How Can I Keep From Singing?

She came thirsty and a bit nervous. Our group warmly welcomed her. Amidst silent prayer after reading the psalm, something was happening. God was there; we felt it. Then she sang. And oh, did she sing! I’ve heard her lovely voice before, but this was different. This was not a performance. It was an offering and a prayer; enough to make those present tremble. Her voice calmed our fears, and we felt embraced by God’s loving arms. When the music stopped, we sat in silence. No words were needed. She had begun with a quavering voice and ended with confident conviction.

The song of the Spirit has stayed with me ever since; calling me to keep singing any way I know. And it isn’t perfect; it never will be. Yet it is perfect in God’s eyes.

My life flows on in endless song,
above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the clear, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin,
I see the blue above it.
And day by day this pathway smooths
since first I learned to love it.
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

~Pauline T.; Robert Lowry, 1869

Tommy’s Doubt

My brother, Tommy, recently died. When a loved one dies, sharing stories with family and friends can be very meaningful and healing. I’ve been listening to memories of how he touched people’s lives in ways I didn’t know. I have also shared my own stories. One of these times was at his funeral. When I don’t have words, many times I express myself with music. So I played a piece on the piano that had been going through my head since the news of his death. It’s a piece he practiced over and over when he was a young teenager. Many of his friends had no idea he played the piano.

When our daughter was in town after graduation, she was searching for something and came across a cassette tape of herself playing piano at age seven. Finding our tape player in the basement, I dusted it off and brought it up so we could listen to her tape. But there was already a tape inside. It was of a Palm Sunday program our family offered at church in 1983. Pressing “play”, we heard my mother on the piano. Then Tommy played a piece, which made me shudder, because it was the exact same piece I played at his funeral. After our mother’s death in 1986, Tommy slowly stopped participating in things which had previously brought him joy, such as music and tennis. I believe that if we bury our gifts from God, we will not be able to find deep joy. Someone in my prayer group today felt as if striving for joy is a bit frivolous and selfish, which led to a discussion about joy versus happiness. Some people seem happy when they are really hurting inside. I think of joy as deeper. I can still feel joy even if I am having a bad day. Looking for God in both good times and bad has brought me a sense of peace and joy that shines through all darkness and brings me hope in resurrection and new life.

I will always remember how deeply my brother searched for God. One day when Tommy seemed open to deeper discussion, I took a risk and told him how unusual it was for me to see butterflies every day for a week: But all he said was, with his sarcastic tone, “That’s like when you buy a new car and then you see the same kind of car everywhere.” He wanted clear answers and never understood how simple it is. God is so close. He is always with us. We have to be willing to open our hearts and listen, look for God in everything, and be willing to embrace his mysterious ways.

When I walked an outdoor labyrinth in January, walking in, I thought of the winding path of my life. I walked over twigs and stepped on pine needles, bumps and frozen spots. The gently falling snow created the environment of a living snow globe. Walking out, a thin, spotty layer of snow covered twigs and rubber mulch in the path. The mess of winter was not covered by the white flakes completely, but enough for me to think of “new life”…baptism by snow! Then a tiny, sharply cold single snowflake touched my lips. I suddenly awakened and felt it as a kiss from God. To someone else, maybe it wouldn’t have seemed as special. But for me, that day and that moment, it was a kiss from God. And I’m holding on to that.

There’s an App for That

My brother-in-law, who lives in Northern Sweden, has a Northern Lights app. When visiting him in December there was a break in the clouds during a time when there was a higher chance of seeing this mystical phenomenon. We dressed in layers, set-up our chairs and blankets, and turned off all the house lights. Then we waited. And we waited. I didn’t really know what to look for. Or even what part of the sky to give my full attention to. I saw lots of shooting stars though! There we were, the four of us, waiting in the dark with heads looking up to the skies. More clouds rolled in and covered up our chances of seeing any lights, so we moved inside and enjoyed hot chocolate and Fika.

When I am searching for something, but don’t know quite where to look, I look everywhere. There’s an app for many things, but some things require more energy and aren’t easily found. I hope I remember, every day, to be as thorough and alert when searching for God.

Got Milk?

I am embarrassed about something. But before the big reveal, the story…I grew up loving graham crackers. They bring back fond memories of Sunday school and campfires. I decided to make them from scratch; something I’ve been eager to do for awhile. So, I made sure all ingredients were in order and mixed the dough to let it rest overnight. I began to wonder what graham flour actually is. Embarrassing drumroll reveal…there is no such thing as a graham plant. I thought about how silly that sounded, but it’s true. All these years I thought it was a special grain. I had to find out what graham flour was and why it was named graham.

Well, graham flour is a form of whole wheat flour including all parts of the wheat berry (endosperm, bran and germ) and is a bit coarser grind than whole wheat flour. The endosperm is separated out and ground into a fine flour, then the coarse bran and germ are mixed back in. This type of flour was invented in the 1830s by Sylvester Graham, who tried to promote healthy food. Graham crackers are typically sweetened with honey. The version I made also includes molasses. When I removed the first batch from the oven, my glasses fogged up, so I was fairly certain they weren’t dry enough to create a nice crisp crunch when bitten into. So back into the oven they went.

Next embarrassing drumroll: my baked graham crackers came out so hard, a dog could have chipped a tooth (maybe that’s why they’re called “crackers”?). So, I enrobed each square in a thick layer of melted dark chocolate, thinking that might soften their rock-hard interior. Wrong again. I had to hold them in my mouth long enough for them to soften, but the chocolate sure tasted delicious!

Final attempt to save them: I used my chocolate chopper on the entire batch. It was a total body effort. At a mere one-quarter inch thick, the crackers were more difficult to chop than a three inch block of chocolate! I then poured milk over them, and after ten minutes I could eat them like a crunchy dessert cereal. Yes, I will try to make graham crackers again, but next time I’ll try soaking the graham flour in liquid overnight before baking. Maybe there’s a reason it’s called “stone ground”?

I am amazed at how much a good soaking does. When my soul is dry as dust and my interior is rock-hard, I know it’s time to be filled with God’s living water and breath of life. But I must make room for God and allow him in, or I will remain dry. As Ash Wednesday approaches, I am reminded of our frailty in that that we are all made of dust and to dust we will return. During this season of Lent, what might I say “no” to so that I can say “yes” to God?

No Whey. Yes Whey!

I got a new toy last week. A yogurt maker! As I passed by the discount table it kept looking at me. First, I glanced at the pictures on the box, then I wandered around a bit more. I strolled by the table again, picked up the box and examined it for a price, trying not to look too obvious. No price. Hmmm. Now I was really curious, so I asked. The salesperson was very knowledgeable, and I thought to myself, “I do eat yogurt every day for lunch but probably would not make it without the help of this machine.” I walked away with a new appliance.

Since then I have experimented with different cultures, three kinds of milk, and various mix-ins such as blood orange simmered in honey, lemon, blueberries with orange zest, and Luxardo cherry (mmmm). I learned how to drain the whey to make Greek or Icelandic-style yogurt. After draining several batches I wondered what I could make with the leftover whey. It seems like such a waste to pour it out. I found a recipe for cinnamon whey biscuits, got up in the middle of the night to bake them, and they are delicious. I’m smelling them now fresh from the oven. What was old is new again! I wonder what other things in my life I toss aside waiting to be transformed.

Higglety, Pigglety, Pop!

Some days I can’t see which direction I’m going, where I’ve come from, or even where I am now. My life seems like a Mother Goose rhyme I cheerily chant with children in my Kindermusik class:

Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! The dog has eaten the mop. The pig’s in a hurry, the cat’s in a flurry, Higglety, Pigglety, Pop!

As the children and I recite it together, we roll our arms in circles as we lean forward, then roll the other way as we lean back. It’s a whole-body event! We always laugh afterwards. That’s what I look forward to…laughing. Some days the animals get mixed up and the pig’s in a flurry rather than the cat, but the dog always eats the mop. I too have times of hurry and flurry, but I know days will come when I can be present with great laughter and joy. And I know that God will always be God.

It’s more fun to laugh with others. So if you ever want someone to laugh with, come visit me and we can share Higglety, Pigglety, Pop together!

God is Everywhen

This week I used my new tunnbröd rolling pins. As I rolled out the discs of dough fragrant with anise, fennel and eight wholesome grains, I remembered my first experience baking this in a brick oven on a cold, cold day in Sweden. As I rolled it out I thought, “The dough must be flat enough by now.” My sister-in-law must have heard my thoughts as she patiently responded that it needed to be rolled out even more. I began to doubt the dough’s strength. When I thought it was certainly flat enough, she handed me a different rolling pin, one covered with spiky knobs, to create texture and indentations that would keep the dough from puffing up in the hot oven. In 30 seconds the heat transformed it into a beautifully risen flat bread with a deliciously chewy texture. We spread creamy butter on the hot, flame-tinged bread, and the next day added cheese and other tasty toppings, creating rolled sandwiches. I was amazed at how this thin, nearly transparent dough, had such great strength and resiliency.

Celtic Christianity refers to thin places as moments where God is present. My life at times seems distant from God, but I am content knowing that God is in every place and every thing, at every time. As I made tunnbröd and asked myself “Isn’t it rolled thinly enough?” I answered, “No.” At times I tore the dough a bit, but it merely had to be repatched. Its resilience spoke to me, reminding me to be patient, alert, and to listen at all times. For I never know when heaven and earth might touch.

While surrounded by the beauty of the snowy mountains and reindeer in Norway, the glistening lakes and moss-covered boulders in Sweden, or being present at the baptism of a child in Denmark, I felt glimpses of the divine. When I see or hear someone passionately sharing what brings them life, this can also be a thin place, and words cannot describe how transforming this experience can be. I usually stumble upon these sacred moments at unexpected times. When memory fades of these thin places, it returns when I’m alert to the divine in moments like the thin texture of the tunnbröd, the whiff of the air while baking it, and the taste of Sweden on my tongue. Memories such as these replenish my spirit with remembrances of God dwelling in my life and in my heart.

If God (however defined) is everywhere and “everywhen,” as the Australian aboriginals put it so wonderfully, then why are some places thin and others not? Why isn’t the whole world thin? Maybe it is but we’re too thick to recognize it. Maybe thin places offer glimpses not of heaven but of earth as it really is, unencumbered. Unmasked. ~Eric Weiner