E-Letter 169

Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Devotions | 0 comments

It is a gracious gift to be in the presence of someone who “storys” her way to understanding her “real” life, her crowded, sometimes messy life filled with people and events and feelings and small serendipities. As we swoosh down the highway in my aging Honda so early in the morning that even the cows glance at us in surprise, Olivia tells me a story about her discovery of the changes wrought upon her beloved Skittles.  In 1974, the Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company, manufacturer of this enticing, fruit-flavored candy, introduced Skittles to children of all ages.  You just popped a handful in your mouth and were rewarded with this instantaneous rush of lemon, strawberry, grape, orange, and lime. But now, a lifetime later, someone in the upper echelons of the Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company has decided that the luscious lime green Skittle must be replaced by the luscious (to some) sour apple green Skittle. Apparently, American tastebuds have changed, and it is difficult for Olivia to wrap her head and her tongue around this peculiar trait of American fickleness. As she shares her story, I nod in sympathy for I have secretly entertained questions about changes to my beloved M&M candy.  Over the years, I’ve nursed dismay about such changes as the gradual creation of 25 different colors, holiday-themed packaging, the addition of pretzels and rice crispies to the absolutely-perfect chocolate formula, and the ability to add personal tattoos to individual candies.

What this deceptively simple story about Skittles (and M&M’s) reveals is our confusion about the meaning of change in our lives. How do we interpret the meanings of the changes that bombard our daily living?  Jesus tells deceptively simple stories about seeds, yeast, lost coins, lost sheep, lost brothers, weeds, and wheat to help his listeners sort through the personal Skittles-sized changes that reveal the kingdom of God hidden in plain sight.  He leaves those with “eyes to see and ears to hear” layered, meaning-filled stories to wrap their heads and tongues around as they go about the living of their crowded, sometimes messy lives filled with people and events and feelings and small serendipities. Some people, especially the disciples, beg Jesus to interpret his stories, and occasionally he accommodates their wishes, but more often, Jesus leaves his stories hanging in the air, trusting the Wind to reveal Truth in its own time and way. It’s that open-ended quality about Jesus’ stories that invites me to think about their meaning in my particular circumstances and captivates me to the point of frustrated joy.

That we humans have always struggled with the meaning of change in our lives is not surprising.  In some ways, Genesis is a miniature library of stories about change. Take the story of Abel and Cain, for instance.  (Gen. 4)  For years the two brothers bring offerings to God who, at one point, decides that Cain’s offering of the strawberry-lemon-grape-orange-lime fruit flavors of the earth is no longer acceptable. Why? Why does God change his mind? How is this man of the soil, this tiller of the dirt, to understand the meaning of divine rejection? We shall never know, but for millennia, zillions of students have pondered this question in their hearts.  I love the way one contemporary student, the poet Wallace Stevens (an insurance executive by profession!) considers the meaning of divine rejection in the life of one of his friends:

Ursula, in a garden, found

A bed of radishes.

She kneeled upon the ground

And gathered them,

With flowers around,

Blue, gold, pink, and green.

She dressed in red and gold brocade

And in the grass an offering made

Of radishes and flowers.

She said, “My dear,

Upon your altars,

I have placed

The marguerite and coquelicot,

And roses

Frail as April snow;

But here,” she said,

“Where none can see,

I make an offering, in the grass,

Of radishes and flowers.”

And then she wept

For fear the Lord would not accept.

The good Lord in His garden sought

New leaf and shadowy tinct,

And they were all His thought.

He heard her low accord,

Half prayer and half ditty,

And He felt a subtle quiver,

That was not heavenly love,

Or pity.

This is not writ

In any book.

     May all our lives be graced with Ursulas and Olivias who gift us with stories to help us understand the meaning of our “real” lives, our crowded, sometimes messy lives filled with people and events and feelings and small serendipities!