My daughter loves reading right now. Mostly she’s obsessed with Curious George; but when I get the chance I read her a little book called Over in the Meadow. If you’re familiar with the dulcet sounds of Raffi in your family, the title of this book may sound familiar. It’s actually an old counting rhyme, listing out a series of meadow creatures from one to ten. I sing it rather than read it, which keeps V pretty entertained.
I’d heard Raffi singing “Over in the Meadow” many times, but honestly never listened to the lyrics other than briefly noting it generally had something to do with crickets and muskrats. So when hunting through the library shelves one day, I was intrigued to find an illustrated version. We brought it home, I cleared my throat (trying to remember exactly how the Raffi goes), and jumped in. Unfortunately we were only a few short pages in when the beauty of what I was reading/singing hit me. I started weeping, couldn’t keep singing, and needed a few minutes to collect myself while a surprised daughter looked on.
Simply put, if you’re not familiar with Over in the Meadow (or maybe even if you are), it’s one of the best pictures of the creational norm, of the way life should be, that I’ve found.
Each verse is quite simple. It starts by mentioning that over in the meadow some animal, or bird, or bug lives. Then it goes on to describe a mother of [insert animal, bird, or bug] instructing her offspring to do whatever it is said animal, bird, or bug does. The offspring respond enthusiastically, agreeing to do whatever it is they ought to do, and in conclusion they do it happily.
Take for example the third verse about bluebirds:
“Over in the meadow, in a hole in a tree,
Lived a mother bluebird and her little birdies three.
‘Sing!’ said the mother.
‘We sing,’ said the three.
So they sang and were glad,
In the hole in the tree.”
This simple ditty portrays the full glory of creation. In the creation, God said to each living thing, “Do this.” The world responded and God looked upon it declaring it good. The turtles dug, the fish swam, the muskrats dove, the bees buzzed, the ravens cawed, and so on and so on. And then each living creature turned to its offspring and repeated God’s command, teaching their young to joyfully do exactly as the Lord had given them to do.
All that is, except for humankind, leading a simple little book like Over in the Meadow to remind me of the full tragedy of the fall. When I sing this book to my daughter, I feel a deep and longing ache. If the frogs know to croak and they know to tell their young to croak, and this is what they were made to do from beginning of the dawn and what they will find joy in doing until the end of all, what is the equivalent for me and my daughter? What is the one word summary I could give her to sum up the very meaning of our existence? That thing which she might do in response to my command which would give her the joy and satisfaction this song describes of life in the meadow finding the natural rhythms of their short lives? In the fall, humanity lost not only its memory of the life-defining command given to us by God, we also lost the joy inherent to that command. “Be fruitful. Have dominion.” This is a command we barely remember and when we do, it often feels bitter in our mouths. Unlike the bees who buzz in response to the millennia old command engrained in their genetic code, we are a lost and disjointed version of life, leading every human generation to ask again what our purpose here is.
I want my daughter to grow up, knowing and feeling the pain of this loss. I want her to look at the animal world around her and to long for a simple obedience to God’s creational command. I want her to hear this song and one day ask me, “Mama, what should I do?”
My favorite verse is the last one. The tenth verse is about fireflies:
“Over the meadow, in a soft shady glen,
Lived a mother firefly and her little flies ten.
‘Shine!’ said the mother.
‘We shine,” said the ten.
So they shone like stars,
In the soft shady glen.”
When I sing this verse, it takes my mind to words far more ancient that Over in the Meadow.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of this crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Obviously, this mouthful is a lot more wordy than can fit into an eleventh verse of Over in the Meadow. Nonetheless, it’s a solid reminder of the directive that still remains for us fallen and lost children. Obey. For it is God who works in you. Do not complain. Rather shine in this world. Hold on to the word of life. Rejoice and be glad. These are things I can tell my daughter if she ever asks what she, like the animals, birds, and bugs, ought to do.
*I’m guessing there are more than one illustrated version of Over in the Meadow, but I personally recommend the version by Ezra Jack Keats. You may know him as the author and illustrator of The Snowy Day (another personal favorite). His illustrations of this old folk song will not disappoint.
Last night Trey lay on our living room floor groaning as he suffered from stomach problems that will here remain undisclosed. In due time his problems passed and as soon as speech was restored to my sad husband, he commenced making a series of jokes about the event. Most of his jokes were about bloating and how miserable it must be as a woman to deal with such occurrences on a regular basis. Of course, I agreed. From there we somehow ended up on the topic of menopause and whether it is a relief for women or not. Of course, I have no experience and very little knowledge regarding this life event, but I told him that I didn't think women ever felt much relief from their bodies, even post-menopause.
The female body has been on my mind a lot in the last twenty-four hours. I've been reading a really interesting book on the social and intellectual history of American women in missions and yesterday I read the story of a sixty year old missionary who was forcibly circumcised and then murdered in her home almost one-hundred years ago in protest to the missionary community's stance against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is something I had heard of before, but didn't know much about, so I spent a good hour researching it online. By the end of that hour I was pretty sick to my stomach. Even though it is illegal in most countries today, FGM is still widely practiced. It seems change has been slow over the last one-hundred years.
I've also been reflecting on the physical suffering of many women near and dear to me. Many of those close to me have suffered from a variety of illness all related to the female organs. From cysts to cancer, I've seen many friends face the realization that these things which belong to us women in order to give and create life in fact bear the marks of death. Wombs which are designed to grow living things and breasts that are intended to nourish and feed somehow become woman's greatest liability, things which doctors and celebrities tell us we should be unafraid to hack off or away, but which every woman I know touched by such scars grieves immeasurably over.
And then I've been thinking a lot about the most fundamental of woman's sorrows - the angst and pain of childbirth. The longing and fear associated with everything from conception to birth is so complicated, but so basic to every woman. No matter how advanced our society becomes, this basic issue remains at large. How can I control what my body was created to do? How can I live a life that isn't in tension with what my body will naturally do? How can I produce results when my body won't do what I thought it was supposed to do easily? Pregnancy (whether wanting it or avoiding it) has always been and will always be a battleground for women and I understand this more and more and as I hear my friends' stories about pregnancy, birth, nursing, infertility, and miscarriage.
My conclusion last night while joking around with Trey was that every woman is looking for heaven for, in, or through their bodies. We are waiting for, longing for, peace with our female physical existence and all women, throughout the ages, have desired such redemption.
As twisted as they are, we see the striving for heaven in FGM practices - women themselves are at the heart of female circumcision and it seems that fundamental to the practice is the desire to maintain purity. Women who practice FGM see their cultural definition of purity as necessary to their existence and happiness - their attempt to attain the ultimate good in their temporal reality. And in order to attain this purity they want so desperately, women willingly perpetuate a cycle of physical mutilation.
We see the longing for heaven in the Western world's glorification of birth control and family planning. Unlike our sisters in Africa, purity is not our greatest desire, but rather freedom from our physical reality. We are looking for redemption from our bodies and have created complicated systems to liberate ourselves from their natural functions. We believe that our heaven lies in Western medicine and its ability to control what for millennia has felt completely out of control.
In the most brutal and bloody ways, we see the longing for heaven in the diseases and mortality rates suffered by women. In the developed world, we witness women faced with decisions of cutting off their breasts and cutting out their wombs in order to survive. In the developing world, we watch as early marriage and childbirth itself both threatens and delivers women. Threatens because childbirth itself wrecks a woman's body and particularly so when the woman is really only a young girl and medical assistance is nonexistent. Delivers because early marriage saves the girl from certain shame at the hands of men and ostracism at the hands of women. For women suffering in hospitals around the world, their bodies are a constant reminder of the longing for deliverance.
The woman's body is a place of suffering and it produces a universal longing in women for things to be made right. The ways in which women seek for things to be made right might change over time and cultures, but from the first menstrual cramps to the last battle to save one's breasts, women are constantly reminded that all is not well in this world. We know things must be set right because we know that things must be set right in us. We take extreme measures to find heaven for our female bodies through FGM practices or abortion or preventative double-mastectomies because we are desperate to make all well as we face the physical reminder our own bodies give us that the world is broken. The problem is that we most often seem incapable of knowing what heaven to be long for and it leads us to dark and twisted places.
Women are earthy. Our physicality makes us so as we bleed and lactate and cry. Religions and philosophy and medical practices over the vast array of civilization have demonstrated the degree to which woman's body is associated with the earth. And along with the creation, our female bodies groan for redemption.
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the songs of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
I don't know what our physical existence will be like in the new heavens and new earth. I don't think scripture reveals much about it to us. But I do know this - the longings and groanings regarding the realities of my and my sisters' bodies will be redeemed. It may include all of my reproductive organs or it may not, but I know that my female body will find heaven at last.
The author of the following and I come very different perspectives and I would be remiss to recommend much of her other work, but her thoughts here are beautiful and thought-provoking. So I thought I would share...
"Our theme is the world of life, the word communicated through... a word written in blood. In his blood shed for us Jesus signs the new testament assuring us of God's forgiveness and bringing us into a new relationship with one another... The litmus test of our love for God is our love for others, our love expressed not only in the giving of our lives but in the sharing of our goods, our livelihood, with the poor of the world.
And for some that has meant literally laying down their lives. For since we last met we have seen the body of Christ shedding its own blood through the witness of the martyrs... who died with clothes stained with the blood of sacrifice, blood freely given for the poor and oppressed in the struggle for justice and in the ministry of reconciliation.
The shedding of blood can be a symbol of creation and life rather than destruction and death. For a woman the shedding of blood which is sometimes thought of as a curse is in fact a blessing. It is a sign that her body is being prepared to give birth if and when life is conceived within her. And even if she personally never knows the privilege of motherhood, the instincts and energies released within her can be used by God in the partnership of sustaining and nourishing his children, deprived or robbed of their full human dignity. She is called to magnify life wherever it is diminished, as, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, she magnifies the Lord.
Jesus compared his disciples to a pregnant woman. While the world waits hopefully she must agonize and labour to bring to birth the life hidden within her.
We live in a world pregnant with his coming kingdom. We share the travail and the labour and the sweat of bringing to birth that new age of the son of God, to whom, as the writer of the epistles puts it, the spirit, the water and the blood bear witness."
- Dr. Pauline Webb based on 1 John 1:1-4, " " and Matthew 24:4-8, "
By the age of 10, I had wanted a dog for most of my tender years. I imagined playing with it, taking it for walks, grooming it, all of which periodically led me to beg my parents for the realization of this pet. Due to our many moves and rental abodes, the habitual answer was "no." Eventually, my family landed in Pittsburgh and bought a house in my tenth year of life. This in and of itself felt like paradise and I once again reinstated the petition for a Snoke family dog. It seemed unlikely for us to move again, we had say over the house, and most importantly, we had grass. So one day I mustered up the courage to write a note of promise to my mother and father. I don't remember the particular phrasing, but the sum of what I wrote was, "If you let us get a dog, I promise with everything in me to be responsible for it, even the gross stuff. Please, please, please, please." I wrote it from the bottom of my heart and snuck downstairs to place it on my mother's desk, not having the courage to hand it to her directly. I went back to bed and prayed against reason that this note would somehow finally have an impact.
Well, the note disappeared. There wasn't an immediate response, which was a new and interesting development. For a while, I resisted the urge to bring it up in the hopes of displaying grown up detachment. But eventually, I could not hold back any longer and ventured questioning my mother to ascertain if she had actually received the note. Of course she had and I remember a quite serious conversation in which she leveled questions at me to ascertain the level of seriousness and commitment in my young heart. Oh, I wanted that dog so badly, I promised and promised to be faithful to the note and suggested my mother keep it and use it in times of unfaithfulness on my part should they ever arrive, which of course they never would! If she would just let us get a dog.
I started looking at the classifieds for free puppy adds in the newspaper. Every week, I breathlessly pulled out the printed sheets and imagined each and every breed mentioned. Then, things started to get really serious. On trips to the library, my mom started pulling dog training books of the shelves and bringing them home. She read up on the most hardy breads and how to tell if a puppy has a passive personality. One day, she announced her desire for us to get a beagle. I can still see the picture on the cover of the beagle book she was reading. We. were. getting. a. dog. Joy!
Sometime the next summer, the glorious day finally arrived. My mom's research plus my faithful classified search stumbled upon an add for free beagle puppies. They were a bit older than most puppies looking for a home and came from a farm outside the city. By now, everyone in the family was bursting at the seams with excitement and on a Saturday, we piled into our baby blue Dodge Caravan and headed for the farm. Elation sat in every seat.
After a clamorous ride, we pulled into a long driveway and immediately noticed a kennel with two adult beagles and a hoard of four puppies greeting us with howls as they jumped on the fence. We climbed out of the van and as my parents went to talk with the owner, I and my three younger siblings scoped out the puppy situation. Eventually the adults joined us and the one male and three female puppies were set free to run around the property. Two of them were highly energetic and the children immediately took a liking to them. My mother on the other hand, did not. The farmer had temporarily nicknamed them Houdini and Ankle-biter, certain bad omens for future prospects at dog training. We turned our attention to the other two. One trick for discerning a puppy's disposition my mom had read about was to pick the dog up on its back and hold it like a baby. If it struggled to get free, it would have a more active personality. What you wanted was a dog who contentedly lay passive in your arms. My dad bent over and picked up the third female and flipped her over. She lay there quietly and then suddenly reached up and gently licked his beard. She had long, soft ears and big, brown eyes. My dad said, "We'll take this one."
Ecstasy broke free and the children rushed to pet and meet the new addition. We bundled her up in a box and put her in the car, excited to start the hour long drive home. As we pulled out, the little puppy started shaking, displaying what was to be a lifelong malady of nervousness to the point of being sick when in moving vehicles . We children thought it was all purely amazing, not knowing how pathetic the poor creature would always be when it came to travel.
The puppy's six new owners commenced on the long and difficult task of choosing a name, again resorting to tips my mom had gleaned. We were instructed to think of a two-syllable name ending with an "ah" or "oh" sound since such names were supposedly easier for dogs to recognize. Somehow this task proved a lot harder than originally expected. How many pet names can you think of that fit this criteria? An early suggestion in the conversation was Sarah, but it was quickly dismissed as too much of an actual name for "real" people. But by the end of the drive home, we faced a serious shortage of other viable suggestions and decided it would have to be Sarah.
And so Sarah became a part of our family.
Here are some interesting thoughts from the introduction to a new favorite coffee table book called Bird Watching by Paula McCartney.
I saw the book in a shop some time back and have had my eye on it since. I finally recently added it to my collection. The photos are very pretty and I was shocked when, after opening up the packaging and starting to explore its insides, I discovered McCartney's photographed world is a fake! Not a single real bird is depicted, but rather cheap craft store replicas. After a few incredulous moments, I laughed out loud and read the introduction. In it, Karen Irvine, the curator of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, offers a refreshing and fascinating discourse on how we hope to encounter nature and the role photography plays. She questions our motives and applauds McCartney's work as a tongue-in-cheek and whimsical exploration of our attitudes.
For those of us who love and frequent Instagram, dumping bajillions of pictures of our encounters with the world onto Facebook, I think the below thoughts are incredibly important. Are our expectations of nature honest? Do they need to be in the first place? It's good food for thought, so I'm passing on this paragraph, though I definitely encouraging you to check out the book itself.
"While the pristine natural settings McCartney photographs are already picturesque, she was looking for something more: 'I wanted to make the landscapes more romantic, more idyllic,' she explains. Like many painters throughout history, McCartney creates fictions at will, and uses birds as symbolic, beautiful elements within a controlled composition. And like the doves who repair Cinderella's dress in Walt Disney's movie, her passerines are friendly, feel-good additions to the landscape. McCartney's pictures reveal a strong need for the fulfillment of an ideal. In this respect they call forth broader issues concerning our relationship to nature and wildlife: What are our expectations when we approach the natural landscape? Are we always waiting for certain romantic experiences to punctuate our wandering, such as a deer running by or a perfect snowflake landing on our mittens? To what extent are we trying to satisfy a preexisting image of nature that we carry in our minds? And what role does photography play in fixing these images and desires in our consciousness?"
We've all got a freak flag. Mine is sometimes getting choked up by science. Yes it's true. Without a doubt, it's because I grew up in a physicist's household, but I don't understand why more people don't feel incredible awe at what we have discovered in the surrounding world. I especially can't understand those who have a relationship with the Creator of all and disregard or even disdain modern science. I just finished watching an hour long documentary that my dad gave me by the Discovery Institute on The Privileged Planet and while I don't think I could repeat back half of the ideas and scientific terminology discussed, I came away from the film with a heart of deep praise. The heavens declare his glory! All we see is fine tuned to reflect His wonder and point to something beyond us and I wish so badly that believers took more interest in the sciences. Modern science is not our enemy, but rather one of the greatest and most complex paths we can pursue to better understand the infinite beauty of the Creator. And so this is my freak flag - something I can't really claim to understand, but captivates my imagination.