So, I have been back at my house after the trip to Armenia for about 28 hours. In the first 18 hours after my return I had made two yeast-based dough recipes (two pizzas--of which three of us ate 1 1/4 for dinner and then the rest for lunch the next day) and some rolls/baguettes that we ended up using for dinner that included some steak sandwich meat, some pepper from the CSA, some tomatoes from the CSA, some garlic grown by my son, and some cheese from Hawthorne Valley. That was an awesome way to begin my time back in the US.
At exactly 18 hours after my return to my house, I was st church practicing with the worship band at St. Pius X. That is another thing that I really enjoy and even though I don't play very much during the week, I'd been working on a melody before I left and I missed playing anything at all during the week I was in Armenia. Heard lots of music and brought home a zurna for my 16 year old (who has already begun to figure it out), but I digress. The main thing is to comment on how the baking of 2 yeast breads (and buying 5 packets of yeast when I went to the grocery store this morning) relates to my spiritual well-being.
Well, it relates in a couple of ways. The very first is that I decided not to run this morning. There are a lot of reasons that I didn't run this morning. But one was to make sure that I baked my first non-pizza bread on day one back in the US. Baking bread is central to my life.
Then, when I heard the first reading from 2 Kings, I honestly don't recall ever hearing it before. It is about a man bringing 20 loaves of barley bread to Elisha to feed a group of 100. The symbolism of feeding a crowd that is perceived to be too large with a relatively small amount of resources made me immediately think of a number of New Testament stories. And, sure enough John 6:1-15 is the story of Jesus feeding thousands with the five loaves and too fishes.
I think I'll spend a number of days commenting on it as I noted lots of points about the readings when we were done at church.
But let me begin with one thing--God always seems to find a way to communicate with me just when I need it. I was away from easy access to my spirituality for a week (although I did blog a little, speak with my colleague Byron at length about religion, and made a strong impression about my interest in religion on at least some of the students I taught). But then I get home and am hungry for a message. Yes, it is just coincidence in some ways that the day after my return happened to be the seventeenth Sunday in ordinary time in which all Catholic churches around the world read these two readings (along with a piece of the letter from Paul to the Ephesians which is also interesting). The messages I'll talk about later. But the chance to play and hear a homily built around a story that is linked to a topic that is so central to my day to day existence when I am home (and I enjoyed multiple types of bread while in Armenia including an olive roll, lavash, numerous pastries, and others), made it easy for me for the messages to come today.
Yesterday I mentioned the story of Noah briefly in the
context of being within site of Mt Ararat.In the time since, at the end of a very long day yesterday, when I was
back at the hotel after a roundabout walk after a late dinner of goat cheese
salad (goat cheese encrusted with pistachio, greens, and grapefruit) and
musaka, I went back and reread the story of Noah.Really read it.A few things made an impression on me to
First, in the Bible it is shown as a typical
when I read it carefully it was clear that like many traditional stories it had
a nearly lyrical quality.Not when it
was talking about the wickedness of man, but when it talked about who Noah was
supposed to bring with him.Repeated
references to animals, birds, and creeping things is one great example.There are other places where there is some
sort of repetition.It gives the story a
feel for how it would be easy to share in an oral form, which at some point
before it was written down it surely was.
Second, while the first reference to animals talks about
taking them two-by-two and the last reference to animals talks about taking
them two-by-two,chapter 7 verse 2
actually talks about seven pairs of all clean animals and a pair of animals
that are not clean.It is almost as if
when the seventh chapter was written or translated there was something
different in mind than when the sixth chapter was written or translated.But even later in the seventh chapter it was
back to two-by-two.So, I see this as an
interesting mystery of why there was a different expression.
It is also interesting to see how the Lord shut Noah
in.My image had always been Noah and
his sons shutting the “door” to the ark.But the Lord shutting Noah in gives a sense of finality and security to
the whole thing that might not be there if Noah and his sons had been
responsible for themselves.
Two final thoughts.First, there are many numbers. Numbers of animals.Numbers of years Noah is old.Number of days till the flood and of the
flood.The month and day of certain
events.It gives a sense of precision
that is interesting and I find it interesting given that for a time every
creative writing I did began with a date.
Second, in the process of reaching reading about the
covenant that God made with Noah and his sons, there is something lyrical about
part of the promise.“While the earth
remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease.”It reads sort of like
Ecclesiastes where we read about a time for this and a time for that.Full of contrasts.A sign that the world is supposed to be full
of contrasts and that contrasts are part of the natural rhythm of life.
Even in my time in Yerevan I have experienced the contrasts
of hot and cold, not many people being up when I run in the morning at 7 AM and
many people at 10:30 PM, the heat of the day and the cooler evenings.The pressures of work and the amazing
experience of learning about my colleagues.The many, many blessings that I have received.
It has been a while since I’ve written a personal blog
entry. Why? I have been busy. Busy at work.
Busy at home. Busy getting ready
to travel and then traveling. And, now,
on Wednesday 25 July 2012, I am writing from Yerevan, Armenia where I am
lecturing for the week at the American University of Armenia. Where from the window of the office I’m using
when I’m not lecturing I can see Mount Ararat.
Where I haven’t learned much Armenian yet, but I have learned a few
important customs and I have begun to learn my way around.
The first day or two I posted about how interesting the
music in the Republic Square was—In the Mood at 11 PM with lots of people
(including some young kids) dancing. Then
I posted about my first meal.
Since then, I’ve had a wonderful first dinner including
multiple types of local cheeses and other traditional Armenian food. On the second day I managed to get myself
from my hotel to the office all alone.
Quite a walk and a lot of uphill.
My colleagues tell me we are at 900m altitude, so that affects things a
Then yesterday we went to the park for lunch. So far, I’ve paid no more than $4 for lunch
and had an excellent salad and an olive roll the one day and a chicken sandwich
on a lavash and a mango juice the second day.
For dinner the second day, I ate alone at an Italian café, and had a
caprese with mozzarella that was so soft and tasty it was amazing and had incredibly
flavorful tomatoes. Then a hot sandwich
with a somewhat spicy salami and “Dutch cheese” alone with what I could only
describe as a cole slaw with a primarily vinegar liquid. Also a pepsi and a ricotta cake (although I
would have called it a ricotta pie). All
of that or under $15 with tip.
Amazing. Although the waitress
liked to correct each time she thought I mispronounced something. Then, I managed to shop for water in a
grocery store to restock my hotel room with bottled water. 12 half liter bottles for about $3.
While there, it was 9:45 PM (I ate late since I lecture from
5-8 PM and then spent some time catching up on emails before going to
dinner). I was again surprised by the
presence of young kids, although my colleagues tell me that life in the evening
starts late. Anyway, in this Italian
café I heard a “muzak” version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love
You”. Seemed a bit out of place, but
This morning I got in my first run. I went from the hotel to a point a bit past
the American University of Armenia and then came back running on Muskovian St
and whatever it turns into going around the outside of the downtown area of the
city. A nice 5 miles that after three
days with no running and a lot of sitting felt really nice. Took my legs a bit of time to really feel
“good” but in the end it was a very nice run.
Then, I drank water like I usually do. Having drunk only 1 liter of water in my
hotel room the entire time since I arrived Sunday night before this morning,
I’ve put down 2 liters today.
While at the café last night I was also thinking about what
I would do if I ever got a second tattoo.
It would be on the other calf to be “symmetric” (although not the same
drawing). But I have to save up for that
one and my ideas may continue to evolve.
Finally, with the view of Ararat, I turned to the
Bible. Genesis 8:4 tells us that “…in
the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the moth, the ark came to rest
upon the Mountains of Ar’arat.” Then
eventually the tops of the mountains were seen.
Today, Mt Ararat is a lovely snow-topped
mountain. It must have been quite
a site. To think about being so close to
a point that is described in the Bible is quite amazing. Stunning actually. It makes me stop and think about the
importance of each bit of history in the Old Testament leading to the arrival of
Jesus, the realization of all the prophecies, and the foundation of the new
covenant. Makes me think about wanting
to visit the Holy Land at some point but that would come much later on.
I have never hunted. I don't necessarily see myself as ever wanting to hunt. But, this morning, while I was running the thought crossed my mind.
I had been running nearly 4 miles (which is the distance at which I ended as I ran past my house upon my return home). I was back in my neighborhood and just tracing a round-about oath to get my full four miles. As I was running up the street two over from my own, I saw the neighborhood fox. I had clearly startled it into action and I watched it run up one street and turn a corner. When I turned the same corner (still a bit behind it), I saw it turning into a neighbor's yard.
What passed through my mind? Well, on a very non-hunting note, "What time is it Mr Fox?" A classic children's game.
What else passed through my mind? First, if I had another person with me, we could surround it and drive it to a place where we could hunt it down. Not that fox would be all that big game or yield that much meat, but this is a direct thought from the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. It occurred to me that what I read in all parts of my life (not just in church) affects what I think. I started thinking about the description in the book of persistence hunting and tried to imagine myself in the wilderness. Not an easy image to conjure up but an interesting one. Maybe running without a shirt at the track has also contributed to my thinking along these lines.
What else passed through my mind? Have seen the move and now read the book, The Hunger Games, I thought about Katniss. While in many ways the themes of the book and the movie are very disturbing, the main character would not have survived were she not a good hunter. I thought about how not quiet I am as a runner sometimes (although sometimes I do startle people when I run quietly up behind them). And I thought about what it would take to combine my running with other skills to survive.
When I realized that I'd spent about a minute thinking about hunting a fox, I just thought to myself, "That is very primal." I don't often think things that I consider completely primal. Things that are aimed only (or at least primarily) at survival. I don't know that I'd be much of a survivalist.
But to bring it all back to a spiritual side (other than thinking of how much my mind was off in a different direction than it usually goes that didn't feel very spiritual at all), I did do a search to find something about hunting in the Bible. In the spirit of my recent read of The Hunger Games, I actually found something about Hagar's and Abraham's son Ishmael. It brings me to Genesis 21:20:
"God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert bowman."
This verse mentions an important person in thd Old Testament becoming an expert bowman. Expert bowman were what the Roman emperor tried to use to kill St. Sebastian. An expert bow-person was the main character in the hunger games. And, if Abraham's one son was an expert bowman, then hunting must be okay with God. A reminder that the interpretation of the commandment about killing really only goes as far as people. (Which isn't to say that being vegetarian or vegan is a bad thing. Just that it isn't Biblically necessary). It is also interesting because he lived alone out in the wilderness. Who was with him? God. And when I run, even when I am in an urban area, sometimes it feels I'm so far from home that I might as well be in the wilderness. And sometimes I am with friends and acquaintances. And sometimes not. But I am never along--God is always with me, wherever I am.
So, just the hunt for a verse to go along with an issue that I thought about after seeing a fox at about 5:10 this morning was enough to get me thinking and wondering and providing me with an important reminder that God is always there to lead me. On my path of (as I mentioned yesterday) trying to be Jesus for the least ones, trying to make sure that my worship is more than just a song, and (as I mentioned earlier this week), trying to make sure take I take my role as prophet as seriously as I take other roles I have.
I had heard the song before. I recognized the melody. I wondered who sang it as the voices and music didn't sound like any of the bands/artists more commonly heard on Shine 95.1 FM in the Baltimore area. So, I waited till the end of the song hoping that they would announce the artist. They did. The group was The Sidewalk Prophets. The song was Live That Way.
I wanted to get some clarification of the lyrics and typed Sidewalk on my phone. What came up as an option to click on before I typed anything else? Not "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein. Not sidewalk chalk that my kids might use to draw. But Sidewalk Prophets. It would not be the most obvious thing, except for the amount of time I spend searching for song lyrics and religious references in general. My iPhone knows me too well.
Why did I find the song so moving? Well, those two lines, and the rest of the song are really about what I wrote about two days ago in some ways. What does it mean to be a prophet? How can I brighten people's lives. A good friend (a true smiler) told me today that I had been a positive influence on the group I run with in Back on My Feet and that whenever I'm ready to pull back a little it is okay. So, maybe I do brighten people's lives, even if I'm not the biggest smiler.
But those two lines--was I Jesus to the least of those? I try to be like Jesus. I don't always do a great job.
Is my worship more than a song? Well, playing music is an important part of my worship experience. And my songs will never be what Sidewalk Prophets or any other artist's on the radio songs are. But I also think that my worship is more than a song. The key question is--for whom. For the kids I teach in Sunday school? Sure. But is there anyone else for whom my worship is more than a song? Can people tell how much I think that my God means to me? And how do I share?
As I think back to yesterday's post and consider how one might turn another away from having a hard face or an obstinate heart, I think of one thing. This one thing occurred to me yesterday during mass when Fr. Ray was making his comments about having a hard face and an obstinate heart. What is it? A smile.
Some people I know are all smiles. Not "cheery and overly optimistic" smiles. Just warm smiles. Smiles that show they are glad to be alive. Smiles that show they appreciate the love of their friends and family. Smiles that show how much they are enjoying themselves.
I am not much of a smiler. I don't know why. I have been told many times that I am way too serious. Perhaps I am. There are sometimes when I can be warm and generous. Happy and optimistic. I have no problems sharing my thoughts. I have not problems being a listener. I have no problems commenting on whatever another person amy need a comment on. What I have difficulty with sometimes is the ability to show the emotion of happiness for someone else. Or that I am happy.
It is interesting to ponder why. I don't have any good answers. What I know is that maybe if I could do it more, I could help to make others happier too. I share my happiness most times just by doing. What makes me happy is doing. Doing what is right. Doing what is productive. Perhaps that is how I am supposed to share my happiness and the importance and security that I get with the presence of God in my life.
Today is the fourteenth Sunday in ordinary time in the Catholic church. The first reading was from the book of Ezekiel. It was so short that if you were not paying attention you could easily have missed it. It was just four verses. Chapter 2. Verses 2-5. Here is is from the NABRE:
As the LORD spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard the one who was speaking say to me: Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD! And whether they heed or resist--for they are a rebellious house-- they shall know that a prophet has been among them.
Can I relate the 2:2-5 to much of anything in my life? Perhaps the time I hope to run in the 20 mile race this Labor Day weekend, as long as the weather is cool and crisp and not the dreadfully hot weather we have had the past couple days. But whether the 2:2-5 means anything to me or not, the words of Father Ray really caught my attention.
FIrst, he pointed out the number of problems in the world that arise form people being hard of face and obstinate of heart. It is interesting because the more common expression is "harden not your heart" not "harden not your face". And I had to think about what obstinate exactly meant. But Father Ray put it quite simply--people who refuse to acknowledge or problem or refuse to let themselves feel compassion. No matter what a person's political persuasion, the first step in solving any problem (whether one's own or the world's) is to acknowledge that there is one and to acknowledge that there might be a solution. We can debate the solution, of course. But recognizing the problem and allowing for compassion will often go a long way.
Even more hitting home for me was how Father Ray directed us to think of the last line. It was not just aimed at Ezekiel. It was not just a foretelling of Jesus Christ. It is aimed at each of us. Each of us has the role of being a prophet and spreading God's word.
It is with verses like this that I struggle. What does that mean? Is helping others to share God's word as a musician enough? Is teaching Sunday school enough? Is conversing with people who want to talk religion enough? Is this blog enough? Or is there more? And what could it be?
I don't know. But I do know how important it is to me to explore the word of God, to try to comprehend the word of God, and to share the word of God. Even if it does all come in small steps. And today's homily was a good reminder.
I have been busy this week, so I have not had a chance to write much. Here are a few random thoughts.
(1) My family really missed home cooking. We have enjoyed it very much ever since geting our power back. We really take it for granted.
(2) Running really far in the heat takes a lot out of a person--at least me. I'm not sure I'm made for distances in the heat.
(3) I enjoyed going to the movies with Sherry on a whim on Friday night. She thought the auto service center at Sears was open later than it was. As a result, we ended up near a movie theater with nothing to do. Just sitting in the AC for a while was fun.
(4) I was surprised by the movie we saw. 3D technology has come a long way since the red/green glasses of the 1980's.
(5) The movie was about Katy Perry. It was actually an interesting story. I saw a tattoo on her arm that I could not figure out. It was easy to find information on the web.
(6) A lot of people notice my tattoo. My wife commented on why a relatively shy person would draw so much attention to themselves. The tattoo is not about drawing attention. It is about meaning. The attention is an unintended consequence I am willing to deal with.
(7) Even around Lake Montebello yesterday (I ran 4 laps around the 1.35 mile path) there was a lot less talking about people who were walking than I normally observe.
They say this week the extreme heat will let up. Let us hope.
More than a week since my last entry. Big reason why--there were five days when I could not access the internet at home. Why? Power outage that lasted from late Friday night until yesterday (Wednesday) evening. One storm that was not anticipated to be as large as it was caused a major inconvenience in many people's lives.
Yesterday morning when at Back on My Feet after reciting the Serenity Prayer, a friend said, "I bet you have been reciting that a lot in the past week." To a degree, the answer was yes as we tried to just accept what life had brought us. To a degree however, I had completely failed to "accept what I cannot change." Sometimes it was very hard. Especially because in this case, unlike last fall after hurricane Irene, we really didn't know where the cause of our neighborhood's issues was and the weather was so much hotter.
In any case, we can now look ahead.
A few other things...
Nice day with family yesterday. My kids and my sister's kids had not seen each other since last year. It was great. My older nephew said "See you at Thanksgiving." I hope it is sooner.
Starting from last Saturday morning, this is morning #6. I've only run on two. That is a definite advantage of not training for a fall marathon. I feel only vaguely guilty. I could have run this morning but given a choice between a little more sleep in my own bed in an air-conditioned room for the first time in nearly a week or a few miles out on the road with the temp being 80 degrees before 5 AM, I chose the extra rest. Starting tomorrow, things have to get back into a pattern, but I decided to give my body one more day. I don't think it is a bad decision, but I'm sure it is not a decision I would have made a year ago or if I was training for a fall marathon.
Back to cooking.backing at home today.
Life is good.
And, I am thankful to God for my blessings--a couple kids died at a campground when a tree fell on their tent during the storm. The State of Maryland has had several heat related deaths. A neighbor still has a tree on her porch roof. While we have spent way more money than I ever would have hoped on food out in the past several days, my family is safe and sound with a house no worse for the wear. Praise God!