Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday's Work




Holy Saturday's Work

(for that which is already but not yet)

Go outside and kneel
beside the still-sleeping beds.

Strip away all that is dead,
the leaves, brown and curled,
and the dry, empty stems
of last year’s blossoms.

Straighten, one-by-one,
the scallop-edged bricks
that have stood, leaning,  
all this year-long
like forgotten gravestones.

Roll the giant flowerpot aside
and wonder at the sound of
stone scraping against stone.

 
Photo credit: Here

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Tears and the Garden

From The Jungle Book, after Mowgli fights off the deadly tiger Shere Kahn and the wolves who betrayed the pack:

"At last, only Akela, Bagheera, and about ten wolves who had been loyal to Mowgli remained. The boy's knees began to weaken, and a hurt began to grow inside of him, a hurt he had never known before. Sobs lefts his throat and tears ran down his cheeks. These strange happenings in his body frightened him, and he cried out to Bagheera, "What is this? Am I dying?"

"No, Little Brother," replied the panther, gently. "These are tears, which only [humans] use. Let them fall, Mowgli. Let them fall."

Mowgli sat and cried as if his heart were breaking. He had never cried before in his life. But then he had never been forced to leave the jungle before."

* * *

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

                                                                                                          Matthew 26:36-38 
*   *   *

They come as I am bent, hauling sleepers and socks from the dryer, gathering the whole lot into my arms in a wide, sweeping motion.  They come too in the kitchen when no one's looking and I want to slide to the ground and hide behind the counter and let the damn river flow. 
 
On Sundays, they rise in the in-between spaces, as I walk to the restroom or stand looking for a seat in a sea of familiar faces.  Snuggled on the couch with my son reading the stories of Ramona I feel their gathering tide and as I read this passage from The Jungle Book they crash into me like waves breaking against a sandy shore.

This winter has been a season of tears, a rising, salty sea as my family and I find ourselves between what was and what will be and I'm reminded again and again that growth itself often involves surrender; dying to what's familiar and opening our empty hands to embrace what's new.  The gift of new life is preceded by death, the birth foreshadowed by pain and the fact that Christ struggled so in the face of his own great transition brings me hope.        
The tears of Jesus in the garden, like the tears of Mowgli in the passage above and the tears I have felt this winter long, are tears of transition.  They are the heavy, disoriented cries of pain that come in the dark cloudy pass of life in-between. 
“What is this,” Mowgli says, “Am I dying?” 

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” says Jesus.
To be human is to feel pain and sorrow, to sit breaking and broken as the tears roll down.  We hold-on for as long as we can, clutching tight to the old, the known, and then finally, letting go at last, we feel the fear of falling as the thin skin of safety, the strong walls of that which holds us give way to something more. 
And all along the dark, dry and narrow passage that leads us continually from death to life, the gift of tears comes to water us, to nourish our thirsty souls and the seeds of life within. 
“Let them fall,” says the good, wise friend, Bagheera, "let them fall." 
*   *   *
Oh Christ, who surrendered through great heaving tears of sorrow and loss, guide us please, through this narrow passage-way, teach us to breathe through the pain as we wait for the gift of new life.  Grace us, please, with the tears of surrender, those salty, sacred streams that water our souls.
 
 


Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Snow (Remain here, stay)


Then he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay with me."
Matthew 26:38

Snow fell during my March retreat, swirling, driven white upon the spring-green and brown world.  Flat and thin, large flakes like communion wafers dissolving on the sun-warmed tongue of the earth.  It lay in patches, queen-ann’s-lacing the woodland path where the first shoots sprung up and tiny, white flowers dotted. 

I couldn’t help but smile, for surely God was laughing – laughing at our springing forward eagerness, our expectation that the turning of the seasons might be rushed along through impatience.  We were ready for spring, but the stillness of winter crept in among us, bringing its gentle silence and heavy, dripping ice. 
As snow fell, heaven whispered, “Stay here, just a little longer.  There’s more to be found here in the depths of this silence, more to be gathered.”
*   *   *
I know this snow won't last, it's here and gone before the day is done like manna, so much bread falling from heaven's cloudy eye.  But there’s nothing more painful to me than being asked to stay where I would rather not.  Give me the command to “get up and go” and I’ll be ready, bags packed, at your beck and call.  But ask me to stay and watch awhile and I, like the disciples, would prefer a dark and restless sleep to the tearful wrestling with that which I did not, would not, chose. 

Yet here we are, days into spring, and snow is falling still, heavy and wet, pillowing everything under gentle curves.  The birds don’t seem to mind, busy as they are and singing too, confident in what’s to come.  They believe, as all earthly creatures must, that the world will turn again, rolled back like a giant stone as life emerges. 
*   *   *
Stay awake my friends, stay awake and watch awhile.  Do not fear the long dark night for even now the world itself is tilting, leaning toward the edge of winter and the end of our waiting.  Outside my window the trees’ heavy white robes of snow are sliding to the ground where they lay, like burial shrouds, cast off, empty. 

Remain here, stay and listen awhile and you too might hear the moment the melting begins; one single drip followed by a chorus of dripping, dropping, living waters as death is again defeated, transformed, until all that remains are the shining droplets, a million sparkling crystals hung like jewels on the tree of life.     


Photo source here. and here.

This post is shared with Playdates with God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday.

Filled With Compassion




"But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion . . ."
                                                                                                                  Luke 15:20

First comes the divestment,
the division of all you have,
blessed, broken and given,  
like bread.   

Then the wait begins,
the long, empty hours and days
wherein you wander the vacant
halls of your life,
emptied of all that owned you.
 
Your life is a bowl now,
open,
hollowed out,
exposing a growing
breadth and depth of love,
a willing humility.  

Then and only then
may you be filled
with compassion,
filled with that which reaches out
beyond the borders of you,
beyond emptiness,
to embrace
one come home.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Search for Spring

I was worried that maybe it was a little too late for this post now that spring is officially here, but given that it's only 35 degrees outside (and windy) and that I wore my coat and hat in the house all last evening, I think we could all still use the reminder.  Enjoy!

*   *   *   *   *


While welcoming in the New Year, my family also unwittingly welcomed in a veritable cornucopia of germs and we're still reeling from it all.  I have the pediatritian on speed-dial and the fridge boasts a wide collection of fruit-flavored antibiotics.  We've been trapped inside for days now, wading through mountains of old tissues and tripping over empty syringes of infants' Ibuprophen. 

One particularly rough morning, I stood in the middle of a sea of sickness like the captain of a sinking ship and declared, "Get dressed, get your shoes and coats on, we're going out."  Mustering the efficiency of someone evacuating in the path of a natural disaster, I piled all four kids and the jogging stroller into the van in 10 minutes flat.

I pulled away from the curb without a plan . . .  

This post was published in Central Penn Parent Magazine, simpy click on the link to continue reading. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

When Your Brother Bleeds (twins and the cross and community)

Looking at Stars

The God of curved space, the dry
God, is not going to help us, but the son
whose blood splattered
the hem of his mother’s robe.
- Jane Kenyon
 
“You know you have blood on your shirt, right?” 

I was getting ready to meet a friend at a restaurant after a long, exhausting day and my husband was concerned with the bloody stain on my shoulder. 
“No,” I said, “I already changed my shirt once.  Did you see his clothes?”  I led him over to the laundry basket and showed him our eighteen-month-old son’s clothes, streaked and stained with splotches of red.  It had been a bloody day. 
That morning I stood at the bathroom sink holding Levi who cut his finger on a can he looted from the recycling bin.  I turned his body out away from me, hoping to avoid staining my new shirt, but as I stood there rooting through the medicine cabinet, blood poured out of the tiny cut. 

It ran in a bright red stream
     down the hand that held him,
          splashing onto my pants and shoes as he waved his little hand around.
It drop,
      drop,
          dropped
                    to the beat of his pulse, 
falling onto the white counter-top like so many crimson beads off of a broken necklace.  I felt it clinging to the hairs on the back of my hand and marveled at its rich scarlet hue. 
I called my four-year-old to fetch a washcloth while Levi's twin, Isaiah, wandered in anxious little circles by my feet. Finally, we all sat down at the dining room table and I doled out Band-Aids with great liberality.  I put two or three on the finger that still gushed and two or three on other fingers and on his other hand in hopes of distracting him from pulling them off.  Then, of course, Isaiah needed some too and my assistant, the four-year-old, as well as the little girl I was babysitting. 
It wasn’t until later that I noticed Isaiah had blood on him too, places where it had splashed and splattered as he stood nearby watching me tend his brother. 

Looking at Isaiah’s splotched clothes, I thought, “When your brother bleeds, it gets on you.  This is what it means to be a brother.  This is what community really is.” 

*   *   *   *   *

Blood is messy and vital, rich, and yet we talk of it so complacently.   Somehow, in our dainty sipping of communion cups, we manage to miss the mess and I wonder if, in missing it, we don't also miss the communion.

Christ came and died on the cross, where blood drop,
                                                                                  drop,
                                                                                       dropped out,
splattering onto those who gathered near.  This is the community that Jesus establishes, a blood-splattered, blood-drinking communion of sinners turned saints.   

 *   *   *   *   *
 
The stomach bug hit later in the week.  It started with Levi in the middle of the night standing, crying in his crib and we went through layer after layer of sheets and pajamas, as my husband and I tag-teamed the dual tasks of comfort and cleaning.  Isaiah stood in his own crib, just a few feet away, looking-on all bleary-eyed and curious and each time we laid Levi back down to sleep and crept our way back out of the room, Isaiah laid down too. 
By the next day they were both down with the bug and I sat holding them on the couch while John took the older two to the store to stock up on saltines and Pedialyte.  I sat in the corner of the couch with Levi in my left arm and he drifted into a deep sleep, exhausted and drained.  Isaiah fussed, tossing and turning in my right arm, slipping off, then turning and begging his way back up into my lap the second his feet hit the ground. 
Levi slept on through it all, so I didn’t dare move and just about the time I was getting frustrated with Isaiah he turned suddenly and threw-up all over me and his brother.  Levi woke, of course, as I grabbed a changing pad and laid it across my soaked chest.  But then, just like that, they both dropped off into a heavy sleep. 
When my husband came home some forty minutes later, we were sitting there still, the three of us covered in Isaiah’s vomit and I thought, again, “This is what community is.  When your brother, throws up, it gets on you.” 

*   *   *   *   *

I wonder sometimes about how we do community these days, all distance and convenience, all house-picked-up and table-manners-please.  Community, real community, is a cracking, bleeding thing.  It’s the voice that breaks into a sob on the phone without holding back and the “oh, thank God, you stopped by because I didn’t know how I was going to make it through this day.” 

Maybe we settle for something less because we’re afraid that, if anyone gets too close, we’ll vomit our messy lives all over them.  But isn't it possible, my friends, that this bloody, messy communion, this breaking open of our lives like so many loaves of of bread, is what it’s really all about?

Is there a time when you've found community in the midst of your brokenness?  I'd love to hear about it . . .

This post is linked with Playdates With God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cut Flowers Vol. 2 (for your Easter baskets)

We're still doling out Valentine's candy at our house and I'm sure there's some Halloween candy lurking in the darker corners of the pantry, so the idea of filling four (yikes!) baskets with sweets for Easter morning isn't exactly appealing to me.  And while I am actually considering putting things like new socks and underwear in their baskets (anyone know if that's a sacrilege, by the way?) Easter's also the perfect opportunity to give a child you love something that will feed their heart in the year to come. 
 
Below are a few of my favorite children's bibles and books of prayer, won't you consider purchasing one for a child you know?  These also make great baby shower, baby dedication and Christmas gifts too.   
  
 

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones is recommended for ages four and up.  I love it because it has GREAT pictures and formats the bible as one grand narrative, paying attention to the treads of redemption that run throughout.  My three year old used to sit for hours paging through the pictures and both of our older kids requested it for bedtime reading for months on end. 
 
I ordered The Children of God Storybook Bible for Easter last year.  The biblical stories in this book are paraphrased by Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu and the illustrations come from artists around the world and reflect the artistic styles and heritage of their culture.  I love the interesting artwork in this one as well as the fact that it includes some stories not often found in children's bibles (ex. the story of Esther and also Naboth's Vineyard).  The stories in this bible are shorter and each is followed by a short prayer.  This is also recommended for ages four and up.




Psalms for Young Children, by Mari-Helen Delval is another I bought last year.  Each page has a paraphrase of a psalm and the opposite page has an image to go with it.  My husband and I have used this at bedtime when we're too spent to think of a good night prayer; we simply read one of the psalms as a prayer and our kids love it. 






I don't own I Will Rejoice, by Karma Wilson (yet!), but I've checked it out of the library from time to time.  Karma Wilson is the author of the popular Bear Snores On series.  This simple book filled with beautiful, joyful illustrations is based on the text of psalm 118:24, "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."


I did order this one for Easter this year.  Images of God for Young Children is, well, just that.  This book is for ages five and up and explores the biblical images for God, such as "God is Light," "God is Love," and "God is Wisdom."  I'm hoping this book might be helpful as my kids start to move away from a "God is an old man in the sky" view of God.  These are short reflections, like the Psalms book above, and I imagine we'll use this one for bedtime conversation starters (or enders!) too.  
 
 
 

 

I own Sybil Macbeth's Praying in Color for adults and, when my kids are a little older, will probably buy the kid's edition too.  If you're a doodler or simply love the smell of crayons and markers, praying in color is a simple, unintimidating entery into prayer.  This book is recommended for kids ages five and up.   
 
 

 
This last one, the Jesus is Calling Devotional for Kids, is by Sarah Youn and recommended for ages 8 and up.  Sarah is known for her direct style of writing which makes it feel like Jesus is speaking directly to you through her words.  Like the Jesus Storybook Bible, I know a lot of adults who've benefited from this book and I'll probbaly add it to our collection as the kids get older. 
 
What are some of your favorite children's bibles or devotional books?  How do you approach filling your child's Easter basket? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments section below or over on the Field of Wildflowers facebook page!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Gathering Bread, Gathering Images

 
 
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Luke 13:34
 

Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Luke 9:58
 
 
 
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. Matthew 6:28-9


We're waist-deep into Lent now, slogging through this dry and dusty wilderness.  In the beginning there was a burst of buzz about it, but now this journey, started with a sense of vision and purpose, has somehow morphed into what feels like aimless wandering. 
Forty days really is a long time for our restless hearts to hold steady.  The anxious disciples couldn’t stay awake and pray for even a few short hours, so how can we expect any better from our own weary, prone-to-wander souls?
For forty days, though, Jesus stayed; forty days of peeling back and grinding down until his real identity shone through like a diamond in the rough. 
For forty years the Israelites wandered; forty years of stooping to gather manna day-in and day-out.   
As I looked through Stanley Spencer's beautiful series of paintings on Christ in the Wilderness I realized that so many of the images Jesus used later in his ministry must have originated from his time in the wilderness.  As he waited, fasting and praying, Jesus watched and observed the foxes and wolves, the flitting birds, the dancing flowers and as he spoke he would return to these images again and again.  Images gained while waiting there in that seemingly empty place, images gathered like manna in the desert.  

This gives me hope as I wander my own way through these last tearful days of winter.  Maybe these long, dry days are actually filled with the things that will sustain me in the days ahead.  Maybe gathering the bread that falls daily is enough to change everything, not only because it fills me today, but because of the way these repeated gestures, the bending and gathering, shape my soul. 
Time spent in the wilderness of Lent, the wilderness of life, shapes us as we shed, ever so slowly, that which encumbers.  The eyes of our hearts are awakened to the small stones, the crumbs of vision that we will carry with us when we emerge from these dark and empty days, when we come forth, living, like One rising from a tomb. 

This post is linked with Imperfect Prose, click on the button to the right to visit the site.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Fallow Field (for everything there is a season)


The Fallow Field

I wonder whether
the field
that lies fallow
for a season,
envies
a neighboring field’s
productivity?
Or whether it simply lies there
resting,
drinking in
the warm sunshine
as it is restored,
grateful.


I'm coming into yet another week tired and empty. Imagine my relief and gratitude at finding this poem waiting, resting, in my blog drafts. For every time there is a season, and if this is your season to rest and be restored, may you find the grace to embrace it.

Linking with Playdates with God, and A Dare to Love Yourself.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sarah's Laughter

I wrote an essay recently in which I described laughter as a form of prayer and this got me thinking about Sarah's laughter at the news that she was going to bear a son.  The following story is based, loosely on the story of God visiting Abraham and Sarah found in Genesis 18:1-15. I know that infertility is a very difficult and painful experience for many women and please know that my thoughts here are meant to reflect the overall arch of the story of Sarah and Abraham and in no way reflect an opinion about the reasons for or experience of infertility.

*   *   *   *   *

It came out sudden and sharp, more like a bark or a cough, surprising her as she knelt, crouched at the entrance to the tent.  Unwilled, unwelcome, the laughter split her dry lips open, cracking them, like parched ground. 

She felt a wave of shame at the sound as it escaped and the visitors turned in surprise.  Her husband turned too, that old fool, and she looked at him, helpless, feeling again powerless over her own body, unable to stop the sound once it broke free. 
She was afraid when she saw the visitor look toward the tent and her breath caught in her throat when she heard him question Abraham about the sound, “Why did Sarah laugh?” 
Again, as if by instinct, the denial rose and slithered out like a snake between her teeth, "I did not laugh." 

Her hand flew to her mouth, as if to catch her words and shove them back inside, but she was too slow and they shot out, arching through the air like an arrow aimed directly at the place where the man sat. 
 
He turned then and looked at her, full on, his eyes piercing despite the distance between them and Sarah felt a shiver of fear run down her spine.  She felt the flour and dough that clung to the under-side of her finger-nails, the dirt and dust that lined her sandaled feet. 
Under his gaze, she became aware of how dead she felt, how the life had drained slowly from her face and chest over the years as she crumbled inward upon herself like some craven creature.  Looking into those eyes she felt her own dryness and thirst, her bones that crackled and clicked with each movement, she felt the emptiness of her body, of her soul, as though nothing was left of her but a walking corpse.
This was her fear, of course, but as the man held her gaze the fire in his eyes softened until the gentleness there came to resemble something like the look of love she’d seen in Abraham’s eyes during those early hopeful years.  The softness there, the love, both heightened and quenched her thirst as it crossed the distance between them.   The love circled her and fell like a heavy rain, sudden and fierce, washing over her empty body.  His gaze was like a heavy downpour in the desert that runs in rivulets over the dry ground, seeking entrance into the depths of the earth.   
When she saw the love in his eyes her mouth opened involuntarily and something like a little gasp, a small rush of air escaped and at that moment his love entered in.  Pouring in past her lips and teeth and tongue where just moments before the lie had slithered out.  Love entered like summer rain and settled deep inside in the small crack the laugh had hollowed out. 
Sarah shut her mouth tight, quickly, when she realized what had happened, but the man’s eyes only softened further until they crinkled at the corners and twinkled with humor.  Then his mouth cracked too into a wide and generous smile like the sun as he said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”        
She denied the laugh, but she couldn’t deny its effect, the way it opened her, split something deep within.  It started as a derisive sound, a reflexive rejection that rose from deep within her dried-up body at the mention of a child. But even that small hacking, choking sound broke something free within her. The laughter moved inside her like a fault-line as it made its way through, dividing and realigning as it took hold of her body.
When she would tell the story, years later, of their son and his long time coming, people would accept it all without so much as a blink until she came to the part where he smiled.  There was no question that God might walk up out of the blue for lunch, might open the womb of an old woman, but the part where the face of God cracked wide open, split in two by a smile, that, was more than they could accept and, so, over time, it was dropped from her story. 
Though it took years to come to pass, Sarah secretly credited the laugh for opening her womb, at least the smallest bit.  But who's to say whether it was the laughter that grew steadily over weeks and years or the tears that followed, springing from the same deep riven place within, either way life had come and it dwelt now within her.  After all, if the world can be created through words, then surely a womb can be opened through laughter, split wide like a seed when the sprout of new life unfurls. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

I Stopped Hugging My Son (the doorway of our need)

He wasn’t quite three when we told him we were expecting twins.  I still carried him on my hip into the daycare he attended twice a week; I hung his coat and put on his shoes and treated him like the baby he wasn’t until I found out the twins were coming.  Then I changed course, and quickly, encouraging him to do for himself what I’d done for so long both to foster independence and because I could no longer do them.

At almost three he shed his soft toddler curves and grew into the gangly, boyish body of a preschooler.  My little boy who’d been so snugly and sweet was suddenly all corners and sharp edges.  When I sat on the couch the twins’ two bodies wrapped tight in mine jutted out in front of me like a dangerously exposed beach ball, ready to pop at the slightest pressure.  After one too many leaping, lunging hugs from my son with knees and elbows knocking, I learned to lean forward setting my arms like a protective scaffolding that surrounded my womb.  
I had to stop lifting him for the last two-thirds of the pregnancy and my lap slowly disappeared, vanishing inch by inch with each passing month.  He struggled to find a way to be near me and eventually took to perching on my shoulders while I read, mussing my hair and wrapping his little arms and legs around my neck in his desperate need to find a some part of me to call his own.
After the birth my stomach shrank back, but my arms and hands were perpetually full and my lap too as I sat nursing two for hours and days and weeks on end.  Whether the hormones were to blame or the sheer difficulty of managing two flailing bodies, I simply couldn’t bear to have my son sitting on the couch with me as I nursed.  I couldn’t stand the bouncing, jouncing presence, couldn’t handle one more person touching me.  The further away he sat, the better, and I was relieved when he took to watching me from a chair on the other side of the room, keeping up a constant stream of chatter – anything to stay connected. 
All of that is past now, my arms are more often empty as the twins are toddling along, but it occurred to me the other day that the distance between my son and I remains. 
I was standing in the kitchen, feeling lonely and blue, needing a hug, when I saw my son, so tall and thin, standing on a chair at the dining room table.  My own need for a hug awakened me to the fact that I had, at some point along the way, stopped hugging him. 
Oh, I hugged him at bedtime and coming and going on the days I left the house, but I’d stopped randomly grabbing him and wrapping him in an embrace, stopped seeing him as a potential source of affection, stopped feeding his body with the food of physical touch.

I crossed the room immediately and asked for a hug and he gave it, wrapping those spindly arms around me and holding tight.  I told him I needed a hug and in so doing I affirmed his need too, that had gone unmet for so long.
Since then I’ve noticed a change in him.  He snuggles up beside me again while I’m reading, twining his little arm through mine, and he dares to fight the twins, those territorial little beasts, for lap-space which causes no end of fighting. 

I hug him more now, every time I think of it, and I’m noticing he lets me hug him when he gets hurts whereas, for a long time, he would just run off to his room. 
It’s such a terrible thing for a mother to say, isn’t it, “I stopped hugging my son.”  I think of the little ways we starve ourselves and each other and the many countless ways we can be fed – physically, spiritually, emotionally – and I pray for the grace of awareness that I might not withhold that which I have to give.  
I’m grateful for the way my own need awakened me to his.  
I'm grateful, too, for this season of Lent that so deftly peels back the layers of comfort and compulsion that often hide our deepest needs.  For needs are a doorway, always, an invitation into deeper relationship with ourselves and others and God. 
May our longing, uncovered, awaken in us desire and may we have the grace to bend low, entering through desire's arched doorway into the deepest parts of our souls where the spirit of God dwells.   

This post is shared with PlayDates With God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday and A Dare to Love Yourself.