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. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

What's A Pastor to Do?



But what’s a pastor to do when [she’s] got no people to pastor?*

 

I slipped an extra egg

under the broody hen

and marked the eggs

already gathered there

with a permanent marker’s

red x.

 

The hen settled down,

welcoming new eggs and old.

She puffed wide, her feather-bare

chest, radiating one hundred

and one degrees.

 

I picked five cucumbers

and weeded around the late-started

zinnias. I asked after zucchini

and green beans, peering between

large green leaves, but the answer was,

“not yet.”

 

I hung wet clothes on the line,

washed and dried over thirty-five

t-shirts. I went to the store for milk.

I cooked a chicken and helped

my son bake a two-layer chocolate

cake.

 

This is what I did

when I had no people to

pastor.



*This question, posed by a pastor in Winn Collier's novel, "Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church," got caught in my soul and sits there still. It's a good question, because asking (and answering it) well raises all sorts of other questions. Sometimes a good question can shed more light than even the best of answers.

 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Curiosity and Wonder Might Just Save Us All



“They’re acting like a$$es.”

 

This is what I told my husband in a quick, condemning whisper during the few seconds our four kids were more than an arm’s length away from us on the hiking trail. I’m not proud of my words, it’s not language I use often, especially in reference to my kids. But I want you to know just how bad it was.

 

Our long-awaited vacation had arrived, and I was ready for us to be happy, grateful and relaxed. I had bought into the cultural myth of the “happy family vacation” – the ones you see in pictures, where siblings with smiling faces stand with their arms carelessly cast around each other’s shoulders in front of a serenely setting sun. I’d forgotten how new spaces – even welcome, joyfully anticipated ones – unsettle carefully orchestrated family dynamics. I’d forgotten how anticipation often equals heightened expectations. I’d forgotten how hard family vacations can be.

 

And so, we found ourselves rumbling down a hiking trail like a gang of hangry bears. Kids fought, picked, and climbed on top of each other. They complained about the hike, the heat, their siblings. The words, “stop hanging on me,” “stop fighting,” “keep walking,” shot from my mouth on an endless loop. I believe, at one point, I announced, “If you don’t stop fighting, we’re going to walk the rest of the way single-file, in silence.”

Nothing worked.

 

That is, nothing worked until we jostled around a bend in the trail and noticed a doe standing in a clearing at the forest’s edge. “Look, a deer,” someone announced.

 

We turned and acknowledged the sight. Our walking and talking slowed. Someone noticed the flicker of a white tail just inside the forest’s shade. “There’s another deer in the woods. Look. See it?” One, by one, we paused and pointed, waiting for the flash of a white flag in the shaded forest’s deep green.

 

“Maybe it’s a fawn,” someone suggested.

 

Then, my husband added, “I bet, if we kneel down, it might come out.”

 

The six of us fell to our knees without argument or question. We knelt, facing the open field, crouched within arm’s reach of each other. Silence descended, save for a few whispered questions and observations. After a few minutes, the second deer tip-toed silently from the woods and we saw they were about the same size – likely a set of twins on their way to the lake for an evening drink.  

 

There was no arguing, no complaining, no pushing or shoving. The agitation of the heat, the bugs, the siblings vanished.  

 

“Maybe, if we’re quiet, they’ll come closer,” someone suggested.

 

We waited and watched the deer who waited and watched us. We spoke in whispers and the deer carried on their own conversation with flickering tails and cautious movements forward and back.


Those deer did what I could not do. Stirring up holy curiosity and wonder, they pulled us together and brought us to our knees. Divisions eradicated, we found ourselves stunned into a unity of awe. 


//


And so I pray for moments of curiosity and wonder to descend on our deeply divided world. That we would stop our fruitless chiding and bickering and fall to our knees. That we would learn to whisper questions and work in unison that the hope of the holy drawing near would be our unifying desire. 


Nothing else seems to be working.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Beauty Blooms in Framed Spaces


It is only in framed space that beauty blooms. – Anne Lindbergh

 

The haiku settles for doing, as I read it anyway, one very simple but crucial thing – it tries to put a frame around the moment. It simply frames a moment. Of course, as soon as you put a frame around anything, you set it off, you make it visible, you make it real. - Frederick Buechner

 

A rose bush dances 

in the middle window 

of my office’s far wall. 


Beyond the bush, our back 

door stands wide open. 

My daughter is sitting 

on the back step. 


Blond and fresh, 

she is bent forward 

examining something 

in her hands. 


Her limbs are long, 

her hair is long, 

and the sun spotlights 

her in the door’s dark frame. 


She is engrossed 

in the movements 

of an insect making 

its way between her two hands - 

climbing a finger, then falling 

back to her palm. 


In a flash of motion, she looks up, 

thrusts her hand forward 

and the insect flies away - 

a black blur across the wide 

sunlit space. 


Then, she too flies, 

off the stoop and out 

of the frame and I 

am left here, writing 

the picture of beauty 

I saw through the middle

window of my office's far wall.


This poem is shared with dVerse poet's pub

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?