Monday, May 23, 2016

the great day.

This poem by Carl Dennis is a gentle reminder that the great day may never come. We may never compose our opus. We may never make a pilgrimage to the place of beauty we've painted in our minds. We may never achieve the mystery or passion or success that we've imagined for ourselves. But each day offers an invitation to enjoy the here and now, with such adoration and wonder that it becomes extraordinary. This poem beckons us to take the good china off the shelf and feast on the banquet of life just as it is.

The Great Day

What if the great day never comes
And your life doesn't shine with vivid blossoms,
Just the usual pale variety?
What if the best china never seems called for,
Those dishes reserved for the friends you love the most
On the day they return from their endless travels?
To use them now, for the only occasions available,
Would be to confuse the high realm with the low.
But not to use them, doesn't that seem wrong too,
To leave the best wine undrunk in the cellar
For the next owner of your house to open?
What then? Can you will yourself to see a common day
The way a saint might see it, as a gift from heaven,
Or the way it appears from the window of a hospital
On the first morning the patient feels strong enough
To edge across the room and look out?
There on the street an angel policeman
Is directing the flashing mosaic of traffic.
Or can you see the day as the dead might see it,
Not the ones who'd rather rest but those delighted
To abandon the gardens of Hell, however fragrant,
For a chance at crossing the sea again in a storm?
The day their ship, long given up for lost,
Steams into the harbor, all flags flying,
Would be a day to be toasted with rose champagne
In heirloom glasses. Down the gangway they come,
A little thinner, a little unsteady,
Eyes wide in wonder at their rare good fortune.
Can you see what they see as they look around
Or feel what their friends feel waiting on the dock
Must feel as they run forward?
"Let me look at you," they keep saying,
Suspending their formal speech of welcome.
"You look good. You look wonderful."
~ CARL DENNIS in *Ranking the Wishes* © 1997, Penguin

Saturday, January 16, 2016

100,000 Versions of the Universe

At 3am I wake again to your crying;
piercing and insistent you urge me
from the warmth of bed into the familiar
darkness of the hallway. Your restlessness
pulls me forward down the now well-worn
path to the doorway of your nursery.

As soon as I lift your small form
from the crib, you lean into my body
and fall quiet; You burrow like an animal,
desperate only for my touch, as if my presence
were your air, your food, your water.
I hold you and we rock in the big gray chair
that was picked out when nights like these
were just a premonition and you were just
a dream growing in the dark soil of my body.

As we rock, you grasp at anything
you can grip in your tiny hand:
my hair, my finger, my ear.
You hold me tight, like a life preserver
as if the raft of one another is the only
thing keeping us from drifting away into oblivion.

Every now and again your eyes open
and you smile up at me with sheer
contentment and joy as if you can't
believe your luck; the same look of someone
who touches their fingers to their lips
after a first longed-for and unexpected kiss.

I think of the 100,000 versions of the universe
that do not contain this exact moment.
A universe where rational thinking compelled us
to wait a day, a month, a year to try to have children.
Another where I heard your cry, but chose
the lure of sleep instead, resting in the knowledge
that you would be fine until morning.
Another where my husband and I never met,
or loved, or chose this particular life and
are instead living in other houses, in other towns,
sleeping in other beds, next to people who are strangers.
Or the universe where you simply slept soundly
on this one night, unstirred by cutting teeth,
or cold toes, or shadows in the corner,
and we are both dreaming our separate
dreams on different sides of the wall.

And so I silently praise the monsters under the bed,
and the stoplights, and the floor plans, and the meaningless words
typed or exchanged over cups of too hot or too cold coffee, and
the hundred doors that opened or shut with such precision, and
the split second decisions and coincidences and happenstances
that all added up to this particular moment,
in this particular chair,
in this particular universe
with you.

Friday, December 25, 2015

the honest prayers of Christmas

This year one of the most powerful things about the Christmas story for me has been the reality of God entering a broken world through the incarnation. Through the gospels we get glimpses of an ancient world very much like our modern one: with corrupt religious institutions, oppressive governments, and flawed, brave, hopeful, loving, terrified, broken people. Too often at Christmas we sugar coat the gospel into something warm and fuzzy. I do it every year as I watch 100 Christmas movies, sing all the carols, buy and wrap all the presents, and almost convince myself that these activities are what the season is really about. But scripture doesn't tell a warm fuzzy story. It tells a story of a God becoming vulnerable to a violent, corrupt, beautifully broken world. What has struck me particularly this Christmas is that God doesn't need us to pretend to be okay. Christ enters an imperfect world. God doesn't need our lives to look like a picturesque scene in a snow globe. Christ enters into our fear, our doubt, our longing. In Jesus, God enters the world just as it is. Flaws and all. So this Christmas Eve at our 11pm worship, when we lit the candles for the last time, instead of a traditional pretty prayer, I wrote these honest prayers of Christmas, reflecting on the hurts and longings of people in the real world and how Jesus, God enfleshed among us, can still change everything.

Reading One - Hope

Another job interview, another rejection… and at home, another and another and another bill that has to paid. The pile just keeps getting bigger: mortgage payment, water bill, electric bill, car payment, insurance, student loans, credit cards. They just keep coming and I don’t know what I am going to do. I feel like I am letting everyone down. Maybe if I had made different choices we would be a different situation. Maybe if I had worked harder. But I can’t go back in time, here I am without a job, with all this credit card debt, with a family I am letting down. Sometimes it feels like I will never be enough, like I should just give up. I am at the end of my rope. God, if you can hear me, I just need to know there’s hope. I just need to know things could get better tomorrow. Could you please open a door? If you can come and redeem the whole world, you can redeem me right? You can help me and my family get back on our feet? God, if ever there was a time for you to show up, this is it. I need some money to help me get by. I need a job. I need a way forward. I need a little Hope. Most of all, I just need You.

Reading Two - Peace

I remember seeing fire and hearing loud noises. Booms and crashes and explosions, that made my ears ring like there was a bell inside my head. We had to pack everything we could carry and get out as quick as we could. Now we are living here in this crowded camp with all these other people, just waiting, trying to figure out when we can go home again. Mommy said to be brave, so I am trying. I miss my room and my nightlight. I miss my bed and my toys. Mom and Dad say home is wherever we are together, and most days I believe them. Home isn’t a place, it is the people you are with. Like when my silly sister tickles me until we are both laughing so hard we almost can’t breathe. Or when my Dad tells me the best stories where I am a hero who wears a cape and flies in the sky. Or when my mom sings me to sleep. I want everyone in the world to feel at home, to feel safe and loved like I do with my family. I guess that’s what it means to have peace. They say that when I grow up I can help make the world a better place, and I can’t wait. If all of us worked together, I know we could do it. We could make every place home. Tonight that’s what I want: peace, not just for my family, but for everybody in the whole world. Peace, so there’s no more bad guys. Peace, so one has to run away anymore. Peace, so no one ever feels alone.

Reading Three - Joy

Finally, here we are. Christmas Eve, the marathon of the last month is finally finished. Instead of feeling happy, I mostly just feel relieved that it’s over. We put up the lights and decorated the tree. Hundreds of cookies have been baked and frosted and eaten. I made the costumes for the Christmas play, we went to the kids concerts, we stopped by as many parties as we could fit in, we sang all the carols, and sent all the cards. We visited Santa, not once, not twice, but three times. I’ve bought and wrapped the gifts; And still it feels like everyone always wants one more thing. And my to do list keep getting longer and longer. Always more laundry to do, more food to buy, one more errand to run, one more thing to fit in the schedule. I love my family more than anything in the world. They are my life, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed, so tired. When do we get to just sit and enjoy each other? I know this is supposed to be the most joyful time of the year, but sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions. In the midst of all this busy-ness, how am I supposed to find real joy? If I could ask for anything this year, that’s what it would be it. Enough time to stop and experience real rejoicing. So, Jesus, that’s what I’m asking for. Tonight, would you bring us the real joy of Christmas?

Reading Four - Love

This has been the hardest Christmas season of my life. The first one without my Betty. The kids have been wonderful, bringing me to all the family functions, trying to include me in the festivities. But at each happy event, it’s hard to smile, when all I feel is grief. Everything reminds me of her. Every song, every decoration, every place we go, and thing we do. After so many years with one person, they become an extension of yourself. What’s the point of any of this without her here? I miss her hand on mine, I miss her reading the paper in the morning and telling me the news, I miss sitting quietly together at the end of the day as we drank a cup of tea. I even miss the things I always thought I hated. Those terrible hard as a rock ginger snap cookies she would make every year, the way she sang Christmas Carols a little too loud and a lot off key, the way she’d nag me to put up the Christmas lights even when it was cold as death outside. I try to convince myself to be joyful. I know she is in a better place, singing with all her gusto in the heavenly choir. I know she’s looking down on me, telling me to just snap out of it already. This is the season of Love afterall. Time to remember the love of Jesus that is present all around us and all that. But, to be honest, it is all a lot harder than I thought it would be. God, I have to wonder how can I experience the season of love with a broken heart? Will you please come and heal this ache in my heart and just help it to hurt a little less? Will you teach me how to love this life again? Betty used to say “God is Love.” I could sure use some of that love right now.

Reading Five - Emmanuel, God with Us

O my beloveds, how amazing it is to see you through the eyes of a baby. You look so beautiful. I am so excited to be with you in this wonderful and broken world. I know this life can be so hard, sometimes it feels like more than you can bear. That’s why I’ve come. To bear it with you. To feel the hurt for you. To hold you when you feel alone. Look at me, my loves. I am here to heal your hurts, to bind up the broken-hearted, to give hope to the hopeless. I’ve come to be with you. No matter what. When you are lost, when you are afraid, when you are anxious. I am here. Even when you forget me, when your lives are too busy, and your minds are too full. I will wait for you. I want you to know that hope, peace, joy and love are possible. I’ve come so you can experience all that and more. I have come to love you, I have come to save you, I have come to light a candle in the darkness. I have come to change the world.

Monday, October 27, 2014

in the belly of the fish.

For Jonah.

We named you for a story about a man who tried to run from the One who we call God. I want you to know that you are allowed to doubt, to question, to struggle. That you are allowed to run. That this One who I call God will surely find you. You might call it Love or Wonder or Beauty or Mystery. God goes by many names, many of which I do not know yet. I'm sure you will discover your own names for the One. I don't mind if your names are different than the ones I use. But what I want you to know is that Divinity is persistent. Again and again bubbling up in unexpected places, saving us in the Depths, saving the bits and pieces we didn't know needed saving. The Divine is always taking up new forms, like a poem that keeps being rewritten and becoming better and better.

I want you to know that when you find yourself feeling like you are drowning, when you feel swallowed up by what is huge and frightening (as we all do from time to time), that there will always be a light in the darkness. And sometimes the darkness is just the the thing we needed so we could discover the light. And oddly, sometimes the darkness is richer than the light and has more to teach us.

There are rarely easy answers. Sometimes we are swallowed or saved or called for no reason at all, or no reason we can understand. Sometimes we don't understand the whys or hows until much much later, and sometimes never at all. Sometimes we need to get angry, to shout, to rebel, like the one in the story. But he is called a Prophet anyway. He was a part of bringing hope to the undeserving, even though he was quite undeserving himself. And his story keeps living on, making meaning for others as we tell it and retell it. I want you to live your own story. To know that your story is meaningful and has the power to transform others. So go aheaad and be stubborn like the reluctant prophet. Be passionate and angry and loving and loved and thoroughly alive. Be swallowed up and reborn again and again in a thousand different ways. There will be a lot of giant fish: places that scare you, challenge you, rescue you, change you. Emerge from the belly of the fish to claim anew the Land that we call life again and again and again.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Prayer in the Darkness

Sometimes when I turn on the news or open my computer, I'm bombarded with images of people hurting, and I don't even know how to begin to pray. In those moments, I'm thankful for the prayers of others who offer words when I have none.

This prayer comes from Tony Campolo:

"We pray for the kids on the streets--
even when they rob us...
We pray for the children who could be learning--
even when they sit in class like zombies.
We pray for the goodness that is buried in young druggies--
even when they are hustling people.
We pray for them all in the name of the light
that shines in the darkness-- because
we know that darkness cannot put it out.
We pray for them all in the name of the light
that lights everyone who comes into the world.
We pray for them all in the name of the light who
gives us substance of things hoped for
and is evidence of things not seen."

May images of violence and unrest inspire us toward prayer, rather than hopelessness. May we all lift prayers for the trouble-makers, the ones who seem hopeless, the ones who frustrate us and push us to our breaking points. May we pray for the criminals as much as we pray for the victims; may we love the ones who challenge us as much as we love the ones who encourage us. May we look for the light of God in all people.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

prayers, laments, and electric church.

This past week I have been praying through the psalms. I am always surprised by what a relevant book of prayers it is, full of the same desperation, hope and love that I experience when I rise to meet the world everyday.

Sometimes, I look at the world, and I feel helpless. I feel helpless against the political machine that silences and oppresses people and their bodies. I feel helpless against the hunger and unclean water and sickness that robs children of life halfway across the world. I feel helpless in the knowledge that they die and I live simply because of where I was born. I feel helpless as I sit with a woman and her husband of 50 years who is dying. I watch her love and bravery in the face of his fragility, and feel helpless as he slips through her fingers, his mind and body crumbling before our eyes.

And I cannot explain it, but the words of the book of psalms make me feel less helpless. The writer of Psalm 65 cries out to God, "You are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas....You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy." Reading these ancient prayers, I become a part of a community: a community that celebrated and grieved, that thanked God and yelled at God, that rejoiced and suffered, that lived and died together. I feel connected to their humanity, to their beauty, and somehow I feel more connected to God. I feel a little less alone, and praying their prayers, joining my voice with their voices, I feel less helpless.

Recently, I stumbled across this poem by William Olsen, and I couldn't help thinking about how the cries of beauty on Jimi Hendrix's electric guitar that Olsen describes are a kind of prayer; A lament; An anguished cry against violence and suffering. And it's hard to explain, but the crying (whether it's in a book of old prayers or coming through a guitar amp) matters in a real, material way; music and poetry and prayer and rock bands-- these things matter because of what they awaken in us. Even the small act of putting words or sounds out into the world is an action. It is a movement. So instead of remaining frozen, paralyzed by our fear, or our doubt, or our grief, we have begun an act that leads to other acts. A word that blossoms into a hope, a song that boils into a protest, a poem that stumbles into a leap of faith.