Beautiful baby

When my kids were little, I liked playing with some of their toys more than others. Legos and Duplos were high on my list. Today’s joy: seeing that my granddaughter likes Duplos as much as I do.

The bright colors, the even rows of bumps, the interesting way they stick together and come apart, even if the intention to build something is still a long way off. Call it mindfulness or just the wisdom we have as babies but lose as we grow up, you know if you stop and pay attention that there is such pleasure in these little things. Even the simple act of passing a blue block back and forth, hand to hand, an act of connection, can be a moment of happiness.

Terrible things are happening in our world; don’t think I haven’t noticed. Don’t think this talk of bumps and blocks is just a silly distraction from what really matters. Yes, we must be about the business of making things right, but we’ll never have strength to persist in this work if we don’t remember to stop and enjoy the simple pleasures of being human.

I loved the way people smiled at me today as I pushed my granddaughter through the streets of the city. The man who said “beautiful baby” as we passed spoke the truth, but I know that what he really meant was that life itself is beautiful.

Back home we played with blocks some more and then she fell asleep on the couch, leaning against my leg, as I sang “You Are My Sunshine” (my repertoire is limited) and rubbed her back. And that made me about as happy as I think it is possible to be.

Beautiful baby. Beautiful life.

Wee wisdom

Life has been feeling harder than usual lately, for various reasons. I seem to know a lot of people who feel that way these days. Best antidote I know: spend an afternoon playing with a baby if you can, and for those who have no easily accessible baby at hand, I offer these bits of baby wisdom about living well:

Laugh a lot. Cry when you’re sad. Wave at everyone you pass. Blow kisses if you see other people kissing. Pat the dogs if their owners will let you. Share your toys. Applaud for yourself often. Eat what you like, and feel free to toss what you don’t like on the floor. Make funny sounds with your mouth just because it feels good. Check out everything you see, even if the tall people tell you it’s trash; they have no idea how much interesting stuff there is down at ground level. And go ahead and let them put funny hats on you. Sure it’s silly, but it makes them smile and keeps them coming back for more.

Live as if it mattered

“Coffee before talkie.”

Scarecrow wisdom. And pretty much how I start each day.

As I sat quietly with my coffee this morning, I happened across this advice to a student from one of the community partners working with the service program at the university where I used to be employed. It made such an impression on me that I wrote it down.

The student had just complained that the bad things in the world are so bad they seem hopeless. “There’s no way it’ll ever be fixed,” he said, “so what are we supposed to do about it, and what’s the use, anyway?”

And our community partner came right back at him: “Look, you use your brains and your hands and whatever you’ve got, you do whatever you can, but the important thing is that you get up every day and go out there and live your life as if it made a difference.”

Coffee before talkie. Live as if it mattered. Sometimes the truth is just that simple.

Why beauty

If I lift up innocence and wonder, don’t take it as a denial of all that is tragic in our world. If I let the horror be all I see, I might lose the resolve to resist it.

Billy Penn looking out over his city

Billy Penn City Hall American flag, Sonesta corporate logo

Billy Penn is a bruiser. He stands 37 feet tall and weighs 27 tons. The days when the brim of the hat was by handshake agreement the highest thing in the city ended 30 years ago, but this bronze simulacrum of Philadelphia’s founder still cuts an imposing figure, peeking out between buildings wherever you go in Center City. Earlier this year, he was washed and buffed from top to toe. Even the solid symbols of our ideals need to be spruced up a bit from time to time.
And the thing is, the City of Brotherly Love was always more of an ideal than a reality. Penn’s “holy experiment,” the colony of Pennsylvania, has always been a work in progress. It must be so because, as they say, we are only human. We put a cross atop our steeple, but it doesn’t mean the church is perfect. The only statement it makes is that this is our ideal, the standard we aim for and try to live ever closer to, knowing it must always be a little out of reach. To say out loud that we’ve fallen short is a actually mark of commitment to the process.

I love being part of these grand experiments. I love my country because of what it stands for. I love living in a place that was founded as an experiment in tolerance. We need to take care in what we lift up, and courageously, honestly commit to bringing these ideals to life

In exhortation

If I had to, I’d want the job of the one on the right.

Sermon illustration for the next time Romans 12:6-8 comes up and we have to explain what an exhorter looks like: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: … the exhorter, in exhortation.”

The golden hour

The golden hour: toward the end of the day, toward the end of the season. There is strange beauty even in the dying.

The Guest House
By Jelaluddin Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Robert “King” Carter’s grave marker
(photo by Beverly Davis Valcovic)

My seventh great-grandfather owned hundreds of slaves in colonial Virginia. He was a man so rich and powerful that his nickname was “King.”

His accomplishments were many: acting governor of Virginia, speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, rector of William and Mary College. His descendants, according to the current website for the church he built in Lancaster County, Virginia, “include three signers of the Declaration of Independence, two presidents, eight Virginia governors, General Robert E. Lee, a Supreme Court justice, and more than 20,000 other descendants” – among them, of course, myself.

In addition to his civic achievements, he also served for more than 40 years as vestryman and church warden for Christ Church Parish, which still exists, but only as a museum. The epitaph on his tomb there, translated from the Latin, describes “an honorable man” of “noble endowments and pure murals,” who “upheld equally the regal dignity and the public freedom” and was “possessed of ample wealth, blameless acquired.”

Continue reading