I.
You are my soul’s only seeking.
Yet you remain as opaque
as the sky, as resolute
and rainy, your face like flint.

II.
I am not the first
to grab a spray of roses
and draw back bloody.
It is the way of women
to feel keenly every prickle,
every puncturing portion.
It is why we weep.

III.
I begin the day as ever,
crying I am here and I am clay.
Make something of me
.
When might I expect a reply?
My calendar glares,
an ocean of blank possibility.

IV.
Yet if you were to step in,
we would surely fold our hands,
close our fists against you.
We do not want what we say we want.
Brokenness is easier than love.
It is an ask too big for begrudging hearts.

IV.
And so I say: Let it come.
Let what will be settle on me like a cloak.
If I must live in the dark, at least I know
I will not be lonely there.

macro shot photography of white flowers
picture of white flowers with dark green stems

The topic of our low vision support group one day last year was crafts people who are blind or visually-impaired can do. I was talking about round-loom knitting and showing the group some of the hats, mini-blankets and scarves I had made. 

After the meeting, a woman named Joyce approached me and pointed at my scarf. “It’s lovely!” she said. “Did you make that?” 

“Sure did!” I said. “Do you think I could learn how to knit like that?” she asked. “You sure can!” I told her. That was the first of many times she called me “remarkable.”

When you first meet someone, you may ask, “What job do you do?” But more telling is this one: “What job do you do on others?”

Joyce passed away recently and, boy, she did a job on me, okay. Made me feel like a genius. As if I’d invented knitting on a round-loom.

She made me feel like an angel. As if telling her she could still be crafty and creative, even with her visual impairment, was like manna from heaven.

More important than the question of, “What did you do for a living” is this one: “How did you make a life?”

Did you soldier on despite setbacks and health issues? Huzzah, indeed. Did you keep a positive attitude, even though you were facing some serious problems? Bully for you! 

These are the minute miracles that people accomplish and never give themselves credit for. Being a “yes” in a world filled with “no” is a feather in your cap.

No one knows what another human being is going through on any given day. The most we can hope for is that we show up for each other when our paths cross, and that we lighten the load for a fellow traveler when we can.

At the end of her life, Joyce was still encouraging everyone around her. We only saw each other at low vision support group meetings, and kept in touch by email and on the phone only occasionally. Still, she made an impact on my life. She was a lesson in fortitude. In graciousness. In loving-kindness.

Dear friend, you will not be forgotten.

Choosing a path.

Listening for that still small voice.

Waiting for that nudge.

Knowing which way is THE way can be tough even when we are practicing discernment. And Sunday school last week brought that front and center for all of us.

Class was canceled because our pastor’s daughter tested positive for COVID. We wear masks and we social distance but with a diagnosis in the house he is self-quarantining. He phoned in his sermon. We showed it on Facebook and broadcast it to our outside drive-in service.

We are having to wait to finish our class. And that made me realize that there are two answers to prayer that we don’t always discern.

Wait.

That’s a tough one for us to hear because so often we pray when we have a need right this very moment. And we want the answer right this very moment too.

But sometimes the answer that we receive is wait. Wait until the time is right. Wait until we are ready. Wait until we have quieted our hearts and our minds.

Wait.

It isn’t what but how.

Sometimes the problem is that we want a clear path – this choice or that choice. But the answer isn’t so much which path to walk but how we should walk it.

Walk in peace. Walk in his light. Sharing his love. Seeing those in need. Recognizing your fellows as children of God.

These are all possibilities for the “how” of life and they can apply equally to an engineer’s life as they can to the life of an electrician or a teacher. My grandmother may not have been a missionary or an evangelist, but I don’t doubt for a minute that everyone who dealt with this Avon lady knew who she followed.

The answer that we want may not come right this moment. It may not even be the kind of answer that we expect. But an answer will come.

–SueBE

There’s been a lot of talk around here lately (and by “around here,” I mean this blog. Which is its own universe. At least, it is to me!) about discernment, about hearing God’s nudges and praying the way forward. As happens so often, the three of us are in a similar place, feeling a call to the road ahead yet not really knowing what it entails. A book? Videos? Something else?

At the same time, I am being tugged at by other forces. It seems I am a good person to have aboard a project, although none of the proposed projects are paying projects, alas. (Go ahead and red flag me, Ruthie. “Aloteration” is both gift and curse.)

Which way to go? How much energy do I have to devote to each path? And which way feels most right and true to me? Listening for and to God is very hard work indeed.

The road forks precipitously,
twining like tentacles away into a future
I am too near-sighted to see.
God, I lay these routes at your feet.
Where you step, I too will step.
The map is in your hands
but I cannot read it, being somewhat lost
and, at any rate, confused about directions.
You, however, know them.
You know the path most tender on my feet,
and which is worth the stones and thistles.
Your eyes see in the dark,
and dark is where I live these days.
You will need to speak up.
You will need to post an obvious marker.
You will need to explain to me,
as if to a child, how to get there.
You, who, meet me where I am,
lead, Love, the way.

heart shape book page close-up photography

“…as an answer to prayer, ‘do what you’ve done’ seemed too easy. I guess I was expecting something trickier. Have you needed a friend’s help to hear God’s voice clearly?”

Maybe having a soulmate isn’t the fairy tale of finding a romantic partner who fulfills your every need and with whom you “click” instantly. It seems to me that you find that connection with friends over the years. Could it be that “belongingness” (as author Brene Brown termed it) consists of components of a whole constellation of characters in your life?

There I go with the alliteration again! Lori and SueBE know I love to use it in posts, so much so that we’ve termed it “alloteration.” Think I’ll flag it 🚩for your safety as you proceed.

SueBE’s post, “How Do You Pray?” resonated with me, and I realized we’d both gotten the same sense of God’s nudging again, even though we live so far away from each other.

Lori, SueBE and I have been discussing a project we can do together, and it seemed natural to believe it was something different than what we are already doing — writing this blog together.

But as I prayed about it, the “words on my heart” were so clear: Just what we’re doing now. Like SueBE, I thought, that can’t be right, can it? Doesn’t it have to be more complicated than that?

Just what we’re doing now. 

So what are we doing now?

  • Writing posts and prayers
  • Bouncing ideas off each other
  • Exchanging emails to catch up on our lives and discuss current events
  • Encouraging each other during hard times
  • Learning from moments of conflict (after ten years of friendship, we’ve only had one, initiated, regrettably, by me)

These things may seem inconsequential, but they form the foundation of our friendship. 🚩

Paradoxically, that moment where I left my common sense in my other purse and said hurtful things to SueBE has deepened the soul-sister relationship for all three of us.

It was me at my worst when SueBE was at her lowest. It was Lori at her best, standing by and offering care to us both, knowing it would eventually be resolved in the spirit of grace. It was how people who care about each other seek redemption, forgive, make amends, and heal together.

But as for the project we set out to do together, we decided to write “laments”, a type of sorrowful prayer, so I’ve been writing, discarding, starting over, stomping away from the desk. I just haven’t found a way to express what I’m trying to say. It could be because I’m trying to write from a perspective of hard things are happening, but in the end, we have hope. 🚩 I always have hope, but trying to make it universal with how I feel about everything going on in the world has been…? Fraught? Feels false somehow.

So maybe the three of us are supposed to do something similar to what John Green and his brother Hank do under their moniker, The Vlog Brothers. They record videos addressed to each other about all kinds of topics.

Of course, selfies are not my comfort zone, so I doubt I’ll be climbing on board the video wagon. Lori and I aren’t used to presenting our personas as a package for perusal (🚩). SueBE is more comfortable with public speaking, as she has done it often, and does it well.  She offers classes on the art of writing. She’s our professor, and it’s her purview (½ 🚩)

I’m not sure how this new project of just what we’ve been doing will manifest, but I know that we’ll figure it out from afar, together, with prayer, patience, and the persistent push of providence. 🚩

Do you have to be there in person to understand what someone else is going through? No, of course not. If you care, you can be there by phone, email, or video. If that person is part of the swath of soulmates in your life, you can be there with your heart.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about attending a class on discernment. We are now three weeks in. What have I learned so far?

We all have different prayer postures.

The pastor asked us to consider how we pray. A fellow theologian pointed out to him that Catholics pray with their eyes open. Presbyterians bow their heads and close their eyes.

Me? I look off into the middle distance, eyes unfocused. If I close my eyes, I am struggling to focus.

What is your prayer posture?

It is okay to pray for small things.

“It is okay to pray for a McMuffin.”

That is a phrase I never thought I would hear a pastor utter. But his point was that it is okay to pray for small things. Maybe you need a full belly to focus in prayer or worship. Maybe this is a bit of comfort food and you are feeling lonely or alone. We don’t have to wait to approach God until we have something BIG.

I admit, I tend to pray for big things. Not that I’m always asking for something huge, but small things? Most of those I can deal with myself so it doesn’t cross my mind to approach God with something small.

Do you pray for small things or large things?

Sometimes it takes counsel to know I am hearing God.

So far our focus in class has been on praying for our heart’s desire. What is it that we deeply want? What lies behind that? When I came up with ‘work in social justice,’ I doubted this message. That’s what I’ve been doing. These jobs had all dried up. What should I be doing now?

I mentioned this to someone who is in the class with me. “But you’re good at that. Maybe you need to wait for a new opportunity.” This person was right but as an answer to prayer, “do what you’ve done” seemed too easy. I guess I was expecting something trickier.

Have you needed a friend’s help to hear God’s voice clearly?

We have four more weeks of class. I’m looking forward to learning more in the weeks ahead.

–SueBE

God is big. People are small. Not because we were made that way, but because it’s what we want. Think of the way God defines Godself to Moses — “I am who am.” God doesn’t even need a name. God simply is. And when Jesus addresses God in prayer, he chooses the word “Abwoon,” which is genderless. Jesus doesn’t use he or she, though he certainly could have. God always chooses the largest definition possible.

Now think about how we define ourselves (i.e., to death). We sort ourselves (by gender, sexual preference, age, name, hair color, skin color, ethnicity, religious affiliation, ability and lack thereof) into ever-smaller subsets of human being. It’s as if we aren’t special unless we are defined to within an inch of our lives. Why is that? Why can’t we be bigger?

Rest in your humanness, let it fit you
like a skin, the skin you know and breathe in.
Imagine for an instant that you are not alone.
Picture the possibilities of seeing yourself
in the eyes of everyone you meet.
What might it mean?
To see our home in ratty humanity,
common as an old quilt and just as comfy
is to see unbelievable opportunity.
If we knew for just one moment
how large we are together,
what could we not do?
We are called to greater seas.
Leave your puddle. Swim. Be one.

Everyone who learns my secret tells me how wonderfully calm I am. How gracious. How unruffled. Little do they know that I’ve spent my time more like the anagram of calm — the clam: roiling on the inside, turning worrying grit into a pearl of anxiety that I hold in my calmly closed mouth. Only a few, very select people know that my husband has tested positive for Covid-19 and that I am awaiting the results of my own test. Of all the possible effects this plague could have on me, I’ll admit “asymptomatic carrier” was not on my bingo card. Not with my asthma and faulty, scarred lung. Even more surprising would be to find out I’m negative, after living in the same close quarters with a positively sick person for two weeks. Stranger things have happened, though.

Only God knows how my fear is manifesting itself — through migraines the size of a Goodyear blimp. Fortunately, God also knows and hears my fervent, late-night prayers. I may be a calm clam on the outside, but God reads my insides like a book. Maybe that’s why I seem so calm?

My head is splitting,
threatening to spill
all the ugly things
I keep inside it:
fear oozing from its rind
like overripe cheese,
panic and its partner shock,
and behind them all the dizzying
dread of knowing how small I am,
how unready and unsteady I stand.
I could heave it all out of me,
this, that no one wants to see.
I needn’t. God dissects my being,
the most masterful surgeon,
baring my wormy innards and
blessing them with balm. I feel his hand
skillfully sewing, stitches so small
no eye can behold them. The scar
will be hidden. We alone will know it.
I whisper the words, private, prayerful.

woman in pink shirt sitting on chair“Any coughing, sneezing, diarrhea?” The woman asked as I rolled down my window.

At first, I thought my son had taken a wrong turn and driven us to the Worst Wendy’s in the World. 

Are these items… a la carte?

Should I respond, “No thanks, trying to cut down! Just a baked potato. Hold the mucus.”

But we were actually at the vet to drop off our cat, Squeaky, for his first well-visit. People aren’t allowed inside the vet’s office, so the procedure now is to pull into a parking spot, hand off your pet, and wait for them to call you with results.

It’s important to ask if anyone in the household is sick, but it would’ve been nice to be greeted with a “hello” first.

I think we can all relate to the harried, masked workers making their way through the day with uncertainty hanging in the very air around them.

Last month, a utility worker in a mask confronted me at my front door. “Step out of the house, please, ma’am.” I looked at him for a good, long time, like DeNiro. You talkin to me? You’re telling me to step out of my own house? I don’t think so. 

When I didn’t move or speak, he finally received the energy of my fixed gaze, and softened his tone. “Company policy, ma’am. We have to ask you this outside before we can come in.”

“Then say that, son,” I told him. He was actually nice, but was grappling with how to keep himself safe while doing his job. He’s got to put food on the table. If he gets sick, nobody eats.

One of the lessons I’ve learned during this pandemic is that people can somehow not be themselves for a protracted period of time. Trying to balance health, safety and financial security has had an impact on the human psyche.

So for the time being, if you find those on the frontline a bit curt, don’t take it to heart. Common courtesy may be uncommon these days, but cover your own karma. Keep the mask on your face and the forcefield of faith around your soul. This too shall pass.

I’ve been praying a lot lately. This year seems to necessitate it. So it made me wonder about the physics of prayer. As you can see, I have more questions than answers.

Where do prayers go?
Do they fly up (heavenward we presume),
light as smoke, hot as steam, invasive as air?
Or do they fall like pennies in a well,
clanging heavily to our own contrite feet?
Do they spread like infections, permeate
the walls of cells and shift us into changelings,
wrought new, wondrous — or press our carbon selves
into fledgling diamonds? Are they silent, a secret
message written in code, that God must dab with lemon
to reveal…or are they heard by saints and sinners,
by forebears and old foes (“look, she’s praying for that again;
I’ve seen this one in reruns, sis, it will never happen”)?
Do they twine like ivy, growing up and out, riotous, uncontained,
or cling, packed tightly, like lichen to a rock?
Do prayers pop on contact or linger long,
so we wade always through a fog of prayer,
a pea soup of petition, a swamp of want?
Or do our hallelujahs make neutral painful pleas,
an acid added to a base, water in a cup to drink
and bless us? Is prayer eternal as our God
or as fleeting as ourselves?
Perhaps it is like poetry:
The best of it remembered,
the rest, a moment’s fancy,
read by a single reader.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

%d bloggers like this: