Ending.

I’m saying goodbye to this particular online space. It seems to me that the last words offered in an online space such as this should carry threads of the means of its ‘death’ and the hope of new life carried in that passing. In brief, then, I give you the means and the hope.

The Means
From time to time it is simply time. Necessity need not always be found in a list of reasons or intelligent rationale. It can simply be time. For me, it was time to leave my hometown nestled in the mountains of Southeastern New Mexico. That began a year of wandering from one gracious home to another, friends who were kind enough to let me be a part of their lives for whatever length of time I stayed. At each place there came a time when it was right to go. The last place I stayed was with a beautiful family of six -mom, dad, and four kids. I was there for nine months or thereabouts. I just moved in to my own apartment – first time in my own space since I left New Mexico. It was just time. I thought it would be easier to leave than it’s actually been. As I write this, it is one of the few times in the few weeks and a half (when I moved in) that I’ve stayed put in this new home. House. Doesn’t feel like home yet, though I’m sure that will come quickly enough. It’s easier to make plans to go here or there or visit this or that person than it is to sit in the emptiness of a house that has yet to become home. I sit in this space and I wonder at the story of how I’ve come here. I wonder the meaning of this space. And I ponder what hopes I have for this home.  

The Hope
So much in me has shifted over the past few weeks. Close friends I have spoken to have held that it all looked like some sort of a preparation. For what, God only knows. I don’t feel like the same person that I was a month ago. Something died. And something else is forming in the ashes. In that movement, I search for small ways to let the transformation be reflected in small ways.

Saying goodbye to this blog is one of those ways. It holds so very much of who I am. So much of who I have been. A lot that has died. Even more that is simply morphing into…someone or something else.

My hope in all of this is that lost arrivals will find an end to their wanderings or at least find some rest in the beauty of an attentive, creative, personal, and intentional life – I may be tracking this through a new online space, though I’m not certain.
And so there is an ending.

Thank you. Those of you who have walked along with me here — thank you.
Those of you who have let me blather on until I stumbled into a tiny slither of truth that we might share — thank you.

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Dad’s Poetry: To A Godly Wife

(In belated recognition of Mothers’ Day…)

 

 

Rising early on the wings of faithful prayer,
She girds herself to make the day to God’s own ends
Her lively heart, endued with virtue from on high,
Ascends the heights of humble service He commends.

Deft hands and strong, a nimble mind, courageous will
Then bend and beautify hard tasks that fill the hours.
Her life shines, full and sweet yet burdened by the toil
That she spends on those around her. By Thy power

Bless her now, Lord, for in Martha I am blessed.
Lift thou her eyes to see the vision bright and clear
Of delightful days unfolding rich with quiet repose
In Thy Holy Writ she holds exceeding dear.

I love her so. Thou lovest more. Thy love so true.
Thy burden light and Thy yoke easy, Thou hast told.
Martha long ago hath chosen as her portion
Sacred things revealed to holy men of old.

So give her rest. Stand as her righteous judge, exceeding
Great reward. Show openly the fruit of all she’s sown.
May her children rise to bless her. May her light burn
Brighter still unto the purest joy she’s ever known.

“What turned you against the church?”

Living in such a predominantly Christian area, just about everybody goes to church at this place or that, so it tends to come up in a lot of conversations. Dinner last night, with a couple from work, was no exception. It did go beyond those initial questions of Where do you go to church? and What is it like there?

What turned you against the church?

I suppose my response was satisfactory enough, but the question unsettled me. Wondering why that might be, I won’t go into the whole “Church is a people/church is how they gather” conversation because that has begun to taste stale.  I can only say that I do not consider myself against the Church or even just church. I don’t think I’m even turned away from it. Just…standing at a distance. I haven’t understood why, really…but I wonder if it is simply to get a larger view of what it is about church/the Church that makes me uneasy.

I get that churches are made up of imperfect people with quirks and hurts. I get that there is hypocrisy in the Church and sin and hidden agendas. I’m sure that’s part of why I’ve stepped back from things, but I don’t find myself ranting about how Christians are all talk but never live the life they preach. I get that we are tangled in the dailiness of life and that we slide, more often than we’d like to admit, into a sort of practical atheism. Fine.

I do identify myself as…Christian. But I believe that term, as a descriptive, is in need of renovation. I am not one who dogmatically adheres to a set of beliefs ordained by generations of people who knew the answers. I do not profess to have all the answers, in fact I have very few. As human beings, I believe that our ultimate point of reference for the way we live our lives is ourselves. I believe that as a Christian, I have committed to seek a shift in that point of reference, from myself to God.

But here I begin to stumble upon something, a large part of what makes me uneasy with church…

I believe that God, the word and not the reality and Presence to which it points, is a metaphor and only one of many that we use to explore the eternal and loving presence of our Creator. Creator, Redeemer, Lord, Father, Lover. These are all metaphors, little snippets or vignettes. Facets of the same Being. I believe it is the responsibility of Christianity (the Church) to explore and multiply these metaphors rather than settle for the existing ones and limit our thinking, our understanding of God.
I believe that it is also the responsibility of the Church to explore the boundaries of language, rather than limiting itself to high liturgy (on one end) or street talk (on the other). There is a grandeur to be embraced as we approach an engagement or any level of understanding God. There is also a certain grit to keep us grounded in the realities of where we are and speaking of God in ways that are accessible to many, not a select few (academics or those who possess to ability to read).

There. I said it. Kind of. I haven’t turned against church/the Church. I am standing at a distance. From there, I am beginning to see how much more the Church can be, how much larger a view of God we could hold and offer to the the world around us.

For Death

(After a long day at work. Three “claims” calls – individuals calling in to let the company know that their loved one has passed away. One was a woman in her late thirties. Her husband died four days ago. What kind of hell is it to wake up these past three mornings in a world where one you love is no longer there and you are a single mother of two children?
I’ve taken to reading this blessing from John O’Donohue after I’ve completed one of these calls. It offers a space to pause and enter into that person’s pain, a space to
 memeto mori – to remember death, that my own death is not within the bounds of my control. It allows a moment to gaze on darkness and pain and their inherent beauty.)


From the moment you were born,
Your death has walked beside you.
Though it seldom shows its face,
You still feel its empty touch
When fear invades your life,
Or what you love is lost
Or inner damage is incurred.

Yet when destiny draws you
Into these spaces of poverty,
And your heart stays generous
Until some door opens into the light,
You are quietly befriending your death;
So that you will have no need to fear
When your time comes to turn and leave.

That the silent presence of your death
Would call your life to attention,
Wake you up to how scarce your time is
And to the urgency to become free
And equal to the call of your destiny.

That you would gather yourself
And decide carefully
How you now can live
The life you would love
To look back on
From your deathbed.

Beauty…with an edge.

“In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act.” ~John O’Donohue

The ink is beginning to settle. Finally. The healing process on the tattoo has taken longer than I thought it would. It’s hit a few snags along the way and I may have to go in for a touch-up in the next couple months. But it’s beautiful.

You don’t know how many friends you have with experienced tattoo advice until you mention that you’ve set the date. Then the advice is abundant and varied. Don’t eat before you go, you might throw up. Don’t go on an empty stomach, you’ll be sick. Drink orange juice to keep your blood sugar levels. Chew on gum during the more painful parts. Pick apart a York mint patty and enjoy it slowly (the objective wasn’t clear to me; I imagine the mint settles the stomach and the strategic consumption is to keep the mind occupied).

My friend Emily drove with me to the studio that day after work. I’d given up trying to find a way to utilize all the bits of advice I’d received. I ate a granola bar on the way and had some orange juice, just in case. Knowing I wasn’t in danger of changing my mind (first, the $50 deposit is non-refunadable; second, there were several friends who had sworn to hold me to it), my only uncertainty was that first moment of needle-in-skin.

Bert (the artist himself) had someone in before me who had made some changes to his design (can’t blame him, it is permanent), so things were running late. Another friend, Stacy, joined us after a while and pondered getting something pierced while we waited (for her and Emily…I figured the tattoo would provide enough pain for one evening). A while later, three others joined us on the black leather couches in the waiting area — Aaron and Melissa and their baby Malachi. I was glad for the wait as it gave me the opportunity to listen, acquaint myself somewhat with the, uh…sounds. My fear was that it would be something like the dentist’s drill; thanks be to God, it was not.

Bert came out, said he was ready for me. By then, I was oddly settled. Kinda weird, actually. I sat down, wondering if I’d be comfortable enough to stay put for the estimated hour and half I’d be in the chair.

Then Bert took over and did his magic. I’ve been fascinated to watch artists at work, at home in their craft and rather lost in the creative moment. I wondered what it would be like with my arm as the canvas.

The design…well, I wrote about that earlier. It was pretty darn good. Bert took it and refined it, then stenciled it on my arm to check the placement. He has been at this for fifteen years. The man knows what he’s doing, he loves it, and it shows. Looking at the design and where it fell on my arm, he pointed out the areas that would be more sensitive – mostly the bottom third of the design that was placed closest to my elbow. Stacy handed me a piece of gum. I hid it away in my pocket, just in case.

Bert shaved what invisible hairs were on that part of my arm and wiped it down with what I guessed to be alcohol to sterilize the skin. As he worked, he let his personality shine – funny and bold, with a sort of what-the-fuck edge to an otherwise sweet and overtly kind way. I mean, how else could he be so gentle and likable as he jabs me repeatedly with a needle?

He held my extended arm to pull the skin tight. I held my breath. The needle didn’t even look like a needle, more like a pen…with a long cord coming out the back to pipe in the ink…and a cord to power the needle that, once the buzzing started, was invisible. The first bite. Searing pain? A pointed sting? Not…really…

More like…I don’t know. It was a sort of like Bert’s personality. Something beautiful with an edge to it. I turned to watch and then I didn’t want to look away.

The design was appearing on my arm in a way reminiscent of how I’d seen it appear on paper as I’d doodled it. Bert was making something beautiful and my arm was the canvas.


Of the five friends who were keeping me company (through the entire process, less a few minutes when Emily and Stacy stepped out for their piercings), three had also read Fiddler’s Gun and Fiddler’s Green. Aaron and Melissa started a conversation about the characters and our favorite parts in the story. Aaron asked me what part of the story did I read and know that it would matter this much to me. My cell phone was resting on my lap, screen lit with a picture I’d taken on the drive to the studio. “This part…”

That’s just a piece of it, though. I wanted to include a more inclusive quote, partly for your reading pleasure and partly because I feel the need to read it now and then, once a week or so. The book is never very far away…
Fin Button, the feisty orphan heroine with a pained past, has stumbled into kindred spirit Bartimaeus, head of the kitchen at the orphanage. He sees her pain and shows her a way forward in it:

“Now, see here, you got to put that hurt someplace, and this is where old Bartimaeus learned to put his.” He lifted the fiddle out of the case and caressed it.
“It’s beautiful,” whispered Fin.
“Aye,” he said and crooked it into his neck. He drew the bow across the strings and the instrument moaned a forlorn note. “Beautiful, that’s what you got to do with that hurtin’, you got to turn it beautiful.” He closed his eyes and began to play. He rocked back and forth on the log and let the song come out of him. He poured all his pain into the void of the violin and gently worked it out, turned it to beauty.
(I can’t say it often enough. If you haven’t read these books, please…please do yourself a favor.)

Bert was kind enough to work on the design in patches, moving to and from the more and less sensitive areas and giving my body the time it needed to get some endorphins running their course. They helped, but there were several fairly intense moments where, I won’t deny, in an effort to pry my mind away from the pain, I sent a sacred/profane text message or two to a friend who was unable to make it to the studio (I did eventually make use of Stacy’s gum). Even in those moments, though, it was hard to look away from what was happening.

On a day-to-day basis, I carry a lot of crap around in my head. Numbers and demands from work, concerns about family, angst over the past, angst over the future, and on and on. In one of the most intense moments, there was this strange sense of clarity. Watching beauty unfold before my eyes, the pain forced all the crap out of my mind and I could just…see.


And in that moment…something changed. I felt it. My friends saw it.

There was awakening. There was surrender. Both.

Some part of me was, in that moment, simply done with the paralyzing fear of giving offense; with the constant feeling of walking on eggshells, ever aware of others’ opinions and seeking to appease the blasted notions. Some part of me was simply finished with trying so hard to manage the various pains of my past.

I surrendered to the pain in that moment, instead of fighting it off. And there was a blast of clarity, some gust of vision for what life could look like with my hands freed from that battle, freed to “turn it to beautiful.”
I wish I could say that the clarity stayed with me. It did not. But with the remembrance of it, there comes a certain measure of courage to live differently. That is evidencing itself in small ways, ways I didn’t really notice at first…
Life looks very much as it did before, but there is a different sort of beauty…with a edge to it.

Dad’s Poetry: Rebellion

Proverbs 1

 
A sullen, wounded giant weeps alone.
No one comes for counsel, no one to atone.
They’ve gone away.

He sought them, wrought them, taught them, at his knees
They learned to pray. He’d hold them and scold them,
Mold them in the way.

He washed their ears and cuffed them, begged them to
Obey, he comforted, rebuffed them, and
Sent them out to play,

Where they wandered and they wavered and they
Wouldn’t heed His calls, and they fled toward a
Lighter,  brighter day.

‘Till they didn’t see they’d run in their frolic
And their fun down a darker track that brought
Them hard to bay

At a yawning, hungry chasm washed in
Winds that smell of death, shrieking, moaning at
The sight of fresh prey.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now all is quiet. Night’s departing, taking
With it muffled cries lest broken-hearted
Sighs the snares betray.

For surely at day’s ending when dark shadows
Reach and bend over paths carefully
Wove to lead astray,

Other fools will race and revel in their
Riotous array down roads to where
Eternal sorrows lay.

And the sullen wounded giant gloats alone.
“Serves ‘em right” he growls and chuckles. “I told
‘em they would pay.”

But he chuckles through his tears, lights his warming
Fires and peers in the gloom for searching
Souls who’ll come and stay.

And the watching, waiting giant weeps alone.

A poem from my friend Rob, who is in my thoughts and prayers today.

innerwoven

Faced with the disturbing reality that, to end the painful, troubled life of the family dog is somehow still better than watching a once remarkable animal descend into incontinent, sorrowful chaos, to wit…

There was this dog

For Skittles

 

Sullen cries, all joy despise

when blind even All-Seeing eyes –

there was this dog.

 

Turbid seas, invited see

what men in better times might be –

there was this dog.

 

Gathered moss, a grey-green toss

of silt and muck and sun-less loss –

there was this dog.

 

Darkened days, all hope a haze

delight could spare no time or trace –

there was this dog.

 

When fortune called, new joy installed,

instead of dark, did grace befall –

there was this dog.

 

Unnerving sounds, made still hearts pound,

her swift, sharp sound brought courage found –

there was this dog.

 

Children’s songs, if…

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I got inked…

After long consideration and attempts to imagine myself as the 80-year-old woman with ink on her arm, I just went for it.


Remember all my gushing about the Fiddler’s Gun/Fiddler’s Green books? I’m not gushing so much anymore as just finding myself leaning into that narrative. I started reading them in the Fall of 2010, before my final residency…when things back home were so dark and I found myself incapable of even approaching prayer or a Bible. I read these books and met God there.


If you haven’t read these books…it’s the story of a girl, an orphan, who carries a lot of pain. She ends up hanging out with Bart, the cook at the orphanage (and an ex-pirate) who also carries a lot of pain, but with more experience in how that pain can be carried. He teaches her to play his fiddle and tells her what she’s got to do with the hurting: “You got to turn it beautiful…”
And the story unfolds…revealing how we can turn it beautiful or allow it to run a destructive course.

I’m still not so keen on opening a Bible and prayer, in any traditional sense, is a little off the radar. I’ve got a love-hate thing for church. But this story….I read it and I have no doubt that God is very real and very there and very much in love with me.
** Shameless plug: Buy the books at the Rabbit Room (best choice) or on Amazon (if you must). **

It’s a story I want to carry with me for forever.

So…commemorating the past year and the beginning of Spring…I got a tattoo.

(I plan on writing more about the whole experience soon — just waiting for the ink to settle…literally and figuratively.)

A patchwork…

Mondays in a life insurance call center is what we may all refer to as “hell.” Just so you know. Today was beautiful even amid that chaos, though, thanks to a poem my friend Stephen passed along to me yesterday. I considered keeping this to myself a while longer…but in pondering the past year and what it’s looked like, the patchwork in this poem by Micheal O’Siadhail strikes stunningly, and ever so gently, to the heart.

(Do take several moments to savor this in some quiet…it’s lovely and, oh, so true.)

Youth
Micheal O’Siadhail

Break boyhood’s taboo,
step on every line
to crack a devil’s cup.
Hurts turn to arrogance.
We’re naked and brazen
under the skies.

Our gods can wait.
No need to hurry.
Old wisdoms painfully unfold;
sooner or later
will we return, fumbling
from clue to clue?

Amazing how the gods
will choose to gamble,
hanging our destinies
on such flimsy plots
we stumble on a trail,
children on a paper chase.

Gestures, even intonations,
quirks of our childhood
heroes, once imitated
now become our own,
we stich together
a patchwork of self.

Maybe some hints,
prompts from deities:
a word of praise,
spin-offs from mistakes,
strangers we met,
women who chose us.

Hearing the jazz of chance
we advance, making
headway by detour,
In such journeys subsist
the working of our karma,
the whirling of our stars.

Seashells: One Year

A friend gave me twenty-six seashells. Each is beautiful, complex, and unique. They are unexpected gifts found in unexpected places to be received, treasured, and shared. The twenty-sixth shell. The last shell.

The twenty-sixth shell...

One year.

An entire 365 filled with joys and pains, goodbyes and discoveries. It seems like a lifetime that’s passed in no time at all.

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my leaving New Mexico. In the alone moments during these past few days, I’ve found myself telling the story of this past year to myself in so many different ways – as though seeing from one angle then another and another will help me to understand the purpose of this time. As though I could sum it up, pin down the “moral of the story.”

It’s been far too…much. Too much to reduce to a three-point sermon or some moralistic fairy tale. I find that simultaneously delightful and maddening. Delightful because I do not enjoy reading or being told moralistic, predictable stories that follow hard and fast lines form Point A to Point B. If I do not want to be in the receiving end of such a story, why would I want to live one? Maddening because the stories that do not follow a predictable plot to teach me an obvious lesson are most often messy and take me in odd directions to lead me in unexpected ways to unknown places (Case in point: read Fiddler’s Gun and Fiddler’s Green. Please. Do yourself and the rest of the world a favor and read these two books.).  They keep me on the verge of discovery and are, thus, always somewhat (or utterly) out of my control. If this is the kind of story I am to live…yes. Maddening. And beautiful.

There is so much that has taken place this year that is so…ordinary. I keep looking back, allowing my imagination to carry me back: “At this exact time last year…

At this time last year…
I was rearranging the boxes in my PT Cruiser and eliminating precious stacks of books from the “must come with me” pile to make room for three people and the entailing luggage for a three-day road trip to Indiana.
My mom and brother were getting their things packed for the trip.
My dad was pondering life from his old reclining chair (that looks entirely uncomfortable in the thrift-shop-recliner sense of things but is actually quite cozy). I don’t know what exactly was occupied his thoughts at that moment, but I know the ache in my heart as I watched him there, knowing it would be a good while until I’d see him again.

The flip-side...see why I saved this one for last?

I don’t know exactly what my expectations were then for the coming year. I thought it would be easier. I thought it would be harder. I thought it would be completely other than what it has been. But what has it been?

So many images and sounds. Conversation and then words exchanged that passed for conversation. Music and church and God – and whatever variation of those that I encounter that takes my feet out from under me, induces panic. It has been far from home and back home again and wondering where home really is in the fist place. It has been so many, many things.

On the whole, though, it has been what these seashells have represented to me. It has been that elemental truth that Fin Button reached out and woke up in me (again…if you haven’t read Fiddler’s Gun and Fiddler’s Green, well…yeah. You need to.)

Pain. Brokenness. Darkness.
And beauty.

If anything has become more real to me in the past year, it is this reality: That beauty and pain are inextricably bound together.

A closer look...