Tag Archives: prayer

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Rhythm

Nuzzo's drumset

“I had no idea you were a drummer,” she said. “You seem to me to be too… .” And then she broke off.

“Boring?” I said.

“No,” she replied, “Well …” she hesitated again, “Yes, a little. I don’t mean that in an unkind way. Just, too, well, conservative, grown up.”

“Well, I just play in my church.”

“What kind of church do you have?”

“Lutheran,” I responded.

“Lutheran?” She was dumbstruck. “They have drums in a Lutheran church?”

“Well, they’re not evil,” I said jokingly. “They are just drums.”

So the conversation went until finally she was convinced either that I was not as grown up (was that code for boring?) as I seemed or, at least, that Lutherans had more rhythm than she had ever imagined, if indeed she had happened to think of Lutherans having rhythm, which is, of course, unlikely, as Lutherans are known for a lot things—the catechism, the liturgy, the creeds, the occasional beer and, unquestionably, the piece de resistance, the mother of all rebellions, the big “ninety-five,” that is to say, the Reformation.

ocean-wavesBut all of this got me to thinking about rhythm, more than simply the rhythm of a drum. For the steady rhythm of my drumming, I thought to myself, in some way reflects the rhythm or even rhythms that I try to create for my life.

My wife and I begin our day by reading through the “Bible in a year,” though we don’t do enough per diem reading quite to make it in one year. It usually takes two. We read the old-fashioned sounding King James—it’s just more aesthetically pleasing, to be honest—rather than some more recent rendering. Sometimes, when we’re in the New Testament bit, we will read from the Greek, but not consistently, as we’re often under time constraints. Then eat breakfast. Then walk the dog; then pray. Then feed the dog. Then take a bike ride. Then read; then write. Then go for a jog. Then write some more.

It’s a pretty consistent pattern, a pretty consistent lifestyle. Someone might say it’s boring, or perhaps just grown up. But it’s a rhythm. And in that rhythm, patterns of good habits evolve.

How? You begin your day by listening closely to the words of holy writ that, for all its violent wars, struggles of faith and even “wrath of God” business, contains rich moral lessons that (should) inform your life and (can) inform the very day in which you’re living. And when you go to the next step and actually pray for somebody, even (especially) an enemy—thpraying-handsat wearisome co-worker, irascible interviewer or truculent bank teller—you conceive of them in a different way than when you just think about them, or try not to think about them.

And exercise—need I say anything about that these days? I think everybody knows about that. Now, someone might say, “you’re a writer, so you have all day long to exercise.” That would be true insofar as flexibility of scheduling it goes, but I don’t have all day long. Rather, I have to build it into my schedule like anyone else. I confess, perhaps too freely, that it’s easy for me to use the excuse of “I’m in the writing zone now so I don’t’ have time to exercise today,” when in fact I have to make time to do it, zone or no zone.

Which brings us back to rhythm. We each get a drum to bang on when we get an adult life. Good drummers try very hard to find the right tempo for the right song, and they try to keep the tempo consistent so that the other musicians can concentrate on their roles as music makers. It seems to me that life is like that, too. We must find the right tempo for each song we play, and, like a good drummer, we should try to keep it as consistent as possible. We don’t want to play too loudly or too softly. We don’t want the wrong beat for the wrong song. And, of course, we don’t want to concentrate so much on the tempo or the volume that we don’t have fun making music with those around us.music

Most of all, we have to recognize that we can either just bang on the drum we’re given or we can, indeed, make music, participate in this beautiful thing called life by keeping the beat, our own beat. We can be the different drummer with a good beat for others to walk to. To do that, we need to create the right rhythms in our life. It might mean that we have to get up a bit earlier in the day than we like. It might mean that we have to get into some good habits of exercise. It might mean eating thoughtfully, maybe even taking vitamins, or the like. It might mean—dare I say it in these times of self-indulgence and self-fulfillment and self-development and never-ending selfies on cellphones?—self-denial. But good drummers know that to be good drummers takes practice. And practice is, for the most part, kind of boring.

Ah, that word again. Perhaps that’s what my acquaintance really meant when she found it surprising that I was a drummer; she did, after all, come dangerously close to admitting as much. Boring. But sometimes boring can surprise you. To wit, I am a drummer in a Lutheran church where one can find a mini concert every week, hopefully consistently exclusively nullum praemium quaerentes, sed solam gloriam et voluntatem Dei,…. (“seeking no prize but only the glory and desire of God,” to quote from Luther’s own De Servo Arbitrio ad Erasmum). And perhaps quoting Latin in a blog is boring, too. No, I admit it—it is. Still, even if you don’t really like contemporary Christian music, I doubt you’d say that it is boring, though you might say de gustibus non disputandum—oh no, Latin again! However that may be, here’s hoping you find your life’s true rhythm. And if you do that well, I highly doubt that, when you find it, it will be boring.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Trees and People

I wasn’t going to write a blog about trees and people until I read the news this week. Indeed, this blog is not going to be about trees and people, not really. It’s rather about the way that people are like trees.

DSC_0036The oak is a symbol in Virgil for strength. Indeed, the very word for oak, robur, -oris, is also used for strength in Latin generally. When Aeneas is described as having decided to leave his lover Dido, Queen of Carthage, he resists her stoutly (cum robore) when struck with her bitter objections, which come at him like cold, Alpine blasts of the North Wind. Notably, on that occasion, Aeneas’ oaken roots reach so far into the soil that it is as if they extend to the gates of Hell itself (in Tartara tendit).

But this is not how I want to say that people are like trees. Rather, I want to state something even more obvious. I want to say that people are like trees because each family member is like a limb on a tree and each family is a tree. Some families are oaks, some are pussy willows. But the important thing is that they are trees, with limbs, and they are all vitally connected, with grafts of saplings that form new, strong branches. And that rather obvious thing is the way that trees are like people.family tree

So when I read this week that a member of the terrorist group that is destroying the Middle East killed his mother because she wanted him to disassociate himself from that group, it struck me hard. For I have edited and written my mother’s Curious Autobiography, and through that experience I have appreciated her life even more than I had before I wrote it. 9781480814738_COVER.inddI saw in the writing of her story that it was, in fact, a story that was already written. I was just recording the story that someone else had written. She had written part of it, and God the other part. And that story touched (and if you buy the book, will continue to touch) all those connected to it—those privileged enough to have known her, to have appreciated and learned from her worldview, to have understood that behind her perception of the world lay that of her parents, and behind their view of the world, that of her parents’ parents, and so forth, stretching back generation after generation. That is the story and the origin of the values that supported it—it is what enabled Elaine’s curious life to be what it was, enabled it to have meaning and significance, which it most certainly did.

The values that those who had come before her were trying to pass on were transmitted imperfectly. Sometimes the full impact of those values could be lost, or at least misunderstood. But in the final analysis they were transmitted, even if occasionally they wound up skipping a generation. But they did not go away.

a family headstone

One of my cousins and I once stood in front of our grandparents’ headstones and talked about meaning and significance, values and morality. His view was that he was constructing values from the jumble that he had been handed. My view wasn’t very different in terms of “jumble” or that the values were somehow “handed” (off? over?) to us. The only difference was the verb. I was trying to derive values from what I was given, he was trying to impute values based on what he had been given. We share the same tree, we have inherited the same sap. And our tree is an oak.

But, to change the subject from a tender moment that two cousins once shared to the recent, terrible news, what values could a person inherit that would lead him to kill his own mother in the name of religion? Several times this week I found myself mulling the event over in my mind, contrasting that event with Abram’s obedience when he was instructed to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.

CARAVAGGIO The Sacrifice of Isaac, 1601-02
CARAVAGGIO, The Sacrifice of Isaac, 1601-02

He couldn’t have known that he was doing something that would be a pattern, a harbinger of what God himself would someday do, for God provided a lamb for him from a thicket; Isaac was saved from death by a different kind of sacrifice. But in the case of the young mother in the news story—she was but 35 years old, in one account of the incident that I read—no one came to take her place. There was only a terrorist who, in the name of God—at least what he regards as god—decided that his mother’s desire to escape the juggernaut of the violent religious regime that was coming upon them in Iraq qualified her as a heretic. She merely had decided that what she was hearing, reading, learning, seeing—a blood bath, carnage, destruction, fear mongering, hatred, threats, wholesale executions—these things could not be from God. And she was right.

If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time trying not to kill trees. I try not to do stuff that will hurt the environment. I try to recycle; I avoid printing; I try not to use paper towels unless really necessary; hey, I even bike to work every day so as to minimize my personal use of fossil fuels. But while I’m worried about a real tree in this country, maybe I should be more concerned with the metaphoric arboreal destruction that is going on abroad. A young man killed his mother in the name of God, because she was viewed as heretical. I don’t know what I can do about it except pronounce first, that his mother’s life, like my own mother’s, had significance and meaning.

I don’t know much about her life, but I for one will not let her death simply be a casualty of war. I will proclaim that woman as a kind of martyr, for she bears witness to the fact that the members of this terrorist group must be stopped. We in the West cannot sit idly on our hands while thousands of people, who in a fundamental human sense are our brothers and sisters, are murdered. Some Muslim, some Christian. But either way, they are killed tragically. We can, at the very least, get off our hands, fold them and pray for those folks. And perhaps, before long, western governments can help them. Admitting the destitute as refugees may help for a time, but it will not solve the problem. If that regime continues to capture city upon city and impose radical Islamic law upon the territories acquired, then all that will happen is more people will die or be cowed into submission.

Until the governments act, whether western or Middle Eastern, all we can do is pray, and by praying we can save a different kind of tree than that which provides us with paper towels. And prayer is more than just a little, for God is far more outraged with the death of that mother than we. She was an oak, for she showed robust fortitude, she was courageous in the face of death. Her life had significance, and I pray, it will continue to have significance, for she risked it—or rather lost it—for peace, for hope, and for the love of her son, the very son who killed her. What was her name? We don’t know her name yet. But God does.