Goodies-in-the-hamper time

Below you will find the text of the prayer of confession we used at our church this week.  I liked it a good deal when I first read it.  Now I have worked with it a little since then and I like it even more.  I know the title of this post is obscure and idiosyncratic, but it does establish in my mind an image I would like to keep, so I’d like to share it here.

The title comes directly from Russell Hoban’s Best Friends for Frances, a story about little badgers.  Albert has refused to allow Frances to play baseball with him and his friend Harold.  Frances retaliates by packing an enormous picnic lunch and refusing to let Albert have any.  It turns out that only “best friends” are allowed to go on the outing.

Then we get this.

 “Can’t I be a best friend?” asked Albert.

“Well, I’m not sure, said Frances.  “Maybe you’ll be best friends when it’s goodies-in-the-hamper time, but how about when it’s no-girls-baseball time?”

Goodies

The “goodies” are the beautiful language that the confession offers.  Here it is.  The expressions marked in red are emotional reactions we are “confessing;” those marked in blue are that actions we take as a result of those reactions.

1.  Our God, we come in humility,

2.  confessing that we are slow to respond

 3. to your call and claim on our lives.

4.  When your Spirit speaks, we hesitate to hear, 

5.  for we fear what you may call us to do.

6.  When the wind of your Spirit blows, 

7.  we close the windows of our heart, 

8.  afraid the wind will disrupt our ordered lives.

9.  When the fire of your Spirit touches us,

10. we quench the flame,

11. wary of the ardor it would bring.

12. Forgive us, O Lord, and renew us by your Spirit.

There are old good words here.  I like “call and claim” in line three and “the windows of our heart” in line seven.  I like “quench” and “ardor.”

Hamper

But I had no sooner read and enjoyed those words—the goodies—than I began to weavehamper 1 a hamper for them.  I began to think of them not just as words, but as kinds of words (these are motives, for instance and those are actions) and then to notice patterns that relate these kinds of words.  Note, for instance that the sequence of “slow” (line 2), “hesitate” (line 4) “close” (line 7) and “quench” in (line 10) seems quite deliberate.  They are an ordered series, each more active and more defensive than the previous one.

I noticed then that each of these reactions is an emotion (a motive) that is followed by an action.  [1] We fear something in the first step, so we take measures to make it less scary.  This thing we fear is a life of Christian discipleship.  That is why it is something that needs to be confessed.  See what you think.

We fear what you may call us to do, God, so we hesitate to hear what you are saying, for instance, in lines four and five.  Note that in that event, we simply do not hear what we are being called to do. [2]  We fear, lines seven and eight,  that the wind will disrupt the order we have established for ourselves so we close “the windows of our heart.” [3]  We are wary of your ardor, in lines ten and eleven, so we quench the flame.

The relationships of those words, causal, in this case,  are a new way of attaching myself to the meaning and power of the confession as it applies to me.  The fears line up and raise the question for me, “What are you afraid of?”  The consequences of giving in to those fears are much more varied.  We “hesitate to hear”—or, worse, refuse to hear—what we are being called to do.  Imaging being part of a team assigned to protect someone and just taking the earpiece our of your ear.  “What?  No, I didn’t hear anyone ask me to cover the approach from the balcony.”  See the earpiece?

hamper 2We protect, in the second clause, the order into which we have put our lives.  As someone who struggles to put his life in order, I have very little emotional resonance with that one, but the writer probably intends to celebrate God’s order rather than the disorder I picture from the wind blowing in the window.  I understand that a disorder may be the necessary first step to a new order.  It may be.  But this suggests, not that it may be, but that it is.  It is the first step and that way of understanding it goes further than I want to go.

The third clause asks the question of emotional temperature.  God has a great deal of ardor, in this way of thinking about it, and not much prudence. [4]  We are failing in “ardor” as the writer of this confession sees it.  I think we are failing in a lot of other things—generosity, for instance—that an increase in ardor will only make worse.

We have arrived at a hamper, of sorts; a conceptual construct meant to contain and amplify the meanings of the beautiful words themselves.  Those words are the goodies; the construct is the hamper.

The Goodies OR the Hamper

This is the way it is often put to me.  Veterans of a much more emotional practice of liturgy, study, and prayer think of these constructs as ways of buffering the powerful meaning of the words.  As they see it, the better choice is the goodies themselves, never mind about the hamper.

And, of course, there are people for whom the hamper is really all that is of interest.  These are often people for whom the “goodies” have long since become rancid and toxic.  They want nothing more of these goodies —like the wind of the Spirit and the windows of the heart, for instance—than an excuse to build hampers. [5]  Theological or psychological or sociological constructs are the prize here, not that the “goodies” have gone bad.

The Goodies in the Hamper

That’s not how I see it, obviously.  Some of the people I know and love best look at the hampers I build and roll their eyes, but isn’t a rejection of what I have done.  It is a recognition that, a) I have done it many times in the past, that b) I seem to find it meaningful and c) that some other people seem to like it as well.  These particular people find it unhelpful for themselves, but knowing that I find it helpful, they support it in me, while rejecting it for themselves.  These people I know and love are pretty nice people, as you can see.

The goodies became toxic for me a long time ago.  I got over it.  I look at those goodies differently now, finding meanings where I once found only emotional power and I continue to be attracted when many others can manage only repulsion.

So “goodies in the hamper” time is a very good time for me.

[1]  “Followed” is just a sequence.  The words may come in either order.

[2]  The first result of receiving no call is doing nothing but we are not built for doing nothing, so we do other things and elevate them to significance in our lives.

[3]  The reference to “the heart” here is probably meant to call up emotional reactions we are trying to avoid, but the scriptural use of “heart” had much more to do with intentions and actions.

[4]The Latin prudentia, from which we get “prudence” is a contraction of providentia (seeing ahead of time) from which we get “providence.”God is vastly practical, as He is portrayed in our scriptures, and this is based on what He knows.

[5]  This use of the noun, “hamper” is related for these people to the verb, “to hamper.”

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About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. My wife, Bette, is the First Reader (FR) of the posts. I have arranged that partly because she helps me write better posts than I would otherwise and partly because I can hold her responsible for the mistakes that I would, otherwise, have to own up to myself.. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsey. I'm a dilettante.
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