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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.

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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.

Emphatic disclaimer: This is NOT my poem. It was written by Grace Noll Crowell (1877-1969), and it is beautiful. So beautiful — and so essentially needed right now by so many people — that I had to share it. If you are tired (and I suspect many of us are, burdened by health problems, family troubles, lack of clarity in life, political frustration and despair over the violence that besets us), here is my attempt at comfort. Please know that you are never alone.

Dear heart, God does not say today, “Be strong!”
He knows your strength is spent,
He knows how long
The road has been, how weary you have grown;
For He walked the earthly roads alone,
Each bogging lowland and each long, steep hill,
Can understand, and so He says, “Be still
And know that I am God.”
The hour is late
And you must rest awhile, and you must wait
Until life’s empty reservoirs fill up
As slow rain fills an empty, upturned cup.
Hold up your cup, dear child, for God to fill.
He only asks today that you be still.

By now you’ve heard about the college admissions scandal that’s rocking both academia and Hollywood. It’s just another example of what privilege affords in this country — and in this world. Where can we look for justice, equality, fair play? Revolution? Revolutions erupt into bloodshed. Maybe there’s a different way, a gentler way….

I used to wish for a burning bush,
all roaring heat and choking smoke,
too hot for ignorance to withstand:
it would burn, blackened twigs snapping.
But now I think: Perhaps a campfire,
burning low, welcoming, warming.
As each stranger sidles up to it,
there is a murmuring, you are home.
As the feeling comes back into flesh,
we realize that we can pick, together,
the weeds of injustice.
Small love, over time,
will do the work of wildfires.
And anyone can light the match.

I had a migraine Sunday night. That’s not unusual; I’m prone to migraines. But this one was different. It bowled me over, the pain exponentially worse than any migraine I’d suffered before. I prayed a lot that night and was genuinely surprised when I woke the next day, fragile, but alive. With the cessation of pain came a dawning — every one of us is so special. We are wonders.

God made you of star-stuff,
sky and earth together,
fueled by fire, awash in water.
No one can do what you do,
not as you do it. Not exactly.
You were sent to fill a you-shaped
crack; there is no one else to fill it.
Your body keeps the dam from breaking,
keeps gravity from failing, moves musically
as planets round a sun. Your individuality
is a gasp in a world of weary sighs. Stand up.
Walk. You will get there. We all will, if only we
lean on the star-singularity of each other,
wheeling through life like a night sky on fire.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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