The Same Story

Our family has three different books that tell the story of the Nutcracker, and our sons are all about them.

This version (my favorite) cleverly tucks ten buttons, which each play a bit of the score, in with the narrative.  (After repetitions of this book last Christmas, our (then) 21-month-old would exclaim, “Cracker!” when part of the ballet’s music would play on the radio.)

This edition, which was my wife’s book as a child, is an Advent calendar, and tells the story in twenty-five tiny picture books.

This book is the most visually striking and includes thoughtful descriptions of the actual production of the ballet.

Of course it is the same story, but each time it is told, the beauty is uniquely revealed.  

I can often forget that the same dynamic is on offer when folks of varied life experience read each of the Gospels (the (same) story) together.

Not Choosing Functions as a Choice

Today, there are far too many things to pay attention to, and there is far too little time to attend to them.

On my better days, I aspire to deal with the above problem accordingly:  I desire to consider what I value most, and to structure my time accordingly.  

Often, instead, I allow my attention to be scattered by the next email, the next text, the next darn thing, instead of ordered by what I consider to be of ultimate importance.

In this second instance, my failure to choose functions as a choice.

Cramped Hands, Receptive Hands

When I lived in Uganda, my housemates and I would take turns shopping at the local market.  For this task, we took a backpack and two large bags with handles, one for each hand.  When the bags were full, we returned home.

When I would walk in our front door, my hands would be cramped around the bag handles and I had to rest a minute so that they were fully functional again.

For me, this is an apt metaphor for Lent.  Often, I grip life so hard, believe in my own strength so much, that my interior life cramps and I am unable to receive the grace in front of me.  The “work,” then, remains relaxing into a receptive stance.

The Mind’s Allergies

My four-year-old was recently gifted a book.

Dan Brown wrote it.  That was the first thing I noticed. “Pooossibly a weird one,” said my snap judgment.  I set it aside.

Some weeks later, my son found it and asked to read it.  

We opened it and were, no joke, entranced for the next hour.

The book is called Wild Symphony.  On each page is a witty poem and (with the free companion app loaded) an orchestral piece, composed by Brown and played by the Zagreb Symphony Orchestra, cleverly introducing the ethos of an animal.  Clues tucked away on each page teach the reader each element of a full orchestra.

The last page features a triumphant musical finale, with each animal playing an instrument that suits them.

Now, both of my sons ask for turns to sit and listen to the music.  They have logged hours of quiet listening to a full orchestra.

So, obviously, my first reaction could not have been more wrong.  It is one more reminder for me to attend to and relinquish my mind’s allergies.  These allergies often close me off from things that might enrich my life.

Memento Infantia

Memento mori, latin for “remember your death,” is a powerful spiritual practice.  When we recall that we are finite and that life is unpredictable, we can live with singular purpose and focus on the most important things.

Relatedly, I wonder what happens when we stop to memento infantia, “remember your infancy?”  

For me, memento infantia is an occasion to imagine great love.  Though I have no actual “memory” of it, I am certain that my infancy was marked by singularly loving care on my behalf.  Daily, hourly, thoughtful, (sure, imperfect, but nevertheless) faithful love.

If love is the root of all faithfulness, of all trust, we do well to remember our infancy.

Painting Together

When Leonardo da Vinci was fourteen, he began working in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, a superlative Florentine artist.  (Verrochio’s teacher was Donatello.  These people were good.)

As art historians studied the paintings that came out of Verrochio’s workshop, they saw that many artists contributed to the same canvas.  That is, Leonardo, Verrochio, and associates painted on the same canvas in order to create the same Renaissance masterpiece.

Can you imagine?  Consider the patience, empathy, and communication needed to paint a consistent, astounding whole.

We need these same skills as we build our communities, large and small.

5 to 1

The Gottmans observe that healthy relationships have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments.  That is, for every negative interaction (during a conflict, say), a healthy relationship has five (or more) positive interactions.

I think this is also true in professional, social, and church communities.

Reaching this 5:1 ratio can be difficult, and particularly so when we are learning something new.  Raising a child.  Learning to be in a new place.  Adapting to a new process.

Two bits of good news, though.

1) The challenge to reach 5:1 invites us to verbalize gratitude more often than we typically might.

2) Appreciating how hard someone is working to reach the 5:1 ratio counts as a tally in the positive column.