Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fire



Fire is the most magical thing I know.

Careful, it is hot. But you can run your finger through it without being burned.

Evanescent, it cannot be weighed or quantified except by where it has been and what it has used for fuel.

It gives blessed heat....

...yet burns and disfigures irreparably.

Even as it does so, fire is beauty embodied.

Deeply desired, fire is profoundly feared.

Did I say it is orange? And blue. Green. Red. Any color at all, depending...

What is it about a flame that makes us stare?

*

The Holy Spirit has been likened to fire.

Still we are no closer to knowing either one.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Recycled




OK
so
it is
a
little
skinny.
But
it has
good bones...
er...rocks
& wood.
Have you noticed
wood is good
both
dead and alive?



Sunday, November 29, 2009

A kind of Knowing



Forcing bulbs—a deception, I should think. Making a plant think (if plants can indeed think) summer is back.

But who can resist hovering over brillant red red red at the far end of the produce department? Uh-huh, they are in the basket and home. Let's call forcing a small luxury.

Forcing. Nothing more than a little manipulation, perhaps.

What is it in a plant that knows the way the world turns, its face always following the sun? Not exactly sentience. Definitely alive. But not smart.

I put them in a bright indirect light—south facing sun. The winter sun is low enough to fill the room. Still, I've never seen a tulip open that wide, wide, wider, as if by doing so there could be enough light in November for a tulip to survive. The petals dropped after two days in exhaustion.

We are currently on the wrong side of the solar sytem for tulips. They knew.

No wonder you cannot force a bulb two years in a row.

.    

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Birthdays



Happy Birthday--it's the most universally known song in the world.

When we arrived in Kenyna two years ago, finally lying in bed after an exhausting couple of days of flying, wafting through the open window came Happy Birthday being sung in three part harmony. Indeed this Kenya was a strange place--everything from mosquitos that can kill you to roadside stops by the military. But my welcome was Happy Birthday. Universal thankfulness for the miracle of being alive.

This past week was the birthday of Augustine. Augustine thought great thoughts that we hand to each other without ever knowing or really caring where that particular wisdom came from.

"Love is the beauty of the soul."

Today I'd like to stand on the shoulders of Augustine and sing Happy Birthday and give you another little gift from him:

"God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist."

Think on that for a lifetime or two.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Religion and Politics





     
I've heard it said that if you mix religion and politics—
     
you get politics.
     
True? Why is that?
~
     

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stillnesss. Glory.



Not just amazement at the everyday eye of a poppy, or the flash of glass-green as a wave breaks; not merely saluting blue—the infinite cover over us—but the power of beauty to arrest even the most important activity.  Like no other, beauty forces us to stop.
          
A lovely woman.
     
Water falling.
       
A perfect baby.
       
There is stillness and inevitable staring.
        
    

          
A blind woman’s hand feels the words, and then pauses...
              
Oh, the perfect irony that the blind can see beauty
      
or that stillness can shout the glory of creation.
    
What kind of God creates a curiosity like beauty—ineffable, untouchable, unaffected by us and yet, at times, made by us and then destroyed by us?
         
Can beauty be so fragile as to be destroyed? Or does it merely slip from view?

Try to imagine a world without it. Ahh. Beauty: our greatest comfort.
       

.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Love Affair

Who can tell if this photo is sunrise or sunset? Did God cause the contrails to form so they would exactly follow the power lines? Does it matter? How do we know anything without mulling it over between us?



G K  Chesterton once said, "Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair."
       
That one can actually be emotionally in love with God is noteworthy. Exciting...
     
but perhaps prone to being tempermental. Rather flighty. Downright fleeting on occassion.
     
Perhaps what Chesterton is suggesting is the need for a change of our attitudes, our motives—something more personal. The most personal it can be—a love affair.
     
           

     
But doesn't it seems a bit presumptive to jump straight to love affair? That kind of closeness is the fruit of time spent together, the culmination of sacrifical acts of love.
     
Time and sacrifice happen with or without such emotion as is in a love affair.
     
So is it necessary or even good that one seek to make religion personal? Or will that religion, in an of itself, become personally meaningful in the doing?
     
I had a professor once say that the surest way for a poet to fail is to set out to write a love poem. He said, write about relationship, the acts, the images, and leave it to those who read your words say, "Ahh, it is a love poem!"
       


.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Sunrise



Fog.
It is cursed for hiding things.
Blessed for taking off the edges.
And beauty stands guard over it all.
.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Apple of Your Eye



Just a little thought today.
Apple of your eye--literally in Hebrew means: Little Man of the Eye.

 Easy to remember believers are the apple of God's eye. Our little man reflections in the great eye of God. Uncompromised attention, loyalty and protection.
    
"He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye" (Deuteronomy 32:10 RSV)

No requirements. Love.

Anyone that close to us will, by default, also be reflected in our eyes--a rather passive exchange, wouldn't you say?

"My son, keep my Words and treasure up my Commandments with you; keep my Commandments and live, keep my Teachings as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart." (Proverbs 7:1-3 RSV)

God's reflection in our eyes looks like the law?

.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Must




“In holy ways there is never so much must.” – Thomas Merton
   
Holy ways are a mystery.

But must, I know about must. Ohh the Obligation. Demand. Compulsion. Ought to. Should do. HAVE to. FINE!

I must do the ironing. Surely, Thomas, there is some value in forcing the will to iron out the waves and wrinkles, in making all things smooth, while venting about the trial on the phone to a friend.

Perhaps the holy part of which Merton speaks is thankfulness. The one ingredient that turns “must” into love. A thankful heart yearns to please. I worry about faking this. Stuffing all the frothier emotion.

I also find it interesting that the Lord’s Prayer, our template for prayer, does not contain a thank you.

The posture of that prayer is a submitted and rather emotionless reflection: thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

Take away emotion from the word must and you have indifferent integrity. Can that be holiness?

.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Numbers




Jack Gordon calls it “free” because that’s how old he is. More than two but less than four. Numbers have always been something of an anathema to me, if only because they are so non-visual—five what? Seventeen what? And once I know what, I am so much more interested in that. 58 sparrows in a bush (but you can only see 14). How many are invisible? All the numbers are invisible—but a bush full of birds…




And then there are those numbers that are extraordinary, yet troublesome. Take that number 3. In my world this is an eternal symbol of God, the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 3 in 1. See what I mean?
            
Number 3 somehow leaves number 2 out altogether, and hooks up with 1, not making four, but rather just alienating number 2. The way kids do when the play date is a threesome. Someone perpetually wailing because they are left out. And then, to make things even more difficult, those who are hooked up together actually become 2 and the first number 2 becomes 1. One all alone. All alone.
     
CS Lewis in his book Miracles, describes being friends with two other writers. He liked one of the gentlemen better than the other and the one troublesome friend was perpetually hogging the conversation and time with the gentleman he preferred. In these situations it is hard not to wish the troublesome person away. And if that person happens to, say, die—it might at first seem in a small way like a boon.
     
And so it happened, but to Lewis’s dismay, he found the one he wished away brought out things in his other friend that he could not. That now, there would be no possible way to bring out these things because the essential ingredient was missing. Great loss. A loss greater than 1.
     
Think how sideways Golgotha would have been had either of the two hanging beside Jesus gone missing.
     
Essential then is each 1. In fact, vital we are, each to another. Shall we say, one needs one another.
     
Mostly I like ones. They come with names, not numbers. And they make faces at me on the bus. I love those two ones below. They are trying not to do three with me, their Auntie. Too late. We share some genes. Wait till I give you the low down on what love does to numbers...


~

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Unknown





There are two types of knowing.

First, things I know that I don’t know: how to say plum blossom in Chinese or how to make notes drop like pearls from the piano, or why my mama died of ovarian cancer.

These are more like limitations. Ignorance acknowledged.

Then there are the things that I don’t know that I don’t know. Unknown unknowns. Not even possibilities. A whole sky of darkness surrounding something just as tenebrous.
     
Searching all night for an unknown absence is not only futile, but why would I be out looking in the first place?

As a naïve art student, an art professor told me to mix red and green paint, I had not ever in my life considered the possibility of grey. GREY! I had not been looking for grey. Yet there is was. Pure neutrality between the bright stars. Knowledge. Oh had I only known! Painting shadows will never be the same.

The unknown unknowns—black ice hiding on the road. Innocently taking your foot off the gas, who knew anything else would happen, other than slowing down. The desperate and horrible wreckage of what no one had reason to consider…

And yet there are other unknown unknowns. Goodness that arrives unannounced—sudden enlightenments that retain so much mystery they can only be called miracles.

.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Molecules Bump


         
My husband tells me how molecules bump together. That rock I toss in the lake shoves out a ripple that doesn’t stop when it reaches land. Bump against nudge, it continues through the densest bedrock.

Around the whole world it goes, eventually arriving back smaller but persistent like memory.
     
I’m thinking about words and the rhyme “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
      
The impact hits me every time I read it. How can something so true be such a lie?

Of course, no one tries to be an irascible fool, blurting out blatant untruths. No, it’s the double entrendre. That other meaning you forgot to think about. That sarcastic edge you didn’t realize was hiding under the period.
     
Think more, talk less. They say body language speaks the loudest of all. Ah yes, who can forget that first kiss! But so little of our lives take place in person.
       
.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Bending Water



Water bends over the edge toward the next thing in its path, the way my man gets on a plane and flies to Boise. Absence: a kind of free fall.
     
No longer able to hold tight, to touch lips, time and space fill the days and nights. An interjection of sky between us takes the watery way our lives flow together and turns everything white.
     
He tells me white water is the most dangerous kind. A body can no longer float in turbid water, the base of a waterfall being the easiest place to drown. He says you have to crawl along the bottom out to where it clears.
     
Bubbles gradually rise toward Wednesday, when he returns.

.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Impossible Nothing



Jesus had just been asked by the disciples why they couldn't cast out a demon.

He tells them ..."because of your little faith...if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move and nothing will be impossible for you."

Nothing will be impossible for you.

I've always imagined that to mean I actually could move mountains, that it is in the realm of possibilities for a believer.

But. What if Jesus meant that if anyone has true but small faith it will soon be impossible for them to DO nothing—

that having even small faith means it will be impossible for me to see need and DO NOTHING.

Have you felt that way? Someone else has called it being ruined. Something breaks inside and you can no longer stand on the sidelines. Faith breaks the heart and NOTHING never looks the same again.

No more giving up. No more doing nothing.
.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cheeto Fingers



Someone gives you some Cheetos. Soon that salty orange reside covers your hand. When my children were small someone prophesied over me saying that one of my children will be a preacher. I licked that salty residue off my fingers for years, now and then sticking my fingers back in my bag of memories and testing the truth of what was given me.

My sons are now grown, they are engineers. All three of them. My daughter married a children's pastor--who I have assumed to be the revelation of the words given me, all the more because I do consider him a son.

Until today. It's not that my daughters husband isn't a preacher or that I haven't heard my oldest son speak in church before now. Today was a moment of realizing I do not have to squeeze my world to make prophsey fit. If it is of God, it will be literally true.

So pop another Cheeto in your mouth and lick all the orange off your fingers. That was my oldest son Daniel preaching today.

.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Looking At the Sun




How do you explain sudden healing? It was a mere sermon illustration, a picture of Michelangelo's sculpture of David in all his nakedness.

Without warning a long held hurt—something about how the church views art and how the church treats artists—falls away. Not just OK, no more worries. A ragged wound miraculously smooth, as if it had been a stone turned in the tides for a lifetime. No rough corner or uneven edge, something I now want to hold in my hand and feel again and again. A marvel so rare.

This is not about forgiveness, it is about unexpected love, the extra moment of eye contact that brings you to your knees. Looking at the sun and not going blind.

.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Time Change




Time is change, nothing else.

Time is the endless possibility of change

and the crushing inability to remain the same.


Licking that Popsicle changes

a summer day. Changing the mind

is less visible, but more

monumental, shall we say

eternal? Lasting change,

what is that? God

does not change



because God is outside of time.

When belief and time vanish

will the fixed end of change

be I AM? I AM, is that

statement a Name

or a warning

that choice and change

are only temporary

miracles?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Choices




Beige gloves, and turquoise scrubs, she carries a generic spray bottle marked with a Sharpie: rubbing alcohol. The syringe contains an inch and a half of gem tone blue-green liquid. We are told there is a vein on the inside of the back leg she can sometimes find without shaving. No more than five pounds, the cat is easily pushed on her side.

A Persian cat’s fur is fine—so fine that it easily mats, the tangles cinching the skin tighter and tighter as it grows. In desperation, a few months ago we had her shaved, keeping the fur long around her face and feet and tail—the look of a lion.

The vet sprays a stream of rubbing alcohol down the inside of her leg. The cream point fluff that remains on her leg is immediately transparent, the purplely vein clearly visible. A rusty red towel had been given us to lay her on while we wait. Notably used, faded. Down on his haunches, my husband’s trying to get Puddin’ to look at him; he makes a little sound in the back of his throat that she used to answer. Once again standing over her, he bends closer and gathers her into his hands. He puts his face down into the mane. Inhales deeply. Two, three times.

Sorrow can be looked straight in the face only for small moments. He turns steps over by the sink. Looks at the paper towel holder, the way he would read and re-read a cereal box in the morning. Eager for a distraction he puzzles over a white piece of plastic on top of the apparatus, then reaches up and touches it. The whole front of the machine flops open, revealing the twisted and complex inner-workings of something as simple as drying your hands.

We laugh.

Then the door opens. The vet is kind, kindness looking like slow movements and the sort of smile where lips cover the teeth with the downward turn of resignation that will wait or continue— whatever we need. She says it’s an anesthetic, just a little first to take the anxiety and then an overdose. Sleep. Then sleep redefined.

Within a second or two Puddin’ tips her head sideways as if she suddenly needs to lay it down.




No one really knows when life stops,

how death can happen with eyes open. We both try to pet them closed.

That I had scissors in the purse I call My Abyss, was surprising and not. We clip fluff from the top of her head and off the end of her tail. A beginning and end I’ve left it on the dresser wrapped in a tissue. What do you do with the remnants, the thirty seven pictures I took three hours ago. Tomorrow. Two years from now.

Mercy and killing, I’m not sure how to put those words in the same sentence without trembling. One person insists it’s severe grace. Another, mere convenience.


`

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Soweto Slum

Soweto Slum in Nairobi Kenya.

Some noted differences: American poverty involves more stuff, albeit perhaps, broken, useless, cheap trappings. Litter of old sofas, hulks of defunct cars, not so much garbage, no open sewers. Soweto is not cluttered with the discarded. Garbage and sewage excepting.




Three closets the size of home. We poke our paleness inside--an acceptable variety of voyeurism to Kenyans, even the poorest Kenyans value relationship. We are asked to sit in a windowless room the size of a closet. I hope that is what I am doing, the relationship thing. How is this different from staring?

The boys below haven't noticed us. Sliding down the steep incline on their butts employs certain survival instincts that they will abandon to chase after us calling , HOW ARE YOU HOW ARE YOU HOW ARE YOU HOW ARE YOU?, tortuous choruses like bird-chatter. The question follows us like shadow.
A little market.



Round and red and familiar as the flies that cover everything: hunger. Our gifts were bread and Bibles...


...for the ubiquitous thirst.




Wash the laundry, cleanse the soul. Very clean clothes...




dry in the stench. Certain people collect buckets of raw sewage from each family as a kind of employment. Dump it in this river. Clean redefined.



Faith sits down for the day. Thumb and first finger press on the tear ducts.

Universally prayed by the women (AIDs widows): job, work, employment. The children that have followed us stand at the doorway watching, waiting for us to stand before the throng again begins the chant, the unanswerable pester, HOWAREYOUHOWAREYOUHOWAREYOU?



Play happens anyway.




See that sign--MERCY OF GOD COMPANY--stuck in a brook of raw sewage?
Mercy me.



Please come in...




...to where giving everything will only be a drop in the sea.
Never enough to do anything but hope on this day bread and a Bible are a good thing.

.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Flying




We take flying for granted. A magical act suspended in the steely strength of physics. Oh, that it could be without steel and combustion. Except then it would depend on me, wouldn't it? Think of the exhaustion of those poor birds migrating from North to South America. Or London and Ireland. With my sister and neices and other school mates and parents. Let me tell you--it's wonderful in a million ways you wouldn't expect. Please let it be that way for the birds as well (not pure instinct).

I have a bad habit of immitating the accent and speech of those around me. I sit wuith Kathy from MinnesOHta and in no time I am talking MinnesOHtan. Still haven't lost the yeahyeahyeah (said quietly as both agreement and as listening sounds) or calling water WAH TAH from the Kenya trip. Forgive me ahead of time for whatever embarassing twang I bring back from the Isles.

More on Kenya when I return two weeks hence.
.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hospital

Hard to say exactly what a trip to Africa does to the heart. A blade of understanding, thin and keen, slips into the chest. The autogenic movement of the cardiac organ is all the momentum it takes to sever the wide wilderness of all I think I know. A panic of blood separates itself from the usual routes, all but invisible to you...


.

A hospital. Those who should not wait, tarry too long in coming. My camera intrudes like a knife. Makes permanent both hope and despair.
.
.
Doctors and nurses smile and work hard, doing what they can with nothing and with God.
.
.

Meals, laundry, these are the patient’s family’s responsibility. There are two nurses where there should be twenty. But there is palpable optimism. Is it those ever straight backs that make the difference? Backbone.
.
.

Essentials: respect. Everyone is given respect. Prayer. Everyone wants prayer—even the Muslim man. I thought to mention only God by name in my prayer, I knowingly left the word Jesus out of it (even though Muslims call Jesus a prophet). I dodged around in my brain amidst the prayer trying to catch wind of the Holy Spirit, trying to be conscious of the authority given me, In Jesus name… I punctuate the prayer. It couldn’t be helped or stopped. Lord, what does this mean? To him? To me?
.
.

We are not expected to wring our hands when we see want.
.
.
Here they do what they can, dutiful stewards, diligent servants, in an imperfect world.
.
.
They trust the Spirit for the lack. Give a cup of cool water...
.
.
to the poorest of poor.
.
.
Tis the only reason I don’t bleed to death from being there.
.



Not perfect grace, grace perfected.
~