Elijah spoke yesterday. Elijah preached yesterday. Elijah spoke from the heart yesterday. Elijah was kind yesterday. Elijah warned us yesterday. Elijah spoke of destiny yesterday. Elijah challenged all of us yesterday:
“C’mon now! We’re better than this! We really are!
We’re in a real pickle this morning, Elijah. I don’t know how we’re ever going to get out it!
I like pickles! Pickles are good. You’re getting senile, Bumpa. You can’t get in a pickle!
No, no, we’re not inside a pickle. It’s is an idiom.
You said a bad word, Bumpa! I’m telling Mom! Mom says we’re not supposed to use that word.
I didn’t say idiot, Elijah. I said idiom. It’s a figure of speech, like “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
It’s raining cats and dogs? You must be senile, Bumpa. I’m little, but I’ve never seen it rain cats and dogs, and I know we can’t fit inside a pickle! You’re freaking me out!
I like pickles, too. Well, most kinds of pickles. Especially sweet pickles, like bread-and-butter pickles. I also like Jewish deli pickles. But this morning’s pickle is a real pickle that makes me sick.
Yeah, I hate that. I was sick last week. I hate throwing up.
Some pickles are sweet. Some pickles are sour. It’s the sour ones that sour my stomach.
So, are we in a sweet pickle or a sour pickle? Are we in a little pickle or a big pickle?
A BIG pickle, and it’s really sour.
You should only eat bread and butter pickles, Bumpa, and stop watching Rachel and Ari. Turn off the television and have a bread-and-butter pickle. Pickle is GOOD!
TURN UP THE SOUND and listen carefully as Elijah with his pickle tells his mother “Pickle is good!”
— Bumpa Gordon, Chaska, Minnesota, January 29, 2019.
I’ve never been a big fan of habits. In spite of what Octavia Butler believes — “Habit will sustain you, whether inspired or not” — I have scorned habits in favor of a more creative, spontaneous, non-habitual life. But this morning I came to my senses. I’ve not been inspired, and I’ve gotten out of a habit that sometimes brings inspiration.
I’ve felt like the psalmist . . .or like poor little Elijah just 24 hours ago when he couldn’t keep anything down. Not even the Gatorade. When a joyful 19 month-old child gets sick, he doesn’t know what hit him. Sometimes his 76 year-old grandfather doesn’t know either.
Some viruses can’t be seen under a microscope. Some illnesses require more than an Internist’s diagnosis. Their origins defy medical explanation and resist our usual remedies: a stiff drink, an anti-depressant, vitamin and mineral supplements, exercise, or a change of diet. Which is where habits come in.
It’s been weeks since I got out of the habit of morning prayer. Flailing about at four o’clock this morning, I remember the line from Chaim Potok’s The Chosen: it’s the four-o’clock-in-the-morning questions that trouble us over a lifetime. I’ve gotten out of the habit of greeting the day with readings from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), spending a quiet time pondering the psalms and other readings assigned by a calendarprescribed by doctors of the soul. I need to return to a healthy diet.
My best friend is hospitalized, awaiting surgery required by complications from pancreatic cancer. His time is limited. So is mine. Fifty-four years of friendship soon to vanish like the morning mist. Whatever happens today on the operating table, it won’t be long before one of us is gone. I open the BCP. “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; O LORD, be my helper,” cries the psalmist (Psalm 30:10-11, BCP), recognizing that there is no quick fix for what ails him.
My friend knows this feeling. He also has a habit that serves him well when the raindrops keep falling on his head. When the four-o’clock-in-the-morning clouds and torrential rains come over him, he turns, as do I this morning, to that which he has not made up, and crawls inside the psalmist’s faith that “weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:6, BCP).
Returning to the habit I’d neglected, I read the psalm again and pray for my friend. But I’m not seeing my friend. I’m seeing someone else. I’m looking at Elijah. He has crawled inside his mother’s watchful care…in the bathtub. He is smiling, playing, and splashing the bath water with no hint of memory of last night when he couldn’t even keep down the Gatorade.
“You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy. Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever” (Ps. 30:12-13. BCW).
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 15, 2018.
Opening up the cabin after a month away, the temperature was a bit chilly before we built the fire in the wood-burning stove. What warms me more than the fire is the stillness of the place. I read the Psalms differently here. I take time to ponder them.
Psalm 25 is the one I pondered this morning. At first it struck me as the kind of religion that’s killing us — the prayer of religious pride. A second and third reading took me deeper.
“Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes. Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me…” (Psalm 25:2-4a, Book of Common Prayer paraphrase).
Truth and falsehood. The ways of shamelessness and its opposite — treacherous schemes —collide in this psalm. I come to the cabin to get away from the treacherous schemes. I’m for truth and goodness, not treacherous schemes! That’s Trump, not I! Like the psalmist, I claim what no one can honestly claim: “in you have I trusted all the day long” (25:4c) But the psalmist is wiser.
It’s as though the psalmist suddenly realizes it’s not true. He shifts his eyes from himself to the One who forgives sin. Maybe s/he’s confused? Maybe he has a split personality?Or maybe just a concrete thinker whose immaturity leaves no room for shades of gray? Or maybe he suddenly remembers something beyond the self and its righteous posturing.
“Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD” (Psalm 25:5-6).
When you look at me, see me through the eyes of eternal compassion, the eyes of your steadfast love. See me the way a grandfather can’t help but see his 17 month-old grandson, Elijah, after Elijah has opened the kitchen cabinets he’s been told repeatedly not to open. See the look on the grandson’s face when he’s caught and his mother tells him “NO!” Watch Grandpa cover his face with his hand to hide to his smile and giggle as he sees the defiant look on Elijah’s little face.
Perhaps God is like that. The LORD of life (the Breath) is Mishomis —Ojibwe for ‘Grandfather’! See grandson Elijah playingpeek-a-boo with his Mom from his car seat.
Remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, Mishomis.
Grandpa Gordon, in the wilderness with The Book of Common Prayer, October 22, 2018
BOO! And a good day to you. Sixteen-month-old Elijah’s strapped in his carseat for the drive to day care. Mom initiates some fun. Elijah imitates her babbling. Then, on his own initiative, he suddenly takes off his knit cap to play Peek-a-Boo, like the children in Georgios Jakovides‘s 1895 Peek-a-Boo painting from Germany. Some games are timeless and ubiquitous. Peek-a-Boo!🤗