Friday, February 16, 2018

Two Final Words - A Lifetime of Meaning

It was a bitterly cold afternoon, the kind of cold that is unforgettable and unforgiving.  The sun was out but did nothing to ease the onslaught of bitter arctic air that had descended on the city for several days.  Our steps were audible as we crunched through the fallen snow and up the small incline to the gravesite.  

We clustered in a small circle, perhaps 20 of us altogether.  A gathering beneath a small tree on a gentle slope in the snow at the end of a life.  Granddad had chosen this location beneath the tree.  He liked it here.  Eighty-eight years faithfully lived by the family patriarch, working, loving, teaching us all by his quiet, humble and grateful example.  This was a very good man.

A small gold cross on the casket was removed and presented to the widow.  Yellow roses were handed out, and then in turn quietly placed on the casket by those standing by.  No sounds now, just the soft and cold wind swirling around.

As daughter Nancy, my wife, placed her rose, she broke the cold silence with two words that had been said likely countless times over the span of her life. 

Words yelled as a little girl, as she ran out the door to play at the neighbors' house.  Words spoken as she borrowed the car keys and headed out the door in high school, and then said perhaps with tears, as she boarded a plane to her new life in Los Angeles when she left home, after college. These same words were said with love, at the end of countless phone calls from far away in California.  Two words, offered many times at the end of visits home to Toronto in the intervening 30 years of marriage and raising a family - words often shouted out the car window, headed to the airport, packed with luggage and children and spouse.

But now, under the cold winter sun, those same words seemed far less routine and far more final.  Words spoken into the frigid air with a faint sense of ending and yet a subtle hint of a new beginning; 

"Bye Dad"  

I'll never forget that cold hillside, that bright sun, those with whom we stood.  I will never forget that man.  Cliff, my father-in-law.  Steadfast, caring, quiet, full of love for family, humble, grateful.  

Most of all, I'll never forget those two words and the depth of mystery they contain.  
The span of a man's life, condensed into moments of thankful remembering.  




Warm summer sun, shine brightly here,
Warm southern wind, blow softly here,
Green sod above, lie light, lie light,
Good night, dear heart; good night, good night.

Good Night, Dear Heart by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Norris Family Christmas Letter - 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, we bring you the warmest Christmas Cheer from the Norris family.  Now, the family highlights of 2017:

Always to the one to steal attention from others, Nancy grabbed the family headlines at the close of 2016 (just after last year’s Christmas letter had already been posted), by being thrown from a horse and breaking her arm.  I’ll never forget the call from her friend in the riding ring to my cell phone; “Steve, we are having quite the rodeo up here today!”  Thankful for serious pain medication in the ER, she sustained at rather neat and clean complete break of her right humerus, requiring surgery involving a shiny new plate and 12 screws!  Nancy then celebrated her accomplishment by joining the rest of the family two weeks later, by flying off to Banff, Alberta, Canada to enjoy winter snow, a brisk hayride, a gondola ride to the majestic top of the Rockies, and other family jocularity.  Now perhaps more of you will sympathize with the energy involved in being married to this wonderful, amazing, and always-in-motion woman.  After her quick healing, the year brought other new opportunities and challenges, from leadership roles at church, assisting in the organizing of the annual Prayer Breakfast in town, to a seat on the Board of Elizabeth House, a home for single new mothers in Pasadena.  And yes, she is back in the saddle again.

Kelly is now a seasoned third year teacher with LAUSD at Gerald Lawson Academy, and is well on her way to a Master’s Degree in Special Education.  I love the image of Kelly arriving in the school parking lot each morning as the sun rises, one of the first teachers to arrive to prepare her classroom and lesson plans; this is one dedicated and organized teacher.  Having a more organized and stable classroom with a team of great teaching aides has been a wonderful gift to Kelly.  This past year has provided a good amount of off-work fun – a series of providential events has resulted in many of her old church friends now all living close to each other here in LA – this is her “tribe”.  Also, she enjoyed a trip to visit our dear family friend Jill in Austin, and a recent trip to Toronto to see her grandparents and Canadian family.  Never lacking for adventure, Thanksgiving this year found Kelly and friends in Cuba, where she fell in love with the people, food, and culture.

Heather is learning life “backwards” in Seattle, where she has spent much of the past year awake all night - serving as a nurse’s assistant at Seattle Children’s Hospital.  All four of us had the opportunity to tour there this past fall; this is a world class teaching and research hospital.  What a privilege she has to work in this place and gain great experience as she plans on pursuing her Master’s Degree as a nurse practitioner in the coming years.  We were struck at the thoughtful way in which Seattle Children’s has been planned and designed - all with the patients, kids, in mind.  What a gift!  Heather loves living in the Pacific Northwest, and plans to spend lots of her free time skiing this winter.  She also is so thankful for her tribe in Seattle, and for the success of Husky football this year. (No comment from the Bruin here, except to comment that UCLA basketball now leads the nation in steals)

And in the accompanying photo you will find this fellow on the right with this ridiculous grin on his face.  Why is he grinning so oddly, almost as if in pain?  Could it have been that it felt like -45 degrees on the day the ladies decided it would be a good idea to go, oh, you know, dogsledding?!  Yes it’s true, one of my wife’s preferred rehab measures for a near compound fracture is to go dog sledding!  Or perhaps there is another reason my smile looks somewhat strained.  It might be that my smile is that sort of mildly ugly face you get before you weep.  Maybe it’s because on most days I still can’t believe that all this is true – that I met and married Nancy, a loving and genuine girl from the Frozen North, and that we would be blessed with beautiful, intelligent, fun-filled daughters. We are deeply grateful that Kelly and Heather are open to new adventures of growth and service. I think that explains the smile.  It’s a reaction to undeserved blessing and in turn, Thanksgiving.

In the end, isn’t that the point we are here?  To pay attention to what is going on in our lives. And in the midst of what life hands us; which is often frustration, or pain, or struggle, to weed out the good, the real friendships, the events and people that matter – and to give thanks to the One who has put us here in the first place?  And after we give thanks, to imagine ways in which we can make a difference.  Maybe to teach a child, maybe to love a mother who is completely scared as she faces an unwanted pregnancy, or to be at the bedside of a child facing illness.  Or maybe it’s to do what you do, each day – you friends – whatever that may be.  To be honest at work, to reach out to difficult people, to engage in the painful places, to work for reconciliation, bringing healing and new life.  To live out those ideals taught to us so many years ago, by the One who mysteriously became a baby in a barn in the middle of nowhere; and yet has become the central figure in history.

In keeping with this, I would direct you to the accompanying poem, “In Memoriam CVI” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.  Penned in Britain 1850, I cannot think of a more appropriate poem for the times we live in than this.  I encourage you to read it through, you will be quite surprised at its timeless message for today.  And then, maybe even go boldly, to stand up, glasses raised in toast, and read this loudly at the Christmas dinner table! 

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to every one! (thanks to Heather for designing our card!)





In Memoriam
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.




Sunday, October 29, 2017

Music in My Soul?




Recently a good friend, who also loves Bluegrass and the Steep Canyon Rangers, sent me this clip from NPR Tiny Desk.  I have purchased the Steep Canyon Rangers new album (featured above), and can't stop listening to it.

For some time now, I have wondered to myself, why I find some forms of Bluegrass so appealing, so heartwarming, and so strangely familiar.  Music from home, if you will.  I am beginning now to wonder if this affection may be something in my DNA.  Is that possible?  Can you love a style of music because perhaps one, or two, or three or more generations past, someone in your lineage also listened to and lived with and maybe also loved this music.  At this season of life, I'm beginning to think this might be so for me.

Perhaps this has a lot to do with my own lineage, my DNA, and perhaps something of well.... my soul.  Over the past decade or so, I have been slowly gathering information about my family heritage in online and some personal travel research.

As it turns out, I am very American - with both sides of my family extending many generations back.  Pictured at right is my great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Norris, who was born on December 4, 1850, in Winston, Mississippi; he married Elizabeth Martha Morrison on December 17, 1878, in Panola, Texas. They had nine children in 18 years. He died on December 21, 1929, in Frankston, Texas, at the age of 79, and was buried there.

I like to imagine Andrew and Liz heading to the County Fair, or perhaps a Saturday night social in Frankston, more than 100 years ago.  They would sit on the edge of the barn and listen to the local band play music quite similar to the Steep Canyon Rangers play today.

Is there music in our souls?  Can something we hear today ignite a small spark within us from many generations before?  Maybe it's so.

Enjoy.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

"I Fall" - Tony Silvestri - Lyrics, Eric Whitacre - Scoring

It was supposed to just be a night at a concert. 

But we left feeling as if we had witnessed someone’s heart being broken, and then, very slowly, healed.  It was excruciating and yet hauntingly beautiful.  And it all happened in choral song at Disney Hall. 

A number of years ago there was a lovely young lady who was part of our church college department whose name was Julie.  Julie met a young man named Tony Silvestri, and soon became Julie Silvestri.  Two young lives brought together in a wedding in the church sanctuary.  Soon, along came two beautiful children, Thomas and Emma.  It was a lovely life.

And then, to Julie came cancer.  After a rugged and difficult struggle, it took her life.  Tony and the children were on their own, left with their faith and friends to sustain them.  Our family watched this all happen, and if I am honest, this loss is on the top of my list of questions in life.  Why God?  Why did this death happen, to such good, and warm, and loving people?

Back to the night at the concert.  Several weeks ago we were at Disney Hall to enjoy the Los Angeles Master Chorale and choral composer Eric Whitacre.  There was to be a new piece performed that night, entitled “I Fall”.  What we did not expect was when Mr. Whitacre took the stage with the Chorale that evening – our friend Tony Silvestri would walk on with him.  We were floored, here was our friend, who has suffered such loss, standing on the stage at Disney Hall. 

Tony was there that night as over the past decade he has become a recognized choral composer.  And over that same time period he has formed a deepening friendship with Mr. Whitacre, as they have worked on various choral pieces together.  Tony took center stage, was handed a microphone, and told the audience of his journey of love and loss with Julie.  He said, “Now, after 10 years, I am finally able to write lyrics about this loss.  These lyrics are about the night Julie passed away, in the Emergency Room.  This work has been the deepest writing I have ever done.”

And then, “I Fall” was performed.  I cannot recall a time in all my years where we have quietly wept through an entire choral piece.  The music and words were profoundly piercing and yet strangely and wonderfully redeeming, altogether in a way I cannot begin to articulate. 

The lyrics, Tony later shared with me:

Listening to your labored breath,
Your struggle ends as mine begins.
You rise, I fall. 

Fading, yet already gone;
What calls you I cannot provide.
You rise, I fall. 

Broken, with a heavy hand
I reach to you, and close your eyes. 
You rise, I fall. 

Psalm 77 says to us, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.  My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” 

Julie rose, indeed.  And Tony fell.  

And yet, with time something beautiful, and mysterious, and redeeming has emerged, in song.  And in Tony’s life.  Redemption is slowly having its way.  With us all.  May we be open enough, with time, to recognize it happening.
  
Below, a short excerpt of Eric Whitacre and Tony Silvestri’s “I Fall”.  This piece is proposed as a part of series, to be recorded in London in the coming months.  Stay tuned.

Solo Deo Gloria




Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wait. Lent.

On the church calendar, it is Lent, a time of waiting.

But our worlds leave no time for waiting.  We have that big meeting on Tuesday with a client, that business trip to plan, the schlepping of the kids to school each day, that needy relative or friend who demands our time.  And the shopping, when will we find time for that?  We don’t have time to wait; we are too darned busy for that.
But wait.  What is the ending of the season of Lent?  A lowly, mysterious, confusing Jewish man betrayed.  Confused followers, some denying they even knew him.  A brutal death, and after moments of silent pause, an empty grave/cave - the single point in history in which the cosmos were cleaved in two.  Easter Sunday. 
This was a moment and a day that changed history.  Forever.  This odd man, this Jesus, commanded us to love our enemies, be ridiculously generous with our money and possessions, live lives of deep integrity, and plead for us to seek justice for all. He called his ragtag little bunch of followers to go to the cold places, the broken places, the dark corners of the world, the ragged edges; not just to proclaim good news — but to be, to live out into history, the good news of God’s love.
Recently, the LA Times published an article about the completely uncommon desert bloom of flowers, brought on by the record rains of this year.  I recently traveled through the Mojave as well, and was struck by a color I have never seen before.  Green! It's literally everywhere  in the desert. 
And yet, as we all know, this green is temporary, it will not last.  It is ephemerel - “of, for, or during the day, living or lasting but for a day, short-lived, temporary”.  

Summer will come, the green will fade, the flowers will wither.  We hear much of this language in the Scriptures as well.
Wait.  We who have chosen to follow this Jesus, we are not ephemeral people.  We are part of something ancient and timeless, that leads slowly to eternity.  And there are big peices to this deep tradition to which we all belong….
We Strive to live with Fearless compassion
In the third century, plagues ravaged the Roman Empire. Imagine the panic as a killer disease — probably smallpox — raged from person to person. While others banished the sick in fear for their own lives, Christians distinguished themselves in ways people had never seen before, described by Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria: “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ … drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
This impulse to put other people’s need ahead of our own, to sacrifice greatly for others, is the mark of a believer who embraces the words of John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  This is earthchanging.  
Wait.  We are part of a movement of timeless, fearless compassion.
We long to Love without labels
Imagine living in an era when people were rigidly ranked by race, gender, economic status, and even slave or free. This was the world Jesus entered — and shattered. He and His followers offered equality for all people created in God’s image. The early Christians preached that through the saving grace of Jesus, everyone is loved and forgiven, regardless of status. Galatians 3:26-28 expressed their new identity: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Amazing news for those on the bottom of society’s totem pole!
Today, our culture persists in affixing labels to people, dehumanizing entire groups and making them less worthy of our mercy and compassion. Some of those groups might be illegal immigrants, refugees, or Muslims, or even teenagers.  As Christ followers, we must learn to reject labels and look at people as God does, as valued and beloved beyond comprehension.
Friends, wait.  We are part of a clan of believers descending through history.  Hand to shoulder, this strange clan trys to extend deep friendship and real, tangible support to those who suffer under negative stereotypes.
These things, this Fearless Compassion, this Loving without Labels, these are what we try to do....
Our worlds leave little time for waiting.

Wait.  It’s Lent, friends.

We are not ephemeral people.  We are the people of God, we are part of something ancient, and timeless, and beautiful.  

Amen.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Good Night, Dear Heart

Good night, dear heart.

These words seemed to sound familiar to me.....

There are two stories of sadness associated with these words, which resulted many years after their writing, in the sublime beauty of a choral piece.  These are words that originated out of great loss on two separate occasions.  Another illustration that from great loss, with time, can come great beauty and hope for us all.

Good Night, Dear Heart, by composed by Dan Forrest:


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Norris Family Christmas Letter - 2016

Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?

Auld Lang Syne - “For the sake of old times” - is the translation of the Robert Burns poem, penned on the cold Scottish coast in 1788, and something many of us have sung on New Year’s Eve without a thought as to what the words might mean.  For us, this year, we choose to remember you – our long time and dear friends, as you take a moment to catch up on our family’s events of the past year.  You will not “be forgot”, and you are often brought to mind.

As the change and uncertainty of 2016 comes to a close, all the Norris clan gives thanks for our vocations, our friendships with you all, and the promise of a bright future, despite occasional clouds and sadness.  We know Who holds our future.

A year of milestones, new challenges, and opportunities for us all.  For Nancy, a season of transition out of her long-time role of Board Chair at Club21 (support for families and children with Down Syndrome) in Pasadena.  The Summer and Fall have brought new opportunities for mentoring and support raising with Elizabeth House, a home for single new mothers, also in Pasadena.  And this past year, Nancy has made new friends of the 1,500 pound variety – with horse riding lessons with the famed Rose Bowl Riders.  Her year also involved visits and some family change in Toronto, where her Mom and Dad have moved to Assisted Living; a time of transition, some loss, but grateful they are together with excellent care and in a beautiful setting.

For Kelly, the Fall meant back to school again in Room 1 at LAUSD Gerald Lawson Academy – in her classroom of eight autistic K through 2nd grade children.  Challenges and gifts, all rolled into one every school day.  Her classroom is new, bright, and filled with the artwork and study efforts of her students.  Her Mom and Dad are nearly bursting with thanksgiving and pride for Kelly’s faithful efforts each day.  Her pad in Mid-Wilshire is rumored to be the center of all fun social activities for Millennials in Mid City.  This Thanksgiving found Kelly in Chicago, visiting college friends, and 2017 will find her in Cuba.  Stay tuned!

Heather has successfully completed Phase I of her matriculation, with a wonderful sunny graduation ceremony at Husky Stadium at the University of Washington.  Family and friends gathered.  There was laughter and (parental) tears.  Heather is in the midst of studying for the GRE and filling out almost countless applications to nursing schools located mostly in the Western portion of the Fruited Plain.  In the meantime, she is providing specialized care for two teenage girls with Cerebral Palsy – challenging work that she finds deeply rewarding.  Dad had the chance to meet both of these girls and their families in Seattle in November – it was a great privilege, an encounter with what real courage looks like, and a morning I will always remember.  In her spare time, Heather sleeps.

And then there is the bald guy looking smug in the attached card.  He got a smidge older, not very much wiser, and a bit more wistful about this stunning group of beautiful ladies who form his family.  He is involved in somethings new – the Advisory Panel of the DePree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary, as well as assisting with Global Ethics efforts through the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.  Teaching at UCLA continues to challenge and inspire.  His team at the office continues to tolerate his often foggy late middle aged leadership, and they impress clients in spite of him.  In all things, he is entirely undeserving and thankful beyond speech.

There it is, our family life summed up in less than a page.  And there you are, our dear friends out there, reading this both near and far.  Together, there is a world out there for us to care for, and to hope to make better in the New Year.  We’ve had enough division.  We need some kindness.  With this in mind, we gift you these lyrics from Robby Burns, again….

We two have sported in the brook,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us have roared and swelled
since auld lang syne.
 
And here is a hand my trusted friend!
And give me a hand o' thine!
And we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne!

Christmas Grace and Peace from all the Norris Family!


Friday, November 25, 2016

Unexpected Encounter with Silence and Dignity

Recently, an early Saturday morning found me in a coffee shop in Seattle.

I was in town to enjoy a weekend with my younger daughter.   The morning would be full of conversation and breakfast, catching up as Dad and daughter.  Later in the day, we would head to Husky Stadium, part of an unbelievably loud crowd of more than 70,000 yelling fans. That evening would come dinner with dear friends, celebrating 22 years of their marriage.   I had just a few moments, and stopped into the coffee shop to acquire the caffeine I would need to start the day.

It was just a routine stop.  Or so I thought.  Until I was visited by Silence and Dignity.

As I stood in line waiting to order I noticed out of the corner of my eye a group of four construction workers come in the door.  They queued in line behind me, but in a silent fashion not typical of guys who spend their day either making loud noises with heavy equipment, or yelling at one another in order to get the job done.  After a moment, I began to notice the growing quiet.  Others in the line noticed as well, so did the baristas; together we spied a lively conversation was occurring right behind us in line - all taking place in sign language without a single uttered sound.  Vivid facial expressions, accompanied by the rapid hand movements of sign language filled the silent air.  Conversation, connection, community, all occurring in utter stillness.

As this conversation continued, I smiled and took in this rare moment.  In the midst of a massive noisy city, on what would be a busy, sound-filled day, in a world filled with unceasing motion and noise, I was strangely drawn to this quiet yet vivid conversation taking place entirely without a single sound.  It seemed as if the whole mood of the coffee shop seemed to calm in response to these new visitors.

As my coffee came, the workers settled into a corner of the shop to continue their intense chat in an animated fashion that seemed to fill the room, all in absolute quiet.  In those wondrous still moments in that otherwise mundane corner of a busy city - a profound silence broke out.  How can quiet make so much beautiful visual noise?  It was wonderful.  Quiet in the midst of rushing.  Calm found in a completely unexpected place.

Something else was there.  Dignity.  These men, who were so animated, so vital, so at ease in the mist of their Saturday morning work break, seemed to exude a very special form of poise and dignity.

This was a normal work day for them in 2016.  But if we just remember back several decades, these same hearing-challenged folk would have been relinquished to occupations far more simple - and placed in a quiet corner of society, typically out of view of the rest of us.  And now, they were there with us all - a normal part of a working day.

I was reminded me of the words of the Apostle Paul,
"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
This small group of otherwise ordinary working men spoke without words to me of the unseen power of silence, of self-confidence, and of the dignity of work.

There is depth of meaning and strength to be found in places that look, well, muted and weak - at least to those of us who might take a few quiet moments, and listen.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Henryk Górecki - Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 with Lyrics


This piece is know as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs", and was composed by Henryk Górecki.

First Movement

My son, my chosen and beloved
Share your wounds with your mother
And because, dear son, I have always carried you in my heart,
And always served you faithfully
Speak to your mother, to make her happy,
Although you are already leaving me, my cherished hope.
(Lamentation of the Holy Cross Monastery from the "Lysagóra Songs" collection. Second half of the 15th century)

Second Movement

No, Mother, do not weep,
Most chaste Queen of Heaven
Support me always.
"Zdrowas Mario." (*)
(Prayer inscribed on wall 3 of cell no. 3 in the basement of "Palace," the Gestapo's headquarters in Zadopane; beneath is the signature of Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna, and the words "18 years old, imprisoned since 26 September 1944.")
(*) "Zdrowas Mario" (Ave Maria)—the opening of the Polish prayer to the Holy Mother

Third Movement

Where has he gone
My dearest son?
Perhaps during the uprising
The cruel enemy killed him

Ah, you bad people
In the name of God, the most Holy,
Tell me, why did you kill
My son?

Never again
Will I have his support
Even if I cry
My old eyes out

Were my bitter tears
to create another River Oder
They would not restore to life
My son

He lies in his grave
and I know not where
Though I keep asking people
Everywhere

Perhaps the poor child
Lies in a rough ditch
and instead he could have been
lying in his warm bed

Oh, sing for him
God's little song-birds
Since his mother
Cannot find him

And you, God's little flowers
May you blossom all around
So that my son
May sleep happily
(Folk song in the dialect of the Opole region)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bon Voyage, Vin Scully!

Bill Plaschke of the LA Times, tells it true, here.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Arcturus, Hokule'a, Star of Joy

The Ancient Sky
When a city dweller is placed in a location where the night sky so easily reveals itself; there is a change to pause, look up, and wonder anew.

A Zenith Star is the point on this celestial sphere directly above an observer.  Zenith stars have been used for eons by explorers to way-find their way around this globe; something simply mathematical and quite amazing altogether - that by looking up, you can find your way forward.  I've been thinking about this the past couple of days.

This week, our family, all four of us, are taking some time away from the constant onward rush of life to rest and vacation.  And we find ourselves again in the Hawaiian Islands, which our youngest daughter refers to as "Dad's happy place".  And so it is.  I am very happy, thankful and grateful.

Part of my gratitude is expressed by taking the time each evening to walk outside, and simply take in the wonder of the night sky.  To pause and consider my nearly infinitesimal smallness in the scope of the universe.

The Zenith Star of the Hawai'ian Islands is the star Arcturus, which is known by the Hawaiian name Hokule'a.  Hokule'a is also known as the "Star of Gladness" or "Star of Joy" in Hawaii and Polynesia. This star is 36.7 million light years away from Earth, which I have learned, is not that far in terms of celestial measurement.  Hokule'a is also one of the brightest stars in the night sky; a good star to find your way by.

For Hawaii, Arcturus moves along a circle which passes directly overhead, through the zenith, once every twenty-four hours.  Traditional ancient way-finders use the rising and setting of the stars to navigate across the open ocean without compasses or other modern equipment; in effect, steering by the stars.  And as we'll learn, this is still happening even today.

How quaint, how ancient, how outmoded.

The Modern Dilemma 
But we modern folk, what need have we of the stars?  We have smartphones in our pockets that contain thousands of times the computing power that found the way of the Apollo lander on the moon.  We have modern science, world-renowned universities, medicine, and the self help book section of Amazon.  Certainly now, stars are of little use to us, other than to gaze at on vacation, and perhaps have a brief moment of existential wonder and then, back indoors.

And yet, life happens to us, and oftentimes it hurts beyond measure, and bewilders us.  We are left entirely without answers.  Friendships dissolve for reasons that make no sense.  We loose our jobs, and wonder what in the world will happen next.  Wars rage, with no end in sight.  A frightening diagnosis comes in a call from the doctor, and we cannot see the way forward through our fear.  Children, the most undeserving and innocent of all, become sick, or are abused or abandoned - and it makes absolutely no sense.  We feel rage, often at God.

Jackson Browne once wrote in a song "The Night Inside Me":
I used to lay out in a field under the Milky Way
With everything that I was feeling that I could not say
With every doubt and every sorrow that was in my way
Tearing around inside my head like it was there to stay
With all that seems to give life order, often things do not work out in order at all.  It makes no sense.

That Star 
As it turns out, there is a boat named after that star.  Hokule'a is a twin hulled ocean going canoe, built by the Polynesian Voyaging Society.  For many years now, Hokule'a has been navigating the oceans of the world, showing us all that wayfinding is a remarkable achievement.

The amazing voyages of the Hokule'a are undertaken without modern navigational equipment such as GPS devices, and even without compasses: ancient traditional navigation techniques are employed instead. In a remarkable book entitled The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, author and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis describes in compelling prose the techniques used on these journeys:
Enshrouded by the night, the canoe itself became the needle of a compass that was the sky. Behind us sat the navigator, a young woman named Ka'iulani, Nainoa's protege. She would remain awake for twenty-two hours a day for the entire voyage, sleeping only for fleeting moments when the mind demanded a rest.
Ka'iulani, like her mentor Nainoa and all of the experienced crew, could name and follow some 220 stars in the night sky. She knew and could track all the constellations, Scorpio and the Southern Cross, Orion, the Pleiades and the North Star, Polaris. 

More than 20 centuries ago, it seems the Polynesians knew more than we do.  They had committed the patterns and rhythms of the night sky to memory - they had taken the sky into their heads and hearts - and by this found their way across an ocean to a new future.  They looked up and found their way forward. Simple, yet elegant; plain yet stunning in its geographic reach.  A guiding star - what a concept.

In the ancient, we find something of great use to use to moderns.  Just look up; for guidance, but also for wisdom, for courage, hope, and for gladness and joy.

And so, we have come more than 2,300 miles to this lovely, sublime tropical spot in the middle of the Pacific.  Almost mysteriously, we arrived here at jet speed, by GPS guidance and world-wide communications systems, on board the most modern of aircraft.  We will go home the same way, all that distance in a matter of hours.  It never ceases to amaze me.

But this time, on the way home, I'll look out of the window at the sea below, and remember Hokule'a the star and the boat.  I'll also remember the Maker of all the stars in the Universe, set so beautifully in order above us all.

If only we might look up, we can make our way forward.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Godspeed - The Film - Coming Soon

I am fascinated by this film, which is presently in production, and due to be released soon.


Godspeed Trailer // 2016 from The Ranch Studios | Danny Lund on Vimeo.
http://www.livegodspeed.org

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Great Remember (for Nancy)

In the end, love and friendships are all that matter in life.

Recently, I noticed my wife listening to a song on Pandora, something I had heard before and yet could not place.  It was a solo banjo piece (called "The Great Remember - for Nancy) written by Steve Martin. Haunting and so melancholy.   Several weeks later, just now, I have found that song, and read more about its meaning.  Oh my.

Steve has been friends for many years with Martin Short. I smile just thinking about "Father of the Bride" and the way those two made for such a fun film.  As it turns out, and I was unaware of, Martin Short lost his wife Nancy several years ago to ovarian cancer.  They were married for many years, and together raised their three adopted children.  Those kids have done well, one graduating from NYU, and two from Notre Dame.  

Steve has been quoted about the song,

 “That sounds like a song that could take lyrics, but I actually talked it over with my wife and … lyrics almost come to a listener and that’s why I actually didn’t write lyrics for it, because the mood is so clear in the song. I didn’t really want to ruin it with lyrics. I didn’t want to direct the listener one way or another because it’s such an emotional song.”
A touching love story - a great loss - and Steve's song for his friend Martin.  All so bittersweet.  Such is life itself.

My wife is named Nancy.  She has had a brush with cancer, by undeserved grace she is by my side today.  This song always sort of stopped me in my tracks, I never want it to end.

Now I know why.  I think this melody may always be playing softly in the background of my life.  Thanks Steve Martin; blessings to you Martin Short.

Here, the music speaks for these deep emotions in an entirely touching and mysterious way.....

Friday, June 03, 2016

Honoring the Greatest Generation

My Dad was a WWII pilot, about which I have written here before.

"For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return."

Leonardo da Vinci

This video is remarkable, and speaks of the graceful humility of a current Southwest pilot, and the quiet service of another WWII vet, born the same year as my Dad.

In an age of brash, offensive, and seemingly thoughtless politicians and business leaders, this is what service, humility, and leadership really look like.  Forgive me, but men such as these are what helps make America a great place.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Behold. Our Home!

Make sure you watch this full screen.....



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Norris Family Christmas Update - 2015

Annual Update of the Scattered Norris Clan
Another year has passed, and thus the time when we share a bit of our lives with those dear in a simple letter.  If for just a moment, might you pause in the midst of the Holiday whirlwind to sit with us; to stop, and take stock, reflect on the passing of time, and give thanks for it all, both the bitter and the sweet?  And in giving thanks we remember the greatest gift of all, the unexpected child born in a barn, who changed the course of our lives and all history.

This year I thought we might bring to you the events of our individual lives by sharing less of the accomplishments of us each, but more by the visceral - what we have seen, or sensed, felt in our hearts, witnessed with awe, and perhaps shared together in the past year.  And so, from many points on the compass, are the experiences of Nancy, Kelly, Heather and Steve during 2015.

Nancy
“Each year I always feel like there are always many joys to share, sorrows to lament and multiple ways that, if I am paying attention, I might see beautiful ways that God truly inhabits the majestic and the mundane.  This year was no exception.  It was a honor to witness and celebrate the marriages of five couples: always a reminder of my commitment and covenant with Steve, now for 27 years.  My heart was full and proud standing before a crowd of almost 1,400 at the Club 21 Walk-a-thon in October, each person present a believer in the possibilities of the lives of each child with Down syndrome. Another time, holding a new born baby that belongs to a young and homeless mama: praying for provision and protection for this little life.  Then, feeling the cold Fall air and sea mist on my face as I rode the ferry, alone across the Puget Sound to Vashon Island.  Being with our girls is one of my biggest joys, hands down, each time more precious as their careers, school, and grown up responsibilities rightly require their full attention."

Kelly
“A year of transition.  A whirlwind of change.  I said a final goodbye to my sweet Chicago.  I taste Texas BBQ. I swim in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea in the same day.  I feel -30 degree wind chill.  I hear 60,000 Huskies chant "Go Dawgs!".  I feel small at 36,000 feet over the Rocky Mountains.  I see the sunrise over South Central every morning.  As a teacher now, I have six different days every day.  I pay more attention to detail.  I have learned routine can be taken for granted.  I face my privilege head-on.  I embrace my tribe with more intent.  A year of new adventures ahead with much to be grateful for.”

Heather
“I remember riding my bike through Dublin, the Irish wind at my back. Gazing across the wonderland of the Swiss Alps, and sharing Tuscan wine with new friends on the streets of Florence; that semester of traveling Europe and doing life on my own, away from anything comfortable and familiar. My first Seattle summer; camping, boat rides, lake days and re-entering my community of deep friendships. Now, my last year of undergrad, preparing for Nursing school and cherishing sweet friends.  Doing all of this with the One who makes me who I am. A year of many firsts and lasts, facing the unknown and learning to trust.”

Steve
I remember feeling the Irish wind and sea spray on my face on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, of being surrounded by the beautiful warm folk music of Ireland in a cozy pub on a chilly night, and then trodding the soft earth of the churchyard in East Anglia where my 11th generation ancestor is laid to rest, and of visiting the home in Weymouth where Nancy’s great-great grandfather was raised in the late 1800s.  I recall peels of soft thunder aloft and bright lightning one August twilight in Toronto.  I smile as I recall the laughter of a business dinner in Alexandria, Virginia with a former Jesuit from New England, an Anglican from London, and a Jew from Brazil discussing both the nature of God and the importance of business ethics.  Rich conversations, deep friendships.  Thanksgiving dinner with dear friends in Seattle with frost on the ground outside.  And more recently, the feel of my 87 year old Aunt’s hand in mine as she approaches her final transition of life, a woman still gracious, laughing, and deeply grateful for a rich life well lived.  Reflecting on the remarkable lives of two daughters, one now teaching special education with passion, love and dedication in the inner city, and another focusing on finishing her senior year of college well. 

The bitter and the sweet, the laughter and the tears, all good things, all mysteries in a way, all part of the Kingdom here and now.  From our home to yours, we wish you much love, a very Merry Christmas, and wishes for a bright and peaceful New Year.

As this is the blog version of our old-fashioned paper letter, I thought I might share something visual that we love, and might give us all a peek into the real gift of Christmastide ..... love:




Wednesday, December 09, 2015

To Scale: The Solar System

This short film is truly an example of an existential moment, or should be, for us all:


To Scale: The Solar System from Wylie Overstreet on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sing Me to Heaven (Again)

Some time ago I posted this choral piece here.  Several months later a smaller choral group, with far better sound posted a cleaner version, that I thought I should place here now.  The lyrics follow.

I spend so much of my time busily rushing through life, trying to justify my existence.  Some day, I shall become dust - these lyrics in part reflect my great hope for a peaceful and grace-filled conclusion to life's journey.


In my heart’s sequestered chambers lie truths stripped of poet’s gloss.
Words alone are vain and vacant, and my heart is mute.
In response to aching silence memory summons half-heard voices,
And my soul finds primal eloquence and wraps me in song.

If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby.
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song.
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
Sing me a requiem, Sing me to heaven.

Touch in me all love and passion, pain and pleasure,
Touch in me grief and comfort; love and passion, Pain and pleasure.

Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a requiem,
Love me, comfort me, bring me to God:
Sing me a love song, Sing me to heaven.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Suki Kim - Teaching in North Korea

This is so moving.  The oppression of North Korea as told from someone who has lived it....




Saturday, June 06, 2015

Lost in Time Along The Cliffs of Mohr

Doolin, County Clare
It was an evening where we were, all together, lost in time - under a dark and cloudy sky in a pub in Ireland.  It will take a long time before the memory fades of that night we three shared; myself, my wife, and younger daughter. It happened this past March.

Doolin, County Clare, is a desolate, seaside windswept village that, like much of Ireland, dates to before the first century.  Even the trees here seem set firmly against time, leaning almost parallel to the ground, bent from the constant and stiff prevailing onshore sea breeze.  Twisted and gnarled, they are determined to survive the centuries, just as have the Irish people.  Through famine, religious persecution, plunder by invading armies, and abandonment by their neighbors, the Irish have hung on and survived.  Through all this time, these people have both stiffened their resolve and softened their hearts toward others.  They face their days with smiles on their faces and music in their hearts.  Irish music.

In we ducked, out of the moist and quiet night, inside to the warm pub on this cold and drizzling Irish night.  Outside lay the lonely, sparse and brilliant dark green hillsides near the black and restless sea.   The feeling is that one has been transported to a place that spans the centuries.  You seem to go missing; between the rush of today and the quiet and calm of ancient times.  We were in O'Connors Pub, the center of evening life in little Doolin, quite far from the maddening crowds.  Over the years artists and writers, including J.M. Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Dylan Thomas, Augustus John and Oliver St. John Gogarty spent time in Doolin, often in the welcoming atmosphere of O’Connors, which dates back to 1832.

Visiting much of Ireland outside of the larger cities leaves an emotion within you often, as if you have moved strangely backward into the past.  A time you cannot exactly place, but that feels refreshing and renewing.  At home, in a way.  You find yourself in conversations with total strangers, and yet the talk is warm and familiar, as if you had bumped into an old neighbor who you had not seen in a while.  And this is what the western coast of Ireland does; something within is awakened and at the same time rested in the soul.  Earlier this same day, we had visited the storied Cliffs of Mohr, home to so much Irish legend, tragedy, and music.

The Cliffs of Mohr
Along the Cliffs of Mohr
But this night, we had come to O'Connors in search of the ancient yet modern music of Ireland, as Doolin is known as a cradle of Irish music.  We were told earlier in the day by the bartender that the music would start at "Nine Tirty (9:30) pee emm".  And so we came.

Sure enough, a small band of locals gather right at the appointed time; a flutist of 65ish, with grey hair and a face at once weathered and reflective, an accordion player who could double for Robert Plant, a second flutist of perhaps 45 still wearing his work boots - looking as if he had spent the day caring for the sheep on a hillside just down the road, and a lovely young lady fiddle player - who could also have been the local elementary school teacher.  They all appeared separately over the next 15 or so minutes; sitting down and producing their instruments out of weathered cases or backpacks.  A table had been reserved in the center of the pub for them, filled with beers and ciders and coffees for the players.  There was no sheet music anywhere - this music welled up from within their hearts and minds, and eons of Irish history. 

As each member joined the group the music just continued
naturally, there were short hellos and nods of greeting, but the music itself took precedence - entertaining and playing together was their happy task.  After about 30 minutes it was time for a break, and something unique yet ordinarily Irish happened.  Something unexpected for us Americans.  Something beautiful.

During the break for the band, a man of about 75 stood up from his place with his friends in the corner and announced, "I am goin' to sing a love song for you.  I hope you won't mind my warbling.  This is a love song.  It's called the Cliffs of Mohr."

And then he closed his eyes and began to sing.  He too seemed transported to a different place and time as he sang in perfect pitch:

THE CLIFFS OF MOHER
Lyrics & music by Dermot Kelly         

I'm sitting on the cliffs of Moher
Looking out to sea.
The broad
Atlantic swells below me
A bridge love between you and me.
The puffins cry above the tide
The seagulls glide through the air
They’re calling you back from New York City
Back home to the
county of Clare.

Come back, come back, sweet Annie
Come back for I will be there.
We'll sing and we'll play
In the old-fashioned way
On the hillside of sweet
County Clare.
    
When he finished, both my wife and I had tears in our eyes, without really understanding why.  There was a brief moment of quiet, and then polite applause.  Apparently, this sort of sweet solo performance is a common thing in O'Conners.

It has taken me more than a month to understand what made this evening so meaningful to me.  After returning to my busy life here, I have had time to reflect on what we all experienced that night in Doolin.  We witnessed beauty.  Beauty in the simple band of four friends making music, beauty in the windswept hillsides, and beauty in the simple words of an Irish ballad.

I am fairly convinced that we often move too fast through life to appreciate the beauty in the ordinary.  Perhaps being out of our ordinary lives that night, half way across the planet from our homes, along our willingness to just take in the evening put us in a place where beauty could find us.  But this was not ordinary beauty, this was a mysterious and sacred thing, something from another time and place altogether.  What we experienced was a partial and momentary response to the longing we all have within us.

Pastor and theologian N.T. "Tom" Wright puts it so well:
"But the present world is also designed for something which has not yet happened. It is like a violin waiting to be played: beautiful to look at, graceful to hold-and yet if you'd never heard one in the hands of a musician, you wouldn't believe the new dimensions of beauty yet to be revealed. Perhaps art can show something of that, can glimpse the future possibilities pregnant within the present time.” 
In that little pub in Doolin, we were confronted with Beauty, and it took hold of us for just a while.  Something deep and wide and completely lovely.  The future possibilities pregnant within the present time.


Maybe if we are more willing and open, beauty will find us more often.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Psalm of Life

Today, I discovered this classic poem.  It quite accurately expresses some of my thoughts and feelings at both the end of the year, and at this middle point in my life.

A Psalm of Life

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.
 
 
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
   Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
   Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
   Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
   And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
   Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
   In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
   Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
   Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
   Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
   With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
   Learn to labor and to wait.
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