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 - 2016

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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Subtle Sensations of Faith



I recently came across this article, which expresses well some of the essentials of a life of faith.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Norris Family Christmas Communique - 2014



Christmas Joy from Clan Norris of (originally) South Pasadena
For years, I have heard my sweet wife telling friends, more particularly new parents, that “The days seems long, but the years rush by”.  I just Googled that, and it is a Nancy Norris original, found nowhere else on the Interwebs.  As 2014 closes, we find ourselves a living testament to that idea this year.  We have no idea what happened to 2014.  But if we will just pause for a minute, we will recall it as a year packed with so very much to be thankful for, lots to celebrate, some losses to mourn, and countless moments, people and friendships for which we are deeply, abidingly thankful.  Your friendship tops the thankful list.  With that in mind, below find “A Year in the Life of The Norris’ “, as related to Dad via emails from all points on the compass, and forthwith semi-faithfully retold.

LA / Chicago / Elsewhere 
This has been a year of transition, change, and a return to one last year in beloved Chicago for Kelly.  For the past six months, she has returned to the City of Broad Shoulders to serve as a nanny for, in Kelly’s words: “two very fun boys, ages 4 and 8, and a very generous and loving pair of parents”.  Nancy and I can personally vouch for this family’s hospitality and warmth, after enjoying a late September feast outdoors on the patio at their home.  Kelly has a heart to see the world; and was also able to visit New Orleans, have great friends visit her in Chicago, and join her whole family for the Bruin / Husky game in Seattle.  What a fun weekend was that!  The past year also found her in Costa Rica for a remarkable six week immersion into the Spanish language; as well as the rain forests and tropical coastal waters.  Kelly is preparing for her eventual vocation as an elementary grade teacher here in LA, very likely with a classroom of largely Spanish speaking children.  I tell people all the time; given her caring heart and love for kids, Kelly is now, and will continue to be one of my greatest heroes.

What Rain?  Life in Seattle
Heather continues to love her life at UW in Seattle!  She is so very thankful for “my awesome, encouraging, thoughtful” Seattle community of friends.  Nancy and I have met many of these folks; they are indeed a warm, fun, thoughtful and remarkable group.  Might we all be so blessed.  She was accepted (hurray!) into the psychology program at school this past fall, and is starting to think more seriously about an additional degree in nursing after graduation.  This past summer Heather again served at YSSC Camp near Yosemite, and was filled to the brim with hard work, the beauty of Creation, and joy in serving kids and God.  Never one to sit still for long, at the dinner table when she was three years old, or today; Heather is off to Ireland soon after Christmas for a semester at University College Dublin.  Adventure awaits!

Of Faith, Service, Laughter, Joy
Nancy feels that each day is a gift.  She is thankful to continue serving as the Board Chair/Volunteer of Club 21 an agency serving families with Down Syndrome.  As a newer non-profit, Club21 is more financially stable and is growing in many ways.  More than these things, it is amazing to watch these beautiful, courageous families and children make new friends, discover learning resources, and find belonging and hope.  This must be what pure joy looks like!  Nancy has also begun mentoring young girls through Elizabeth House, a home for pregnant, homeless women in Pasadena.  And if that were not enough, during the past year she has been key in the welcoming two recent college grads in to our home as guests while they begin life in the Real World.  It has been loads of fun to have their energy, appetites, long conversations that matter, laughter, and friends grace our home in this season of their lives…and ours!  She misses the Norris girls, but since the Fall brought us together in Seattle and Chicago, her heart is full indeed.

This Wondrous Ride - Dad
And then there is Dad.  I have somehow mysteriously reached the season in life where I must admit I am well in the depths of middle age.  And this same season offers more of a long view; a perspective on all this going and coming, these great gifts in the form of two active and now adult daughters and the daily affection and partnership of a remarkable wife.   

How did we all get here, all of us, to just this place?  Where are those smallish hands of little girls I used to hold in mine, those tiny giggles from the back seat of the car, driving to some sporting event with friends.  Alas, those hands are larger now, and beautiful, and offered to lift others up, to give courage, to provide friendship and love.  Those voices have matured and become more graceful.  How has life turned out like this?  Is this just random happenstance, or might there be some great Author writing all this, making this story both often beautiful and sometimes frightening?

The answer to these questions is perhaps found within the verses a of a Christmastide sonnet (found below), entitled “Descent”, and written by our new friend Malcolm Guite, who is an Anglican priest, chaplain, poet, and singer-songwriter living in Cambridge, England.  Nancy and I met Malcolm earlier this year at a retreat in the Texas hill country, and found him a true renaissance man of great insight and hilarity.  He also is a dead ringer for Santa!  I would encourage you read this piece slowly, ponder its meaning, and perhaps share it with those you love over the Holidays.

Christmas Peace, Joy, Laughter, and Love to all from our home to yours!


Descent

They sought to soar into the skies
Those classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
But you came down.

You dropped down from the mountains sheer
Forsook the eagle for the dove
The other Gods demanded fear
But you gave love

Where chiseled marble seemed to freeze
Their abstract and perfected form
Compassion brought you to your knees
Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice
Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain,
Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,
Aloof from birth and death and pain,
But you were born.

Born to these burdens, borne by all
Born with us all ‘astride the grave’
Weak, to be with us when we fall,
And strong to save.

- Malcolm Guite

malcolmguite.wordpress.com

Monday, November 24, 2014

Christian Wiman & Eugene Peterson

In October, my wife and I had the unique privilege of being a part of a weekend with these two men.  I am stilling pondering the conversations.  I will try to write on more of this soon, but here is a visual beginning:


Poet and Pastor: Christian Wiman & Eugene Peterson from Laity Lodge on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Of Sea, and Sunsets, and a Land without Time


“as wave upon wave rolls in, breaks on the beach, and sinks away in the endless gray water; eternally one and ever another…life is but a moment before the ancient, primal sea.  And we are unable to turn our gaze away, for hours on end we stare over the foamy crests, outward – to where? – we hardly know ourselves, but it draws our gaze into the endless distance, out to where the sun sinks into the sea, where the waves rise, and the soul stretches out, wants to know what the eyes cannot sense – wants to know about what is beyond the grey sea – or whether it just continues on eternally like this, without and end, without a beyond, a process of becoming and passing away with neither measure nor goal – and yet as intensively as it searches, it always sees the same drama…no hope…eternal hiddenness.”

Surviving fragment of a sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from November 28, 1928


Recently, we have spent a week on the island of Kauai, enjoying warm days devoid of schedules, routine, and the seemingly endless hurry of the mainland.  Each day, we three spent a good amount of our time simply gazing out at the endless breaking waves on the beachfront; enjoying local surfers plying the waves for hours.  It’s remarkable how soothing this can be; how soft and gentle upon the busy and weary urban soul.  

In reading and conversation during that week, I learned that the ancient Hawaiians had no form of time keeping before the arrival of European explorers, and historians are unaware of any reference to their use of anything resembling a sundial to keep track of the time of day.  Hence, there were no Hawaiian words referring to precise time prior to the arrival of Europeans; before the arrival of our schedules, and meetings, and “efficiency”.  

Before we came, there were just these warm and gracious people, and this brilliant blue sky, pure white clouds, palm trees, and the sound of the endless breaking of this deep blue ocean.  Before we Europeans arrived came there were only the perpetual nightly sunsets of saffron, leaded grey, and brilliant red gracing the horizon.  Nightly gifts of Providence fading toward eternity.  

The last time we visited here was nine years ago.  Our daughters were just 11 and 14, and we enjoyed a fun vacation on two islands, engaged in all sorts of kid-friendly activities.  This time there are three of us, as Older Daughter is starting off a new post college life, away in Chicago with her new job, and tribe of warm friendships.  There is a gentle bittersweet to this trip.   Earlier this week we three took a trip back in time to a place we visited during our last stop here.  It was if we each were being drawn back to relive something deeply good and full of mercy. 

Tunnels Beach is on the far north shore of Kauai, north of Waimea Bay, where the road stops and you just cannot drive anymore.  After the Big War, there was an attempt to build a road around the north end of the island, but this is one of the wettest spots on the planet, and after months of surveying and planning and then attempting to dig into the jungle, the effort was abandoned; surrendered to nature and given back to the persistent rain and endless time of this island.  

Tunnels is also known as one of the easiest and best spots on this island for snorkeling.  We headed to the end of the road,  across to the beach, and into the blue waters; warm and gentle.  We swam out into the surf, suddenly surrounded by an abundance of ocean life right beneath us.  Reef fish of every imaginable color and size, eels slithering at arm’s length – a striking gift before our eyes.  Coming back up for air, you take a look back at the beach and are rendered nearly speechless at the vista of the deep green mountains that descend down to the beach, of palm trees, and of brilliant blue water around you.  I’m not sure if the tears in my eyes were from the salt water, or the brilliance of that view.  

Or perhaps it was the sudden and deep understand of Who it was that designed all this rich tropical beauty for us to absorb.  After just a few minutes of exploring, we encountered the gentle and constant underwater attendants of the reef – soft green adolescent sea turtles gently swimming through the tide.  We spotted at least three; each one wearing on his face what seemed to us like a soft smile as they gazed back at us - we awkward large white creatures wearing what must look like space suit snorkel gear on our faces.  I suspect those turtles know something of timelessness, as they drift softly through the immense sea. We are intruders in their world, but they tolerate us with smiles on their faces.  They have no schedules, no place to be today.
 
But I have a schedule.  It’s kept in my electronic calendar on my cell phone.  And on my PC at work.  It’s backed up on The Cloud, don’t you know.  I am proud of that schedule there; it gives my life purpose and meaning.  It keeps me occupied and feeling like I am making a difference.  That schedule affirms the vibration of some protestant work ethic deep within me.


I noticed something each late afternoon from our beachfront vista.  Something we dubbed “The Big Event”.  Every night, without fail, as twilight approached, the beachfront road would fill with cars and trucks, each containing a local or two just getting off work – coming to the beach for the end of the day.  And then from the rooms behind ours came more folk; the obvious tourists, dressed in mainland styles that gave away their point of origin.  Some brought beach blankets, others a bottle of wine to share, each quietly coming forth together.  Sitting and standing silently or in quiet conversation.  

And we were with them there each night to witness something simple, and timeless, and in a way even sacred.  It was sunset time.  Each night the sky would fill with colors indescribable and gorgeous.  For just those few moments at the close of the day, we were all quietly sharing a “moment before the ancient, primal sea.”  And, we were unable to turn our gaze away.   It was timeless, and beautiful, and fleeting.

And I standing there, thought of Bonhoeffer's words.  I wished that my soul could stretch out.  I wanted to know what my eyes cannot sense.  And yet, I have this strange comfort in knowing that I have seen enough in these years to feel that my life is carefully attended by the Artist of those sunsets, by the Alchemist of these seas, and that time, whatever that means, is held for me in a deep and sacred place.

I think the ancient Hawaiians, with their lack of time keeping, may have a great deal to teach me. 
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