Sunday, May 15, 2016

All I Really Need to Know about Prayer I Learned from Snyder’s of Hanover*

            There are many possible and permissible prayer postures and positions. The Bible depicts people standing, kneeling, and flat on their faces. Bowed heads, closed eyes, and folded hands seem important to us nowadays. Some families hold hands for table grace; whether to display love and unity or to keep young Petey from flinging mashed potatoes at sister Patty, I don’t know.

Prayer Braid
            At our prayer retreat a few weeks ago, we learned we could pray while walking a labyrinth (or anywhere), coloring, or kneading clay. I found the braiding prayer most meaningful. While intertwining three varied strips of cloth, I prayed for myself, my husband, our relationship with each other, and our relationship with God together. Ironically, the God cloth turned out to be shorter than the husband and wife cloths, so at the bottom of a strong braid, two untethered fabrics were left hanging, disconnected from each other and the center. 

            Most of my praying currently takes place in a Purple PT Cruiser in between home and school five mornings a week. Don’t worry—I keep my eyes open and my hands on the steering wheel. And if you’re my student or my coworker, you’ve got to be relieved that I’ve had both prayer and coffee before arriving at school. I could be much, much worse.
            But this morning in Sunday School, after we shared concerns and the pastor said, “Let’s pray,” my hands and arms formed the pretzel position, perhaps because I was chilly. I’d heard that pretzels were shaped that way to teach children what to do with their hands while praying. The History Channel website includes that legend and explains more:

Though the exact origins of the pretzel remain mysterious, legend has it that the story began around A.D. 610, when Italian monks presented their young students with treats of baked dough twisted in the shape of crossed arms. At the time, crossing one’s arms was the traditional posture for prayer. [It was chilly in those stone monasteries, too!] As the custom spread through medieval Europe, the pretzel’s three holes came to represent the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and the twisty baked good became associated with good luck, long life and prosperity. (
            I like the Trinity connection, but admit to skepticism about good luck, long life, and prosperity. From a pretzel? Maybe a chocolate dipped pretzel. Not that I’d turn down good luck, long life, and prosperity. Or a chocolate dipped pretzel.

A product of my adopted state
            The History Channel article also reveals that German immigrants brought pretzels to Pennsylvania in 1710, and today my adopted state** produces eighty percent of made-in-the-U.S.A. pretzels. One of the more than sixty pretzel makers in Pennsylvania is Snyder’s of Hanover, founded in 1909. 

            Theirs was the first name that came to mind this morning when I realized I was praying like a pretzel. So they get some free advertising, and hopefully they’re not offended by prayer and they’re not going to report my blog to the ACLU. (Although, any publicity is good publicity.)

            After my overly lengthy introduction, I will now tell you what I realized while praying like a pretzel this morning: 

 Prayer is like a warm hug from God. 

* First, let me acknowledge the founder of the All I Really Need to Know format, Robert Fulghum, who learned it all in Kindergarten.

* Secondly, in addition to Snyder’s of Hanover, I have learned much about prayer from Mr. Roberts, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, church, and several books. Most recently, I studied the Red Letter Prayer Life by Bob Hostetler with a small group of church friends, and I highly recommend it.

**My native state produces one hundred percent of all the Shriver's Salt Water Taffy made in the U.S.A. I highly recommend it, too. 
A product of my native state

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Story of the Refill

“Mommy, where do blogs come from?”
“From real life, honey.”

            Since Lewisburg Staples exists only in memory,[i] I took the opportunity Friday afternoon following my school’s Bounce Away field trip to visit Staples in the Monroe Marketplace to find a refill for the red leather journal cover my husband Gene gave me two Christmases ago.
            After searching the journal and surrounding aisles, and receiving no help from the employee I attempted to recruit, I concluded the refills exist only in Lewisburg Staples.[ii]
            I decided to walk to Target and see what they had. To walk. Not to move my car across the expansive parking lots. To walk for exercise since this coward did not bounce away at Bounce Away.
            To walk, wearing my thin raincoat, since I had grossly overcalculated the high temperature for the day. To walk without my hat and gloves, left in the car because I was only running into Staples, I thought.
            The wind gusts whipped my mostly unbuttoned coat, so described because the fourth button down is missing, so I never button the fifth and following. I failed to sew the button on after it fell off, and it sat safely in the pocket for several months until it didn’t. By the time I reached the end of the Giant sidewalk, I was shivering and tempted to return to my car.
            I walked on through the wind with hope in my heart, but unlike the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein song, I walked alone.
            Finally, I entered Target, feeling immediately warmer out of the gale. And nearly right inside the door was a seasonal display with a flowery journal whose measurements nearly matched the exact measurements I had written on a square of paper and carried around a few days and not lost.
There are several pretty divider pages.

            Take that, Staples!
            After my small victory, I visited T. J. Maxx, where I found interesting pasta sauce and moringa tea. A few years ago, I edited an article by my friend Bobbi Updegraff, who documented the benefits of moringa tree products for the children in Haiti. What could it hurt?
            No way did I want to carry those glass jars of sauce all the way back to my car, so I commandeered the T.J. Maxx shopping cart and took it three parking lots away from the store.
            Yes, I am one of those people. I didn’t used to be, but now I am, as of Friday.
There are several pages of good advice.
            Late that night, I told my story to my husband and proceeded to demonstrate how the $3.00 journal would slide right into the red leather cover.
            It nearly did. Nearly. Victory was snatched from my hands
            “Why don’t you cut it to fit,” Gene suggested.
            “I can’t cut through all those pages,” I whined.
            “You only have to cut the covers,” he explained. “Give it here. Let me do it.”
            “No!” The last thing I wanted to hear at midnight was common sense from a man who two minutes earlier had been snoring in the living room before I woke him to come to bed.
            “Go to sleep!”
The cover, now trimmed to fit
            He did. Almost instantly, the hurt expression on his face fading as he resumed snoring. I don’t know how he does that.
            On the other hand, I had to read a few more wrenching chapters of the Book Thief before I nodded off. Did I snore? I don’t know. There was no one awake to hear.
            Saturday morning, I painstakingly trimmed ¼” or so from the front and back covers of the Target journal and it easily slid into the cover.
            The journal’s first entry is titled “the Story of the Refill.”

First draft
[i] My son still remembers Ricky, who sold him his first electronic drawing tablet.
[ii] Three items come up in response to a search for journal refill on the Staples website. None is a refill for a writing journal. Twenty-five items come up for writing journal refill. None is a refill for a writing journal.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Don't be a Bum

            I have a student named Ned. 

            That’s not really his name, because who in this day and age would name a son Ned? 

            I apologize if you have indeed named your son Ned, and may your Ned achieve the success of other Neds, such as Ned Beatty, who, according to the sidebar on my Google search page, “…is an American actor who has appeared in more than 160 films and has been nominated for an Academy Award, two Emmy Awards, an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain…” and lots more, but that’s not the point of today’s blog.

            Besides, Ned Beatty was born in 1937 when naming your son Ned was a perfectly rational and acceptable thing to do.

            The point of today’s blog is what my student, who for the purpose of anonymity and avoiding expensive legal repercussions shall be called Ned, repeatedly asks of another student, the Bum. Of course the Bum is not the other student’s name, but since I have heard Ned say to this other boy, “You’re a bum” countless times, I now also refer to him as the Bum.

            And what does Ned want from the Bum? He wants to spend time with him. So every Thursday in fourth period study hall—am I losing anonymity here?—Ned begins by asking the Bum, “What are you doing this weekend?”

            The Bum always offers a lame response with an important but unlikely activity, such as “I’m rotating the tires on my great-aunt’s Honda.” Or “I’m volunteering in the kitchen at the homeless shelter.” Or “I have a lot of homework.”

            Ned proceeds to suggest an abundance of fun things he, the Bum, and more friends could do together. They could see a new movie. 


            “You’re a bum.”

            They could go to a sporting event. 


            “You’re a bum.”

            Ned could come over to the Bum’s house, where allegedly many entertaining options exist:  pool, foosball, and ping pong tables; large screen TV and lots of gaming systems and games; snacks galore. 


            “You’re a bum.”

            In the Bum’s defense, he is a busy guy with a delightful, lovely girlfriend, whom he would much rather see on the weekend than Ned. However, for the purposes of my allegory, we’ll continue to let the Bum be a bum.

            In my allegory, Ned portrays God, who keeps asking his friends, “What are you doing today? Want to spend some time with me?” 

            And the Bum portrays me and God’s other feckless friends who have a plethora of lame responses to avoid God:  “I need to catch up on my sleep.” Or, “I’ve got to clean up the kitchen.” Or, “I have a lot of homework to grade.” Or, “I’m going to meet my friends at the Well.” Or, “Okay, but I just want to check Facebook first.”

            My friend Sue’s honest response to God’s invitation resonated with me in a disturbing way:  “I’ve strayed away from my Bible devotions lately. It’s probably the reason for the onset of my depression. I haven’t been seeking out hope and love from the Lord. Why do I stray if it means so much to me? Time mostly. Fear too. Did you ever have one of those friends that gives it to you straight when you’d rather they just listen? God is like that. Sometimes I just don’t talk to him because I don’t want to hear it.”

         You can read the rest of Sue’s post here:

            I confess I avoid God because I don’t need one more person telling me what I’m doing wrong or one more person asking me to do one more thing. Even if it’s Person with a capital P.

            But when I finally stop the lame excuses, I’m stunned when I see God’s invitations. 

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11, NIV
            Oh, so God is inviting me for rest and a lighter burden? That’s what I keep saying I need.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live. Isaiah 55, NIV

            God is inviting me to quench my thirst and sate my appetite? He’s inviting me to have a delightful time?

            I’d be a bum to reject these invitations. 

            Note to self:  Don’t be a bum.

Monday, December 7, 2015

How Chanukah Made the World Safe for Christmas

After Alexander the Great died, his kingdom was divided between four dynasties, one eventually leading to Antiochus IV. Wanting to continue Alexander’s dream of one-world culture, and feeling particularly cranky because he had been ordered by Rome to stop fighting Egypt, Antiochus decided to wipe out Judaism.

Antiochus enforced these laws in Israel:
·            Don’t circumcise your sons.
·            Don’t celebrate Sabbath and other Jewish holy days.
·            Don’t read or even own a Torah scroll.
·            Build altars to Zeus and sacrifice pigs.
·            Worship other Greek gods.

On the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, 168 B.C., Antiochus IV invaded the Temple in Jerusalem, set up an image of Zeus on the bronze altar, and sacrificed a pig to Zeus.

How did the Jews react?

Some caved. They obeyed the new laws and embraced Greek culture. They took Greek names, studied Greek literature and philosophy, and participated in nude sporting events at the new Greek gymnasium in Jerusalem. Some Jewish athletes even had surgeries to hide their circumcisions.

Other Jews resisted and were tortured and murdered. Thousands died.

Mattathias, a resister, and his five sons escaped to the hills around Modin, a village northwest of Jerusalem. He gathered other rebels and for a year they attacked Syrian outposts, and destroyed pagan altars and idols.

Before his death a year later, Mattathias put his son, Judah Maccabeus, in charge of the rebel army. By the end of two more years, the Maccabees had defeated the immensely larger Syrian army and occupied Jerusalem.

The rebel soldiers cleaned up the desecrated Temple and built new furnishings:  the lampstand, showbread table, and incense altar. They also built new doors and replaced the altar of burnt offering.

Exactly three years after Antiochus IV’s desecration, the Temple was re-dedicated to the God who had promised Abraham, "...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."  (Genesis 12:3) Thanks to the Maccabees, the practice of Judaism and worship of the one true God were restored in Israel.

So a young carpenter, Joseph, could be described as “faithful to the Law.” (Matthew 1:18)

So his betrothed, Mary, could say to an angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38) 

So the promised Messiah could be born. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Luke 1:21)

Thanks, Maccabees!

Some information was adapted from Hanukkah, The Festival of Lights, written by Bruce Scott and published by the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.