Tag Archives: Quaker blog

Worship With Marbles


No, this is not some silly pseudo-religious practice, and I am not planning to bring marbles to church on Sunday.  I’m trying to think outside the religious box I’ve built for myself, but not THAT far outside it.

Today I spent part of the afternoon helping my 10-year-old sort out some of his prized possessions.  Do you remember being 10?  I do.  I remember having a LOT of special things, some of which looked (to the untrained eye) suspiciously like junk.  I knew what it all was, though, and being a 5th-grader didn’t mean I valued my things any less than adults value their prized possessions (which, if we’re honest, sometimes also look suspiciously like junk).

Buddy is no exception.  His room abounds with the usual flotsam typical of boys his age – matchbox cars, plastic spiders, random coins lost from his weekly allowance, and pencil drawings of machines and many-eyed monsters wodged into every possible corner of his bookshelf.  However, like many kids with Asperger’s Syndrome, his highly focused interests are evident in his room as well.  The reptile phase is represented by a menagerie of toy snakes, lizards, dragons, and a creepily jointed wooden alligator that gives me the heebie-jeebies every time I have to touch it. The interest in shipwrecks is evident in the wooden ships and an ancient key that actually came from a REAL shipwreck (and thus led to a collection of keys).  The “metal collection” is dozens of little bits of scrap metal and pop tabs from soda cans.  The gem and mineral phases are both still going strong.  His collection includes everything from playground gravel to an actual diamond, so tiny it’s practically invisible, in a little plastic case.

OK, now take all those things, put them in an average-sized bedroom with an impressive book collection and several dirty socks, and shake the whole thing really hard, and you’ll have some idea of what Buddy and I were facing.

I finally realized that “put your lizard away” has no meaning if every possible surface is already  covered with lizards.  For everything to be put in its place, everything needs to have a place.  So Buddy and I are spending fifteen minutes a day (sometimes 45, but don’t tell him that) working on his room.  We’re taking it slow – one shelf, one drawer, one corner at a time.

This afternoon’s labors resulted in a small cupboard reorganized, its three shelves emptied and wiped clean of fool’s gold dust, stray paper clips, and I kinda don’t want to know what was in that one corner.  We set it back up with homes for the rock collection, the metal collection (now safely in a cardboard box where it can’t accidentally stab anybody), and the Transformers, who now live in peaceful plastic harmony behind a cupboard door that actually shuts.

I also had the bright idea of using a bamboo silverware organizer (fifteen bucks, renewable resource, yay!) to keep all the little odds and ends in their right places.  It now holds the keys, the pencils, the string, the logic puzzles, a small family of plastic snakes, and the marbles.  It was at this point that the project started looking oddly like worship.

I’ve heard it said that God is a God of order, usually when Person A is trying to guilt Smaller Person B into cleaning their room.  I think it’s true, though.  Say what you will about chaos theory and the Second Law of Thermodynamics (and I think God lives there too, which is  another conversation for another day), but I believe God does value order.  This is perhaps why there is an innate satisfaction in having finished a project, cleared some space, Cleaned All The Things.

I’m still getting a handle on this whole concept of every day and every action having the potential to be holy – sacramental living, I think it’s called.  But if putting marbles in their little bamboo box makes me think of God and star systems and the periodic table of elements, then I suspect I’m on the right track.Image


Well, That Was Unexpected.

Meditation is HARD!  Who knew?!

This morning for my quiet devotional time, I decided to sit in silence with one of my favorite passages, Ps. 1:1-3.  My brain apparently does not do silence well.  I won’t burden you with all its tangents, but it was very enthusiastic with ideas! and prayers! and requests! and things to do this morning! and things to write! and things to do once the kids get up! and all manner of other absolutely non-helpful noise.

I think I may have spent thirty seconds really silent, really listening.  That’s thirty seconds TOTAL.  If you add up all of the 4- and 5-second bits, and round the answer up to the nearest ten.

I may need some more practice at this whole “shut up and listen” thing.

X Without Y

This morning’s church experience was a fascinating study in contrasts, and my only real regret about the day was that the two services I attended overlapped too much for me to go attend either service in its entirety.

In my work as a professional classical pianist, I work very odd hours.  Most of my school-related work takes place during the daytime, but much of my freelance work takes place in the evenings or on weekends.  Once or twice a year I get asked by a church to play something in a morning service, and this was one of those Sundays.

I started the day out at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I’ve accompanied the pastor’s son several times, and he called me to play the other half of a two-piano Mozart piece that they thought would make a nice prelude.  The sanctuary was lovely, vaulted ceilings and ornate (but pointedly non-specific) stained-glass windows, and there was a palpable sense of peace.  There were still the jarring juxtapositions common to this denomination, though – I can never quite get used to the pulpit, carved with symbols of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, regular Buddhism, something in Arabic, a lovely yin-yang, the Chinese symbol for happiness, and the Unitarian Universalist chalice in the middle.  Even in the short part of the service I was able to attend, so many religious traditions were referenced that my spiritual head with spinning.  The pastor’s message started with “Oh my G–, it’s 2013!” He continued to make some good points about how number superstitions cause needless fear, but (silly me) I’m just not used to starting church with the Lord’s name being taken in vain!

Then I had to zip across town to catch the important business meeting at the Friends congregation I’ve been attending.  The content of the meeting itself was immaterial – it was the contrast to where I’d just been that captured me.  This, too, was a lovely building, but it was a different kind of simplicity.  Simple stained glass, wooden pews made shiny by years’ worth of use, no pulpit, no candles, no incense, no bells, no prayer bowls, no chalice, no vestments.  The business meeting was opened with silence, but it was a deliberate silence – we were not communing with the god within, we were asking God for guidance.

What struck me most was that for all their unexpected similarities, the core of Unitarian Universalism and the Friends beliefs are in stark opposition.  Both believe firmly in a deep commitment to social justice, the importance of community, the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and a certain flexibility of personal theology.  But the first service I attended was full of the form of religion – prayers, candles, a carefully humanist liturgy, symbolism in everything from the bells to the pastor’s vestments, and the traditional Chinese prayer offered next to the traditional Orthodox Christian prayer candles. The second service I attended was full of God.

Given the choice of religion with hardly any God, or God with hardly any religion, I’ll take the second option any day.