love letters from fall

I have a collection of prose / poetry that I call “Love Letters to Somebody” (to help explain the post’s title today). These are a couple of pieces inspired by our recent, magnificent change of seasons. The pictures for the first two poems aren’t the trees of inspiration, but just imagine the brightest yellow tree standing out amidst the greens and browns, boldly being so bright and yellow.

View out my window from my favorite sitting place in the house.

Leaves
10/28/18

Because sometimes, when it seemed the leaves would skip their
glorious colors this year,
then you wake up
and everything is now yellows and oranges and reds,
and then the wind
blows through

raining
yellow
leaves
all
around

and you feel again
God is still speaking

 

Burning Bush
11/3/18

The tree
so
goldenrod yellow
if it were in the Garden of Eden,
I too would eat of it, to know
such beauty and knowledge

if it were Moses’ burning bush,
take my shoes off
leap into ecstasy into it
to burn too
Such magnificence
proclaims
the love of God

 

Royalty
11/11/18

Naked and unashamed, she stands
with royal carpet surrounding her majestic throne
unworried that it will all be swept away tomorrow

using our voices

I don’t know about you, but this has felt like a rough week.

Honestly, the last two years have been disheartening (to put it mildly) and soul-crushing (if my feelings speak for themselves), in a way I wouldn’t have guessed political situations could make me feel. There is so much hate, distrust, and lying in our national space that it feels like evil will take us over. The news still tends to infuriate me, but recently, I’ve found myself slipping more often into feelings of despair.

I went on a short, silent retreat this week. It was a wonderful chance to read, write, meditate, and take long walks in the forest. I know I am lucky I get to do such things. My fears about myself still crept up on me (does my voice matter? What meaning will I make of my life? Who do I think I am, anyway, trying to claim a space with my words?). But I moved forward, pushing back the fears, being present, and putting down words anyway.

Then we left the camp and had the news on the radio as we drove home. Real life hit me like a ton of bricks. A president trying to incite fear about Middle Eastern terrorists hiding among people who are trying to take refuge from an unsafe environment in Central America. Tax cuts promised that can’t be passed before election day, but truth doesn’t matter anyway so say what you will. And then, all week long, bombs that don’t detonate arriving to prominent liberals around the country. I don’t need to give you details – you already know them.

What kind of world are we living in?

What can I do?

What can we do?

While on retreat, I brought my good friend Thomas Merton along with me in book form. Reading him inspires and challenges me. Merton was a Catholic monk and prolific writer who died in 1968. Monks take vows of poverty, submission, obedience. But Merton was also compelled to write – and write boldly. He didn’t hide his head in the sand but was acutely aware of what was happening in the world. He called out the violences and injustices of his day (think Cold War and nuclear threats, and the divisiveness both sides were partaking in). Even when the Catholic Church censored him, even when he scandalized people. And he did it all from a deeply spiritual place.

I know I’m no Thomas Merton, but if I could follow just a tiny bit in his footsteps, I would aspire to do that. To speak the truth that needs to be told. To love deeply. To live fully one’s authentic life that they are called to.

What are you called to do?

What voice were you given to speak to the world?

Our voices matter. Trust me, a lot of the time I have trouble believing this. I took my small step today and early voted. I felt grateful to still belong in a democratic republic, with a still-functional news media, and to safely cast my vote without fear of reprisal.

Voting is one way to matter – and an important one. But there are so many ways to raise our voices in support of love and all that is good in the world. It is hard to keep that faith, but if we do it together, maybe somebody will hear it, and believe that this isn’t how it has to be.

We must not stay silent. If we are privileged enough to be comfortable staying silent (i.e. if you believe yourself to be unaffected by all that is happening), but if you are also a person of faith, then let your faith be the motivator to speak. To stay silent and do nothing is to be complicit. Stand up for the vulnerable and the oppressed. Stand up for morals and values. Believe in the power of love over the darkness of hate and terror. Pray. Extend compassion to your neighbor: whether that is your family member or your fellow global citizen.

It’s easy to lose sight. Just writing this post, I am mocked by the inner voices: who cares about what you say? No one will read this! You’re not saying anything new! You’re not good enough! Do you really think you can make a difference at all?

But maybe you’ve been tormented by those voices too. Maybe sometimes, the anger and despair presses in on all sides. Maybe you feel too small and insignificant to have an impact. Maybe you’re so frustrated by the whole thing that you’ve checked out. Please come back. We need your voice, too.

Maybe if I can be brave enough to put the imperfect and the unoriginal and the vulnerable out there, you will know it’s okay to do it too. Maybe we will start to push back the darkness.

It’s hard work. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Find the beauty in the world. Remember that the sun rises every morning – regardless if we see it or not. Let yourself be nurtured by relationships. Nurture others. Find something that makes you laugh. Find something that gives you hope.

However it is that your life speaks, I hope we can believe that if we each do our part to speak the truth in our own sphere, it matters.

God, I hope it matters. Let it matter. But we will only find out by trying.

“Credulous” is worth the read

Andrea Lingle – mother, writer, lay theologian – has written the book I hoped to write. (Also that I still hope to write). It is a memoir of faith, filled  with personal stories as well as her own theological ponderings that meander through quantum physics as easily as they do the Bible. She believes in expansive, abundant grace. She has managed to hang on to Christianity in a deep way even through her grief, challenges with the church, and faith deconstruction. My favorite parts of the book were her honest and raw descriptions of being human and a mom, particularly around the tensions between our dreams and ambitions versus how our lives end up looking — but how grace and peace are found even in that. I also enjoyed her creative renditions of gospel stories with Jesus interacting with his disciples. Those well-known stories suddenly leapt off the page for me as she imaginatively described the very human interactions among Jesus, Peter, the people begging him for healing. I was so inspired, actually, that I wrote a separate post about it here.
The book is organized along the lines of a church bulletin, as she dives into a different life or theology area with each section of a church bulletin (anthem, children’s moment, sermon, etc). Even though I sometimes found myself annoyed at the theological meanderings and the occasional far-fetched attempts to tie her thoughts in to the chapter she was supposed to be writing about (perhaps that tendency hits too close to home!), I also couldn’t stop reading the book. It was relatable because it was not perfect. Because of that, I also secretly want to be friends with her and “do life” together. I recommend checking it out yourself – you won’t be disappointed you did!

Find it on Amazon here
Learn about Andrea on her website

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Good Friday Longings

 

(written early 2015)

On Good Friday of 2014, my mom and I are vacationing during my spring break in a tourist town of northern Michigan, a town where spring doesn’t arrive until May or June, thus planting us in the middle of winter during our April visit. We spend Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, in a place that isn’t my home, with churches and people I will never see again. But even though I’m losing my religion, something in me is still drawn to celebrating Easter time. So I Google search “Holy Week Anglican” and “Holy Week Episcopal,” trying to find a church that worships in a style with enough “smells and bells” to bring a touch of holy and sacred back to this holiday that is so rapidly losing its meaning for me.

So it is on Good Friday, sitting in a tiny one-room schoolhouse style church, on a hard white pew, listening to half a dozen laypeople stand up and read passages from their Holy Bibles, that I have this stark thought: “I’m not a Christian anymore…”

The words I hear that day from the other worshippers in the one-room church are dry, lifeless, containing no meaning for me. I know I should feel sad and mournful on this sacred holiday. Instead, I am devoid of emotion, thinking about how I wish I could be feeling something. Is it because this is a story I’ve heard too many times and it no longer has any impact on me? In a religion that barely touches me anymore, my hope is maybe this somber Good Friday service will put a spark in me and enliven my dry bones. But it doesn’t. Maybe the room is too light, the stubborn northern Michigan sun refusing to set on this April day to create the mood of darkness I long to feel. Maybe the selected hymns are too unfamiliar, too thin when sung by only 14 people, too shallow when accompanied by an electric piano instead of a resonant organ. Maybe my soul no longer knows how to take this seriously.

I know the real reason I am giving up my Friday evening on vacation with my mom and sitting anonymously in a church with 13 strangers who I will never see again. It is that I long for a magical moment I had almost exactly three years ago. I was living in Boston at the time, traipsing around flower-child style with my Chaco sandals and art supplies, exploring the distinguished city by foot and by the train system known as the T. Back then I knew little about Holy Week, since evangelicals in my tradition don’t celebrate such high holidays that remind us of the Catholicism we broke apart from in the 1600s. But the dignified Trinity Episcopal Church was on the route I regularly walked, and I saw a sign outside it advertising a week’s worth of “Holy Week” services around Easter. I shyly crept in at the beginning of the week, and after that first day, decided to organize the rest of my week around the other services. The church was expansive – such a contrast to this one-room schoolhouse – with dark wooden pews and tall stained glass windows. It had an organ that pounded out songs, making the body hum. It afforded a pleasant sense of anonymity, as the church welcomed tourists every day, and one could enter, pray, or sit in silence without being bothered by anyone else.

Trinity offered three hours of prayer service on Good Friday, and while I didn’t really want to commit to all 3 hours in a row, I greedily sought an emotional experience. I entered a little late and sat somewhere near the back of the room: easy in, easy out. The format of the service repeated a cycle – a Scripture reading, a short homily, a hymn, and silence – seven times. I remember very little about the service except a gradually darkening room, and approximately one line of a poem that still strikes me straight through my heart. My heart drops into my stomach; I ache at the very sight of the words.

And on the cross, he held me, and I was in the nothingness, and he held me…

The other remnants of the poem only exist because I scribbled them in my journal that afternoon, trying to savor them, their meaning, knowing how profound they were and how quickly they were slipping away from me.

Oh Jesus, don’t let your hands be bound

Your body hung taut like an arrow on the cross / your heart pierced / your body entombed

I have to, my beloved

To fling you taut like an arrow into heaven / to bleed so you may drink / to resurrect all those from the dead

I have tried to Google the rest of the poem, but to no avail. The poem is gone forever, lost in the space of time, or the imagination of the listener that day.

All I am left with now is the feeling of that afternoon, the profound images those words create. The poem asks Jesus why these things had to happen, and Jesus responds with the most beautiful yet soul-crushing answers I ever heard. Why did you have to go down into the pit, Jesus? Why did your hands have to be pierced by nails? Your side stabbed so water and blood poured forth? And in the moment I heard those words, I was touched by the answers in a way I never had been in 22 years of hearing the Easter story, over and over again.

Good Friday of 2011. The story that had always remained in my head somehow sunk down into my heart. It seemed I suddenly felt a small measure of his pain; that I could, for one brief moment, understand just how shatteringly painful the crucifixion was, not just physically but spiritually. What if… Jesus died so God could understand what it is like to be separated from God. And through it all, the line of the poem echoed:

And on the cross, he held me, and I was in the nothingness, and he held me…

I am in the nothingness, and he holds me.

I am still in the nothingness, and I know not whether I am held. I am in the nothingness every Good Friday since then, my soul dried up once more, the story that permeated my heart for one flash of a moment again escaped to my head. I seek that religious experience on occasion, hoping to feel stirred once more, wondering what it will take to get me there. But I don’t know if I will get there, and I am slowly coming to terms with that. I have mostly accepted that I can simply reminisce of a time gone by, a time when I believed in my very soul, when Jesus was so real, when the stars aligned and I could feel. That moment is gone now, and I am back in nothingness, holding on to something – nothing – or maybe, somehow, being held.

ebbing and flowing

(from 1-27-16)
We are asked in class to introduce ourselves and share about our career path. I have been writing my way through my twenties and this writing helps me to orient myself to where I am and where I have been. The story I share comes with ease, though it is a deep reflection on what kind of person I was and am becoming. I speak about how I once based my identity on being a “do-gooder,” aware that many others in this room may consciously or unconsciously consider themselves that way. But when I share my truth, I am not asking others to do what I have done or think the way I do. I speak from my heart, about how my well-laid plans were cast aside when I had an interior crisis, how I focused so much on my inner work that year (so young, just 23), journaling and working something like a personal 12-step program – I say this and suddenly wonder how many people just started wondering what addiction I had, but no mind, this is my life and their curiosity is their issue. I become impassioned as I exult that it is inner change, the changing of the heart, that matters the most. I crescendo to how I love my clients and love the work I do and want to help other people change the depths of their life. I finish my little speech exuberantly, throwing my arms wide, The possibilities are open! and quiet back down, having said my piece, spoken my heart, said my truth. It feels good.

(from 2-1-16)
Little guilt tendrils crawl up my body as I sit in my client sessions, wishing they were over and I could go home and melt, exist, crawl into my lover’s arms, read a book, eat a salad, something… It’s only Monday, why so much exhaustion as I start out my week after a pleasant weekend? Is it the warmth of the therapy rooms, inducing sleepiness in mind and body? Is it four months to graduation, ready and itching to finish this up but not sure how ready I am to jump into something new, to sell my life to a full time job, to give myself up to a profession? Am I on the wrong track, in the wrong career? I have to believe no, that the joys I have at other times during this work outweigh this moment’s sense of tiredness and impatience. I have to believe no, because I have invested three years and staked my identity on this work. It could be that trying to balance all the things I am balancing at this moment would make anyone exhausted. My friends tell me this is the case, even as I look around at others who somehow manage to balance full time work, full time school, and family… but no need to compare to others. At this moment, I need a little nurturance for myself. Today is this kind of day. Next time might be another. My love and energy will be restored, and I have to keep my faith that my trajectory is going in the right direction, even if I sometimes feel shaky.

(from 2-2-16)
I notice that I slip behind in my writings and make up one, two, even three days when I’ve missed too many writing days in a row. I write things that feel like they will end up on the cutting room floor, but I allow myself the grace to do so. Too many days of this makes me feel a little discouraged, wondering when something good will be written again and when I might get my groove back. Maybe it’s just the mid-winter blues, even though Indy has hardly experienced a winter this year. Maybe it’s hibernation of the soul, quieting down to emerge in the sunlight later. Maybe it’s the things I don’t understand now but will later. Maybe I can just relax into the ebb and flow of life and life in today’s moment, embracing it for all it is.

ebb and flow

Christmas at the Abbey of Gethsemani, 12-22 & 12-23

I have begun a quest to write for 90 days in a row (and if I miss a day, make it up the next). It’s similar to the 12-Step “90 in 90 days” motto (90 meetings in 90 days). It’s been enjoyable and rewarding even just for myself, but sometimes I want to share what I’ve written. I hope you enjoy – or feel inspired to start your own 90 of whatevers in 90 days!!

12-22-15, Tuesday

Song of Simeon

 

It is 7:27 p.m. when I pull into the dark parking lot of the Abbey just in time for Compline, the last prayer service of the day. The back roads of Kentucky feel so familiar to me now, even in the dark, and the opening organ notes in the church even more so. Let us pray. I wish you could hear it because you sing it, not speak it. The monks’ choral stalls are darkened and the faithful visitors are washed in light so we can read our prayer books. The monks have all the words memorized. We sing psalms, I don’t know what, but the music lulls me. And my favorite prayer, which is sung as well. Oh, save us…save us while we are awake. Protect us while we are asleep, that we may keep our watch with Christ. And when we sleep, rest in his peace.

Eventually, silence, dark. We wait. You hear the sound of the rope that pulls the bell before you hear the bell. Ker-clunk. Ker-clunk. I know the rhythm, the pauses, the majestic grandeur of this bell. It makes my heart ache and my soul sing, though it is so seemingly simple. Sing, bell, sing! I sing with thee! RAP. The abbot raps his knuckles to signal the end of service and we shuffle forward for a holy water dashing on our heads. Now we may sleep in peace. I am ready for my retreat.

 

12-23-15, Wednesday

I walk outside in the middle of the night in the garden of Gethsemani after the first prayer service of the day, Vigils. The clouds make the sky brighter. I wrap my blanket around me as if it is a prayer shawl, a monk’s cowl. I notice I am not afraid of the dark garden like I usually am, skittish of dark spaces and ghosts of monks gone before. I wonder if I have been confronting my inner shadows and I am less afraid of the ones outside. Maybe. Then I notice the trees have lost their leaves and they don’t cast so many shadows anymore.

*****

I’ve decided to accept the truth about my ability to meditate these days. Today, I attempted for 20 minutes and my head kept jerking and startling me back awake. Why try so hard at something that isn’t working? I will walk slow circles around the garden; I will walk quickly on the hiking trails, I will read, I will write. I will forge the path of my own spirituality. Let your life speak. I ask God to speak to me in the ways I can hear God.