Monday, April 29, 2013

Slowed to the Taste of Blue (Wonderstruck)

We sweep through the big red-framed doors into Target, into the coolness and light and open space that smells like newness and popcorn mingled together. We stop for a cart and I take off long-striding into the belly of the beast, pushing, pulling my daughter who’s half-walking, half-riding on the cart, half-child that she is.

It hits me as we charge past the dollar bins that I’m going to have to slow down if I want to be with this girl. This girl who takes so long to answer a question that you begin to wonder if she heard you, so slow that I’m often tempted to answer for her. This girl who I too often push and hurry along, my hand on the small of her back. This girl who is so like me at her age.

Near the end of our trip we stop by the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for her brother. The pharmacist pulls a large hot-pink plastic platter of dum-dum lollipops out from under her side of the counter and sets it down. My daughter stands in front of it, her face less than a foot away from the wide spread of sugary sweets. She stands motionless apart from the slight shifting of her head as she gazes at the bowl. Time pauses. We wait. I shift my feet, make eye contact with the pharmacist, and shift my weight again. My daughter stands still, lifts her right hand toward the bowl as if having decided, then drops it again. I meet the pharmacists eye. We wait some more.

I’m tempted to interject, to offer a question to prod the moment along and suppress the urge not once, not twice, but three times. The time that passes feels like an eternity to me and the pharmacist finally does interject asking, “Is there are certain kind you’re looking for?” My daughter doesn’t reply, except to raise her head slightly as though the pharmacist has startled her awake somehow. Her eyes remain fixed on the bowl. Finally, slowly and specifically she chooses two lollipops, both green, one for her brother at home and one for herself.

As we head for the exit and the parking lot beyond I wonder what she was doing during all that time. Then I wonder when it was that I stopped seeing the bowl of lollipops, really seeing it, in all of its color and variety and options. I wonder what I’ve lost in the incessant stream-lining and fast-forwarding of my life.

* * * * *

I have long legs, impossibly long strides and life has taught me to run while walking. I don’t know when I became so fast, but I think it had something to do with the never-ending to-do list of motherhood. The weight of family life pulled on me like so many people drowning and I learned to kick and paddle quicker and quicker, treading water to keep us all afloat. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that our culture doesn’t put much stock in slowness. We want a quick fix, we pay for speedier service, fill ourselves with fast food and divide and shuffle our time like cards in a deck trying through every slight-of-hand imaginable to add one more moment to an already full day.

I find it strange that the addition of the twins has proven to be an invitation to slow down even as it increases the already whirling pace of family life. We have a large, double-wide jogging stroller and since I can’t carry two children for long we take it almost everywhere. Surprisingly, I’ve had several moments of awakening, of slowing while pushing that stroller, like the time I felt the blessing of my children rising up around me, as well as other times I’ve yet to write about.

When I wonder why that is, how it is that I’m somehow more attuned to the realities of the world within and around me when pushing that great, wide stroller spilling over with children, I can only conclude that it’s because of the way it slows me down. It’s a big stroller, easy to push, but wide. At the grocery store I joke that I’m pushing a Big Mac and it takes the help of several parents to open the doors in our path as I plod my way in to preschool pickup. Added to this is the slowing weight of the hands of my four year old and six year old, each perched on the opposite sides of the stroller’s handle so that our width is extended by two more bodies, our pace slowed by the addition of two more souls.

I wonder, though, if this slowing doesn't somehow also involve the hand of God resting gently, heavily on my life, awakening me to the voice that says, "Slow down. Life is a meal too rich to be choked down in the back of your van while running from one thing to the next. Savor it, my child, like the slow melting of a sweet treat on your tongue." Tradition often describes God's touch as a "quickening of the spirit" but more often I experience God's presence as a slowing and deepening that stretches and broadens the moment, expanding it in beauty and breadth until it resembles a small and fleeting taste of eternity.

* * * * *

Just yesterday we were back to the pharmacy, this time for my daughter who also tested positive for strep throat.  We again faced the platter of dum-dums.  As I waited and the pharmacist sifted through the lollipops, I found myself awakened to the moment, my eyes widening in the space my daughter’s slowness creates. The platter of lollipops stretched out before us like a rainbow, inviting me to stop, slow down and see.

My eye caught on a blue and white wrapper, a picture of blueberries in a day-glow color and my hand shot out of its own accord as if in answer to a question posed by that blue wrapper. My fingers closed around it just as my daughter finished picking hers and I looked up as if awakening from a dream and met the pharmacists eye.

“I’m taking one today, too,” I said as we pushed off from the counter and headed toward home, grateful to be slowed, grateful to be awakened to the taste of blue on my tongue, tangy and sweet, that lasts the whole way home.


This post originally appeared in Sept., 2012.  This edited version is being reposted and linked with Wonderstruck, click through to read more posts.

We Have No Maps


"We have no maps, nothing but the inner directions
that seem to emerge as we engage the questions and
risk moving toward the dream.  Together we will
learn where we're going."    - Judy Cannato

The man I now love
invited me on a walk
that first spring.
"Why don't you go
in front?" he offered,
as we wandered
without a trail
down a wooded slope.

Inwardly I bristled,
"How should I know
where we're going?"
But his joy
was simply to be
in the woods with me
and I, alone,
could not feel it.

We're walking again
this spring, moving
without a map
toward shared dreams,
down a hill no less
wooded or sloped.

But now I see,
together is the key
not where or how.
And when fear
causes me to stumble,
I find myself turning,
not to anger,
but to love. 

This poem is shared with dVerse Poets Pub for their open links night.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Perfectly Imperfect (a mostly true story)

It was the end of the academic year, spring ripening toward summer. 

She circled the small dorm room, two, three, four times, her eyes pausing to measure each object before passing on to the next.  Her long hair was wrapped in a floral bandanna, her face hot and dusty. 
Finally she saw it, the last piece, long and rectangular, just the right size to finish filling the box she was packing.  Tucking it into the waiting space and folding the lids shut, a small sigh, almost imperceptible, escaped her lips, “Perfect.” 

* * *
Just over the hill, on the other side of campus, he strolled into his room, leisurely, with the air of the sun and woods about him. 

He began by piling one thing after another onto his unmade bed, flinging them haphazardly into the middle of the sheet.  Books, clothes, shoes, odds and ends, he tossed them together onto the bed like someone making a pot of soup out of a week’s worth of leftovers.  Later, he would lift the sheet, gathering it in the middle and carry it all out to his car, slung over his shoulder like a hobo. 
Having emptied every drawer, he finished by tossing himself onto the bed and laying back to stare at the ceiling.  A small, almost imperceptible sigh escaped his lips, “Done.”

* * *
Stuck again, she picked up the phone to call and he answered, of course.

“What are you doing?” she asks.
“Nothing,” he says.

“Really?” her voice rises, “You’re not doing anything?”
“Nope . . . just laying here on my bed . . . looking at the ceiling,” he added, with ease.

“Are you thinking about anything?” she asks, incredulous.
“Nope, nothing,” he adds, with an air of finality.
* * *

In a year they’re engaged and married six months later and he moves into the small apartment where she waited for him to graduate.  They share their first Christmas there and buy a kitten who pees profusely on the carpeted floor. 
When the lease is up they move together to a new place which, of course, requires packing. 

She sorts and circles while he piles and dumps.  He tells her how he used to pack, thinking the use of boxes shows he’s come a long way.  She explains how every box is a chance for perfection. 
Something about the distance between their methods seems humorous, so they laugh, at themselves and each other.  And for once, she closes the box in front of her, taping it shut as it is, perfectly imperfect. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Rescuer

I had just emptied the dishwasher and was bent, filling it with plates and forks from lunch when I heard the loud crash.  It happened during those few quiet moments of contentment, when the sunlight pours through the kitchen windows and the three boys, with sated stomachs, mingle contentedly in the living room.   

I heard the crash and looked up and start running all in one swift movement, plowing  through the dining room and over the hip-high baby gate without pausing, straddling it without breaking stride.  Twelve-month-old Levi lay on his back underneath the record stand which had fallen forward onto him, pinning him to the ground.  As I ran, in the split second between kitchen and living room and holding him, I watched his older brother swoop in and throw the table off.   

Then the crying started and I scooped that baby up and pressed him to my chest as the wails pierced my ears.  His brother started in immediately with explanations and I resisted the urge to accuse him of causing the table to fall, resisted the urge to pin one more child under a weight of any kind.   

Levi paused in his crying and lifted his head to look at the table, as if wondering what happened.  Convinced that nothing was broken, I started to breathe again.   

Like all moments of crisis, the situation bonded the kids and I as we sat together on the living room floor sharing what we saw, what we heard, what we feared.  Solomon was buzzing from the action and bounced on the couch, talking loudly.   

I was impressed by his quick thinking and said, “Good thing his older brother was here,” finishing with words I knew he’d relish, “to rescue him.”   

His face lit up like the sun through those kitchen windows and I knew he’d greet his sister and father at the door with the story of how he rescued Levi.   

Later I remembered how the “Jesus Storybook” children’s bible refers to Jesus as the “Rescuer,” and it seemed to me to be an entirely appropriate title for Jesus, for One who comes when we need him most and throws off the pressing, crushing weight of sin that lies heavy on us all. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Manhunt


Manhunt

Driving through
the morning’s round of drop-offs
the radio tells of man
hunting man
and I watch as magnolia trees
drop great showers of
silky, blushing blooms.

Spring is the foolish season
whose beauty we cannot long endure
so the trees, in their gracefulness,
weep their soft and silent petals
knowing we’ll need their leafy shade
to hide us from the searing sun.

So much beauty falling on the silent earth,
so much beauty fallen.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Making Straight the Crooked

 
He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.  And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”  But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”  Luke 13:10-16
*   *   *   *   *
 
The dream came again that night, the night she now thinks of as the night before.  It was the same dream that had plagued her off and on for fifteen years or more, arriving sometimes nightly or leaving for a month or more before returning when she least expected it.   

It started with a familiar scene as most dreams do.  She was shuffling along, leaning on her walking stick, her back grotesquely bent so that her silhouette resembled a question mark, her posture posing an endless unanswered prayer.  She moved slowly down the dusty path that led to her house on the outskirts of the small village.  The streets were unusually quiet, the air was still and she watched her feet as each step stirred up small puffs of fine, dry sand. 

Slowly, she becomes aware of the sun bearing down on her twisted back, her bowed head.  It’s a welcome warmth, but as it grows in intensity it begins to feel like a searing heat burning through her thin clothing.  As the sun beats down she begins to feel a straightening, a strengthening in her back and she is lifted, her face turned upward toward the blue sky filled with bright sunlight.  In a move that feels both natural and miraculous her body unfurls in flight as she soars up into the sky.  The sky around her is filled with the faces of those she loves; the face of her husband, dead now these ten years, her children, and others long gone to all but memory. 

As she continues to soar, her body fills with the warmth of the light, the warmth of the faces she passes.  Moving higher, she glides directly toward the sun which she stares at, curious and unflinching in its glare.  She can’t turn her eyes away from the sun for there, in the brightest spot, is a face she knows, a face she remembers but cannot name.  She soars in the hope that getting closer would allow her the satisfaction of recalling the name.  

Then a burst of cool wind chills her body and stops her mid-flight, causing her to curl in upon herself in the old familiar position, like a fist clenched shut.  Darkness fills the sky and she begins to fall, spiraling through the night.  She passes the same faces again only they too are twisted now as if mirroring her bent body; hard and unfamiliar they leer at her fall through the darkness.   

This, always, is when she wakes.  In mid-fall she plummets down, down, until the only escape is waking.  She bursts into wakefulness like a swimmer emerging from a deep-water dive, gasping for air as she comes up dripping sweat and pulsing with fear.  She lies shaking, her legs twined through the tangled bedclothes. 

This is how that day started. 

She knew no cure for the dream other than fleeing as quickly as she could from her bed and house seeking the warmth of a sunny day.  The sun was just beginning to rise as she wrapped her outer garment around her, tying the knot tight.  She prepared a hasty drink and took small sips with shaking hands.  She ate without tasting, still under the fearful spell of the dream. 

She left her house in a hurry, not thinking what day it was as she followed the small winding path toward town.  It was a strangely quiet morning, the roads were nearly empty, the market-stalls boarded up, and only a few people could be heard rushing through the streets.  To the woman it felt as if the world itself was paused, waiting, the whole world poised on the edge of some great and decisive turn as if it too were waking, though from darkness or light she could not tell.  Even now in the daylight she couldn’t shake the terror of the dream; it followed her like the shadow of a hawk follows its prey. 

She heard a family pass, dragging sleepy footed children, heard the mother’s exasperated cry, “Hurry, now, or we’ll be late.”  Only then did it dawn on her that it was Sabbath, that the whole village was gathered in the synagogue.  Still not thinking she too turned toward the synagogue.  How long had it been since she’d last shuffled through the door?  The words of the ancient prayers were written on her heart and the crooked path drew her toward the door of the meeting place that stood open and dark like the mouth of a tomb before her. 

She was through the door before she realized what she’d done.  The reading stopped.  The room filled with a murmuring stillness as her eyes adjusted to the cool gray of the stone floor.  She stood frozen in place, staring at the ground beneath her, the same feeling of falling rising again within her.  She felt as though the darkness would swallow her, she almost hoped it would. 

Then a voice rose and cut through the darkness, “Woman, come here.”  It drew her like the sun and sky had drawn her in the dream.  She made her way toward the place where the voice had come from, the space that was now filled with a waiting silence that spoke louder then the crowds around her. Later she would be unable to say whether it was the silence or the voice that drew her or whether they were one and the same. She was helpless to resist the pull. 

There were shocked gasps and murmurs as she made her shuffling way forward.  Stooped, she noticed the feet of those around her, how those on the outer edges of the room were broken and blistered, the hems of their garments dirty and torn as hers.  Moving forward the feet she saw grew softer, cleaner, the garments bore rich colors and fine cloth. 

She stopped in front of two dirty, calloused feet in worn-thin sandals.  Her back seized up throwing her forward to her knees, drawing her tighter than she’d thought was possible, so that she knelt now in front of those feet.

He laid his rough carpenter’s hands on her shoulders, feeling there the texture of her muscles tight and gnarled like the twisted roots of an old tree.  His hands lay still, taking it in, the sum of her life written there across the lines of her back.  He was used to reading the grain of a piece of wood, in one touch he could tell which pieces would give under the gentle pressure of his hands and which pieces would break and snap, fighting him every step of the way. 

In his touch she felt every loving touch she’d ever received come pouring over her like flashes of light.  The touch of her courting husband, gentle and questioning, then full of need and desire on their wedding night and the touch of his hand clinging to comfort as they waited through the illness they knew would lead to death.  The touch of her son’s plump little hand patting her breast as he waited for milk, the final squeeze of her father’s hand as he lay dying.  All of these and more rose up from her memory and the touch of his hand strengthened those memories of love and without moving massaged them deep into her aching back. 

At the same time she also felt every harsh touch she’d ever received – the cold slap of her angry mother-in-law, the pushing of the neighborhood children who laughed at her stooped gait – all of these and more she felt being drawn up and out of her body through those same hands until there was nothing left but the memory and experience of love. 

Then came the warmth, almost too much to bear, that spread outward from his hands and seemed to make her swell as her muscles softened and her joints released their terrified, choking grasp.  She felt her body being drawn up and out in what felt like a split second and all of eternity at the same time.  Finally her head lifted and his was the first face she saw, full of warmth and radiance.  She recognized it immediately as the face in the sun in her dream.  She looked into his eyes and chose him even as he chose her and the last echoes of darkness faded from the corners of her vision as she stood fully upright, her body unfurled as though from a cocoon or a flower’s bud. 

Some who were there that day, watching, would say that even as the woman was being healed the sun itself dimmed for just a moment and a cool breeze swept through the room.  It was as though the chill from the woman’s bent body circled the room looking for somewhere to settle.  To some, this coolness felt like a reprieve from the terrifying brightness and light of the young man who spoke and they, almost without thinking, opened themselves to the darkness that crept in looking for a place to claim for its own.  As they did so their hearts hardened just a little, twisted even, like the woman’s back and something like the shadow of a sneer settled on their lips, subtle enough to go unnoticed by all but the keenest eye. 

The woman stood before Jesus unaware of anything but his light and her whole body shook with a chorus of praise that swept through her veins, her joints, her marrow.  She didn’t hear the questions that were posed, all she heard was the voice that rose in response.  The three words struck her like a gong, “Daughter of Abraham,” and at that moment her transformation, her redemption, was complete. 

She knew then the truth that had been there all along, always somehow just beyond her grasp.  She wasn’t a child of darkness, but a child of light and knowing this she no longer needed to fear the darkness for it held no claim in her.  At this moment the song that had been building in her body burst forth and filled the room like the voice of a thousand angels, like the voice of Mary great with child, the voice of Miriam dancing beside the Red Sea. 

To others in the room Jesus’ words and the woman’s song were like the sharp lance that pierces a boil causing their anger and rage to rise up out of the darkness within them.  They felt themselves suddenly full of darkness and fear; felt as though they were falling and could not stop themselves, caught as they were in the claim of the darkness.  They lashed out in fear, like the woman in her dream, they sweated and fought as the anxiety grew and settled deeper into their crooked little hearts.  

Later, when the memory of the dream would return creeping into the corners of her thoughts while she stood kneading bread or washing, she would stop where she was, most often outside, and turn toward the sun, straightening to her full height and lifting her face to its warmth.  Or if, in the evening, shadows began to press in around her and she felt her heart start to bend she would wrap her prayer shawl tight around her shoulders and, against intuition, walk out into the deep darkness of the night.  There she would stand, sometimes the whole night through, watching the stars, those tiny points of light until finally the darkness faded to gray and the lights gave way to the one great Light that shines on us all.  


This post is shared with Playdates with God, Imperfect Prose (see link in side-bar) and #Tell His Story.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Two Boys, Two Stories, Two Paths

Brennan Manning, the beloved author of The Raggamuffin Gospel died this past Friday, April 12.  I never read the Raggamuffin Gospel, but I did somehow stumble onto one of Manning's later books, Abba's Child.  His gentle yet piercing description of the "impostor" in each of us that robs us from our rightful identity as God's beloved deeply transformed my faith.   

In honor of his passing, I want to share two of my favorite stories from Abba's Child.  (all quotations from Mannings book are in italics.) 

*   *   *   *

The book opens with the following story that hit me right between the eyes.  It was like looking into a mirror where the underpinnings of my own adolescent faith were painfully revealed:

In Flannery O'Conner's short story The Turkey, the antihero and principle protagonist is a little boy named Ruller.  He has a poor self-image because nothing he turns his hand to seems to work.  At night in bed he overhears his parents analyzing him.  "Ruller's an unusual one,: his father says.  "Why does he always play by himself?"  And his mother answers, "How am I to know?"

One day in the woods, Ruller spot a wild and wounded turkey and sets off in hot pursuit.  "Oh, if only I can catch it," he cries.  He will catch it, even if he has to run it out of state.  He sees himself triumphantly marching through the front door of his house with the turkey slung over his shoulder and the whole family screaming, "Look at Ruller with that wild turkey!"  "Ruller, where did you get that turkey?"

"Oh, I caught it in the woods.  Maybe you would like me to catch you one sometime."

But then the thought flashes across his mind, "God will probably make me chase that damn turkey all afternoon for nothing."  He knows he shouldn't think that way about God - yet that's the way he feels.  If that's the way he feels, can he help it?  He wonders if he is unusual.

Ruller finally captures the turkey when it rolls over dead from a previous gunshot wound.  He hoists it on his shoulders and begins his messianic march back through the center of town.  He remembers the things he had thought before he got the bird.  They were pretty bad, he guesses.  He figures God has stopped him before it's too late.  He should be very thankful.  "Thank You, God," he says.  "Much obliged t You.  This turkey must weigh ten pounds.  You were mighty generous." 

Maybe getting the turkey was a sign, he thinks.  Maybe God wants him to be a preacher.  He thinks of Bing Crosby and Spencer Tracy as he enters town with the turkey slung over his shoulder.  He wants to do something for God but he doesn't know what to do.  If anybody were playing the accordion on the street today, he would give them his dime.  It is the only dime he has but he would give it to them. 

Two men approach and whistle at the turkey.  They yell at some other men on the corner to look.  "How much do you think it weighs?"  they ask.

"At least ten pounds,"  Ruller answers.

"How long did you chase it?"

"About an hour," says Ruller.

"That's really amazing.  You must be very tired."

"No, but I have to go," Ruller replies.

"I'm in a hurry."  He cannot wait to get home.

He wishes he would see somebody begging.  Suddenly he prays, "Lord, send me a beggar.  Send me one before I get home."  God has put the turkey here.  Surely God will send him a beggar.  He knows for a fact God will send him one.  Because he is an unusual child, he interests God.  :Please, one right now" - and the minute he says it, an old beggar woman heads straight toward him.  His heart stomps up and down in his chest.  He spring at the woman, shouting, "here, here," thrusts the dime into her hand, and dashes on without looking back. 

Slowly his heart calms and he begins to feel a new feeling - like being happy and embarrassed at the same time.  Maybe, he thinks, he will give all him money to her.  H feels as if the ground does not need to be under him any longer. 

Ruller notices a group of country boys shuffling behind him.  He turns around and asks generously, "Y'all wanna see this turkey?" 

They stare at him.  "Where did ya get that turkey?"

"I found it in the woods.  I chased it dead.  See it's been shot under the wing."

"Lemme see it," one boy says.  Ruller hands him the turkey.  The turkey's head flies into his face as the country boy slings it up in the air and over his own shoulder and turns.  The other turn with him and saunter away.

They are a quarter mile away before Ruller moves.  Finally they are so far away he can't even see them anymore.  He walks for a bit and then, noticing that it is dark, suddenly begins to run.  And Flannery O'Conner's exquisite tale ends with the words: "He ran faster and faster and as he turned up the road to his house, his heart was running as fast as his legs and he was certain that Something Awful was tearing behind him with its arms rigid and its fingers ready to clutch." 

*   *   *   *


Later in the book, Manning tells the story of another boy . . .

The story is told of a very pious Jewish couple.  They had married with great love, and the love never died.  Their greatest hope was to have a child so their love could walk the earth with joy. 

Yet there were difficulties.  And since they were very pious, they prayed and prayed and prayed.  Along with considerable other efforts, lo and behold, the wife conceived.  When she conceived, she laughed louder than Sarah laughed when she conceived Isaac.  And the child leapt in her womb more joyously than John leapt in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary visited her.  And nine months later a delightful little boy came rumbling into the world. 

They named him Mordecai.  He was rambunctious, zestful, gulping down the days and dreaming through the nights.  The sun and the moon were his toys.  He grew in age and wisdom and grace, until it was time to go to the synagogue and learn the Word of God. 

The night before his studies were to begin, his parents sat Mordecai down and told him how important the Word of God was.  They stressed that without the Word of God Mordecai would be an autumn lead in the winter's wind.  He listened wide-eyed. 

Yet the next day he never arrived at the synagogue.  Instead he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lake and climbing the trees. 

When he came home that night, the news had spread throughout the small village.  Everyone knew of his shame.  His parents were beside themselves.  They did not know what to do. 

So they called in the behavior modificationists to modify Mordecai's behavior, until there was no behavior of Mordecai's that was not modified.  Nevertheless, the next day he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lake and climbing the trees. 

So they called in the psychoanalysts, who unblocked Mordecai's blockages, so there were no more blocks for Mordecai to be blocked by.  Nevertheless, he found himself the next day, swimming in the lake and climbing the trees. 

His parents grieved for their beloved son.  There seemed to be no hope.

At this same time the Great Rabbi visited the village.  And the parents said, "Ah!  Perhaps the Rabbi."  So they took Mordecai to the Rabbi and told him their tale of woe.  The Rabbi bellowed, "Leave the boy with me, and I will have a talking with him" 

It was bad enough that Mordecai would not go to the synagogue.  But to leave their beloved son alone with this lion of a man was terrifying.  However, they had come this far, and so they left him.

Now Mordecai stood in the hallway, and the Great Rabbi stood in his parlor.  He beckoned, "Boy, come here."  Trembling, Mordecai came forward.

And then the Great Rabbi picked him up and held him silently against his heart.

His parents came to get Mordecai and they took him home.  The next day he went to the synagogue to learn the Word of God.  And when he was done, he went to the woods.  and the Word of God became one with the words of the woods, which became one with the words of Mordecai.  And he swam in the lake.  and the Word of God became one with the words of the lake, which became one with the words of Mordecai.  And he climbed the trees.  And the Word of God became one with the words of the trees, which became one with the words of Mordecai. 

And Mordecai himself grew up to become a great man.  People who were seized with panic came to him and found peace.  People who were without anybody came to him and found communion.  People with no exits came to him and found a way out.  And when they came to him he said, "I first learned the word of God when the Great Rabbi held me silently against his heart."

*   *   *   *
 
I spent the first twenty or more years of my life living the first story, but since then I've turned a corner and now I'm leaning in and learning to listen as Manning says of his own journey, "I knew there was only one place to go.  I sank down to the center of my soul, grew still, and listened to the Rabbi's heartbeat."  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

This Nest, These Birds




When we came for a viewing of the house we live in now, my husband and I were like a pair of young love-birds looking for a place to nest, though we wouldn’t have said it in as many words.  After guiding us through the house from bottom to top, the homeowner announced with joy that she had one more thing to show us. 


Bustling through the front room she led us back out to the wide, smiling porch and pulled down a hanging basket.  Peering down between the flowering vines we saw a small bird’s nest with eggs.  We nodded our heads as she told us about the birds, a pair of sparrows who nested there every year and we listened too to the mother bird chirping her concern from the nearby red-bud tree. 

It seemed an auspicious sign, an omen of sorts.  We bought the house in a flurry of excitement and spent the next nine years growing into it, filling it with one after another of these beautiful, bright-eyed birds. 
*   *   *
The other day as I parked at the curb in front of that same porch, freshly painted white, it seemed as though our house was surrounded by birds.  There were really only a handful, but they flew so in the sunlit sky that their motion conveyed a crowd and I wondered at their gathering here.  Looking up I saw a Cardinal alight on the old rusted T.V. antennae and there he sat for a moment like a sign, a bright bit of fire sent from heaven.   

This morning as I paused at the back door looking at the maple tree unfolding its first tender green leaves, I saw the birds gathering again.  It was as though they’d called a meeting on our small lot and they tussled about to find their seats before the proceedings began, hopping from the maple to the golden-ing forsythia and fence, then back again to the tree. 
As I stood marveling at their presence, the cardinal came swooping through the yard like a flaming arrow shot through the air. 
*   *   *
We're trying to decide whether and when to leave this home that’s nested us for almost nine years now.  As we discern, I find myself looking everywhere for the small and flitting signs of God’s presence and direction.  Is it foolish that the arrival of these birds is enough to give me pause as we vacillate between anxiety and hope? 
It’s possible, I guess, that these birds are telling us to stay.  But watching them I’m reminded of the passage in James and the Giant Peach where a mass of over five-hundred sea gulls lifts the peach through the air on strands of spiders’ silk and I picture these birds here doing the same; gathering, lifting, calling us out to a new place, telling us gently and joyfully that it’s time to go. 
*   *   *
Waiting in my spiritual director’s lovely meeting space I notice the same flocking, winging crowd as the trees and bushes at her house are also filled with birds. I mention how the birds are so robust this year and she says she’s noticed it too.
Then as we are praying in silence I hear God say, “I will be with you wherever you go.”
Now, sitting at my computer as the birds continue to toss their songs into the air and the trees open their pink-blossomed hands, I wonder if this is what the birds know, if this is why they sing, this song of assurance, “I will be with you wherever you go.”
Maybe each of our lives, each of our souls, is a nest where the spirit of God comes to settle like the gentle gray and pink-breasted morning dove I saw the other day. Finally here at last the Son of Man has a place to lay his head, here in the heart of you and me and every living thing. And maybe, just maybe, this is why, this is what, the birds are singing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Hairs of Our Heads



Look at that beautiful fuzz!

My friend posted on facebook that she was planning to take her little boy for his first hair cut and since our boys are the same age I felt a wave of maternal anxiety at the idea. 

My youngest arrived with a precious layer of strawberry-blond silk that glowed in the sunlight and stood out around his head like a halo in every photograph we took.  But now, like his little friend, his hair is getting a bit untidy.  It still curls charmingly at the nap of his neck, but it also hangs in his eyes and is frayed with split ends.  The thought of cutting it, though, nearly breaks my heart. 

When my oldest son was little he would sit perfectly still on my lap as I ran my fingers through his hair.  Now, at four, he stands on a dining room chair once every few weeks as I painstakingly snip and trim.  As he squirms, all itchy and twitchy, I watch large swaths of thick dirty-blond hair falling floor.  His wiggling wears me thin, but when I threaten to stop half-way through he stills himself immediately, relishing these rare moments of maternal attention. 

My daughter doesn’t let me play with her hair, but nearly every day of kindergarten she asked for two braids and stood hopping from foot to foot as I wove the strands in place.  After years of trimming her long locks at home I now take her to Holiday Hair and sit in the empty chair beside her watching her watch herself in the mirror.   
Sophia's first day of school braid.
I number their hairs, these children of mine.  I scrub and rinse, watching the water as it pours down over them.  I chant “look up, look up, look up,” begging them to tip their heads back so that the soap won’t run into their eyes.  I pat their heads and trim as needed, watching bits of their childhood fall to the floor with each snip of the scissors.  These are some of the many little ways I care for them – brushing and combing and smoothing down – some of the many ways I express my love. 
The intimate relationship a mother has with her child’s hair reminds me of the place in scripture where we are reminded that God numbers the hairs on our heads.   As I marvel at the little curls that form on their sweaty heads during nap time, I hear the passage anew as yet another picture of God’s great love for us; God who knows and loves us with something like the intimacy between a mother and her tow-headed children. 
It won’t be long until they’re cutting and combing and numbering their own hairs, but on days when they feel lost or alone, I hope they’ll remember the feeling of my hand on their head, my voice saying, “Look up, look up,” as the water runs down.  I hope they’ll remember the One who loves them even more than their mother does, the One who numbers the very hairs of their heads.     
My boy's beautiful locks.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

'Ope

Isaiah stands at the low wooden shelf of the changing table with his chubby hand tugging on the handle of a basket that's stuck.  Unable to get to the books trapped inside, he turns to me whining and fussing to communicate his desire.

Seizing the teachable moment, I prompt, "Help, Isaiah. Say, 'help.'"

"Ope," he says, copying my dramatic drawn-out inflection to perfection, but missing the 'h' and 'l.'  "Ope," he shouts, pulling on the basket for emphasis.

*   *   *

Levi stands at the gate that divides the living room from the rest of the house. He's fussing to get my attention, while also checking and rechecking the lock on the latch. He wants to be set free, he wants the run of the house.

Walking over and looking down into his face I say, "Open, Levi. Say 'open please.'"

'Ope," he says, rubbing a quick circle over his bulging belly, the baby-sign-language gesture for please.  'Ope," he repeats for good measure, relieved to have the verbal keys that unlock the door to his desire. 

*   *   *

It’s the day after Easter and my husband and I have an appointment with the bank set for the following day.  We have dreams for our lives, our family, our ministry, dreams this beautiful little house doesn’t seem capable of holding.  So we’re starting to lean into the future, starting to speak of our hopes and dreams and as we do, I can feel the desperate, hungry flocks of fear gathering like vultures.  

As people of the resurrection, we’re called to dream, to imagine and move into our dreams, but too often I find myself stuck when the dark clouds of fear and disappointment roll in.  How does one find a place to stand between control and resignation, between taking a dream upon your own small shoulders and abandoning it in the dirt? 

*   *   *

Levi and Isaiah are waiting at the gate again and as I approach Levi flashes a look of inspiration.

“Ope,” he says and his brother chimes in too so that they form a small chorus, a flock of sweetly singing birds.  “Ope, ope,” they chirp while rubbing their bellies in little circles of politeness. 

But through some blend of forced breath and mispronunciation, the word I hear is “hope” and it’s then that my eyes and ears are opened to these two chubby-faced messengers sent by God. 
“Hope, hope,” Isaiah says as he tugs at the basket.

“Hope, hope,” Levi pleads as he stands at the locked gate.

“Please,” their small hands say as they circle their bellies again and again.

*   *   *

These two little birds are teaching me the language of God-sized dreams, teaching me to sing the songs of desire and how can I help but join the chorus? 

Standing at the gate to the future that I can't unlock on my own, I sing the song of hope, adding in a gesture of "please" for good measure.  I throw back the shadows of fear and doubt with this small word that escapes my lips like a breath of fresh air, a mighty wind that chases the gathering clouds away.

“Hope, hope,” I say as we move forward, leaning, listening to the Whisperer of dreams, the Giver of gifts, the One who sent this beautiful flock of birds to settle in my nest singing their lovely song of hope.  

Linking with Emily and Jennifer.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Outlaws and Rebels, Every One


"They crucified two rebels with him, one on his left and one on his right." Matthew 27:38

*   *   *   *   *

 
My 18 month-old boys saunter through the house with swaggering bravado like two black-hats straight out of the lawless west.  Working together they form a mafia-esque crime-ring, a rebellious conspiracy against law and order and decency.  Trafficking in black market goods pilfered from the pile of floor-sweepings in the kitchen corner, they gather on the back of the love seat, perched in the window to inspect and trade their haul. 

They rip the heads off of their sister’s dolls and leave graffiti on the living room walls and every time I kneel to zip Isaiah’s coat, Levi circles around behind me and roots through my purse.  A gifted pick-pocket, he snatches my wallet and phone with such speed, stealth and precision that even I, the victim, have to marvel. 
When one is finally caught red-handed, and placed in solitary (ie. the corner) the other comes quickly to the rescue, crouching down beside him, chattering what I imagine are plans of daring-escape and revenge.  Like true accomplices, though, they quickly turn on each other when caught together at the scene of a crime – a mutually enjoyed destruction turns all finger-pointing and tears when the fuzz shows up.
The other day I watched Levi running through the house with what appeared to be a little shiv.  It sported a jagged, plastic tip and appeared capable of inflicting real harm, so I quickly confiscated it, tossing it into the trash.    

As we lay in bed at night my husband and I hear a “scritch, scratch, scritch” on the bedroom wall near our heads.  Levi’s crib sits just on the other side of the wall so we sleep head-to-head, divided only by a few thin inches of plaster.  We tell ourselves he’s rubbing the nubby bottoms of his footed pajamas against the wall, but as I lay listening late into the night, I think of that little shiv and wonder if he isn’t tunneling his way to freedom one tiny scratch at a time.  I picture him tumbling through into our bed some night, his face full of surprise and disappointment to find us there or, more likely, delighted. 
These boys are outlaws, I tell you.  Even so little, so cute, they have a rap sheet a mile-long.   Looking at their round little faces, their hair all downy-fluff, I'm reminded that we’re all thieves, all outlaws of one sort or another, every last one of us.  We’re all Davids and Delilahs, Judases and Peters bent on greed and self-preservation.  We're all convicted, but not condemned, chiseling our way toward freedom, one tiny crack at a time, until at last we fall through the wall to Love.   

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