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They say the wise man knows he knows nothing.
Though I am not wise, what I know could fit
on the width of a dime, on the lean edge
of a knife, on an atom. With careful cursive,
I could inscribe my life’s learning on the tittle
of an i. But what I know, I know boldly, down
to the soft center of my bones, a level so molecular
that the truth runnels into my porous soul
and mingles with my being. The truth is this:
Love is everything. It is quest and craft,
the only answer worth seeking, living and
dying for, chasing into strange lands and
distant ports. It is the only place to pin
your hopes, like stars on the blanket of the sky.
It is both work and worth of a lifetime.
But even greater: God is love.

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We’ve been told and told — and still somehow don’t believe — that the only way to counter hate is love. Sure, it’s hard to hold love foremost in the face of evil. It’s hard to respond to the terrible atrocities of the last week or so with a loving heart and joyous words. And it is most difficult to love when all you want to do is shake people until their teeth rattle. But, Lord, I’m going to try.

Make of me, my God,
a new recipe: something sweet
and light, a flutter on the tongue,
butter-bright, subtly spiced.
When the bitter mouths bark, let me
flow in like honey, thick enough to
coat tongues and soothe aching throats.
May I be like bread baking,
like thick soup simmering on the stove,
a promise of warm contentment.
When you are done, may I spring up
in the pan, golden and fragrant,
impervious to anything
that is not an open hand reaching,
reaching to be filled.

SueBE has done it again. She got me thinking about peace and why it’s so hard to find. It seems like all I do lately is complain (inwardly) that I sorely lack peace in my life. Why, for instance, won’t robo-callers leave me alone? Why can’t I accept myself? WHY WON’T THE CAT STOP HOWLING FOR FIVE MINUTES???? (Answer: Because he’s ancient and unhappy 99% of the time. Why? Because the food — of which there is plenty — is somehow not right; the water — which I just freshened — could be fresher; there is another cat in the house somewhere and he does not like her; I am petting him, but it’s not enough….)

And then it comes to me: like my grumpy old kitty, I’m never going to find peace outside of myself if I can’t find it inside myself. But where to start?

Lord, let me be the silent eye of the storm:
the inward facing mirror
the still leaf on the grass
the clasped hand
the itched spot
the blank page.

Take away the inward twitches:
the needling of impossibilities
the rattling of nerves
the empty pinging of ambition
the revisioning of history
the cacophony of injustice

I cannot solve it or salve it.
Lord, let me live in it,
not indifferent but aware
that the end of the story
has not yet been written
and when I read it I will know
that all of the noise was for nothing.

When the whole world is a lie,
where do you go for truth?
Look inside yourself.
Find the one thing you would die for.
Extract it like a sliver.
Hold it up as high as you can.
(Don’t worry. Some
will not see, even if what you hold
is mountainous, epic, blinding.)
Your arm will wobble. Your chest
will heave with tears. Let them come.
God will see what you are holding:
If it is not worthy, you will know.
You can hide in the bowels of the earth;
still God will find you. If you are holding paper,
you will wither like a leaf in winter. If you hold
yourself, you will become a shadow. Only love
will shield you, so make yours vast, lavish,
even impractical. Stand in the light of one true thing,
and God will stand with you.

Everyone’s got an opinion these days, and we each think only ours is right. We will insert ourselves into conversations in which we do not belong just to tell other people so. We’ll deny others’ lived experiences with our own conjectures about how we might have lived it, had it been up to us. And everything is up to us — it’s all out there on the table, ready to be judged, pawed over, analyzed. Nothing is private. Nothing is sacred. Nothing can be held out as indisputably true. Please, let us all take a step backwards and listen — just listen. Truth can only come when everyone is heard.

I say, “How could they, possibly?”
and yet possibly people do,
improbably and often.
It’s the old sin, snaking,
rearing up like an asp,
to ask: “Who knows
better than you?”
And there you are,
mouth full of apple,
mealy beneath your tongue.
You know nothing. At core,
at core, all of us know nothing.
Lock your opinion in your bones
until — and, yes, unless — you
find yourself kicking the embers
of the same conflagration.
And even then, know —
there were other ways,
other gates, out of the garden.

Most of us figure you’ve got to be loud to make yourself heard. And who doesn’t want to be heard? I certainly do. It took a revisiting of 1 Kings 19: 9-13 to remind me that God chooses all sorts of ways to communicate. In Elijah’s case, it wasn’t a roaring wind, an earthquake or a fire that revealed God; it was a whisper: a small, still voice.

Lord, I said, I’d like to be a burning bush,
all rush and heat, threat and beacon,
righteous flame dancing from my fingertips
as words singe the page. But no, child,
God replied.

I give you stillness. Silence to sit in,
to dwell in like a stone in clear water.
Open your lips to speak: I will come from you
like a whisper, a breeze, a suggestion. You will have
to train your ears to hear me.

So I listen. I mouth words onto paper;
perhaps they are read. But I know them
to be living, airborne, ready
to join a chorus of whispers
singing one true thing.

I can make myself believe
that voting still matters
that good will win out
that women will be heard
and people of color respected

I can make myself believe
that redemption is possible
that no one (even me) is useless
that justice is a-comin’
and blue waves can save

I can make myself believe
all manner of fairy tales:
Father knows best
blind obedience is my duty
and we can pray away the pedophiles

But I cannot believe in America
(not really)
or in my Church
(not absolutely)
until men believe in change.

We name them prettily,
these storms, placate them
with soft sounds: Sandy,
Katrina, Maria, Florence.
On they come, regardless,
knocking down houses with fists
of wind, sweeping the skies
with furious rain. Let us pray
for gentle weather, for gusty
diversions that lure a storm
back out to sea. And when
prayers cannot keep chaos
at bay, let us pray for one another.
Let us be gentle weather to
our neighbor, blowing balmy breezes
that cauterize wounds, taking up,
with many hands, the work of
starting over.
Amen.

Like many of you out there, I’ve always had questions about the parable of the Prodigal Son. For instance, why was it such a big deal that he asked for his inheritance early? My pastor put an end to my wonderings: to the Jewish people of the time, asking for your inheritance was tantamount to wishing your father dead. It was a breach in relationship that could not be mended. Except that the father in the story does mend it — just as God mends the breaks we make with God, over and over, on a daily basis.

Does God make it too easy for us to return home? Maybe. But if God made it harder, we’d never come. Imagine the waiting God does for us! Perhaps a modern perspective will help:

Waiting became habit;
habit became a life.
Day after day,
your father longed for you.
His world became one chair,
one single pane of glass.
Through the window,
he could track the hour
of every package delivery,
chart the bladder capacity
of every dog on the block.
He missed nothing.
When you came,
he was out of his seat in a shot,
prepared to embrace
even your apparition.
Your real flesh,
on the welcome mat,
made him weep.
Yet all the time
you embrace him,
your eye is on the door.

I thought my dear friend (and pet-sitter of 19 years) had disappeared. I couldn’t reach her by phone. My messages went unanswered. The number I found in the white pages had been disconnected. I was so miserable, I wept.

Turns out it was all a product of a faulty telephone and some bad timing. I am understandably relieved, but in those moments of panic, I realized just how delicate life can be….

The world is a fragile place,
held together by gravity and spit,
like a spider’s web or soap bubble,
ever poised to fly into fragments
at the least puff of wind.
We can build a shell of sorts
by holding hands — prayer will
brace the dam more firmly
than cement. If someone is standing
alone, we must pull them in
like a wandering balloon.
Be gentle with your hands
and with your words:
You never know who
might be crumbling.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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