I needed a new taste of your cruciform love
as I lay awake feeling at home
but entertaining all those homeless thoughts of loss
which are always looking to move in.
I received a word from the poet, C. Day Lewis,
pondering the day his son left home.
Oh, he would be at dinner, but gone, nonetheless,
finding his way among friends. He said:
I have had worse partings, but none that so Gnaws my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly Saying what God alone could perfectly show – How self-hood begins with walking away, And love is proved in the letting go.
At every table I eat a bowl of letting go
and feel hungry as I find my way.
On your icon across the room you are loving,
vulnerable in your passion.
I have a lot to learn of the cross in the night
as others feel free to sleep away —
or so my piece of broken heart often tells me
as I resist learning love from you,
as I hear the voice of love in me.
Off a road we never travelled,
the empty lot for the trailhead parking
seemed eager for a visitor
on a mild day in March.
Bits of snow lay untouched on the path
and painted the forest floor in patches.
The sunshine felt as new as the trail
after months locked indoors.
The rocky way relied on blazes
and our old feet relied on memory
of many hikes over many years, those
with less expectation of falling.
There are wonders to be seen.
Inside and out there are vistas.
Now the tree growing out of a rock
seems like a personal statement.
Now the stone like the Stone Table
has a deep spiritual history.
Now the slab like a stage
is pondered from erotic to sublime.
Now the muddy flats speak of
foreign places and mysterious art,
while the destination creek flows
with thoughts for the future.
It is always striking how the way into
the unknown of a new forest seems long.
How far is it? Should we keep going?
How can we gauge the effort this takes?
Yet the way back through the now
familiar landscape, dotted with experience
like patches of snow, seems short, soon to
embolden an unknown route back home.
Just a bit of courage to try
a new path and the interior landscape
feels the breeze of a spring thaw
where it is frozen with fear and doubt.
Though the pilgrimage of Lent seems long
in a year so hard and fraught,
so many days it seems like a short way
back to the home You make for us.
And even when my courage seems so small
and the mud of spring annoying,
You move me to stay on the way of the heart:
that old unknown end, always a familiar new end
marking the trailhead of hope.
I suspect Valentine was a wizened elder, old and comfortable in his ways and position, when the authorities made their new law and thrust him into his new, secret obedience to Love.
He once handed off his cross to the younger ones. But it quickly came around the track to him again. He was no longer the future but the now — the eternal now he knew so well beckoned him Home.
And he brought that Home to his home. He brought that Now to now. He lived Eternally in the face of the powers who pretend to have the power of death.
I know my Valentine is a wizened elder, old and comfortable in her ways and position. Yet the authorities still make their laws and thrust the young into choices which question all their love.
What will You have us do with this baton we see, coming quickly to us across the melting glaciers in an age of lies when the evil go free and the machines bind the hearts and minds of the children?
We must bring our Home to our home
and bring our Now to now, and love Eternally in the face of the powers — prove they do not have the power of death over those who listen to the Spirit’s voice and follow.
There’s Wendell Berry writing,
quill plucked from a wild turkey with thanks,
sitting in his Kentucky cabin
voting absentee for Amy McGrath.
“When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Take a deep breath
Because among us normals,
ballpoint crushed into the back seat rug,
sitting on 95 smelling fumes,
we’re sipping sodas with plastic straws.
When despair grows in us
and we wake in the night to gunshot pops
in fear of what our lives and our children’s lives may be,
we go and lie down where the AC
hums with a restful buzz in the night air, while the great sirens blare
to disturb to pieces the silence
that might settle on the neighborhood
of grief. They come into the presence of street trees
feeling above the light pollution
for a twinkling star. For a time
we listen for them to leave our block, and we sleep.
Take a deep breath.
Yes take a deep breath.
Because over all the world
prophets fill up reams of webpages;
they ponder and sip imported wine,
pen warnings under pics of burned pines.
The despair grows in the world
when we see another shot of a seal
chewing on a plastic bottle on a littered beach
while powers dash to sign the first lease
on a wild Alaskan landscape, elk breath groaning into cold air,
snorting clouds up like morning prayers,
their bodies sensing the immanence
of grief. And we too buy a window with better seal,
hoping a child doesn’t breathe the air,
or hear the dire prayers. For a time
we watch them sleep, then order a tree. We’ll plant it.
Take a deep breath
a breath of the world’s breath,
and dream of God’s future in that tree.
Lend me a hand, Francis,
and pull me onto the road
leading to the sun, sunrise and sunset,
ending up who-knows-where in trust.
Take my hand, Jesus,
and pull me out of the sea
ebbing into the past, sunset to sunrise,
leaving behind who-knows-what to trust.
The road is fearfully new.
My doing had a lot of being in it.
Now my being must discover what to do.
The tide of yesterday inevitably pulls out.
Take my hand, Francis,
and walk with me on the way –
you who stopped wondering where you were going,
and help me listen to the birds sing.
Lend me your hand, Jesus,
and keep me from sinking –
you who became small and suffered so in love,
please make my way full of your heart song.
The road is wonderfully new.
I feel guilty for sleeping eight hours last night.
I’m a kitten on grass in a strange backyard.
The tide of tomorrow is pulling down my castle
as the sun dawns on another Francis Day.
When I call you “Mother,” Lord,
I don’t often think of my mother.
She seems to have kept her spirit locked away.
At least she never revealed it to me:
Rebellious, willful, resigned to being bad,
Bravely sailing on her own path with her sailor.
I should take another look
And find you in her nature and love.
I seem to have missed you as I turned away
And left her wondering where my faith took me:
Rebellious, willful, resigned to go new ways,
Bravely sailing on my own path with my Sailor.
But You were in my own backyard
As well as in the endless dawn —
In her laughter, optimism and perpetual pluck,
In her courage and friendships and hospitality,
In her wonder, curiosity and righteous fury:
Making a cake, talking to the dog,
Loving a game, having a chat,
Keeping the peace, playing a prank.
You found me on my mother’s path
And I met you in my mother’s fashion —
In all the playful ways you have turned to me,
In the way I see you finding me funny:
Rebellious, willful, we resist the ways of the world,
Bravely sailing on everyone’s path to fullness.
I don’t know Mom’s destination.
But I have seen your destination in her,
And I give thanks.
We’ve been packing up our house for quite a while. Now we are at the last moment before the move this week. So that was disorienting enough!
Then Covid-19 stole the best together-times of the year: the sunrise meeting for Resurrection Sunday and the parties afterward. Gwen and I usually have a party. I was sad enough about moving and missing things until family and friends started telling us how much they were missing things with me! So on the most joyous day of the year, I was sad, too.
Angie sent over a video that made me cry for joy and tear up for sadness because a flash mob was praising God in the mall but we can’t do that together right now.
So that’s how it is this year. The lockdown finally got to me on Easter. But it feels kind of fresh, too. On Good Friday, I wrote the poem that follows. I thought I’d put it out there again, now that I know even better how we all have a bittersweet taste in our mouths: sweet from Easter candy and bitter from Easter coronavirus. Things may never be the same for us this year, because of joy or because of sadness, but Jesus will be our joy and ever with us in our sadness.
On Friday, my thoughts turned to the terror and ecstasy of birth. I’ve got a feeling we are all being cleansed in a way by this strange, communal experience of “social distancing” and the threat of catching the virus. I know I feel like something new is being born. It made me think of another notable birth I experienced.
My wife was as big as a barn.
Her water broke with a flood
and the twins rode the river.
The birthing room was a bedlam:
our household peeking in,
a class walking through gaping.
Crazy, wondrous — jolt after jolt.
The first twin came out blue,
The next surfed out, tubing it.
Grief — surrounded on the table.
Joy — held by a slimy ankle.
I was suspended between.
The blue baby pinked up enough,
the flying one tucked up next.
And the birth-threatened love lived.
All was well again.
Awake at 3, the night bird sang;
I’m awake to listen.
And then the siren sounded.
The song of love met the tragic:
a tulip pushes up,
a loved one moves through the veil.
Our grief is budding out this year
like an unknown blossom
in a dystopic garden.
Our birthing room is a bedlam:
Peeking, pushing, pinking.
We are suspended between.
I had a new moleskin in which to write poetry. I have lost it in the chaos of my house as we get ready to move. The reality inspired my psalm today.
I had turned a poetic page
to pencil in a new moleskin: …..one free of lines, …..one more expansive and new, …..one now completely out of view.
I wander my boxed-up world
unpacking what now can’t transport: …..a book I never read, …..a folder rarely needed, …..a move now fully impeded.
Yet here we sit in disheveled mess –
quarantine, lockdown, stay-at-home test.
And you resolutely show your face:
the smallest touch,
the sweetest look,
the ease of much,
the weird Facebook.
In all the church
now all online
the birds on perch
sing all the time.
And there is joy in our messy place.
My moleskin will rise in time,
A witness to what can’t be seen — …..an order like the dawn, …..one more expansive and new, …..one now completely out of view —
by me, not You.
We’re weeks away from things that may not happen till who knows when –. …..the coronavirus contributions to life make former anxieties seem odd.
Somehow, it seems like it is a new world and all we can do is change – …..like Covid-19 is a means to reorient us like Peter meeting Sapphira:
the old order of greed and lies generating control and oppression …..meets the new order of “You all manifestly don’t know what you’re talking about.”
So it seems like a good time to change, …..since that horse has left the barn.
Chase it down and ride it.
Seeing a disease as a blessing may not be welcomed without a fight – …..even among you friends who are kindly used to me, and still love me.
But somehow we were consigned to a locked room for self examination, …..and I can’t bear the thought of watching the entire Netflix catalogue.
Instead, I am face to face with the traits with which I was bored anyway, …..And your voice seems clear, “You manifestly don’t need to be as you were before.”
So it seems like a good time to change …..in ways that did not seem likely.
It’s a post-Covid world.
Let there be peace on earth. …..May the disease teach us all the lessons people are learning, like me.
But let it begin with me.
It is always risky to look at the past and be inspired to leave it …..because the past contains all those reasons you never change.
And it is risky to write a psalm that implies one is changing by the end of it, …..since it could easily idealize a process that is more pea patch than lab.
Yet it seems like a good time to change …..in ways that defy assessment –
with you on a wild ride. …..May the disease teach me all the lessons people like me are learning
like your Spirit is moving.