Archives for February 2016

Balance & the Cow Yoga Calendar

Balance?

What the yoga cow calendar teaches

I should’ve known 2016 was not off to a good start when the picture for January on my new calendar — the one with cows doing yoga — was subtitled Balance. Uh oh. What was going to happen in January that would require me to focus on balance?

Here’s a summation of 2016 up to the fateful day. New Year’s Day: restful. January 2: late Christmas family shindig. January 3: sewage flood.

Despite paying half a dozen plumbers, we periodically have small sewage floods. The January 3 flood was not small. The contractor said we needed to refloor the entire house. My sainted husband, who laid the wood laminate flooring by hand not once, but in some sections, two or three times due to other flooding events, was crushed.

Because these floods always, always, always happen at night and on a weekend or a holiday (this one occurred on a Sunday) — we spent the night in a hotel. The next night we moved our bed into the back living room and slept fitfully to the sound of 11 dehumidifiers in a 1,650-square-foot space.

The third night we considered sleeping in our tent in near-freezing temperatures to escape the soul-crushing noise, but there was only one problem: Did we still own a tent? If so, was it in the storage building? And did we really want to explore that doohickey in the dark? Finding the tent might mean standing on unstable boxes of the kids’ old toys perched between the lawnmower and the tubs of Christmas decorations, and frankly, might require more balance than either of us wanted to attempt. We stayed inside and used earbuds.

Every picture of bovine yogis in the calendar makes me smile. I’ve been doing yoga long enough to know what poses the cows were doing. Balance, yoga-style, is simply getting into an awkward position and breathing. Then sinking deeper while still breathing.

Our yoga class is full of people who pretend not to notice when one of us falls out of a pose. The day I’d been trapped indoors for 12-plus hours with dehumidifiers, I fell a lot during yoga. By the end of the class I had regained some measure of balance. In fact, I’ve found that how well I balance is usually a pretty good indicator of how I’m actually doing. It’s like a thermometer for my true emotional state. If I can balance fairly decently, then I’m OK. If I can’t, well, then I might have been faking my smile more than I realized.

In the WACOAN magazine, we run a feature each month called “Keeping Balance,” in which we interview working moms. When we ask them how they keep balanced, most of them admit they don’t, at least not in the idealized way society asks women to balance: be sexy, be smart, exhibit endless patience with fussy children or exasperated teens, set goals and achieve them at work, hold your liquor, converse wittily on every binge-worthy pop culture phenomenon, care deeply about world events and local causes, pray and act and take care of yourself and everybody else and make sure your clothes and makeup and hairstyle reflect fashionable yet financially sound lifestyle choices. These women know better. They do the best they can.

Sometimes our interviewees recognize they are living in a season of imbalance. Perhaps they have a new baby bringing all sorts of disorder to what used to be an organized daily routine. Sometimes these women choose to let something go, like basic nutrition or sleep, to achieve career goals. All of them have sacrificed something here or there (or possibly here and there).

Because that, friends, is what balance looks like. It’s not a seesaw coming into equilibrium. It’s more like playing a game of Freeze in which the music suddenly stops and you have to hold the strange pose in which you find yourself. And breathe.

While our house was torn up and remade, I was unbalanced. My dresser was in the garage, and my shoes were on the piano bench. At one point I had to crawl over furniture to find the drawer in which I’d stashed my journal.

The upside of the chaos inside my domicile was I didn’t have to clean it. That’s one area in which I remain unbalanced because I don’t care enough to care. I would rather walk a marathon on tiptoe than clean my house. With workers coming and going, with flooring going and coming, with trimming and painting, sweeping was pointless. Steaming with my fancy mop: laughable. There was no balance to keep. There was simply dwelling in an awkward situation and continuing to breathe.

And, of course, not missing a yoga class.

P.S. Our house is almost done.

T.S. Eliot and gravity

I can’t say how it happened exactly. It was one of those incredibly rare days when I could not get out of bed. Friends, even when I’m sick, as I was all last week, I usually rise early. I can count on one hand the number of times I couldn’t get out of bed because I was down. One of them happened a couple of months ago.

Gravity felt exceptionally heavy. I couldn’t stop crying. Starving but too hungry to sit up.

HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME.

I tried all my favorite podcasts. Neither the deep nor the shallow moved me. Listened to prayers from the Divine Office—nothing. Friends texted. My fingers wouldn’t work to text back.

Then I stumbled upon a 45-minute interview with Christopher Ricks, who with Jim McCue, edited “T.S. Eliot: The Poems” (vol. 1 and 2). The more quotes from Eliot’s poetry I heard, the lighter I felt. I did not want to be moved, yet they moved me.

HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME.

By the time the interview was wrapping up, I was up. Washing lettuce for lunch. Gravity lessened its hold.

HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME.

I wouldn’t even say I always like T.S. Eliot. But his words are there, everywhere, like gravity is there, moving the unmovable.

HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME.

HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME.

Where’s that peach?

 

(For more on T.S. Eliot, I recommend Glynn Young’s article about encountering Ricks and McCue discussing Eliot and their two-volume set at the British Library.)

Darkness & Lent

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A friend recently recommended Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” I finished it in about a day and a half. All I can say is this: More, please. More lunar Christianity (her phrase, not mine).

The cover shows bare trees bathed in moonlight. There is a white owl in one of the branches and a full moon in the right top corner. On the ground, smatterings of what I think are red poppies. It was all I could do to not break into a chorus of “Into the Woods” (“The light is getting dimmer / I think I see a glimmer.”)

One thing Taylor does in her book is to point out many instances in the Bible in which God shows up in the darkness. While thinking I should probably pull a Monica Sharman and do a word study on the words “dark” and “darkness,” I happened upon these verses in the daily lectionary:

1 Kings 8:10-12
“When the priests left the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the LORD so that the priests could no longer minister because of the cloud, since the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD. Then Solomon said, ‘The LORD intends to dwell in the dark cloud;…'”
The dark cloud is God’s presence; it’s literally the glory of the Lord. It’s so dark and it fills the temple so completely that the priests can’t minister. They can’t do their job—God stuff—because there’s too much God in the room.
Why oh why isn’t someone writing a praise song about this?
These days as I get home late each night from rehearsals for “Into the Woods” and as I still get up early and walk the dogs, I’m getting to see more darkness than usual. This morning there were so many stars out Lower Crabapple. I realized that I could only see them because it’s a new moon.
Lent begins today. A process of gradually lengthening and lightening days as we march past first full moon after the spring equinox to Easter. My life may or may not be any lighter by then. Maybe it will reflect the change in seasons, both liturgical and natural. And if not, I’m now more comfortable walking in the dark.
As Shakespeare said, “Come, night.”

 

from Romeo and Juliet, Scene III, Act II

Come, night, come, Romeo, come, thou day in night;

For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night

Whiter than new snow on a raven’s back.

Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night,

Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night

And pay no worship to the garish sun.

 

William Shakespeare

Monica Sharman’s “Behold the Beauty”

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Monica Sharman, author of “Behold the Beauty,” calls herself a left-brained person who has learned to be a right-brained person. She studied physics at Caltech, the California Institute of Technology. Let’s call that her left-brained side, the side that wanted to write textbooks.

I never did turn into a famous author of science texts, but during my Caltech years I started reading the Bible,” Sharman writes.

Sharman had always loved reading. So much so that she cannot remember not knowing how to read. Once she became a mom, she read to her children, a habit that has stuck even though her boys are big now. Meanwhile, Sharman started to write children’s books, which led to trying what she called “artsy things,” like poetry.

“Now I’m a right-brained person, but I still retain my old nerdy engineer person,” she said.

Sharman approaches Bible reading in unusual ways—some more left-brained, some drawing from the right side. That’s what “Behold the Beauty” is all about.

The inspiration for Sharman’s book was, of course, another book, Karen Swallow Prior’s “Booked,” a memoir told through Prior’s favorite works of literature.

“Because of that book people started reading the classics,” Sharman said. “So what if I did that with the Bible?”

Like Prior, Sharman employs a memoir-like approach to “Behold the Beauty.” The beginning of each chapter is a moment in her life — such as her reading history as a child or her time at Caltech — and the end of each chapter she calls an “invitation.” Each one is a particular way of approaching reading the Bible along with suggested Bible passages.

Memories, invitations, suggestions.

“It’s initially subtle, indirect. If you read the chapter and wonder, ‘What does this have to do with Bible reading?’ that’s intentional. Subtlety shows a certain respect for the reader,” Sharman said.

“Behold the Beauty” started as a Bible study Sharman taught at her church. She called it “a heart approach to Bible reading.”

“I wanted to make it really different,” she said. “I would play music, or we’d act it out.”

Sharman found that in a traditional church group setting, adults were afraid to answer questions, even easy ones.

“One thing you see a lot is they skip the straight observation. They feel like they have to come up with some deep answer,” she said.

But straight observation, Sharman believes, is a valuable tool. It’s one she learned through reading poetry.

“It helps me slow down. It helps me savor the words and notice the words. Sometimes I think, ‘I don’t know what that means, but that is a cool phrase.’ I appreciate the words simply for the beauty,” Sharman said.

One woman who came to Sharman’s Bible study told her that she liked the title “because a lot of churches don’t emphasize beauty in the Bible.”

Slowing down is a discipline Sharman continues to cultivate, especially when reading Christian articles or books or even blogs that contain Scripture.

“They quote a Bible verse, and I think, ‘I already know that,’ so I skip it. I have to back up, reread it. That’s where the slowing down helps,” she said. “A warning light comes on when a familiar passages comes around — let’s see if I can notice something I haven’t noticed before.”

Often the details stand out to Sharman. She mentioned 1 Samuel 6:12, when the ark of the covenant is being returned to Israel on the backs of cows: “Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing as they went; they did not turn to the right or to the left.”

Did you notice anything interesting in that sentence? Sharman did: the lowing.

“Maybe it’s the detail of the sound, ‘lowing as they went.’ I keep laughing every time I read it,” she said. “It’s where poetry and children’s books come together. When I’m reading, I have a picture, and when I read the Bible, I have pictures too. You get the picture of the cows, and then I heard the sound in my head.”

Another way Sharman notices is by doodling or sketching a Bible passage, especially a difficult one.

“It helps, if I come to a confusing part. I can just draw a diagram, kind of like a flow chart. Family trees help. Sometimes I really like diagramming sentences because it can make a confusing sentence more clear,” she said.

Basically, Sharman just likes paper, an obsession she describes in chapter 4. She likes to read on paper, write on paper, sketch or diagram on paper. And she likes to fold paper. Origami.

Paper remembers,” Sharman writes. “Origami is possible because paper has a memory. Every crease remains.”

Sharman says she first found the word “memory” used in conjunction with paper in an origami book.

“That’s what it is—you can’t uncrease a paper. It’s a permanent memory,” she said.

Sometimes Sharman comes to the Bible using what she calls a “filter,” looking at a passage the way a journalist or a movie director might. She has a list of suggested filters in chapter 5. Number 9 on her list is “Discoveries About God.” It’s also the one she says she uses most often.

“Sometimes I’m having a hard time that day, say with a relationship with a friend or a relative. It’s always on my mind. I lose sleep because of it,” Sharman said. “I keep going back to what can I know about God, or what do I need to know right now? How is that going to fit into that relationship problem I’m having?”

In between her introduction to Bible study at Caltech and now, as a wife and mother of three boys, the stories resonate in different ways.

“I’m not the same person I was 15 years ago. The hurts I’ve received and given, all that comes into play every time I come to the Bible,” she said. “It’s like when I first read ‘David Copperfield,’ this friend, [James] Steerforth. I thought, ‘Why are you befriending this guy?’ It was actually annoying. Then when I read it later, I’d had close girl friends for the first time, and I thought, ‘I understand why David [Copperfield] did this, why he pursued and maybe even idolized Steerforth.’”

What Sharman has learned about God through reading the Bible, through paying attention to the details, is the simple truth that God loves her.

To feed my excitement over God’s love for me, and to be more and more convinced of His greatness, I look carefully into the details of His Word,” Sharman writes.

The chapter in which that statement occurs is called “Food Love.” It’s about a time Sharman catered a women’s retreat. She describes what she cooked and how, with loving detail. At one point a mistake turned into a scrumptious dessert. Those 32 attendees might not have realized it, but they were tasting love — love from Sharman, love from God.

 

“Behold the Beauty” is available at Amazon. For those of you who know Dan King, the book is published by Bible Dude Press, a division of Fistbump Media.

Sharman is not the only writer in her family. Her husband, Charles Sharman, is the author of “Through the Bible with my Child.” He is also the inventor of Crossbeams, a building toy and prototyping system for advanced children and adults.

The Sharmans live in Colorado with their three sons.