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  • Erica Rosi Tham

Adopting at Last! And Bird Room Meditations 3

Good news! We have decided to adopt twin girls from India who are ten years old. One girl has a club foot, and the other has two club feet and cannot walk on her own yet, but she can walk up stairs while holding the rails. They are described as joyful in demeanor and that showed in their photos and videos.

We feel that these girls are right for us because we had desired to adopt two kids at once, and we did want to help kids who needed it. My husband has excellent insurance, and we know that we can change these girls’ lives by helping one to lessen her limp significantly and the other, with time, to begin walking on her own—probably with a walker. We’ll see.

We are now completing some new paperwork--it never ends--and we will update you soon. We are hopeful that our adoption story will bring hope to you and others during this year. In the meantime, here is a new essay in a series that my sister and I are writing: Bird Room Meditations. These are designed to help people find or return to the traditional Christian faith--especially animal lovers and philosophers :) You will find them numbered in this blog starting here. Plus there's a new Khasi song link and translation--scroll to the end to find it. My husband is Khasi, a people of northern India, and they are great Christian musicians.


Bird Room Meditations 3: Finding the Light

Winter in Seattle is tough during the best of times. We have daylight only from 8am to 4pm during the solstice, many days are cloudy and rainy, and the temperature dips down to a bone-chilling point. In 2020, we have also suffered a lockdown, political signs all over the neighborhood, and ongoing anxiety regarding the virus. I normally would not mind the political signs, but this year there is a sense of deep division and confusion among people which causes me to wonder who I can trust when I see my neighbors.

Even in the bird room, the early darkness has its effect. Over the years, I have noticed that the birds need more daylight in order to eat enough and stay healthy, and I have two standing lamps with multiple bulbs to create light for them. This year, I had a canary who seemed low in health, so I also varied their diet with quinoa and some special seeds, a different treat each day. They need the monotony broken just as we do.



For myself, I have stayed busy with a very difficult puzzle which I work on while listening to War and Peace as well as my studies in two languages, Khasi and Russian. This is my second listen through War and Peace, and I have been reminded of another factor in my return to Christianity—the realization that I was jealous of devout Christian characters in books and movies. Jealousy can alert us to what we truly want. There are two characters in War and Peace, a devout woman who struggles with her personal relationships and a freemason who endeavors to live the best life he can. Tolstoy describes the thoughts of each character, and we observe them wrestling within themselves.

Usually, I study languages by reading stories and doing grammar exercises, but the stress of 2020 inspired me to memorize bible verses, especially the beginning of the gospel of John in Russian. I know, I’m a nerd. But I can assure you that there is something wonderful about learning beautiful verses in a second language. It is a very slow process, yet the verses become alive in the mind in a new way.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. It was, from the beginning, of God. Everything that exists was created by Him. And without Him, nothing at all that exists would have begun. In Him is life, and life is the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not swallow the light.


That is my own rough translation from the Russian verses I memorized. Sometimes, when I feel anxious, they help me regain calm. I recite them in Russian in my mind, and then translate each verse—a double lesson from which I can learn something new every time.

I teach English skills to advanced speakers, and recently, one of my Russian students messaged me that her family had contracted the coronavirus. Her father was at risk due to a previous heart condition. She was cancelling appointments until one day when she chose to meet and told me that her father was hospitalized but doing better. By the next week, he had passed away. She has always been close to my heart because she is a fellow bird-lover; she loves bird-watching, keeps track of nests in her vicinity, and takes many wonderful photos of wild birds.

During the darkest days of 2020, I was sitting with my birds and my morning coffee and praying for my friend. My birds endlessly inspire me with their natural pluck and energy. Every morning, in darkness broken only by two dim nightlights, I turn on the standing lamps, and the society finches dart from their nests, chirping loudly. One zebra finch trumpets, and all the others follow. Within a minute, the room becomes a hub of identity-proclaimers, songsters, breakfast-eaters, builders, and young or elderly birds watching it all with wide eyes.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not swallow the light.



As I had memorized it, this verse came to me during these mornings, and on one day, I googled Tolstoy and communism in an attempt to find out whether or not people had read Tolstoy during Soviet days. It seems they had; the leaders of the time were proud of their great novelist. War and Peace is not a religious novel, though the two devout characters are woven throughout the story and other characters turn to God in times of need. During an era when Christianity was thoroughly repressed, and many people suffered imprisonment for their faith, an epic novel with Christian sentiments survived and was taught in schools.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not swallow the light.

Though the majority of my Russian students tell me that they were raised without religion and have no desire for it, I believe that Christianity was well-preserved in Russia and in the hearts of everyone who has told me no, I have no desire for religion. As someone who left the faith in my early twenties and returned about fifteen years later, I understand the need to define oneself at any stage in life.

I also remember that flicker of jealousy I used to feel when I read a book or saw a movie with a devout character. It was only a flicker, but it was light.

As I understand it, Tolstoy went through many stages in his own faith journey and was not devout while writing War and Peace. However, in his final years, he decided that the entire key to life could be found in the Sermon on the Mount. He wrote The Kingdom of God is Within, and he ultimately abdicated his wealth and died in a bus station.

A feature of classic Russian novels that has always intrigued me is the tendency for characters to see light or have a sudden realization in the moments before death. I wonder if many Russians who are currently atheists do not feel a tiny prick of envy when they read the thoughts of the freemason or the devout woman or see how other characters revive after visiting a church.

Even if one of my students read this novel at the age of twelve, loathed it, and never read it again, I believe the seed was still planted; the unconscious absorbed all the characters and the soul, by nature, would be drawn toward those with the richest inward lives. In the same way, migratory birds are drawn to a second home in winter and are powerfully drawn to return to the first, the place where they were born.

When I go walking in my neighborhood and see the political signs, my heart feels heavy; I imagine those who believe that political causes justify name-calling, the giving up of one’s life for a cause or the murder of another. We are living in such times. And yet we can believe that well before 2020, God gifted many people, some to become well-known and some to remain behind the scenes, with words and acts that will keep the light shining regardless of what happens in the days ahead.

When we find Christianity, we find life—it is that simple. In Him is life, and life is the light of humanity.

As a birdkeeper, I have learned that it is not wise to leave free-flying birds in the dark at night. If a group becomes startled, they will all fly at once, and this can lead to accidents. For that reason, I have two dim lights which I leave on. During these dark days, I leave the bright lights on until about 9:30pm, and then I turn on the dim ones and turn off the bright ones slowly, one at a time, while they choose their sleeping spots.

Goodnight, sweet birds, I say repeatedly during our evening ritual.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not swallow the light.


Erica Rosi Tham

Please visit our GoFundMe page to support us or my English language website, speakmethod.com.


Commentary

I do not have the gift for languages that my sister has, but I love to read the Bible in different translations. The Passion Translation is a new-found favorite of mine. As per The Passion Translation’s web page, “The governing philosophy behind The Passion Translation is to transfer the essential meaning of God’s original message found in the biblical languages to modern English. We believe that the essential meaning of a passage should take priority over the literal form of the original words, while still ensuring the essence of those words is conveyed, so that every English speaker can clearly and naturally encounter the heart of God through his message of truth and love.” I love the phrase “essential meaning.” We need to think about what is essential to life, what is meaningful, what gives life.


Erica is a seeker of essential meaning, a seeker of light and truth. When she speaks of memorizing John 1 in Russian, she talks about how this helped the scripture verses to come alive in her mind in a new way. She could have expressed this as light shining in her being as she grasped ‘who Jesus is’ and how he is ‘for her’ in these words, through The Word. This happens when we think on what we read and ponder it…as Mary pondered the angel Gabriel’s words to her in her heart. King David expressed what he found in meditation on God’s word this way, "My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD."

Psalms 104:34


It helps me to think on God’s word by listening afresh through another translation. Listen for how John 1 is captured in The Passion Translation of this same passage.


“In the very beginning the Living Expression was already there. And the Living Expression was with God, yet fully God. They were together – face to face, in the very beginning. And through his creative inspiration, this Living Expression made all things, for nothing has existence apart from him! Life came into being because of him, for his life is light for all humanity. And this Living Expression is the Light that bursts through gloom - the light that darkness could not diminish.”


The words that came alive to my mind through Erica’s writing, and through The Passion Translation, were these…the darkness does not swallow the light….and our Living Expression, Jesus, is the light that bursts through the gloom.


This year has been hard, there has been much darkness, but in the midst, think about where the light has burst through the gloom. I know I’ve reached out and found community through an online prayer group that I may not have sought or found if it hadn’t been for this year of anxious isolation, and what a gift this group has been! I’ve also gotten closer to my neighbors and my siblings and even spent two months repainting an entire bedroom set--which fueled joy in my being in the creative aspect of this endeavor.


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not swallow the light.


One day this year, I was out walking and was actually more than a little down and anxious. If you’ve ever had anxiety, you know that this isn’t something you can just shift out of quickly. One of the places creating anxiety in me was simply the darkness I felt all around, and really, my personal struggle to trust God’s love and provision in the thick of things. Isn’t that that heart of fear in the darkness? I know in my mind God’s with me and for me, but my being can be telling of some disconnect between my mind and heart. The feelings were dark and trying to swallow the light… but as I know this is a tendency I can have, (to be ruled by the feelings) I decided, with some effort, to turn my mind to Jesus, and I did this by simply asking Jesus to walk with me and show me what He saw and felt on the walk.


After a bit, I crossed paths with a young man walking his dog. His dog was walking obediently beside him, not pulling or trying to lead. I noticed that this young man was giving the dog a treat here and there, and that he would call out the command “heel” each time. I commented to him, about how well his dog was doing. He smiled affectionately at his dog and said, “It’s the cheese. I’ve tried all kinds of methods and treats to train this dog, and I finally found what works. He loves cheese. He’ll do anything for cheese.”


It made me laugh – imagine that – a bit of light burst through the gloom! Especially when a few minutes later, he walked by a van with another dog in it, and his dog went ballistic…which was hilarious… but after he got on by, he began working to settle the dog down into a rhythm, a walking beside, trusting his provider, rhythm. And all I can say is that as I took in the whole scene, the heaviness lifted from my being…and I felt my Provider’s presence, lightened my pull, and got into step beside Him.


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not swallow the light…. Or you might say, The Light gives a bit of cheese for His pups to chew on and swallow and take into our core being in a way that makes our minds and hearts come alive with His life.


Jesus expresses this life with Him this way in Matthew 11:28-30, as captured in The Message Translation, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”


In Him is life, and His life is the Light of Humanity!


How sweet it is!


Judy Wiles


Judy during a trip to Pennsylvania when we visited our mother's hometown.


Here's a new Khasi song: Me Long Bakhraw: Thou Are Great


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWi_5QGoXy8&feature=youtu.be


You will see the Khasi words. Here is the translation:


My soul: do praise the Lord

My soul: do praise the Lord

My soul: do praise the Lord

Thou are great

Thou are great

Thou are great

Thou are great

Oh Lord thou are

of great strength

the leader of peace

until the end

You are wonderful

the counselor

the helper

in times of trouble

All through my life, oh Lord

it's only thee alone

thy simple mercy, thy simple forgiveness

You bring so much life

My soul: do praise the Lord

My soul: do praise the Lord

My soul: do praise the Lord

Thou are great

Thou are great

Thou are great

Thou are great

Against whom, oh Lord

can we compare

the greatness of thee

that is beyond understanding

God beyond understanding

Humanity's cleverness is nothing

as is the world's wealth and respect

All knees to thee will bow

to thy greatness

Tongues will confess thy name

that is so precious

My soul: do praise the Lord...

Thou are great...

Only to thee we will bow, Lord

Only for thee we will continuously serve

Only for thee we will inspire fame

In the world we stay as a visitor

To the end, we will sing through a lifetime...


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