". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

This Old House

It's a beautiful day in Chicagoland! It finally cleared up (and dried up and warmed up) enough for me to take a picture for a house update. Note the airborne beagle! LOL! (She took off running after something just as I snapped the photo, and my new camera was actually capable of capturing the moment without blurring.)

As a reminder, here's what the back of our house used to look like:

We are finally nearing the end of our home repair project. The photo shows the finished patio and doggy door and grass growth beginning on the reseeded areas. There are still a few things remaining to be done inside, including some painting and staining and moving of a wall in our laundry room to bring the house up to code (inspection revealed inadequate access to our electrical panel). But the end is definitely in sight. We are enjoying having a watertight house, not to mention our new bookshelves. And Shiloh has learned to use her doggy door like a pro! No more being summoned to let her in and out all day long! It has been a long winter, but the result is so worth it. Soon that new patio will sport a new grill and some flower pots. In time, maybe even some new patio furniture. Let us know when to expect you for some slabs and cold beers and backyard croquet (we have room for that now)!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Victimae Paschali Laudes/Christ is Arisen

Victimae Paschali Laudes Sequence from Cheryl on Vimeo.

The medieval chant with a chorus based on CHRIST IST ERSTANDEN ("Christ is Arisen") composed by Phillip Magness. Sung by Proclaim, the adult choir of Bethany Lutheran Church, Naperville, IL, April 23, 2011.

Easter Vigil 2011

One of my favorite services of the entire church year. At my parish the music for the Vigil is always led by the Men's Chorus, and I can't imagine anything better suited to the awe and mystery of this liturgy than the rich tones of men chanting and singing in four-part harmony.

Easter Vigil Candlelight Procession and Exultet from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Led by Pastor Rossow, Cantor Magness, and the Men's Chorus of Bethany Lutheran Church, Naperville, Illinois, April 23, 2011. Exsultet--9th century Gregorian chant; Easter Vigil Proclamation setting by Phillip Magness.

"Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Sung by the Men's Chorus of Bethany Lutheran Church, Naperville, Illlinois.

Easter Vigil 2011

"Soul, Adorn Thyself With Gladness" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Men's Chorus of Bethany Lutheran Church, Naperville, Illinois

Easter Vigil 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Lamb of God" Like You Haven't Heard It Before

A few months ago my husband was commissioned by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) to compose a piano meditation on the Twila Paris song "Lamb of God." The piece is to be featured at that church body's triennial national worship conference this summer in St. Peter, Minnesota. Last month Phillip completed the composing process and began learning to play his piece! He says it is not technically difficult, but it is so unusual that I think it is at least conceptually challenging. It is much more "classical" than "popular" in its approach. The result is haunting and beautiful and is growing on me with each successive listen. Here are Phillip's thoughts on the composition process (you can read his full blog post about the piece here):

I used some polytonal techniques to paint "no sin to hide" and some impressionism to highlight "brought me to his side" and "O wash me in His precious blood". I created a mutation of the tune's intervals to accompany "I was so lost", and derived a harmonic progression from the polytonal assertions I made in the first stanza to accompany the Passion stanza, with pianistic flourishes to evoke the mocking and crucifixion. I was able to land all this with recapitulations of several ideas in the third stanza and found resolution in the end for "and to be called a lamb of God."

Phillip decided to play his arrangement at our Good Friday Tenebrae yesterday, so I was able to capture a recording. My daughter helped me to edit the video so that it begins and ends with a photo of the altar at our church as it will look tonight at the Easter Vigil. It's not the best visual--I would have preferred that the photo be of a Lenten or Good Friday theme to reflect the seriousness of the music, but I didn't have one readily available. Maybe I can eventually switch it out with something more in keeping with the mood of the piece. But at this point it will depend on my daughter's availability since I have zero movie-making skill!

You are invited to listen and to meditate on the words--provided below--that the music is intended to evoke. I suggest reading line by line as you listen. Listen for the crucifixion, the scorning and mocking, the washing, and the Lamb. You will hear the text painted by the music. Sometimes the music is not pretty, and that is by design--the crucifixion of our Lord was not pretty. But in the midst of all that ugliness two thousand years ago was the sweetest, most beautiful thing that ever was or will be. And the beauty is not the sentimental, Hallmark card sort, but the type that makes you catch your breath in disbelief as you try and fail to take it all in. I think in its refusal to be forced into a musical mold this piece captures that sense of puzzled awe. How can this be, that the Lord of the Universe died for me?

I hope you are blessed by listening as I was.

Your only Son no sin to hide
But You have sent Him From Your side
To walk upon this guilty sod
And to become the Lamb of God.

Your gift of Love they crucified
They laughed and scorned him as he died
The humble King they named a fraud
And sacrificed the Lamb of God.

Oh Lamb of God, Sweet Lamb of God
I love the Holy Lamb of God
Oh wash me in His precious Blood
My Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.

I was so lost I should have died
But You have brought me to Your side
To be led by Your staff and rod
And to be called a Lamb of God

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A God of Life

I'm turning my Facebook status this morning into a blog post.

Last night Evan, my 7-year-old, asked me one of those questions that makes ME feel like a 7-year-old: "Why didn't God kill the snake before it could tempt Adam & Eve?"

I fumbled around a bit with this and that, telling Evan that in His death on the cross Jesus did conquer the devil, but finally summarized with the standard "There are things we don't fully understand now that we will understand some day when we get to heaven."

This morning I shared Evan's question with my husband, who responded: "Well, God doesn't kill US before WE can sin, does He? The devil kills his enemies; the Lord kills Himself to save His enemies, reconciling the world to Himself."

See why I love this man?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Smart, Funny Ladies

Last week I encouraged you to drop in on the ladies at A Classic Case of Madness. Today with equal enthusiasm I recommend . . . And We Laughed and Laughed. Read this post and you'll see why. You will be the one who laughs and laughs!

By the way, the aforementioned blogs have one blogger in common. Lucky for us, not only is she smart and funny, but she has smart, funny friends! If you haven't yet done so, check them out. You can thank me later!

Monday, April 18, 2011

On Prayer

Most days we have morning devotion as a family using the order of daily prayer from LSB (Lutheran Service Book), p. 295. When we get to the prayers "for others and ourselves" our custom is for the devotion leader, usually my husband but sometimes me if he is gone, to start and then for others to follow, adding their own petitions. We follow the form of the day-by-day suggestions given on page 294. For example, on Tuesday, the suggested petitions are as follows: "For deliverance against temptation and evil; for the addicted and despairing, the tortured and oppressed; for those struggling with sin." We usually pray these and then add our own in the form of general petitions--"For those who are sick"--and specific ones--"For Dad's trip to Congo."

In addition to the obvious benefit of simply starting the day with prayer, I am seeing the benefit of all of us learning how to pray better and becoming comfortable doing so as a family. And I can't help but be reminded of several times in my life when I found myself in a group of fellow Christians who decided to pray together. My first reaction was usually panic. WHAT? You want me to pray out loud, in front of people? I used to think that my reaction must mean that there was something wrong with me--that I was not as spiritual or fervent in my belief as my friends for whom spoken, ex corde ("from the heart") prayer seemed to come so naturally and easily. I have come to understand that there are good reasons for having misgivings about that sort of group prayer. In the first place, considering the sinful condition of the human heart, I'm not sure "from the heart" prayer is a good thing! Additionally, when there is not a pastor present to take spiritual responsibility for the group and when no one else in the group can properly fill the pastor's role (such as a father does with his own children), the prayer is like a captainless boat, floating directionless on the waves, in danger at any time of getting slammed against the rocks. I think when I have found myself in the position of being asked to pray out loud on behalf of others I have realized in my gut that it is not appropriate for me to do so. It's one thing to say the Lord's Prayer together--they are the words Jesus gave us to pray and we know we can't go wrong with them. When we pray those words together Jesus is the pastor in the group, providing the needed oversight. But I am very uncomfortable with one Christian--myself included--who does not have that sort of responsibility for another presuming to pray on behalf of the other. I don't trust myself to speak rightly, and I don't trust most others to do so for me.

But when we pray as a family the appropriate spiritual oversight is there in the form of my husband and by extension, my pastor. Even if neither one of them is there and I am called to lead the prayer, I feel secure in doing so because I have been provided with a framework that will assure that the prayer is faithful. I don't have to worry about putting the words together because they have been laid out for me. We pray the Lord's Prayer, move on to the recommended petitions for the day, and then add our own. What is wonderful is to see the comfort level of our children with this sort of prayer. Our 7-year-old loves this part of family devotion and usually offers up more petitions than anyone else at the table. Sometimes the petitions are quite simple: "For Mommy," "For Daddy," "For the military," and "For our friends." But he has begun adding "that" clauses that make the prayer much more precise. Yesterday, his thoughts were on his cousin's upcoming visit this summer, and he prayed, "For _____, that she would have a safe flight when she comes to visit this summer" and "For Aunt _____, that she would not be lonely when _____ is away." In my opinion, those are fairly advanced prayer constructions for a 7-year-old. And the older I get the more I realize I am not much different from that 7-year-old. I need a framework. I need the words that God has provided for me. If I try to pray without either, my thoughts quickly wander to all sorts of other things that my sinful mind deems more important.

If you are wondering how to begin praying more regularly either on your own or with your children, you can't go wrong with LSB Daily Prayer, available in the hymnal or on laminated cards you can purchase from Concordia Publishing House. I'm thinking we should start using the cards because the pages in our hymnals are getting worn from daily use! There are orders for morning, noon, evening, and night. You don't have to worry about what to say or how to say it--it's all there for you. So relax. And pray.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday

A sequence from our Palm Sunday service that features the children's choir singing a setting of the Verse of the Day by Bruce Backer and continues with the organ introduction to the hymn, "No Tramp of Soldiers' Marching Feet" played by the Cantor (who also composed said introduction). I love the contrast between the childen's sweet voices singing "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" and the first stunning, unsettling note from the organ. For me, it starkly conveys the turning of our eyes from the celebration of Jesus' triumphant, palm-laden entrance into Jerusalem to the ominous and grim contemplation of His journey to the Cross. The hour has come.

Peter Denies Jesus

Today at our 11:15 service the adult choir presented the Heinrich Schutz St. Matthew Passion in its entirety. Here is an excerpt that dramatizes Peter's threefold denial of Jesus. It features Phillip Magness as narrator, Trevor Magness as Peter, Elaine Gavin and Bethany Novak as the maids, and Erich Keller as Judas. The text is found below the video.

St. Matthew Passion - Heinrich Schutz from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Narrator: And then they came forward and spit in his face and beat him with their fists, and others slapped him in the face as they said to him:

Chorus: "Can you tell us, can you tell us, O Christ, who was it? Who slapped your face?"

Narrator: Now Peter sat outside the palace, and a maid came up to him and said:

1st Maid: "And you! You were also with Jesus of Galilee!"

Narrator: He denied it in front of them and said:

Peter: "I, I don't know what you're saying!"

Narrator: Then he went outside the door where another maid saw him and said to the others:

2nd Maid: "This man was also with Jesus of Nazareth!"

Narrator: And he denied it again, and he swore:

Peter: "I do not know the man!"

Narrator: And a little while later, some of the bystanders came and said to Peter:

Chorus: "Truly you are also one of his disciples. Your way of speaking betrays you."

Narrator: Then he began to curse and swear:

Peter: "I do not know that man!"

Narrator: And at once a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the words of Jesus spoken to him: ""Before the rooster crows, three times you will have denied me." And he went out and wept bitterly. When morning came, all the high priests and the elders of the people considered the case of Jesus, that they might kill him. And they bound him, and led him away, and took him to the governor, Pontius Pilate. When Judas had seen the results of his betrayal and that Jesus was condemned to die, then he repented, and took the thirty pieces of silver to the high priests and elders and said:

Judas: "I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood."

Narrator: And they said:

Chorus: "What is that to us now? You did it!"

Narrator: He threw down the silver in the temple and went out and hanged himself. But the high priests took the silver pieces and said:

Chorus: "We cannot put them in the treasury of the temple. They are the price of blood."

Friday, April 15, 2011


At the risk of being labeled "insensitive," I just have to say that I don't get this:

Day of Silence

The website says that the point of the observance is "to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools."

Well, for several of my adolescent years I was the victim of extensive name-calling, bullying and harassment that had nothing to do with my being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (I am none of those things). Why wasn't there a Day of Silence back then for me and others like me? Why doesn't this Day of Silence focus on raising awareness of ALL kinds of bullying and condemning those who do it, whatever the reason (which in truth just boils down to sin, like all meanness)?

The answer is because at its core the Day of Silence is not about bullying but about promoting a political agenda in the same way that hate crime legislation is. I don't get that either. Sin is sin, evil is evil, and hatred is hatred, no matter the motivation. Why is it somehow inherently worse to harm someone because of his race, sexual identity or religion than it is to harm him just because you can?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Animals, Animals, Animals

A few weeks ago Evan and I started an animal "unit." (I put the word "unit" in quotation marks because it suggests organization and planning, neither of which are in play here.) We started reading The Story of Dr. Dolittle, and I pulled an armload of animal books off the shelf. A few of them are old favorites from the circa 1960 Random House "Step-Up" series (here's an example): Animals Do the Strangest Things, Reptiles Do the Strangest Things, Insects Do the Strangest Things, Birds Do the Strangest Things, and Fish Do the Strangest Things. As a child, I devoured these books. (There are other books in the series--mostly biographical and historical--and I credit the reading of those books with much of the basic historical knowledge that has remained with me. Somewhere along the way we got rid of my set of books, but a few years ago I had the opportunity to buy a vintage set online for a very reasonable price, and I grabbed it.)

Another book that came down from the shelf was one that has been there a year or two but that we had not yet investigated: Eric Carle's Animals, Animals.

You know how there are books you enjoy but then pass on and books you keep and treasure? This one is in the second category--it will always have a place in our home. Within a few minutes of opening it Evan was hooked. The book combines Eric Carle's illustrations with various poems and literary passages about animals. Authors included are Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Jack Prelutsky, Ogden Nash, and Benjamin Franklin, as well as passages from the Bible, Talmud, and folk sayings and poems from a variety of cultures. Evan on his own has repeatedly revisited this book even though some of the selections are not typical first grade fare:

"I will not change my horse with any that treads . . .
When I bestride him I soar. I am a hawk.
He trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it."
--William Shakespeare

I dare you to tell my kid that passage is beyond his reading/comprehension level.

The third group of books we have been enjoying is from Usborne: the "Beginner" series. I believe several of these books are included in Sonlight's primary science curriculum. Evan has enjoyed Eggs and Chicks and Tadpoles and Frogs but halfway through his reading of Caterpillars and Butterflies he brought me the book and instructed me to put it where he could no longer see it. He's a sensitive one, this child. The illustration of a puss mouth caterpillar rising up to frighten its enemies was too much for him. This book will be stored for the time being.

What book(s) have you and your child been enjoying lately?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Of Style and Substance

A few days ago I was gifted with this sparkly, fancy thing:

(I know--I hate verbification as much as the next grammar girl, but please, work with me here . . . I'm trying to live up to my new stylish image!)

Anyway, thanks to The Shurt'ugal's Post for this honorific honor! As with most awards of a bloggy nature, this one comes with a string attached: I am to pass it on to another of stylish bent. For a few days I wracked my brain trying to pick just the right recipient. Luckily for me (and my brain), today I stumbled on the perfect candidate. "Stylish" does not begin to adequately describe this new blog and the promise it holds. The bloggers are three mommy types who are trying to enlarge their minds (BWAHAHAHAHA) by pursuing the classical education they never had. They call their quest "A Classic Case of Madness." Please pay them a visit. I think if you do you'll be hooked.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Liturgical Q&A

Today I received a question in reference to my April 3, 2011 post, "Fourth Sunday in Lent." I decided to ask my husband to respond rather than try to do so myself. I think both the question and the answer are extremely important and so decided to share them here rather than in the comments section of the original post.

Question from a reader:

Hey, Cheryl, I was a little surprised to see "Open the Eyes of My Heart." I've heard that sung in the local Methodist church, and to them it's almost a gateway to mysticism. It's cool that it's against the VERY trinitarian HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, but if I didn't know the people involved, there would be a question here: are we trying to redeem "Open the Eyes . . . ", or are we introducing vague theology in our hymnody? Maybe this is a question for Phillip? :) Thank you for your time.

Answer from Cantor:

Hi _____,

Yes, we use some contemporary Christian music at Bethany. I'm surprised you didn't know that! :)

I can't speak to how your local Methodists use the song. I know Baptists sing "Come to Calvary's Holy Mountain" to get folks to make their decision for Jesus, but that doesn't stop me from using that hymn. So many hymns in LSB or choir anthems typically sung in our churches can easily be used by those who teach falsely.

I think if you review the text of "Open the Eyes of My Heart", and the stanza of "Holy, Holy, Holy" that I paired it with, and then read the Gospel of the Day, the healing of the Man Born Blind, I think you'll see how it all works together.

We are dead in sin. Blind. God healed the blind man. He was not just given earthly sight, but spiritual sight. God cleaned his heart out. Ergo, God opened the "eyes" of his heart. We too are born in sin and are spiritually blind. By the working of the Holy Spirit, our mouths are opened, our eyes our opened . . . . and our hearts are opened. As we sing in the Psalm 51 offertory, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me . . . . "

Luther uses this language: "Set our hearts with fire aglow." Obviously, hearts don't literally burn. The point is they are filled with faith. Similarly, we ask that we be given "hearts that see," not that hearts can literally see, but that they be filled with faith. Burning hearts. Seeing hearts. Clean hearts. All are simply metaphors for faithful hearts.

"Perfect in pow'r and love, and purity."

"Pour out your power and love, as we sing 'Holy, Holy, Holy.'"

God pours out His power. He cleans our hearts. He opens our eyes. He fills us with His love.

Being cleansed by His grace and being filled with His power and love, our mouths praise Him, singing Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.


Joy in Suffering

The theme of the Lenten midweek services at my church this year is "Journey into Joy." It is drawn from LCMS President Rev. Matt Harrison's Little Book on Joy and incorporates prayers written by Rev. Harrison. Last night one of the readings was 1 Samuel 2: 1-10, the Song of Hannah, prayed in joy and thanksgiving by Hannah for the gift of a child, Samuel, whom she had vowed to offer back to the service of the Lord if she were so blessed. Here is an excerpt:

"The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor." - 1 Samuel 2: 6-8

Hannah kept her vow. When Samuel was weaned she took him to the temple. How hard that must have been! I can't imagine her pain. And yet in her suffering there was great joy. My pastor noted that Hannah's words are a beautiful proclamation of Law and Gospel. God kills so that He can raise up to new life. He brings low so that He may exalt. It is in our suffering that our helplessness is most acutely felt. How much greater the joy, then, when the Father reaches down to pick us up and give us a seat at His royal table!

Here is the prayer by Rev. Harrison that followed the reading in our order of service last night:

"Like Hannah, I offer to You, O Lord, the favorite son of my soul--my pride, my bitterness toward others, my thankless joyless heart. Cause my enemies--sin, death, and the devil--to flee before You, that I may rejoice in Your salvation. Amen."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Just Play

From time to time my husband likes to tell a story to his young music students. Usually he tells it before an upcoming performance. It consists of advice that was given to him by his college piano teacher before he gave his Master's recital. I have always thought it was great advice for musicians. More and more I am coming to see how it is great advice for life. The story goes something like this. (When my husband delivers it to his students he approximates the accent of his Russian piano teacher. You will just have to imagine that part.)

"Phillip, in this world you have friends and you have enemies. No matter what you do, your friends will love you and your enemies will hate you. So if you give bad recital, your friends will say, 'Oh, Phillip, it is not your fault! You are fine pianist! You just need better teacher!' whereas your enemies will say, 'That Phillip--he is no good. We knew he could not make recital, even with such an excellent teacher.' But if you give great recital, your friends will say, 'Phillip, we knew you could do it! You are great pianist!' whereas your enemies will say, 'Look at what that teacher did with Phillip! She is miracle worker. He was nothing and she made him something.'

"You understand, Phillip? No matter what you do, people will see you how they want to see you. Your friends will still love you, and your enemies will still hate you. So, don't worry, Phillip. Just PLAY!"

Great advice. Now if only I could follow it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Our 11:15 service today featured the musical talents of DavidSong, our high school liturgical ensemble. This is a flexible group whose membership varies according to the availability of those who participate. The young people in the videos below, however, seem to always be there. I think it is significant that three of the members of this group also sing on a weekly basis with the adult choir.

You will see from the videos that this group does not come to perform but to serve the proclamation of the Word. The music is determined by the message, not by the musicians' preference. This group serves the liturgy just like every other musical group at our parish.

Here they are leading the congregation in responsively chanting the Psalm of the Day (Psalm 142). The antiphon was composed by Phillip Magness and is available at Liturgy Solutions.

Psalm 142 from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Here are the same singers highlighting the second stanza of the entrance hymn, "Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness." This video was made during rehearsal:

Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness from Cheryl on Vimeo.

The hymn stanza is also available at Liturgy Solutions.

Finally, here is DavidSong singing during the voluntary. The piece is an arrangement by the Cantor that combines contemporary composer Paul Baluche's "Open the Eyes of My Heart" with the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy." Today's Gospel reading, John 9:1-41, tells of Jesus' healing of the man born blind. The theme of spiritual blindness as the result of sin is reflected in the words of the song, and those words are expanded upon in the hymn: "Holy, holy, holy, Though the darkness hide Thee, Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see, Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee, Perfect in pow'r, in love, and purity."

This piece is an excellent example of how electric bass, guitar, and keyboard can find a home in authentic Lutheran worship.

Open the Eyes of My Heart/Holy, Holy, Holy from Cheryl on Vimeo.

For more information on each piece, follow the Vimeo link.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Letting Go

Lately I have had a recurring dream about moving from one house to another. The houses in the dream vary. Sometimes the house I am leaving is one from my past; sometimes it is the one I currently live in. The house being moved into is always one that I don't recognize--a figment of my imagination. I have had this dream at least three times in the last week and on at least one night the dream seemed to pick up where it left off the previous night. There are several recurring aspects of the dream. One is a sense of relief--that I am leaving some problem behind with the old house. But that is always balanced with the realization upon moving into the new house that there is something not quite right about it--something I didn't anticipate.

Another recurring feature of these dreams is the process of unpacking and trying to figure out where things go. This is complicated by the fact that the previous owners always seem to leave things behind. Sometimes I like what they have left; sometimes it is in the way. I remember one dream in which the bathroom was filled with someone else's toiletries and cosmetics. Oftentimes it is the curtains, and I have to decide whether to keep them or replace them. In my dream last night it turned out the previous owners had left a bunch of stuff in the basement. Some of it was very nice--for example, an antique sewing machine (even though I don't sew!--why would I dream about a sewing machine?)--and I wondered if I should call them to come get it or if I could keep it. But some of it--for example, some old toys and a big stash of Christmas wrapping paper and decorations--was just taking up space that I needed for our own things and I was annoyed to have to figure out what to do with it.

It is said that dreams tell us things about ourselves--that they reflect things we are struggling with or reveal our minds trying to work through unresolved questions. I don't know if that's true, but as I was thinking about my dream it occurred to me that I am definitely at a time of life where it seems lots of things I have long held on to are asking me to let go of them and I am trying to figure out where the things that remain are going to fit. I am reminded of what a friend told me recently. She said that she has been surprised at this point in her life (she is a few years younger than I) to find that she is in some sense turning her back on many things that heretofore had defined her. I wonder if that happens to a lot of people in middle age. We spend the first half of our lives acquiring things--knowledge, skills, jobs, careers, opinions, friends, spouses, children, possessions, wealth, etc.--and drawing our identity from them. Then in the second half of our life we find ourselves to some extent needing to let go of many of those things (hopefully not the spouse!). Our "career" (whether it's in the workplace or not) takes a turn we didn't expect. The acquisition of knowledge and skill is no longer so important or intense (thank goodness, since it becomes even harder to do!). Instead we find ourselves passing our knowledge and skill on to others. Friendships change, children grow up and leave home, parents die and leave us behind, and siblings drift away. The closer we get to the grave, the less important our possessions seem, and the wealth we have (if any) becomes merely a tool--something that we may need to spend to take care of ourselves our remaining days on this earth. Whatever degree of physical strength and acumen we may have attained starts to dissipate, as does our "beauty" (as defined by the culture). No wonder there is so much written about the so-called "mid-life crisis." We find ourselves at the theoretical midpoint, having attained so much that we have spent our lives seeking, and as we watch it begin to depart from us we ask, "Now what?" What comes after all the seeking?

I think I'm in kind of a "now what" place. In some ways it's nice. It's nice to not have to try so hard, to not have the pressure of needing to prove oneself that seems to accompany youth. It's pleasant to think about slowing down--about sliding down the hill instead of climbing up it. Climbing is hard. But it gives one a focus. And it feeds that dearly held human desire to feel in control.

Now what? Twenty years ago I would have thought I was the one to answer that question for myself. Now I know better.