Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Flickr photo by neilbetter, creative commons
About this time last year, a group of workers repairing an underground steam pipe under the parking lot outside my daughter's dorm found human bones buried in the dirt.

This is not what most parents want to discover on move-in day.

"It's no big deal, Mom," Sarah said. "Remember, I told you DeSaussure was a hospital during the Civil War. They say they used to bury the amputated parts out back. Either that, or it's leftover cadavers from when the med school was here."
Sarah laughed at the look on my face.
"Mommy," Sarah said, patting my head as if I were cute, "you've got to remember. This place is OLD. You can practically breathe in the history."

Breathing in history.

As we worked on packing up the minivan to take her back to school on Friday, I remembered the bones and our conversation.
Her comment about breathing in history sent me rafting down a stream of consciousness.
Care to ride along? (There is purpose to the journey, I promise!)

Stop #1?
I'm teleported back to junior high. Mr. Keck taught me tons of useful things, like how to use the slide rule (calculators need batteries and were probably a passing fad, anyway,) and how to pronounce Molybdenum ("It's mo-lib-din-um, not molly-be-denim!"--he's probably still slapping his knee in heaven over that one.) But then there's the rant I still ponder quite often: that there was a set number of atoms when the world came to be, and we just keep reshuffling them over and over, in death and birth, in eating and in pooping, in recycling and cooking, planting and manufacturing, killing and procreating. "Breathe in," he used to say. "Why, you might be sucking down an atom that once belonged to Aristotle! Abe Lincoln! Who knows! Whenever you breathe, you're tasting everything that came before you. You're tasting all creation!"

I used to think of this a lot when we lived in France.
(Stop #2)
Not because I was particularly philosophical there. (Though I was. Big changes were happening.) It was on account of the smoke.
I've heard that there's a big effort to curb smoking now, more serious than when we were there, when I'd stop by a café for a café au lait and end up smelling like smoke until the next morning's shower. The smoke was devilishly stubborn. It surrounded you, weaving itself into the fibers of your clothes, nesting in your hair, swirling in and out of your mouth, plunging into your lungs. You'd have to work to get rid of it, lather up with soap and shampoo, wash your clothes, set your coat on the balcony and let wind and time work on it.

I was thinking on this (and drinking coffee!) as I read my psalm yesterday.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Psalm 5: 11-12

You surround them with your favor as with a shield. Surround us like smoke, swirling, weaving into our fibers...

This brought my raft to my last stop stream-side: the fourth grade Sunday school classroom at church.
Each Sunday we light the candle before the children come in, to remind them that as we sit on the carpet and tell the story, we're on holy ground.
God is with us, providing light and presence.
At closing time, we don't snuff out the candle. We call it changing the light, transforming it from a light we can see to another form, to smoke that gets in our hair and lands on our skin. It swirls around us and spreads through the room. We take it with us wherever we go, to big church or home, hanging onto our bodies, in our lungs, in our hair.
The God Of All History that came before us and will unfold for years after we're gone, surrounds us like a shield.

I may have forgotten how to use the slide rule long ago, but that truth stays with me.

Emmanuel, God with us, thank you for surrounding us with your favor, like a force field, like smoke in our clothes and hair, breathed in our nostrils, sucked down into our lungs. Thank you for being in us, around us, before us. We love you.

Have an awesome, wonder-filled Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky


Rebecca Ramsey said...

Oops! I forgot to tell you...the forensics folks think the bones were parts of leftover cadavers from anatomy class days...
I'll be curious to see if they've removed the caution tape this weekend, a full year later! :)

infuse said...

your photo reminds me of my 'infuse' icon representing H Sp, which unfortunately doesn't display, but is in your google friend group ;)
here's to that never changing, always with us, Presence !
i think our teachers must have trained together (:
i was told the very same. which got me thinking, how cool is that?! i am breathing the same air Jesus Yeshua breathed! awesome ...
so here's a little morning songsmoketo keep you surrounded... my fave - ashley cleveland w/ hubby Kenny Greenberg - hoping you EnJoy (:

Sharon said...

I remember the day my lab partner came back from Christmas break with his gift from his uncle: a new-fangled calculator! It was a $100+ model that would be a freebie today. Our slide rules became instantly obsolete along with our amazing slide rule skills and something called "scientific notation."

That was just a random memory stirred up with no particular point. What I came here to say is that what you wrote made God real to me today in a most delightful way. Many thanks!

Susan said...

Great post. I love your prayer at the end. Sweet savor to be sure.

Leah Skaggs said...

Geez - you are really right on the lectionary for this week - Jeremiah and Luke for sure anyway... fire and smoke.

I love the image of the kids letting the smoke swirl around them before they leave the room to go into the world -

Wonder what would happen if I pulled out the Christmas Eve candles on Sunday morning and let them watch the swirling smoke after talking about Jesus coming to "bring fire" to the earth? I'll think about it... may be too showy... but then again we can all use some object lessons every now and then!

Graceful said...

Wow, that part about the bones is pretty intriguing...and frankly creepy. Glad your daughter is cool with it!

I like your stream here...particularly the metaphore of smoke. I really enjoyed hearing about the Sunday School candle ritual, and the message you share with the kids each week. That is really cool.