My Journey in Words

In the past few weeks my life has changed. First, I retired, second, I’ve moved. Now I’m trying to figure out what shape my life will take, so I offer this small piece of reflection. It’s not perfect, nor is it finished but it is where I am at the moment.

July 11, 2018

Thanks, once again to Parker Palmer I have another mystery to unravel in my attempt at the writers life. Here he quotes Henry David Thoreau:

My life has been the poem I would have writ

But I could not both live and utter it

Now what do I do with that? What is the poem I would have writ had I the time to writ what it is that needed to be writ? For me this is the struggle, to find something that grabs at me instead of these various, meteoric thoughts that fly by quickly only too burn up in the atmosphere of my thoughts. I write, to put it mildly, trash even as I long to make sense of where I am in this world. Being deeply troubled by what I read and see, how does my small voice fit in the the greater narrative? Palmer seems to have found his voice, a voice that has been honed and worked on and re-honed to what it is today. Richard Rohr, (another spiritual author I need to read) writing about Palmer and his new book writes that “Our entire culture is in need of true elders, and you can’t be one until you have arrived there — chronologically, spiritually, and intellectually. Here’s a man who has arrived, with another book that’s a generous gift to all of us.” I am far from being anywhere near from being a true elder. I might be there chronologically, but the other two criteria are woefully deficient and need a good boost, a shot of spiritual and intellectual energy. I’m not too old to not have the desire to continue in my quest and even as the days grow shorter, I don’t feel desperate or anxious to get to that mythical somewhere. Maybe, for me, the struggle is the vocation, the purpose of my writing. The honest struggle of not paying enough attention when I was younger and now finding myself in the slow lane trying to catch-up. Now I’m back to the question, what is the poem I would have writ? What are the paradoxes that surround my life and where do they fit in with what I am trying to be as a writer, as a priest, now retired from the dailyness of being out there, yet still craving that need for contact? Now that’s a paradox, a both/and that will keep any shrink in business if one ever dares to try an unravel my inner workings. Today was a day of thoughts, not really journal material, or is it? After all what is a journal other than a place to vomit the crap that is floating on the interior and exposing it all to the light of day. It ain’t pretty and sometimes it smells, but that is the only way to come to understand who I am at this time in my life. I think that the only person that really gets me is Jane, the poor girl has had to deal with my ups and downs for the past 45 years and now she’s stuck with me on a daily basis as we negotiate being retired together.

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They do not materialize

with gossamer wings

no ethereal,

other worldly light

surrounds their bodies

they make no grand predictions

to young virgins

or calm the fears of shepherds

out in the darkened fields

instead they are just there,

every day,

with no expectations

helping forgotten people

listening to the stories

no one else will listen to

holding a hand

when needed

being a light of hope

in a world gone dark

doing this for no wage

or any praise

they minister in the wilderness

giving comfort to all

then go home in the evening

their light still shining

in the hearts of those they touched.

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.

Advent Calls

In the depths of the heart

a voice whispers

awaken, O Man, awaken

the first light is lit

the world awaits

the maidens have trimmed their wicks

and still you slumber

awaken to the worlds needs

awaken to the song of humanity

the cries of the innocent

that haunt our souls

the angel speaks softly

in a voice of thunder

Wake, O Man, Wake.

Are we Doomed?

I’ve always wondered what it must have been like for those ancient Romans as their world began to collapse around them. Here they were, the only superpower, a first class military, abundant wealth and status and yet, just outside their walls stood a rag-tag army of immigrants. Yes, these barbarians, this tribe of Goths, were immigrants. They came across the boundaries of the Empire, they were part of a great migration that would eventually swallow up the once powerful Roman Empire and plunge Europe into what we call today, the Dark Ages.

I’m not going to go into the history of what happened but I am curious as to what those Romans felt as they watched their way of life crumble before their eyes. What warnings did they have? What propaganda did the Emperor and Senate use to insure them that all would be just fine? It is hard for me to imagine their feelings, then again, as I watch the daily drama unfold on Twitter and the various media sites, I’m beginning to understand what may have been going through their minds. Of course, that is all assuming that they, the Romans, were aware that something big was happening, that their world was experiencing a cataclysmic shock that would be felt for generations to come. Back then, there was no Social Media sites, there was no instantaneous news feeds running 24/7, and once the roads were cutoff, even getting messages into the city would have been greatly curtailed. I can only imagine a city rife with rumors, each one more shocking that the next. Unscrupulous businessmen taking advantage of the fear, selling security in the form of freed gladiators, who would protect your home and family from the impending hoard. Of course, being human the citizens would have done anything for security, just like today, we will do anything for security even if it means giving up our precious freedoms. Only later, when it’s already too late, do we find these securities to be nothing more than phantoms, there one moment gone like a wisp of smoke the next.

We Americans are not immune from the changes we see all around us. Nations, like North Korea, Iran and others, want to have nuclear capabilities. They see the larger nations as a threat, bullies who can punish them economically and so like the little kid being bullied in school they seek to even out the playing field, and that means having “the bomb.” The big kids cry foul, claim that they’re not playing by the rules but then again, neither did those Germanic tribes who sacked Rome play by the rules. So, what do we do? I have no answer for the greater questions, in fact no one does. There are no easy answers, no one size fits all solutions that will make everyone happy. After all we are dealing with human beings, a species that for centuries has never been able to see the consequences of their actions.

Then the question becomes, are we doomed? No, at least I hope not. Sure there are those days when it looks pretty dismal then we have those moments of light. People reaching out to help one another, some even crossing boundaries that once were impassable to pull each other along. The recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida have shown our better nature as people reached out across, social, racial and cultural divides to help one another. Heroic efforts of first responders and ordinary citizens, risking life and limb to help, again shows that deep connection we have. Somewhere, in each of us there is that spark of the Divine that despite our best efforts to keep it hidden from view refuses to be closeted.

Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11. I looked up into a bright blue September sky, as a plane flew overhead preparing to land at Logan. That plane is not a villain, it is not inherently evil, it is just a machine designed to carry people across great distances in a matter of hours and not days. It is one of humanity’s crowning achievements, the very idea of flight, of escaping the bonds of earth and flying into the heavens. Yet, on that day 16 years ago, this marvel of engineering was turned into a weapon of mass destruction. Yes, humanity is capable of doing great things, wonderful things and, humanity is also capable of so much destruction.

In Matthews Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying, “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” I have to wonder, as I read the latest social media postings and watch the news, if the one we need to fear is not the other but the one in the mirror.

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.

Reflection in Torchlight

The sunlit morn
dawns bright
over the haze
of the night before
torches held
as voices chanted
age old words
the long lost prophets
of war and woe
fingers pointing
to the sun
upraised hands
to strike us down
voices of peace
that break the bread
offering to all
a Sacrament given
from the wooden beam
of God’s great love
a grace that overflows.