An Angel Picking Trash

He was picking through the trash bin

A man of tatters and stains

All foolishness and nerves

I spoke and offered him warm bread

He was still half down into the bin

Then straightening up and turning towards me.

There aren’t adequate words to speak of how his eyes were

Not unlike two candle flames

Shining out

And he smiled and took the bread

I hurried inside; it was raining

It was always raining in southern Chile

But I glanced back through the window

Where I’d seen him while taking the bread out of the hot oven

And he was gone. Nowhere on the long hill which was all stretched out before me.

I

Visiting Books

Visiting Books

I sank to the floor in front of the claw-footed bookcase. Two out of the three doors are missing their glass, victims of dining room chairs thrust backwards. Now dust gathers on the shelves at the feet of my oldest books. I’d come to visit them.

There is inevitable mystery in this, I thought, selecting an old French Bible, carefully withdrawing it from its neighbors. It is unlike any other book I have. The leather is thick, and if left out, it swells outward. It needs neighbors to preserve its dignity. I gently touched the cover; who held it before me? What was their life like? What was the weather like the day it was made, the day it traveled from printer to shop; what did it pass by en route?

I took out another and another. I read inscriptions and examined doodles. “To my dear wife…”, “To my daughter…”

“Who were you?” I whisper, the fragile pages making a dry sound between my fingers. “Why do my own hands hold your book now? How did this come to be?”

There are treasures sometimes; scrawled sentiments in the margins, newspaper clippings, small strips of paper with notes. It gives me an archeological thrill to leave the things where they may have been placed, some in the early 1800’s, without being moved by another. There’s water damage on the pages; what happened? A leaking roof? A spilled cup of tea? Some smell of damp, some of wood fire. Of course I smell them. This is a thorough visit.

They’ll outlive me I think; that is the thing with precious antiques, that the older they grow, the more valuable and rare and dear they become. I’ll replace the glass, of course, to protect them. They’ll only be in my keeping for my life, but I’ll do what I can so another set of hands can visit them, another nose to read the bouquet of story they hold, another mouth to smile at the doodles.

An Ode to Delightful Complexity

So, in a world where square pegs are being rammed fruitlessly at round holes and we must suffer the scraping pull of being painted with broad strokes, it is worthy I think to remember complexity, particularly human complexity, which defies neat categorization and mass denigration.

I give you my father. Raised on a farm in North Dakota, he grew up with a love for shooting good guns, driving fast cars, and he wore sneakers with the stars and stripes on them. He worked in lumberyards first in North Dakota, and then, when I was a tot, in Montana.

He is quiet about his faith, but it is deep. He eschews social media and technology as a whole as much as he can. He loves the smell of wood, his labrador dogs, watching the wildlife on the 80-some acres in the mountains where he lives with my Mom, and meat and potatoes three meals a day. He collects and restores old firearms, but doesn’t hunt much anymore as he gets so much more satisfaction out of watching the wildlife.

He’s been a lifelong Republican and a classic conservative. He isn’t loud about it; he isn’t loud about anything really. He’s not to be found standing on soap boxes and holding sway.

But hear this: he’s telling everyone to get vaccinated. He wore masks, he social distanced (okay, that was easy for him on 80 acres with an introvert personality), and as soon as he could, he got his shots. He called us kids up and asked if we’d gotten ours. Despite his reserved and unflowery nature, he is basically shouting his love for us. As he told me over coffee last week, “These people are afraid of ‘experimental vaccines’, but you know what? If you get sick with the virus, are you going to refuse experimental drugs to save your life?”

So…a conservative, gun-loving Republican is encouraging his loved ones to get vaccinated. I think he just jumped out of some boxes.

Complexity.

Like my pro-choice atheist friend who made me a remembrance necklace for my miscarried child. Like my xenophobic friend who made sure we had meat on our table during a hard time.

If you’ve ever commented on a post of mine and had a hearty argument with one of my friends, you may be perplexed at the, um, diversity of opinion, the colorfulness of the language, and the varying quality of civility expressed there. I’ve been asked many MANY times “Why are you friends with so-and-so?!?”

I will tell you. Complexity. The glory of God shines out of each person so strongly that their weaknesses, their brokenness; well, they cannot compete with that light. I’d have to ignore so very much good in order to focus on the shadows, and even then, haven’t I cracks, flaws, and darkness too?Let us hold tenaciously to encountering each human as complex, not as a deplorable, a libtard, a leftist, a Trumpophile, etc.

Meet every person you meet.

My father at 18.

Let It Die

Let It Die

It is okay to look Loss in the face

And reach out to run your hand along its cheek.

Sometimes it’s good to stare it in the eyes

And whisper “You wound, you always do.”

We drove past the family farm

A place we had no money to buy

And there it goes, to those with pockets deep and full

And I looked at Loss, my companion.

I lecture myself

To smother dreams, to stuff them away

To give no life to them

Do not look, do not hope

Let them die.

There was an 1800’s stone farmhouse on 10.5 acres

Deep windowsills, gleaming wood floors

A kitchen with a professional range

And long stone countertops.

I saw my children running through the woods

Playing in the stream

Curled up by the fireplace at night

I saw the scones lined up on that long counter

Tray after tray going into the oven

For the bed and breakfast guests the next morning.

The dream had curled around my heart

A dream I had no business having

I try you know

To stuff such into a box

But it’s hard to unwrap from my heart

To lift each tendril away when I’d rather embrace

The dream and move into it.

To box instead the sad Loss

And all of its shame and nausea

The way that it says

Nothing will change and you

Are pitiful. Ungrateful. Stupid.

I put the stone house

And all of its loveliness

And the scones, and the woods, and the crackle of the fire

Down into the box and

I let it die.

I don’t understand

And I don’t expect to

And more often than not I

Remember to live into the life I have with joy

But I will not pretend

That loss doesn’t stand beside me

And that my heart isn’t stacked

With boxes of dreams, dying.

Sick But How

Little can I bear to be parted

from crisp air’s edge

and light that has first passed

through branches.

The way of the chickadee

(do you know this?)

and the dry scrape of skidding leaves

and the fleeting heat of sun between clouds.

The damp is seeping into my sweatshirt

and a passerby might think

that I’d fallen on my lawn, in trouble

but no, trouble led me to starfish here.

Days in my bed, but at peril to our heating bill

I cracked the window open

I reached my hand out to touch the snowflakes

I wanted the air that is alive.

How many lay abed, wondering

if a contagion from so far away

has nestled within their own bodies

or if it is a domestic invader, a routine bug.

I fill my lungs, testing them, and drink

with an eye towards the window

toward the chickadee handing upside down

from my window pane, inspecting.

Virtually Useless

When the world sort of ground to a stuttered, bewildered stop; when plans were canceled one by one, many scrambled to translate formerly physical events into online experiences.  Online school, church services, counseling, book clubs, science camps, church camps, even our kids’ school field day activities were exclamation-pointed and hyped and promoted enthusiastically; maybe over-enthusiastically, begging to be an exciting alternative in the year of the plague.  It was an extended reach for normalcy, to not lose too much.

75394793_10158937019263352_4697287872719271344_oBut I, odd bird, dove in to the quiet, the natural flow of time un-chopped.  Between cooking for my large brood of children who were ever-present and ever-hungry, I delved into mask making and new handicrafts.  I studied Norwegian, took long walks on local trails, picked berries, played board games, and had good chats with my chickens, parakeet, rabbits, and bees.  I learned to carve spoons, weave rugs, make apple cider vinegar, and currant jam.  I realize, of course, that my experience is a privileged one; not everyone has the opportunity to stay home, nor to enjoy nature at leisure, nor to have a spouse that is supportive and takes over childcare so I can care for my introverted self.  I speak only from my experience, that is all.107813278_10158983117753352_9066970786895427250_n116009563_10159024014663352_876588903092333129_n115821103_10159024520013352_6824405005164446328_o104175277_10158910998598352_7990901495297894568_o115838314_10159017029438352_1263168622830738558_n105289766_10158901948193352_5396233565335013744_oSome felt that the world had gone mad, but for me it felt as though the world was exorcised of the soul-crushing Demons of Hurry, of Hyper-Schedule, of Busy.  Even if it was a forced hard stop, it felt like an opportunity for reflection, meditation, and appreciation of all that we normally speed past.  I barely breathe in our harried culture; I was finally breathing deep.

But for others the lockdown was like prison; deprivation, loss, stress, and some anger.  Okay, a lot of anger.  We experienced some of that, especially navigating online schooling with spotty internet, borrowed devices, and missed Zoom meetings, not to mention the mess of papers, books, cords, uncapped markers, and so on.  That was unpleasant indeed, and I feel no need to spin it otherwise.  No exclamation points necessary.

Once school was finished I felt free; gone were the screens, the frustration, the cords which tripped me.  In my email inbox came the invitations to Virtual This and Virtual That, and I knew beyond a doubt that for me, they were Virtually Futile.  In order to experience in the smallest way an online event required a massive coordination of efforts.  We live in a small, old, three bedroom home, all eight of us, and there is always someone yelling, laughing, screaming, or needing something.  We have a separate studio space that would seem ideal for such, but our wifi doesn’t stretch that far, so our one device (an eight year old laptop with a cracked screen), cannot be of use there.  I tried using my husband’s phone (I do not have one), but it had other issues and I’ve yet to make a Zoom meeting function without panic and sweat.

In order for me to participate in anything I need to be physically there.  My home is too loud and too little equipped with technology, and also…

I need to be where my body is. 105612122_10158923356963352_6139099048337089654_o106903425_10158958428083352_9181716869868902619_n107589414_10158983117828352_7730809835030596938_n109345405_10159005296478352_6912392869239024676_n110046319_10159013716168352_1212632757072360117_o114890932_10159023108563352_1017798727818814836_n115811952_10159023108333352_2971481073923495345_nIn this I do not argue for a return to normal; heaven forbid while the plague still rages!  But I do suggest that we live with loss as gracefully as we can.  That we give thanks for all we can do rather than manufacture virtual substitutes thereof.  That is just my opinion; I give you plenty of room to appreciate online offerings to your heart’s content, but maybe too, leaning into the loss and seeing what gifts it offers when it takes.

 

A Covid Ode

Do ever you wonder

What threw us asunder

While chasing the lightning

Outclamoring thunder?

Well

A tiny contagion

Drop by drop passing

Each breath off-gassing

Infections amassing

So

Did your breath catch

When the world hit the brakes

And calendars snapped, and dumped out their dates

There

Spray, wipe, gel, and mask,

Fatalities counted, buried so fast,

And the news keeps ticking the count.

But also, attend…

Waving to neighbors with smiles so joyous

Seeing background as foreground, stranger as us

The world that lay hidden beneath all our hurry

It stares back and it smiles.

Chalk your walk, make a sign, bring a soup

Pour more wine

Call Grandma, stitch cotton, give food, sew a button.

Intubate, regulate, wince at sore ears

Hold up devices for last goodbyes through your tears.

Exhaustion deep-reigning, Zoom meetings so draining,

Where can I find toilet paper, oh where

Then

At some hour we turn to our beds, sleep claiming

All protestation, all thought, all blaming

Theories, conjectures, outrage, upbraiding

Quiet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Desert with Mary of Egypt

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Borrowing a line from the Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….”
My children fidgeted and rolled around the living room rug.  A small, cracked laptop screen was a window into their beloved church, but it didn’t make it believable, livable; they were not awed by such a small window.  When they lay on their backs they didn’t see prophets overhead, nor the Pantocrator, wide across the dome.  They are used to the embodied faith, touching all the senses, and though we lit candles and burned incense, though we tried, we could only attain a small reflection of a great Light.  We unashamedly need our church family, our clergy, our holy place with all of it’s helps to tie our heart to Him.
I have always had a great love for funerals.  There, for a span of time, all trivialities, all rancor, all distraction is set aside and quieted.  We open our eyes to see clearly, what matters, what doesn’t.  Each body we tuck lovingly into the earth plants also a seed in our hearts; “Remember your death. What will you do with your life?”  During trials we see more, and we are seen more.  Our souls are revealed; our insecurities, our egos, our fear, our courage, our long-suffering.   When it began I saw the extraordinary love and selflessness, people reaching out to one another.  As the weeks passed I was reminded of the Israelites who had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and now were pining and complaining in the desert, ready for revolt.
My dear saint, Mary of Egypt, knew the desert well.  She could not commune, not stand in the company of others, not sing the Divine Liturgy.  But she could pray, she could wrestle with temptation, she could be tested by the harsh environment and the deprivations that constantly reminded her of what she once had and could easily return to.  Mary of Egypt, pray for us, that we might fight the good fight in circumstances that stretch and test us.

Love In The Time Of Corona

Heaps of masks in stages of production; pleats, pins, patterns

Teachers’ voices in my home, made small by laptop speakers, children fidgeting in chairs they sit in to eat and play board games

Context all askew and no one can find the good pencils with intact erasers.

The heroes brave the front and we rally around them by being not around

Dodge an enemy we can’t see

Stare down graphs and projections and curves

And count the rolls of toilet paper  and wonder.

Placed in the center of my heart are those dear ones who cannot weather such a viral blow.  I keep looking in on them, in my heart; are you yet well?

I am not afraid, I lift my head to you to say; I am not afraid to die

I look back into my heart, I would not have them die, not because of idiocy and obstinacy; not so very unnecessarily.

My heart bearing them, I go to cook; everyone seems doubly hungry and Lenten fare does not settle heavy in restless and unsorted bellies.

Prayer as I breathe.90785132_10158570610643352_7485858827032592384_n

 

 

Orion, My Friend

If you’ve made a friend of a constellation, then we need not bother to say much; you know what it is to scan the night’s sky for the telltale groupings of ancient light that have accompanied all of your stories.

If you haven’t had the pleasure, well, there is still time.  Or, maybe that is promising too much, but you could still look up and lay bare your heart, drowning it with awe.

I remember Orion peering at me over the edge of a snowbank, the cold seeping steadily through my snow pants, my breath obscuring him; his light and the light of the moon making luminous the quiet snow.  The snow below, the stars above, held between, Orion looking, steady and silent; “I will always have you, Orion.”

He is used to me coming to him with all of my tears.  I don’t like to cry with people, nor indoors, but with my Orion as that imperturbable anchor that he is, I could endeavor to grieve bodily, loudly.  Frustrated, hurt, jealous, furious, despairing, overwhelmed, I again and again sought the comfort of his easily found shape.  “Did Homer speak with you too, Orion?”

I walked endlessly tonight; there was never enough sidewalk for my strides to devour.  St. Paul’s stained glass windows caused me pause.  On the front of the church they depicted Christ the Good Shepherd, and on the side Christ in Gethsemane.  He who holds us also prayed with tears; He too asked to be delivered.  I took hold of that and I walked on.

My feet relinquished the sidewalks, relinquished their ceaseless pounding forward and I stretched out on my back to find my friend Orion.  He looked at me, and I looked at him, pinprick of light by pinprick of light.  “Hello, Orion.”

silhouette of woman standing on rock near body of water during night time
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