Monthly Archives: February 2013

Z Is for Zing



Zing [I like this definition best] refers to: “an enjoyably exciting or stimulating quality.”

With the final letter Z, I’ve come to the end of my blog Alphabetarium—which I began less than a year ago with A Is for Attitude

What, really, IS Zing? A subjective, personal, intriguing promise inherent in a simple four-letter word. BUT Zing is one of those qualities about which we can say: You’ll know it when you encounter it (or embody it)!

Late last March, when I was blogging on, I considered what it would mean to have a “frame” or pre-set form that would allow me to fill it in with words. A blogging template, so to speak. A plan to prod me to just DO IT! To write pieces regularly and in some sort of order …

That’s when I decided to try this scheme of a series of blogs based on consecutive letters of the alphabet. I really had to stretch when it came to finding a word that began with X … !

I hope that my word studies, short personal essays suggested by these various words—into which I gathered quotes and related thoughts—have had a bit of Zing for some of my readers.

The writing exercise itself often required a surge of Zest from me. And I can say that my genuine love of words and their meanings carried me through—along with a desire to complete the A-Z experiment.

French novelist Gustave Flaubert said about the excruciating limits of words: “Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while longing to make music that will melt the stars.”

So if even a few bears somewhere in cyberspace are dancing in response, I’ll rejoice in feeling that unmistakable Zing of a task completed.

Y Is for Yin-Yang




Can it really be true—that these two “Y” words drawn from traditional Chinese philosophy are actually intended to be joined at the hip by a hyphen?

Apparently Yin and Yang—the two conjoined principles whose interaction influences the destinies of creatures and things—are really one. Each side contains specific observable properties or qualities not found in the other.

In fact, each defines the other by being all that the other is not: light and shadow, hot and cold, top and bottom, masculine and feminine. One completes the other. In fact, in Yin-Yang one cannot truly be without the other. Like true lovers.

Visually, the Ying-Yang is a circular symbol split in half so that each half looks like a sideways teardrop. The two sides are labeled Ying and Yang.

Ying is white with a circle of black in the bulb of its tear. Yang is black with a circle of white in the bulb of its tear.



There are many applications to this visual wisdom. In traditional Chinese Medicine human life is seen as an active physiological process. When the body is well and healthy, Yin and Yang are in balance.

It’s a great symbol of wholeness, and brings to my mind—especially today—the symbol for Heart, which also implies a centering and a balance (unless it’s broken or has an arrow through it!).

In fact, Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski in Living Presence: A Sufi Guide to Mindfulness and the Essential Self, makes this comparison of mind and heart:

“We have subtle subconscious faculties we are not using. In addition to the limited analytic intellect is a vast realm of mind that includes … intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity … creative capabilities; and image-forming and symbolic capacities. Though these faculties are many, we give them a single name with some justification because they are operating best when they are in concert. They comprise a mind, moreover, in spontaneous connection to the cosmic mind. This total mind we call ‘heart.’”

If our Yin-Yang is balanced and ouris whole and true, a great deal is possible in the world.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, wrote: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

May our Yin-Yang steer us in ways that empower our hearts—as Rumi advises: “Only from the heart can you touch the sky.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Dust and Spirit



Kurt Vonnegut once described human beings as “sitting up mud.” “The word humility comes from hummus, which means earth or mud. To be ‘humble’ is to feel ourselves as part of the earth—made from dust, returning from dust. The Hebrew creation story says God created humans by mixing dust and spirit.”

Today on Ash Wednesday, at the very beginning of the Lenten season, we affirm this humbling paradox.

Does the human spirit even MIX with dust, with dirt, with ashes? We are challenged to find out ways both to humble ourselves AND to take action in the world.

The original period of Lent was 40 hours, to be spent in fasting to identify with the suffering of Christ. Then it became 30 days, then 36, and finally, in the reign of Charlemagne, about A. D. 800, it grew to 40 days, not including Sundays.

The 40 days that we commemorate in the Lenten season are to correspond to Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. They typically involve giving up something we care about, or taking on a special spiritual discipline.

How can we even compare our temporarily inconveniencing ourselves—to Jesus’ total trust in life and death?

But it is good that we do have a pattern and a plan laid out for Lent each year—one that we follow faithfully, or maybe not so carefully—but that we intend to make our own.


A story is told of how once upon a time in ancient China, the people at a village received orders from the regional governor to build a shrine for the emperor. If they could meet the deadline, the governor would reward them handsomely.

The chosen location for the shrine had a well, so they needed to fill it up before construction could take place. They brought in a donkey to transport piles of sand and mud for that purpose.

But—an accident occurred. The donkey got too close to the exposed well, lost his footing, and fell into it. The villagers tried to lift him out but could not. After many failed attempts, they realized it would take too long to rescue him.

Keeping the deadline in mind, the villagers decided to sacrifice the donkey. They proceeded to shovel sand and mud into the well, thinking they had no choice but to bury him alive.

When the donkey realized what they were doing, he began to wail pitifully. The villagers heard him but ignored him. The value of one donkey wasn’t much compared to the rewards they expected to get, so they continued to shovel.

After a while, the wailing in the well stopped. The villagers wondered about this. Was the donkey dead already? Or had he just given up? What was going on?

Curious, they bent over and looked into the well. A surprising sight greeted them. The donkey was alive and well. When the mud and sand rained down on him, he had shrugged it off, and then stamped around until the dirt was tightly packed below him. This formed solid ground that lifted him a bit higher each time.

Eventually, the donkey got high enough inside the well. With one powerful leap, he jumped out of it. Amazed, the villagers watched as he trotted off with his head held high.

Even dust and mud can become building blocks of life.

And so even in this holy season, let’s not take ourselves too seriously.

Teresa of Avila wrote: “We should not attach much value to what we have given God, since we shall receive for the little we have bestowed on Him much more in this life and in the next.”

Lent gives us an opportunity to think about what we are (and aren’t) as humans. At the very least we can move intentionally toward seeking God in our choices and actions. 

And so, in this season that begins with ashes and ends with alleluias, let us—above all—choose to be awake to these possibilities.


Isabel Anders is the editor for 40-Day Journey with Madeleine L’Engle, which is often used for Lenten study.

X Is for Xenial



Xenial: Hospitable, especially to visiting strangers or foreigners; Of the relation between a host and guest; friendly.

Unless you are completing an Alphabetarium blog and have come to this difficult-letter-that-hardly-ever-begins-a-word (or if you’re playing Scrabble)—why use a word like Xenial at all and not just say “hospitable” or “friendly”?

Well, I’m at X in my alphabetical blogging, and staring down but two more letters to complete this feat … so let’s just take it from here:

Being hospitable to strangers was an important theme in classical literature. Hospitality was an indispensible quality especially in Homer’s Odyssey, and in that context I have just encountered the related Greek word for guest-friendship: xenia. This referred to a relationship between people from different regions who formed an agreement that they could visit each other’s territory and be assured of safety, a place to stay, and food to eat.

Because many people had to travel long distances on foot, such hospitality could mean the difference between life and death on the way to one’s destination. Travelers could not count on a local Holiday Inn or even a friendly mom and pop restaurant turning up along the way in their journeys. And so they had to rely on extended hospitality for shelter and sustenance—which surely has led to many a fascinating tale. “… now that you have taken refuge here, you shall not lack for clothing or any other comfort due to a poor man in distress” (The Odyssey, Book VI, 205). See also the example in the Bible of Abraham’s visitors in Genesis 18.

The nearest thing I have experienced to Xenial behavior from a stranger occurred on dangerous snow-covered Illinois streets: I once slid off into a ditch during a storm, and a friendly pickup truck driver (surely an earth-angel) stopped to help me. He put gravel under my wheels, hooked my car to the back of his truck, and pulled me out. Plus, in true Xeniality (if that’s a word)—he would accept no payment. After unhooking my car he drove on and I never got his name.

In fact, it always seemed that severe weather brought out the best in neighborliness: people shoveling other people’s walks; bringing a pot of soup to the door of someone who couldn’t get to the store; picking other people’s kids up for them when school let out early …

If we became a more Xenial society—with less fear about being ripped off, and more concern for our neighbors’ welfare, I could predict that the hope-meter for the planet would shoot upwards pronto.

This story from Martin Buber in Tales of the Hasidim says it all:

An old rabbi once asked his pupils how he could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun. “Could it be,” asked one student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?”

“No,” answered the rabbi.

Another asked, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?”

“No,” answered the rabbi.

“Then when is it?” the pupils demanded.

“It is when you can look on the face of any woman or man and

see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”