I’m a Small Part of A Big Story

I’ve been in a bit of a blogging slump lately. Part of it is that my mental capacity is going toward this last push to the tax deadline. (Which is over tomorrow!!) Part of it is that I’m working on a Top Secret offline writing project that is taking up time and energy. (I’m nowhere near talking about it more, but if you want to be in the loop, sign up for my monthly newsletter: The Compost Heap.)

The universe isunder no obligationto make sense to you.Whenever I get in these slumps, I look for other small ways to spark my creativity. Just in time, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy posted a #12daysofbookstagram, celebrating all the bookish things over on Instagram. I needed a distraction and this has been perfect. Day 4’s prompt was “favorite quote” and while there are many quotes that have inspired me over the years, this one from a recent read of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson jumped out. The epigraph reads,

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

-NDT

I need this reminder. As a typical ESTJ, Maximizer, One, Type A personality, I love making sense of life. Reading nonfiction, learning about other experiences, expanding my horizons are all things that are lifegiving practices. Figuring out the universe over a cocktail with friends is one of my favorite things.

But I can get trapped in the discontent of figuring things out. The universe is a vast mysterious place. In a lot of ways, there’s great comfort in knowing that we know very little. The unknows of the cosmos help put the heartbreaking news I read every day in perspective. It doesn’t dimish what we deal with on this planet at all but it helps me remember that we are a small part of a big story.

I need people like DeGrasse Tyson, with such a different perspective, to broaden my gaze. When I couple books about astrophysics with memoirs that deal with issues of the moment like, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir I keep one foot in the important details of today that impact my actual neighbors while keeping a bigger picture perspective that lets me breathe.

As I read the news about a Black boy getting shot by his neighbor, about two Black men getting arrested for sitting in Starbucks, about the idea that the best way to combat war is with more bombs, I am overwhelmed but the injustices of this world. I read comments scoffing at the idea that anyone would actually want refugees in their homes as I imagine opening mine to Sara and Mona and Nagham, women who have become friends. My heart breaks for the disconnect we have between wanting the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings and actually living out the directives of having no other gods or not killing.

I keep reading the news because I have to. Because, if I take a break or turn it off, I’m choosing my own privilege over the reality of those who cannot turn off these policies and decisions that impact their everyday lives. I keep reading books that are hard and make me uncomfortable because these stories are not my own and I must remember and listen. I keep looking for ways to stand beside and learn from those whose voices have been ignored or dismissed.

But I’m also remembering to lean into the mystery of faith; the mystery of the cosmos. God doesn’t promise us answers; the universe owes us no explanations. Just because I’m not promised answers doesn’t mean I won’t keep searching. That’s part of how I experience God and love my neighbors – by digging into to stories and being present. But I’m also not going to get bogged down. I’m remembering that justice is slow but that doesn’t mean we stop; I’m remembering that my actions won’t make sweeping changes but that doesn’t mean I don’t model activism to my girls; I’m remembering that there is something powerful in being a small part of a big universe.

How do you balance perspectives of making a difference and being a small part of a big story? Which end of the spectrum gives you more comfort?

Books Referenced:

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Dwelling in the Mysteries of This Journey

We’re in a season of neediness. Bea needs me to walk her to school, to pick her up, to sit beside her as she does homework. Elle needs me to read with her, to get her dressed, to make her lunch, to put her to bed.

IMG_5757These are needy times and it’s easy to imagine life when they can make their own lunches and do their own homework. (Does that ever happen?) But even in the midst of this intense time, the patronizing voice of moms farther along can be grating: Just hang in there. It gets better! Don’t worry moms of littles, this terrible season doesn’t last!

While I’m eagerly anticipating independence, I don’t think this is a terrible season. I know I’ll miss the days of neediness. Of snuggling on the couch and holding hands as we walk home from school. I’ll miss the ease in which secrets are shared and words of comfort are accepted.

I was reading Jan L. Richardson’s In the Sanctuary of Women this morning and she offers this blessing:

That you may have
the wisdom to know the story
to which God calls you,
the power to pursue it,
the courage to abide in its mysteries,
and love in every step.

This blessing can be applied to so much of my life right now, but today I’m choosing to frame it in this season of motherhood. That I may be wise to this story of raising small humans and that I may remember to love every step of this mysterious journey.

How does this blessing speak to your particular season? How are you learning to dwell in the mysteries and love every step of this journey?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “accept.”

The Poetry of Science

A couple weeks ago, when I wrote about some of Bea’s favorite children’s books, I mentioned that, while we love The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I often change the wording from “cocoon” to “chrysalis,” as that’s the scientific name for a butterfly’s casing during metamorphosis. A friend who is an editor and amazing researcher commented that Eric Carle had addressed why he wrote cocoon:

My caterpillar is very unusual. As you know caterpillars don’t eat lollipops and ice cream, so you won’t find my caterpillar in any field guides. But also, when I was a small boy, my father would say, “Eric, come out of your cocoon.” He meant I should open up and be receptive to the world around me. For me, it would not sound right to say, “Come out of your chrysalis.” And so poetry won over science!

His response was so beautifully worded, it made me a bit teary. And, it got me thinking about the poetry of science and how often we separate the two, when really, they are so intertwined.

Photo: Sid Mosdell
Photo: Sid Mosdell

When I think about the science of metamorphosis itself, it’s mind boggling. A caterpillar disintegrates inside a chrysalis and comes out a butterfly? That’s crazy! (Have you read the full process? It’s amazing!) And, yet it’s used as a poetic metaphor for so much of life.

I think it’s fascinating that we are still in a place as a culture to distinguish between poetry and science. When it comes to the creation story or story of the flood, my strictly scientific friends scoff at the ignorance of religious folks who believe that sort of thing. And when it comes to the incredible mystery of the undiscovered realms of our universe, not to mention the depths we just don’t understand our own planet yet, some strictly religious people cannot believe anything that is not stated in the Bible. That either side has difficulty seeing the poetry in their belief.

During my first year of teaching, electricity was part of the science curriculum. I had to teach my first graders about electrons and how they align to create currents. Even though I was able to teach it to the kids (using an interpretive dance, of course), I still view electricity as a bit magical. I don’t fully understand how it actually works. Part of me loves that bit of everyday mystery. It helps me retain some of the wonder of the world and helps me remember that not everything needs to be figured out. (Though I am grateful for the people who have figured out electricity!)

I think we all have areas in our lives we view more scientifically or with more mystery. I can look at a painting and analyze its symbolism and meaning but look at a shooting star and think it’s a bit of magic in the sky; Frank can look at a tax return as a puzzle rather than incomprehensible frustration but look at Abstract Expressionism and think it’s simply about color on canvas; I can breeze through nonfiction, absorbing information thirstily but reading poetry takes time and brain-power for me to comprehend. I think it’s important to step back and look at the areas we’re comfortable analyzing with a lens of mystery. Sometimes, I walk through a museum to simply enjoy without questioning or I’ll read a poem for the way the words sound, without worrying about any deeper meaning.

As Bea is learning and discovering and asking about the world, we try to answer her as honestly as we know. If we don’t know an answer, we tell her we don’t know and then we look it up to see if we can find out. But, there is a mystery and poetry of life I want her to retain. The other day, she ran through the backyard yelling, I’m chasing the sunset! And I loved that in her world, she can chase a sunset and it can run from her into dusk. As easy as it would have been to tell her that the sun doesn’t move; that the earth’s rotation is why the sun was setting, I just laughed with her and let her chase.

Maybe it means I’m not as smart or well-read on many subjects, but I hope to retain that mystery of faith in the universe – that I can enjoy some of the scientific beauty without trying to figure out the why.

What about you? Do you have more of a creative outlook or an analytic outlook? How do you view the mingling of poetry and science?