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It happened in a neighborhood much like yours. My friends — two of the kindest, most compassionate people I’ve ever known — had their home attacked by hatred. Let me set the scene: On their lawn, these friends have placed two signs. One says “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in three languages. The other simply states, “Black Lives Matter.” Lately, a cowardly Someone planted a third sign in their yard. This one was different. Scrawled on poster board were ugly, racist things. My friends were called “America haters” and instructed to “get a job.” (May I also mention that my friends are two of the hardest working folks you might ever meet?)

I spent a long time feeling sad, knowing how I might react to such a thing — with despair, anger and fear. But then I knew just how my friends were going to react to it — with compassion and resilient grace. And I realized: Hate has no chance. None at all.

Hate has no home here.
It scrabbles in crannies,
finding footholds in fearful dark places.
It squints in ignorance, afraid of light
that will certainly kill it, sure as any germ.
Though we long to burn it, let us refrain.
Instead, stand in loving audacity,
face forward into the abyss
that is, after all, only smoke:
quickly dispelled by the ongoing breath
of all who know our God.

A friend and mentor began a recent meeting by noting that we are experiencing “a letting go that sometimes feels excruciating.” It is a teaching time, but also a time of division and tumult. How we continue to respond to the challenges in our world will be the mark of us. Are we the America who went without rubber, without shoes and chocolate and nylon, so as to stamp out fascism in World War II? Or are we an America who equates freedom with the basest selfishness, a tyrannical toddler who refuses inconvenience even as the body count rises?

Who we are at heart will out itself
in small graces, in occasions not taken,
in the less and more of
what we will not do for ourselves,
but what we will do for others.
Change is demanded: for our earth,
for her creatures. Will we rise,
shine silver, mean what we said
when we said who we were?
The promise of America
lies within grasp: It will
bloody our fingers to grab it,
but it will also save our soul.

I worry about writing about racism. How good, how honest is my anger and grief? Racism is not, after all, part of my lived experience. Nor is it someone else’s job to educate me on this subject. It is my own. However, in the glaring light of continued, brutal racism in this country, it is up to me to do something. But what? There are resources abundantly available. In the meantime, let’s begin with the easiest thing of all: de-colonizing our bookshelves.

As a child my shelves were full
of children like me and not like me,
from as far off as China, as near
as next door. My vision narrowed
as I grew and neglected to prune.
It is time, and a task we all can do:
Examine the color of your books:
Whose life are you reading —
only your own? The one you know?
Learn to read someone else’s
and share what you find there.
Soak up what’s in the pages,
sound out the consonants
of someone else’s journey.
For every book that comforts,
choose one that does not.
Self-teach a whole new vision.
Start at page one.

Mother Teresa once said, “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” This quote finds its echo in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Not in Vain” (one of my favorites): “If I can stop one heart from breaking,/ I shall not live in vain:/ If I can ease one life the aching,/ or cool one pain,/ or help one fainting robin/ unto his next again,/ I shall not live in vain.”

We may not be able to do great things now. But we can do small things that require great love: wearing a facemask, not for ourselves, but for others. Giving up small pleasures like drinking in bars or going to concerts, not because we are afraid, but because we are concerned about those who are vulnerable. Small things. Big results.

Let us take a turn at small things:
the flat of a hand signing acceptance;
the sigh of small voices that soften,
somehow, a bellow; the breath
that says, simply, “yes.”
To return a robin to the nest
is greater than, and will go further,
than any act of anger. Our times require
saints, not soldiers, and sainthood is accrued
one small gesture at a time.

[Note: The following is a collaboration between Krissy Mosley of Visionarie Kindness and Lori Strawn of Praypower4Today. Krissy’s words are in bold; Lori’s in regular type.]

In the deep dark depths
where lost things go
Outside, at the bottom of ourselves
three steps down before the sidewalk begins
where the heartbeats are faster against the pavement
I found among the roots
and angled shoots a stone
that mended the spot in my soul
where once a wall stood.
I took it.
palpitations rapid, helpless hearts are fallen
stricken — what will it be now?
to hope in vain
to pray and never get an answer
blow by blow, wave after wave,

Though all falls to rubble,
though my spine is plucked
like the pith of an orange,
but suddenly through this gush of disaster
long before I stepped outside to wonder
long before the aromatic taste of morning 

I will not fail. Faith, like all
final things, falters, falls,
loses footing, fades, then
surges, sure as the sun
we’ve been circling since
long before our tragedies
were named.
Hope’s on the scene
plunging out the dark-dank air
pressing fear into faith:
second wind’s arising.

 

We’re an upbeat crowd around here, but we’re also realistic. So when I heard about David Kessler, an expert on grief, explaining that we ought not to “pole vault” over our pain, I was intrigued. What is pole vaulting in this sense? It’s a coping mechanism. It’s putting on a happy face, determining to see only the positive, while inside you very real, deep (and even dark) emotions swirl and rise.

Perhaps you think, “I have no reason to grieve; no one I know personally has died.” Or “I’m not on the front lines; I have no right to complain.” True, but these times are not like any we’ve lived through before. It’s natural to be sad. Or frightened. Or hurt. And it’s natural — healthy — to express these feelings and work through them.

Dealing with what you’re feeling isn’t easy. But repressing your emotions will only buy time…sooner or later, you have to face pain. But maybe — just maybe — if we all walk through it together, it won’t be so hard?

The morass rises despite our blindness.
I see daily the faces of those who confront it:
the masks leave marks; their eyes hold
a lonely road I fear to tread.
The enormity of my blessings begs me
to be still, but my heart heeds no logic.
Loss laps at our feet. What bridge across,
we must built ourselves out of tag ends
of empathy and empty toilet paper tubes.
It isn’t much. Call across the chasm
as loud as you can, and you will
hear an Easter sound: God weeps
with us. The hard way through
demands much, but it does not ask
that we go alone.

Today marks an auspicious occasion: The first (I hope of many) poetic collaborations between Krissy Mosley (of Visionarie Kindness) and me! Let me tell you a bit about Krissy. See, I write poems; Krissy creates wordscapes. You see her poems. You smell them. You taste them. They take you from the low rumbling of words mumbled in a darkened room to the soaring heights of a gospel anthem. Please do check out her blog!

A word of explanation: Krissy’s words are in bold, mine in italic. You can read the poems separately, or as one, which I believe is the way they were always meant to be.

We taste hope just as the first lizard of the morning sticks out her tongue 
You’d not notice.
It takes, as they say, an eye.

to catch the beauty of the blue-winged dragonfly
Still, spring cannot be contained;
it bursts into bud: daffodils nodding,
blonde and careless, trees shaking down

three-doors down, in a small caddis, vagrant-vacant lot dripping with hunger 
petals, unseasonal flurries. New grass
pokes shyly from the lawn, and smells,
cut, just as it did last summer.

Hope has no fairy tales with rewarding endings 
We are not the same, shaken
as only the most microscopic
menaces can make us. Yet.
Hopes lives in the lives of shattered things 
Nothing can impede the rush to Easter.
The stone rolls away, light as an egg.
destined for rapture, of better things
What lies inside is awaiting us.

close up photo of water lily flowerIn these days of social distancing and self-quarantine, it’s a good time to shore each other up — virtually, of course — and offer the human nutrients of encouragement and inspiration. We can’t see each other in person, but we can still check in. So, how are you?

For those of you who are sick at home with the Coronavirus (COVID-19), our prayers are with you. For the rest of us, hearing about states shutting down and shoppers fighting over toilet paper, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed right now. 

I could tell you not to get stressed, but that doesn’t even seem reasonable. What I will offer is this suggestion: Gather all the facts you can from reputable sources. Do all your due diligence, then take your mind off everything virulent and volatile. That includes viruses, of course, but also people who are trying to amp you up, make you anxious, or otherwise just get on your nerves.

This is a good time to protect all that is precious to you, and remember: The order to shelter in place extends to your soul. Do all the things you can to stay sheltered in a place of peace. Take your mind off the catastrophe as a whole and focus on one thing at a time.

Remind yourself that you’re doing everything you can at this moment. You’re safe at home. Everything is okay where you are. Let it be okay. Don’t go back and check the stats every ten minutes. How many cases are there in my town today? What’s the latest terrifying news? 

Step away from the stress. Sit down and decompress. All will be well and life will go on. We’ll get through this together, and before you know it, the “new normal” will just be “normal” again. 

You’ve seen the memes, the stories on the news. People are having a difficult time with social distancing. I ran into a church friend at the grocery store last night, and it was all I could do to refrain from hugging her. Right now, being together is not good for us. But how can we cope with being alone? It will take a journey to the center of ourselves to find the answers.

Though you fill a room with silence,
you are not alone.
Though you thrash in a sea of panic,
you are not lost.
Instead, remember:
everything you do is sacred;
every movement a dance.
Let your touch be only healing.
Draw energy from the sun.
Turn with purpose toward
what is essential and cull
with tenderness what is not.
Do not lose yourself.
Let the holy within you rise
to greet silence as a friend
and enter into prayer
that moves and lives
and has being in you
for as long as it lasts.
Gethsemane surrounds us.
But Easter is coming.

Blind with panic, we cannot see
God working, fingers flying,
amassing miracles, accruing saints,
laying hands on the dying, the mourning.
Deliver us, Lord, from this plague,
and in return, we vow
to treasure blessed boredom,
the hole of silence round as a mouth
in mid-yawn,
to bless each ordinary day,
to remember how it felt to need,
keenly, and let no other feel it
though selfish safety finds us;
to see we snub the least of these
at our own quite pointed peril.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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