A couple of beauties from other bloggers:

Brad, The Broken Messenger, recently posted a remarkable piece connecting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23) and the attributes of love (1 Corinthians 13). The parallels and Brad's explication of them are brilliant. There's so much that is quotable there, I'm tempted to excerpt the whole thing! Just go read The Supremacy of Love. You'll be blessed, enlightened, and glad you did.

Friend and fellow Thinkling Bill just posted at his solo blog, Out of the Bloo, a neat celebration of gentleness, a favorite virtue of Shizuka Blog. Here's an excerpt from The God Who Stoops:
"[T]he NIV renders the idea of God's gentleness [in 2 Samuel 22.36], 'You stoop down'. And, of course, our God does stoop down to lift us up. As any good parent knows, 'stooping' is a large part of raising small children. With little ones around, a great part of your day can be taken up in stooping - stooping down to look at the world from their level, stooping down to listen to the things that are important to them. We imbue our little ones with strength and power when we, in gentleness, stoop down and look them in the eye, embrace them, smile and tell them how loved they are, and encourage them that, yes, they can.

There is so much power in gentleness. Our Lord came to the world in gentleness, quietly and unobtrusively, and the heavenly host shouted as the shepherds hit the dirt, prostrate and trembling. And He exhibited the power of His gentleness throughout His life, touching and healing the sick, restoring the lame, welcoming the children. He was, by His own prophetic pronouncement, 'gentle and lowly'.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. - Matthew 11:29

He was also, of course, the King, zealous for His Father's name; a truth-teller, fearless in the face of opposition. Our Lord Jesus: joyous and weeping, triumphant and weary, He was the Man of all men. In Him was unfathomable power veiled in human flesh; a burning, holy passion with a gentle touch for a world desperate for healing.

Jesus is the One who stooped down for us, and in doing so, gave us the privilege of being called the children of God. I praise and thank the God who stoops!"

To paraphrase the voice in Augustine's head, "Go and read."


Benton Shrine by Kawase Hasui:

"Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden that its fragrance may be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat [the] choicest fruits."
-- Song of Solomon 4.16 (NRSV)

"He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love."
-- Song of Solomon 2.4 (NIV)



Don't just do something, sit there.



“It is better to be silent and be real, than to talk and not be real.”
-- Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 15.1

The trouble is, I think, that too often our unnecessary verbosity and our untamed tongue really is us being "real." I think Ignatius is talking about boastful facades or lies or "talking ourselves up." But if what we say and how we say it are reflections of who we are, the unreigned speech, even if false in content, can still be us "being real."

How many times have you come across someone excusing their own insensitivity or insulting manner by claiming they are just "telling it like it is." They're just being "real" or "honest."
They're right -- they are telling you what they're like, what their real self is, the "honest" condition of their heart.
Most times, someone's unhinged tirade (or even passive-aggressive criticism) of you actually says more about them than it does you.

Sometimes you are (by which I mean "I am") in the place of the critical someone.
Sometimes it's just best to be silent. When we actively choose silence over unnecessary or unnecessarily critical speech, we reflect a real self that is actually worth boasting about.



You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust."

-- Psalm 91.1-2 (NRSV)

The Bench of Saint-Rémy by Vincent Van Gogh:

During his stay at the asylum at Saint- Rémy, Van Gogh found obvious inspiration for his work in the garden (which Gerhard Gruitrooy calls “romantically neglected”). The garden likely attracted peace-seeking guards and inmates alike, but nearly all of Van Gogh’s renderings of it are unpopulated. Whether the space was busy or not, Van Gogh at least thought of it, as his paintings indicate, as a place of solitude and a source of quiet.

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour
I wait only for You.
-- Andy Park, "In the Secret"

snapshot 2

Mid-morning in the living room: Macy is in her denim Thinking Chair reading a Bible storybook, while Gracie and I are squeezed side-by-side into Dada's Chair. I'm reading Solzhenitsyn; Grace is "reading" the Three Little Pigs.

koan three

"[A]ll who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
-- Luke 18.14b (NRSV)


Armed with Gentleness

In the Epistles of Ignatius, I found the fruit of gentleness written of in a rather peculiar way.
From his Letter to the Traillans:
I am sure that you agree with me regarding these matters, for I received a living example of your love, and still have it with me in the person of your bishop, whose very demeanor is a great lesson, whose gentleness is his power; I think that even the godless respect him . . .
Therefore I need gentleness, by which the ruler of this age is destroyed.

The ruler of this age is destroyed by . . . gentleness?

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
-- Colossians 3.12 (NIV)

Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.
-- Proverbs 25.15 (NIV)



Insight from Dory at Wittenburg Gate: The Weeds in My Garden:

"The proper handling of that sin is in many ways analogous to the proper handling of weeds.

You must mind the roots. A careless gardener might tear away the green part of the weeds, leaving the roots beneath the soil, out of view. The garden may look better--at least for a little while--but the root is there ready to flourish again on another day.

If you don't weed often, the work is much harder. A tender dandelion is easy enough to pull from the soil. After only a week or so, however, its tap root has grown down several inches and extracting it becomes very difficult. Unattended sins become habits, our consciences become numb to them and extracting them from our lives becomes more difficult in time.
Weeds can crowd out the good things. Weeds rob resources, like nutrients and water from the good plants. They block out the sun.

Weeds beget weeds. Allow one dandelion to go to seed, and you now have hundreds of them. We have this wild feverfew growing in our flower beds. The roots spread out and one little plant soon has little children popping up around it in every direction. There is an old saying about the tangled web of deception that results from one little lie. So it is. Sins draw us in to other sins and sin begets sins. Bitterness begets hatred. Covetousness begets theft. Lust begets adultery. Then we lie to cover our sins. Then we lie to cover our lies.

Saying weeds aren't weeds doesn't make it so . . . I once decided that I loved the violets so much that when they found their way into the flower beds, I would let them stay there, too. Big mistake. It didn't take long for them to begin crowding out the other plants. Calling sins something other than sin doesn't erase their power to overwhelm and corrupt us."

Proverbs 28:13 Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Psalm 139: 23, 24 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!


House in a Garden (House and Trees) by Pablo Picasso

My three year old will proudly tell you that she knows Dada’s favorite color is blue. This is true. But of all the colors occurring in nature, my favorite to look into is that which is most prevalent – green.

From my desk in the bedroom I can look out across a tall hedge that scrapes the window ledge, through the wide expanse between the two houses across the street, and over the brief splinter of country highway to the forest on the other side.

From the balcony deck overlooking my backyard I can see rolling greens of every shade, all of them brilliant, in all directions. Our subdivision is, for the most part, a fenceless neighborhood. None of our neighbors have fences, although our backyard neighbor has a short chain-link fence to keep his dog in. It is small and unobtrusive and, obviously, transparent. We all know where our property boundaries are, but it’s nice not having these boundaries marked with looming wooden planks, walling each of us into our “private” green. Or blocking that extra green out.

In a middle school art class I was informed that blue and green are not complementary colors, and that, indeed, when paired, the effect is one of dissonance.
I don’t know about that. But I do know that from my Dada’s Chair in the living room, I can look right out the window mere inches to my right and see the gigantic and beautifully symmetric Bradford pear tree in my neighbor’s yard. Its emerald crown is glorious against an azure sky.
I love that green against that blue. I like it so much I reflect on it probably too much in my current novel.

So there’s that dissonant pairing – green against blue. A sylvan arrow pointing toward heaven. I’m no art critic, but this colorful contrast the Creator seemed to like so much He put it all over the earth seems quite beautiful to me.

Be praised for all Your tenderness
By these works of Your hand;
Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless
And bring to life Your land.
Look down upon this winter wheat
And be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green
That fills these fields with praise.
-- Rich Mullins, “The Color Green”



Just a couple of quick notes of clarification:

The title of this site is Shizuka Blog. I had to choose "shizukagarden" for the url, because variations of "shizukablog" were not available (although the weblog "shizukablog.blogspot.com" doesn't appear to be active).
I would be ever so grateful if those of you who have seen fit to blogroll me would check to make sure you have the site listed as Shizuka Blog, and not Shizuka Garden. Thanks.

Also, on the subject of blogrolls, I suppose I should mention (because I'm a generally paranoid fellow) that if you are a commenter and/or general supporter of this site, and I don't add your site to the blogroll here, it is nothing personal. I have specific criteria in mind for the Shizuka blogroll, criteria I don't particularly feel the need to articulate but which are fairly cut and dry inside my mind. I am trying to do something a little different with this site, and that task extends to the blogroll.
If the general rule of reciprocity compels you then to not link to me or to delete your current link to me, I completely understand and it won't bother me at all.

I have, actually, already added one or two of the early supporters of this site to the Thinklings blogroll. So I'm not trying to just suck up your good vibes and give nothing in return.
I do hope that those who may feel slighted -- assuming there are any -- will notice that I don't even list either of the other two more well-known blogs I contribute to. And I don't intend to add them. In addition, I don't link to several of my good and long-standing blog-friends either. It's not because I don't like them or their sites. It's just because their sites land somewhere outside the parameters I have in mind for the roll.

So please accept my apologies in advance for any slight you believe this creates. It's nothing personal, and again, if this means you must de-link me (or, heaven forbid, stop reading), I will understand and accept it as just part of the way the 'sphere works.

The purpose of this site is not accumulating hits, traffic, links, or popularity.


Is Not

The fruit of the Spirit is criticism, agitation, impatience, cruelty, stinginess, anxiety, abrasiveness, and entitlement.

Anxiety weighs down the human heart,but a good word cheers it up.
-- Proverbs 12.25 (NRSV)

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other . . .
-- 1 Thessalonians 5.11a (NRSV)

Wielding the Word, Living the Word

If His Word is written on my heart, why isn’t it flowing in my blood?

It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” -- Matthew 4.4 (NRSV)

I have been reading selections from the Apostolic Fathers lately, and one thing that strikes me most about them is just how drenched in Scripture they are. The difference between these documents and more contemporary writings of edification (the so-called “Christian Living” genre) is clear and impressive. These early documents live and breathe God’s written Word.

Take 1 Clement, for example, which is an epistle from the Roman church to the Corinthians, written at the end of the first century and attributed to Clement of Rome. The point of the letter appears to be a correction and a soft rebuke, addressing the fact that young members of the Corinthian church have affected some sort of rebellion, even ousting older (and wiser) members of the church. The primary aim of the letter is restoration.
And the whole thing is riddled with references – some explicit quotes, some incorporated paraphrases – to Scripture passages, both from the Hebrew Scriptures and from the early New Testament canonical tradition. (By the way, the practically equal treatment artifacts like 1 Clement give to both Old Testament documents and to assorted snippets from the Pauline epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and even Gospel sayings is a good indicator of the historic attestation of our New Testament canon.)

The letter known as 2 Clement, which is not really a letter but a sermon, is likewise full of Scriptural quotations. The footnoted references at the bottom of the pages of my edition are thick. 2 Clement, which is a speech of exhortation, is essentially a thin pretext for preaching God’s Word unadorned. It reminds me of the time I prayed privately with an old pastor, whose prayer was not much more than a recitation of a few Psalms. At the time, I thought this somewhat lazy. Now I think of it as revolutionary and refreshing.

We don’t write like this anymore. In the blogosphere, one occasionally comes across a reader who comments using only Scripture, but typically those people are using God’s Word as a carelessly swung club, not as a rightly dividing sword. More like a bomb than a balm. These are the blogospheric equivalents of the stereotypical “Bible thumpers” who quote Scripture at you without regard to context or investment, whether spiritual or personal. They don’t mean to lovingly correct, but to callously rebuke.
These comments may be 100% Holy Writ, but they are 0% Holy Spirit.

But even in our “regular” writing – our blog posts, our e-mails, our sermons, our Sunday School lessons, our notes and letters – we use Scripture as a tool (if we use it at all), rather than as the motivating muse for and lifeblood of what we are trying to say.
The early church, though – ah, those put-upon, persecuted, finding-their-way through the heresies and the apostasy and the violence and the prejudice early Christians – wrote God’s Word in such a way as they lived it. The authors of the early church wove the Bible into the fabric of their writings, because the Bible was inextricably woven into the fabric of their lives.

I may be alone, but such knowledge convicts me. I am a toolbox biblicist, not a lifeblood one.

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. -- Psalm 119.98 (NRSV)

[A]nd you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. -- 2 Corinthians 3.3 (NRSV)


koan two

The human mind plans the way, but the LORD directs the steps. -- Proverbs 16.9 (NRSV)



Mowing the front yard while Macy and Grace stand at the front door blowing me kisses.

The Bronze Snake

From Martin Luther:

“Some people imagine that faith is a quality that sticks to the heart on its own, with or without Christ. This is a dangerous error. Christ should be placed directly before our eyes so that we see and hear nothing apart from him and believe that nothing is closer to us than Christ. For he doesn’t sit idly in heaven but is continually present in us. He is working and living in us, for Paul says, ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). He also says that you ‘have clothed yourselves with Christ’ (Galatians 3:27). Therefore, faith is an unswerving gaze that looks on Christ alone. He is the conqueror of sin and death and the one who gives us righteousness, salvation, and eternal life.

This is beautifully illustrated by the story of the bronze snake, which points to Christ (John 3:14). Moses commanded the Israelites, who had been bitten in the desert by poisonous snakes, to look at this bronze snake with an unswerving gaze. Those who did so were healed, simply by steadily gazing at the snake alone. In contrast, others, who didn’t obey Moses, looked at their wounds instead of the snake and died. So if you want to be comforted when your conscience plagues you or when you are in dire distress, then you must do nothing but grasp Christ in faith and say, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who suffered, was crucified, and died for me. In his wounds and death, I see my sin. In his resurrection, I see the victory over sin, death, and the devil. I see righteousness and eternal life as well. I want to see and hear nothing except him.’ This is the true faith in Christ and the right way to believe.”

-- excerpted in By Faith Alone: 365 Devotional Readings

You are all God’s children by believing in Christ Jesus. Clearly, all of you who were baptized in Christ’s name have clothed yourselves with Christ. -- Galatians 3.26-27 (GWV)

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -- Hebrews 12.2 (NIV)


Cared For with Steadfast Love

The Olive Grove by Vincent Van Gogh

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. -- Psalm 52.8 (NRSV)

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. -- Genesis 28.15 (NIV)


Fruit is not automatic. You don’t plant a tree and “get fruit.”

You have to root your tree in good soil. Depending on what fruit you hope to grow, the very geographic location of your garden or orchard can be crucial.
There is watering and other care involved. You have to protect your trees from insects and animals and, sometimes, thieves. You have to protect it from the cold.

I don’t have a green thumb. I am not outdoorsy.
I worked church maintenance for about five years. The grass grows quickly in South Texas. What you cut on Monday needs cutting again on Thursday. So in the warm months (which in Houston is most of them), that’s five days a week for five years of mowing and otherwise tending to acres and acres of land in the sweltering Houston heat. I made a meager living off of the curse.
Now I dread mowing my almost-an-acre every weekend in the mild Tennessee spring. No one’s paying me to do it, but it’s not someone else’s land. It’s mine. I own it.
It’s almost as if I didn’t learn anything in my years of professional earth subduing.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. -- Galatians 5.22-23

I am not inclined toward prayer. I talk to God constantly, actually, but I am not “prayerfully minded,” by which I mean I am terrible at committing to times of quiet and meditative prayer.

The fruit of the Spirit is not automatic. I can’t just think about God and superficially read my Bible every day and “get fruit.”
I have to root my spirit in His, in the nurturing soil of the Word incarnate and the Word written. I have to put myself in locations conducive to spiritual nourishment – family, church community, a quiet corner in which to really pray and study.

In his novel The Fourth Treasure, Todd Shimoda describes the efforts of Japanese calligraphers to perfect their artistry. One sensei instructs his students to perform ten thousand strokes a day for ten thousand days. And then the student might be ready.
And the strokes are not the Japanese characters themselves, but the individual strokes – the “radicals” – that together make a character. That’s ten thousand times a day, for ten thousand days, of practicing the parts of a letter. Can you imagine having to practice drawing the three separate parts of an A for that long before you can attempt to draw the actual letter?
But there is a beauty and a spirit and an emotional substance to expertly rendered Japanese kanji not found in the cold geometry of our twenty-six-letter alphabet.

There is a difference between trying and training.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. -- Galatians 6.9

The work of sanctification is God’s. But there is work to be done on my part, as well. The works of faithfulness.
Disciplines to undertake. Hard work. Consistency. Perseverance.
A long obedience in the same direction.

Discipline: Any activity I can do by direct effort that will help me do what I cannot now do by direct effort. -- John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted

The fruit of the Spirit is not automatic. There is work and care involved.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” -- John 15.4-5


koan one

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. -- Matthew 10.39 (NRSV)



Power, Compassion, Safety

"In pointing out the terribleness of God, I do not appeal to fear . . . We do not say, 'Be good, or God will crush you.' That is not virtue, that is not liberty -- it is vice put on its good behavior. It is iniquity with a sword suspended over its head.

The great truth to be learned is that all the terribleness of God is the good man's security. When the good man sees God wasting the mountains and the hills, and drying up the rivers, he does not say, 'I must worship him or he will destroy me.' He says, 'The beneficent side of that power is all mine. Because of that power I am safe. The very lightning is my guardian, and in the whirlwind I hear a pledge of benediction.'"

-- Joseph Parker, quoted in The Classics Devotional Bible

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. -- Psalm 112.4

Peace in Quiet

Quiet can be unnerving. Practicing and experiencing quiet can feel awkward.

Technology. Multitasking. "Stuff." Busy-ness. Artificial noise. Micro-. Nano-. Fast.
All of these are good things.
We become accustomed to the collective din of these things. When we experience their absence, it can be uncomfortable. Peace and quiet can make us uncomfortable.

Be still, and know that I am God! -- Psalm 46.10

There was a time -- probably not more than five years ago -- when it never would have crossed my mind that I should have a phone on my person when I leave the house. Now I feel naked if I happen to make it out in public without my cellphone; I can get not more than five minutes away from home, and if I have forgotten my cellphone, I get nervous about the possibility of being in an emergency and not being able to contact someone.
I wouldn't have worried about that five years ago. The convenience of it, the actual advancement of having a small portable telephone in my pocket wherever I go, actually makes me a more nervous person. (And I don't need any help in that regard.)

When I first started watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" with my girls, I found it off-putting. It struck me as weird, and Mr. Rogers seemed somehow creepy.
This was because I was not accustomed to the pacing of patience. Fred Rogers broadcasts at a different frequency than the outside world (and certainly any other world on television); he lives, breathes, and speaks in a different rhythm. His frequency is quiet, his rhythm is patient.

It can be very uncomfortable to encounter the rhythm of peace and quiet when one is used to the world's rhythm.

Sometimes Technology Keeps Us from Beauty. That's the title of a brilliant post by Robert Williams today.

We can talk on the phone as we eat fast food while using the ATM. Not only are we better at multitasking and becoming more productive and efficient, along with the increased pace, more is required of us. And so we hurtle through life faster and faster, becoming busier and busier. The result is that in our busyness we are becoming increasingly efficient at leading meaningless lives. -- Don Whitney, quoted at the BHT

You may notice my writing "sounds" differently here than it does there or there. That's on purpose. I'm trying to cultivate a different rhythm here. I'm focusing on my words more. It sounds weird even to me.
There will be less transitions. More "to the point"-ness.

I have kids. Sometimes when the house is too quiet I feel like something must be wrong.
In the real world, we react that way when things get too quiet, also.
We should learn to love that.

Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife. -- Proverbs 17.1

People use computers, cellphones, television, DVD players, VCRs, microwaves, video games, pagers, and all manner of other things to feel _______. Put whatever you want in there: important, useful, efficient, empowered, up to date, whatever. What happens if we strip ourselves of those things just for one day? For one week? For one month? For one season? (Forever? Perish the thought.)

So don't get rid of those things. Or do. But either way, seek out purposeful quiet. Get used to the way quiet sounds. You may hear nature. You may actually hear what your loved ones are saying.
You may hear God.

Can we find peace in quiet?


This is The Great Wave off Kanagawa from Katsushika Hokusai's breathtaking series of paintings 36 Views of Mt. Fuji. It may take a second glance for one to notice the relatively large boat (and the figure reclining within it), as overwhelmed and assumed by the waves as it is. And yet one immediately notices the firm, dry land of Mt. Fuji, even though the image of it appears small and it is set far in the distance.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. -- Psalm 42.7

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. -- Psalm 89.9


A Garden

A garden...teems with life. It glows with colour and smells like heaven and puts forward at every hour of a summer day beauties which man could never have created and could not even, on his own resources, have imagined...when the garden is in its full glory the gardener's contributions to that glory will still have been in a sense paltry compared with those of nature. Without life springing from the earth, without rain, light and heat descending from the sky, he could do nothing. When he has done all, he has merely encouraged here and discouraged there, powers and beauties that have a different source.

-- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Thanks to The Window in the Garden Wall, a Lewis weblog

Welcome to Shizuka Blog

At the beginning of each episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," after the scene opens up inside Fred Rogers's house, the first thing one sees is the flashing yellow light of the stoplight in his kitchen. It is a sign to the viewer to "slow down," that in Mr. Rogers's world, peace and patience and gentleness reign. It is a fitting symbol for a program that brought immeasurable tranquility to countless children in turbulent homes. Even for this adult father, the yellow light reminds me I'm about to enter a world for which slowness and calm will produce optimum results.

My desire for this marginal space in the blogosphere is to be a slowly flashing yellow light. I want the readers who come here to find a quiet and gentle space, a welcome respite from the oft-times turbulent and trivial land of blogdom. I contribute to two other weblogs, both of which specialize in spirited discussion and debate. I am not opposed to such endeavors, and indeed find them very profitable. But you won't find that here.

What I want Shizuka Blog to be is a place of meditative calm (prompting rest) that is nevertheless consistently rooted in the Word of God (providing edification). In this Zen garden, the fruit of the Spirit grows.
Every post will be specifically designed to encourage or edify, or to provoke meditation on the Word, or to in some other way bless you. This will be a matter of discipline and ministry to me, even as I am trying to minister to you.

If you happen to find this quiet space, I hope you will return frequently and find here rest and restoration.