Friday, November 26, 2010

Overflowing with Hope

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving. There were seven of us around the table. We ranged in age from thirty-three years old to ninety-four years old. We all have a lot to be thankful for. Good health is by far the greatest blessing of all, and we're all in reasonably good health. We all have a steady income that pays the bills, and that's truly a blessing in these troubled times.

In spite of these blessings, it wasn't long before our after-dinner conversation turned to what's wrong with the world. Our country is fighting two wars and - judging by the current news - could be drawn into a third war if North Korea keeps acting up. We talked about the declining dollar, the volatile stock market, the eroding of personal liberty - new airport security procedures being the latest example. We talked about how civilizations throughout history have all eventually failed, and how ours will no doubt fail sooner or later. Will it happen all of a sudden, or will it happen gradually so that we have time to adjust and prepare? How do you prepare for such a thing? Is it even possible to prepare for it? I don't know about everybody else, but I got up from the table feeling a little bit uneasy.

I had a sleepless spell during the middle of last night and found myself replaying our dinner table conversation. My uneasiness turned to remorse. Why didn't I inject some hope and optimism into that conversation? Surely that should be the role of the elder members of a family - putting things in perspective and sharing hope for the future with the younger ones who will still be here after we, the elders, have exited the stage of life. Christians, of all people, have reason to hope.  Why did I fail to offer some hope for the future? All I could do as I lay in bed pondering all this was to confess my weakness to God, ask for forgiveness and the strength and wisdom to do better.

Most mornings at about ten o'clock, I'm sitting at the dining room table with the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. This morning, as usual, I turned to the Daily Office Lectionary in the back of the prayer book to see the Bible readings for today. When I turned to the reading in Romans, I was amazed - not for the first time - at how the Bible speaks to our needs. It so often tells me what I need to hear when I need to hear it.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

That's the wonderful thing about God - he's not stingy! He wants us to "overflow with hope." I like the idea of overflowing with hope. I'm not proud to admit that my hope is sometimes so puny that it just barely keeps me hanging on by the skin of my teeth. But I don't believe  puny hope comes from the Holy Spirit. Puny hope is just me, trying to prop myself up and not doing a very good job of it. I think I'm going to give up my puny hope and trust God for that overflowing hope that comes from the power of the Holy Spirit - hope that will overflow to the younger members of my family - including the new grandbaby who is on the way and will be at the table with us next Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What is a Masterpiece Anyway?

I love words. A particular word may pop up often in something I'm reading or something I'm watching on TV - or even in conversation. Then I start to chew on the word like a dog chews on a bone. If I chew long enough, I usually find that there's more to the word than I first thought. Sometimes I find that there's more to it than the dictionary has to say about it.

Take the word "masterpiece." A masterpiece is one of the very best of whatever it is. It is an example of unusual excellence. A masterpiece of any type - whether art, music, literature, or any other category - cannot exist without a value system. What a heavy metal rock star considers a masterpiece of music may have no value at all for me. In order for it to be a masterpiece to this rock star and other rock music fans, they must have a value system by which they judge music. There must be a reason why they consider this particular piece to be a masterpiece over and above other pieces.

This sparks some questions in my mind. Are there perhaps two kinds of masterpieces - general and specialized? A general masterpiece would be one that is immediately recognized by most of the general population. A specialized masterpiece would be one that can't be appreciated unless the viewer has a certain specialized education. Does this make sense? An engineer may design a superb industrial valve. He and his colleagues may consider it a masterpiece. I could stare at it all day and never see anything but - at best - an interesting-looking hunk of metal. If the engineer explains what this valve can do and suggests that it could somehow be of benefit to me, I may see it in a different light. I may develop a sincere appreciation for it, but I don't believe I would think of it as a masterpiece. It's just too specialized.

When I first laid eyes on Caravaggio's painting of Christ being taken down from the cross, I knew instantly that I was beholding a masterpiece. I will always remember exactly how I felt when this painting caught my attention at the Vatican exhibit at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans. No one had to explain it to me. The apostle who stares out of that painting into the eyes of the observer, stared into the depths of my soul and said, "You see, he suffers this for you." This beautiful painting was huge. Am I exaggerating to say it was eight or ten feel tall and at least half that wide? I don't know - but it was big. Its figures seemed to come alive, and I was transported to the foot of the cross. I felt at least some of the sorrow, disappointment, and confusion those men and women felt as they cradled Christ's lifeless body.

After all is said and done, maybe a masterpiece is something that changes you in some way. The change may be small or it may be profound; but if the thing is a masterpiece, you will never be quite the same.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Back to the Barn

I'd rather do barn work than house work. I can't explain why. The barn work is not any easier. There's just something about a barn. It has a friendly, homey atmosphere, and that's where I spent this morning.

I gave all three horses a thorough grooming - for the first time since my knee surgery.  They really need a good bath, but I'm not sure I'm up to that yet.  I've decided this knee surgery was a good thing after all.  My recovery is coming along, and I'm getting back to doing some of the things I used to enjoy before my knees got so bad I was always looking for a place to sit down.

Grooming a horse is a satisfying thing because a horse likes being groomed.  As much as I love dogs and cats, I can't say that I ever got the feeling that they enjoy being groomed.  The dogs I've had were never the least bit cooperative when I got out the grooming tools.  And Teche, our cat, will endure being brushed for just so long before he lets you know he's had enough. 

Horses - like people - are built differently.  Tesoro has a skimpy mane, but a thick tail.  Rocky has a long luxurious mane and a not-so-thick tail while Fay's mane and tail are about the same thickness.

Tesoro stands patiently while I brush him, even leaning into the brush somtimes as if to say it's OK for me to brush a little harder.   Rocky's mane is so long it's prone to getting knots and tangles.  Sometimes getting them all brushed out is quite a challenge. 

Both the boys stand pretty still while they're being groomed.  It's another story with Fay.  Fay is the most curious of the three.  She's got to know what's going on, and sometimes that requires changing position.  If she hears a boat passing on the bayou, she must look in that direction.  If she catches a glimpse of the kids across the street jumping on their trampoline, she's got to turn so she can see.  A top-notch horse trainer would say that I shouldn't put up with her moving around, and maybe I shouldn't.  But it's due to curiousity and not for any malicious purpose, so I move with her.  I'm as curious as she is. 

When the grooming was finished, I put hay in the outside racks and turned the horses out in the pasture.  Then I filled the sink in the barn aisle with hot soapy water and let the grooming brushes and tools soak while I cleaned stalls.  Then it was back to the sink to rinse the brushes.  I set them on a stool in the sun to dry.  I don't want to give the impression that I clean grooming tools daily.  I don't clean them often enough, so it was a job that was long overdue.

Jerry took the box fans out of the stalls so we can clean them and store them for the winter.  In the summer, when it's 98 degrees, the horses appreciate a little breeze in their stalls.  Well, Rocky and Fay appreciate it.  Tesoro tolerates it, but he lets you know he doesn't like that darn fan by snorting and going to a corner of the stall that doesn't get too much of the breeze from the fan.

Spiders love the barn.  They think we built it for them.  I spent some time brushing down their cobwebs with a broom.  I hate spiders!  I just can't think of anything useful about a spider.  OK, I guess they snare a few mosquitos in their webs - but not enough to put up with cobwebs all over the place.  A wren perched on a rafter and fussed at me while brushed down the cobwebs.  If it was spring, I'd think she must have a nest somewhere in the barn and was afraid it would be knocked down with the cobwebs.   But do wrens nest in the autumn?  I don't know. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Timely Thoughts

Most people have an opinion about the fact that our year is divided between Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time. It seems to me that, although a few people don't care one way or the other, most people have a definite preference for one or the other.

I prefer Standard Time. There's something dishonest about Daylight Savings Time. Noon is when the sun is highest in the sky, and calling noon one o'clock in the afternoon is lying - plain and simple. I'm sure there are all sorts of other ways that we humans lie to ourselves for convenience sake - but I'll save them for future posts.

I'm old enough to remember when Daylight Savings Time wasn't a given.  Various forms of daylight time had apparently been tried on a haphazard basis, making The Uniform Time Act of 1966 necessary. It didn't require anyone to observe Daylight Savings Time; but it said that those who want to observe it must all observe it uniformly. Everybody had to change at the same time. That makes sense. Uniformity would have prevented a summer of chaos and confusion in the area of northern Florida where I grew up.

I don't remember the exact year, but it must have been in the 1950s, before the Uniform Time Act was passed. We lived in the rural county - between the city and the Air Force base. One summer the city and the Air Force base went on Daylight Savings Time while the county stayed on Standard Time. This, of course, meant that if you lived in the county and had an appointment in the city, your appointment would be an hour later than what the watch on your arm said. The same thing was true if you lived in the county and had business on the Air Force base.

On the other hand, if you lived in the city or on the Air Force base and had an appointment in the county, your appointment was an hour earlier than the hour your watch displayed. I was just a child at the time, but I remember that the grown-ups grumbled all summer about the confusion. People were always arriving early or late for appointments.

Thank goodness things are more uniform now. Well, sort of. Hawaii and Arizona choose to stay on Standard Time year round even now. Well, almost. The Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona does observe Daylight Savings Time. That's surprising. I would have thought the Native Americans were so in tune with nature that they would be even more repelled by Daylight Savings Time than I am. Sometimes my logic just doesn't hold up.

Of course, modern humans are not the first to tinker with time. The Romans, with their sundial system, couldn't even count on an hour having sixty minutes. The time from sunrise to sunset was divided by twelve, and the time from sunset to sunrise was also divided by twelve; so there were twenty-four hours in a day for the Romans just like there are for us. But in the summer - when there is more daylight than dark - an hour could have as many as seventy-five minutes while an hour during the night could have as little as forty-four minutes. Of course, in the winter when the darkness lasts longer then the daylight, the night hours were longer than the day hours. Comprende? If you want to know more about Roman time-keeping, you can check it out here All I can say is it's surprising that Romans ever got anywhere on time. Maybe they didn't.

All this rambling aside, I'm glad to be back on Standard Time. My body is more in tune with Standard Time, and I find it easier to get up in the morning. My apologies to those of you who prefer Daylight Savings Time.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rocky's Journal - Entry 3

I had a rough weekend.  I've just now recovered enough to write about it.  We missed our Saturday evening feed and our Sunday morning feed.  And - to add insult to injury - we had to spend the night in the triangle pasture.  We've been in the triangle for daytime grazing many times, but this was the first time we ever spent the night over there.  I don't like the triangle at night.  That wooded fence line gives me the creeps.  Anything could be lurking there, just waiting to spring on you - a lion, a tiger, or - more likely, since this is Louisiana - a slimy alligator.

All this trouble and hardship started because of the improvements they're doing on the barn.  Here's a news flash for you - barns are for the convenience of people, not horses.  The people around here didn't like it that it gets muddy in front of the stall doors when it rains.  They can't stand getting mud on their feet.  Of course, mud never bothered any self-respecting horse, but people are persnickety.  So they decided to add on to the overhang above the stall doors.  This involved a lot of beating and banging, welding, setting up scaffolding, moving material in and out of the gates.  They figured we would be in the way in the barn pasture so they decided to lead us over to the triangle.

Going to the triangle means we have to walk across the unfenced backyard.  They always lead Tesoro over to the triangle first.  Then they lead me and Fay over there.  Tesoro always behaves perfectly when they lead him to the triangle.  He ambles across the backyard with his head held high like he's parading in front of a panel of judges.  I think he does it just to make me and Fay look bad. 

So anyway - Saint Tesoro was already in the triangle when they got me and Fay out of our stalls.  I don't remember exactly why or how things got rowdy, but it was Fay's fault.  She was all nervous and started dancing around and going in circles.  And any time Fay gets nervous, I do, too.  I mean - if she's nervous, there must be a reason.  And if there's a reason, shouldn't I get nervous, too?  Then too, it was cool and crisp and we felt kind of frisky.  So we danced and circled all the way across the back yard.  Our people don't like that kind of behavior.  I don't know why it bothers them so much.  It's not like we're trying to run away from them.  But they don't like it. 

We enjoyed grazing all day Saturday in the triangle.  When it was time to go back to the barn in the evening for supper, we all waited at the gate - like we always do.  But nobody came to lead us back to the barn.  Just before dark, they came on the tractor with the bucket loaded with hay.  Jerry threw the bales of hay over the fence for us to eat.  He and Judy talked about how rowdy we had been that morning and said they had decided to let us spend the night in the triangle so they wouldn't have to lead us back the next morning.

I couldn't believe my ears!  Hay is OK, grass is better, but feed is out-of-this-world good!  And soon as they said we were spending the night in the triangle, I knew there wasn't going to be any feed.

It was a miserable night.  Tesoro read me the riot act.  He said he was having to miss his feed because I misbehaved.  I tried to tell him it was all Fay's fault, but he wouldn't listen.  He has a crush on Fay and doesn't think she can ever do anything wrong.  And Fay's lips were sealed.  She wouldn't say a word in my defense.  So I had a pretty rough night what with Tesoro fussing at me and the scary shadows and sounds coming from the fence line.  I sure was glad to see the sun rise Sunday morning.

Well, the overhang extension is all done now except for a few finishing touches.  We're back in the barn pasture - getting our morning and evening feed.  And to think - all that hoopla just to keep people from getting their dainty little feet muddy!