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“Author of all that is good”: That’s God. Or at least it’s one of God’s common descriptors. When I heard it at Mass the other day, I gave it a good think, this time from a blogger’s point of view. God really is the author of all that is good. But we have a role to play, too. Good is transmitted from God through us, into our acts and words, in whatever role we play: as parents, caretakers, teachers, and yes, even writers. If we are open to it, that is.

 

 

All good is of God,
but who can face it?
Who would not be struck blind
by the beauty of it?
Like coffee too scalding for the palate,
it must be tempered,
sugared, cooled for a receptive tongue.
Who will tend to it?
All of us: the child, when it smiles,
the nurse with deft hand
and bandages, the poet whose fingers
pause above the keys,
listening, receptive as antennae,
waiting for word. Can you see
the author of all that is good
reading love into being?
And will you make it your mantra,
translating and decoding,
through touch and word and deed?
We are needed.
Listen for instructions.
Pass the word.
Dwell in it
as if it were your own skin.

 

 

December 21 — that’s the day winter officially begins. Yet, somehow (and I can’t be the only one!), I’m already tired of it. If it’s not winter yet, then why is it so cold? Why are we beset with snow and wind and slush and gray skies? Calendars and almanacs may be useful, but they can’t tell us how we feel. Only we know that. And in this Advent, this time of waiting, I am feeling ready for something new. Something wonderful. (P.S. A thank-you to my good friend Marilyn Rausch for the term “hyacinth of the soul”!)

In this winter by another name,
this still-point of seasons,
in trees stripped clean,
in a sky black with grackles,
ground as hard as haters’ hearts:

I am waiting for a hyacinth of the soul:
something fragrant and unexpected.

Something’s coming
with a gift already purchased,
bought in blood, so long ago.
I have only to hold it in my hands
to know it. It feels like the sun,
wobbling weak as a new calf,
standing. Sniffing springtime.
May the light find us ready
to stand awhile and bask.

There is so much good here,
both on and around the table.
Look. Whatever we have today
is bounty because we may not have
it tomorrow. Let us bless one another.
The number of clasped hands matters not;
it is the electricity of love they carry
each to other, love that leaps chasms,
love that lights a path to a doorway
where everyone you know is gathered
and all are glad to see you, even if
this place never appears on this earth.
A blessing on you, on all of you.
Great grows the heart that
knows gratitude for what
is seen; greater, grander
when we envision what could be.

Do you know why St. Therese of Lisieux became known as “The Little Flower”? Because she never saw herself as worthy. No, in God’s garden, she argued, she wasn’t a sweet-scented rose or spotless lily… just an insignificant bloom, hardly noticeable. This was a woman who loved God so fervently, it puts the rest of us to shame. So I ask, what the heck kind of flower does that make me?

Or to put it in avian terms…what kind of bird? Does salvation rest in trying to be eagle when one is actually a wren? Or, just maybe, might it lie in being utterly true to who and what you are…whether you soar like a falcon or waddle like a doomed dodo? In the end, I suspect God loves us all, great and small, roses and sweet peas, hawks and canaries.

God sows seed; we bend our necks, peck.
Wren and peacock, sparrow and falcon,
we feed, fight for crumbs, carry morsels
home to nests heavy with fledglings.
Some nests are mud. Others shine
with tinsel and the feathers of other birds.
When comes the time to raise us, send us soaring
into skies, will even the ostrich take with grace
to unknown air? In that moment of miracle, all
can rise, if the seed you eat is deep belief.
Wide-winged, wondrous, the swan will ascend.
The wren, too, shall be lifted, heart thudding,
wing a-quiver, higher even than hope can go.

The Friday before our local election day, one of the candidates showed up at my door with the “insider information” that I’m a mail-in voter and my ballot hadn’t yet been received.

“How do you guys know this, anyway?” I asked him. He said, “I don’t know, they just tell me, and I try not to get involved in the particulars.” I had put my ballot in the mail the day before.

So the powers-that-be know when my vote has been cast.

If they can know this about me, why don’t they know that I’ve contacted public officials to no avail for years about safety issues on my block, such as the lack of water run-off drainage? In the summer, this leads to the formation of a tiny river on the street in front of my house, causing cars to hydroplane. In the winter, it becomes a frozen lake so treacherous, I’ve seen cars spin out and nearly crash.

And why don’t they know that school kids have to walk to the bus stop in the street with cars whizzing by because only half of our block has sidewalks? 

As it turns out, we only had a 23% voter turn-out. If your representatives aren’t representing you, it’s time to turn them out. When it’s time for change, vote.

Apparently, the poet Rumi visited me in a dream. There can be no other explanation for the words that came to me on waking. But that’s how poetry often happens to me. I start with a blank page (or a blank mind) and the words fill in by themselves. The only question left is what to do with them? And the answer — again as usual — is to pass them on to you.

My beloved stands before a door
holding a heart-shaped key. I ask:
What does it open? He smiles.
Whatever it is that you cannot open
any other way — neither with fine
instruments of logic nor brute strength;
that which will not yield to cajolery or
flattery, nor open to sweet words mouthed,
or prying fingers that seek to clench, contain.
That which only the heart can truly fathom.

And then I see it: the heart-shaped hole
in my beloved. Into it, I fit the key and
twist it. There is a whir, as if wind is
flowing through an open doorway,
and I see my beloved as if after
a thousand years of travel.
And we are one, at last.

It seems as if we’re always waiting for God — to answer our prayers, to point us in a new direction, to give us a sign. But why would God lag behind us? It is ludicrous to contemplate. God, if anything, is way ahead of us. What if the truth is this: God is actually waiting for us — to do something, to hear something, to be something. How would we respond? More importantly, how will we respond when we realize it’s happening right this very minute?

You’d tap your watch if you wore one
to indicate my tardiness, and still
I cannot plumb your intentions.
Whatever sign you sent, I missed:
the alarm too silent for my aging ears,
the town crier lost on the wrong street.
I am left imagining your expression —
mildly amused? Vaguely disgruntled?
Or endlessly patient — that would wound
most, I think, the inference of my neglect.
You’ve given me boards, washers, screws,
but the instructions, I believe, are in Swedish.
Are we building a table? Or a catapult?
Should I pack a suitcase or board up the door?
I know the answer of course, it is there,
hiding behind the author of Hedda Gabler
and the words to every Beatles song.
Just out of reach. Fuzzy, near forgotten.
Only fear keeps me from finding it.
So I will pray for courage.
The courage to be on time.

How long does it take to know someone? A month? A year? A lifetime…or maybe even longer? When it comes to seeking God, I’m not sure there’s a limit. To look for God is to look forever. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that anyone who thinks he can get his arms around God, contain God, package God, speak for God — that person is a liar. God is too big for any of us. Even the statement “God is love” begs the follow-up: What, then, is love? The person who can sum that up in one word— or ten — is a better linguist than I.

I love the idea of getting to know someone over ages and ages of time. It’s like reading a great book that never ends. I suspect I am not alone in this.

I could anagram your name
if I knew it, but you keep coy,
flirt with vagaries like “I am
who am.” Riddles, tricks of the light,
something seized than instantly lost.
We try to limit you to the page,
but you keep writing, in each leaf that furls
from the tree, another sentence,
in an eon perhaps a paragraph.
We cannot turn the pages fast enough.
No matter, you say, and pass a pot
of tea, a blanket. Settle in. Take all the time
you need
. I will take you at your word,
read slowly, mouth each syllable
like a diamond on my tongue.

The weather’s gone bitter cold, winter cold. Autumn in all its burnt ochre, crisp brown, burgundy brightness has seemingly been skipped over. Just thinking about trees — as they drop their leaves precipitously — makes me ponder harvest. Trees do as God intends for them to do: They grow, bear fruit, shed leaves and begin the cycle again. But what about humans? What is God’s intention for each of us and how can we know if we are fulfilling it? It is indeed a puzzle.

Trees we judge by their yield, yet —
what is the measure of mortals?
Not rings to mark time
nor grandeur of height.
Surely nothing as showy as an apple,
dappled, toothsome, sweet.
Making money is not near
as lovely as leaves, less utile
than blade and bud that sustain
whole species over long winters.
What have we to give but kindness
and the consolation of a listening ear?
You cannot put these on a table
or measure yield in bushels.
God alone will part our needles,
tap our trunks, ascertain
whether we have given good home
to those who alight on our branches.

alex-jones-Tq4YjCa2BSc-unsplashGot a problem? “Give it to God,” they say. Only sometimes it’s not that simple. I, for one, tend to be an ambivalent giver. I claim to hand over my trouble, only to take it back obsessively, ruminate on it, rummage through the possibilities, ponder all the “what-ifs.” As if Providence rests in my nervous little hands.

The great and wise Richard Rohr once said, “The opposite of Faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is control.” It’s a lesson we, like poor Hamlet, learn the hard way. That in the end, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will—….”

And, as we know, “the rest is silence.”

Of what substance
is hardship made
that, in shaping it
with sturdy hands,
it liquefies, slumps,
refuses to hold its shape?
Persists with devilish intensity
to be captured or controlled?
If only we understood:
That in lifting our hands,
in setting free that which
we cannot sculpt to our ends,
the obdurate thing will fly from us,
ascend to one who will form it.
The shape it takes, no wringing of limbs
will change. It is what it will be.
Swallow it, in pieces, as you can.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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