The Dash Between

Walk through a cemetery, slowly. Gaze at the various grave markers, take note of the person’s name, the date of birth the date of death, look around, see what offerings have been left by others. The gravesite tells much if we are really attentive, we get to know who this person is, those bits and pieces of offerings give us a glimpse into their life, when they once roamed this planet, when they were fully alive and present. Between the birth and death there is a space or a dash, that small part represents all that person was and did, how they lived, loved it represents their hopes and dreams, the pain and joy, all that life brings.

I have done plenty of funerals, have seen many gravestones and read about those who lie beneath the ground. Some heroes, winners of medals and adulation from a grateful nation, some mothers who sacrificed so much for children and grandchildren, some husbands who once stood as the providers for their families, all once living breathing human beings. The space, the dash is where their story lies, it is in that place where we find discover their true self, it is in that space where we discover ourselves.

Memoir is mining the dash, going beneath its surface and diving deep into those memories that have made us who we are, and will be the legacy we leave. I am coming now to the end of another period of life as retirement lies out there on the horizon. I have been a priest in the Episcopal Church for over 26 years, I have served my current parish for 17 of those years. I have made many mistakes, I have suffered depression and felt defeated, yet, I have also felt great joy and love. I have experienced the full spectrum of the human condition, witnessed birth and death, held the hand of one facing great struggles, watched as others have turned their backs and walked away. My heart, has been filled to the brim with joy and broken also by great heaviness, a sense of failing not just the people I serve but the God whom I have given my life over to.

Vocation is a calling. It is answering the call to follow and follow I have done. Not the most perfect of followers and definitely not one of those bright shining stars that populate the universe of clergy. I have been the person whom God created me to be, I have tried, failed and tried again and through the trials and tribulations I have grown to love these people whom I have lived with. Last Sunday was Easter and it will be my last Easter here in the place I am. As I looked out at the congregation, knowing many only come once or twice a year, I saw so many stories and each one has touched my heart. The teens who I held in my arms so many years ago, pouring water over their heads as I baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, bringing them into the community of faith. The families who I sat with as we watched a beloved member die, as we stood at the edge of the grave, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It was hard, it will be hard, to say good-bye, to bid these people farewell, even now as I write this I feel the clutch in the throat, tears on the edge of my eyes, remembrances pouring out.

My own dash, the space between birth and death, is where I am now being called into, to write, however imperfectly, about this life. If anything, I write this for my grandchildren and those who will one day walk into some graveyard, stare down at a stone with my name engraved on it with a birthdate and death date, and that all important dash.

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Sacrifice

Coming to worship
in expectation
yet,
what is expected?
Fire in the soul?
Words of deep peace?
Solace for a troubled mind?
Coming to worship,
not to give wholly,
but seeking only to take.
Bread and Wine
remind us
that sacrifice
means
something has to die
even as we live

Stories are Everywhere

I’ve been sitting here, staring at that blinking cursor and blank white screen trying to figure out what to write about. Do I write a piece of prose, a bit of nonfiction or fiction, do I write a poem about a tree? There are millions of ideas that float across my mind and like a school of fish they slip past quickly before I’ve had any chance to grab even one. Stories are out there and stories are within, the trick is to start digging away and just write what you see and damn the consequences.

Stories come from our everyday experiences, those seemingly small moments that we don't think are very important but when we begin to unpack them we see something of ourselves. Yesterday I had one such experience, a connection made with a man named George. George has been hanging out in our church yard, using the picnic table to have his breakfast and coffee. George is one of those characters that seem to gravitate toward the church. They are lost, lost in the world, lost in society and lost within themselves. He’s not a dangerous person, he’s not unintelligent, he’s just lost. That is something many people just can't wrap their heads around, that here is a man, who is educated, seems smart and yet can’t seem to find his way. Yet, here he is, struggling. In his mind, in his lostness, he is wrestling with God in his own wilderness. The spiritual struggle some of us go through as we seek our place in this craziness called life.

George and I have now spoken several times and with each conversation another layer of his complex personality is exposed. That he was married, that he was a lawyer, that he had gotten involved with a fundamentalist religious group, and with their blessing went over to Europe to begin a ministry of house churches. Along the way he lost his purpose, he lost his wife and children to divorce and he may have even lost his connection to family and friends.

I sit here, a conduit to God’s grace, a conduit that is in itself flawed by my humanity. I sit and listen, I can offer no quick fix, no special prayers, or some magical incantation, I’m not a Shaman or a mystic, I’m just the person God created me to be. There are stories to be told, to be written down and shared. Stories of our common humanity, of our need for one another, not just when things are going great, but also when we are traveling along a darkened path. Life is a struggle and for some, like George, it is a greater struggle. That is why we need to share these stories because if I were to I be honest, if we were to be honest, there is a bit of George in all of us, that small, scared child who fears what is under the bed or the monsters lurking in the dark closet. Our lives are connected in that mystery we Christians call the Incarnation, the Divine Presence of the Word which called us into being out of the dust.

Maybe that’s why I’m writing this piece, because there are moments when it is easy to get oneself lost. I know there have been those moments, when the darkness of my own mind has overwhelmed me and I found myself struggling to find the path. I don’t believe there is not one human being alive who has not faced their own dark night of the soul, who have wondered about the choices they made and the consequences of those choices.

I read something yesterday stating that what anyone writes is not something original, but mainly a reworking of age old stories. Stories of love, of death, of growing up and coming of age. We all have those stories in the deep well of our memories and it is my task to dip into that well and draw upon those deep waters. Some of the water will be sweet and fresh, and some will be brackish, but it all comes from the same well.

I can say with complete confidence that I am no genius. I struggle with my grammar, I’m unsure of punctuation and word usage, but at least I’m willing to expose these thoughts to the world. Creating anything, whether it is a piece of art, a poem, a story, even a life, requires taking a risk. It’s all too easy to sit on social media posting someone else’s words, it’s something else to post your own. Maybe it is because in taking a moment to try and see the world through the eyes of another, I have been granted a gift and that gift is these words that I write.

Prayers of Defiance

Hands clasped together

knees firmly rooted 

eyes closed

each breath measured

in the quiet

alone,

praying

but for what?

Love is the desire

of everything we do

as the world lurches

from one idol to the next

seeking happiness

in the squalor 

of massage parlors

and brothels of shame.

Holding on to faith

in the midst of despair

an act of defiance 

against those seeking

to chain the hearts

of those who love

Keeping the Faith in the Dark

I’m out of place

in the wrong time

in the wrong world.

My life barrels along

yet no progress is made

I seek comfort in words,

but only find a blank page.

Prayer is my hope

but the words are dry

no miracles this day.

The pews are empty

the people scoff

come down from your pulpit

that cross you bear,

they all say.

Even the faithful

mock my every move

we’re too busy 

to listen to you.

I try each day 

to recall those words

the ones I heard

in the silence of my heart,

when you sought my life

and called out my name

even if I wasn’t smart.

So I followed you

dropping my nets

along the shoreline

and into the wilderness

I walked,

that lonely path.

You are the Way,

the Truth and Life,

how can so many

prefer death?

The nails are hammered 

the sound loud on the coffin

of the life I’ve chosen.

I believe, I cry!

Help my unbelief.

Now there is only silence

as I listen for that voice

in the depths of the darkness,

leading me to the light.

Church Fair

I sit here listening to the copier 

relentlessly working

piece by piece the sheets fly out

while in the background 

there is the bustling of people

bringing in their oblations

of decorated trees 

baskets filled with their sacrament

to be bought and sold

to a people lost

all the while

prayers go up into the air

as Emmanuel approaches

reminding us that this temple

is not about silver and gold

but a place for prayer

in the darkening days

as we seek salvation

from the busyness we create

hiding from our own failings

in the glitter and bright lights

of seasons too short

awaiting love’s arrival

opening closed hearts.

Seeking Peace

Rain dampened streets

reflect the lights

as I walk along 

the well worn paths.

In the air, a mist

surrounds my every step

as I pass the dark church

its steeple shrouded

fog its burial cloth

mournful sounding

bells calling the dead

to arise from their slumber.

While the living

huddle in fear

of a want too deep 

they cannot name

their cries muffled

as they search 

for that which they lack

a peace buried 

deep in the catacombs 

of a haunted past.