Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On earthy hope, cocoons and the edges of wildness

The pause between Christmas day and the beginning of a new year has in recent years been fraught, for me, with a gnawing, hungry hope. An eagerness to cast off the old, which honestly hasn't been all that endearing these past years, and leap into newness. Or, at the very least, the glimmer of hope of newness. And what has happened these past years, too, is four or five months into this supposed newness, a weight of grief falls heavy on my heart. Things aren't all that different, it mocks. In fact, they're not different at all - and they probably never will be.

Does anyone else burn with exhaustion in their souls at the damned near impossible task of warding off cynicism and discouragement, while simultaneously seeking to honor the grief of losses splayed like a pile of bones one upon the other, while at the same time keeping a space vacant, no matter how small it is, to house the mystery of hope, the unexpected beauty strewn across our paths that day or so imperceptibly growing with time we nearly miss it?

Yeah, that.

I know that exhaustion well. Maybe you do, too. It is not so simple a gesture, I think, to embrace hope, for in expanding space to hope and love and light, we also expand our capacities for disappointment and heartbreak, for doubt and anger and darkness. We cannot grow one direction without growing in the other.

I'm not talking here about the biblical "hope that doesn't disappoint," but a hope more earthy and common to us humans. The hope of "maybe tomorrow will be better" or "maybe life will let up for awhile and I can breathe again" or "maybe that dream will begin to be fulfilled" or "maybe this (whatever this is) what won't be in vain."

We all have these kinds of hopes, don't we?

It doesn't have to mean we're not doing our best to live fully into this present moment, only that we're willing to consider there may be more light beyond this moment, and depending on what kind of moment we're in, it may be just what we need to get through to the next. 

This, friends, is where I've found myself, like I said, at the advent of a new year for some years now. 

But this year, it's different. I'm less eager, I suppose, to throw myself at the mercy of "high hopes" for newness. And it's more than that, too. It's a gentler hope, like the slow burn of an ember, flickering and holding steady through the night. I find myself leaning back on hope instead of pressing forward into it, and this subtle difference in posture changes the tone entirely. I'm resting, being carried along by a current, not bracing myself for rapids ahead or floating in my own little world like rapids don't exist.

This is where I am. I guess you might call it peace, though it isn't without its struggle, its tension.

It's an irony, no? That peace and tension can coexist? It seems all they need is respectful awareness of each other. 

* * * * * 

For several years, I've tried to participate in the One Word challenge. Writers pick a word that colors the theme of their year ahead and weave this theme, periodically, through their posts that year. Both times I've picked a word and it's fallen flat after the first post. Maybe I was trying too hard or not listening well, or maybe it's just not my thing to pick one word.

I still don't have a word. But I can tell you where I see myself in imagery, stepping across the threshold of next year:

Nestled, for now, inside a cocoon. Craving wide open spaces at the rougher edges of faith and God, where wildness and mystery dwell, outside of neat containment.

Yes, I'm here. Swaddled in this cocoon of the unknown, not only resting, but transfiguring. A caterpillar might know, instictually, that she'll one day emerge as a butterfly or a moth. But perhaps not. Perhaps she is swaddled tight, too, through the cycle of transformation, not knowing when or how or what she'll be when she emerges. Knowing she cannot ultimately control these things. So she gives herself over to it, to the process of change, to the grace of this great Weaver of beauty, and lets go.

So much of me, of my life and faith and marriage and writing, are bound up in this cocoon, that it's a sense of relief, really, to recognize this is where I am.  I can stop running desperate to hope or resisting it and work, instead, with the natural rhythms of metamorphosis. 

What this may mean for my writing is that I will tuck words away for awhile, letting them take shape in more private spaces.  I'm not so hungry to share all my words here, but to keep some in the sacred dark for however long they need.

I cannot say what this all will look like or what I will look like, for that is part of the journey through the unknown I'm learning to walk - to cocoon in - but I do know this:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

And somehow, that is enough for me, for this day, for this year. 

Linking up at Beth's for the last Unforced Rhythms of 2014.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

When you can't hear the angels singing above the world's weeping

It's less than two days before Christmas and it has yet to "feel" like Christmas. This week is passing, looking and feeling much the same as most weeks, except my husband is in California with his family, so I'm in no hurry to get home. That, and traffic has been exceptionally bad, a maze of clogged cars snaking through the city streets and highways. 

At times this season, I've sat in our living room with the lights off, except for the twinkling tree, listening to Nat King Cole croon Christmas tunes, pensively willing anything to feel the same as it once did. It didn't, really. Most of the time, I restlessly changed the station to one of my favorites, Gregorian chants, and the voices would settle on me as the striking of a brass bowl does at the beginning and end of silences in the contemplative service I enjoy on Sunday evenings, reminding me this is where I am now.

The bowl rings. An invitation to inward reflection. Pause. The bowl rings again. A call to unfurl outward once more.

And to be perfectly honest, I'm relieved it doesn't "feel" like Christmas this year. Somehow, this lack of festive feeling, this feeling instead like any other day, carves out space in my soul to hear and see beyond feeling, placing me right at the feet of this ancient, still-unfolding Story. 

With my husband absent, I sit criscross in the place we've sat every night through December, in front of our nativity, reading daily snatches of the Advent story. Taking deep breaths, I imagine the resonant call to silence. Instead of reaching right away to light the candles, I wait, and pick up a paper printed with a prayer I've fallen in love with. Here, I tread quietly into the Presence.

O God, it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.

Deep breath. Release.

It is night after a long day.

Not only my long day, but the world's long day. I let the weight of this sink in slowly.

What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done.

Images from the news flash across my mind, all that has been "done" this day and days before this day, that cannot be undone. The killings, the sickness and disease, the natural disasters, the court rulings, the violent protests, the wars. And all that has not been done - justice, peace, mercy, healing, reconciliation, brotherly love. 

The tears spring from what has seemed of late a desert. I stare blurry-eyed at the ridiculous, cartoonish tiny creche of baby Jesus, thinking, What kind of world is this?

The thought of grieving each and every sorrow born this night is unbearable, crushing, impossible. 

Where are you, Jesus? The cry echoes this dark room.

This is no world I'd want to bring a child into, I confess.

There's no telling if this was a world Mary wanted to bring a child into, either, let alone this child. And yet, he came. Into the womb of a world no less dark and tormented two thousand years ago, while the cries of grieving mothers also pierced the shroud of night, he came.

He came. And you know what? Most of the time, I can't tell that he did. Things look and feel and sound, so often, like a savior has yet to be born. Like our hopes were in vain.  Like light, in fact, did get swallowed up in darkness.

I would be a liar to say otherwise. To not admit that, so much of the time, declarations of "Emmanuel, God with us," fall shallow on the ears, dull on the heart. 

Even so. When I can't see the difference it makes on a day that feels like any other day - that, in reality, is any other - some part of my soul is that brass bowl, resonant and bright, ringing out that this birth changed everything. Seen and unseen, known and unknown, felt and unfelt, heard and unheard.

Another deep, shuddering, wet breath - Let it be.

The words that shift me from seeing and feeling, to faith in the company of doubt. There is nothing more I can do this night, but let it be.

The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

I let it all roll off at the imagined base of a feeding trough which cradles a baby born to be a sacrifice. 

The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

I speak this slow, a blessing over all that lives and moves outside my door. Peace.

The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities. 

I close my eyes and pray to open wider the door of my heart to this hope. Hope for me, for you, for us - for the whole earth and all living things. Maybe it was every bit as hard to imagine for the ancient Israelites listening to half-crazed prophets proclaim a distant promise of a God-Messiah, as it is for me to imagine a new day for this old, weary, heartsick world. 

Most nights, I can't imagine it. The best I can do is utter these words - 

In your holy name we pray.

I let my hand mark the sign of the cross as I whisper, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Picking up the lighter, I watch the candles flicker to life, reflections of my faint hope in the darkness.

Amen, let it be.

* * * * * 

Linking up at Beth's for the last Unforced Rhythms of 2014. 

For more Advent reflections this season, you may read here and here and here.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

How nature sings its preparation

I got a new body for my broken camera recently. For nearly a year, I've been without this extra eye, and I've felt its absence.

Maybe you're like me. When words hide underground amidst a churning of thoughts, I seek expression in pictures. Let them do the talking, my heart insists. I am not ready to speak.

So, as has been my pull this Advent season, I head outdoors, with eyes scanning for signs of the world preparing her earthen house for the coming Christ. For how can I put this to words, but that my ears have grown a tad weary and wary of so many human voices speaking on behalf of Christ? So I step out where the voices sing soft, so soft I need to silence mine to listen, and when I do, I hear their strength wrapped in subtlety of poetry. Unfinished, colorful, mysterious, laced with hope, they speak.

For those who have ears to hear, eyes to see.

How they prepare the way.

 Clinging to the branch, dying
that slow fade of death that precedes 
yes - but still 
alive, blood red.

for glad tidings,
great joy,
quiver of hope from the heavens,
 for the light holding
fast in the sullen skies,

the light,
the food,
the drink,
hanging from the tree.

 The rising Morning Star,
the skeleton trees clapping
their hands;
 the flocks of the forest
piercing the skies
with song;

 the wizened trees bowed low.

Wings lifted to the wind,
 they perch,
they wait.
For Love that came 
once, as a tiny seed.

And then a forest,
ever spreading.

Instinctively, they know
Love will come again.

Linking up with Unforced Rhythms, hosted this month at Beth's blog, newly renamed Trading Good for Grace.

And linking a late Five-minute Friday, to the prompt of "Prepare."

For more Advent reflections, click here - and here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tales of beauty from the rubbish heap: The beauty of neediness

It's an honor to feature another friend's tale of beauty from the rubbish heap, a little dream I rolled out last May. From the first day I happened upon her words, I was drawn in by her courage and commitment to show her real self as a person in church ministry, and how she feels about her role, without the expected "Christianese". Would you please welcome Liz von Ehrenkrook, whose refreshing and thought-provoking words you'll find over at her blog, So I Married a Youth Pastor?

* * * * * 


I have always been proud of my independence. It’s been a romantic sort of notion, never needing anyone for anything but keeping them around because I enjoy their company.

When I turned 18, I moved out of my parent’s house and into my first apartment, in another state. I was on my own and living alone. It was the most exciting thing in my life since I’d gotten my driver’s license and graduated high school.

I loved reporting to no one. On weekends I chose whether or not I wanted to see anyone or go anywhere. I ate what I wanted for every meal, if I ate at all. I slept in.

When I would venture out, I’d spend hours driving at night learning which highways intersected and which part of Seattle was my favorite. I’d cruise the streets, watching people spill out of bars and dream of turning 21.

I remember a married friend asking me once, “What do you do at home when you’re by yourself?”

“The same as you do. I read, clean and do laundry, watch movies, cook meals. I just don’t have anyone in the next room when I do.”

I had not yet discovered the term introvert.

* * * * *

It’s taken me a long time to realize how much I insulated myself with independence. It was my protection; it kept people from getting too close.

I needed to know there was nothing I couldn’t do on my own. I needed to know that if I never did find a forever mate I could carry all the groceries up the stairs, replace the burned-out light bulbs, mow the grass and change a tire.

Being strong-willed meant I was a healthy woman who could master the single life void of a man’s help - or anyone’s help for that matter.

I needed to be viewed first as independent and self-sufficient.

* * * * *

I’ve been married for almost eight years now. My husband, Mat, told me recently that I had changed, “You’re so needy. I’ve never seen you like this before.”

I cried. How did I get like this?

Needy is a bad word in my book.

Mat has always wanted to be my provider, my rock, but my independence short-changed him. I wouldn’t let him reach the things on the tops of shelves, or bandage a wound if I’d hurt myself; I’d break my back rearranging furniture before allowing him to help.

I didn’t realize I was sending a message: “I love you, but I don’t need you.”

* * * * *

A few weeks ago I sat on the couch holding back tears. They were the big kind, the ones that fill your eyelids and then spill out onto your cheeks in a thick, steady stream. I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling so I sat still, trying to shut myself down.

Mat was putting on his shoes, he had somewhere to be; I didn’t want him to leave me but I didn’t want to burden him with the ask, “Please stay.” The words were caught in my throat.

He moved to kiss me goodbye and the tears exploded. He didn’t ask me what was wrong; he simply pulled me into him and held me while my mascara stained his shirt.

Mat cancelled his plans without question telling the guys, “My wife needs me.”

* * * * *

I am learning how to love my husband according to his love languages, not my own. And loving differently has inadvertently taught me how to be needy.

So while I can get through the day without my husband’s help, I don’t want to.

I absolutely, without apology, need Mat. I am desperate for him.

The relationship I have with Mat has grown my relationship with Jesus. I’m pretty sure it’s no accident.

My independence taught me I didn’t need Jesus and for the six years I was on my own, living alone, I didn’t know him.

Marriage changed me. I love Jesus because he loves me in return, in my own language. I understand more now about God’s love because of Mat’s love for me.

I have learned how to trust, and I am learning how to let go.

More importantly I’m learning how to be needy.

Lord, I need you
Oh, I need you
Every hour I need you
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh, God, how I need you

Monday, December 8, 2014

A perpetual state of advent

I'm strolling the sides of a riverbank, scanning tall grasses for signs of heron, or the skies for eagles. I always come to this park east of Seattle, with its acres of off-leash dog park mingling with trails of bird sanctuary, for soul breaths. It's the best of two worlds, dogs and birds. I love them both, as I love the water and the forests and the marshy reeds beside the river.  The song that's been thrumming in my heart all week, comes out my mouth as I walk along, alone.

O Savior, rend the heavens wide
Come down, come down with mighty stride
Unlock the gates, the doors break down
Unbar the way to heaven's crown

I find comfort in familiar outdoor sanctuaries, during a season of growth and change, where my internal landscape is anything but familiar. During this season of Advent, where what's familiar no longer feels a comfort. Even as I'm making peace with spiritual tension, I sometimes long, in moments of tiredness, to climb back into the lap of where I've come from and curl up in warmth, knowing full well I would not find there the embrace I crave.

So I swallow gulps of fresh December air. Of mulch and dog and river. And I talk to God, singing as I meander through the deserted parts of the park.

O Morning Star, O Radiant Sun
When will we sing your morning song?
Come, Son of God, without your light
We grope in gloom and dark of night 

I marvel, at how nothing really feels the same in me, in this season. At how expansively we can change, and how we don't determine our paths entirely, and how the unexpected, the "nevers" of life, can sometimes beautify our stories, like lines burrowed into a face. 

And how those of us who find ourselves daily caught between What Was and What is Yet to Come, between the old and the new, are living in a perpetual state of advent. That middle place, where tension resides, is advent.

We are perfectly positioned in this tension for the birth of Christ to break into our lives - yet again, or for the first time - not in spite of, but especially because, we are profoundly aware of being in process and are choosing to wait here, where there are few comforts.

And so I pray a prayer I keep returning to, Christmas season or not - "Be born in me, again." 

Be born in our world, again.

There shall we all our praises bring
Ever to you, our Savior King
There shall we laud you and adore
Forever and forever more

Linking up with the community of Unforced Rhythms, hosted this month at Beth's blog, where she wrote a beautiful piece on peace and advent this week.

Also, linking up with Heather at EO for Just Write. 

For last week's advent post, read here.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Dear Church

  [Linking up with Kate and the Five-Minute Friday community to the prompt of  "Dear." This is not in the five-minute format, as it generally is not for me, but I thank you for allowing me the liberty to go with it...]

Dear Church,

I fumble for words to begin, and even so, they snag at the edges of my heart's corners. There are so many layers and textures, don't you know, to how I feel about you?

I want you to know, before you know anything else, that I love you. 

I do. I love you, even though I admit I don't know exactly what that looks like so much of the time - especially now. Even though that love, at times, is conflicted. What does it mean, I ask myself, to love you well, with as much truth as I can lay hold of? 

It's complicated, like so many relationships are these days. 

I guess the answer for me is, I love you as a mother. You might not have carried me in a physical womb, but in a spiritual womb of sorts, I was born from you and into your arms. And you raised me up in the ways you knew best. You wanted me to know right from wrong, to have a compass to guide me on this journey, to shape who I would become and who I would follow and how I would live and love. To keep me safe along the way.

And like any home, as an adult, I have needed to tuck into the folds of who I am those things you taught me that I hold dear. And to let go of those things that no longer aid me in my journey, but hold me back from who I'm becoming. I've needed to reaffirm those things I still believe as truths and slowly, carefully identify, untangle and unlearn those things I no longer believe.

It's been a long time coming to this place of launching out, but the time has come. As any grown child, I need to push away, find my way in this world. I carry your words with me in my heart, and I'm working on tuning out the ongoing soundtrack of words that you mean well, that sound like noisy chatter in my head.

I'm not angry with you, but I do forgive you. For the ways you've failed to mirror the love of the One who breathed you into being. For the ones you've hurt along the way, myself included. For being imperfect, as all of us are. 

I'm not running away, nor am I leaving for good. But I'm not sure my coming back will mean I'll live again in your house.

I need to go, so I can clear my head, my heart, and turn the next page of this story.

I hope to live in the same neighborhood, several houses down, where we can freely visit, sit in each others' kitchens and around each others' tables, and help each other out, as family does, in good times and bad. I will always honor you as a mother. 

Can you trust that my leaving from underneath your roof is not the same as leaving the family? I am not abandoning you. You are, for better or worse, woven into my story. And long, long before my story ever was, you laid out for me a history.

I simply cannot remain here as I am here, in these too-small walls, in the same bedroom I've always had, with the same childhood bed and the posters on the wall, the same music playing on the stereo, the nightlight dimly aglow in the dark.

I need to find my new way of being in this family.

This is a huge part of my childhood, my teenage years, my young adulthood, I'm packing up and taking with me. It's a wrenching, a tearing, to move out of this house. 

It's a sadness, to see your face in the window and know you probably don't understand why I need to do this. I hate the thought of hurting you, but I cannot stay at the expense of not following the One you've always taught me to follow to the outer edges where I can so dimly see he's calling me to come in trust. 

Please, don't ask me to define for you exactly what this will look like. I cannot answer that yet.

But it's here I feel a deep courage welling up inside me. A tenuous peace, the very essence of tension itself. Isn't what I always wanted that I not live a comfortable life? I just assumed, for all those years, it meant uncomfortable in the sense of radical opposition to the status quo. Living in poverty, in danger, in another country far across the world.  Instead, I'm finding it's a quieter, perhaps no less radical choice to make my home right here, in this place of spiritual tension, where I have no place to lay my head except next to Christ's at the end of each day.

I don't expect you to understand or agree with all the whys or the hows of this journey. But I do hope, one day, you can look at me and see some kind of reflection of the beautiful, untamable One you always wanted me to look like.

I hope we can see that in each other, for in understanding each other, this is where we'll truly discover how to love.  That's really all that matters, is it not?

With respect and gratitude, 


Monday, December 1, 2014

The ache of Advent: giving up

I chased the moon on my walk home the other night, as she played peekaboo. Above rooftops and tight spaces between buildings, cracks in the arms of trees linked against the sky, power lines like black epicenters running through her heart, street lamps littering the night with excess light. She perched on the ledge of skyline, a lover's veiled face, with one traceable curve of translucent skin revealed. 

And I ached to touch the untouchable beauty.

* * * * * 

This whiff of mystery and beauty and longing in the night air is how I feel about the season of Advent this year. 

That veiled moon with her skin exposed, so ancient and familiar, both known and vastly unknown to me. 

A distant promise seemingly untouchable, ever coming closer, looming larger on the horizon, gradually revealed. 

The mounting anticipation. 

The darkness of night, so heavy at times, and yet standing here in the midst of it with all senses open, wildly vibrant. 

The unveiling of hope in not so much a blaze of glory as a whispered secret meant to be spread far and wide, to the darkest ends of the earth, easily drowned out in the throng.

I want to follow this whispered secret home as I much as I want to chase the moon.

* * * * *  
Arriving home, I stand on the balcony and crane my neck to see her, the moon, but she's slipped beyond my sight. The music flooding my ears through my headphones does not drown out the surge of wind, gently bowing bushes and tree branches, opaque clouds drifting as living paintings across the  backdrop of inky sky.

I can't do this, I murmur to God on the wind, at my side. Not this year.

I can't try to resurrect festive holiday feelings in activities and traditions, hoping to silence the grief. 

I can't read Christ in the same pages of story, told with the same words, sitting in the same places I once sat. 

If I must close my eyes and listen to the wind and the trees tell the Story of a coming Savior; if I must open my eyes and see him in the crescent moon, ever growing; I will.

Maybe the Story will be told to me this year in the vein of an old carol - and my storytellers, all of creation, singing -  

Do you see what I see? 

A star, a star, dancing in the night
with a tail as big as a kite...

Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song, high above the trees
with a voice as big as the seas...

 Do you know what I know?

The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night
he will bring us goodness and light.

* * * * *

The piano song still surging in my ears through headphones, I look down and see the title of it on my Pandora screen - 

"I give up." (Please, go here to listen. And maybe just sit a moment. The piano sings like the wind).

Yes, yes I do. 

Not on the Story, but on searching this year for new glimpses of its mystery and glory told in the same, worn voices. I give up on trying to squeeze what is new in my faith back into old places my faith has outgrown.

I give up this year on expecting to one day resurrect the holidays as they used to be and myself as I used to be in them. 

I give up on looking for Christ in all of the same places I used to expect to find him. Before there were churches and sermons and blog posts, and even a story printed in the pages of a bible, all the way back then, there was a Story unfolding and waiting to be born in the flesh of a God-child. Before the Story was ever born on a page, it was seeded and scattered throughout creation, in the wildest, commonest, humblest of places.

I want to find him there.

This heart of mine, doubting, disturbed and still yawning open, longs to see the birth of Christ outside the walls of church, right where I am, in the fields and down by the lake and walking the web of city streets between home and elsewhere.

* * * * * 

I kneel down on the cold concrete and let the promise of Advent season wash over me, dancing through me like the wind in all its joyful energy this night. My face tilts upward, toward the wind, and I close my eyes and listen.

He will bring us goodness and light.

Linking up with the lovely community of writers at Unforced Rhythms.

* This post was written, not only for myself, but especially for all who find themselves at the start of another holiday season, another Advent, with conflicted feelings and a changing landscape of faith, maybe even where loss and grief have touched and altered how they experience this season. Who perhaps, like me, are caught in transition from old to new and hunger, more than anything, for a place in the midst of it all to see what is with fresh eyes and to long for what is not yet with others who are on a similar journey. I plan on writing more Advent reflections throughout this month, about once a week, and invite you to make yourself at home here if this place resonates with you. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

For Papa, on his would-be 65th birthday

What I wouldn't give to stand 
with you in the kitchen one more
Saturday morning
measuring Bisquick for coffee cake
kneading double the brown sugar, cinnamon 
and butter in a small metal bowl
Coffee percolating, clucking as a liquid hen
late to greet the morning

How I miss those hands
caramelly and strong with pillowed
green veins
like rivers pulsing beneath your skin
Your beard gradually taken over by 
dappled gray and white
The rich fullness of your belly laugh

You'd be humming a tune
from the era of Bill Gaither and the gospel singers
a faint smile tugging the corners of your mouth
one foot in your own world and one
planted here in this moment
Saying little
listening with your eyes
And we'd lean into contentment

And I'd wish for more time to know
you, the real you
if you'd let me in
through the bars on your windows
so I'd have memories of you in years
to come 
0f more than coffee cake and quiet times,
little girl recollections and grown girl
sorrow-tinged shadows

Though I'd take this now, even so
for one more Saturday with you

*An early birthday reflection, in honor of my beloved dad, who was born on December 1st and has been gone from us for six years.

Linking up with my beautiful community of friends at Unforced Rhythms

Friday, November 21, 2014

Close to the bone (Five-minute Friday)

I notice how my writing swings gentle on this pendulum between the beautiful, concrete observations of ordinary life and the beautiful, mystery-laden metaphors of life deep beneath the surface. And they overlap, of course, as life so often does, for rarely is the reflection of a bird or a walk by the lake only about what I experience with my senses, but also how it interacts with my spirit and the running script of life unfolding. 

But then there are the deep, deep things that can seem so sterile written with words too direct or stark; that require a softer language, a looser grip of words bearing down on life. And the things I could not put into words to my satisfaction, even as a writer, because I am caught up in the midst of living them and they are far, far from finished. 

These are secrets, I'm finding out. And secrets, in the purest kind of way, that are best kept without words, or few words, or words not for public consumption - at least for now. 

Because I write life-in-process, instead of from a position of looking-back (at least, most of the time), when I'm struggling for words to write, it is often because of one or two things. 

I am not paying attention.

Or - 

I am processing things whose times are not yet for sharing in my writing.

This past week, I sat down several times to write and each time, came away with nothing but fragments and this nagging sense of unrest. 

Hold onto these things, I heard. Wait. Press into the secret. Now is not the time.

And I squirmed a little, because, isn't this a huge part of why I write? To offer a glimpse into an unfinished story - an authentic story - where doubt and faith coexist? Where sorrow and hope grasp hands? Where the unknown is embraced?

Yes. But now is not the time for this story. The one that is "close to your bone" that you wonder if you ought to be sharing?

Let it be. 

There may come a day, several years or more down the road, when I write this story, not in the throes of process, but from a safe enough distance. Because sometimes, I'm finding, a little distance is necessary. And good. Even for a writer like me.

So if you hang around here for awhile, you will still see that pendulum swing, with the rhythms and layers of life. And you may not hear anything some weeks, for this may be my way of taking notice of secret things and stepping out of the flow of blogging to give them space to become what they will. 

Just as I am becoming.

* * * * *

Linking up with Kate and the Five-minute Friday community of writers, to the prompt of "Notice."

I need to give some credit here to another dear writer, Sarah Bessey, whose status on Facebook yesterday put into words the things that had been unsettled in my heart this past week. Such beautiful words...

"Sometimes I wonder if, in our rush for authenticity, we have forgotten how beautiful it can be to keep secrets. Not the shameful kind but the "just for us" kind, I mean. I've purposely been practicing the spiritual discipline of secrecy for much of what is going on in my heart and spirit these past few months. At first it was so difficult and weird - is it real if you don't document it on Facebook or blog about it?! - but now I've relearned the truth that new life often comes forth in quiet, hidden, and sacred places. In the meantime, keeping secrets and holding more of our stories and evolutions, our victories or sorrows close to the bone suits just fine. Who knew, eh? As a writer or any kind of minister or artist perhaps, it's hard not to turn one's life into content or impose narrative on every moment. The discipline of keeping secrets is a good cure for simply letting it unfold for a while, without expectation of affirmation or criticism."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Still

In that part of day in this season of fall, when it seems the earth is sprinting toward the shadows, when daylight is like sand slipping through cracks between fingers and breeze rustles through leaves like crackling wind chimes, I heard my soul's hunger and bundled for the cold.

Yes, my soul took me for a walk.

And the chill of the air embraced me, a gentle shake to the shoulders, pure joy inhaled deep into my lungs. For the first time in who knows how long I felt fully alive.

At first, I quickened my pace to reach the lake before the blanket of darkness spread across the sky, my sights set on light, those last vestiges of color and reflection across the water. I arrived in time to catch it, rewarded by percussive waves that beckoned me to sit awhile. So I sat, wrapped in layers and double hoods around my face, waiting as the darkness descended. 

And here I remembered, darkness has its own secrets. Treasures impeded by light.

The stars. The moon. The glory of all that is outside, or here in the midst of, these perimeters of artificial light. The mysterious, great beyond. 

How we flood the wild, the real with the artificial, because we're afraid of what we cannot see, cannot tame. So we chase the light, keep it blazing continuously at great cost, but there is beauty to be found cocooned here in the dark.

Such it is with life.

As I sat, I saw out of the corner of my eye a figure darker than the darkening sky, flying past in near stillness. A figure I had only ever seen in the daylight. 

A great blue heron, perched stately on a wooden post in the lake. I moved to get as near him as I could, kneeling on a weathered dock, and wished to kiss the air.

He's been here, all along, even in the dark, I marveled. And then, he lifted his great wings and disappeared on the wind. Even though I could not possess him, could not see him in living color, he was there, gloriously alive. And somehow, simply knowing that in this moment, was enough for me.

Such it is with God.

* * * * * 

Joining the Five-minute Friday community over at Kate's place to the prompt of "Still."

Surrender and darkness have been themes of reflection for me lately. If you'd like, I invite you to read more: here and here.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How a soul grows

Sunday rolls around and we aren't going to church, as in a formal worship service, and so we sleep late and linger longer over breakfast. We savor silence and conversation, co-mingling in this communion. 

If this makes us heathens, we gratefully accept. 

Today, and every day, we are but two who make up this presence of Christ in the flesh in the world, this Body sacred scriptures calls us, breaking bread and drinking from the cup and opening our hearts to Christ all around, in the unexpected and unassuming.

We leave home after breakfast and seek refuge in a small chapel, on a private university campus in the middle of the city. It is often quiet here, but today, people are milling around, trailing out slow in conversation, in neatly pressed skirts and pants. A crazy man walks in, tweaking, making his way to the far end of the sanctuary, breaking the relative quiet with his monologue and jerky movements. Still, something here, some presence perhaps, drew him in, even in this state. And he came seeking refuge, too.

We move to a room off to one side, with whitewashed walls and quotes from saints, and a beautiful tree with smooth red bark stretching from floor to ceiling. The crazy man leaves minutes later in a sudden fury, crumpling his jacket into a ball and throwing it in spew of angry, incoherent words at a pew. He stalks out, leaving utter stillness in his wake.

I cannot remember the last time I sunk into silence like this.

I fall in, hungry. I try not to fill the silence with thoughts and words, and succeed for a few minutes, before dissolving in unspoken prayer.

I feel something in me dying and something in me waking, this fluid, furious cycle of growth and change. I am trying to ride it out, for in it I feel the dance of wholeness - death and life, darkness and light - and it is messy.

And it is life, the way in the chill of autumn's air and fiery blaze of death, life burns to the marrow in our bones, arousing our souls.

* * * * * 

I never foresaw the day I'd feel like a misfit within the walls of a church. Any church. Right now, I will myself to go most weeks, if we go, and I cannot even say if this is a "season" (as we like to call phases such as these in the church) or if it's something deeper, more lasting.

I suspect the latter.

I cannot put it into words, but this: I am craning my neck to see Jesus, straining ears to hear him. And right now, I see and hear him best outside the walls of church. Outside the formalities and the ways we've clothed him in our varied interpretations of him and the expectations of how we are to act and think and be as members of this community of faith, and the language we use to convey these things. For when I walk inside, I hear more noise and confusion in my soul than I hear anything else.

I wish to peel it all back, to see who he really is, if that were even possible. To behold the mystery, and content myself with not knowing as much as I think I do, and perhaps glimpse him there, in the raw, like a burning bush.

I wonder at that man who threw his jacket in a spew of words and fled the church, and I think that God is big enough, to hold his children close within these walls as he holds his children close who are outside them. And whether we are "in" or "out" of church as a weekly gathering is not really the matter of his heart, I think, but that we are his, the way the whole earth and everything in it is his - and that we seek to love him and each other with our lives.

For when we do this, when we are this, are we not living as his Church? 

It's here I'm learning to trust that my faith, my very soul, have expanded enough to hold this tension, this weight of uncertainty, without tearing down the middle. Because if God is so big as to hold all of this and all of us together, then surely, it is well with my soul.

Linking up with Unforced Rhythms


Thursday, November 6, 2014

The soft, undefined edges of knowing

She stares at the wall, searching for a window or door. A way through, a way beyond, what's right before her eyes. It's been like this, for so long - seeing what's immediate and pressing - that her vision field seems to have shrunken. How far ahead, she wonders, do I dare to strain these eyes to see? For seeing is an act of daring. An act of faith, of surrender to hope, of possibility for more than this, whatever this is.

And there are no horizons here, beckoning far in the distance, where earth huddles up against heaven. Not yet. 

There is darkness. And there are walls that do not move, blocking her view. 

But there is, sometimes, a crack in the ceiling through which she can see the sky. How it can bleed color at the end of a day, or how it can seem like a bottle of black ink has spilled over and clouded the sun.  How it unrolls from one end to the other, as if there were an end, her eyes limited by how far they can see in any one direction.

She has heard too many voices instruct her - and others - to fight their darkness. To not yield to it. Those voices once sounded wise, but now they sound mostly afraid. Afraid of being human. Perhaps, she thinks, the bravest thing is simply to fall into it and trust she is not alone. Perhaps, she thinks, she was never called upon to rise above her humanity, for in doing so, she has failed to see the very human God in the form of Jesus, this man of sorrows acquainted with grief, who passed into the darkness of death and did not immediately overcome it. For awhile, and maybe this felt like an eternity to the eternal God with human DNA, there was no light or glory to be seen in his surrender. No simple anecdote to extract, nothing to bolster the faith or his mission. 

And it didn't end there in darkness. 

Because of that, she knows, somehow, even if that knowing has soft, undefined edges like the sky itself, that the darkness will not be her end, either. Indeed, it cannot even swallow her the way it did him, because of him.

It just might take the light awhile to spread through the vast, vast skies and filter through the crack in the ceiling, where maybe, then, she will see a door. 

Or maybe he is her door, and because she cannot see through him yet, there is the appearance of darkness.

Only time will tell. But she is not afraid of the darkness.

* * * * *

* It's been a hard week on my heart, friends - in a hard season that seems not to have an end. It's easier, somehow, to put it into words abstractly, and right now, that seems to be all that's needed. It's not circumstances or any particular state of being I want to draw attention to, as much as this ongoing challenge to set before myself and readers the ups and downs of a story-in-process. The invitation for all of us to set aside pretense and be real, resisting the urge to wrap things up neatly. I'm beginning to wonder if that's not one of friendship's greatest gifts. 

* Also, the darkness I am referring to is in no way implying that all darknesses are to be surrendered to. Obviously, I do not wish to oversimplify the darkness for those who, in this state of despair, end their lives or live in self-destruction or despair. I only wish to push back on the idea that the darkness that comes and goes in our experience of being human is to be feared or denied.