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.