Being small (in which the Perseid meteor shower and Indiana corn give perspective)

By all accounts, last night was the peak viewing time for the Perseid Meteor shower (per here and here and here and here and a hundred other places). I would give almost anything to see a real Mrs. Whatsit, Coriakin, or Ramandu for even just a split second*. Since that’s unlikely (in this lifetime at least), a meteor shower seemed like a good option. So we set the alarm for 2:00 a.m., climbed into the pickup with our pillows, blankets, and dog, and headed north on 43 in search of glory.

Mostly, we found corn.

Meteor Corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Meteor Corn (Photo: CKirgiss)

To be fair, corn is a glory of Indiana, and I surely do glory in it as much as any other devoted Midwesterner.

Regular Corn (Photo: CMartin)
Regular Corn (Photo: CMartin)

Fact: corn makes me feel small.

Even with my arms stretched to the sky, I am dwarfed by those solemn stalks of jade leaves drooping gracefully towards the earth below and those delicate tassels of filagreed gold reaching elegantly towards the sky above. All of that majestic height – row after row after row sweeping across the endless countryside – is stunning not just for its immensity but also for its unexpected smallness; each of those towering stalks gives birth to a single ear of corn (twins and triplets occur sometimes).

One ear of corn. All of that height and hugeness and majesty for just one ear.

It’s ludicrous in a way. What a (seeming) waste of plant.

Which brings me back to the Perseid meteor shower that (by all accounts) peaked here in corn-covered Indiana last night.

We laid in the truck bed, wrapped against the chill (and also against the hard plastic of the truck liner made of dent- and scratch-resistant plastic molded into an innovative ribbed design – or: bad for the back), eyes wide open, prepared for glory, waiting for majesty.

Here’s the thing about glory and majesty: you can’t capture it in words, or in a photo, or in the largest corner of your mind, because words and photos and large corners of the mind are too small to speak or see or comprehend glory and majesty.

Fact: the night sky – even without a meteor shower – makes me feel small.

Even though I can block out a large swath of invincible lights with my outstretched hand and can compress infinity behind my closed eyes, I am dwarfed by that canopy of heavens reaching down to the earth’s firm edge and soaring up to the sky’s endless cosmos. All of that incomprehensible magnitude  – layer after layer after layer sweeping across the endless universe – is stunning mostly for its immensity but also for its unexpected smallness: many of the meteor shower particles dragging streams of trailing light behind them are the size of a pea – as in the vegetable that is much much smaller than a stalk of corn.

How can this be? How can a speck of dust stream across the night sky in a blaze of energy that makes you catch your breath and clasp your hands for the sheer beauty and unexpected joy that it brings?

That is me. A speck of dust. Tumbling through life, tossed here and there, one of 7 billion souls on the planet, desperately seeking a way to blaze across the sky – not in fame or renown or majesty, but in glory – not the glory of self but the glory of the Almighty.

There are (by all accounts) 1 octillion stars in the night sky. That’s 1 plus 29 zeros. Try to fathom that for a minute. Words and pictures and thoughts can’t begin to compute such an incomprehensible number. Even 7 billion (which has only 9 zeros and which [by all accounts] is how many people currently live on this tiny ball of earth) is beyond my ability to compute.

So sit in this truth for a moment or a day: each and every one of those 1 octillion stars is named, known, and placed. Each and every one. Surely God has enough on his universe-sized hands to consider small and paltry us not worth his time.

Now sit in this truth for a moment or a lifetime: when He considers the night sky, the work of His own fingers, the moon and stars He set in place, He considers them as nothing compared to small and paltry us. Nothing. Nothing.

New math rule 1:

7 billion people > 1 octillion stars.

New math rule 2:

1 single soul > 1 octillion stars.

Sit in that for a bit and see how it stirs up your soul.

*A Wrinkle in Time and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Read them. Now

About that letter to Christians in Indiana: in which I look deeper

A few days ago, Jesus penned a letter to all the Christians in Indiana and any others elsewhere who might be reading (which I think might have been code for All the Christians America, but that’s just a guess – he kept that a little vague).

I didn’t get the letter until today, which makes me wonder what’s wrong with my mail service. It was addressed to me, after all. I also wonder how many other important missives from Jesus I’ve missed. I thought I had them all, but now who knows?

If Jesus were here, I’d want ask him something – after first confessing all the ways I continue to fail him, each and every day, in spite of passionately loving him and desiring to follow him closely. I’m basically a schmuck. Layers and layers and layers of selfish, petty, blechness filling up my guts, just waiting for a chance to spill out all over the place.

It’s a real problem.

Thankfully, there is also the gracious breath of God nudging aside space to fill up layers and layers and layers of my soul, meaning there is hope each and every day for yet another layer of schmuckiness to get peeled away. At least that’s what I read in an earlier letter. Maybe that’s changed (as this letter seems to imply) and I missed the memo.

This is the thing I would ask Jesus, if I were looking him in the eyes:

Are we really, each and every one of us, as hopelessly and horribly debauched as all that? I know we are each a complete and total mess, especially deep, deep down in the most hidden places, broken beyond human reckoning. But has that beautifully redeemed collective brokenness really grown into nothing more than angry, combative, petty, arrogant, entitled, and unbreachable barriers between you and the world while leaving a legacy of only damage, pain, and isolation, like you said? If so, we might as well all call it quits now because I can only assume the Transforming Spirit of the living God has fled Indiana

If I were looking Jesus in the eyes, and he said such searingly difficult things of me, I wouldn’t say nay. He sees things inside I do not.  He might have even stronger things to say. But I know he wouldn’t give up on me. At least he never has in the past. I also know that he wouldn’t strip my identity and take delight in sweeping me and everyone else into a dust pan of shame.

I know there is much too much yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly goings-on (not just in Indiana, by all account). I know that a good amount of all the yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly rhetoric might be so much stinky hot air because many yappers and carpers don’t read the thing they are yapping and carping about – regardless of which angle their yapping and carping may take.

But I also know there are countless disciples and followers of Christ who are not primarily angry, combative, petty, and arrogant full-of-themself screamers whose sole accomplishment is to erect unbreachable barriers between the world and God Almighty.

I was in the presence of 50 tonight – young adults who joyfully and faithfully give up hours each week to share life with middle school and high school students, listening to their questions, attending their events, celebrating their uniqueness, and breaking down barriers.

They are reflecting Jesus to those around them. They are bringing salt and light to a bland and dark world. They are spreading the sweet aroma of Christ wherever they go. They are spilling over with the love of God and changing the world.

But their faithfulness is quiet. Their service is gentle. Their voices are soft. They do not scream and thrash about.

Instead, they follow Jesus, step by step, day by day, faithfully, humbly, joyfully. Even here in Indiana.

They, and countless others, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, comfort the broken, welcome the children, reverently serve and partake of the Eucharist, pass the peace with sincere warmth and concern, humbly refill the coffee pot again, engage in deeply personal conversations with those who are lonely. And so much more.

I know such things could and should happen to a greater degree – but still they are happening. Week after week, day after day, minute by minute, by people who aren’t waving placards or shouting platitudes or taking broad swipes but rather people who are intent on following Jesus as best they know how.

Admittedly, disciples of Christ make missteps along the way, sometimes serious ones. Our rhetoric sometimes fall short of gracious. Our actions sometimes fall short of kind. Our service sometimes falls short of humble.

But Jesus continues working in us, stirring our hearts towards his work, and drawing our souls deeper and further into his. He’s amazingly faithful that way.

Even in Indiana.


Copyright 2015 Crystal Kirgiss
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any organization or institution she is affiliated with.

Why my little corner of the earth is awesome

The little corner of the earth where I live isn’t generally known as being One of the Most Beautiful and Interesting Places in the world.

In fact, my proverbial neck of the woods doesn’t actually have any woods. Or mountains. Or hills. Or oceans. Or lakes – at least not when compared to my former little corner of the earth that was home to, oh, about 10,000 lakes.

(Aside from the lacking topography, this Big Ten Land Grant University town also lacks a Trader Joe’s and an Apple Store, which is just so sad and beyond all comprehension.)

Just an hour or so from my little corner of the earth there are some pretty famous places, both topographically and commercially. A Great Lake and its beaches and dunes. A renowned raceway. A Super-Bowl-famous stadium. That kind of thing.

But here, in my little corner, there are none of those things. Just a great big university. And this:

Indiana bale (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana bale (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)

The round bales and the corn fields in and around my little corner of the earth will never make it into a Traveler’s Guidebook or a Sights-You-Musn’t-Miss-In-Indiana ad.

But truly, they are breathtakingly beautiful in a way that’s difficult to describe. They delight my Nebraska-prairie heritage. They make me proud, even though I had absolutely nothing to do with planting, watering, harvesting, or baling.

Whatever else may be missing, in the little corner of the earth where I live, they grow things. Beautiful and important things.

And I love that.




Thirsty dirt

The earth is thirsty. Cracked across her skin. Parched to her roots.

And we are all crying out for rain. Oh please, God, rain. We need it so badly. (And the crying out becomes complaining and cursing and fists shaking in rage and disbelief.)

But when we do have rain – when things are green and sated and as they should be (indeed . . . so that over time water really does turn into wine) we simply roll along, taking in the miracles that lie before and behind and above and around us.

On May 6, the earth was sufficiently watered (in Indiana, at least) – and in her subtle, surprising way, she was slowly slipping out from under a heavy, dull brown blanket, worn for many months, into a light, fresh green shift (n.a loosely fitting dress that hangs straight from the shoulder; a chemise) that shimmered when it caught the light.

I saw this from a motorcycle, which is sometimes the perfect place for noticing the mundane things that lie to the left and right – for seeing the unexpected way the earth rises and falls, lilts and skips – for seeing the flashing, blinking field rows that fly past – for seeing the unnoticed world that surrounds us – for seeing, well, all kinds of things that one doesn’t normally see.

I wrote this at the time:

Spring Fields

A gently whispered green
tints the earth
and teases the eye
here then gone
seen then not –

a silent ode to human hands
that ever and again
work the land
with patient care –
a soaring anthem to Divine Mystery
where ever and again
broken seeds become bread
and broken bread becomes grace
to any who would take and eat.

CK 05.06.12

I mused, detangled, listened, and reshaped until the rhythm, flow, and words were finished, complete, and just so.

I wrote. I posted. I breathed deeply and (admittedly) felt a certain sense of self-satisfaction at having found something to say and then a way to say it. In a very small way, I had created, and as Dorothy Sayers would point out, that is perhaps one of the most important ways in which humanity images the Creator.

Good for me.

I wrote. I created. I imaged the Creator. And yes, I experienced awe, amazement, and gratitude for the creation God placed in our hands.

What didn’t I do? I didn’t – not even once – stop and specifically thank God for the rain that made the mysterious “whispered green” possible. For the rain that miraculously turns dead seeds into living plants – living plants into fruit and grain – fruit and grain into food and sustenance.

Experiencing gratitude (which I did) is not quite the same thing as giving thanks (which I did not). The one is passive. The other is active. The one receives. The other gives. The one is experienced. The other is enacted.

I do not for one second espouse to some (crack) theology that equates my lack of giving thanks with the current lack of rain. The lack of rain is what it is – a lack of rain. It’s happened before. It will happen again. As I understand Genesis, the earth reaped her own set of unsought consequences from humanity’s fall.

But I do espouse to a faith that can challenge, transform, and grow a person no matter how long they have known God or followed Jesus.

So:I want to live a life defined by thanks rather than complaints – contentment rather than curses – peace rather than unrest. Perhaps a very manifest dry spell in the weather can help reroute a very obscure dry spell of the soul.