Wrestling Jello

I’ve been trying now, for a couple of days, to write something cohesive and interesting. So far all I have are bits and pieces of incomplete sentences and thoughts, a nonsensical pattern of my scattered mind. It seems that I flit from topic to topic, writing about this and that but never getting to the core of why I’m writing this stuff. I try my hand at poetry and now I have a journal full of one liners and things that have popped into my head and made it to the page. None of it is ready for prime time, as they say, but at least they are somewhere accessible instead of residing in the labyrinth of my own thoughts. Being an introvert and a major procrastinator, if I don’t write down what I’m thinking at the moment I’m thinking it, then it is lost to the ages. Sometimes it does repeat itself in one form or another later but then I’m stuck trying to remember why I thought that thought in the first place.

So now here I am, using my blog to post my writing angst for all to read not knowing what people are thinking. I think, and this is just me, that bloggers write to be heard in a way that they are not in their daily lives. If not as introverted, as I tend to be, then it becomes a question of not feeling like you’re being listened to, that your ideas, questions, deep thoughts are somehow a nuisance to others. For myself, and this is not a psychological profile (or is it?), I remember school days when you were just a number, one of many kids all vying for attention in a Lord of the Flies kind of way. Being quiet and not feeling all that smart, I tended to seek the quiet corner, what I now call, as an adult, keeping myself under that radar. Even now, as a priest, I still tend to stay back when at a gathering of my colleagues and let the more extroverted ones have their say. I find it exhausting trying to step into the fray and the few times I have tried it has been dismissed as one would dismiss a bit of fuzz on their lapel.

Maybe, I’m being too harsh. Sure, I don’t just jump into the deep end and yes, I am unsure of myself even after all these years of living. It might just be that I take all of this way too seriously and I want what I write to mean something, to have some meat to it rather than a skeleton of dried, dusty bones. I’m not saying that I need or want to be famous, or widely read. I have just started reading, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser. I have only gotten into the first couple of chapters but this caught my eye; “You’ll never be able to make a living writing poems”, and I have to guess that I will never make a living writing in my blog, but at least I’m writing.

Maybe one day, when the dust has all settled and I am in fact the dust that is settling, one of my grandkids or even a great-grandkid, will happen upon this old man’s musings and take it upon themselves to write. Maybe they will create the next great novel, or become a world recognized poet, even a poet laureate all because of these seeds I am sowing now. Yes, it’s a nice dream but isn’t that the reason why we write because we don in fact have dreams. Dreams are the soil upon which we, upon which I, through out the seeds of my thoughts. These seeds are in the words, the images, the very heart of all that I see and reflect on. These seeds come in the quiet moments, when I sit down and take pencil to paper or when I pop open my iPad and begin tapping away at the keyboard. I never really know where it will take me, or what it will look like but there I am struggling with the muse who has entered into my life.

I guess what I am trying to say is that my writing is more like wrestling jello, I just can’t seem to get my thoughts to settle down enough to write about them. Right now, I have three thousand words of a piece of fiction that I’ve been working on for months. Where will it end up, I have no idea but there it sits, on my iPad as a Pages document taunting me to delve into its mystery. I have no idea where it will end up but at least I’m writing.

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I Need to Stop

I think I need to stop,

just stop.

Not slowdown,

not take it easy

no, just stop

just don’t move

and feel the earth

under my feet

feel the air

on my face,

listen

as the trees rustle

and the birds sing.

Just stop

because

it’s the only way

to feel,

hear,

smell

and know

that I’m connected

to this earth,

to nature’s movements,

connected to the stars

in the heavens

as they reflect

Divine love

in the dust we share.

To My Grandchildren who start another School Year

To my Grandchildren who start another school year.

Each of you are embarking on a new path,

one you have never trod before.

You will learn, be challenged and grow.

There will be hard days,

there will be easy days,

but each day is an opportunity.

Be aware, look at your fellow classmates,

look at the ones who shrink away,

who are quiet and shy, they need you.

Listen to what they say,

not just listen but hear them.

Allow your own hearts to grow,

not just in compassion but also in love for those who struggle.

Your own road will be tough enough,

the storms you encounter will be real

you will need others to help pull you through.

I am an old man,

I have walked my own path and weathered my own storms,

I am not here to tell you what to do,

for that will not dissuade you,

but I am here to listen.

Each of you is a gift,

a unique,

one of a kind,

full of life and love,

filled with light and joy.

Let that light shine even in the darkest days,

let not those who have no joy pull you down,

but rather allow your light to guide them

lifting up their broken hearts.

The world needs you,

I need you,

you are my lights,

my dearest grandchildren,

whose gift of laughter and joy lifts up my heart.

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.

God’s Gift of the Present

Time flies, once you are young, filled with ambition and desire, hopes and dreams then suddenly your staring in the mirror at an aged face, worn down by the years. What have I accomplished, what are my crowning achievements? We ask those kind of questions especially when mortality stares us in the face. Is there more? I know I certainly hope for more, more time with loved ones, more space to create and write, more to see and do. The world rushes headlong into its future, not paying attention to the road being taken and then wondering how did we ever get so blindsided. It’s simple, we are so focused on the future that we forget about the present and by the time we do, well, we are lying in great weakness left wondering.

Since passing the age of 65, I have been giving a lot of thought as to where my life will take me. I cannot last forever, there is no portrait of me hanging in some darkened Gothic basement where the image grows older while I stay young. No, when I look in the mirror, I see the age lines, the bags under my eyes, the loss of shine in the eyes. Although this happens, it does not mean that I just lay back and surrender to the inevitability of the aging process. In my occupation, I have seen way too many folks do just that, give up. When the road gets tough, when one is stuck in mud season with tires spinning yet going no where, it’s easy to just quit. The fires of passion are quenched by the realities of the choices we have made. The saying is so true, “we made our bed and now we need to lie in it,” what so many want is for another to come along and remake that bed.

Not one of us is perfect. Sure, we run into the occasional perfect person, with the perfect spouse, perfect kids, perfect job and the perfect, well manicured lawn in front of the perfect well maintained home. Yet, if one just scratches the surface we find that most of that perfection is an illusion, that underneath the finely made up personality lies someone struggling against the greater tide. The addictive lifestyle is not just about drugs, alcohol, or sex, the addictive lifestyle also includes our ego, the picture we present as we walk out into the world. Self confidence, the ability to out debate others, creating our own little island where we rule our emotions, feelings and humanity, is soon revealed to be nothing more than a sand bar quickly washed away when the hurricane arrives.

Robert Farrar Capon wrote "Our greatest temptation is to think that it is by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life.” I have witnessed those who have sought out a better life by doing just that, trying to live more aggressively, stepping over any and all that get in the way, is somehow that magical highway to heaven. My own attempts at trying to be a bit more aggressive, a bit more out there have usually ended up looking more like a train wreck than a success. What I keep returning to, over and over, is my own faith. In prayers where I seek, not riches or fame, but where I pray that my eyes will be opened, my heart will be filled and my soul will find peace. Sure, I get jealous. Jealous of those who write better, who are better poets, who are better preachers and priests, than I could ever be or attain to. At times I wonder why God never gave me those gifts, why was I left off of the list, then again, as I look back there have been plenty of times where I have squandered my opportunities. That, unfortunately is true for so many of us. If we sat down in a quiet place, turned off the computers, the cell phones, got away from Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and took our own moral inventory, we would all see moments when we were not at our best. Moments when we made a decision that looked good at the time only to regret it much later, then turn around and blaming someone else for our misfortune.

Time certainly does fly by, sometimes at supersonic speed, but that does not mean we need be trapped in its wake. Moments of grace abound, the colors of the world are just as bright and love, that mystery of mysteries, carries us along. The Psalmist writes; “If I climb to heaven, you are there * if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.” God’s ever present love and grace, in our life and death, always.

City Life

Yes, it’s noisy and infested
filled with dark, dingy abodes
streets littered with cast-offs
both inert and organic.

A place of despair for some
of light and delight for others
this is the city
crowded, unkempt, dangerous
a kaleidoscope of sound and color
overwhelming the innocent
enticing the adventurous
boring the dwellers within.

The city, bears it all
under the strains of the masses
that hurtle down its streets
walking through its alleys
with heads down
pushing against
tides of indifference.

The city takes,
the city gives
we are its children
and its future
we carry its fortunes
in our valises
sharing our dreams
waiting for the sun to rise
and for hearts to sing.