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A star atop a tree
can only be
a drowsy placebo
for something missing.
A sky-held star
is an echo, light hitting
earth like a memory.
Fix your ambition instead
on finding the true star.
You will know it by the way
it surges, hot stone,
crying for the love of something
it cannot name.
Follow the star
to the heart of you,
blind and ragged.
Find,
pure and bright,
a child
that is you.
That is He.
Know, at last,
Christmas,
breaking you,
laying you in straw,
lulling you to sleep with
the breath of sheep.

December 8 celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which (as anyone who reads me regularly knows) has nothing to do with baby Jesus and everything to do with baby Mary. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without Original Sin. She comes into the world, unlike the rest of us, sin-free. And she stays that way.

What would you do with a brand new, spotlessly clean soul? If the past is any indication, I’d probably just soil it again. Even after being absolved of my sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation — despite my sincere vows to not fall into the same traps again — I inevitably sin.

Is it the human condition to fail and fall, over and over again? Can we ever rise beyond our nature? Surely some of us do. But how?

What must it take,
once washed white,
to stave off soil and stain?
Love, mercy, justice,
wielded wisely.
Love launders.
Mercy bleaches clean.
Justice proofs the fabric
against what muck may come.
Lather liberally. Saturate spots.
Rinse and repeat as needed.

Just last night,
the trees shrugged off their leaves
as if to say, We are done. Done,
as we all are, with this
annus horribilis.
Still. Under the piles of russet,
of red and gold and brown, there is a sliver
of silver new hope. Can you see it?
We need a God who can take a spark
so small and fan it, with gentle breath,
into a conflagration of love.
Add your own exhalation,
even if it is only a sigh,
and perhaps we will work up
something to warm ourselves by.
And, with time, others will come,
drawn in from the cold.
Here is our directive:
Fall into winter
with a clash of cymbals:
something new is coming soon.

I.
You are my soul’s only seeking.
Yet you remain as opaque
as the sky, as resolute
and rainy, your face like flint.

II.
I am not the first
to grab a spray of roses
and draw back bloody.
It is the way of women
to feel keenly every prickle,
every puncturing portion.
It is why we weep.

III.
I begin the day as ever,
crying I am here and I am clay.
Make something of me
.
When might I expect a reply?
My calendar glares,
an ocean of blank possibility.

IV.
Yet if you were to step in,
we would surely fold our hands,
close our fists against you.
We do not want what we say we want.
Brokenness is easier than love.
It is an ask too big for begrudging hearts.

IV.
And so I say: Let it come.
Let what will be settle on me like a cloak.
If I must live in the dark, at least I know
I will not be lonely there.

There’s been a lot of talk around here lately (and by “around here,” I mean this blog. Which is its own universe. At least, it is to me!) about discernment, about hearing God’s nudges and praying the way forward. As happens so often, the three of us are in a similar place, feeling a call to the road ahead yet not really knowing what it entails. A book? Videos? Something else?

At the same time, I am being tugged at by other forces. It seems I am a good person to have aboard a project, although none of the proposed projects are paying projects, alas. (Go ahead and red flag me, Ruthie. “Aloteration” is both gift and curse.)

Which way to go? How much energy do I have to devote to each path? And which way feels most right and true to me? Listening for and to God is very hard work indeed.

The road forks precipitously,
twining like tentacles away into a future
I am too near-sighted to see.
God, I lay these routes at your feet.
Where you step, I too will step.
The map is in your hands
but I cannot read it, being somewhat lost
and, at any rate, confused about directions.
You, however, know them.
You know the path most tender on my feet,
and which is worth the stones and thistles.
Your eyes see in the dark,
and dark is where I live these days.
You will need to speak up.
You will need to post an obvious marker.
You will need to explain to me,
as if to a child, how to get there.
You, who, meet me where I am,
lead, Love, the way.

God is big. People are small. Not because we were made that way, but because it’s what we want. Think of the way God defines Godself to Moses — “I am who am.” God doesn’t even need a name. God simply is. And when Jesus addresses God in prayer, he chooses the word “Abwoon,” which is genderless. Jesus doesn’t use he or she, though he certainly could have. God always chooses the largest definition possible.

Now think about how we define ourselves (i.e., to death). We sort ourselves (by gender, sexual preference, age, name, hair color, skin color, ethnicity, religious affiliation, ability and lack thereof) into ever-smaller subsets of human being. It’s as if we aren’t special unless we are defined to within an inch of our lives. Why is that? Why can’t we be bigger?

Rest in your humanness, let it fit you
like a skin, the skin you know and breathe in.
Imagine for an instant that you are not alone.
Picture the possibilities of seeing yourself
in the eyes of everyone you meet.
What might it mean?
To see our home in ratty humanity,
common as an old quilt and just as comfy
is to see unbelievable opportunity.
If we knew for just one moment
how large we are together,
what could we not do?
We are called to greater seas.
Leave your puddle. Swim. Be one.

Everyone who learns my secret tells me how wonderfully calm I am. How gracious. How unruffled. Little do they know that I’ve spent my time more like the anagram of calm — the clam: roiling on the inside, turning worrying grit into a pearl of anxiety that I hold in my calmly closed mouth. Only a few, very select people know that my husband has tested positive for Covid-19 and that I am awaiting the results of my own test. Of all the possible effects this plague could have on me, I’ll admit “asymptomatic carrier” was not on my bingo card. Not with my asthma and faulty, scarred lung. Even more surprising would be to find out I’m negative, after living in the same close quarters with a positively sick person for two weeks. Stranger things have happened, though.

Only God knows how my fear is manifesting itself — through migraines the size of a Goodyear blimp. Fortunately, God also knows and hears my fervent, late-night prayers. I may be a calm clam on the outside, but God reads my insides like a book. Maybe that’s why I seem so calm?

My head is splitting,
threatening to spill
all the ugly things
I keep inside it:
fear oozing from its rind
like overripe cheese,
panic and its partner shock,
and behind them all the dizzying
dread of knowing how small I am,
how unready and unsteady I stand.
I could heave it all out of me,
this, that no one wants to see.
I needn’t. God dissects my being,
the most masterful surgeon,
baring my wormy innards and
blessing them with balm. I feel his hand
skillfully sewing, stitches so small
no eye can behold them. The scar
will be hidden. We alone will know it.
I whisper the words, private, prayerful.

I’ve been praying a lot lately. This year seems to necessitate it. So it made me wonder about the physics of prayer. As you can see, I have more questions than answers.

Where do prayers go?
Do they fly up (heavenward we presume),
light as smoke, hot as steam, invasive as air?
Or do they fall like pennies in a well,
clanging heavily to our own contrite feet?
Do they spread like infections, permeate
the walls of cells and shift us into changelings,
wrought new, wondrous — or press our carbon selves
into fledgling diamonds? Are they silent, a secret
message written in code, that God must dab with lemon
to reveal…or are they heard by saints and sinners,
by forebears and old foes (“look, she’s praying for that again;
I’ve seen this one in reruns, sis, it will never happen”)?
Do they twine like ivy, growing up and out, riotous, uncontained,
or cling, packed tightly, like lichen to a rock?
Do prayers pop on contact or linger long,
so we wade always through a fog of prayer,
a pea soup of petition, a swamp of want?
Or do our hallelujahs make neutral painful pleas,
an acid added to a base, water in a cup to drink
and bless us? Is prayer eternal as our God
or as fleeting as ourselves?
Perhaps it is like poetry:
The best of it remembered,
the rest, a moment’s fancy,
read by a single reader.

Yesterday I finally met SueBE and Ruth. Oh, we’ve known each other for years — eight, I think — and we’ve spoken on the phone and seen one another in photographs. But yesterday marked our first real meeting (if you count Zoom as real, which I do). Even before I’d friended SueBE on Facebook, I knew just how she’d be — the friendly face, the laugh, the slight Missouri drawl. She’s the super-smart sarcastic girl you want to be BFFs with in high school, only you’re a little afraid she would see right through your nonsense. Ruth was more surprising. Not because she doesn’t look like her picture; she does. It’s just that in all the years before I’d seen that picture, I’d imagined her as a brash brunette or zesty redhead, not a delicate blonde with cheekbones that could cut glass. Oh, she can turn on the “Jersey” if she wants to. It’s just a little like witnessing a ballerina impersonating a longshoreman.

Anyway, we talked a bit about how we’d gotten here; that is, how three such disparate points of light had managed to converge. And while I know very little about physics, I know this much: A higher hand was at work.

It takes a touch to turn
string theory into cat’s cradle,
to weave strands that by rights
should never warp or weft, that
(like a luckless pairing of disparate
dishes somehow combines to form a feast)
becomes a rope so finely turned and tasseled,
it could pull a weighted liner across a sea of stones.
We know the weaver; we’ve seen his work. Why, then,
wonder that such things occur? Yet if you read it in a book,
you’d frown at such blatant deus ex machinations. Let us
instead marvel at the weird we of us, of the variations that
make us sisters, at the deft impossibility that made us friends.

Harry Potter and his pals studied “Defense Against the Dark Arts.” And it’s a good thing they did! For us Muggles, perhaps a more salient field of inquiry would be “Defense Against Trolls.”

You know what trolls are. And if you don’t, a quick perusal of SueBE’s latest post will put you in-the-know. We all deal with trolls, whether on the internet or in real life. They come out of nowhere, ready to do anything to get your goat (so to speak). So when SueBE complained about her personal troll, I was ready with a full-throated Billy Goats Gruff counterattack: “No one bothers my friends! Get out of the way, Troll, before I ram you right off this bridge!”

I do this without thinking. As my friend Susan recently said to me, “You are always, always on my side.” That’s my impulse, to fly to the defense of anyone I love. But is it the most effective means of dispatching trolls?

Trolls don’t respond to logic. You can’t argue with them. Neither do they respond to loving gestures — because they don’t truly understand love. They understand control: If they can control you, all is well. But if they can’t…here they come crawling from under the bridge looking for a fight!

God calls us to love one another. But God does not call us to surrender who we are (our safety, our conscience) to any living person, troll or otherwise. Perhaps the best defense against trolls is to avoid them altogether. With no one to pick on, what are they, really? Just sad creatures who live in the dark.

And if you can’t avoid them? May I suggest always traveling with companions? SueBE and Ruthie are my die-hard backups. They’ve always got me, and I will always have them. I wasn’t born a Capricorn (sign of the goat!) for nothing.

When crossing bridges and other shaky places,
you needn’t walk alone.
Look for your sort. You will know them
by sight and by soul.
Once you have their hands and hearts,
hold on. Consign your strength
to their care. No one need deter you.
Clip-clop where you will.
It is not by hoof and horn you will succeed,
but in turning to your herd, to the warm, soft wooliness
of kin and kith and kind.

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