Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weekend in Winchester, Virginia: Saturday

With a temperature outside of about 16 degrees on this Saturday morning, snow began lightly around 8:00 a.m. as Karen and I breakfasted in the George Washington Hotel restaurant in Winchester, Virginia, where we are spending the weekend. We discussed some activities for the day, beginning with a drive west of 15 miles on Rt. 50 to the tiny town of Gore, VA, in a valley just into the Alleghenies. American writer Willa Cather was born in Gore in 1873; she lived there for ten years in two different houses before moving to Nebraska with her family. Both houses still stand; one is the house in which she was born. Just before Gore, on a gravel road about 100 yards off 50 are the remains of a house and small farm from at least the early 20th century, possibly latter 19th century. Next to that is a small, nearly forgotten family cemetery. Pioneer Jeremiah Smith moved onto the land in the early 1760s, with a grant from Lord Fairfax. He and a number of his descendants are buried there. Most gravestones are small, worn, even broken; names and people obscured by time, weather, inattention. Cold and thickening snow accentuated the poignancy. After exploring this area and the town itself, we headed back to Winchester. Along the way, sloping down the ridge into the Shenandoah Valley, we stopped along 50 so I could walk back up the highway to photograph ice formations on the rocks slanting high up on one side of the road. An interesting aesthetic and naturalistic experience as cars and trucks zoomed by on the snowy, icy pavement while I stood on the shoulder of the road. From there we aimed to visit the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley on the west side of Winchester. However, by that time (nearly 11:00 a.m.), snow had been increasing for a couple of hours, and the museum had closed due to weather! A portent as it turned out. We coped by going back to the hotel to park the car and focus on in-town adventure. Hence, we walked a couple of blocks to the Old Courthouse Civil War Museum in town. Too much to report on a fascinating visit there. A few details: the courthouse and yard were used as a hospital, prisoner of war facility, and barracks during the Civil War. There are graffiti inside from captured soldiers. Displays of Civil War relics and photographs are most interesting and informative. Meanwhile the snow continued heavily, with about 4 inches on the ground and the temperature at about 17 degrees. And so staff decided to close the museum early about 1:00 p.m.! We had had a good time there, and we were ready for lunch, so we didn't mind. We walked around the pedestrian mall of old town Winchester, and it became clear the town was starting to close up because of the snow. Many shops and eating places were closed or closing. We finally found a place for lunch, and that was good, for we were hungry and beginning to wonder where might find a place still open for us to eat lunch. After eating, we decided to walk the two blocks to the Handley Library, should it still be open, so we could explore the historical archives; but alas it too had closed early! And so at 2:30 p.m., after splendid adventures in history and geography and weather, we decided that returning to the hotel for reading was the best option for the remainder of the afternoon. Snow is now tapering off in the late afternoon, with about 5 inches in total, still very cold outside, and dark coming on. So far, with what we have done, and despite early closings, it has been an absolutely delightful winter day in Winchester and environs. The only question is whether we can find a place open for dinner!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Festival in Winter

A wet snow had fallen a couple of days before, in advance of a bitter cold front scudding in on fierce, northwesterly winds. In the early morning, the wind still blustering, under a gray-metaled sky with a thin band of ruddiness eastering along the Blue Ridge, I slanted across fields and lanes at the state arboretum in Clarke County, through snow now compacted and hardened to crust and ice.

Painfully cold at first, I lost most sensation in my ears and extremities after a while, such that I adjusted and moved past the worst of the pain. Nevertheless, I sought some refuge from the bitter wind by taking a path among scrub brush. The tall bushes and saplings cut the wind noticeably, and I felt more comfortable. The cold became distinctly more bearable, and I began to be able to focus more closely on the surroundings.

Amid this severe beauty, I continued on the path into a wooded area, even more sheltered from the wind. Now it was just cold, around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but tolerable. I stopped to observe, to watch and listen, in the calm at my level, while the heights of the trees, 40 to 50 feet above, swayed and rattled in the wind. I became aware of other movement and sound around me; and I wondrously realized there were at least several dozen cedar waxwings flitting around me in the woods, clustering on tree branches and fallen logs to eat of berries and drink of snow. The whir of glossy brown wings and bodies, basically unconcerned with me, took over my senses while I stood as still as I could.

The cedar waxwings and I were in a stand of hackberries. The common hackberry tree produces a green fruit in summer that ripens reddish brown to purple in autumn. After a hard frost, the small berries are particularly sweet. Hence the congregation of waxwings, for these elegant birds dine largely on fruit, especially in fall and winter. Fruit constitutes such a significant part of their diet that they are known as frugivorous birds. They favor hackberries, when available, greatly.

And there, in my stillness, I stood, I watched and listened, for an indeterminate time. A half hour? An hour? A quarter of an hour? In that moment, that space, I could not tell. I lost track of time, of cold. I knew only the flashing mass of cedar waxwings at feast among the trees and snow.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 4:1-16

When I was an infant I was truly but not fully human. Being truly human – in the sense of being human instead of some other creature – is only the beginning of being fully human. To live into the fullness of human personhood takes a lifetime.

We see this manifestly in children. Children grow in many ways: intellectual; emotional; moral; and spiritual. That children grow physically seems to make visible the reality of their non-physical growth. We expect change over the years for children. We expect growth in a myriad of ways, physical and non-physical.

When we reach adulthood, we may lose much of this expectation for our self. We no longer mature physically as children do. We age instead of mature. To the extent we grow physically, it is often in unhealthy ways. Sadly, along with this we may lose an expectation of continual maturation in intellectual, emotional, moral, and spiritual ways. Far too much, we only grow in these things unevenly, fitfully, or meagerly.

Yet Paul, in this rich passage in Ephesians, exhorts us to continual spiritual growth or maturation. His evocative phrase – “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” – and his unpacking of it deserve our long, prayerful reflection. In this space we can only note two principles of great importance.

The one principle is the necessity of spiritual growth. God truly gives us new life in Jesus. The fullness of this new life requires growth over time. It is unworthy of Jesus and our relationship with him to remain spiritual infants. We must grow in spiritual maturity over our entire life. The second principle is the measure of a worthy life. God calls us to live in a manner worthy of the new nature he has given us. How do we know what is worthy? A clamor of voices in our culture promote this or that standard of the full and good life. Paul points to one standard only: “…become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

God makes us new people. God energizes us through the Spirit to mature continually. God shows us in Jesus what it means to live truly and fully human, over this life and into the next. What a glorious goal! Nothing else is as worthy as what God desires and makes possible for us in Jesus! May we, with Paul, ever grow in living a life worthy of what God has made us.