The Lovely Things

A little money was put aside
now and then. Not for children
or wife or the future. Just for me.
My goal was to pool enough to
purchase a costly watch, the kind
you buy once and wear until you
die then pass to one who lives on.
This extravagance would be far
beyond what may have rounded
the wrists of the dairy farmers and
mill workers in my family’s tree.
As expected their voices spoke loud
like the disciples who felt the alabaster
could be sold for much and given
to the poor. But then another voice,
my mother’s, spoke and shushed them.
“Stop bothering him for pete’s sake.
He is my beloved son, and our lives
pass much too fast. A few lovely things
should mark our mortal time.”
 
 
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Examen

Forget everyone else.
Consider yourself.
Gather up all your leftovers.
Your baskets full of
should-have-been.
Bring them to a still place
late on a clear day.
Give thanks for it all.
You will feel like a fool
and you may well be.
Give it anyway.
You will leave dissatisfied.
But you will have witnessed
the multiplication of the stars.
This is not a miracle.
Yet it might be enough.
 
 
 
 
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Twenty-one Sons

An angel was there with a wicker creel to collect the heads.
He was told there would be a number but twenty-one sons
was more than a number. The angel was tempted to drop
 
his creel and draw his sword and save every mother’s love.
But he had his orders. He stayed his hand. The vengeance
was not his to take, just the heads. He stood at attention as
 
“Ya Rabbi Yasou” spilled from their gutted throats but could
not tell if what he heard was faith or fear. Probably both.
By the time he finished his task his arms and wings were
 
ruined red. He had heard the blood of the martyrs is the
seeds of the church. How anemic. He believed the blood of those
sons further filled the cup of foaming wine, fueling the fury.
 
 
 
 
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After the Ashes

All we Baptists knew was that Lent
was some misspelling of  what you
pulled out of the dryer so your clothes
would get good and dry. But while we
may not have known the letter of liturgy
we possessed its spirit for about this time
every year we’d begin to stay late after
mid-week prayer meeting to rehearse
spring’s special – the Easter cantata.
That was our giving up, our fasting from
time spent on whatever it was we usually
did on Wednesday nights after church.
As Baptists we believed revelation comes
hard so we memorized songs and narration
as penance to tell our town of the wonder
working power in the blood of the lamb.
Finally our practice would be made almost
perfect as Easter broke and our robed voices
would bloom with the poetry of good news.
But truly, such joy came only after the ashes.
 
 
 
 
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Missing the Days

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Dear John,

Two questions for you –

1. What, if anything, keeps you awake at night? and 2. Do you ever wonder if you got the whole God thing wrong?

Here’s a little elaboration on question 2. I’ve loved Jesus since I was a girl. Took it to heart in my teens. Studied apologetics in my 20s, engaged the critics. I’ve had many (not myriad) encounters with God that were miraculous to me at the time, some of which are remarkable to me still. Got married, got happy, got babies, got busy, got tired, lost some brain cells, had my share of heartache/pain. Moved lots in between.

Now I’m older, wiser, know my way around depression, fear, despair.  Watching the news, reading the internet, it would appear that faith is an antiquated thing.  Science and faith are at odds and smart people don’t believe in God. I’ve got lots of happy in my life. But where faith is concerned, I no longer have the wits or energy to go toe-to-toe with the critics. They’re loud and often convincing.  Some days I wonder if they’re right.  I pray they’re not.

I miss the days when my love for Jesus could be a quiet, mostly private affair.

Signed,

Missing the Days

~

Dear Missing the Days,

Thanks for writing. Your note has a brisk pace to it, I’ll try and respond in kind. I bet you’ve seen the film Saving Private Ryan. Near the film’s end, the aged Ryan asks his wife “Am I a good man?” That’s the question that keeps me awake some nights, that and its other facets – Am I a good husband/son/father/friend?  

As to your second question, sure, sometimes I do. But I don’t know that I wonder if I got it all wrong as much as I miss what once was. I wrote this snippet back in October, posted it to FB and Twitter – 

Some days
I reach for the
faith of my childhood
and its not there.
Like a ghost limb,
the pain hurts.
 

That’s sorta what you’re getting at, right? It would amaze you how many people I had write/comment/message me to say yes! or exactly! or bingo! after I posted that. Those comments didn’t make me feel better necessarily, but they did remind me I’m not alone. I share that with you to remind you of the same truth – you are not alone in your exhausted longing.

As best I can tell, you and I and all those people who said bingo! to that snippet, we’ve all got that younger flannel-graphed version of faith in one hand, and an older, more experienced version in the other and the two just don’t match up. But what if its not two hands, but rather one? What if those are not two opposing faiths, but simply the place where faith began and the direction it inevitably, if it is truly faith at all, travels?

If I were exiled to an island somewhere and told I could only take two theological books with me, I’d take The Bible and The Velveteen Rabbit. Now hopefully I could take a few other kinds of books (a Harrison novel, some Glück poetry, anything by Barry Lopez), but as for the theological ones, those are my two choices. Why? Because I believe The Bible is a story about becoming REAL, and so is The Velveteen Rabbit. You may know this quote, but I’ll remind you anyway – 

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I miss the early days too, I really do. But I also believe/have faith I’m becoming more real, as are you. It often hurts, and I don’t know any other way around it. Heartache and pain – that’s just the deal. But hopefully as we’re getting a little older, and a little wiser, and a little shabbier, and even a little foolishier, we don’t care as much about the news and the internet and the critics and the loud, smart people. In the stick-to-your-boots-like-mud words of Tom McGuane, our “give-a-shit is broke.” Now that phrase is not found in The Bible or The Velveteen Rabbit, but I believe its there, lingering in the margins, because bit by bit you get to that point, or at least you get closer. Its not that you and I don’t care, its that we’ve learned what’s worth caring about, what’s worth selling everything you’ve got or sweeping the house for. Its that something we took to heart so many years ago that then took root and is growing into something quite beautiful. The folks who can’t see the beautiful? Well, they just don’t understand.

I realize that may not make you feel any better. But I do hope it makes you feel not so alone. And some days maybe that’s better than better. I want to have faith that it is.

Sincerely,

John

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Love Poem No.23

AND THEY SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.
     While this gladly refers to the
friction of our bodies on one another
     it also points to a more magical union
listed under the heading: Mystery.
     Because we’re one we share everything,
maybe not completely but in part.
     Like if you’re happy, I am sort of too. And when
I’m angry, so are you, if only just a bit.
     This doesn’t mean we’ve lost our individual
selves but rather found one plus one can equal one.
     So if you get cancer one of these days
rest assured I’ll have traces of cancer too.
     Medical tests won’t reveal this because
such things are not designed to show the soul.
     And if I should slip into dementia then
since we’re one I just bet you’ll misplace
     a few thoughts here and there as well.
I apologize in advance if that last example
     should befall us. If so, please tell me the
stories about the two of us because
     they could remind me who I really am.
 
 
 
 
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You and I are so alike

both of us waking early
with feasting on our minds.
You a cupful of kibble and
 
me a handful of words.
I fill your bowl and you gorge
like your kin in those
 
commercials. Then you preen
yourself and its back to bed.
I, on the other hand, often
 
turn to face the day’s duties
jealous, my page still empty,
my thoughts still stray.
 
 
 
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