circle.  She took her place with dignity, and with much emphatic slapping of the table.  We kept her space clear of water glasses and plates of food, for she strives to fill her hands (portal to her mind) with everything. After a time, she was placed on her daddy’s lap. I offered her a look at my bracelet of gold links, gift from her grandfather my husband.  She undertook a hands-on examination of this compelling object.  We waited.  Sure enough, like a flash she pulled bracelet and wrist to her mouth, for a closer examination.  I did not want the imprint of her two teeth in gold or flesh, so I withdrew to safety.  She took this well, without resentment.

More Precious Than Gold

September 15, 2018

More precious than gold.  One image that comes to mind is a field of grain, grain ready to be harvested and baked into loaves.  Outpouring of God’s care for God’s creation.  Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, who brings forth bread from the earth.

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-image from Wild Culture Sourdough Starters-

One of my beloved memories is walking through a field of grain with two of my closest friends.  We broke off heads, we tasted the wheat.  That long-ago day—sheer joy—more precious than gold.

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-image from Neurorobotics Magazine-

 

The young man to his lover:

‘Thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.’

-Song of Solomon 7:2-

 

It’s nice to be appreciated. But—what?  Speaking of thy belly: a week ago I ignored good sense and lifted something heavy and wrenched my back.  This led to a week of inactivity, which led to comfort food, which led to extra padding around my middle and other places prone to accumulation.  A heap of wheat indeed!

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-image from wikiHow-

 

 

But I would feed you with the finest wheat.

I would satisfy you

with wild honey from the rock.

-Psalm 81:16-

 

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-just keep me away from these-

 

Thank you, Eternal One! While You’re at it, keep me close to Wisdom.  Wisdom is more precious than gold, more precious than much fine gold.  Give me Wisdom, make my granary overflow with gratitude, and growth in grandmotherly grace.

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-gift from sister Kate-

 

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-golden afternoon on Evangeline, and yes I know there’s a magnolia growing out of that jar—many things are possible-

 

The Flower

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

“The Flower,” dedicated to Amelia Rose Dishman

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker

 

 

Our text tonight is from the gospel according to Luke: Chapter 12,

verse 27 [New Life Version]

 

“Think how the flowers grow. They do not work or make cloth.

Yet, I tell you, that King Solomon in all his greatness

was not dressed as well as one of these flowers.”

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Jesus the wisdom teacher said, “Think. How. The flowers. Grow.”

Five words to drink deeply.

Sadly, I’m not inclined to take the time.  Why?

Because what I’m after is a quick and practical leap to the point.

Accumulate points, and move on.

To what, I’m not clear.

It’s kind of like operating on automatic, half-alive.

Oh how well Jesus knows me!

 

The point of the teaching is anxiety, the futility thereof.

Quite correct.  But wait.

First I must look at something I’d rather not:

Why am I so anxious, so driven?

 

If roses fretted and flitted about,

with shallow breath and knitted brow,

If roses refused to be still and drink deep,

when would they bloom, and how?

 

 

What was that first word?

I believe it was ‘think.’

Think for yourself.

Don’t seize too anxiously the wisdom of a wise person, even Jesus.

Why would you bolt your bread and wine without tasting? Why?

Eat mindfully. Drink deeply.

The wisdom of Jesus needs to be properly savored, not bolted.

If you bolt, you won’t change for the better,

and you may in fact be more anxious,

more dangerous than you were before.

We don’t want that.  Too much at stake.

 

Think how the flowers grow.

So, what do we know about flowers?

Flowers are indeed beautifully dressed.

 

On the other hand, they don’t last very long.

That’s why when you buy roses at the grocery store,

they come with a little packet to put in the water,

so maybe you’ll get another day or two out of them.

 

Packet or no packet, roses don’t last very long.

It’s sad to see a rose with its beautiful head down,

to see it wilt, and fade, and shatter.

 

But it’s okay.  If you have eight dollars or ten or twenty

you can go back to the store and buy another dozen.

 

Think.  Not so our loved ones.

‘We blossom and flourish like leaves on a tree; we wither and perish…’

We also know God’s got us. Underneath, the everlasting arms.

But oh it hurts to see the decline.

And when the separation comes? However much we trust God,

to lose our loved one hurts.

It should hurt, it should tear a ragged hole in our hearts.

 

God grieves, so the prophets say.

When Lazarus dies, Jesus weeps.

When Jerusalem won’t listen, when we kill the inconvenient truth tellers, Jesus weeps.

He cries a mighty cry from the cross: Father, forgive them.

Help them be less anxious, less hurtful, more alive.

 

Think how the flowers grow.  Watch a rose. Observe it carefully.

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Just so, people set buds, we bloom, we droop, we die.

But did we ever live?

 

Think how the flowers grow.  Which would you say is beautiful?

The rosebud, the rose unfolding, the full bloom,

the noble head drooping, the petals raining down?

 

Think about it.

It’s only our grasping for what we were never meant to keep

that makes us insist on the perfection of a rose, or a person,

that makes us angry when the rose or the person lets us down.

I can only be happy if this rose looks as good as it did yesterday.

Or if this person stays with me forever.

Or if that person has a good opinion of me.  Or never hurts me.

If I could only get what I want, I could stop being miserable.

I could be happy. Wake up, people!  Snap out of it!

 

Who’s being unreasonable? It’s not God, or anyone else.

It’s me, who changes with the wind,

who’s good enough one day and awful the next.

And yet I demand perfection.  Perfection, according to me!

 

See, that’s the trouble with Jesus, a trouble I’ve learned to love.

He was little inclined to leave us in our trances.

As he said to more than one person:

“Well, you know the law.  You’ve observed life.

In this moment, in this situation, how does it seem to you?”

Stop a minute. Think.

 

I also love that Jesus could be downcast or the life of the party,

and it wasn’t that one is ‘bad’ and one is ‘good’,

it was just the gorgeous play of his mind.

His mind.  That’s what we’re trying to get to.

His mind is worth studying every day of our lives. Think.

 

So, Jesus notices flowers.  Good.

For him they were beautiful evidence of God’s creativity,

God’s providence.  Beautiful evidence, in themselves.

Flowers were also a teaching tool.  Jesus used every single tool he could,

to help us. Because this he knew, for this he came:

how dearly dearly how desperately we need to understand.

We waste way too much energy rushing around trying to fix things we don’t understand. Usually other people.

Sure we need to set boundaries and ask for what we need.

But in our anxiety we make so many unreasonable demands.

 

Jesus says, stop it.  Cease and desist.

Be still, and take the time to understand.

 

Try to understand that God needs us to grow up,

to figure out how to move closer and closer to the mindset of Christ,

and the only certainty we get to have

is that though we’re protected from nothing, nothing, nothing,

we’re sustained in everything, everything, everything.

 

We need to grow up and get real.

Only then can we see the true beauty of a flower,

the true beauty of each wild and precious life.

 

Jesus asked, “Do you want to be healed?  Do you want to be happy?”  Well, do we? Think about it.

Maybe we’d rather stay anxious and hug our hurts.

At least they’re familiar.

 

George Herbert was an Englishman, born 1593, died 1633.

Do the math. He was just under forty when he died.

But oh the poems he left us.  Listen to this one.

Here’s a guy who’s thought about flowers, thought about himself,

how he might be like a flower,

thought about the miracle of the many times he himself has blossomed, then withered, then blossomed again.

The possibility of new life! Is that not enough??  Is that not enough??

Here’s a guy in love with life as it is, no use for platitudes,

that God is this, God is that.

Forget it!  Stop it!

 

God just is.

God is mystery.

Grow up.

Eat mindfully.

Drink deeply.

Listen to the poem:

 

The Flower

 

How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean

Are Thy returns! Ev’n as the flow’rs in Spring,

To which, besides their own demean

The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring;

Grief melts away

Like snow in May,

As if there were no such cold thing.

 

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart

Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone

Quite underground; as flow’rs depart

To see their mother-root, when they have blown,

Where they together

All the hard weather,

Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

 

These are Thy wonders, Lord of power,

Killing and quickening, bringing down to Hell

And up to Heaven in an hour;

Making a chiming of a passing-bell.

We say amisse

This or that is;

Thy word is all, if we could spell.

 

O that I once past changing were,

Fast in Thy paradise, where no flower can wither;

Many a Spring I shoot up fair,

Offring at Heav’n, growing and groning thither,

Nor doth my flower

Want a Spring-showre,

My sinnes and I joyning together.

 

But while I grow in a straight line,

Still upwards bent, as if Heav’n were mine own,

Thy anger comes, and I decline:

What frost to that? What pole is not the zone

Where all things burn,

When Thou dost turn,

And the least frown of Thine is shown?

 

And now in age I bud again,

After so many deaths I live and write;

I once more smell the dew and rain,

And relish versing: O, my only Light,

It cannot be

That I am he

On whom Thy tempests fell all night.

 

These are Thy wonders, Lord of love,

To make us see we are but flow’rs that glide;

Which when we once can find and prove,

Thou hast a garden for us where to bide.

Who would be more,

Swelling through store,

Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

 

By doing his own work, no one else’s,

George Herbert helps us understand.

Helps us see we are but flowers, flowers that glide. Wonderful!

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Flowers that glide, poets that relish their versing.

Poets all of us, doing our work, spinning cloth, sewing clothes,

creating beauty, repairing what part of the world we can.

 

Yes, but comes the temptation:

To be more than a flower.

To be more by getting more.

To swell through store,

to stuff my storehouse,

oh so anxious.

 

Jesus says, why would you do that?

When you could have heaven?

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–watching my Queen of the Night unfolding–

 

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–full bloom, for one precious night–

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–drooping in the morning, but oh what a show!–

 

 

 

All Travelers Guard, in Danger’s Hour

September 12, 2018

 

Penned in 1860 by William Whiting, music by John Dykes, still sung, especially on a day of dread:

 

Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm has bound the restless wave,

who bid the mighty ocean deep its own appointed limits keep:

O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.

 

O Savior, whose almighty word the wind and waves submissive heard,

who walked upon the foaming deep, and calm amid its rage did sleep:

O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.

 

O Holy Spirit, who did brood upon the chaos wild and rude,

and bid its angry tumult cease, and gave, for fierce confusion, peace:

O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.

 

O Trinity of love and power, all travelers guard in danger’s hour;

from rock and tempest, fire and foe, protect them wheresoe’er they go;

thus evermore shall rise to thee glad praise from air and land and sea.