Brief Meditation

 A cab pulls up as I look out my office window, a man gets out proceeds across the street. Standing there he pulls a hood over his head to shut out the cold, he lights up a cigarette, begins to walk towards the commuter rail. As I look at him I wonder what he is feeling, what burdens does he carry, does he know that he is a beloved child of God? He is hunched down as he walks, the walk betraying some problem with either his knees or hip, he stops, takes a long drag from his cigarette then exhales a cloud of smoke with that resigned look. Flicking the stub away he looks down the street, then spits, the glob flying out onto the street. Taking a deep breath, he strides along a bit more determined, as if he has made a decision of great importance. Soon he is out of sight, only a lingering cloud of gray smoke betrays that he even existed in that specific time and place and soon that to dissipates. There is something in watching people as they walk by, each one lost in their own thoughts. Some seem weighed down by the burdens they carry while others walk along with that devil may care look, their bodies straight and upright, their path well paved. There is the child running along its mother, without a care knowing that even if they drift too far away they will not be lost. A young couple, in those first throes of romance, look longingly into each other’s eyes, any flaws masked by their deepest feelings of love. 

 In a dream I came upon a meadow, deep and green, the air warm, the breeze gentle as I stood there drinking in feelings of contentment. I have reached this place but it’s not one where I can stay, the feelings of peace give way to other more malevolent forces, the dream slowly transforms into a darker place. The Lenten journey carrying me across the variety of human emotions, in my dream world and in the everyday living. Watching others moving along on their way, some leaving only a trail of quickly dissipating smoke as they move on. I want to linger in the meadow, I want to let the feelings encompass my whole being and yet the world beckons and I cannot stay too long.

 A gently falling rain greats my gaze, it waters the earth and in it carries those first urgings of Spring, warmer air, the budding of the trees, the crocus’ green shoots breaking through the winter ground. The dark days giving way to the lighter days of growth, the long winter nap slowly receding, the soul stretching forth, the heart awaking to a new world. 

 Where will these coming months take me? The healing is slow but I know that at some point along this road I will come to a better place. I cannot continue to live the brokenness, there is no hope in doing that only despair. Being broken is not the defining point, the defining is in the healing and the moving forward, past the dark places and embracing life and love. 

Writing Life

 There is an old African saying that states, “when an old person dies a library is destroyed”. This has been rattling around in my head the last couple of days and so I needed to write just to see where I’m going with this. Last Thursday was my sixth and final class of Writing Fiction from Real Life at Grub Street. I really enjoyed the class and it has got my own creative juices flowing in the realm of writing fiction. Already, I have plotted out two possible short stories and have what Anne Lamott calls, that shitty first draft as both stories need a lot of work before I can even begin to let them see the light of day but it is a start.  These stories, although fiction, are part of who I am for better or worse. My own way of looking at this world, how I relate to everything and everyone that I meet along the way. It all comes from my personal library that I have been accumulating all of my life, from the smallest volumes of nonsensical rhymes to the deeper plots of relationships, loves that grew and loves that soured. It is all part of a panoply that surrounds me each day and which I have been carrying throughout life. These stories abound and I hope to be able to tap into these moments to glean just a few nuggets of life that I can share with the world. Now, will everything be worthy, let’s be realistic, no. I am no sage filled with wisdom, I don’t have any pat formula that will lead to success and fortune, I’m definitely not a televangelist, don’t have the well coifed hair to be one. What I am is simply a man, a human being who in life has striven to be as good as possible and has at times failed. It is after all a human story that I seek to write, no true heroes, just everyday life where at times there are more questions than answers. 

 In many ways life is a gigantic, unsolvable puzzle. The piece that I sometimes think will fit neatly into place doesn’t do so and I’m forced to either look for another piece or trim the one I have to make it fit. It is a quest, a journey of epic proportions and along the way there are valleys of deep shadow that are entered and great mountains that need to be climbed. It’s is a journey that is at once filled with anticipation and wonder, but also filled with apprehension and fear. 

 My writing journey has just begun, I have packed up my rucksack, making sure I have the necessary items to endure the long haul. I have looked at the internal maps and listened to the wise voice in that deep place of the soul. Now I am taking those first tentative steps, groping along, seeking those hand holds where I can steady myself. At times I feel like a little child where everything I and do is one great adventure, and at other times my own fears and doubts want to hold me back. There’s a song from back in my younger days, “Carry on my Wayward Son”, I am that wayward son, trying always just to carry on, to leave just a small part of my personal library behind, for better or worse. 

Words

 Last night was one of those where I did not get much sleep. I have these types of nights, long stretches where I lay there awake with hundreds of words all marching around in my head. The sound of their tiny feet stomping through the garden of my mind all seeking to be heard, all seeking a way out of the cave they have dwelt in for so long. I keep thinking that I have something to say, something that is of importance and yet when the light of day dawns it is truly all an illusion.  This morning in that gray, early light of the predawn, I watched as the objects in the bedroom began to slowly transform from the various shades of dark, into their individual colors. That slow process of becoming clearer, with a clarity that marked these things as individuals each with their own purpose. Their borders becoming sharp and defined, the gray shadows slowly solidifying, congealing like jello to become real. In that early light I rolled over to hold my wife, to feel her softness, to drink in her scent, to feel comfort as those words and shapes continued their odyssey, seeking a place to be heard and to be seen. 

 Soon enough the light becomes brilliant, the dog needs walking, our lives need to be lived. We cannot escape the undeniable life we live, yet I hold on to her for just a bit longer, my heart filled with a different light. Soon enough these words will find their way out, they will escape to be read, to be heard, it is as inevitable as the light of dawn. I hold on because this is my anchor, it is the grounding that I need with love being the chain that holds us together. The words might crash and burn as they enter the atmosphere but this love strengthens in the struggles, in that daily living.

 In all of this, in my deepest dreams, in my fractured imagination, strangely I feel no fear, no anxiety. Light is all around even in that darkest of nights, there is still a glimmer that guides the wanderer, the fool seeking to be heard in a vast wasteland. Am I that fool, that hopelessly romantic wanderer, armed only with words or am I delusional, wasting whatever time I have left in this journey? Time has its own way of creating the ground upon which we walk, above or below we all travel the same paths, straining to see the light, yearning to hear those words, to feel the connectedness of love. It’s by grace, yes that mystery that still haunts my every move. Grace, my words cannot even begin to illuminate that mystery, it is still in the shadows, in that early gray dawn of my mind, ever present, ever elusive, always a gift. 

Another Year

 Yesterday I completed another year of life, turning 64, an age that at one time looked so far away. It was also the 265th day since I was hit by that car door, again looking back I could not have imagined where I would be today, physically. Aging is, of course, the natural process of life, no matter how much we rant or rave. This birthday and my continued recovery has hit me just a bit harder this year. I am in a time of transition into a new life, a new calling as I begin to ponder where this road I travel will take me.  This Thursday might be my last class in this round at Grub Street, I say might be because there is a small possibility that the class may be extended another four weeks. I would welcome that extension as it will give me time to begin honing in on what I want to write about. Like many people I have a history, and in that history is my own story that I want to share. My own story is not unique, but it is mine and I believe that there is something within it that begs to be written about. This being a fiction class I have the place to play a bit with my own story. I can create the characters, chart their course, and move them through life’s various stages in a way that reflects my own journey. However, it’s not a memoir as such, a memoir requires a certain amount of truth telling that exposes the raw root of life. Fiction allows me to temper that root, to pass it onto a character and then let them take it to where they need to go. Fiction, for me, is also a meditation on life, a way for me to process the good, the bad and the ugly, to see it for what it is truly about. Lives, our lives, are not lived in isolation but are lived within the context of community. Not a perfect community but a community that struggles daily with its own sense of being, just like we as individuals seek out our purpose.

 I have lived long enough to know that whatever I do is always subject to those invisible outside forces. The world in all of its splendor can be a dark and mysterious place, filled with many pitfalls and dangers. Yet, life can be unexpected, like coming over a ridge and seeing laid out before you a scene filled with life and color. At those moments our breath is taken away and we witness something that takes us into a new way of being. I’m not saying that my writing will do that, but it will help me to reflect more on my creative side, of taking those risks that break me free from the shackles of self doubt and fear. 

 Being 64, is not the end but it is a reminder that I am but a mere mortal and at some point this mortal life will wither and fade like the leaves on a tree. We all leave a piece of ourselves on those who cross our paths, some of what we leave is good, some not so good, but regardless of what it looks like it is there, a gift to be opened or thrown away. More and more I am hanging on to the most mysterious of all things, grace. You can’t see it, touch it much less control it, but grace surrounds me and all that I love not as some kind of protective force field, but more like a morning mist in which I move through. This mist sometimes obscures my vision, but then I come upon that clear patch in the fabric and there for a brief moment I see that great pearl, with a clarity that almost hurts to stare at, but which I reach for each day. Maybe, in some way my own writing, my own exposure to the secrets buried deep within my soul will become my way of being ever more open to this mystery that surrounds my life.

Ashes, ashes we all fall down. 

Ring-a-round the rosie, a pocket full of posies,

Ashes! Ashes!

We all fall down.
The myth or story about this old nursery rhyme tells of it being popular with children during the “Black Death” that happened in Europe during the 14th century. The scene of children dancing around, their pockets full of flowers that were thought to ward off the plague, singing about ashes as bodies were being burned just outside of their village, all the makings of a good novel. Stories of life and death, of love gained and love lost, the quest to find that one safe place in the midst of this horrible disease. A child, watching a parent or sibling die in a most excruciating way, black bulbous growing, their bodies wracked with fever, their moans and finally the silence brought on by death. Death, a merciful end to the pain and suffering, the bodies stacked up like cords of wood to be taken to the funeral pyre, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the end of a human life.

Ash Wednesday, that most uncomfortable day, a day of being reminded of our mortality, that death lingers out on the margins of our very being. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”, intoned as each forehead that comes forward is marked with ashes. The mark is not pretty, it doesn’t add to ones looks, but there it is, a black swath reminding all that see it that we are merely dust. I imagine the sound that is made as the ashes are applied, a long slow crunching as the priests thumb presses the ashes onto the head. The ashes are ground down into the grooves and pores, becoming one with the skin, bits and pieces of ash cascading down onto a nose, a mini avalanche of black, it’s not very neat or clean, then again, it is much like life.

The ashes are just a beginning for from the ashes we are raised into a new life. The day begins with a blackened forehead it ends with that mark wiped away, a clean slate. I for one know from experience that this one day will not make us pure and holy, but it is a day that will help us to grow. The ashes are the dark, rich humus in which we grow in love and faith.

 

 

Shrove Tuesday

 Today is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Known in some parts as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, it’s a time to celebrate, eat and drink and generally get in as much fun as possible before the austere days of Lent begin.  At one time this may have been the case, people enjoying one last day of revelry before days of fasting and prayer, but as we become a more secular society only the names remain and its religious undertones have been lost to the mists of time. In our Anglican, English tradition, it is called Shrove Tuesday. This evening we will have our traditional pancake supper, followed by our annual pancake races. Shrove Tuesday has also begun to lose its meaning, except for having a pancake supper, the reason behind this night has become obscured. 

 What has been lost is the meaning behind why we do Shrove Tuesday. Sure, in the medieval world it was the opportunity to empty ones cupboard so as to prepare for the fasting of Lent as well as getting rid of old stocks that might go rancid. Yet, the deeper meaning for Shrove Tuesday, was to also prepare oneself for the discipline of Lent. It was the time to be “shriven” of ones sins, a sort of self cleansing of the soul, much like the cleansing of the food stuffs, so that one could start this time with a “clean slate.” 

 Lent, is more than just a time to give up stuff, it is a time for self reflection, for taking stock of where we have fallen short. The Litany of Penitence in the Ash Wednesday service is our starting point, in it we are reminded of how far we have fallen and it ends on a note of forgiveness and salvation. Ash Wednesday is more than just receiving a mark on the forehead and then going off for the day, we are called to renew our life within the context of the community. Probably why I like our Anglican way, as it holds us accountable through community and not by our individual acts. Also, probably the reason why I still don’t receive the mark of the ashes myself because in that litany and in the prayers, I am reminded of my mortality in a deeply spiritual way. The words seeded on my heart and on my soul where they take root and begin to grow. The mark of ash washes away, the mark of Gods word burns brightly within and is not easily forgotten. 

 This Lent has taken on new meaning for me. With the accident and the subsequent recovery, which still continues, I have been reminded of my own mortality. Not that it’s something I dwell on but it is a reality that has crept into my being and taken hold. During the past summer, when I was laid up, I had plenty of time to meditate and reflect on my life. I began to write more, I began to reflect and look at the world around me. A walk in the morning, a bike ride in the afternoon, are no longer just simple events. Now I take a bit more time to look at the world, the changing seasons, the flight of geese, the clouds in the sky as they move along. Listening to a conversation, the inflection and tone of the voices, even the language in tongues I don’t understand, watching a person bending under the weight of their own life traveling on the T and the laugh of a child at play, so unaware and innocent.    

 This Lent is more than just a time to give up some small item, it is a time for me to reorder my own spiritual life, to repent, in other words. Repent as in making that turn toward light and life rather than live within the shadows. What that may look like, well, I can’t say, all of us at one point or another are faced with these decisions and our results can look very different. So on this Shrove Tuesday, this day of pancakes, Mardi Gras and general partying, I begin a journey through the words that I will write. Where it will take me, I cannot say for certain, then again who says that a destination is necessary, for truly each day brings its own new discovery. 

Lenten Thoughts

 As they say, “time marches on” and that is certainly true as I received in the mail yesterday a reminder that later this year I will need to sign up for Medicare. I haven’t officially hit my 64th birthday, yet here is a health care provider getting their foot into the door. Yes, time does march along, it’s drumbeat pounding in the background urging us forward as the drummer boys urged the troops as they marched into a hail of bullets and shrapnel. The march most of us are on is not at all that dangerous but in many ways we are all headed for the same destination, whether we like it or not. The temptation is to ignore this and live life to its maximum, filled with all of its hedonistic pleasures or we can take stock of where we are at these points and begin to live a deeper life.  This mailing is that reminder that I will soon be turning another page in this novel that is my life story. Like any novel, if it is good you want to get to that next page to see where the characters are headed, will there be love or tragedy, will they reach the impossible destination or defeat the ultimate villain? There is that part of me that wants to turn the page, to get on with that next chapter but there is also that part of me that wants to savor the moments I have right now, the love I have, the warmth of a home, the simple pleasures of friends and family. These are not moments to rush through but like a great meal, to be taken in small bites, chewed throughly so that the texture and taste can satisfy the very depths of our souls. 

 Lent starts next Wednesday, it’s a time to take stock of where we are, it’s the 40 day journey into the wilderness where we are faced by many temptations. Unlike the start of a New Year where we make resolutions, that may or may not be fulfilled, this Lenten journey requires us to face up to our fears, in many ways we are passing through the wardrobe into the winter world of Narnia. Our choice is simple, seek out the great lion or yield to the gift of Turkish taffy. The taffy is easy, all we need to do is sell a piece of our own integrity and reach out, the search for the lion is difficult, that journey requires more than the physical it requires the spiritual strength that resists the easy route. 

 Maybe that’s why we give up or fast from certain items during Lent. Fasting is a way of cleansing ourselves as we prepare for the Easter event, but Lent is also a time to take on a discipline, to challenge ourselves, to stretch our spiritual muscles. This Lent, I’m going to make the daily effort to write, not just about the mundane facts of my life but the deeper, spiritual parts that affect my inner self. Will it be pretty? I doubt that, anytime we expose those deeper parts, those feelings that affect us, it can look like a forest after a fire, blackened and bleak. Yet, it’s after the fire that new life begins to grow, small green shoots that break through the black crust reaching upward toward the light and warmth of the sun. In the messiness of all that is around there is that grace we do not deserve, nourishing and feeding us as we grown new roots, fed by springs of new water.