Thursday, November 19, 2015

Prayers from the balcony

“The five-times-daily call to prayer echoes over hillsides, penetrates our bedrooms and our sleep, and wafts out to sea, and has, from the beginning, invited us to us to go to our balcony and pray for this place.”

I wrote that a couple of years ago. A favorite image.
The view from my balcony. The body of land in the foreground is a peninsula that fingers out from Kaş. The larger island beyond is Greek: Kastellorizo to that nation, but called Meis here. Currently an ever more overwhelmed stop along the refugee road for Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. More on that in a coming post.

This morning yet again I listened to the imam’s call and my own prayer issued forth. My inner eye drifted down the hillside with the song and I pictured the sound touching and covering. Awe grew up as I knew the love of Jesus carried gently with the soundwaves on the wings of my wandering prayer.

I saw it rest lightly on Ayşe’s cow, whose milk she sells around the village to help feed and clothe her family. That bawls its own urgent prayer over the hillside every afternoon: hunger, and pain-tinged longing to be relieved of her milk.

Prayer stroked the feathers of Çiğdem’s chickens to soothe and invite them to lay.

It hovered laughing for a moment over the wild boar and her babes. I heard them rooting in the dirt behind our back wall  a couple of nights ago.

It stopped in at the tiny shop where Gülşa hanım sits sentry over the village square. Noticer of every coming and going, she could probably tell us more about ourselves than we would.

The prayer embraced all those women, now verging on middle age with children finishing high school and headed to university, who were removed from school at the age of eight or ten to work in the house or the family restaurant or with the livestock. At forty, they have already labored hard for 30 years. Was that an amused chuckle over the ones doing housework while glued to their TV soaps?

The sunny warmth of a pleasant fall graced families gathering olives, all full of chat with one another and the children romping nearby. This bit of common grace lent pleasure to the carpenters and other artisans following hard labor through summer’s heat. Jesus, embodied for me in those moments of moving prayer, listened as the village chatted about grandchildren, the cost of sunflower seeds and chicken, and offered one another glass after glass of sweet tea, all in the midst mundane necessaries of laundry, pruning, and the stacking of wood to feed winter woodstoves.  

From our balcony, from wanders through the village, this place seems a corner of paradise. Clear air, fruitful trees and gardens, healthy livestock, ordered family plots, and multi-storied buildings that house extended family together. Giggles, chatter and small shrieks of happy children at play in the pre-school waft along with the mosque call and my prayer. Nothing fancy here, but everywhere the appearance of enough. Simplicity hand in hand with beauty and productive labor.

But my prayer also wandered unbidden into dark places of poverty and squalor, domestic violence and child abuse to which I am blind. Jesus knowing, Jesus touching what I in my flesh will never reach. Prayer caressed the wife who wonders at her husband’s distance, the child who is failing at school. Kept its thoughts to itself as it brushed the swimming pools and manicured gardens of foreigners who make this place home. Ached outside the few doors where second “wives” wait for their man to turn up, a practice that is illegal here but sometimes happens anyway.

I drifted with the prayer, with Jesus, over the small hill in the foreground between my window and the coast, and through the hospital’s big new building with its insufficient staff, sparse equipment, and excess of patients. It hovered over the chronically ill and the emergency cases, and brushed the the hands of doctors, nurses and radiologists. Spoke under its breath wrath towards endemic corruption that enriches cronies with contracts build the fancy hospitals and schools without ever bothering to adequately furnish or staff them. 

Finally I felt the prayer skim across water to the nearby island of Meis, just two miles from my balcony perch. Because the world drew a line in the 1920’s, that short journey took my prayer, and Jesus’ indwelling of it, to Greece. I watched it settle around hundreds of refugees harbored in the tiny town in their flights from Syria, Afghanistan and Iran. This week alone, just there off my balcony, more than 600 were put off into the water near shore by people smugglers to make their illegal, desperate way through the rocks onto the tiny island from which goes a weekly ferry to Rhodes, and more and bigger ferries onwards to Athens. Did any more die trying today, or yesterday?

As a soft breeze cools my face when I open a window in the night, the prayer touched my dark places, urged me to turn and receive healing and grace. All of us bound up together as sound moves out and penetrates, and the Spirit of God sees every life and lovingly broods and beckons.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Two homes

For four years now we have lived between two homes. One is Spa for the Soul in Turkey, perched on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean. We live here two-thirds of the year, our doors open to guests seeking sheltered quiet space. One is on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. A Pacific-northwest house in our home country, it is repository for the treasures of our 40 years married.  

Two-home, two-country, two-continent, two-language living. Never saw that coming, but here we are.

Just at dark on a Wednesday three weeks ago we returned to our Turkish place after five months in the US. Stopped at the gate, pulled luggage and groceries out of the car, and then Curt drove to the end of the narrow dirt road to turn the car around and back it into our tiny parking slip. Çiğdem and Orkun leaned over their balcony and called greetings. Forty-two stone steps to the front door. Keys long unused inserted into the lock. Voila! Home. With me thinking, as I climbed those stairs and shone the long-unused key-ring flashlight on the dark key-hole, “This should feel more strange.”
Good morning from Spa for the Soul!

When we started this two-world living every transition found me wandering whichever house a bit lost, a bit enchanted to rediscover what had become unfamiliar. Not anymore. That evening three weeks ago I walked in, put away the groceries, and slipped into a space that settled around me like a soft fleece throw. Simply here.

Skye and Lia were here five months ago. They left only two days before we did. Their toys were still in the living room, tidy in their basket, train set and blocks stacked in their containers against the wall. Tidied, but not yet taken to their storage place under the stairs. As if the grandkids just left. Never mind that tiny baby Skye, who we'd left in Kansas City just three days before this night, is now mobile, waves at me, and eats everything in sight. Never mind that Lia is out of diapers, and intensely involved with being three.

On the kitchen counter rested three upside-down storage jars I’d emptied and washed—was that…when? Lia’s bed was still made with the pink and purple sheets, and in the next room the bed was draped with the big tablecloth laundered and laid there to keep it from wrinkling...on the 1st of June. In our bathroom, I reached for the the half-used tube of toothpaste, and grabbed my hairbrush from the drawer for some post-journey refreshment.

Yes, there were markers of vacancy, and some work of reclaiming. My desk was way too clear, bits and pieces stuffed into drawers to protect them from five months of dust. Same with countertops in kitchen and bath. The frig was full of candles. I love candles so much that thirty or so pillars perch here and there all over the house: tall, not so tall, and downright stubby, mantled with graceful folds of melted wax. If I left them out over summer they would be warped and bulging from the heat of a shut-up house where outdoor temperatures reached 120 degrees from time to time.

Yes, the work of unpacking, of restocking food, of hauling out garden furniture and all those candles lay before us. Yes, the garden is overgrown and olives are ripe for harvest. Drawers would be pawed through, stale staples pitched, forgotten quantities recalled. Catch-up. And not just with the stuff, but also with people.

But that night we took ease under that fleecy softness called home. We turned on the TV, settled back into the cushions of the old red leather couch, lit a candle or two, and knew ourselves home.

I can't post this without shouting gratitude for helper Ayşe, who came before us to dust and mop, pull down cobwebs, wash some 50 windows inside and out, and scrub down six bathrooms. She emptied every shelf, cupboard and drawer in the kitchen and bathrooms to clean out the webs and tiny carcasses of bugs who'd been fruitful and multiplied over the exceptionally hot season. This year she labored four days to prepare for our return. Without her, well, I sure wouldn't be writing this!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Words: I want to play with them awhile

I love words. From long summer days filled with book after book against the loneliness of school-break exile at Grandmom’s to the pleasure of writing letters and essay answers and college papers, to the intrigue of word permutations and possibilities uncovered as I studied English literature and journalism, to the mysterious potential for transformation through living deep with God’s Word: living Logos Jesus, and the sacred biblical writings, words have been my still-point, my anchor to truth, my self-expression and understanding of others, and my window into ideas and into prayer.

I spent my college years with old English literature, all the way back to Anglo-Saxon. This rendition of the hokey-pokey tickled me. But how few English-speakers without my background get anything at all out of it today.

This summer brought spacious time with poets and song-writers, wordsmiths who love Jesus, who make me want to shout, “This is my tribe!” Books and travels left me noticing certain remarkable words, and the ways meaning evolves and takes on fresh edges. A new thought, which immediately resonated as truth I experience, is that the metamorphosis of words can speak out loud a metamorphosis in human, perhaps cultural, self-perception. So that, whether we are reading a book from 50 or 200 years ago, or literature much more ancient, careful consideration of what words meant then can completely alter our understanding of just what is being said.

So much to unpack. But not all at once. I suspect these few paragraphs are an introduction to a season of play and posts to explore fresh brushes with words. At least I hope so. I have been the most sporadic of posters in recent years.

This morning a friend reacted to my use of the word “eccentric” to describe myself. “I looked up the actual definition, ‘unconventional and slightly strange,’’’ she wrote. This was thoughtful. She’d taken time to look up the word that bothered her. “It fits,” she said. Well, actually she used the words “technically appropriate.” But it “connotes weirdness…. It has a hard edge, I feel, that doesn't fit you.” 

The thing is, I love the word eccentric. It whispers to me that someone is a tad other-worldly, her inner self caught up in a realm of ideas and images that no one else sees but that spill over from time to time. She’s not overly concerned with what other people expect or with keeping up with the latest fads. I think of Judi Dench in the film Tea with Mussolini. Or, in fact, in just about any of her films. I think of writers and artists and the best university professors. I think of wild hair and flowing scarves, and of opening a book with a child only to ignore the words on the page and create some wandering adventure in which the child herself is heroine and the other characters are all named after her pets.

When I describe myself as eccentric, it is with hope tinged with humility. I want to be so free in my spirit that it delights my Father and blesses my world, that my life vibrates with curiosity and truth and depth. But I know those places where I cling to rules and the way things are done, where I color like a chameleon into subcultural surroundings without intelligent or prayerful examination of their presuppositions or my own heart.

It’s a conundrum, this aspect of words and their meanings that my friend raises for me. In addition to a dictionary meaning, words carry an emotional load all spikey and repellant to one person, and to another all warm and inviting. The same word means different things based on a person’s upbringing, worldview, subculture, and experience.  Differences lurk out there, and we don’t suspect their impact until someone reacts and clues us in. A few that pop up in my frame often: contemplative, prayer, Christian, missionary, spiritual director, monastic, Muslim, American. And others more under the radar: black, white, clean, rich, love, date, rules, discipline, death—to mention a few others have challenged in my speaking over the years.

Which raises the question: what do we do?

Recent months have been rich with word-lover experiences. Credit is due:
  • The Kindlings, and their glorious KindlingFest held every July on Orcas Island; 
  • Regent College and its offering of summer graduate courses. In particular, this summer’s course on the Liturgical Year, taught by Malcolm Guite and Steve Bell via their poetry and music; 
  • JRR Tolkien and his academic work on words in his groundbreaking paper on Beowolf. A rich offering, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip and Carol Zaleski, explores ideas about words shared among the Inklings.
  • Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, highlights, in their words, “what goes without saying,” that is, the nuances of meaning that are embedded so deeply in our gut that it would never even occur to us that one from another place or time would have an utterly different response.