Archive for the ‘ following Jesus Christ ’ Category

Winter Solstice: An Advent Collision

Last night crept in, longest night of my life–farthest north I’d ever been on a winter solstice–and I dissolved into the sort of writhing, fearsome sobs that feel like they ought to produce something. I hoped they would.

“I am feeling overwhelmed,” I told my husband. “I think I’d benefit from some time alone.” I imagined the angels looked down upon me, sorry I was in such consternation.

Two Mary figures vie for my affections. The first, Lady Mary of Downton Abbey. She is not the exemplar of success; it’s only that she fell into the comfort of an aristocratic family and has the pride, class, and stubbornness to hold onto it. And then there is Mary, mother of God. Her most confident cry is one of praise that God has favored her in her humility.

I want to be both, to stop sniveling in apology and worry, to be the listener and accepter that Mary is: Let it be unto me. For three years running, that line grips me. But couldn’t I yet know the graces of being a confident woman, whose etiquette and words are so deftly handled that it’s a social comfort to be with me in any circumstance? On the other hand, if I choose let it be, then I fear my natural foibles will fall undisciplined upon and around me, an embarrassment to the potential of beauty in the universe. In short, surely both Marys cannot coexist in me.

If I accept that I am growing and not seeing my own growth, then I accept that it is okay to be in the dark, to be ignorant. Maybe it’s never a lingering thing, of course, but it seems a weak word anyway: ignorance. Pressing on, accomplishing my version of good, making and remaking–in the name of glory (but never, admittedly, in the name of greed)–those are the prizes of success: not that we are given to, but that we are able to give and must, by all means. Christmas giving, after all.

Oh, our tilted axis, and oh, earth orbiting round the sun–you mean dark days. Clark Strand, in his New York Times article “Bring on the Dark: Why We Need the Winter Solstice”, honors the idea of darkness as something robbed from us in our modern generations’ immersion in artificial light. Darkness used to be a holy space, when people of old “touched one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life….It was once the hour of God.”

The hour of God. The hour of open hands. The hour of sleep, when there is ample space for rest. Darkness puts a stop to our constant seeing, our intentional discovering. Perhaps it leaves space unfilled, so that we may be recreated and named by God instead of giving in to “the impulse to remake the world in our own image.”

There will be light in time; there will be springs and summers in which to walk and plan and build. But in the darkness, we open the habitual possibility of listening to the words of a messenger angel, who may tell us what great blessing comes to the world beyond all that we could ever dream, through us (see Mary mother of God’s story) or through others (see Joseph the carpenter’s story).

Or maybe we will grow to savor the darkness, when nothing of consequence at all is announced, when we realize that peace has already come.

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An Evening Reflection on Turmoil

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We are making our way in New York City this week. After seeing, walking, exploring, as much as three young boys can handle, we seek quiet in a small Brooklyn apartment. Well, quiet is relative. There were snatches of it this morning, as I read that even though I’d walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I could dare to fear no evil.

This afternoon, though, my boys can’t stop rough housing, hurting each other, and making a game of crushing fallen cereal pieces all over the living room floor. I slam down my Chaim Potok novel, storm in to call my boys hellions and demand they clean up the war zone. Oldest son thinks I need to know that the fallen cereal did make the floor look like a minefield.

Clearly. A reason. To ruin. Someone else’s. Apartment.

I ban the electronic devices, cursing them as “lazy games,” and set the boys to work making dinner. They do well. One chops onions, another tomatoes. They stir the lentils, measure out rice.

And on the cleared minefield, we eat.

dinner_together

lentils

Food is thrown across the floor, eventually. And again, we work toward restoration. (And again, and again. How many things were spilled today.)

But my partner in this marriage comes home and takes the boys out to play, and what do I do with this unexpected time of peace, of genuine quiet? How much longer it lingers than I expected.

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In my hour, I receive word of war zones half a world away. Of children beheaded. Of the advance of ISIS, and attacks between Israel and Gaza. Prayer has never been so urgent. Mind you, it’s not perfect here in Brooklyn—my lover and I startled awake to gunshots the other night. “Maybe it really wasn’t,” he said sleepily. But we both knew it was. We slept anyway, as though the tragedies of the day don’t touch us clear through.

I wonder how it is that peace is restored after the mines are strewn in our fields, after brother-anger flashes through my little boys’ eyes. I don’t have answers to these things—no tidy packages to pull together why the real consternation of my little day doesn’t keep us up at night. We still circle around dinner together, and we say grace, for that’s what it is.

But there are gaps sometimes, like this one, when the whispers come: how do Iraqi Christian mamas fear no evil?

The Space of Worth

She had already started an uncomfortable widening in my mind regarding God’s love. When I gawked at my invitation into the wild and free space of voicing my own opinions, Fran* stood by my unique worth. After all, when had God ever reneged his gift?

Fran’s words had a chill certainty. That tilt of her head, the little uplift of her chin–you had to believe what she said, even if she made you cower six feet into your chair cushion. Sometimes I’d just let my eyes caress the stretching prairie outside the window–that place always free. Or I’d watch the wood moulding around the windows that was more likely to move than the stiff memory of the men and women in my childhood church–people who were always close to mind in Fran’s living room.

The scrappy book I toted to Fran’s was the sure symbol of stepping into my new worthiness–that worthiness I’d only begun to see. I would read to Fran snatches of my becoming. I needed her to believe I was living up to my new name: Changing One.

I read her a “changing” passage from my journal, one where God had visited me through the words of the Bible and ushered in some magical newness.

Perhaps it wasn’t so new or magical to Fran? My seconds of testimony launched her into ten minutes of reexplaining the passage, in more words, precise words. She piled her thesis on top of my scribbled journal note. And I withered.

But, no! I was worthy, after all, and she was snuffing those pieces sacred to me, smashing out my fragile worthiness. And by God, if I didn’t have a sour opinion of her right now! Well, I’d tell her, if she wanted to know the truth buried in this shivering, worthy girl.

I lifted my chin; I turned on her.

I finished my lament sweaty and avenged.

“So,” Fran said, “because you’re hurt, you’re going to throw blame back on me?” And if that wasn’t a selfish and childish thing to say!

But she wasn’t fighting; she hadn’t absorbed the grenade I’d just launched at her. The fuze sizzled, fizzled out. And there was Fran, standing there in all her chin-uplifted worthiness, not a shadow of fragility about her. It was like in the middle of her living room–molded and still–she could sit there as free and alive and unstifled as the prairie.

In fact, since she had opened no hateful barrage in return, I could only absorb Fran’s words as invitation. An invitation to stand, already worthy, already free. We could stand as tall grasses beside each other, one as worthy as the next, out there in the wind and sun, where there was all the space in the world.

::

*name has been changed

What is this cathedral?

cathedral

:: linking up with dear Kelli Woodford’s Unforced Rhythms community today ::

Entering into Suffering and Emergence into Wellness

Emerging, I imagined, would be like bursting — something like the crocus buds, whom everybody loves because they are the first to color the Spring. I should have watched the tree outside my window more carefully. It was ugly so long. I kind of gave up on it, honestly, because its knobby buds were brown far after everything else had submitted to life and color. I knew it would bloom, but I was tired of watching.

I had not planned to get sick — not like that. I launched into April like a freight train, light staring far down my uninterrupted track. A poem a day would not be easy to commemorate National Poetry Month. But I needed to have courage and perseverance in writing! (Oh, yes, and I still do.)

However, my formal plans wavered mid-April, as if to foreshadow that they could never be my own. We lean into rhythms sometimes, but we never own them. Sickness hit me April 22, and except for one poem in the chute, the surprise of my poem featured on Morgan Guyton’s blog, and a new free-verse poem on (you guessed it) sickness, I lost the ability to publish poetry. I couldn’t even think in the language of words. That was unexpected.

I watched movies. First something silly, the first six episodes of Once Upon a Time, and then the two movies that may have changed me forever: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and 12 Years a Slave.

It wasn’t on purpose that I watched movies on suffering, not like Bill Coyle, who in his recent Image article, confesses to listening to Leonard Cohen’s haunting lyrics for weeks on end during a long depression. I watched a Holocaust movie and an American slavery movie because they looked like high-quality work.

The young Bruno of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas pays stealth visits to discover another boy living in a nearby concentration camp during World War 2.  Schmuel becomes Bruno’s friend, and they learn about each other through the barbed wire fence. Bruno’s curiosity bars him from ignorance, and in only one point in the film, his curiosity (or shall we call it honesty?) takes a step back, enabling the abuse of his enslaved Jewish friend. Bruno rallies; in the end, it is his stalwart curiosity that remains, that faces humanity and holds it as a precious thing. In that, Bruno enters suffering on account of his friend.

12 Years a Slave is another close look at oppression. Solomon Northrup enters slavery by being abducted out of prosperous American freedom. He does not choose to enter that suffering, and not being born a slave, he feels what it is to have life and comfort snatched from him, and brutality shoved into his hands. For twelve years, identity is lost, dignity is ground into the dust, and Solomon emerges a changed man.

Is time ever lost? The time we all hope for — those where we plant gardens and play, those where we watch our children grow and choose to learn the very best things — those moments are lost. Instead, we are handed time that we did not choose. If there could be another way, we would have chosen a different path. But slavery and oppression have a way of stripping everything but our soul.

I wanted to emerge from sickness a changed woman. I wanted to emerge with a special energy and superhuman power to do the things that I was too lazy to do before. I had hoped that I could say something profound about suffering, but that was before I realized the oppression that has scourged this land and this century. The 1800s and World War 2, it turns out, are not so far past. What do I have to say? What do I know of slavery?

I am not yet well.

But I am well enough to read and write, to make some meals, to play with my children. I am well enough to dream. And — thank you, Jesus — I am well enough to look at the slow-budding tree and the little buds of poems that have pushed out like baubles all over this blog.

My soul is well enough to say: doing is a gift. And gifts? It is in the nature of a gift to never be pushed.

What can be done about oppression? I can gather up my skirts and demand justice for the whipped slaves, justice for the cremated Jews, justice for the trafficked women of my day. I can say so many words. 

Or, I can wander, on a good day, like Bruno, through the forests of my freedom until I know what this hell is of which people speak. To know truly what suffering is, I will have to enter it. And until I wander and wonder, I will not find the door.

I am unfolding slowly.

Poem 23, National Poetry Month: “we wrestle…”

we wrestle
until cedar lifts
into our lungs
the settled nature
of priesthood

Poem 6, National Poetry Month: Sabbath, April 6, 2014

Sabbath, April 6, 2014

Hope was back,
a relentless cardinal
in a landscape too long clinging
to winter.
I had wished her
feathers brighter,
though that was not her cardinal way—
that she was there—
that was enough.