Vinegar for the Soul

Today, I learn that I can clean my crusty microwave by mixing 1/2 cup vinegar with 1/2 cup water and letting it boil for a few minutes inside the microwave. 

I’m doubtful as I stand waiting with one arm resting on a mop and another wiping down a counter top.  I don’t think the website that gave these instructions has seen the inside of this microwave. 

Saturday cleaning day has felt particularly somber as I remember the tsunami as well as more local news of a dear friend, Micah, who fights for his life in a hospital in California.  His pneumonia became life-threatening this week, and I check my computer for updates about his condition.   Micah is a young father with a beautiful wife and three children.  His wife is due to have their fourth child any moment.  They are close friends of ours from our previous community.

The microwave sounds its signal, and I open the door.

I can’t believe it!  Apparently, no old crusted thing can survive the presence of that highly acidic vinegar.  I take a cloth and wipe down the inside.  Not one stain resists me.  The vinegar dislodges every bit of bacterial splatter.

That’s what it feels like today in my own heart.  The news of suffering comes into my soul with a sour sting, but it’s the kind of work that purifies and refines.  I suddenly know what matters.  I remember what I love.  I remember God’s comforting presence and what I need to pray for.  I take my fear and my sadness, and I let it do its complete work.  The crusty stains of selfishness and materialism break apart–just a little bit more–and I become closer to God today.

Journal:  What does sadness do to the soul? 


On Watching the News of the Tsunami in Japan

As I grade papers today, I want to ignore the background buzz and flicker of a news channel showing footage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  I watch someone’s home burst into flames and float away.  I watch a cargo ship turn over on its side as simply as a man changing positions in his sleep.  From an aerial vantage point, it seems like someone has poured buckets of black paint over the farmland.   I want to turn away from this news and this reality. 

I see a minivan turn circles in the water like a silver leaf.

Not until the voice behind the footage reminds me that I’m watching a wall of water moving at 500 mph do I suddenly imagine the noise, the wind, and the smell of it.  I look at that minivan and think of a family going about their day.  It’s not a leaf.  It’s a family in a vehicle. 

Just this morning, my youngest daughter hears the radio announce that an earthquake has hit Japan.  Tears well up and she says, “Mama, Aki is in Japan.”  

We leave for school and go about the day with that tsunami in the background of our minds.  I force it to the forefront–choosing to remember, choosing to pray.  It’s too easy to forget.  It’s too easy not to hear that background story of a country in crisis. 

I force myself to write about it.  But I don’t want to think about it.  It’s not happening here.  It’s over there

I go back to grading.  A student has written an analysis of W.H. Auden’s poem, “Musee des Beaux Arts.”   Auden writes about how, in the face of widespread human suffering, “everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster” because we have “somewhere to get to.” 

I don’t want to turn away.  I’m in this, and for me, being in this means I write.  That keeps it in the foreground.  That’s keeps me from turning away today. 

I write and pray for Japan today, and that’s how I’m choosing to live with flair.    

Journal:  How can I stay “in this” today?  Is it important to do this?