Poetry?

Poetry, I’m never quite sure what makes a good poem or even a mediocre poem. Poems, unlike prose, seem to reach into the heart in unexpected ways. As I read a piece of poetry I find myself transported into a realm where the landscape undulates across the valleys of my soul. One such poem, written by Mary Oliver, in its very simplicity reaches deep within and awakens long dormant dreams.
The Uses of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.

 

Every time I read this poem I see something different in what it is saying. The box full of darkness can be at once malevolent and yet bright and beautiful all in the same shape. It’s a box the defies being a box by the very contents it holds and if we look long enough into that darkness the heart begins to understand. The gifts I have been given have not all been full of light but have sometimes led me into those dark places. This is my souls longing to understand who I am and where I fit in God’s greater plan, not so much as another piece in a grand, complicated puzzle, but as a human being.

Last night, in a dream these words flashed across the darkened screen of my mind. Is it poetry, I don’t think so, they are merely words strung together evoking a deep desire.
In the early grey light

the birds sing in chorus.
A woodpecker drums out its call

the world awakens from its slumber.
The orange glow of the clouds

reaching out like fingers in prayer.
The silent footfalls as I walk

sabbath retreat in the still air.

I’m guessing that with the end of Lent now in view as well as the typical fits and starts of spring in March, there comes that yearning within that finds its expression in my writing. The poetry, well, I might leave that to the experts although once in a while something may find its way onto this blog. Maybe not my own creation but at least a reflection on a piece I’ve read and then see where that will take me.

Soon, I will once again be in a writing class testing myself in the world of creative nonfiction. Who knows what will come of that but like everything else it will be a journey of discovery where I will continue to learn a little more about myself. After all, that is the reason why, even as I enter into my middle sixties, I have begun to write more, not only is it fun but it’s also therapy for one confused mind. A box full of darkness that is truly a gift.

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The ides of March.

“Who is it in the press that calls on me?/I hear a tongue shriller than all the music/Cry ‘Caesar!’ Speak; Caesar is turn’d to hear.” And a soothsayer replies, “Beware the ides of March.”
 The ides of March is also the 285th day since my accident on June 5. I always wonder if Caesar had some notion of what might happen when he walked into the senate that day? Out of the corner of his eye, did he detect a quick flash of light reflecting from the cold iron blade that was about to be plunged into his flesh or that glimmer in the eye of one of the assassins? Life, death, they happen quickly whether we are prepared or not. It’s in those moments, between the light and the dark as we are just emerging from our dreamscape, that we encounter the reality of our lives. A quick flash in the corner of the eye, a brief breath that raises the hairs on the back of the neck, the realization that mortality is ever present. 

 Soon we will be plunged into the story of Holy Week, from the triumphal parade on Palm Sunday, to the night in which Jesus had his last moments with his friends, then the betrayal, trial, and finally the execution. Forlorn, forgotten, abandoned and soon dead and buried. Do we ever get that moment during this week, that feeling of passing through the wardrobe and into something new? Death is around us each day, we can’t escape its grip anymore than we can individually escape gravity and fly off into space. We don’t dwell on it, that would make for a depressing life, but not to acknowledge its power is to create an idol out of self. A self made god that we have the power to control and manipulate. Say the right words in the proper, secular sacramental environment and all will be well, then the dark angel will passover seeking out another victim. 

 Here I am, 285 days later, still working out the scope and depth of that one moment. I have not forgotten, nor have I slipped into old, worn out patterns but have instead infused my living with that dying. Resurrection can only happen when death has occurred, in many ways something died on that day and only now am I beginning to see a shape in the fog that exists on the periphery of my mind. This shape, like the fog is far from solid and I still grope like a man blinded from birth yet moving forward in the belief that there is something there, something of great worth. I ask myself, how will I know when I’ve arrived but that really isn’t the question, it’s more how will I endure the journey ahead. 

 As I look outside a light drizzle is coming down and the skies are gray and heavy. I can hear and see cars moving past the house, a plane in the air carrying its load of humanity within its shell, both going somewhere. I seek to go, to move beyond the confines of my inner being and to allow these words to carry me away into places I have only dreamed about. In some small measure even as I write today I feel a sense of movement, a transport into another realm where the words become alive. I am being carried on a current, a small twig in a vast ocean of swirling images, that bring life and color into view all beckoning to be seen and heard. 

A Musing on Politics

 I never get into politics, I find it to be a messy subject that only leads to heated rhetoric, especially if you happen to disagree with another’s opinion. Lately, however, I’ve been distressed by the tone of this political season. Demagoguery, finger pointing and just plain misrepresentation of facts has me and many others wondering what is truly going on. It’s not like I believe in the mythical, “honest politician” but in previous election years, even in the heat of the primary season, it seems that calmer voices are heard, deals made and the Republic continues its long history of a non-violent passing of leadership. I may not agree with the choice but that doesn’t mean that I will join some fringe group bent on bringing down this spawn of Satan, just because they don’t espouse my own particular view.  Yet, this year there seems to be so much anger and I’m trying to wrap my head around what is going on. I mean, as a priest in the Episcopal Church, serving a parish in a rather progressive state, does require me to think theologically and be thoughtful in how I present my ideas without alienating folks. Heated discussions tend to devolve quickly into hurt feelings and heightened anxieties, all of which just gives me a bad case of heartburn. So here I am trying, in the way I do to figure stuff out, is write about what I see and then put it out there. 

 My confusion with all of the talk is when did we, and I mean here we Americans, get so weak as a nation? Are we no longer a superpower? Has the mouse actually roared and found us wanting? At one time we had an arsenal fully equipped to take out most of the planet on just the first pass, then do it all over again to ensure mutual destruction, meaning that “you ain’t getting to us sucker.” Watching the evening newscast and seeing a couple of our fighters hitting some targets over there in whatever-stan and leaving little or no trace behind does make me wonder how we have become so very weak. Okay, I’m not a military expert, yes I did serve in the Army and also did a stint in the Navy (that’s for another blog) doesn’t mean I know all of the ins and outs of the military mindset. I just can’t believe that after spending some unbelievable sums of money on the latest technological wizardry, that our military is somehow inferior to the rest of the world. 

 Then, there is the lurking enemy, you know the one just around the corner, slinking along waiting for the proper time to pounce. I have this picture in my mind of a group of people in a darkened room, on the seedier side of town, with only a bare 25 watt light bulb burning above them all hunched over a table plotting some nefarious deed. (Huh, I wonder if that was how Jesus found his disciples when he entered that upper room unannounced?) Kind of like cranking the handle on a Jack-in-the-Box, out they pop and we’re done for. Really, I have more fear of car doors being opened unexpectedly than I do of some shadow agent or terrorist seeking my demise. Sure, maybe at some point the sky will fall, the chicken will be right and we’ll all have egg on our faces, but to live in abject fear all of the time tends to take the fun out of being alive. 

 Maybe, and this might take some effort, if we would all just take a moment to breathe deeply, inhale the good, exhale the bad, and just sit down and talk, you know like face to face and not through Facebook, we might find that what people really want is to live in peace, find true love and enjoy decent beer. Had to add the beer, sort of my homage to Ben Franklin. So I will leave it at that and go, pop open some decent beer and enjoy the moment, because you never know when that car door will open and catch you unawares. 

Legacy

 There have been several events this past week that has reminded me just how messy life can be, especially when it comes to the church. Death, sickness, outright conflict, and family secrets all mixed together in a recipe designed to poison even the most healthy of congregations. The political rhetoric we have been subjected to in the past few months doesn’t help but only seems to exacerbate the distrust and anger. I look out on the congregation and I see people all seeking answers to the unanswerable. Looking into their eyes I can almost feel their plight, their need to be whole and to not fear any longer.   What is the legacy that I will leave this parish with when I finally leave? I am just human, filled with my own doubts, fears and fallibilities. Anyone who is in any position of leadership, whether it is in the family, at work, or the church, leaves their own mark on the system. Hopefully we leave a good taste, but for some it will be more like good riddance, yet in spite of our differences I do believe that the Holy Spirit is in all of the messiness. We humans, and I do place myself in that category, can only see so far, we are a bit myopic like that. Even with having infinite resources available to us on our smart phones we are still bound by the rules of space and time, infinite resources does not correlate to infinite knowledge. So much of what one reads and sees on the Internet, Facebook or Twitter has been somewhat modified to favor one opinion over that of another. Of course we probably shouldn’t be surprised, most political data is skewed to show the world that one side is better than the other and vice versa. 

 I have to say that even in the hallowed halls of the Church, we do the same as we seek to bring our version of the Good News to light. Yet, it is in those various versions that if we are willing to listen and do so with open hearts and minds, we can hear that still small voice. After all we have four Gospels that each take a differing look at Jesus giving us a mirror in which our true reflection is shown in how we live, work and engage with others. Tossing out one over another without fully engaging in deep reflection and conversation demeans our lives as people made in the image of God. 

 This piece however is about legacy, what I will leave behind when my time is through and I’m called to move on. On paper and in records my name will appear, letters written, sermons given, stories told will all recount my ministry. Like the Gospels, there will be differing versions but in each version there lies a kernel of truth. Maybe, in the end that is all that we can leave as our legacy, the stories of our lives. Those bits and pieces that are woven together with other bits and pieces that eventually becomes part of the fabric of human life, a blanket that not only covers us but one which we help to create. Each one of us contribute to the weaving and while some of the stitching leaves a lot to be desired when it is all sown together that cloth becomes our security blanket, as it holds together our corporate lives and experience. So, maybe that is truly my legacy, to leave behind that imperfect weaving of myself in the hopes that it will be worked on and strengthened by those who follow.

Objects

 I’m sitting here looking at my desk that looks a lot like the inside of my mind, a total mess. Stuff is all over the place, a couple of pencils in various stages of being sharpened, a pen that is probably out of ink, several tabs of yellow, lined paper, with my scribblings. The reality is that if you were to look at my desk and see the chaos unfolding before your eyes it would give you insight into my own, messy, way of thinking. In fact my desk is a visual representation of my Meyers-Briggs personality, that wonderful confusion of being an INFP, that introverted mass of congealed emotions residing beneath a thin crust of humanity.  My poor mind works in flashes, like a storm off in the distance where lightening brightens up the dark clouds as it moves along the horizon. Just like those storms, I never know when one of those flashes will suddenly illuminate the scenery where I can see clearly, the downside comes when the flash is over and the landscape becomes dark again. What was once a clear, bright thought gets all muddled in with everything else. I’m left to peer into the dark patches trying to piece together what I thought I saw or imagined, wondering if it was all just an illusion, a dream that faded as quickly as dew in the morning.

 Just now, I’m looking at several objects that reside on the desktop, a chalice and paten next to a crucifix, now that’s a story right there. There is a yo-yo, next to a paperweight, with a gargoyle standing guard at the edge. Pictures in frames, my wife holding her granddaughter, a small bundle in her arms, her own face lit up, beaming with grandmotherly love. The other is a black and white picture of her with the boys when they were young. One of them has his arm draped on her shoulder, the other is lying back on to her chest, all watching something. In that photo, in that brief moment captured and now frozen, I see the love that binds us together. All of these objects hold so many memories and even though the landscape may look confusing to some, it all makes sense in my own interior chaos. 

 The reality is that this desktop is my created wilderness, a place where each day I can explore those places where my heart resides. The spaces in between become highways into the soul, the books stacked one upon another are the mountains and valleys of my life’s journey. Bits and pieces of objects become way stations, stopping points to ponder all that is seeking a place in the wilderness of my mind. Rocky outcroppings that I grab onto as I climb up and over each obstacle that is placed in my way. The emotional trek into the human world where joy and suffering walk hand in hand vying for attention, all while the world looks away too busy to notice. 

 Someday, this chaos will all make sense but even making that statement reminds me that having everything make sense is not the point. The point is to live fully and faithfully each day knowing that the chaos will come, objects both physical and emotional, will be out there ready to ambush us at the next turn. 

The Funeral

 Funerals are those moments in human life where we ritualize our understanding of grief and death. Families and friends gather to talk, to process, to do those things that help them understand this great mystery of being human. Yes, somewhere in the deep recesses of our minds we know that our lives are finite, all of what we see and do will come to an end. Yet, when we are confronted by that specter, when the phone call comes or the knock on the door, we take in a breath as we hear the words that someone we know has died.  Today I presided at the funeral of a woman who lived to be 101 years old. Imagine, living that many years, seeing so much of the world changing, a true living history. Born before the First World War, Maddy grew up in a much different society, one where her options were limited, where the rules of life were more restrictive. She became a teacher, a person who touched the lives of so many young people, one of which came to her funeral remembering her as a kind, gentle teacher committed to the students. In her very quiet way she gave so much of herself, to her family, friends, community and the church. She never married, she never had children of her own, never knew that side of life and yet she never dwelt on the what ifs, instead she lived fully into her vocation. Did Maddy ever have a love, someone who she had a teenage crush on? How different would she have been had there been that one great love, we will never know, but really is that all that important in life? 

 Today was a celebration of the end of a long life. It’s hard to truly mourn such a long lived person and maybe our mourning isn’t so much for her as it is for ourselves. Those moments that we have missed, the road not travelled, the love not explored as our lives move along at warp speed and our busyness becomes our obsession. For a few moments, busy lives took a break from the race to allow themselves a chance to let the grief wash over them. Like a tide coming in there is no stopping the emotions, memories of intimacy, of special conversations, all break through to be displayed in the theater of the mind. 

 As people mourn Maddy’s death, I become aware that some of the grief comes from the many unseen struggles so many carry. Bodies that once were strong and vital slowly succumbing to the winds of time. I become acutely aware of my own mortality as I look out into a sea of faces all seeking that comforting word and my own heart weeps in silence. I shake the hand of one whose body is showing the effects of Parkinson’s and my heart breaks. My words are not enough for this moment and maybe that’s as it should be because words can get in the way. 

 Tomorrow there will be another funeral, another family dealing with their memories. Different folks but yet all the same, all facing their vulnerabilities in a moment together while I stand there as a sort of conduit for their grief before God. Hands will once again be held, tears will be shed and hearts will be heavy. My own hands will be lifted up, my own sacrifice will be offered and my words will be sent out to drift on the winds and settle in the deep places. 

Words

 Today, Parker Palmer posted a poem by Mary Oliver entitled, I Want to Write Something so Simply. Starting with those words she goes on to write about love in a way that one feels it, to write about life in a way that it speaks to those who read the words. It is in the act of writing, of creating, that we engage with one another. Our feelings, the emotions that are part of the human experience, drawing us closer together as each one seeks to find their place in this world.  Unfortunately, the emotions we see being displayed daily are not about drawing us closer but rather about driving us further apart. Rhetoric that seeks only to diminish another rather than build unity has taken over the public discourse. “I Want to Write Something so Simply”, to share the beauty that lies within, to shine a light upon the darkness and to expose the ugliness that rots our inner lives. My story, our stories, all have those moments of deep love and deep despair. Our shared lives lived out in communion, recognizing that each of us are frail, that just underneath the bluster and harshness there lies a child sitting on a cold kitchen floor, crying just to be heard. 

 My words written in a simple style, with no rhyme or reason, being sent out as small ripples against the tidal forces that rage against all we value. These words that express my hope and desire that love, that deep pure love of two souls, can overcome the chasm that divides. I am not a poet, I am not a great artist, I simply seek to write the story, plant its seeds into the soil of life and watch as the small green shoots begin to break forth and reach into the heavens. 

 The other day while out cycling, my mind was filled with words. I thought about my own healing not just the physical but also the emotional and spiritual. Overcoming the fears, seeking light in the midst of dark, seeking solace in the midst of despair. My personal journey is far from finished, the road is long and there will be those peaks and valleys that will impede my progress, yet I ever move forward. Mary Oliver continues her poem writing, “that even as you are reading, you feel it, and though it be my story, it will be common, though it be singular, it will be known to you.” It is in the reading and telling of our stories that we are drawn together, in these stories we see the commonalities rather than the differences, in these stories we hear the yearning for love and the warmth of a lovers touch.