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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.

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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.

What if the universe — God included — is like a book: a really weighty one, like War and Peace? I’d like to think each of us is born with a scrap of this book in our soul, just a word or two, really, though the best of us (saints, for instance) probably get a whole paragraph. Our job in this lifetime, as I see it, is to seek out each other’s words and gather them together as best we can into some semblance of the Truth.

Nobody has all the answers. Not even the Bible, which is full of concepts and words that don’t translate neatly (or at all) into English. Ask two people to translate The Lord’s Prayer from its original Aramaic, and you will get two different prayers. It begins with the word “Abwoon,” which can be translated to mean “father” (though the root word is actually genderless) or “parent” or “divine breath” or “birther of all things.” Or any one of a dozen other things.

Nothing about God is simple. I am content to remain a seeker, a wanderer, picking up words wherever I can and trying to fit them into the puzzle that is God.

Nothing about You can be known.
You slip through our hands like sand,
just when we think that we can hold you.
Even your touchable Son, fully flesh,
escapes our grasp. We humans
like our shapes defined: This, then,
is a square; this is a sphere.
But what is the shape of God?
Avian? Flame? The man on the ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel, the one we
reach for but never touch?
Perhaps we ask too much.
We worry your lock with our
senses, with our brains.
If only we approached
with our hearts wide open,
the pins would tumble,
the lock would breach.
You appear, wide open,
when we least try to touch.

A good friend revealed to me that she no longer believes. “In what?” a mutual friend asked. “Any of it,” our friend replied. “Prayer. The Holy Spirit. The afterlife.” I hope we were supportive of her; what she is going through is hard. But the road she’s on is one that even saints have trod. Why believe? I can only say that I believe because I need to, because I want to, and because I can. How? It is, as Aziraphale of “Good Omens” would say, “ineffable.”

Faith is fragile.
Prone to breakage,
chimeric and illusory.
Yet just when I think
I can turn my back,
There it is:
A breath on my shoulder,
an arrow, indicating,
a suggestion, a whisper,
a hint of something coming
swiftly. Surely.
I cannot name it,
identify the make and model,
even as it runs me down.
To name it is to contain it,
and that I cannot do.
It springs back, cautious, and
my doubter’s mouth is stopped
by something.
Something?
Something.

 

A recent poll revealed that nearly 80% of Catholics could not explain transubstantiation of the Eucharist. This, the pollsters noted, was a terrible failure. I disagree.

Sue BE was right when she advocated embracing one’s own ignorance and seeking solutions. But not everything is cut and dried. Transubstantiation — the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ — is a mystery. Not every mystery can be diligently divined. Some things remain a mystery.

And that’s okay.

Sure, humans are programmed to want answers, to lean toward black-and-white clarity. But (as Sue also noted) we’re only human. We can’t understand everything. We can’t solve everything. If you can’t live with ambiguity, with shades of gray, with mystery, you’ve got a bumpy journey ahead of you.

The road never did go straight.
Sands shift. Time expands and contracts.
And there you are, in fog, flailing, falling.
Still. Love is sure, and never fails; faith
supplants compasses. Head into the strange
knowing: what cannot be known now
will come, swimming into view, duck
where once was bunny. You will
recognize all things by their contours.
You will stumble into light. But for now,
be at peace. Mystery is a gift. You will
open it at leisure, realizing
it has been in your pocket
all the time.

 

 

…that’s what my college roommate used to tell me every time I spoke without thinking — which was often. As SueBE discussed in her most recent post, oftentimes — especially when it comes to the newfangled media we use daily — we speak or write without fully thinking through the ramifications. I know I do. Mea culpa. Guilty as charged. My brain is only tenuously connected to my mouth in the best of circumstances. So what do I end up doing? Opening my mouth and inserting my foot, over and over again. I can issue all the blanket apologies in the world, but that won’t cut it; not when people are hurt. So, what to do? Short of a mystery illness robbing me of my ability to speak for all of time to come (something I’ve actually wished for), I can pray for change.

Struck dumb — I mean stupid,
startlingly so — and yet the words flow,
a curious experiment gone wrong,
incongruous fluids knocked from vials,
pooling into something strange:
Will I turn into a giant? Or a fly?
Will caustic chemicals rip through
flesh or will they coalesce, landing
with a thud — a rotten egg, an elephant
in the room, all heavy feet and gray
implacability? God, lift my tongue
or snip it. The wiring is bad or else
I’ve lost the remote control. Either way,
words are imperfect. Unfixable.
Sharp and irrevocable. I need a new
language, a learned vernacular:
with as many words for love
as the Sami have for “snow.”
White. Blanketing. Hushed.
Words that rise like prayers,
like steam from a hot bath,
like the susurrous sound
of a sigh. Or silence.
Silence will do.

My friend Krissy over at Visionarie Kindness Chronicles posted a poem today about her discovery of poetry and how it seeped into her being, helping her make sense of her life. It’s terrific. My origin story is more predictable: My mother read me poetry from the time I was a baby. I remember her reading “The Highwayman” — “the moon was a ghostly galleon/tossed upon cloudy seas/and the highwayman came riding” — and stopping to say, “Do you hear the horse’s hoofbeats?” She tapped out the rhythm of the poem and I HEARD IT. Nothing was the same after that.

I was in bed when poetry first found me,
pierced my heart ear-first, an elf, a thief,
a waif who having found warm welcome
would never leave me. I started hearing it
everywhere, whispering words I kept
hidden in the trunk of a tree, in a shoebox
with my paper dolls, behind the geraniums,
velvet-leafed, that flanked the house I
fledged in. They grew, took root,
cross-pollinated with prayer until
there wasn’t anyone else I could ever be,
so bound was poetry with my blood.
I wept alliteration, sighed in spondees.
I was a Phantom of Delight; I was
alone and palely loitering. I was
The Lady of Shalott in “My heart
belongs to Daddy” pajamas.
Heroes get powers. I got a pen.
But I learned how to fly with it anyway.
Now only God can see me coming.

Today marks the Feast of the Assumption, the day when Jesus’ mother Mary was lifted body and soul into heaven. The “body” part is a big deal, apparently; once dead, the rest of us won’t see our bodies again until the Second Coming. But why would we need a body in heaven? Are we really that attached to these lumbering “bags of mostly water” (to quote an alien on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”)?

We are, I suppose, tactile creatures. Our bodies give us something to hang on to. Something to physically claim as our own. But we are not just our bodies. Whatever it is that gives a bunch of cells and chemicals sentience, it is certainly more than skin deep.

You may put all manner
of disparate matter into a bowl,
it will not stand or speak or dance.
How then, does the stuff of stars
transmute into mortal form?
And why do we hold so hard
to them, to familiar flesh—
an old coat gone out of style,
a pair of boots too snug?
Sentiment? Memory?
We walk a lifetime in skin,
our soul’s home, for a moment.
Will we shed them like a shell?
Or carry them into the kingdom,
into doughy glorification?
Only the maker knows
how lowly flesh becomes
capable of the infinite.

It was a week
to shake the faith
right out of our bones.

But faith cannot fall
to such a small god:
a god of bombs, bullets, ripped limbs.

Seek God elsewhere.
He is there in the helpers.
In solace, yes, and mourning, too.
In healing hands, in hope.

Look to those who know the truth:
What is not love
cannot be God.

Hate destroys.
Love restores.
There is your answer.

Dear Flabby, Why does everyone else have someone who loves and adores and fulfills them, yet I am alone? Signed, Searching in Schenectady

Dear Searching:
Look inside yourself.
Peel back your bones.
Where is your heart hiding?
Has it set a place at the table
for unlikely visitors: angels
undercover? Light in unusual
bodies? Look further, into unguarded
places. Find yourself in the last place
you’d look, and you will find your answer.
Nothing outside can fill the void. You must
tend yourself like a flower, remain in light,
rain tenderly on even the ugly bits.
Nurture and coax. Believe in what
will blossom. The enormity of its
blood-red blooms will fill you.
Like will attract like, easy,
bees in a field of flowers.

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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