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In Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa wakes up and realizes he’s been turned into a horrible insect. I had a similar, though less pestiferous, experience last night. I was all cuddled up in my blankets, when I realized that my own heartbeat — in combination with the heartbeat of my cat, who sleeps so close to me I literally cannot move — was making the blankets reverberate: ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. It was like being inside a cocoon. I wondered briefly, sleepily, what I would be reborn into.

Wouldn’t it be nice to end each day by completely shedding your old self, only to be born anew? Wouldn’t it be great to leave past mistakes behind — permanently? What if we treated each new day as a chance to start over?

How about today
you wake up and do not take
up your old soul (you know the one,
grubby and tattered, in need of baptism
or at least an industrial washing),
but put on instead fresh new wings?
Let them lift you above the expectations
and the petty seething of those so earthbound
they cannot fathom metamorphosis. Be today
an altogether better thing. Leave your old self
sleeping in your bed. Shed it like chrysalis, like a shell
you’ve grown too large for. And when you see someone
soaring, greet them with amnesia of what worm they were
before. Let the past go like pollen dropping from your feet.
Examine a new leaf. Let your vision go skyward.
There is nowhere you cannot go.

There was a time in my life that I seriously considered becoming a nun. Some people in my life are baffled by this. Perhaps I don’t fit into their idea of what a nun should look like or be. That’s common among those who have not spent much time among women religious. I have, and I know them to be individuals, humans. They are smart and funny and brave…they also drink beer and cuss and find themselves wanting. My calling ended up being to a life quite different from what I’d imagined. Still, when I think back to that time, I want to say to those doubters, “Do you not remember being young and in love?” Because I do.

I fell. Or rather,
I flew. I floated,
feet barely brushing
the sturdier surfaces of the earth.
You don’t forget your first and I do not;
we smuggle messages (he to me) in secret,
in sudden, stark realizations and serendipitous surprise.
Together we are children. We are as ancient as old bones.
Love lands lightly as a feather, as snow falling on the ground,
even now. After all I’ve done to desert it. After a lifetime,
we are still in love. One faraway day, we might even meet.
I can hardly contain my hope.

You know the guy (or gal). The one that takes up space in your head, whose very voice you cannot stand to hear. The one that makes you grit your teeth, scream in frustration, want to resort to acts of violence. THAT guy (or gal). Mental health workers tell us not to let someone like that take up real estate in our heads or hearts because it’s not good for us. Why empower them that way? But it’s more than that.

I believe we will all be called onto the carpet at the end of our lives here on earth, and we will have to answer for our sins, lacks and weaknesses. THAT person will have to do this, too. Let God judge him (or her). But don’t add to your own liabilities by harboring ill will toward someone. Don’t let THAT person add to your deficits.

Forgive them — even if you have to do it multiple times daily — and love them. (You don’t have to like or respect them. Those things are earned.) After all, you can only change yourself. Make yourself the best you.

Lord, you know them:
They try the patience of saints.
They take what is good and render it sullied.
They walk on hearts in their big black boots.
They laugh at those on the margins because they live smack dab
in the center of the page, where nothing can assail them.
Safe. Satisfied.

Lord, I am old enough to know
there is little justice on this earth.
Let me not become a part of the problem.
Take my soul and bleach it clean.
Take my heart and reshape it like clay.
Take my voice and redirect it from pain to prayer.
Let me love the least lovable, so as to be
the least like them that I can be.

If I had to analyze my spiritual journey, I’m afraid it would look like a jagged series of hills and valleys — up and down, up and down. There are probably times when I even go backwards. The road to self-knowledge, to goodness and to God is hardly a straight line. Even saints take circuitous routes (just look at Augustine, a self-proclaimed sinner supreme who turned it around…eventually).

How do we chart our progress? Through actions? Prayer? Some sort of peaceful inner feeling? Only God knows for sure.

Time on the road has been fraught.
I struggle with a lack of maps
and too many mysterious signposts
for one weary wanderer to divine.
You’ve sent me, I see, on the slow course;
baptism bought me no bridges. But —
I catch sight of you often. There,
you peer at me through a sunset;
I sight you in the looped letters
of my own name on an envelope.
Again and again, you elude me,
a child playing hide and seek.
Why can I not keep up with you?
You ought to be less spry
after all these millennia.
Still, I plod. Put one foot down,
and then another, testing for
quicksand, for precipitous drops.
Knowing the way will be arduous,
but ending in green fields, rest,
and radiant reunion.

Radiant with faith, they arrived on my doorstep. Something, they said, had brought them here. We talked for a while about faith practices, about the search for God, and they left me with their literature, which I perused. And I considered. Most of it was a history, and as most histories are, fraught with conflict. But not all of it. There, scattered, were the jewels of most religions: ideas like forgiveness, mercy, justice, love.

If we could visualize a giant Venn diagram of all religious practices, the overlapping places — the places we converge — give us our best and most direct look at what and who God really is. The rest — the places we differ — are just housekeeping. Potato, po-tah-to. If only we could concentrate on what we have in common, rather than what keeps us apart, we would be the better (and dare I say, holier) for it.

Eradicate the pageantry.
Strip the faith down to its bones.
Lay it open as an autopsy,
as brutal and as frank: look.
There among the many threads
we’ve woven into coats (the coats
that mark us one from another)
is a single strand. It is red
with heart’s blood; it is white
with hope, pink with raw forgiveness.
Grasp it in your hand. It will lead
you out of the labyrinth of rancor.
Silence will visit you there, and
you will see what you are meant to see:
It was all set up ahead of time.
There was no mystery,
only abundant clues.

Some people dive into life head-first. Others hang back and just dip their toes in the water. I’m trying something new: forging ahead heart-first, the way Mary, Jesus’ mother, did. She could not have known or been ready for what life threw at her — teen pregnancy, raising the Son of God, watching that beloved son die on a cross — but she moved through it, keeping “all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) She could only feel her way forward by trusting in her faith and love.

If life is handing you unfathomable circumstances, mysteries you just can’t unravel, that’s okay. Trust your heart, rather than your head, and take the next step.

When all your soul is cloaked
in darkness as thick as the pelt of a bear
and as unyielding to the touch,
crack open the delicate shell of your heart,
allow it to illuminate what it can.
As for the rest, there is only faith
which of course moves mountains,
but rubble, too, the pebble in your shoe,
the slippery sand sliding underfoot.
The heart touches trouble in all the right places,
moves the wound, stanches the bleeding,
keeps the dike from cracking as we pass,
not with understanding perhaps, but with
the eye of the heart, which witnesses
but does not judge. Understanding will come,
in this or other lives, slowly or like a fist;
it doesn’t matter now. For now, let love lead.

Crossed wires. Chaotic interference. Misunderstandings. Bad intel. Instead of seeing things clearly in 2020 (yes, that’s an optometry joke), we seem to be struggling with miscommunication. Some of this derives from how we say things — using texts and social media tends to obliterate shades of meaning like inflection and sarcasm. But part of the problem is the simple rise of noise: Everybody’s talking, but no one is listening. And even the people listening aren’t really hearing. What can we do about it? Let’s start by uncrossing some wires.

Being human is getting us nowhere;
it is time for us to be animals again.
Let go of your body, settle into fur,
into feathers, into exoskeleton
and antennae, into scales, scruff
and haunches. Purr when you’re happy.
Growl when angry. Pester like a fly
until answers emerge. Most of all,
stop touching words as if each is a
thistle. Land on them as blandly
as a bee, touching lightly, springing
from petal to petal. Open your heart
to the simplicity of winter sleep,
tucked in together with no more
motive than merely getting through it.
Share your den with the whole wide world,
wordlessly, remembering our common blood.

Hey, everybody! Who’s fired up for the new year? Who’s ready to take 2020 by the throat and wrest it into something beautiful, profitable and astonishing?

Not me. Maybe not you, either. But guess what? That’s okay. Most of us don’t have a grand plan. We just keep on keeping on, as they say. This year, let’s be kind to ourselves. Think of all of your daily “yeses” as practice for the big “yes” coming for us all one day, down the line a smidge or a half-century. Whether 2020 is our best year yet matters less than whether we do our best with it, day by day.

No one’s ever ready
for the great not-yet.
You take it as it comes,
like eating an elephant,
bite by bite. The enormity
of the task must be blurred, blunted,
or else you will see nothing but
endless road ahead. Instead,
focus on the odd flower that
punctuates a field, the stray
dog at your heels, the friend
you espy from afar. Small steps.
The now of it. The real feel
of stones on feet, of air coursing
through you, the weight of your bones.
Let each step fall gently. Be prepared
to choose another route. Most of all,
be kind: to your feet, which bear you up,
to your companions on the road,
to the power that prompts you
as you walk each day into
marvelous, maddening newness.

It is the day after Christmas. How are you feeling? Overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Maybe you have that nagging feeling that — once again — the holidays have left you…incomplete somehow. What is that hole in our hearts, anyway — a longing for holidays past? Regret that Christmas didn’t “measure up” to our expectations? A sense that somehow we didn’t really get what we wanted?

Maybe what we’re missing can’t be bought from a store. And maybe that feeling you’re feeling is something helpful — a hint that this world isn’t meant to meet all of our needs. That longing you feel? Maybe it’s just a reminder that somewhere up ahead, something better awaits.

When your pockets are as empty
as the sack of your heart,
when you ache for a place
you’ve never been
and cannot find,
you will remember
what you did not get.

It was a stable, warm with hay
and the breath of cows,
a haven heavy with a sense of rest:
a knowing that all is well,
finally, at last and forever.
Do not fret, for this will come.
Keep walking toward the light.
Never let go of the longing,
for it will guide you,
sure as any compass.

Good tidings could toll, sing out in song,
fire or luminescence, light of any kind
to pierce the dark, a pillar of cloud
exiting Egypt; angels summoning shepherds.
Why send a star? Light already ancient,
a false ringing from a long-dead phone?
(Or does it live? By what name do we call it?)
Could only a star call the wise, with time and
thought to spare for gifts: gold for a king,
resin for the altar, spice for the embalmer,
already waiting to bless the linens
He would shrug off like a memory?
Have we any hope but to go the old way:
step by step across the desert,
to the limits of our imaginations,
and seek and seek the single light that shines
in an otherwise brutish sky?
A message sent light-years ago:
something both living and dead.
A cross is coming, do you see the shadow
pass over the baby’s face?

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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