Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I think my plants positively hate me after what I've done to them today. Every little pretty pink flower got cut, every bush pruned away from the house and brought back within the boundary of the garden. Florida summer requires occasional buzz cuts otherwise the jungle takes over. There is a part of me that hates pruning as much as my plants do (or at least I think they do, but maybe I am just projecting my own feelings on them). It doesn’t seem to make sense to cut perfectly healthy plant down to the bone so to speak… except that its vigorous limbs (a friend once called them “overachievers”) get out of bounds. But the more I am turning into a gardener, the less I am concerned about the “little pretties” – the eye-catching prodigious blooms immortalized by a photographer’s lens at just the right moment and then artfully paraded on the pages of Better Homes and Gardens for the novices to drool over – and the more I am interested in the health and the vitality of each plant and how it fits in the larger design of the garden as a whole. Is it stressed out by too many limbs and needs to be simplified so her energies can be channeled into just few healthy branches which would eventually produce vigorous growth? Is it dead? Or sick – either under attack by plant-munching insects or malnourished through insufficient supply of water and nutrients? Has it been serving the garden well for several years now, and it’s time to retire it into the compost pile and give some new plant a chance?

My plants don’t have my eyes (most of them don’t have eyes at all). They can’t see themselves (for better or for worse) or the way I see them fit in the particulars of our small plot of land located in the central part of the large peninsula called Florida dangling off the United States of America proper. They don’t even know how beautiful they are and the magical effect their simple existence can have on me and other lovers of beauty. The pain I inflict on them by cutting their healthy growth may not make much sense, but if they do surrender to the two laws of gardening - the law of death administered by my pruning shears and the law of life already active within them – the results can be quite astounding.

Like my plants, I acknowledge my need to surrender to the Gardener’s pruning tools and continue yielding myself to the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus active within me thus allowing the life-generating interaction of the two principles to have their full effect in me. The death and the cutting that I am experiencing now is not a random, indiscriminate or even angry outburst of impersonal fate or chance. It is an infinitely wise, skillful, loving hand of the master Gardener at work, cutting away what once was alive but now is dead, subduing the unruly outshoots of this proud overachiever, channeling the energy of many life-sapping directions and activities into just few. The pruning is never an end to itself. The pruning has its life-giving effect both for the plant in particular and for the unique, personalized design of the garden and how it fits with the lawn and the house, the patio and the swing, the street and the neighborhood, but most importantly with the owner of it all and his children. When God puts His surgical knife to a recurring thought process or activity, attitude or personality trait, ambition or drive all I see and feel is the pain, my pain! I don’t see how I may be blocking somebody’s view or access to the source of light, causing somebody to trip over, or damaging the roof on their house. I am blind to how my overgrown limb is casting a truth-thwarting shadow on the presence and activity of God in my brother's life. But Spirit of Jesus does – and His love for me as well as for my neighbor makes Him pick up that pruning knife and patiently, determinedly, lovingly cut away.

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. Gospel of John 15:2

Monday, July 21, 2008

I decided to revisit the issue of appropriate - to use politically incorrect word - punishment for Tia’s crime of kicking her brother in the face after we all took naps. Naps are good. They put space and breathing room into volatile situations, and God knows there are a lot of those in our household, so we need naps! When Tia woke up, she forgot (or at least acted as if she forgot) about the issue at hand and asked sweetly to watch Dora the Explorer. I said

You can’t watch Dora until we resolve the situation with your brother. Tell me what happened.

She proceeded to paint her picture of the incident, explaining how Caleb made a terrible mess and she told him to clean it up right away and he just wasn’t listening to her, so her foot plastered itself against his face. Voila! It was quite obvious she saw no other recourse but taking justice into her own hands.

This is not the first time that one of our children assumed the role of the parent and quickly executed what seemed to them an appropriate form of discipline to their straying sibling. I find it most peculiar that the moment they grasp a certain family rule (e.g. you make a mess, you clean it up) they naturally assume the right and the authority to enforce its rigid implementation. To say that they may have understood the letter of the law but completely miss the spirit of the lawgiver is a mild understatement. After hearing Tia’s side of the story I said to her:

In the law it is written,' An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'. Applying it to this situation, it means An eye for an eye, a kick for a kick. So the just punishment for you would be that Caleb kicks you in the face.

Her face froze for an instant. She stared at me with horrified disbelief, her eyes x-raying my head back and forth as if to read my thoughts and detect whether she heard the words and understood their meaning correctly. I stared back at her with my best poker face, glad that she couldn’t read my mind and wondering if I was crazy to take this approach after all. But there was no turning back now. Seeing nothing but an expression of serious determination, Tia jumped off the bed and with righteous indignation cried out,

Then I would run away and hide, because it is not right to kick people in the face and it is better to use words.

My poker face started crumbling like an old cookie.

I am so glad you said that Tia, I chuckled. You are right, it is not good to kick people in the face and we need to use words. Why didn’t you do that in the first place – why did you choose force rather than words with your brother?

She was stumped. The two-edged sword of the living Word was slicing my little judge/jury/executioner as a purple onion . By your words you shall be justified, by your words you shall be condemned. My five-year old just experienced the head-on collision with Mount Sinai. The bewilderment over the seeming moral incongruence of the law lingered over her the rest of the afternoon, until her brother woke up from his nap, ready to take the witness stand in the ongoing family trial.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The quality of music in the small Anglican church we have been attending this summer is absolutely superb. The team of musicians is far above average and it is wonderful to see them use their exquisite gift to minister to God and His people. I find that I quickly lose my busy, preoccupied self as I surrender to its call to worship. Today I was pondering that much of life is about learning to hear the music and responding to its rhythms and beat with song and dance. Most people, of course, don’t even realize that there is such a thing as music first of all to hear, and then, to respond to. And those who do (or at least say they do), in reality sing only their own tune, each his own, according to their own timing while their noisy cacophony of voices makes it impossible to even hear the music, much less enjoy and respond to it. Annoyed by the dissonance, I put out my best effort to hear the music and ignore the noise of voices, in a futile attempt to align my own to the melody played by the master musician. I wondered if he was as annoyed as I was by the musical carnage that was happening in the pews (my own voice, of course, being as much a culprit as everyone else’s!). But, he kept playing and playing, seemingly unperturbed by the discordant blare. His eyes were closed and his determined face like a flint, fully absorbed in hearing the inaudible music echoing through his mind and heart, music that originated in an altogether different realm. His violin was an open vessel, both receiving and pouring out the cascades of heavenly rivers. Undistracted by the well-intentioned din, his whole being as well as his violin was an irresistible invitation to join him in hearing and responding to the song from the Other place. As the final chords were being played, the crowd at last seemed to catch up, ending the piece with breathtaking harmony. I felt like both laughing and crying. So often in life I get perturbed by the dissonance I see and hear all around me (and most frequently inside me). I know the tune, I hear the song, and I am sooo mad at everyone who is singing it off key! But, if instead of being mad, I chose to ignore the noise and determine to keep hearing the music, keep responding to the Master Musician, and keep surrendering my violin to His music, my life too may become an irresistible invitation to join in listening and hearing, singing and responding to the great Maestro Himself.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tia kicked Caleb in the face today. His bruising is quite evident and it pains me to see one of my children hurting the other in such a violent way. Today they have suffered through a long and boring swearing-in ceremony as I became an adopted citizen of the United States and I can understand that they were at their wits end and quite on edge - ticking time-bombs waiting to explode. On the way home in the car, Caleb was desperately annoying and provocative and part of me empathizes with Tia for wanting to put a boundary on his inability to stop this irritating squealing and “in your face” squirming by pounding some sense into him! After we arrived home, I actually went into our bedroom to give myself a break from it all or I would have been dangerously close to punching him in the eye myself. When I walked out, the above mentioned crime of physical hostility had already occurred, Tia was banished into the study and Caleb was sitting on the family room floor in a puddle of self-pity, fishing for some empathy from me. I had none. I am not excusing Tia’s lack of self-control, I am just seeing how in many instances both the perpetrator and the victim have a part in the outbreak. I don’t know what we need to do to help Tia control her strength except, maybe, explaining to her that she is just like her mother She came to me later with her peace offerings and said how she prayed for Caleb and suggested we put an ice-pack on his face. I responded with a statement that what would really count in my eyes and Caleb’s (literally!)would be for her to stop fist-fighting her way through life and adopt a more constructive way of resolving conflict. Later I asked Caleb what he thought God wanted him to learn from this. What he would do differently if similar situation presented itself in the future (as we know it will). He bowed his head for a few moments and said,
God said nothing. I can’t think as long as my eye and face hurts.
That was a fair statement. In fact, part of me was shocked by his perception, awareness of limitations and, most of all, moral and spiritual honesty. We can’t think clearly when we are in pain. We can’t hear what God is saying when we are hurting as a result of somebody’s out of control behavior. We need to wait. Rest. Recover perspective. Then I asked him what he thought should be her punishment. (He asked the same question himself soon after the incident happened and we never addressed this aspect of execution of justice). He stopped for a second and said,
I already told you, I can’t think. I am in pain. I'll let you guys decide what would be fair.
I was taken aback by his implicit trust and surrender. He knew he was in pain. He knew his judgment was clouded as a result. So, he entrusted the judgment to us. He knows us well enough to believe that we would be more objective and fair in meeting out justice than he could be under the circumstances. How mature is that?!!!!! I think this is what Jesus meant when He said we need to become like little children. I need to let this lesson penetrate my mind and heart and dominate my decisions when I am in pain. When I hurt and want the justice executed quickly and preferably with some pain imposed on the offending party so they get to experience how it feels to hurt. Can I surrender my right to judge and my demand for the execution of justice to the all-knowing, all-loving God the Father and rest my case in His gracious, righteous and just hand? Or do I cling to my pain and proceed with execution of my justice by choking off life out of my opponent – no negotiation, no lessons and most importantly no life of the Spirit of God among us?