Friday, May 30, 2014

Chicken Hawks in the Valley

The Prayer of the Chicken Hawk does not get him the chicken. Swahili Proverb

I was over in Jeffers the other day checking out the construction site where Trinity Church once sat. The church is still there, of course, but has moved some thirty feet or so to the north. Well, it didn’t actually move on its own. Tamietti movers jacked it up, braced it with steel beams and sturdy cribbing, and then slid it off its foundation in one of the slickest moves I have ever seen.

I was curious how they were going to move the church all in one piece, what with the bell tower and all the crazy architectural details. Somehow I thought they would jack it up, load it on some gargantuan moving truck, and drive off to its temporary resting place.

But no; they jacked it up, strategically arranged steel beams under the floor joists, then set the smaller i-beams onto channel glides resting on two sets of larger i-beams, and then they did something totally unexpected. They rubbed down the support beams with bars of Ivory Soap, and as they winched the church along those iron bars, they lubricated the runways with liquid dish soap. I didn’t note the brand, but I would say the church was moved along with great Joy!

I mentioned earlier that I was unsure how the job would be done, but I will also say that I was really not all that worried about it. I knew the movers had the experience, know-how, and equipment to do the job and to do it right. The church was in two sets of good hands, you might say.

I should also note that my confidence in the movers was not based solely on blind faith or personal testimonials. I watched them prepare for the move. They were working with something sacred and they honored that fact. They went to great pains to ensure that nothing would be damaged by carelessness or inattention. They treated the property as if it was not just their own – but God’s. Their reverence for the task entrusted to them impressed me mightily, so I was not worried. I trusted in Tamietti; I trusted in God also. They worked well together.
So, getting back to my inspection of the job site, I happened across a robin who seemed quite pleased with the work we had done. Standing on the rubble that was once the church’s foundation, the bird surveyed the scene with peepers sharpened – on the lookout for any edible morsel that should have the misfortune of catching the eye of the cheery little avian on site.

The meal is there. Of that the bird is certain. It knows the heart of the Creator, and so the robin does not fret. It prays for prey, but it does not just pray. It looks with eyes wide-open, seeking sustenance not only for itself, but for his children – his hatchlings.

It seems to me birds have a good way of understanding prayer. To act is not to doubt one’s prayer (or the God to whom one prays). We don’t pray to give God direction (OK, Lord, here are your marching orders for the day …). We pray to take direction from God.

Too many people pray, I fear, begging God to do this or that, but fail to rise up from their knees (or their bums – however one chooses to plead) to do the “thy will be done” part of their supplications!

A raptor looks for and finds the food it needs for the day. It does not can, refrigerate, or freeze what it finds; it seeks, finds, eats, and shares.

I’ve been told that some tricky birds lay their eggs in robins’ nests so the rusty-breasted thrushes will hatch and feed birds that aren’t even their own. Robins don’t seem to care; they are not resentful, nor do they act put-upon. They hatch and feed all comers, for that’s just what they’re called to do!

We should to approach prayer like the chicken hawk and the robin; we ought to keep a sharp look-out for God’s answers. They will always appear; all we need to do is look and work for them. And keeping a little Joy on hand doesn’t hurt us either in this, our valley.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Catching Flies in the Valley

“True contemplation is not a psychological trick but a theological grace.” Thomas Merton

Well, it was bound to happen. The first house fly of the season has made it into our house. Drat!

It’s a quick little thing, too. Flies in the fall are usually pretty slow and easy to track down and exterminate – but the spring flies are quicker than all get-out. I think I did a double marathon yesterday during my fly-hunt. Sadly, I was not successful. By evening I was left in a heap while it was buzzing the “Wild Blue Yonder” song, or some buggy variation of that tune.

Fortunately, as I was shutting off lights for the night I discovered it was in our bonus room, which is windowless and with a single way in or out. Ah ha! I had him right where I wanted him (or her), so I stepped into the room, shut the door, and – voila – it was mano-a-buggo.

There was a problem, however: I was unarmed. My trusty fly swatter was downstairs, so I was left to do battle with brute force and cunning on my side, and with speed, agility, and the intelligence of a gnat on the other side. The war was on!

An hour later I declared a truce and departed the room with the fly trapped inside. If only I had used my mental powers earlier, I could have left the fly in a room bereft of food or water and gone to bed smiling. Uff da!

This pre-season battle of the wits betwixt man and beast reminded me of my childhood.

Growing up, flies were a much more common pest in our home. Our doors and windows had screens in them, but only in the technical sense that the things nailed into place over our windows had once had a metal mesh fabric. Most had holes large enough to drive a Panzer through, so when we opened windows to let air into the house in the spring, a flotilla of flies, gnats, bees, wasps, spiders, mice, cats, and elephants would come on in and set up house. It was kind of embarrassing, but that was life in simpler days when “Open Concept” did not mean a home without walls – but screens with humongous gaps.

There was a benefit to having such an open and welcoming home-life, of course. My siblings and I couldn’t get into too much trouble as we spent our summers chasing down flies with a vengeance. It also helped us develop problem-solving skills and drove the engines of youthfully creative ingenuity.

Flies were fast back in the day, but so was I. I have slowed down a bit of late, but back then I could snatch flies out of the air with chop sticks. Mr. Miyagi had nothing on me! But I didn’t want to limit myself to catch and release, as much fun as that was. I had a cruel, homicidal side to my soul back then. I bored quickly of snatch and squeeze fly-a-cide. For a change of pace, I would track down flies in the house and shoot them with rubber bands. I discovered I had a knack for hitting them – on the wing as well as when standing still.

My brother and I didn’t just use any limp laggy bands in our anti-Muscoidea missions. We used those heavy, thick rubber bands like one uses to secure heavy parcels. We got tired of shooting one fly at a time and knew we needed to up the ante, so I invented my first weapon of mass destruction. I took a board, nailed a stiff clothespin to it, cut an inner tube into strips – manufacturing ammunition that would take out a flock of flies in one fell swoop – and it worked!

After a couple of rounds up against my Rubber Ranger Bazooka launcher, the flies made their exodus to greener, less deadly pastures. The war was over, and we celebrated VF day with Kool-Aid and cookies. Victory had never felt so good.

Over the years, my thirst for fly-blood has subsided; I am a man of peace now – by which I mean I am simply out of rubber bands and clothes pins in this, our valley. I think I’ll fly over to True Value on a wing and a prayer and try to rectify that problem today.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Being Floored in the Valley

“I laid a foundation as a wise builder … If anyone builds on this foundation … his work will be shown for what it is …” excerpts from 1 Cor. 3

Anyone walking around Trinity Church in Jeffers (Montana) today will think they are in the middle of a war zone. The place is a shambles. The front steps and wheelchair ramp have been demolished and removed. The steps to the parish hall are gone. The Sacristy has been gutted, and dirt, dust, and debris are everywhere. The furnace has been pulled up out of the crawl-space and Jesus has been found.

No, really … Jesus has been found! Contractors found a five foot tall wooden carving of a Sacred Heart Jesus. He could use a bit of a cleaning, but is otherwise in fine shape. He was located in a space that was inaccessible until after the floor had been removed in a small add-on connecting the church with the parish hall.

What on earth was the statue doing there? Who put it there, and why?

I have lots of questions, but the “find” is exciting. Since the hall was dragged over to its current location from a nearby ranch in the 1950s, we know we don’t have a relic dating back to ancient times, so we are unlikely to find many Indiana Joneses making a pilgrimage to Jeffers. That’s too bad. Their brain-trust would be helpful.

I learned, talking to one of our locals that the statue used to sit in a corner of the church building, greeting people who came to worship. Apparently the day came when he no longer needed to be there (in the minds of some), and so he was taken away. He once was lost, but now is found … Hey, that would make for a wonderful song!

Now, I know that a statue is an “it” and not a “he”, but Jesus was a teacher – a rabbi – and I believe He continues to teach us, if only we would look and listen.

Since our renovations will take months to complete, we will have time to consider what to do with Jesus. The real question in the meantime, of course, is what will Jesus(!) do with us (WWJDWU – I wonder if that would sell well as a bracelet)?

It seems like my life is constantly under renovation. Try as I might to stay ahead, there are things that always need fixing. There is always dirt and debris that needs to be picked up from the things I do, and there is always the stuff that falls apart because I haven’t been taking care of them the way I ought to have! Oi vei!

But what joy there is in finding a treasure beneath the floorboards. That, in itself, has made the journey a wonder – and we’ve only just begun!

How about with life? I wonder if the fear we have of digging into our souls – the fear of finding scary things (like spiders and cobwebs – and there are plenty of those, I’ll tell you!) doesn’t diminish the very real possibility we will find, instead, treasure – a pearl of great price?

What if, by digging down deep, we discover, not a monster, but a source of peace and blessing? It reminds me of the old song (One Tin Soldier) where the valley people make war on the mountain people to steal their treasure, only to discover that which was hidden was nothing more than a sign: “’Peace on earth’ – was all it said.”

I look at the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue, and he seems to be at peace. He holds up his hand in a sign of blessing, and suddenly I am, myself, at peace, and I like that feeling.

A statue does not bless, of course. A piece of wood does not actually bless, but it is a blessing. I believe God works through all of creation, including those odd bits of stuff we run across every now and then. When we see what we have in front of us, and take a moment to ponder, think, or ruminate on the person, place, thing, or situation, we have an opportunity to receive a blessing.

The peace of God passes all understanding, and that floors me – just to think about it in this, our valley.