Pics (KY USA, Guatemala, DR Congo) taken by my friend Holly Specht.
Written from a Hospice room this morning, after a friend’s passing
A thick, wet snow fell overnight. The view out the window is still and cool. The bare branches and the lawn furniture are lined out with blobs of white. An artist without a pen carrying on with the liquid paper. Two or three birds are navigating the boundaries of the courtyard, preparing to descend on the feeder when the light is just right.
No one is weeping right now. The room will not be warm for much longer. The dying want warmth but the dead do not. Or at any rate, they do not complain that the living need to keep them cool.
I wonder if there are souls here, lingering in the gray air outside. The rising sun filters through heavy clouds that dampen and lower it’s light softly to the ground. But the dead no longer depend on winter’s wan light. They move among other lights, other courtyards, other rooms.
We stand and stretch. Our fingertips graze the bedside curtain and jingle the bearings in their metal track. We pace the hallway papered with soothing yellow stripes and green leaves. We exchange half smile sympathy with others like ourselves. We wait for relatives, for friends, for morticians and social workers.
The dead stretch out streaming arms, their fingertips graze planets we cannot see. Their toes wriggle, tickling some tiny creature napping under another, brighter sun. They pace the hallway of infinity passing the vast warehouses in the clouds where the snow is made. They peek into the tiny broom closets in our eyes where a utility sink sits dripping out tears. They pass each other in the courtyard. They wander through us, stirring us as they come and go.
Without knowing why, we cry, or laugh, or sigh.
I’ve re-set my light therapy. I let it get all lax and lazy this summer. We had such a warm, sunny fall that I really didn’t notice anything until mid-November. Then, wham! There I was, sleeping my way through the fourth afternoon that week and facing another sleepless night. Less than a week of symptoms in, I remembered and applied the light limits of day and night that work with my reluctant circadian rhythms.
I cling to whatever cycle I am in. If it’s dark, I long for three more hours. More time to sleep, to sink, to wander down subconscious paths, to huddle in the warmth of pillows and blankets, to draw strength from something deep, to breath slowly.
If it’s light, I want three more hours. Another row of knitting, just one more chapter of a mystery, another page of sudoku, one more sitcom or police procedural, a light snack, a text message or another scan of facebook, some stretches, I want them all.
To step from light to dark, or dark to light, is a terrifying, screaming shock. The sun does not slide down the sky and the light fade. It is a light switch, flipped off by someone walking by who doesn’t even know I am in the room.
The sun does not peep over the horizon and warm up the east. It is a flashbulb in my face, a dog barking and a cat chewing on my nose. The imposition of time on a reluctant will that always wants just a few minutes more of what it already has, never quite ready to move on to the next.
So maybe, the people who walked in darkness aren’t all ready for the light. It’s a good idea, sure. We can all agree on that. We can see that. But should it surprise us that some of us drag our feet when the light changes?
The rhythms of sad hearts, of aching bodies, of brittle minds are not nimble. The light comes into our darkness, but there are so many ways to misunderstand it.
God saw it all, in the beginning. When the first word shattered the silence and burst into living flame. When the inky velvet and silk rippled under the breath of those fateful words, then tore into shreds of time, both beautiful and painful, “Let there be light.”
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2 (NRSV)
If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
Lately, life seems to be an experiment, not in deciding what to say, but in when to say it. Whether I am facing a 20 year old son, a grieving mother, a frustrated colleague, a spouse winding down from a long day, or my own face in the mirror, the reality is the same. The person across from me has too many questions and not quite enough answers, certainly none that fit.
(mentally turning to the other person in my mind)
That’s all I can talk about anyway, that I can hear your questions….that I can see the answers you are toying with……that some of them seem markedly unwise or wildly irrational….that others have potential. I would love to sit here at the table with you. I long to push them all around its surface and try to build or design something, to find a pattern. I want to think them through with you. That’s what I want. I want you to chose to open up the questions and your bag of possible answers and pour them out here, on this flat surface between us.
But that’s not my call, is it?
So, there is a purpose to this space and waiting. But this mystery of timing, of knowing when, drives me back to another table, in a sanctuary, to look across at God and pour out my question.
How long can I possibly wait to speak the one true thing on my heart?
"I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other……See the former things have come to pass and new things I now declare…." Isaiah 42:5-9
Sitting on the edge of a weekend retreat and listening to something new, Mick McAuley and Winifred Horan station on Pandora, having just discovered the Civil Wars and Iron & Wine, I decided to give a last reflective glance at the weekend’s focus scripture. I have landed at the lectio divina question “What is God saying to me today in this passage?”
My name is pretty ordinary. It’s only distinction, that I know of, is that Elvis named his daughter the same thing. My mom was with my dad on an Air Force base in Germany at the time and somehow missed the cultural significance of this. Still, it was a popular name at the time and so, well, I share it with many. Nonetheless, after 44 years with it, I still cherish the hope that when God calls my name, it means something unique and particular to me. That may be too much to hope for but I do.
I am wondering today why this declaration of God—I am the LORD, that is my name—travels with the declaration of a divine intention that is brand new. The declaration of identity seems to point out that God’s energy is focused completely. Nothing is being spared for the trivial or the cloying. Others may try to claim bits and pieces of God, but God is not diminished or distracted at all by these efforts. They are pointless. Who God is, God’s identity, simply is, and depends on nothing and no one else.
From this whole and detached Divine, the announcement comes, “new things, I now declare, before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”
Is this something to strive for? A state of mind or heart or being that I should stretch for? Something to meditate on and ponder?
Or is it completely other to me?
Can I, too, make a declaration—“I am human, that is my name. And I haven’t a clue what this new thing is or will be! Heck, half the time, I can’t even figure out the old stuff until it is well past and long gone. It’s a struggle just to accept change, let alone conceive or engineer it. May I just say, God, I love that you trust me with these big announcements anyway.”
|—||Pablo Picasso (via thatkindofwoman)|
Patience is not a given for me. I was born with no natural knack for it. And even less inclination. Nonetheless, here I am, forty-four years old and becoming an artist in the medium of patience. It’s been coming on slowly, developing without my realizing it. While I have been working on other things, this strange, almost alien by-product has been forming. Somehow, I began to see that it could be put to use and so, here it is…..patience. I suspect it does not look like patience normally does. Certainly, there are some in my acquaintance who do not recognize it as patience. It is to others, however, that I owe my own awareness of it. They see it in a story or an example or a moment. They see the grip I have on my anxiety or they see me wrestle depression until it lets me out of bed. Then, they see, i am moving through those struggles, gathering up what I need to do what I do—to teach, to evoke, to coax, to express. They see me in a room full of chaos and creativity. They see me sort through a miasm of thoughts and ideas, ordering, encountering, searching, drawing out. They see me calmly untangling a child’s necklace from her hair, moments before the spotlight hits her. They see me smile with delight as the locket sparkles and she shines with her earnest declaration of faith and story. Then, thank God, they show me…..”Here,” they say, “this, in you, is patience growing.” I feel doubtful about claiming it….but it’s almost time, soon, maybe tomorrow….I am patient.
It doesn’t matter what thorns we carry
or how we squirm to avoid their pain.
We unfold as long as we love,
pried into blossom.
~Mark Nepo, “The Art of Facing Things” from Reduced to Joy
Photo by Original Fotografie
"We’re at our worst when we present our faith as a system rather than as a story."
~Brian McLaren with Krista Tippett at the Wild Goose Festival