Monday, September 19, 2011

Canned Words

Words in a jar -- pickled, spiced, or sweetened; preserved to sustain life through the winter months. If I were the canning type, that's what I'd boil up and distill into tidy canning jars. I'd arrange them just-so in a pantry, and not alphabetically, not at all. Words, to my great delight, arrange themselves, thank-you-very-much, and are not usually amenable to snug quarters. They are, however, ready and waiting to be gathered up and poured over any occasion, giving it life and memory and color.
In case you hadn't noticed, I love words. I love dwelling in their chaotic midst, absorbing their flow of energy as they fall out of people's mouths, out of the TV set, out of the radio or a novel or the newspaper. Words swirl around me, or wait quietly to be discovered inside a greeting card, or tumble from my own mouth as I answer the phone.
To capture them and preserve them with the steady hand and the slightly crazed passion of a canning Mom, now that would be wonderful. I'd snip all the warm, nurturing words and boil them down to a thick gravy or soup. Into the jars they'd go, for sustenance on chilly, bereft days.
Spiced words would go into another rack, with generous amounts of color and sparkle to pepper my dialogue when the conversation goes bland.
Into another bevy of glorious Ball Jars, I'd pack in simmered, savory words of Forgiveness; to surround me when I've done wrong, or to pour on the sagging shoulders of someone who needs them desperately.
Delicious words would be in their own category, like so much sweet chocolate -- words like giddy, zenith, savvy, vivid, zephyr,bombast and benevolent....preserved simply for their sheer elegance. These words are to be used sparingly, keeping their rich texture and dizzying impact inside the vortex (another really cool word).
Words of good humor and grace would be gathered and sprinkled with dashes of light and air. These would be tossed generously into every verbal encounter, lingering softly at the edges of each day.
I'd so like to radiate virtue and good upbringing by saying all negative words should stay out of the pot. But I know some of them will get in there, and many will slip unnoticed into the jars. When they spill out -- and spill they will -- I'd have a jar of wit nearby, to absorb the acidity.
Patience would be parlayed, stirred slowly and condensed into phrases like "it's okay," "let's try it again," and "I don't mind waiting." Such phrases would be carried in a portable pantry at all times, as patience is trending at an all-time low.
A few jars of whimsical expressions are a must for any word lover's pantry. Pithy little morsels like "finer than frog's hair," and "the bee's knees". Or "throw me over the fence my coat" (a solid Pennsylvania Dutch combo) and "shut the door, were you born in a barn?" to keep our farming heritage in view.
Jars and jars of comfort to soothe aching hearts, to serve in seasons of grief.
Plenty of sunny words, the kind that float up to the top and land unexpectedly on the crest of someone's stubborn noggin.
At least one jar of pure laughter - the belly shaking, tear making variety - for immediate relief during tense or uncertain times.
Words of contemplation, for those windswept, snow laden days that take your breath away and make you proud to live in a four seasoned climate.
Words. Chopped, boiled down, colorful and comforting inside jars waiting silently on a pantry shelf. Words ready to be called into action, ready to grace the table of winter, ready to spill summertime all over a plate of want. Words to take away the chill, words to stir the memory and warm the aching heart.
Pardon me while I go and fetch my apron, a large stirring spoon, and an adequate (gargantuan) pot.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Waiting for Hope

Hunker down and wait for hope. These are the watery, pastel words on the only canvas I have covered in my entire, non-painting, life.
It was a weekend retreat, 6 years ago -- a silent retreat. The weekend still pulses through my veins as a turning point. Subtle, yet powerful; quiet, yet resonating still.
On the first night during orientation, we ladies were given free clearance to talk and mingle. After that we entered into a time of silent reflection. There was a syllabus, but the structure was fluid: we could paint, draw, hike, journal, and read to our heart's content. We were encouraged to take a blanket out to the lawn at night and watch the stars. Or walk a nearby labyrinth. Or maybe explore a woodsy, hidden path. The point was to become quiet way deep inside, so that we -- I -- could hear God in a new way. It's hard, after all, to hear His whispers amidst the clamor and commotion that is life. Becoming intentionally quiet is, at first, hard work. After some time, though, the silence is nice. For me, the silence was a prelude to hope. All whispery weekend long, I had this notion bubble up inside me, this idea of hope on the horizon. I felt like a child again, waiting for Christmas morning -- the anticipation was tickling my innards, just begging for some tangible expression.
And so I painted.
There, in the dining room, the hostess had placed all kinds of art supplies. At orientation, she had told us art is a wonderful vehicle for articulating our thoughts. "Even if you are not naturally pulled to art, try it!" she enthused. "The action of carrying an idea from your heart to the canvas is a gift. Don't deny yourself this gift."
And so I painted.
Sitting cross-legged in the window seat, overlooking an expanse of lawns, gardens and autumn-adorned trees, I painted the words: Hunker down and wait for hope. Then I took the brush and softened the words with pastel colors. The merging of words and paint, color and texture, had a soothing effect on me. I shared the smallish 8 x 10 watercolor with no one, not even my husband. This was personal and besides, how would I explain the phrase, "hunker down and wait for hope" ? What did it mean, really?
I couldn't possibly know back then, but now I understand. God was preparing me to weather a great and turbulent storm of grief. The little word picture would crystalize what I needed to do, moment by moment.
Hunker down. Wait for hope. For rescue, for relief....for recovery. And in its wake, healing.
During my move from the farm house into the apartment, I found the picture. It's up in the attic at the moment. I'm thinking maybe it's time to give it light and a place of honor on the wall. In the living room, I'm thinking. I guess I'm no longer embarrassed to showcase an amateur piece -- it is a vibrant reminder of God's provision before the storm. And it is a gentle nudging into a place of calm amidst the urgency of living.
Waiting for hope, I've discovered, is very active. It is a continual state of anticipation, a profound sense of trust. Hunkering down, well, that's a posture of being quiet. It's a state of mind where I tuck in and allow Somebody Else to make sense of my day.