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.

“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."

“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.”

“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.”

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:

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.

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