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Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder just whom I’m looking at. The face, the body…none of it seems familiar to me. I don’t just mean the wrinkles that cross the bridge of my nose or drag down the corners of my mouth. It’s more than that. I find myself looking for recognizable signposts: the purple mark above my right knee, the scars from a childhood double-whammy of chicken pox and rubella. Getting older is scary. Good thing we don’t have to do it alone.

The hands I know, but they are my mother’s;
the square face an artifact from Germany, I think.
My hair — impossible curls after a lifetime
of lying listlessly but reliably straight.
I cannot find myself in my own face,
though I search for traces like a dog
sniffing clues. Who is this strange woman
haunting my mirror like a cautionary tale?
I have not chanted “Bloody Mary,” yet here
she is, her visage a map of days, of years.
Where was I during this time? Asleep?
But Sleeping Beauty never aged like this.
Or perhaps I was inside, cleaning house.
I hope I was. One day, my soul will rise
to meet me, as familiar as the ache
in my ankle when weather turns cold.
She will lead the stranger home.
And I will know myself at last.

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As we celebrate our country tomorrow, let us not forget our commitment to justice. If, indeed, we are a Christian country, where is God in the hierarchy of what we do, how we treat others, how we present ourselves to the world? I suspect that in our eagerness for self-importance, we have put God at the “less than” side of things.

Stuck at the mean, sharp point of the equation,
God is not diminished. We seek skyrockets; God
makes stars. We long for parades, boots on the ground,
a tank or two to feel less tiny. Meanwhile, time marches on,
grander than all the spectacles we muster. And at the far shore,
God watches, waits. Freedom is a thought too big, it must be
reduced, like loyalty, like love. God sits in the open bracket,
alone. We are held in her hand, blessed by bounty, blinking,
blinded by what we think we’ve made. One nation under God:
below, beneath. Not above. Until we know this, we do not figure,
despite our calculations.

We designed this blog as a sunny, positive place to reflect and pray. That does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the darker things of this world. Take the situation at the border: Children are being torn from their parents’ arms, placed in overcrowded “shelters,” sleeping on concrete, not being provided with even the most basic care. They are getting sick. They are dying. Have no doubt — we will be judged on our response to this crisis. And that judgment will come sooner than we think.

Be warned:
We are writing on the most fragile of pages
in ink that breaches the veins, burning
blood, leaching poison. They will remember us
as the stuff of childhood nightmares,
as the monsters their mamas swore
did not exist. (Sometimes parents are wrong,
and monsters wear a human mask.)
We are imprinting a world on their skins,
a world of screaming terror, filth and misery.
We may forget, but they will not. Not ever.
The dark thing we’ve unleashed will come
to roost in our own pretty homes,
soon, soon. It will swoop and smother.
No nation can stand with a millstone
round its neck. Judgment is coming.
Do not look away.

What does it mean to be the body of Christ? Maybe it means that the goal of our spiritual journey is to become part of Christ, to do His work and will as one body. A body requires all of its parts to function harmoniously. It is not enough for the “stars of the show,” like the eyes, hands and feet, to operate. They cannot do so independently. Every part is needed — the toenails protect the toes, which enable the feet to balance the body, etc., etc.

There is no appendix in the body of Christ, no unnecessary wisdom teeth. We are all indispensable and important. Never sell yourself short. Never diminish your role in the salvation of the universe. It takes us all. It takes a body.

No part more precious than another,
a democracy of bones and sinew,
hallowed by purpose, divine by design.
The body of Christ stands, walks,
wields the world, shaping, smoothing
with an artist’s hands. The fate of us
resounds, ringing from the stapes
of the ear to the fifth metatarsal of toe,
reminding us: no hand, no heart
can stand alone. We breathe into being,
make possible in real blood, by prayer
and deed, God on this earth.

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Alex Trebek, long-time host of “Jeopardy” has pancreatic cancer. This is a devastating diagnosis. However, Mr. Trebek recently announced that he is in near remission, and credits this miraculous turn-about to the power of prayer.

Which is wonderful. I was one of the many people who prayed for him, after all. The only problem with stories like this is that they cause us to question the nature of miracles. In my lifetime, I’ve also prayed for many other people with cancer, including some who had the very same diagnosis as Mr. Trebek. They died anyway. Why didn’t my prayers elicit a miracle for them? Did I not pray enough? Or maybe it comes down to numbers: A celebrity like Alex Trebek is bound to get more prayers than someone like my father, a quiet Korean War vet and former farm boy from Wisconsin. But since when does God favor the popular crowd? It’s a conundrum.

It is not grace withheld,
nor grace deferred.
It is only this: The miracle
you held in your heart
changed shape, became
a color beyond the spectrum your
eye can see. It came as you bid.
That is an assurity. But:
it did not look familiar,
dressed as it was in the stuff
of your fears. Still.
It was perfect.
And you will know it —
or not — one day.

Pentecost is nearly upon us; what better time to talk about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? For those unfamiliar with these, they are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Most of these are easy to grasp. But fear of the Lord? That one was a mystery to me until it was explained that the word “fear” relates to loss of God’s love and mercy — fear of being without God, of being alone. That I can understand at a cellular level. It’s a bit like the feeling you get on a roller coaster, just as you begin to plummet down that first big drop.

To leave one’s stomach — and heart —
on some bucolic grassy berm
and fall further, surely, than Alice ever fell,
into void and absence, of light, of sound,
to spin loose like a kite: hand, neck, knee,
head; bones loosed, body unbolted…
To live here always is to live without You,
a land as foreign as the face of the sun,
but cold, dead, devoid of compass points,
street signs, bent twigs or bread crumbs.
Blinder than a worm. No. I will not go.
Take me in your arms and promise me:
though I kick the air, you will not let me fall.

My friend Maria, who hails from Taiwan, tells me that in her culture it is believed that friends are souls who find one another, lifetime after lifetime. Though I’m not a fan of reincarnation (it sounds terribly tiring), I like the sound of this conjecture. After Ruth opined that she thought the three of us really ought to get tattoos so that we can find one another in the next life, it all clicked together.

The sky appears daunting, swarming
as it is with bright and twinkling things,
still: We will find each other,
unerringly, though lifetimes,
on this or any astral plane.
We will coalesce into constellation—
The Sisters, they will call us, or something Latinate —
we will laugh, knowing we are we, not stars but souls,
bound by something more grave than gravity,
beats of light that blink out occasionally,
only to reappear, newborn but ancient,
in yet another freckled sky.

As a writer and editor, I’ve always been a proponent of proper punctuation. It not only renders our words more readable and comprehensible, it can eliminate tragic misunderstandings. Don’t believe me? As a (rightfully) famous book about grammar points out in its title, a panda bear “eats shoots and leaves.” A murderer at a café, however, “eats, shoots, and leaves.” Big difference!

I’ve been pondering punctuation in relation to real life: Is death a period or an ellipse (…to be continued)? Or is it a semicolon, as we move from one part of our “sentence” (a complete thought) to another? Only God knows.

I pray in commas, brief pauses in my day, bare blips,
or often longer stops — ellipses and em-dashes —
the occasional exclamation, in pain, worry, joy…
a curved question mark, arced in self-pity.
The perfect prayer is, I think, a period.
Self-contained. Measured, like a bolt of cloth.
Shaped most simply, a clay cup
of subject, verb, and object.
And best if God is all three.

Let me just affirm what you already know: Things are lousy right now. There is no equality, no justice. No hope? Sometimes it feels like it. Then I hear a little voice (it sounds suspiciously like Auntie Ruth) saying, “Focus on the bright side; focus on hope.” Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. But hope, like faith, never claimed to be rational. It just is.

Advice for those who are sinking: First
find a reed, however slender, to grasp.
If muck sucks you downward, lie on your back,
float: improbably, hope will buoy you.

I read the handbook, yet trust forsakes me.
I hover, the slough still plucks and pulls.
Hope, foolish and fleeting, throws me a rope —
faith fills my chest; my heart is a red balloon.

(Or: In Which Lori and Ruth Pen a Poem Together)

You may not know that one of my very favorite poets is our own Ruth. As you probably have gleaned, she has a way with words. So when she emailed me with a premonition most poetic — Rows and rows of grown things. And it came from the pain. — I had to respond.

Oh Gardener, you surely tease:
what can grow from this blighted, salted soil
but stones and brush, blunted and stunted as bonsai?
What takes root in blood and mud but dashed dreams
and creeping evil? This ground has shown no promise,
not in all its years of sunward striving. Still, you laugh.
Crucifixion turns into Resurrection. Do I not recall?
And I see — rows and rows of grown things,
green shoots rooted in pain, turning new blooms
toward heaven. When will it come? You simply smile.
I carry no timepiece. Only wait for the rain to cease.
And you throw me an umbrella: a friend.
I resolve again to wait.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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