Tuesday, June 30, 2020

All the Colors We Need: Expanding Your Palette



"If you can segregate yourself enough, that you don't get to experience all the different cultures, and people, and beauty... then really, you're not just missing out on that personally, you're missing out . . . on a piece of the image of God. Seriously. You're not letting yourself see and experience the fullness of God if you continue to be ok with your world staying white." - Lisa Mays


Violet, Saffron Yellow, Paprika, Black – these are just a few of the colors I bartered from a friend a few summers back. She'd purchased the acrylics for a painting class, but never used them. They weren’t the colors I'd pick, but they were free and, just like that, I found myself in possession of an expanded palette.

 

Those colors sat in my paint box for a long time as I leaned toward my favorite shades of turquoise, magenta, chartreuse, and mango. My friend’s colors were darker than mine, richer, and bold. I shied away. In truth, I found it hard to believe that, faced with a wall of paints, someone would choose those colors. I certainly wouldn’t. I believed her colors were wrong and mine were right.

 

Until I didn’t. And I began to incorporate her palette into mine.  

 

//

 

I bought 4 or 5 new tank tops this summer, mostly in neutral colors, save for one in my favorite shade of turquoise blue. I saved that top like a treasure for a day when I knew I wouldn’t ruin it digging dirt in the yard or cooking. Finally, one morning, with plans to meet a friend, I pulled it on: my new, turquoise top. It wasn’t until I reached out to grab my favorite earrings, in a matching shade of blue, that I thought of my former co-worker, the one who called those same earrings green.

I paused, looked down at my shirt and thought to myself, Lisa would call this shirt green. I took a quick picture with my phone and texted it to her: “I was all excited to wear my new blue shirt today, but when I put it on, I realized you would call it green!”

She replied a few minutes later, matter-of-factly, “Yeah, it’s green.”

 

I don’t remember when it started, but at some point, after several conversations in the office where we worked together, Lisa and I realized we saw and labeled colors differently. The most shocking (to me) was my favorite blue that she saw as green. I was so fascinated that we could look at the same object and label it differently that I developed the habit of running into her office at least once a week with a color related question. “What color do you call this?” I’d ask, holding up a notebook cover or pointing to an image on one of her most recent pieces of graphic design, eagerly awaiting her reply.

 

Lisa told me how a paint store owner named a color of paint after her special request for a room the shade of her “teddy bear’s feet.”  She helped me see that pink (a color I adore) is in the same color family as red (a color I barely tolerate). She helped me see that greens can lean toward blues and visa-versa and that the line between the two might not be as clear as I thought it was.

 

Lisa and I, different ages, different races, bonded over the differences in the way we saw colors. She helped me see there was more than one way to look at things and that things, even as fundamental as colors, might change depending on your perspective.

 

//

 

How lucky I am to have friends who see the world differently than I do. Some help me embrace the darker, bolder hues. Others help me understand that the way I see things is only one way among many. I'm wondering - what colors are missing from your life? Who might help you find them?

 

Maybe my friend, Lisa, can help you too? Check out this video presentation Lisa gave last Sunday, talking about her experience of the world as a black person in the 1960s and 70s. She has such amazing perspective and insight and communicates in such a gentle, thoughtful way.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Free-Range Summer Days


Isaiah (age 8) has taken up baking. He bakes like a happy drunk, tripping around the kitchen, leaving a trail of small disasters in his wake. He dives into each recipe like a boulder dropped into a pond, no caution, all energy. We may or may not have all the ingredients, he may or may not add them in the correct order. He scoops two cups of flour into the one cup measuring cup and scrapes the excess off with a casual flick of his wrist. Flour coats the counter, the floor, his clothes.

 

Often, all of this happens before I’ve stumbled downstairs for my first cup of coffee.

 

The other week while I was out (napping possibly or at the store), I returned to discover all three boys had established vegetable gardens IN-THEIR-ROOMS. They scrounged containers from the recycling bin and planted seeds in soil they found God-only-knows-where. Solomon offered me a pride-filled garden-tour and the twins boasted the convenience of midnight snacks being so close at hand. They love their gardens and water them daily, but I’m having a hard time getting past the act of hauling dirt INTO their rooms. 

 

Speaking of dirt, we’re in the middle of installing an above-ground pool and, in the process, we’ve moved a bunch of soil from one place to the next. It turns out a dirt pile in the yard is even better than in your room and may just be the hottest toy of summer 2020. I’m only hoping they get as much use out of the pool.

 

The other day Isaiah was sitting on the edge of a once-buried cement goldfish pond, a treasure left by the previous owners. We’d planned to dig it up to make room for the pool, but it was built like a cold war bunker, all concrete and rebar, and after going through two jackhammers, we admitted defeat and moved the pool a bit further down the hill.

 

Isaiah, though, sat on the small concrete wall one morning, cutting at a piece of metal with a hacksaw. I guess I should have interrupted that activity, but he was so happy and it was his father who suggested the hacksaw after all. A friend was due soon for a playdate so I called form the back door, “Maybe you should put the hacksaw away. Your friend will be here soon.”

 

“Why,” he asked, looking up from his labor.

 

I paused a beat, then replied, “Well, some parents don’t let their kids play with hacksaws.”   

 

It was later in the kitchen that my daughter repeated the line back to me, laughing and I heard the absurdity. I posted about it then, online and people loved it like they love most of my free-range children's outrageous activities. Some friends comment, "Your kids are having the best childhood." By which, I guess they mean my kids have lots of room to play and explore and test their wills against the wild, wild world. 


I always laugh internally, though, when others (usually mothers) make comments along the lines of, "I admire how much freedom you give your children to create." 


Hah, I think to myself, You're assuming I have a say in the matter

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Anger




Anger is
the bastard child,
black sheep,
danger to the flock. 
This I know,
for I've been told. 

But, by night,
when the world is still,
I slip out the back door
to find anger huddled
in darkness
at the yard's edge. 

"What do you want?"
I ask. "Something is wrong,"
she says, her eyes
wide with fear, longing,
and love. 

By instinct, I open
my arms. I take her small, 
dark figure into myself and
she settles there, like a worn 
out child. 

"Something was wrong,"
she murmurs, "I wanted
you to know."

//

I've spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and learning about anger. As an Enneagram type 1, anger is a key emotional dynamic for me - both a sinful temptation and a key indicator of underlying feelings, as well as a source of creative and prophetic energy. This spring, as I again pondered the role of anger in my life, particularly as a clergy person, I remembered a life-changing essay I'd read years ago, written by psychiatrist and spiritual teacher, Gerald May. 

I was on a quiet solo retreat when I first stumbled across an article entitled "Love and Anger," in Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation's journal, Shalem News. Remembering the essay, I tracked it down (you can order a collection of all of May's articles for Shalem News by contacting the institute directly) and I want to share a little of it here with you. 

But first, I want to say that this poem came to me at a time when I felt called to embrace my anger as a messenger and a source of strength. As a person of peace, I have wrestled with anger, wary of its capacity master me and move me to sin. I have learned to listen to anger, as a warning bell, and to channel its energy into steadiness and strength in the face of evil. 

One of the church fathers, Augustine of Hippo said it well, "Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are." Perhaps the key to our hope in the weeks and months ahead lies in our willingness to allow love to move us both in anger and courage. 

//

Some words on anger, from Gerald May's article "Love and Anger," (Summer 1984 edition of Shalem News):

". . . even in the midst of a heated situation, it is occasionally possible to experience love and anger simultaneously. . . Love does not necessarily destroy anger, but it does transform and illuminate it. It is an error, I think, to assume we must get rid of anger in order to feel and be loving. 

The illumination of anger by love cannot be attained by trying to substitute love for anger, and certainly not by stifling anger. Instead, one first needs to accept the anger, letting it be what it is, and pause for a moment to look around for love. . . .

There is a radical difference between experiencing anger (or anything else) on one's own and experiencing it in the context of God's love. . . With even just the slightest breath of God . . . compassionate action can spring forth from the energy of anger. It is especially important to remember the good, energetic side of anger and that looking for love in no way implies getting rid of anger. Instead, love is added to the anger. Then God's alchemy of human emotions can be free to work.

. . . Love is always there. At a deep level, we wouldn't even become angry if it weren't for some kind of love; we wouldn't care. Love is at once the source of anger and the source of hope for its creative transformation."

What messages have you received about anger (particularly from the church)? What might happen if you were to work on developing a deeper awareness of and relationship with the energy of your own anger?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Compost Heap: Both/And


A Purification by Wendell Berry
At the start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

//

We were nearing the end of our time together when my spiritual director posed a question, "Are you familiar with a Wendell Berry poem where he digs a compost heap?" 

"Yes," I said, "I am." I thought back to the poem I'd printed and posted in the church's prayer room one spring, laying it next to a print of a painting of blurred greens and browns. 

"Maybe that's an image you could work with, a kind of ritual to provide closure," she suggested. "What, from your time at the church would could you put into that pile?"

We had been discussing my complicated, raw feelings about the pastorate I left suddenly at the beginning of March. It was a complicated leaving shaped by trauma and followed closely by the trauma of Covid-19.  I thought about her question for a few minutes, picturing the brown soil of Berry's trench cut in the ground. 

"I don't know yet," I said, at last. "It's all still so co-mingled together." 

She nodded, offering simple acceptance of my appraisal, but the image of compost has stayed with me.

//

Maybe this is what we need to know in this time and space, not the clarity and comfort of the either/or, but the difficult acceptance of both/and. The truth that there are no easy answers and that much of our experience is co-mingled - joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, love and hate, hope and despair.

Without this truth, we'll wear ourselves thin in the endless need to part and parcel out every answer and, in declaring one side of any debate a winner, we will create countless unnecessary losers. 

Both/and invites us to dwell in a place of creative tension - irresolution, if you will. It requires effort of a different sort, a willingness to remain open, a commitment to do the work of turning over ideas, emotions and view points. What if our fear and uncertainty might be transformed by the kind of creative alchemy we find in the compost heap? And what if we were to wait together, unified in faith, hope, and love, to see what emerges?

I am writing, of course, about my own recent experiences, but also about the uneasily resolved tensions we find ourselves in as we grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic. The thing we ought to fear is not the tensions of our divergent viewpoints, but our inability to hold them well, our unwillingness to recognize the creative possibilities of our current situations. 

//

This past Sunday morning, I asked my kids how they felt about using the liturgy from the church where I recently pastored. Despite visiting a few other churches after my resignation, we'd returned to using aspects of this church's liturgy once lockdown began. It was familiar, it was easy, but I was beginning to be certain it was time to move on and I wanted to find out what my kids were feeling.

"What do you think about using this?" I asked. 

The younger boys, age 8, said, echoing each other, "We like it."

Then, one quickly added, with a sly grin, "But we're supposed to hate them now."

His brother chimed in in agreement. 

They were trying to show loyalty to me, for the hurt I experienced. They were reflecting their mixed emotions. They were voicing the creative tensions we all feel, the desire to stay with what's familiar but painful and the need to create distance that will facilitate healing. 

"Well," I said, "you don't need to hate anybody. But Dad and I feel it's time to try something new." 

We joined another local church service online. We didn't know the songs and I cried quietly through the first ten minutes or so. Sensing my sadness, our cat, Blackie, came and sat with his paws on my chest, massaging my heart with his comforting purr. 

I hate the pain we are experiencing, the pain of unresolved endings, the pain of moving into something new, but undesired. It's all so co-mingled right now. But we're holding the tension, believing in the power of creation that makes all things new, the old seeping into the new in unexpectedly beautiful and amazing ways.

What co-mingled thoughts and feelings are you experiencing in this season? How are you holding tension creatively within yourself and with others?

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Landscape of Love: Affection


Behold the one beholding you, and smiling. - Anthony DeMello

Our cat Blackie’s breath routinely reeks of all sorts of ungodly foulness.

He snores, day and night, like a bear in hibernation. 

He leaves small puddles of drool on the bed and couch.

He bosses the dog, bosses the other cat, bosses me.

He does all of these things and more, and yet I love him. Not despite of these things, but for them, in the midst of them.

When I lay awake at night, listening to him sawing logs at the foot of the bed, my affection rises and falls gently, like my own breath, moving in time with each of his foggy inhales and exhales. When I lean in to hug him on a quiet afternoon, he turns his head and yawns, blasting me with a wave of vile stench, and somehow I still feel tenderness, even as I hold my own breath and turn my face aside.

The love I feel for this silly, grand cat is more than a gravitation toward that which pleases or offers a good return. What I feel might be best referred to as affection or fondness, a feeling that occupies one small corner of the wide and wild landscape of love. 

//

Online dictionaries tell me affection is a feeling of liking or caring, often associated with gentleness or tenderness.  

My favorite definition describes affection as:

“a bent of mind towards a particular object, holding a middle place between disposition, which is natural, and passion, which is excited by the presence of its exciting object. affection is a permanent bent of the mind, formed by the presence of an object, or by some act of another person, and existing without the presence of its object.” 

There's a steadiness to affection; it persists despite arguments and evidence to the contrary. Affection is more than a feeling or reaction, it’s a persistent and consistent orientation.

//

As a parent, I suppose affection could explain the way I feel about my children’s stinky feet, that strange disgust mingled with pride. Or the way I simultaneously dread and delight in their small rebellions and even, when the heat of the moment has passed, their flaws. For these, along with their beauty and graces, are the things that make them human and, if we are to love well and wide, we must find a love that somehow encompasses all, even while wishing and working toward wholeness.

Affection also might describe the source of the gentle sympathy I sometimes feel toward my own flaws and mistakes and the feeling I’m working to conjure toward my stretch-marked belly, and my slowly but steadily graying hair.

If affection lies between natural disposition and passion, then it is a feeling that can be cultivated, learned and employed; injected into one’s relationship with self and others.

//

And affection, of course, must be what DeMello had in mind when he referred to our relationship with God: "Behold the one beholding you, and smiling." God's smile, God's affection, has nothing to do with our worthiness and everything to do with God's steadiness toward us, with God's inexplicable predisposition to a love that's deep and wide, encompassing even our own most devastating flaws.

God looks and leans toward our humble humanity and we are all encompassed in God's gaze - behold the one beholding you, with deep affection.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Breathing Life


Our whole family gathers in the back yard, near the fence line and woodpile. It’s evening, and both the sun and temperature are dropping quickly. Several of us wear light coats. We’re all near-kneeling, our heads bent toward the ground in front of the two white beehives. We look like supplicants gathered for prayer. We  face the quiet hives and talk in whispers.

My husband kneels to pick up bees that lay curled, motionless, in the grass just outside the hives' entrances. He lifts them by their wings, one at a time, and drops them in our cupped, waiting hands. One for Isaiah, one for Levi, one for me.

The bee's weight barely registers in my hand. It lays curled on its side, with nothing to indicate it's anything but dead. Still, I look at it closely and worry about its stinger. Then, I curl my right hand over top of my left so my fingers and palms form a darkened cave, a tomb.

I raise my cupped hands to my face and form a seal over the darkened hollow of my hands. Then, I exhale long and slow, taking care to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. Each breath warms my hands, warms the bee.

Ten breaths, twenty. We whisper to each other, “Do you feel anything?”

"No."

“Keep breathing, try a little longer.”

Inhale and exhale, like a child warming winter-cold hands. Wait and breathe. Breathe and wait.

Opening my hands, I peek. The bee’s torso, once immobile now seems to throb lightly, as with breath, the yellow and black cone expanding and contracting with the slightest motion. Is it possible to see a bee breathe? I wonder. Maybe I’m imagining it.

Closing my hands again, I continue to breathe. Cold air in, warm air out, until I feel a small tickle, a bee’s foot brushing my palm. I open my hands and check, yes, a leg is moving. I close my hands and continue to breathe until the bee begins to right itself, crawling sleepily, calmly across my palm.

“It’s awake,” I whisper, “How do I get it into the hive?” 

My husband comes and helps me move it with the aid of a twig, transporting it gently to the door of the hive. Then, it disappears inside its own cave of warmth and safety and we return to scanning the grass, the clover, for half-dead bees to breathe back to life again.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Hammock and the Bee


Lord, I curl in thy grey 
gossamer hammock
that swings by one
elastic thread to thin
twigs that could, that should
break but don't.
- Denise Levertov

//

Our eight-year-old boys strung a thin nylon hammock between two trees and hung there together for hours today. The slick material closed around their wriggling bodies like a clam shell, like a cocoon, and they tussled and turned, swinging in the shadow of the green pines.

Isaiah stepped on a bee this afternoon, an unlucky first for the season. He hobbled, screaming and crying across the yard and I threw back the covers where I laid upstairs in bed, eking out a meager nap. I trotted downstairs, knowing my husband would get there first, imagining what kind of injury would cause such a clamor, wondering how we’d handle the ER if needed.

His older brother mouthed the words, “bee sting” as I made my way to the kitchen where Isaiah already had ice on his foot and his Dad held tweezers poised to pull out the stinger. Isaiah's face crumpled in pain and he shook and hopped one-footed to the living room couch where he sat with ice and a comic book.

When I saw him later, he wore socks and shoes, a rare sight for my barefoot boy. Later still, I saw him down in the yard, climbing the fence with his brother, wearing just his socks. By the time I crossed the yard to invite them on a bike ride, they were back in the hammock again. I stood and watched from a distance as he peeled the dirty white socks off his feet, one then the other, and tossed them overboard into the pine needles and dirt.  

Our grass is filled with wide swaths of clover.

Every year he gets stung stepping on bees.

Every time he screams and cries.

Every time it isn’t long before he heads back out, his dirty feet bare and vulnerable as he trots across the open green expanse of the yard.

//

For another story about my barefoot boy, check out this quick essay from 2014, "This is my shoeless boy, feet stained purple. . ."

I'll be sharing poems every weekday in April in honor of National Poetry Month. Like my page: Kelly Chripczuk: Writer, Speaker, Spiritual Director to stay up to date with the latest.