The unvoiced linguolabial trills of the Eucharist (in which a baby blows raspberries while I take, eat, and remember)

The sounds of silence (Photo: CKirgiss)
The sounds of silence (Photo: CKirgiss)

Yesterday morning, in preparation for partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the congregation was invited to be still and know that He is God. I adore being still and knowing. My soul delights in stillness, silence, and peace, so I gladly partook of these before partaking of the bread and wine.

While I intently invited God to examine my heart and expose my soul (which He always does to a degree that I am rarely prepared for) – while I meditated on the grace-filled miracle of the Cross (which is astounding in its depth of humility and love) – while I focused on the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for the likes of even me (which is so far beyond deserved that I sometimes cannot fully grasp its reality) – the still and peaceful silence was cast aside by the babe three rows back who understandably has no understanding of still and peaceful silence but certainly does understand the joy of being fully alive.

A babe’s way to celebrate the joy of being fully alive has little to do with still and peaceful silence (unless he sleeps). Rather, a babe’s way to celebrate the joy of being fully alive is to coo and gurgle and giggle and blow continuous raspberries (also known as “unvoiced linguolabial trills” for those who care about that kind of thing) until his tongue and lips give out. Which doesn’t happen often (the giving out, that is).

I think perhaps I heard the young mother stifle a giggle or two in response to her child’s version of silent reflection. I stifled a giggle or two of my own, not to express judgmental silence (as so often happens between grown-ups and children) but rather to create expansive uncluttered space for everyone to enjoy the coos and gurgles and giggles and blown raspberries – for those were the sounds of angel choirs and deserved to be heard in all their fullness.

I think perhaps those babe sounds coming from three rows behind me were the most beautiful and sacred Eucharistic sounds I have experienced in a very long time, in part because of their joyfully pure energy, in part because of the reminder that the Savior, fully divine and willingly broken for the sins of all, was once a cooing, gurgling, giggling, raspberry blowing babe himself, a babe within which God in all his fullness was pleased to dwell.

Because of that pleased indwelling, I, the cooing babe behind me, the congregation around me, and the souls of all who do, have, and will ever live – we all of us can be forgiven, made new, made complete, filled with Christ who himself is filled with the fullness of God.

The babe behind me may not fully fathom this mystery, but he can indeed fully celebrate it. Amen.

It’s Friday, Friday, Friday (or: some real reasons to rejoice)

If you haven’t heard Rebecca Black’s 2011 song “Friday,” let me offer a condensed version:

Friday, Friday, Friday, Friday, Friday (etc.)
Weekend, weekend, weekend, weekend, weekend (etc.)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah (etc.)
Partyin’, partyin’, partyin’, partyin’, partyin’ (etc.)
Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun (etc.)

These are (cough) the important reasons to be happy when Friday arrives yeah yeah fun fun yeah.

Well, today is Friday.

And so I rejoice (which has no direct relation to feeling happy), but not because of weekend partyin’ fun oo-ooh-ooh hoo-yeah yeah (that last little bit is straight from the official lyric sheet).

I rejoice because of things that can’t be measured (and things that can be measured but aren’t by those who have grown accustomed to them) – because of things that are mundane (but are in fact miraculous, especially for those who rarely or never experience them) – because of things that are overlooked (at least by those who see them on a regular basis) – because of things that simply are (except when they aren’t, which is far too often in far too many places).

Tonight I will sleep on a comfortable bed, covered with blankets, in a warm room, under a functioning roof.

This evening I will eat fresh food, sitting at a table, drinking clean water, in the company of others.

Farmer's MarketFarmer's MarketFarmer's Market
Purdue Farmer's Market (Photos: CKirgiss)

This afternoon I will drive away from my job, on paved roads, alongside river and fields, towards my home.

Flowered FieldFlowered Field
River Road (Photos: CKirgiss)

Each and every day – including Friday – I have clothes to wear, water to bathe in, air to breathe, food to eat, books to read, people to love, hope for tomorrow, and grace beyond measure.

It is, indeed, Friday. And it is worth celebrating for the same thousand reasons that every other day is worth celebrating – because in the midst of brokenness, suffering, despair, pain, sorrow, fear, heartache, loneliness, worry, and death there is love, life, hope, healing, restoration, comfort, encouragement, beauty, grace, and Jesus.

Truly. It is as complicated and simple as that.


Of rest and death, humility and life: October grace

October leaves (Photo: CKirgiss)
October leaves (Photo: CKirgiss)

Welcome to late October.

In the midwest, the ground and her children are a brilliant display of green, yellow, orange, and red. And brown. Mostly brown. Brown and brittle. Brown and dry. Brown and blown, end over end, to and fro, until finally shredded into crumbs or else settled for one last rest before all is covered with a blanket of wintry frost.

‘Tis the season to celebrate death – not untimely, unexpected, unnatural death, but rather death that marks the end of a complete cycle, death that finishes a full life, death that spills over with the sweet promise of new life.

The earth is preparing to rest, to breathe, and to sabbath so that she can flourish and thrive and fill the land with her goodness yet again. She is, perhaps, pruning herself – removing that which was once vibrantly alive but has become worn and tired, and making space for that which will be new and fruitful.

It’s important, this little detail: the brittle and brown dying things are not bad, nor diseased, nor rejected. They are not being cast off as an act of judgment or condemnation. Rather, they are being put to rest as an act of humility and worship by an earth that recognizes its limited power. For all of its gracious nurture and protection of life, the earth is not itself an all-powerful creator of life.

I suspect that we people miss all the fullness of life when we fail to rest, when we bypass sabbath, and when we do not offer ourselves up with humility and worship in order to be willingly and wisely pruned, during which our roots, grown deep into the endless love of Christ, remain deep and true.

And then after the rest (sweet, soothing, and sacred) and after the pruning (particular, precise, and purposeful) comes a season of new life and fresh hope, the kind of season we all crave but cannot have without first welcoming and embracing death – death worth celebrating, death that is a beginning, death that is a foretaste of life.


Nebraskan I am (or: how I navigated the Cornhusker-Boilermaker football game)

For only the second time ever, Nebraska and Purdue met today on the football field.

The first time was in 1958. Purdue shut out Nebraska 28 – 0.

Purdue vs. Nebraska, 1958 (from the Purdue Special Archives)
Purdue vs. Nebraska, 1958

That was then. This is now.

In case you hadn’t heard, Purdue is not currently a football powerhouse. They have been in the past. They might be in the future. But right now they are a team with a lot of hard work in front of them in order to be taken seriously as a Division I contender.

That’s okay with me.

I’ve been a Boilermaker for 8 years now. I have several Boilermaker degrees. I have Boilermaker offspring. I have Boilermaker friends. I have Boilermaker colleagues. I have Boilermaker gear. I tend to be a faithful fan, especially when it comes to football. So I can be patient and gracious while this Boilermaker football team works hard to rebuild itself.

In other words, I’m a genuine Boilermaker fan.

But there is this: I am also a 4th-generation Nebraskan. 5th if you count all those Wendell boys and Pearson girls who arrived long ago from Sweden and then decided that the difficulties often associated with extended families could be avoided if the three Wendell brothers each married one of the three Pearson sisters. It was so entirely practical. (And, one hopes, eminently romantic.)

So though I am at present a Boilermaker, I was first born a Nebraskan. And when someone is born a Nebraskan, it doesn’t matter if they live in the state for 3 years, 30 years, or until their last breath. They are in some inexplicable way a Nebraskan through and through.

So though I own lots of Black and Gold gear, I wore red to today’s football game and felt neither out of place nor traitorous. It would have been impossible to feel out of place – even in the home-seating sections – because there was red everywhere I looked. It would have been impossible to feel traitorous – even when cheering loudly for Nebraska – because I didn’t wish any ill-will on the Boilermakers. In fact, I cheered loudly for both teams – even though there wasn’t anything like an equitable distribution of cheering moments between the two teams.

At the next Boilermaker home game, I will be wearing black and gold. Proudly. Even if the team struggles with growth-and-development pains. Even if the team doesn’t win. Even if the team stumbles and falls on its way towards what I hope will be excellent awesomeness. 

But at the next Nebraska-Purdue game, I will be wearing red. In Lincoln. Along with pretty much everyone else. Because no matter how long I live in West Lafayette, or how many degrees my family accrues at Purdue, or how deeply my Boilermaker friendships run, or how often I don Black and Gold for various competitions, underneath it all there is still something about Nebraska that runs very, very deep. It can’t be explained. It just is. 

And that’s very okay with me.







All that is right and wrong with the world (in which a 5-year old speaks truth)

While flying from the midwest to the West Coast yesterday, I met Jackson.

Jackson is 5. Old enough to play spelling games on the iPad. Young enough to be extremely fidgety when he really needs to use the bathroom but the seatbelt sign is illuminated.

For two hours, I watched Jackson play games, listened to Jackson chatter with his mom, wondered what Jackson what thinking as he stared intently at other passengers, laughed at Jackson when he delivered his opinions about the other passengers, and smiled at Jackson when he spoke enthusiastically about how much he loved pretty much everything in the whole entire world.

I rejoiced in my soul because it was such a lovely little picture of all that is right with the world.

Until 5 minutes before landing. When Jackson decided to look at the laminated emergency landing brochure in the seatback. The brochure that shows a plane landing on grass. And in the water.

I heard Jackson ask his mom, “Is it better to land on water or on grass? Why do planes land in the water?”

To which his mom said, “Planes don’t land in water. They land at airports. But if a plane ever did need to land in the water, these pictures show you what to do.”

Jackson was quiet for a minute or two. And then said this:

“Do planes need to land in the water when someone shoots one of the… one of the… one of the… one of  the… (long pause while he searched for the right word) … gadgets?”

He pointed out the window at the engine.

I’d been so afraid that the word he was searching for had been pilots. But engines really wasn’t any less tragic.

I think Jackson has a good life. His mother is patient, kind, fun, caring. The grandparents he was traveling to see are (in his estimation) awesome and great and wonderful. He is part of a family that has the means to travel. He is healthy and smart and creative.

But even so, at 5 years old, he can articulate his awareness that people might shoot at engines and airplanes might have to land in water (if only it were that simple).

And I wept in my soul because it was such a heartbreaking reflection of all that is wrong with the world.

Oh dear Jesus – we so desperately need your transforming love and redeeming grace and sacred hope.

The truth about taking short breaks (in which I contemplate distractibility)

It turns out that if you need a short break from oh I don’t know grading several hundred short assignments in a class you teach on the perils of using run-on sentences in business documents and you decide now would be the perfect time to season the new cast iron grill grates you bought let’s say a few months ago to replace the rusting crumbling ones you’ve been cooking on for maybe the last two years and you wisely choose to wear those long pink-left-purple-right kitchen rubber gloves because smearing Crisco on new cast iron grill grates is meh-see business and because the pink-right and purple-left kitchen rubber gloves have been lost for as long as you’ve had both pairs but who cares because this isn’t a fashion runway kind of household and you notice as you walk out to the very back of the backyard to properly dispose of the rusting crumbling cast iron grates that maybe a few of the spaces around some of the trees could use a little weeding because it turns out that while you were gone for pretty much the whole summer the yard didn’t weed itself – well, it turns out that those kitchen rubber gloves work pretty well for pulling out those weeds roots and all.

Because of the traction.

Also, it’s pretty muddy out there today, so I’d suggest wearing shoes.