Friday, March 31, 2006

The Inadequate Prayer Study

This morning I heard a segment on the radio about how a ten year study had shown that prayer really didn’t make any difference in the health of heart bypass patients. Apparently there were three groups, those who knew they were being prayed for; those who thought they might or might not be, who weren’t; and those who thought they might or might not be who were. What was reported was that there wasn’t much difference between the two groups who might have been prayed for, but that there were actually more complications for those who knew they were being prayed for than the other two groups.

There is a major flaw in this study; actually there are three major flaws in this study. The first is the fact that they were talking about whether or not prayer made a difference. Their pray-ers were three groups of Christians, two catholic and one protestant who prayed specific printed prayers for the persons in question.

Here is the first major flaw. There was no way to control for variables in this study. I find it hard to believe that those who were “maybe” prayed for had no people in their lives that didn’t care whether they lived or died. Just because no “official” person prayed for them, doesn’t mean that there weren’t family or friends who were fervently praying for them. In fact, knowing that there might only be a possibility, not a certainty that an official praying group might pray for their loved one, they might have been more likely to spend time praying themselves. For the group that “definitely” had an official group praying for them, perhaps the people who really loved them just trusted in those official prayers and failed to add their own petitions for their loved ones health.

And this gives rise to the second major flaw. It was said that the prayers were all printed out and read by those who prayed. So did they actually mean those prayers? What makes prayer effective anyway? Doesn’t it have to do with actually believing that there is a listener out there to whom one can appeal when the possibility or certainty of losing someone you love looms? The official Word on the subject is that it is “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (no gender) avails much.” We can hope that the official pray-ers were righteous, but can we, with any certainty, say that they were fervent. Was it their father or mother who was hovering by death’s door? Was it a face that they loved that might never come home, or just a name on a piece of paper?

This brings us to the last major flaw. The God part. The study sounds like they expect prayer to be a little formula that obligates the Master of the Universe to take note and to do what we want. When we pray are we just reading words on a page and putting in our time, or do we actually believe that we are communicating with a Being dramatically unlike us, but a knowable Person who can touch our heart of anxiety as well as the body of the person for whom we pray – a Person who cares for even the individual sparrow, and “how much more” for us who have so little faith.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Late Christmas at Work

Every year at Christmas time, our office managers purchase beautiful poinsettias which are placed stategically throughout the office to make things festive. Every January it seems such a waste to toss these beautiful plants just because the holiday season is past. A co-worker of mine is simply the best at keeping poinsettia greenery alive and has a three year old plant still thriving. So, following her example last year, I continued watering mine. As the season progressed, the red leaves (are they leaves, bracts, something else??) died off and were replaced by new growth.

The plant thrived throughout the year. The first half of last year it had a very sunny location, facing southwest, but then I moved to a different office with only a northern exposure. The other interesting feature of my new office is that is gets very warm during the day. The best attempts at moderating the heat are futile. It seems to be all or nothing. So we make it a point to wear layered outfits so that we can be dressed for any of winter, spring, summer or fall on any given day. Well, the northern exposure, the stifling warm days, followed by cool evenings and actually quite chilly weekends (when the heat hardly comes on) and being watered lightly twice a week must have just been the ticket for the poinsettia of Christmas 2004. Near the middle of January 2006, I noticed a few tiny buds on the ends of some branches and slowly the new growth turned out to be red. This pattern has continued with the magnificent display of a full five flowering branches and maybe even a couple more to come.

I am delighted to share with you my very first poinsettia display, grown at work! I've never had a poinsettia ever re-bloom, particularly with enthusiasm. As it has gotten the new red leaves, it has been losing the old green ones, so it is getting a little straggly looking again. Perhaps this year I'll start my first attempt at cutting it back and trying this again next year. Of course, it might be 2008 before it is ready to bloom again. We'll see how it does - or if it lives that long. Poinsettia's are generally rather cranky plants and I find it hard to believe I could keep one happy for years. But here's to this year's success!!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Evenings with Friends

One of the things that I have come to appreciate most in life is sitting around with friends over dinner. Friday night we had three friends over; one coworker family and one former coworker. Our dog even had a social evening as former coworker brought little Mr. Tucker along and the two dogs had a delightful evening chasing each other around the yard or the house with hard-earned intervals of little naps between romps. I made the main course and garlic bread and guests brought salad, desert and wine. Conversations ranged over lighthouses (no surprise), stamps, garden plants, seashells, work, arrowheads, and antique furniture. We laughed and talked and told stories of both shared experiences and individual adventures over the years.

At our church we also have informal dinners called "Dinner for Eight at Six." This happens once a month on a Saturday night and includes anyone who cares to sign up. There’s no agenda except getting to know each other. Couples or singles are assigned to host homes and usually about 8 people end up together, hence the name, each bringing a part of the dinner. Tonight we had our second social evening of the weekend, meeting new people and learning about new lives. Participants included gardener, firefighter, veterinarian, computer geek, accountant, bookkeeper, adoption caseworker and former banker, current home school mom. Conversations ranged all through these lifetimes of experiences and we learned the things we held in common and new things about people that formerly we simply familiar faces on Sunday.

What a fun weekend. Good food, good friends, good times. Jesus said once that 'not even when a man has an abundance, does life consist in what he owns.' Our evenings were simple and in no way elegant. None of us owns a lot. But the evenings were also rich in experience and memory, filled with love and laughter and peace. A veritable feast of friendship.

And, as icing on the cake, on Friday night at our house, guess who showed up? Yes, little guy Anna, sitting on the feeder and entertaining friends with his interest in his observers. So very fortunate am I, surrounded by friends, pets and visiting little birds.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Hummingbird Treats

Shortly after we came back from the lighthouse I realized that I hadn’t seen my little hummingbird. Well, not my little pet, the hummingbird -- more as in my little master, the hummingbird. I had heard no morning clicking and nearly a week had gone by without a sighting. But I’m getting ahead of the story. For those who don’t know -- Anna’s Hummingbirds winter over here in the Pacific Northwest, near the water which moderates the lower temperatures. Our other local hummingbird, the Rufus, heads south when conditions start becoming inhospitable. Last summer we had several Anna’s hummingbirds that had frequented our feeder and one apparently decided to winter over at our multiplex bird bistro.

We keep our hummingbird feeders filled throughout the year. One week during early January and another during mid February, we had unseasonably low temperatures. For us unseasonably merely requires that temperatures fall below freezing during the night. The first week night temperatures dipped consistently into the mid twenties. In February the temperatures made it into the mid and high teens and some days didn’t make it above freezing all day (wow!!). During these cold spells the nectar in the feeders would freeze. Every evening I brought in one feeder to keep from freezing. Our normal winter routine has our household up before sunrise, but by nearly 7:00 when the sun was finally coming up; I’d take out the feeder with the warm sugar nectar and exchange it for the frozen one hanging in the tree. “Little guy” Anna proved to be a quick study! After a couple of mornings of sitting on the feeder contemplating cold food in crystal form, and then discovering that a warm breakfast was served shortly thereafter, he developed an expectation. After those couple days I’d come out on the deck in the morning to a series of rapid little clicks and the small hummer bouncing around in the plum tree. I’d mimic “clicking” back in an attempt to say good morning and I’d get a series of clicks in reply. I have no way of knowing if a strict translation would be closer to “hurry up slowpoke!” or “oh thank you, great exalted provider.” The former strikes me as more likely. Usually he would sit on the feeder until I came close and then fly just a few feet away up into the plum tree. After the feeder exchange was made, and I got two or three yards away, he’d swoop right to the feeder and get drinking. I’d hurry back inside where it was warm and join him in a warming drink with a toast of my morning coffee!

While we were at the Lighthouse we left all the bird feeders filled to the brim. The temperatures didn’t drop very low and there was no need for our house sitter to add hummingbird care to her list of animal husbandry. When we came back home, several mornings went by with no sightings of the little guy. I began to get worried. Had he died? Had the cat eaten him? Had he felt neglected and gone into decline? There were no little clicking sounds, no little buzzing noises as he rocketed from tree to tree past my ear. Oh, no, I began to think – something has happened to him. Fortunately, my beginning foray into mourning was transformed into happiness when at the end of the week, at last, there he was, sitting at the feeder and clicking loudly. He hasn’t been around much but now that there are trees blooming all over the neighborhood, perhaps fresh flower fare has more appeal. Happy spring, our hummingbird is just fine!

One Sunday in the middle of my constant hummingbird care, I thought of the verse that talks about how God answers our prayer before we ask. I realized that God looks out for me, in advance of my mornings, just like I looked out for “little guy Anna hummingbird.” I thought about him, made preparations evening and morning, and brought the warm and ready food when the freeze came. God has always met my needs, often before I realized there was even a need. It’s comforting to realize that the Lord actually thinks about me when I’m not thinking about Him. How strange and wonderful. I’m sure my little hummingbird thinks I’m pretty amazing, stepping out of the great tan wood and glass "unknown" to meet his needs. How similar when God, who is so great and so unknowable, steps out of His home and Jesus comes and meets me where I have need. And all my "clicking"? Well, sometimes it’s, ‘thank you, thank you, oh Great and Glorious” but also it’s quite often “Hey, what’s taken so long, where have you been, why am I stuck in this terrible situatio, don't you care about me????” -- when I’ve no idea how dear to His heart I am.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Teenage Engineering Marvel

While staying at the Lighthouse, A and B first gathered driftwood on the beach and built a fort. It was very sturdy, and they could stand on the roof. Once that project was completed, A started building a tipi. Everything she used in the construction of said tipi was found on the beach. She started with a center pole, anchored deep in the sand and surrounded by battered and broken tree rounds that had washed ashore on some high tide. She then leaned tall driftwood poles into the center and tied them together with sea battered rope. She then added cross piece supports between the poles and tied them on with wet kelp. The seaweed dried and tightened. She left an entrance. The only potential covering she found on the beach was one dead seal but, not surprisingly, wasn’t willing to take the obvious next step to use that windfall! The following night we were treated with increasingly howling winds from the southeast and the morning brought dramatic whitecaps. The winds held steady most of the day between 40-45 miles per hour, with gusts into the 50’s. A’s solitary tipi stood firm against those and the high gusts of 58 mph without even a shudder. It was a grand engineering achievement and we were all impressed. Alas, the tipi and fort had to be gone by the time we left the Lighthouse since Fish and Wildlife don’t approve of structures. But nothing was used in this that wasn’t already a part of the beach.

Not a trace remains, just like none remains of all the S’Klallam and other native members who would rest at the Spit on their long hauls around and across the Straits. The Lighthouse has stood since 1857 and throughout that 149 years many keepers have stood on the tower, polished brass, cleaned windows and watched for ships in distress. Many keepers have washed dishes at the kitchen sink and looked across the Straits toward the lights of Victoria. Many a sailor, ship large or small, has been oriented by the sight of the light or comforted by the boom of the foghorn through the damp and starless darkness. Many of them have disappeared into history and we short term keepers will follow. But their work remains and their laughter, struggles, tears, and joy linger. They touch us in the breeze on a sunny day and in the warmth and peace found in the keeper’s house while the storms and winds rage outside and the light stands as always, shining 17 miles out to sea.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Worlds Best Week

There is nothing like staying at the New Dungness Lighthouse. Ahh, such solitude at the end of a six mile sandspit, almost completely surrounded by Straits and Bay. A "working vacation" means we give a few tours, polish brass, and clean the windows of the tower. Offsetting these little tasks are hours of walking on the beach, eagles, seals, dunlin, sanderling, pink sunrises and glorious sunsets, starfish and hermit crabs. The first two days you can feel your muscles loosen and you find yourself taking deep relaxing breaths and often slipping into short snoozes mid-day while reclining on couch or on porch Adirondack chairs. Evenings bring family movies, games of scrabble or take-two. When occasional strong storm winds howl around the tower, we remain snug in the keepers house.
Ah, keeping at the lighthouse certainly makes for the Best Week in the World.


Where It All Begins

After months of considering starting a blog, I'm at the very beginning stages. A new adventure begins. I refuse to be intimitdated by all this technology any longer. Yes, this "old dog" will learn new tricks!