Look.

April 12, 2014

When April’s sweet showers have pierced to the root March’s drought, bathing each vein in a liquor whose potency makes flowers spring forth and little birds sing — ah, Chaucer, my frenemy! — then, when I’m not longing to go on pilgrimage, as Chaucer says spring makes people long, or longing to be in love, as Chaucer’s audience expected him to say, I wish I had a means, whether by words or camera lens or paintbrush, to capture the beauty of this so-beautiful season.

I drive through the new-made world, and two eyes are too few to view it properly, and one mind is not sufficient for remembering. I’ve scrawled fragments of things on journal pages in my lap under the steering wheel — on appropriately straight and untrafficked roads, of course — but it’s a slow process, to write a sentence about how the black cows go belly-deep in fields of green and yellow attended by obsequious white egrets, and I don’t write how the river has flooded so that the trees are knee-deep, hip-deep in brown water.

2014 by Stacy Nott

The camera lens can’t catch it, either. The colors are never bright enough. To focus in on one thing is to ignore the over-whelmingness of it. But in the big picture, nothing shows up: it all looks ordinary. It isn’t ordinary.

The drive to love, traditionally ascribed with springtime, the drive to adventure, which Chaucer ascribed to springtime in his Canterbury Tales, both perhaps come down to this same extraordinariness: we want to see it and we want to share it.

We’ve been designed to appreciate this, and we’ve been designed to appreciate it in company. I imagine that part of Adam’s satisfaction, when once he had his Eve, was in showing her his garden: “Look here! Look there!” appreciating it anew through her new vision. And then we want to see more.

Every spring, here’s our God repeating the story. He doesn’t capture the beauty; He creates it new, sets it free to be beautiful, taking pleasure in the creating, taking pleasure in showing us, His beloved ones, the beauty He has made: “Look here! Look there!” And in our delight, He is delighted.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo!

I used Lisa-Jo’s Five Minute Friday prompt, “paint” as a jumping-off place today, to write of things I’ve been musing on this week. If you’d like to read more posts inspired by her prompt, use the button above.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

I’m more comfortable calling myself a “writer” than calling myself an “author.” I’m even more comfortable simply saying “I write.” It’s interesting, the layers of distinction, of connotations.

To me writer is someone who writes. An author? I don’t know: someone who has written and has something meaningful to show for it, maybe.

There’s a sense, I guess, in which for me, “author” has implications of completion. “Writer” is less complete. Saying “I write” makes me someone who writes, but does not make writing the defining characteristic of me.

And, oh! I feel very incomplete, and I feel that most of what I have to say is yet to be said — yet to be thought, even — and writing is just one piece in this puzzle of life.

The Bible ascribes authorship to God. David imagines a book in which God had written all our days before one of them existed, and the writer of Hebrews calls Christ “the author and perfecter of our faith” .

There’s a sense in which God’s work was finished before it ever began, and we, being part of His work — “His workmanship”  — can also have this confidence: we have been authored, we are complete, though we can’t see how all the pieces line up yet.

God is not simply writing, sketching out a story as it takes His fancy. For him, “Let there be light” and “It is finished” sound simultaneously through outside-time, and though we read this work of His authorship haltingly and slowly, we know that it is fully known, we are fully known, to Him.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo!

Joining Lisa-Jo and friends again this Friday, to write on her prompt, “writer.” Use the button above to see what it’s all about!

©2014 by Stacy Nott

eyelashes; duckbills

April 2, 2014

“Also,” the young man had stopped to ask directions, and now he hesitated before leaning toward me to ask with hushed intensity, “are you aware that  your eyelashes are two different colors?”

Under the blue sky, the duck-billed platypus shares this earth with us. Ice, though harder, is less dense than water. We live on all sides of a globe which is spinning and whirling through space at an alarming rate, but we never worry we’ll fall off, and, in fact, we drop things with the perfect confidence that they will land on the ground rather than the sky.

Platypus-sketch

John Gould, “The Mammals of Australia,” 1863

 

The upper lashes on my left eye — with nine exceptions — are white, while all the others are black.

They weren’t always that way, but they’ve been that way for nineteen years. Though I don’t spend my every waking moment being actively aware of them, they — with the sun that rises in the east, and the oceans that bound our continent, and the mother and father who raised me —  are one with the cloth of my existence.

Mostly, I don’t even notice them when I look in the mirror. But I’d notice if they weren’t there.

When I was a child, questions about them were more common than they are now; children are less inhibited in their asking, don’t fear offending. But every so often, some brave soul summons the question again, and I’m reminded.

Of what, precisely? Not of their existence; I know that already. I am reminded of the God who made them exist, who not only created a world for us, but took the trouble to make it strange and surprising.

I am reminded “that I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ,” who “preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head” — and if not a hair can fall, certainly not one can change from black to white — “indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.”

The young man walked away a bit embarrassed. I didn’t mean to embarrass him, and I didn’t tell him all these things; I just smiled and said that “Yes, I knew.”

Your strange and surprising may be my commonplace, and perhaps I spend my days new-discovering worlds which have been your familiar home as long as you remember. Together, then, let’s delight in the discoveries and delight in the ordinary; let’s delight in the God who delights in both.

 

©2014 by Stacy Nott

poison ivy and eden

March 31, 2014

Summer approaches. I have incontrovertible evidence in the fact that poison ivy is emerging from its winter sabbatical. All along the sides of the path modestly drooping three-leaved clusters rise on tender red stems.

Was the serpent in the Garden thus demure at first, hiding his shy face behind the thick-leaved fruit boughs, peering out to question, softly, “Did God really say . . . ?”

Jan Brueghel the Elder, "The Garden of Eden," 1612

When my cousin was a tiny girl she rubbed a poison ivy leaf all over her face: “Daddy, it’s so soft!” The rash made her eyes swell shut and was very uncomfortable — as poison ivy rashes are — but had no long-term consequences.

Not all seduction stories are so cleanly concluded.

This ivy grew in the Garden, I suppose, soft-leaved and lovely, perfectly safe for rubbing on faces, perfectly safe for brushing against ankles.

And then there was the question, the perfect hand stretched out to take the fruit that was a delight to the eyes, the perfect teeth piercing through the skin, the flavor of the knowledge of good and evil bursting on the woman’s tongue, on the man’s tongue.

Then the ground was cursed, and to eat of its fruit became pain. Their eyes were not swollen shut, but were wide open to the damage, their skin torn by the thorns of their disobedience, and the way back to innocence blocked with a flaming sword.

Even now these signs of new life, fresh vines growing up through last year’s leaves, come wrapped in the warning of death, and, though the leaves are still tiny, I find myself drawing to the center of the path, shrinking from the touch of a poison plant.

He was crowned with the thorns of our disobedience, drank the dregs of the cup of our iniquity. Though He knew no sin, He was willingly covered with the poison of our sinning, gave Himself up to the flames of that sword. He died.

But He didn’t stay dead. And when He emptied His own tomb, He conquered the curse, crushed the serpent’s head, and opened the way for us — the torn and disobedient — to be crowned with the spoils of His victory, to believe in Him, and enter into life everlasting.

 

©2014 by Stacy Nott, most of the story can be found in Genesis 3

Woken by huge thunderstorms in the wee hours, two nights in a row.

Mighty? Yes.

Going on nine years in a state which seems to specialize in huge and damaging storms, where tornado watches are routine, I like to think I’ve gotten used to thunder. I like to think I’m less afraid than I used to be. At least, I roll over and close my eyes more easily than before.

Yet still, when the thunderclaps jolt me awake, I lie in my bed and feel so small, so helpless.

If I didn’t belong to a family in which the men go outside during tornado weather, because they want to see it coming, I expect I would spend more time crouching in the hallway, in the bathroom, small and safe and stifling with mattresses and pillows.

But I don’t usually do that. I just lie in my bed and think of power outside the house. The power against which I am utterly powerless.

Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? (Job 40:9)

How grateful I am to know that the mighty arms of this God are on my side.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo!

 

Joining Lisa-Jo and her writing flash-mob on yesterday’s prompt: mighty. Read more about it — and about the book she’s releasing on APRIL 1! — using the button above.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

It’s funny the things you don’t expect about being a teacher. Things like the need to discern the difference between a stretching student, student raising a questioning hand, and a student with the tendency to twist the hair on top of her head while working.

We’re doing in-class research today, and one boy sprawls across two chairs, hands above head, reading an article, while others lean over their desks, encircling pages of notes in protective arms. They’re more inclined to ask questions if I walk among them, seeming to realize, by the fact of my nearness, that they don’t have to figure everything out alone. There are fewer questions when I stay at my desk in the front.

They need help with citation format, naturally, but also need help with the process of finding a book in the library stacks, need me to explain how to check out a book. (Since our class meets in the library, this is easy.) They’re excited to find that, when they follow one call number down into the stacks, they come upon whole shelves of books relating to their topics.

 books

You’d think, for students versed in the millions of results available to an internet search, the thousands of articles that appear with a few key-strokes in a database, they’d be used to choosing amongst sources, but multiple books overwhelm them. “Which one should I use?” “You mean I have to read the whole thing?”

In a research class I took as an undergraduate, we read Thomas Mann’s Library Research Models: A Guide to Classification, Cataloging, and ComputersI confess to not remembering most of it, beyond the fact that — as I recall — the author is a private investigator-turned-librarian. (A fact which, reinforced by the fact that one of the librarians with whom I’ve worked recently used to be in law enforcement in Atlanta, has made me believe that library science is not, perhaps, populated with only calm, bookish types.) But, among the several research models and principles he listed, one stuck out to me: the Principle of Least Effort.

While Mann did not recommend it as good practice, he noted that it was common practice: researchers tend to follow the path of least resistance, rather than the path of best results. I’ve been guilty of it, often and often. And I see it operating among my students, as they do the least they can to get by. Search engines and online library catalogs make this model more palatable than it was, perhaps, in 1994 when Mann penned his tome, but even taking the few extra steps to streamline the process of filtering search result lists seems to be too much effort for many of my students. This means that their PLE practice actually leads to more effort, because they spend more time browsing sources than they might have done if they’d learned to use their tools effectively. (I remember Mann making a similar point.)

And so, while I work to interpret the hand signals, to anticipate the questions they won’t ask, while I lean over shoulders and explain — again — what to do if an article has no author, I think about how this Principle of Least Effort seeps into other areas of life, how it infiltrates my Christian walk as well as my research practices.

I think of how scripture, “breathed out by God,” is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” to make us “competent, equipped for every good work.” I think of how God’s divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us” — that knowledge, again, available in scripture. And I think of cursory attention I give to the book which makes me competent and gives me all things pertaining to life and godliness, and I think of how I struggle and feel inadequate.

And as I watch the questions multiply when I move between the desks, I realize that, though I cannot see him, my God is always here, and he bids me ask, seek, knock: “for everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” How small  my asking often is, how hesitant, as if he were far away and hard of hearing and stingy in his answers. But he is none of those.

My PLE, applied to my Christian walk, burdens me with the weight of being and doing enough, when my God has worked for me, prepared works for me, promised his power – not my own — sufficient for me, made perfect in my weakness.

 

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Concerning ToEs

March 23, 2014

One week ago, a team of American physicists working on a project called BICEP2, with a telescope at the South Pole, announced that they had made what they call a “grand slam” discovery: a signal allegedly left in the universe from the very first moments of the Big Bang.

I’m no physicist, but the gist, as I understand, is that, if the Big Bang actually happened, it involved a rapid expansion of the universe from infinitesimally tiny to much, much larger. Scientists claim to be able to see an afterglow from that explosion in the oldest detectable light in the universe; and, if the universe did indeed explode and expand at its beginning — an alleged fourteen billion years ago — they expected to see a particular sort of twist or ripple in that light.

According to last week’s news, the BICEP2 telescope has finally detected that ripple. The BBC reports that this discovery puts scientists that much closer to being able to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one grand Theory of Everything.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Wikipedia describes the Theory of Everything (ToE) as a “final theoryultimate theory or master theory refer[ring] to the hypothetical presence of a single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe,” and goes on to say that the “ToE is one of the major unsolved problems in physics.”

Setting aside the issue of the vast improbability of the fact that I am sitting on the second-floor balcony of a brick structure, using my highly-sophisticated gray matter to formulate thoughts which my fingers communicate to a highly-sophisticated machine, being a product of pure chance operating in the chaotic aftermath of one particle exploding — and that’s not a thing to be lightly set aside — while scientists dub their discovery “the missing link of cosmology,” I find myself feeling that the theory lacks more than a few twisted light waves.

To explain how the four forces of nature work together in one unified theory no more explains how they came to exist than my acquiring a complete understanding of how the solid-state hard-drive on my laptop works negates the fact that someone designed and built my computer. Mode of operation does not equal origin. Nor, returning to the probabilities, does it seem rational to search for a unified Theory of Everything in a universe born out of chaos. In a universe born of chaos, I would expect disunity, randomness, incompletion — the things I’d expect in a kitchen which had been bombed. Chaos might be the unifying thread.

Yet we find, again and again, that we are not content to accept chaos as the unifier. We crave order and purpose. As we formulate Theories of Everything, we want them to explain not just the fact that we are here, but why. We want them to not simply explain the physics; we want them to explain our souls. What is the point existing? How does the Theory of Everything impact what we do?

As a Christian, I have been given a coherent Theory of Everything.

Part of the physicists’ problem is explaining how quantum mechanics — physics of the very tiny — relates to gravity — physics of the very large. My Theory of Everything explains how the very large — the God of the universe, the Creator in the beginning — relates to the very small — individual human beings on a tiny planet on one of the uncountable solar systems in the universe. It explains how, just after the beginning, when man and woman were newly-created perfection, sin came into the world, twisting the very fibers of their souls, so that signs of that violent twisting are still obvious in the world today.

And it explains how the very large entered into our very small to make straight the crooked, how He took the consequences of that sin upon Himself, absorbed the violence, how He new-creates us in His image to do the things He has prepared for us and to bear witness to His grace.

It requires no telescope to see the signs of that grace, from the beginning, when it clothed the newly-naked-and-ashamed, until now, when it covers and clothes us, untwisting the twisted, illumining the darkness, explaining and linking together all aspects of our world:

“For from [God] and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Five-Minute Friday: Joy

March 21, 2014

They say that children thrive best when they know their boundaries, and know that those boundaries will be — albeit lovingly — enforced.

I’ve always liked having rules myself, coloring in the lines, pleased to understand where I belonged and to remain there.

And I so find a certain kind of relief in having a door upon which I’d somewhat reluctantly knocked definitely be closed to me today, to know that, however good the opportunity might have been, it is not mine to pursue. Joy, in coming up against a boundary.

They aren’t always joyful, are they? We run into walls, beat our heads against them, angry, often, at the God who prevents and prevents in seemingly unnecessary ways.

But even then. Even then, we know that He is the loving Father, enforcing boundaries that are for our benefit, showing us where we belong and keeping us there.

It’s easy to believe it on this lovely second day of spring, when my world is beginning to come out in blossoms and life seems full of pleasant places.

Lord, teach me to take joy in the boundaries on the dark days, as well.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo!

Joining Lisa-Jo and the rest who are blogging on “joy” today. To read more, or join in yourself, use the button above!

©2014 by Stacy Nott

A get-away with the cousin.

We toured a cave today. The guide called us “Florida” and “Mississippi” and asked us to be the caboose.

I liked being the caboose, trailing after the crowd, able to take my time and to look and listen.

I like to look and listen, and I enjoy a crowd, when I’m allowed to be on the outer parts of it, when I know my place in it.

You get to watch and see how children are just like their parents, sometimes. You get to see the contrast between a smiling face and a grumpy face. You get to hear snatches of conversation, and to laugh about them.

But a crowd is best when you can be on the edge of it with a friend, not on the edge of it alone. And the best part about today’s crowd was that I was not “Mississippi” all on my own; I had “Florida” with me.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo!

 

Join Lisa-Jo and the rest of us for Five-Minute Friday using the button above!

©2014 by Stacy Nott

When David Copperfield carried to Peggotty the message that “Barkis is willing,” it was certainly not the most romantical proposal in the world. But romantical-ness, perhaps, is less essential than good, solid comfort, and Peggotty also being willing, she became Mrs. Barkis.

Generally, I tend to put “willingness” on the scale somewhere below actual desire. To say you are willing is to leave unsaid that you’d rather not. I don’t tend to think that that willing person is also eager and glad.

And so, when I pronounce myself willing to do whatever it is God wants of me, it isn’t that I’m jumping out of my seat, hastening pell-mell toward obedience. In actuality, my willingness often looks a great deal more like passivity: if you take my hands and drag me, I won’t resist, but you won’t find me deciding to walk of my own volition. It’s going to require the dragging.

When God calls us to Him, He calls to more than this. He calls us to a joyful willingness; He calls us to drop our nets and follow, to volunteer our possessions, to count all things as rubbish for the sake of this upward call.

And, oh! I cannot walk, cannot follow, apart from His enlivening power, but, Father, I pray You’ll make me eager and glad, enlivened by that power, to walk: wherever, however, so long as it is to You.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo!

Joining Lisa-Jo and her Five-Minute Friday writers to write on the prompt “willing” today. Learn how to participate and read other posts using the button above.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

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