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Posts Tagged ‘Reflective Musings’

May Day.JPG

Who hasn’t experienced the pain of saying “Good-Bye” to someone dear—either a separation due to a move, common in our global age, or worst of all the last good-bye we will ever say on earth?

Every loss of a family member has been wrenching for me.  Much of the wrenching occurs inside my soul, invisible to all but the most sensitive people in my life.  Perhaps that is the DNA which I thought would be Scottish, but turned out to be Scandinavian.  My mother kept her grief close to her heart as well, and she was of Scottish-Irish descent.  And we all know how the Vikings invaded those countries in the 9th and 10th centuries.  Anyhow, as “talky” as I can be on social occasions I’m at a loss when trying to express profound emotion verbally.  Spoken words just can’t cut it!

The children pictured above have been close and precious to Joe and me since they were born.  Their Dad, Jason, is a grandson who grew up giving us countless beautiful memories—many of them whimsical and hilarious, and some of them poignant.  Jason, his wife Sandy (whom I count as a friend), and the children (James, Lyla, and Deacon) are moving, from their home nearby in Southern Wisconsin, to Michigan.

Most everyone knows that Wisconsin and Michigan are separated by a “pond”—one of the Great Lakes, namely Lake Michigan.  We will not be a continent or even the entire USA apart.  There will be visits.  But we are a family where, metaphorically speaking, members are attached at the hip with Gorilla Glue.  Life will be different for all of us.

Far more profound is the grief of permanent loss.  I have a family history of longevity, so my grandparents and parents were aged when they died.  (My father lived to 102)  But one family member, George William Longenecker died “young”, at age 69.

For the public life of this man, you can access the following link—one of many pertaining to his life’s work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison:  https://wpt.org/Wisconsin-Gardener/Segments/longenecker-gardens.  Professor Longenecker was a landscape architect and naturalist beginning in the period when he served at UW-Madison with Aldo Leopold.

But to me, this very special man was simply “Uncle Bill”.  His death due to a rare illness, possibly caused by pesticides or other chemicals related to his work with plants and plantings, hit me where I live—as I love most anything that lives, grows from the ground, prowls our wild forests, or flies in our skies.  Uncle Bill was a kindred soul, as were most (probably all!) of my family of origin.  It was just that Uncle Bill left us too soon!

At the time of that loss, I did something out of the ordinary.  I found some poster paints that we had on hand for family craft projects, and spent hours deep into the night painting (or rather trying to paint) birds.

I lost myself and part of my anguish into those birds—realizing that of all Uncle Bill’s areas of expertise, birds were high on the list.  He was known for creating gardens attractive to varieties of birds, an example being acres in the Madison Arboretum bearing his name:  “Longenecker Gardens”.

Painting birds, or anything for that matter, was an unusual thing for me to do because I simply did not paint very often in 1967.  Art was something I absolutely loved viewing, reading the history of, and dreaming about.  But never, never would I seriously paint, I believed.  No talent!

Meanwhile, the fact of losing myself and my grief in color, on paper, planted a seed inspired by Uncle Bill.  The joy of color spilling out, however amateurishly, resonated and kept hounding me until the seed finally sprouted in 2006 and I said, “Who cares about talent?  I’m just going to have fun.”  And I’ve been painting ever since.*

Where am I going, with this ramble?  Thinking of three children who are moving to Michigan, three children who have enjoyed visiting us in our home, three children who have gladdened our hearts beyond expression, I am going straight to the end of our dining room table which currently serves as one of my in-house art studios.

There is a start here.  And I’ll include some birds!

Margaret Longenecker Been — May 1st, 2018

*I can’t resist adding a bit of encouragement, actually opinionated essaying, so please forgive me.  My soapbox message to all and everyone younger than I am is:  “Don’t grow old without a passion.  Don’t grow old without something you LOVE to do and can physically do even when you are ill or beset with body pain.  Don’t go another moment without the solace of a do-able passion to recharge your soul’s battery even when circumstances seem like they are falling apart.”

Of course a relationship with our living Lord Jesus, and ongoing immersion in His Word and prayer are essential at all times.  And God has given us boundless options for creativity, life therapy, and joy—tangible options, things to do with hands, heart, and mind.  Reasons to pop out of bed enthusiastically in the morning, even when it hurts too much to pop out fast!

God has momentarily placed us on a material planet.  He has given us tangible resources to refresh our souls and beautify our brief time on earth as we know it today.  Praise Him! 🙂

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March Walk

I am not referring to the “outdoors” for millions of Americans, that world which is surrounded by cement, concrete, metal, steel, brick and mortar or any other of man’s useful building materials.  Despite the usefulness of these necessities for community living, we can become so acclimated and overwhelmed by them that we are in danger of forgetting there is another “outdoors”—that which God created not simply to provide resources for the above-listed essentials, but specifically to nurture our bodies and souls.

Speaking from personal experience, I must not only bring God’s created world of outdoors in, I must keep it in to remain balanced and whole.  Thus our home is filled with natural treasures:  a variety of sea shells, coral, hunks of quartz and petrified wood, stones and polished agate, jars and bowls filled with chestnuts, fresh flowers blooming in their season, houseplants, and beauty like the above-pictured gleanings of last summer’s dried bounty harvested yesterday—in the prairie just a three minute walk from home.

We bring the outdoors in when we visit wild places, hike or ski through them, or even just view the natural countryside from a car window if that is all we can do.  Exposures to natural and wild beauty can imprint our hearts and minds for a lifetime—renewing and refreshing over the years.  Even though I can only remember from years ago a vacation at the rocky Maine seacoast, or living with the majesty of the Colorado mountains a few miles from my back yard, I am surfeited by theses experiences recalled.

With a vivid and lively imagine we can bring the outdoors in via books that take us anywhere in the world we desire to go!  I am a person most blessed because I have vicariously traveled the world through books.  When I read I am THERE—wherever I have decided to go—and my soul is richer for the trip!

Over 160 years ago, an American whom I love wrote these timeless words:  “Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.”  Throughout the many decades since Henry David Thoreau penned WALDEN and many other writings, Americans have enjoyed God’s gift of nature so wisely preserved by federal, state, and local governments.  But Thoreau also celebrated and wrote about natural creation which can be found at home, wherever there are gardens, birds, and life!*

I often muse over the era in which Thoreau lived and wrote: the mid 19th century.  Technology back then consisted of trains and factories.  In Thoreau’s lifetime one got around by:  train; horse–or horse drawn conveyance, boat, or foot.  Although the telegraph had been invented, most personal and everyday communications were still largely conducted via the spoken or written word.  Thoreau wrote about the human need to periodically remove oneself from human technology and society.

Thoreau loved to walk, engrossed in every natural sight and sound along the way.  What would the perceptive philosopher think about our world today?  Could he ever have envisioned a culture where countless people walk along a lovely park path, heads down and preoccupied with texting or otherwise puttering with their phones?  Or tuning out the birdsong with earphones and streamed music?

Whether or not Henry David Thoreau could have envisioned such advances, he very clearly understood the human drive to discover the potential of and harness resources for man’s use—with all the more urgent necessity to bring the outdoors in, for the good of our souls!

Margaret l. Been — March 23, 2018

*Thoreau’s writings are not just “reads”; they are “re-reads” over and over and over!  One always discovers something new and fresh with the re-reading.  For Christmas one year, my Joe gave me the complete huge 2-volume set of Thoreau’s diaries.

It is fairly well-known that this “beloved Yankee” died at age 45 in early May, 1862, of tuberculosis.  The diary entries (from 1837 to 1861—two volumes approximately 1750 pages each in small font) center on the natural environment with occasional references to books or articles read by Thoreau, or people in his community and individuals he has met in his travels.  The journals include writings dated until a year before Thoreau’s death, and nowhere in reading have I found anything about Thoreau’s illness or personal distress. 

The final entries in 1861 indicate that Thoreau is no longer out and about.  Friends, one of whom is Horace Mann, bring him natural specimens and gleanings from their nature walks, and Thoreau writes from his past observations when out in nature.  In these final entries we see evidence of the outdoors brought into the immediacy of his home:  descriptions of birds viewed from a window; prevailing weather (always a natural phenomena observable from anywhere above ground); and (most poignant of all I think), delightful descriptions of a batch of kittens born during Thoreau’s final days of writing.

NOTE:  Another and hugely significant reason to love Henry David Thoreau was his dedicated and very vocal advocating for the abolition of slavery.

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SON

I have read more than once of how people in Europe, generally speaking, have a greater handle on relaxing and savoring the ambience of the moment compared to those of us in the USA.  The utter devastation of the big wars, something most Americans cannot even begin to comprehend, resulted in some cases in a determination to celebrate the moment whenever there was a moment of peace.

Most conservatives, of which I am one, decry the mentality that would sooner accept a government handout than look for a job.  But how often do we realize that there are also some Americans who drive themselves relentlessly, even ruthlessly, in a self-imposed and unnecessarily severe work ethic which precludes taking a time out for rest, relaxation, recreation, and soulful reflection.

It is one thing to struggle when necessary for SURVIVAL.  But quite another to drive and push in order to procure the myriads of material things that many of us have grown to believe we need and must have—items far beyond the basics of food, decent shelter, and adequate clothing.

To clarify, please understand that I really enjoy material things—and I have an abundance of them, although many are of the vintage shop variety purchased for a little more than a song:  things the trendy crowd would sneer at superciliously.  But I am not, and never have been, willing to sacrifice a lifestyle of savoring the moment in order to obtain myriads of “things”—and certainly not “high status”, flashy, grandiose things which mean absolutely nothing to me in contrast to a better way:  the timeworn, gracious, contemplative, and appreciative quality of life.

We Christians should understand and appreciate God’s mandate to “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Quite apparently, it runs against the grain of human nature to “be still”, and when it comes to noise I know I can contribute volumes.  But God calls us to a lifetime of poised stillness—an inner attitude of restful quiet while we work or socialize, and as we defend God’s truth in our words and actions.

Too frequently we leave the serenity factor to the New Agers.  They are great at focusing on tranquility and peace; but theirs is a false, demonic “peace”—a counterfeit of the true peace that only the One True God can give through His Infallible Word—and through quietly savoring each moment He gives us.

Our nation is in the midst of a vicious political/cultural season, with evils of immorality and the horrendous demon of anti-Semitism on the rise.  Frequently we must speak and act to project the truths on which we stand.  But to speak and act with an attitude of genuine inner serenity—that is the challenge, one of which I too often fall short.

There are times when we must (and will!) be visibly, viscerally angry.  For instance, I am livid over the Obama-via-Samantha Powers dissing of Israel at the UN on 12/23/16—a day of infamy—and I express this anger with every opportunity.  Yet I must cling to the understanding that God is in control; He must be the very center of my being as I speak, act, and even as I express my abject anger.

In view of national and global chaos, I pray I will never forget the better way—to be still and know that God is God.  For my husband and me, the “better way” translates to treasuring the simple joys:  time spent with family and friends, birds at the feeders, the drip-drip of melting snow from our rain gutters during a January thaw, these ever-stretching daylight minutes since the darkness of winter solstice, and ever-present scenes like the one above—a fantasia of ice and snow photographed from our patio.

Meanwhile, I’m wishing you a New Year blessed with tranquil islands of solitude and serenity, for savoring the better way.

Margaret L. Been, 1/22/17

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Grandpa Longenecker and his racer

The above racing team consists of my paternal grandfather, George Washington Longenecker (1864-1951) and one of his American Standardbreds.  Grandpa George may be considered an obscure poet; but he was far from obscure in Neillsville, Wisconsin where he served for decades as a preacher in the 1st Congregational Church.

Along with “pastoring” (actually Congregational preachers* are called “Reverend” rather than “Pastor”), Grandpa George raised American Standardbreds and competed in sulky races at local fairs.  This activity raised a few legalistic eyebrows in the small Wisconsin community—probably due to the possibility of spectators gambling on the races.  But Grandpa’s recreational passions involved horses and poetry, not money.

Having made poems ever since I can recall and pursued a lifelong study of poetry as fine art, I need to mention that most literary poetry aficionados would consider my grandfather’s verses to be doggerel.  Although Grandpa was raised on classical literature, his course of study was theology—not the fine arts.  Like many Congregational Reverends in his era, he graduated from Ohio’s Oberlin Seminary.

Grandpa George loved the Lord Scripturally, with all his heart and mind.  His poems reflect his love, and that’s good enough for me!  My grandfather also loved music, specifically the great hymns of the Christian faith which he played on his violin.  Much of Grandpa’s poetry contains the cadence and meter of a hymn.

In 1947 Grandpa self-published a book of his work titled SUNSET POEMS—named after my grandparents’ home, “Sunset Point”, on a bluff overlooking Wisconsin’s beautiful Black River.  Here is one of the poems:

Grandpa's Poem

George W. Longenecker

No feature concerning Grandpa George would be complete apart from mention of his beloved life partner, Emma Rosina Ernst Longenecker (1866-1952), my grandmother.  In past blog entries I have celebrated Grandma Rose who was known for her abundant garden produce, homemade bread, and frequent litters of kittens generously shared with people around town.

Here is Grandma Rose when she was a young girl:

Grandma Rose

*A contemporary novel, GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson, centers on three generations of small town Congregational Reverends from the Civil War to Mid-20th Century.  I was riveted to this book and want to read it again, as it reflects my roots.  Potentially classic, GILEAD is a quietly-powerful piece of fiction.  Marilynne Robinson’s storytelling gift is poignantly beautiful.  Two more of her novels, HOME and LILA, form a trilogy with GILEAD.

Margaret L. Been — April 6th, 2016

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. . . begins tomorrow, and that is not an April Fool.  If I spend any significant amount of time indoors (a lot depends on the weather and the gardens) I hope to post poems in April, in honor of that high art which is rapidly becoming extinct in our retrograde, dumbed-down American culture.

While a number of my favorite 20th century poets are still under copyright so that I cannot reprint their entire poems, I can go back to my all-time most beloved of all poets and authors of drama—The Old Bard, himself.  His writings are only exceeded by the Holy Bible.  The Bible being God’s Word will always rank number one in ageless truth, but after that comes a human author who speaks universally to the human heart and psyche like none other.  If this author were required reading at every level of every public and private school, there quite possibly would be no need for the “science” of psychology to attempt the unraveling of human nature.

Marry the factor of universality to the most exquisite use of language, and you have William Shakespeare.  I believe that the works of Shakespeare—as well as those of Milton and other past literary giants, plus artists and composers—are living proof of the Creationist World View.  It is pathetically obvious to anyone but the most deluded individual that mankind is not advancing with time!

Meanwhile, to jump-start National Poetry Month, here is Sonnet #64:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras’d
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
 
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616
 
After the Storm

 

Note:  Great poetry has more permanent staying power than even GORILLA GLUE!  The line, “. . . weep to have that which it fears to lose.” has filled my heart and mind for as long as I can remember.  (I was raised when Shakespeare was read in schools, and of course he was prominent on our bookshelves at home.)

We certainly do “weep to have” that which we fear to lose.  The only antidote is to volitionally celebrate every moment that we do have with those we love.  The moment is all we can be sure of, temporally speaking.  The older I grow, the more I rejoice in the moment.  I think of each precious family member, and even my dog, and I simply can not let myself dwell on my very human tendency to “weep to have”.
 
Margaret L. Been — March 31, 2016

 

 

 

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SON

“Then spoke Jesus again unto them saying, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

The above scene greeted us early Friday morning, after Thursday’s snow and sleet storm.  The trees in the park outside our front door, and the woods beyond, were laden with crystal.

The sun rising on the crystal created a scene that was spectacular beyond words.  I ran for my I-pad, knowing that the strength of the late March sun would soon thaw out our neighborhood and turn it to that very welcome green again.

The old rule for picture taking is “Don’t face the sun.”  But that rule had to be broken, as the sun was (pardon the obvious pun) the star on center stage.

What a timely metaphor—the sun turning our world into a view of incredible light and beauty after Joe and I had spent the entire grey, sleety day before on the road, tending to routine necessary business such as: delivering our tax info and meeting with the accountant; getting our Honda’s emission tested; shopping for groceries. etc.

Still the day was pleasant.  I have a habit of knitting while Joe is driving, and that is a serenity saver on stormy, slippery freeway days.  We enjoyed a nice lunch at Olive Garden between errands.  We arrived home late in the day, exhausted but very thankful that our missions were accomplished and we were safely back in our cozy condo.

And then Friday morning, and LIGHT!  Despite the inevitable grey, sleety days, we have LIGHT.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died for our sin, that we can be one with Him and walk in the light.  He is risen.   He is alive.  He is our LIGHT!

Margaret L. Been — March 26, 2016

SON 2

 

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As the clouds grow thicker . . .

Sunday morning sky

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23

Have you ever witnessed a crazier pre-election circus?  Has the world ever before seemed to be crowding in so quickly, closer and closer?

Have communications ever been more constant and all-encompassing—inescapable unless one stuffs his or her electronic devices in the back of a remote drawer and goes for a long, solitary walk?  Or even better—the very best of all—unless one plunges head first into the depths of God’s ever-faithful, ever beneficial Word!  God’s Word is the only place to go for rest, for comprehension, perspective, and power.  God’s Word not only mined daily, but stored as priceless treasure for instant, ongoing accessibility and application.

While the clouds grow thicker so does our call, as Christians, not only to share the Gospel of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—but to mirror His indwelling Life, so that the fruit of His Holy Spirit can be seen by all, everywhere we go!  In simple terms, we are called today just God’s people were instructed centuries ago:  to live the Christian life, as mandated in Galatians 5:22-23.

Not to rant and rave*  over all the things that are amiss (although, when watching the news I sometimes forget!)  Not to rend our clothes, Old Testament style.  Not to scream at those who are “out of line”.  And certainly not (even worse!) to scream at those who are in line.

The fruit of the Spirit is the genuine outworking of Christ’s life in us, the “hope” (sure-fire fact!) of glory.  Whatever we are doing as the fruit is displayed, and wherever we may be, will differ with each individual whom God calls.  As we focus on our Lord, He directs our whatever/wherever.  Our “Full time Christian Service” may be public (as in church, missions, or workplace) or private (as in home and/or friendship circles).  Both are equally valid and vital.  But fruit there must be, if our witness is to be effective.

I have blogged near-volumes on this topic, and God-willing I may continue to write more.  The issue is ever-green because (probably like every other believer, and definitely as Paul recorded in his letter to the Romans) I struggle with reflecting God’s fruit—even given prayer and immersion in His Word.  Patience (longsuffering) is a bit of a challenge for me; and as we all realize about the fruit of God’s Spirit—we cannot select.  We need to present the whole basket.

God knows His own.  If I bungle my witness, His own people will still be saved for Eternity; they haven’t lost a thing.  And when I refuse to relax and let Jesus display His fruit through me, I am nonetheless still saved for Eternity.  But I will have missed the here-and-now blessing that would have come had I been in sync with our Lord in that instance.

Margaret L. Been — March 21, 2016

*The most famous sermon in U.S. history is without a doubt, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  God used this masterpiece (not only of Scripture truth but of literary construction) to pave the way for the movement of His Holy Spirit in an unprecedented revival on our continent. 

Did Jonathan Edwards shout, and rave?  No way.  His delivery was unremarkable, and it has been recorded that he actually read his sermons. 

It was God’s truth in this sermon, not the human vehicle, which set the course of American Christianity from the 1700s on.  In fact, had Edwards ranted and raved, his words may never have taken such a profound course.  The man might have attracted more attention than the message.  God chose a quiet-mannered man for the most spectacular movement of the Holy Spirit in our nation.

Although “Sinners” is the most famous of Edwards’ individual messages, it has been his sermons of joy-filled wonder at the magnificence and beauty of God that theologians (and everyday readers like me) have cherished, found edifying, and re-read again and again for rich spiritual food.  MLB

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