Yesterday I was out at the school playground so that my grandson Dylan could have time to play with his friends after the strain of sitting inside all day, a challenge for most 1st graders. As I watched the children I saw an older child pushing a large cardboard box across the basketball court. To be truthful, he was sitting in the box and kind of scooting himself across the court. The after school teacher saw me watching the moving box and said to me “That is our junk box. Joey brought it out to play in.” She then told me about the box. Usually it is filled, as she says with “junk” – all kinds of things that might normally be thrown in the trash or the recycle bin but are instead “rescued” and put in the box so that kids can take out the stuff and make creations with them. One person’s trash becomes another person’s treasure. It turns out that this box, filled or empty, has been one of the most treasured materials in the after school program. Everything about the after school is poignant these days because this is the last year (after 25 years) that the program will be operating. The program is going to be either transformed into something else, or will perish, as so many social services these days are perishing because of lack of finances or lack of vision.
Kathy, the director of the program, remarking on the program and also on the box, told me that one child said to her “Kathy, that box should not be called the Junk Box. It should really be called the Wonder Box!” How true – an empty box, or a box filled with give away materials, opens a child’s mind to wonder. What can we make? What can it do? What can I be?
I hope that whatever comes along when this after school program is dissolved with still have Wonder at its core. I hope that the children who play in this playground long after Dylan and I have left our mark, will feel safe and loved and nurtured in freedom, after long days sitting in desks and working in work books. I hope that they will be able to have some time every day to just Wonder. In so many of our communities, there is much fear and anxiety and economic hardship. Support programs like this after school program are closing. More people from all walks of life are losing their jobs and facing an uncertain future. Adults as well as children are in tight spots with not much relief. My prayer is that we can turn our minds and our hearts to a bigger vision and as a country find the resources to fund places of Wonder in place of Junk, to fund places where love rules and money falls in line. In scripture we read often about the call to Fear God. I think that most often that word fear really means to be in Awe. Awe of Life and Awe of God. When we are in Awe, or Wonder, we too will see what is really important and will find the wherewithal to make it happen. May it be so, and may it be soon.
Last night we had strong thunder and lightning storms for about an hour. Our housemate Kate, who is cognitively challenged, is having more fears lately and weather is the focus of her anxiety. Lightening then in our house, is not so much awesome as fearful. Sitting with her last night I thought about the line from Psalm 30 “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” And so I wrote out a kind of Psalm for Kate that went something like this “Remember. It is just weather (with a picture of a sun, clouds, rain). Weather changes. It gets better (with a smiling face.) Morning comes.” She liked the picture of the sun. She liked the smile. She mostly liked the phrase “morning comes.” And then she made a Psalm for me to use as a bookmark. Mine said “Remember. It is just snow (picture of snow falling). Weather changes. When it is so very hot. Get’s better. It is life.” And we got through another thunder and lightning storm. And we got through another night. And now it is morning.
In a book I am reading called Deeper Than Words, Brother David Steindl-Rast talks about joy. He says “What we take for granted does not give us joy. But what we are grateful for does. Thus joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens.” Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens. Even in the middle of the storm (while we might certainly be reminding ourselves that everything changes, and hopefully for the better) joy is the happiness that comes when we are able to just sit there, with our fears, with the storm raging, and be grateful for a phrase from a Psalm that reassured. Amen
A couple of weeks ago my wife Dorrie told me something that our 7 year old grandson had said to her. Dorrie and Dylan attend our local Quaker meeting. On the way home from meeting, Dylan, who was in the back seat of the car, said to Dorrie “Grandma, how can there be a God if you cannot see God?” Ah, God talk from a 7 year old points all of us back to some basic and mysterious questions! Dorrie advised him to take a deep breath and hold it for as long as he could. He held it and held it and held it, turning red in the face, until he finally exploded his breath. Grandma said “Well you can’t see air, but you sure know you need it!It is the same way with God. We can’t see God at all but we sure need God!”
The conversation did not stop there of course, but moved on to how God, The Spirit of Life, invisible as our breath, makes a difference in our lives. Quakers often talk about the Light that is in each of us and that helps guide and support us. Dylan admitted that sometimes his own light is not really very bright – when he is feeling down or when he acts in ways that are less than peaceful. “But” he said, “When my light goes out, God lights it again!”
God lights our light again and again, no matter how dim it is, now matter how dark our lives are, no matter how many times we fall down, douse our own light, and stumble around. Sometimes our light is re-lit when we hear a 7 year old honestly talk about struggling with his desires, his behavior and his frailty. As the Apostle Paul said (Romans 7:15) “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.” We all act in ways that we do not want to act. We all have times that our inner light is dim or blown out. But the great thing is that God, the Spirit not only of Life but also of Love, is here to relight it, to bring us out of darkness. And that is when we know, like we know when we suck in that breath of air after being almost suffocated, that we are dependent on God to re-light our light.
My friend Dave is helping me start blogging. I have already heard that blogging is no longer “hip” and that twitter is what is what I should be doing. But I am certainly not a few word person. So for now, it is blog. Thanks Dave.