Time, That Old Master….

Just thinking….

See this picture? It’s the Hubs and me by the wonderfully colored maple in our front yard. It’s how we look right now, in 2010, and it’s how the maple looks this fall. But I have not always looked like this, and neither, I imagine, has the maple. Time has had its way with both of us.

I have been wrestling with “Time” and his evil twin, “Gravity.” When I was young, they used to let me think I was winning. No more. Time is coming at me, no holds barred, from many directions and gravity continues to hold me as a prisoner.

Physically, time and gravity are tugging at my chin, the bags under my eyes, the wings on my upper arms, and everything between neck and knees. But hey! I still have good hair and my toes look as good as ever! I knew this part of the struggle was coming, as I watched my mother and grandmothers age with dignity. So I just want to deal with it, and secretly, I want to win…. I want to control time. I want to be the boss!

The unexpected move was in my thought process, which spills over into my spiritual realm. My life has been controlled by time: bed time, getting-up time, meal time, time to catch the bus, time for church, time to pay taxes…. When I studied piano and flute, I had to keep time, and I measured time as regular intervals. Not only could I keep time, I could also save time, and spend time. As a teacher, I found my working days controlled by time: warning bell @ 7:35. Tardy bell @ 7:40. Homeroom over at 8:00. First class @ 8:05. My minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons and years were ordered. The clock ticked away my life.

And I had a clock in every room: the alarm by the bed, the wind-up antique in the living room, the digital microwave timer….. and all reminded me of the fleeting nature of life. Calendars were similar: the desk calendar by the computer, the one hanging on the fridge, the little stick on calendar in the car, and again, all remind me of how fast life is moving.

Clocks and calendars gave me beginnings and endings. When period 6 ended, period 7 began. When Christmas ended, New Year’s began. When I turned 40, age 39 ended. This led me to other observations on beginnings and endings: beginnings of relationships, endings of the same, beginnings of maturity, endings of death. I began to see the world and life as simply beginnings and endings. Time is relentless, marching steadily in a foward pattern, and gravity reminds me of the passing and heaviness of time.

My Bible has even referred to this: “In the beginning….”. I can verify this. Just outside my window is heaven and earth, created in the beginning. I see the seasons pass outside my window; right now the brilliant flame-burst of leaves is making its last hurrah. The trees will pass into dormancy, and then burst again with life in the spring. Sunset, sunrise, all the same, day after day. Time is measured in repeating patterns .

But that window….. The window is in a way an ending: an ending of the house. The beautiful outdoors is a beginning. Yet it will end where the next building begins. And so the pattern goes. As I reflect, I realize that every single thing I know of life is wrapped up in time and beginnings and endings. Everything, even life itself. My first breath, my last breath: beginnings and endings and life in between.

I used to do a fun exercise with my St. Louis University students. I would ask one of them to walk across the room. When he was about half way across, I asked him to stop and look behind him. Could he see the space that he had traveled? Yes. Could he see the space that lay before him? Yes. Had he passed through this space? Yes. Had he also passed through time? Yes. Could he see the time that he had passed through? Um…… no. Could he see the time that lay ahead? Again…. No. This led into a discussion of déjà vu, seers and prophets, and ultimately, a discussion and definition of time. It led to some interesting thinking and writing. One point was that time seems to be linear, although some wonder if perhaps it might be spiral shaped. Another is that so much of our language refers to time: “Time is passing. It’s about time. For the last time….” A third point is that time seems to exist only in our memories. I can anticipate something in the future, but it is based on my memory of something in the past. I look at my clock but only see marks that time is gone or that time will come.

And if time exists only in our memories, then what about eternity? That is what really boggles my mind. In a world of beginnings and endings, how can I comprehend something that never ends? How can I measure eternity, given that I tend to measure everything in life? How can I understand existence where time is meaningless and non-existent? How do I take in the dimensions of God, who created time in the beginning, yet exists unbounded by time? What will it be like when time is no more? When there are no more boundaries? When time and gravity are gone?

As a Christian, I am pretty excited by eternity. It’s awesome to think of never being scolded by the clock again, never having to see the age lines etched into my face, never watching erosion, and to endlessly be in the presence of God, praising Him. But I must admit, it still is beyond my understanding. I just believe that it will be. Forever. Everlasting. Ageless. Infinite. Eternity……

And now, Time, you old specter, pull back your scythe! Gravity, I defy you!

Father, Praise be to Your holy name. Such power You have that You spoke the world and time into being, and that when You are ready, time will be no more. Meanwhile, help me redeem the time.

To God be the glory,

Published in: on October 30, 2010 at 9:25 pm  Comments (2)  

Just Call Me “Marian….. the Librarian….”

Just thinking…

It’s 7:45 am, and I am sitting in the library here at the college where I teach, waitng for my 8:00 class to begin their research papers. Some are here already, browsing their notes. Others are at the computers, looking for evidence sites, or going through newspapers and reference works.

The library is a comforting and welcoming place, right down to the cushioned chairs and sofas, and the kleenex boxes on the tables. This particular library used to be a chapel on this once-Catholic campus, and the stained glass glows. Soft murmuring surrounds me, and I hear occasional hisses, beeps and bings from copy machines and phones.

Technology aside, this library is no different from other school libraries tht I have frequented over the years. I began school in a one-room rural Iowa school. The library was a few shelves of books and a set of The Book of Knowledge, copyright around 1915 (which asserted that the age of major invention and discovery was over!).

Those same shelves also held a radio, over which our weekly music lesson was broadcast. Even as a kindergartner, I formed the habit of first reading my reading/literature book all the way through as quickly as possible, and then proceed to reading the library, book by book. (By the way, my teachers hated it when I finished my lit books in the first couple weeks of school!!). I had a choice of reading at my little seat and desk that were bolted to the floor, or sittiing at the little wooden bench at the back of the room, just under the coat hooks. I was partial to the bench, just because it gave variety, and also because it was closer to the library shelves. When the school closed at the end of my second grade, my father bough the books in the library; I cherished them.

In third grade, my one-roomer was consolidated into a village school. Now there were two classrooms, and I was not the only one in my class. There were three of us, and I was the bookworm of the trio. The second floor of this school gave hints as to the grandeur and opulence that once marked this village. It contained both a theatre with a stage and backstage, and a large library. For the first time, I could read a play and know exactly how it should look on stage. The library was lined with floor to celing shelves, filled with books. The ony unfilled space was a window with a window seat, where I could sit and read. (And one of the selling points of my current home was that it had a window seat…). I remember looking at a book called Lorna Doone and being frustrated that I didn’t understand all of it, similar to the frustration I had when as a 4th grader, I tried to read and understand Mein Kampf. (At that time, I had no idea of who Hitler was and what he stood for, and had only a vague understanding of war.).

A specific memory I have of this time was that I developed a love for dictionaries (and I still collect dictionaries!). It seemed that my love of reading and love for words and their histories and mysteries went together. One day in 4th grade, the teacher was showing us some slides (this was heady stuff for us back then…) of fish swimming upstream. This one particular slide had a word on it: “weir.” The teacher said that it had obviously been misspelled and should be “wire.” I immediately raised my hand and said no, it was “weir,” which meant a woven fence that kept the fish from going too far. The teacher insisted that it was wire, so I kept silent. But I checked out my dictionaries, and I was right; it was “weir.” Reading had drastically improved my vocabulary.

When I fiinished 6th grade, I had to move on to the town school. The county decided to consolidate the village school and take all the assets. The PTA mothers, who had bought those maps and aquariums and books with proceeds from soup suppers and cake walks and carnivals, were incensed. We received a phone call, asking us to show up at the school at a certain time on a certain day. The PTA mom with the school key unlocked the doors and invited us to come in annd take whatever we wanted. They didn’t intend to leave anything for the county superintendent to seize. My heart leaped, as I thought of the library and all those books. But my mother said we could only take a few items. In my armful was Lorna Doone.

The library for the town school was presided over by an old maid whose biggest worry seemed to be unclean hands I remember her inspectng my hand, knuckles and nails, when I came into the library, and once she sent me out to wash. How humiliating…. But to this day, I make sure my hands are clean when I handle a book.

This library was the largest I had ever been in For the first time, I saw vertical files (which probably don’t exist anymore), and I began what I called “reading jags.” I would go off on a jag of reading certain authors, or on a jag of readng on certain topics Frustrated that the next book on my list was sometimes missing, I volunteered to work in the library. It gave me frst shot at reading new holdings, and also to watch for the books I wanted to be returned. One such book was Miracle at Carville, about a US leper colony. Fascinated by the topic, i began to devour every book I could find about leprosy.

Another book from this era that impacted my thinking was Gone With the Wind. The book riveted me and I read it in three days, which include a flashlight in bed, andd reading it while on the school bus. I WAS Scalett O’Hara! I was compelled to watch the movie,as the dashing Rhett Butler swept away Scarlett, compelled to read more Civil war era books, compelled to later in life visit Civil war battlefields and antebellum homes, compelled to laugh until I cried at Carol Burnett’s rendition of the dress made out of the green drapes (complete with curtain rod), compelled to read the sequel.

During this same time period, I learned of the county library and the town library. The town library was a Carnegie library. I can still remember walking up the majestic steps, turning to the right and being in the children’s area, with the wonderful series of Dr. Dolittle books of the animals, and the Robert Heinlein series of science fiction. I discovered the Box Car Children and others by Lois Lenski. I read Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys and Donna Parker series. Later, I would turn to the left and go into the reading room with the tall leather wing chairs and snuggle down to read until I fell alseep. It was my favorite place to wait for my mom when we went to town!

The county library was at the courthouse, and the rule was that if I lived in the country then I could check out 6 books at a time (the assumption was that we had a harder time getting back and forth into town, so we needed more books at one whack). That was fine with me. I would load up my six books, go home and have them read in a couple of days. So I returned those six, and checked out another six. One day the librarian said to me, “Honey, if you aren’t going to read them, don’t check them out.” I was crushed; I WAS reading them, and had no idea that others did not read as fast as I did.

After high school graduation, I headed down to Missouri for college. The library there was huge, at least to me. It was filled with art, and we could even check out the art and take them to our dorms to enjoy. What a radical idea! I was thrilled at the size and holdings of this library, but unfortunately, didn’t have the time to pleasure-read as I had had in the past. The library became a place to get work accomplished, but not necessarily a place to enjoy and relax. It’s unfortunate that this is so.

Then I moved on to teaching, and taking my students to school libraries. Again, it was a job and I didn’t have the warm relaxing time in them to enjoy the pleasures of the books. Another unfortunate situation. My work took my to the large university libraries in St. Louis where I was in awe of the architecture in addition to the books.

Now I’m retired, sort of. I continued teaching a few night classes or a couple of day classes for local colleges. Then we moved to Iowa last year. I was hired by the local college here to teach a couple classes per term. It’s been great, but I’m ready to really retire now. So here I am in the library with the stained glass around me, ready for my last group of students that I will ever take to the library. They don’t have time now to really enjoy the pleasures of this wonderful place; they are too busy gathering research to support their thesises. But someday…… oh, I wish for someday for them to be able to walk in, browse, read, almost fall asleep. This new town in which I live has a wonderful Carnegie library, also. It has majestic columns in front and a top that reminds me of the St. Louis Planetarium. It’s filled with wonderful little niches with diverse and fascinating books. I may just go there after I retire and fall asleep….

Father, I praise You for giving me the time to read. Thank you for the many people in my life who have encouraged me and challenged me to read. Thank you for the upcoming season of my life where I will have more leisure to read. Amen.

To God be the Glory,

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hey! I’m Prayin’ Here!

Just Thinking…..

I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer. No doubt exists in my mind that God hears, cares and answers. Nevertheless, I had an interesting, but uncomfortable, prayer encounter yesterday that left me…. well… let me just tell you about it.

Two days ago, our son was hit by another driver, and the accident probably totalled the car. The car happened to belong to us, and we carried the insurance on it: just liability. The police took the info and made an accident report. But we have not found out the insurance info about the other driver yet, and are getting some run-arounds. It’s frustrating.

So I’m home doing laundry and putting fresh bedding on the bed. And I’m using my time to also pray: praying that the insurance situation will be resolved, praying that a cheap reliable vehicle can be found quickly, praising that no one was killed or seriously harmed.

Suddenly that little God-voice (you know the one: the one you can’t hear with your ears, but none-the-less is quite distinct in your heart/soul/mind/spirit) said to me, “Be still and listen.”

Me: Hey, I’m praying here!
Voice: Be still and listen.
Me: But I’m praising You!
Voice: Be still and listen.
Me: I’m bringing You all my cares, just like I’m supposed to do.
Voice: Be still and listen.
Me: Uh…. ok….. what do I……
Voice: Be still and listen.

At that point the wind was out of my sails. All during my prayer and conversation, I was still doing my ordinary work. I’m an ordinary kind of person. And prayer is an ordinary part of this ordinary life. And I must admit that it is also ordinary for me to be a worrier extrordinanrre, a multi-tasker, and to plan my life 20 years in advance. I’m a do-er, a git-‘er-done kind of girl. So this little exchange going on inside of me was well….. unordinary. Unsettling.

I stood still by the half-made bed, staring at the closed window blinds and wondering what to do next. As my thoughts settled and dissolved, the voice continued.

Voice: Have I ever deserted you in time of need?
Me: No, Lord.
Voice: Haven’t I always provided?
Me: Yes, Lord.
Voice: Haven’t I always been your sustainer; am I not able?
Me: I agree, Lord.
Voice: Am I not the same yesterday, today and forever?
Me: Yes, Lord.
Voice: Then why are you trying to manipulate Me?


Me? Manipulate God?

The hard answer was yes. It was me. And deep down, that was really the core and root of what I was doing: trying to manipulate the Creator of the universe. I had it all planned: God opens the hearts and pocketbook of the insurance company. Check. God brings us a car. Check.

That was me: an ordinary wisp of a mortal, standing in the face of God, tellilng Him how to handle my situation. Truth to tell, I was shamed as I reflected on my attitude, and I remained still and quiet.

Today I am again praying. But I’m trying to be careful. I’m giving God my praise and petitions, and I’m trying to not tell Him how to fix it. I realize now, to my chagrin, that my prayer was all about me, and about how I was such a great prayer-person. I was doing the right thing, but with the wrong motive, and God saw right through it.

Father, conform me to Your image. Make me who You want me to be. Remind me, however You see fit, that You are in charge and that Your ways are not my ways. Father, forgive me for being presumptuous and for trying to manipulate You into doing my will. May Your will be done in Your time and Your way. Surprise me, Lord, with Your plans.

To God be the glory,

Published in: on October 14, 2010 at 3:10 am  Comments (5)