Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Tell Me Again (Of Shadows and Faith)


One night, when he was three, Levi asked as I was putting him to bed, "Where does the shadows go?"  The question tickled my imagination and, in the morning, my answer had settled into a poem.

//


Faith is . . . the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)


"Tell me again, Mommy, where does the shadows go?"

By morning’s light, my love, as dawn creeps
over the mountain, I roll them up tight, every shape
that echos an object.  Soft like velvet, slipping smoothly
through my hands, I gather night’s shadows,
tucking them into the far corners of your closet
and behind the attic door. All day long they wait, 
deepening, exuding the smell of the rich,
dark earth, of damp caves and mushroom spores. 

When evening descends and you’re busy with dessert,
I roam the house, stretching shadows out again,
smoothing them flat across ceiling or floor,
these soft shapes of remembrance, the dark reminders
that what you cannot see does not cease to exist
when the lights go out.  Shadows lengthen, like faith,
as darkness descends, reminders of things unseen,
until morning's light reveals what was always present.   


//

Looking for a simple, sweet Christmas gift for a reader or pastor you love? Check out my poetry collection, Between Heaven and Earth, available on amazon (signed copies available locally for delivery as well). 

Not sure? Read what poet and reviewer Laura Brown had to say: 

The poems in her new book, ...are made of common work; building fires in the stove every cold morning; caring for children with nosebleeds and other late-night needs; stripping death from last year's flowerbeds. They are made of memories of a grandmother who took her to church, fed the chickadees and kept a shotgun by the door to discourage the bluejays. They are made of joy and sadness, grief and hope, and thinking in the dark. Mostly, they're made of watching, waiting, and. listening. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Far Too Dangerous: The U.S. Elections, Violence, and Love

Half Dome, U.S. Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Out
of a great need
we are all holding hands
and climbing.

Not loving is a letting go.

Listen,
the terrain around here
is
far too
dangerous
for
that.

- Hafiz

Here in the US, pre-election, I hear the words "civil war" being tossed about - as though violence is a real possibility, a real option, in the wake of whatever happens in the next 48 hours or weeks or months. I wonder if we really hear ourselves when we toss those words about? I hear the fear in our voices, that much is clear, but I wonder: do we hear the pain, the loss in those words; the devastation? I can't imagine we do if we're tossing them about so freely.

Then again, maybe those words describe a reality that's already present - a nation divided, at war with its self, ready to cut off its nose to spite its face. I hear the arguments too, on many sides, that sometimes violence is necessary. I hear you.

But, I am an anabaptist. I am dedicated to the way of Christ which I understand to be a way of deep, costly love. Love for enemy, because violence toward another is also, in the end, violence toward my own deepest self.

Do you remember, way back in the beginning of the pandemic, how clear it was that we are all connected - my wellbeing tied up in yours and yours mine? "We are all holding hands," as the poet says. "Not loving is a letting go."

Everywhere around us, the voices of fear are chanting, loud enough to shake the very ground upon which we stand. Yet, the voice of love is here too. Can you hear it? Beneath the tumult, love's voice hums, quiet as the gentle whisper Elijah heard after the wind, earthquake, and fire had passed.

Get out and vote. Work at the polls. Offer a ride to anyone who needs it. I'm not saying this election doesn't matter - I believe it matters very much. I feel, some days, that America is perched on the very edge of a deep well of darkness - not a new darkness, but shadows we have dabbled in and out of since the founding of our country. The terrain is, indeed, dangerous.

We cannot afford to abandon love.

Smile with your eyes, if you can, at the poll workers, the store clerk, your children. Make eye contact long enough to remember that the person across from you - politically, socially, ethnically - is human too. Listen for the whispers of love. Listen harder when fear is loud. Let your actions give voice to love. The terrain around here is far too dangerous for anything less.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

An Icon of the Wilderness: St. Kateri of the Iroquois

 



Our dog, Coco, is curled on a chair in the corner of my office, heaving deep, sleepy sighs, in-and-out. It’s a damp, gray day and napping long hours sounds like a wonderful plan. I am on my third glass of water, first cup of tea. I am not napping, but rather tending to email, scheduling zoom meetings, and reading about the wilderness motif as it appears in the Hebrew bible. 

Google dictionary tells me the wilderness is an “uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region.” An examination of the wilderness as imaged in the Hebrew Bible reveals it is a place of “intense experiences;” particularly, hunger, thirst, isolation, and danger. It's also a place of divine encounter. 

Looking out my home office window, I wonder at the wildness of this place, this space I find myself in. Is this small land, just two acres, wild enough for an encounter with God, or nature, or both? Is this way of life, this season, off the beaten path, its own wilderness? 

They say our bit of land, indeed much of the United States, is in drought this year. In the kitchen in the morning, after the kids have left for school, I tell my husband of the drought in my life, the lack of refreshment and nurture, the isolation. 

Later, settled in my office, after reading and prayer, I google for a once-discovered, then forgotten icon of St. Kateri of the Iroquois, and image I associate with the invitation to dwell in wilderness spaces for awhile. I spent just 15-20 minutes with this icon in one of my two years of spiritual direction training and she has hung around in the background of my mind ever since. Kateri, born in the forests of New York state, was the daughter of a captive Algonquin woman and Iroquois chief. Converted to Christianity by Jesuit missionaries, she walked 200 miles to join a Christian Indian village near Montreal. One website concludes, "She was a sign of contradiction to two cultures and a prophetic presence in both. She is an icon of Otherness." 

Although the details of Kateri's life and the traditions that surround it are complicated, the woman in Br. Robert Lentz's icon captivates me. She stands at the edge of a birchwood forest, with the trees receding behind her. I sense her invitation to the wilderness places of contradiction and betweenness; I sense her strength and prophetic presence. 

Later, I pray again for the strength to stay awhile in my own wilderness space; to commit to the wandering and waiting, as the Israelites did; and to trust the call to this journey, knowing I am not alone. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

This Cat's Purr

 



Cats purr … with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz. Various investigators have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing. . . in bones and muscles. - Scientific America, “Why do cats purr?” April 2006

After a good cry,  
I pick up the cat, 
who's sprawled
across my office floor, 
limp and heavy
with sleep. I curl
his body against my heart, 
where he settles and purrs 
himself back into unconsciousness. 

Did five-year-old me know, 
when she begged to own a kitten, 
that even this need would be met? 

No, of course not. 

This cat’s purr, 
radiating healing, 
is pure grace – a combination 
of creation’s wisdom and a little 
girl’s intuition, to hold what is 
soft and healing to her 
gentle, loving heart. 



Me, age 5, holding two of my very first kittens.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A World in Transition

We walk daily circles around the yard, stretching our legs amidst long hours spent working on screens.  Frost arrived this weekend, impossibly early, and now, as we walk and watch, we witness the world - birthed in spring and matured in summer - receding, one plant, one insect, at a time. 

Frost has blackened leaves on the pepper plants in our garden, indiscriminately shriveling some while others remain unmarred. This morning, after three nights in the 30s, most of the Zinnias bear damage – some petals bleached white, others prematurely shriveled and brown. 

It’s strange, how the touch of frost’s icy fingers produces an effect so similar to fire, both burn at the touch. Too hot or too cold, the impact is the same – the shriveling, blackening, pulling back from life. 

The new purple Aster, a fall bloomer and late food source for honeybees preparing for winter, has yet to form buds. But our mums are crowned with hundreds of tight-fisted possibilities, green buds with just a hint of color foretelling the shade of flowers to come – rusty gold or brick red. 

Every day, I check the progress of a monarch cocoon that dangles precariously on the underside of a giant milkweed leaf. The cocoon is still largely green, and I wonder at the frost’s impact on the caterpillar’s delicate transformation. Will new life emerge in time to wing its way south to Mexico or will it be forever suspended, stunted, neither able to return to what it was or emerge into what it will be? 

Our kids are happy to be back at school, walking off to classrooms and tethered to laptop screens. My husband continues to work, steadily, at his make-shift desk in the unheated mudroom. I alone, have no place to be. I have no work to return to and what I will be, what I will do beyond the daily, has yet to emerge. 

I feel in myself the anxiety of being suspended between what was and what will be. Perhaps, this is why I visit the monarch each day - hoping for its transformation to be complete, hoping it emerges in time to head off to a balmy winter retreat. The chrysalis invites me to a stark surrender, a willingness to let go and wait to see what emerges. 

Today, I scooted around behind the giant stalk of half-eaten milkweed, hoping to catch a blog-worthy picture of the cocoon. Crouched behind the plant, I saw the prominent gold specks dotted around the top of the cocoon, like a crown. There is beauty in the process. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Pastor

 


How does she

become

what is

not

allowed?

How do gifts

grow;

gifts she is

not

allowed

to have,

much less,

God forbid,

use?

 

Where

is the model,

the mirror,

for her

becoming?

 

What energy

will be wasted,

what creativity

squandered,

in the effort

to prove

her right

to be

 

in the room?

 

I see you

daughter.

I call you

by your name:

Pastor.

 

Come forth,

dear one,

come into

every gift

that is yours

from birth.

You are the mirror.

You are the model.

Come forth.

 

Without

your faithful

presence,

we see

only a sliver

of the divine.


* for all of the female pastors I know, still struggling to gain access to the rooms of power, still sitting through professional conversations in which the validity of their ministry is questioned, still wondering if it's ok to be who you are. I see you, we need you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Difficult Women: St. Joan of Arc, Zinnias, and Me

 Art by Rachel Grant in the 2020 Women Who Rocked Our World calendar.


Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and so they give their lives to little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it . . . and the it’s gone. But to surrender who you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying – even more terrible than dying young. - St. Joan of Arc 


I’ve been sharing office space with Joan of Arc for the past month as she stares out at me from the August page of my Women Who Rocked Our World calendar. The artist’s image, paired with a quote, conveys an air of certainty and defiance, a sense of strength rooted in something beyond the realities of the world in which she lived.

 

A brief bio at the bottom of the page reads, “In a time when only men had power or choice, Joan of Arc commanded both. ‘I’ve arranged your marriage,’ her father said. Joan refused, changed into pants, cut her hair, and called herself Joan the Maid. She proclaimed her God-given destiny was to free France from the English invasion.” Joan led the army that restored France’s king in the early 1400s, only to be captured and executed two years later by a church heavily influenced by her former military enemies.  

 

//

 

I never had any real interest in Joan of Arc until I wrote a paper on her for a seminary class on Medieval Female Mystics. It was one of the few papers that pushed me beyond the bounds of the seminary library and sent me across the street, hunting through the dark stacks of Princeton University’s library. I read everything I could find and wrote an extensive paper based on the idea that Joan of Arc represented an early proponent of Liberation Theology. It was a stretch perhaps, a bit of a convoluted hypothesis, that produced the only B grade of my whole seminary career. All of that to say, Joan and I go back awhile, but I’m no expert on her story.

 

Reading the quote from my calendar, I realize the artist and author are doing something similar to what I did, coopting Joan’s story for a cause (feminism) that came much later than her brief and complicated life. In doing so, they raise an important point – Joan of Arc broke out of the expected feminine constraints of her day.  But they do so at the risk of confusing Joan’s motivation – Joan of Arc was called by God to deliver the French people living under an oppressive English occupation. This is the reason for her certainty, the reason for her throwing off expected social constraints.

 

//

 

I’ve been thinking lately about “difficult women.” Women are branded as “difficult” in our culture for any number of reasons – for speaking clearly, for refusing to bend to abuses of power, for advocating for change that is inconvenient to the status quo. The label “difficult” is meant to be pejorative. But I’ve been wondering lately whether the label, “difficult” might be more of an honor than a disgrace.

 

Joan of Arc, with her level-headed stare, and unwavering belief strikes me as a “difficult woman.” Her clarity, calling, and conviction are rooted in the voices of saints that she alone can hear. She has no proof other than her life, which she gives wholeheartedly and without restraint.

 

Which brings me to the Zinnias . . .

 

//

 

There are zinnias the size of salad plates in my garden this year - fat magenta petals flung wide atop of thick, green stalks. The stems are hearty and bristle with course hairs and the biggest flowers stand tall, with perfect posture, declaring themselves to the world.

 

I’ve been sharing heart space with those Zinnias this month, just as I share office space with Joan. I feel drawn to the garden to visit them. I feel loath to cut them for a bouquet or bring them inside. Those Zinnias stare me in the eye, as Joan does, in turns challenging and inspiring me with their clarity and certainty. My heart hears those zinnias proclaim, “My path ahead is clear . . . I was born for this.”

 

Those zinnias, like Joan of Arc, stand tall and confident because roots that dig down deep, drawing strength from unseen places, pushing past constraints, and living as they were made to, for as long as grace is given for them to do so.

 

I'm sharing space this August with Joan of Arc and those giant Zinnias. I’m listening to the invitation to grow deep roots, to live with clarity and conviction, to shine bright and uncompromising, like a woman in military garb, a zinnia in fuchsia standing with its face turned toward the sky. I'm letting the label, "difficult," fall where it may, and living as I believe, whatever the cost may be.