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As autumn rolls in with blustery winds and leaf-strewn lawns, I find myself in a contemplative mood. This season, to me, is evocative of change and even sadness. It was in autumn that my father died. Several of my friends are also facing losses and challenges of a deeply personal kind. How we weather the season depends largely on thorough self-care and unflagging support from those who love us. Prayer, of course, always helps, too.


In the autumn of our days,
may all fall softly.
May heartache land lightly,
astounding us with color:
russet, gold, garnet.
Let us note the blue of the sky,
even as it bulges gray with rain.

May we, like the beasts,
gather what we need
in empathy and acorns,
scattered seed and gentle touch
to last the lean months ahead.
What we cannot glean,
let us amply share.

It is the way of things: Sometimes your prayer life will be rich and flowing, a jar of honey, a full wineskin. And sometimes, it won’t be. These are the dry times. And while of course we look primarily to our higher power for relief, sometimes relief flows through our fellow humans. Sometimes the smallest gesture can make a difference. And this is why I write: to gesture. Similar gestures are always welcome. Right now, I could use a few.

There will be dry times,
sere times,
times when parched prayers
crack and crumble to ash
before they can be mumbled
from lips numbed by dust.
There will be times so arid
rote turns to rictus
and you parch like a mummy
buried in sand, the weight of which
will not yield. When this happens,
remember: there is water somewhere,
a spring underground.
Your body will arch like a dousing rod,
knowing it, sensing it.
If I find it, I will tell you.
If you find it first, please come
with ladle or cup, thimble or thermos.
We must refresh each other
or we will die before we find
the single thing we seek.

I’ve been having one of those weeks. You know, the kind where every single thing seems to go wrong, to malfunction, to be (as Ruthie would say) hinky. I sent out an email with an attachment no one could open. I got to the end of yesterday’s chicken dinner recipe and realized I’d left out the chicken. The dishwasher went on a beeping tirade, apparently angry that it was being unloaded by such unskilled hands. The bird feeder fell apart, earning me swift and angry recriminations from formerly friendly feathered friends. Worst of all, we found out that our long-time money manager — a nice, Christian man whom we trusted — had been either criminally stupid or criminally criminal in the handling of our money. One way or the other, he didn’t do his job. And I got to thinking: What a wonder it is that anything works as it should. What a blessing! What a miracle! When so much can go wrong, how sweet it is when it doesn’t.

How good it is:
for hearts ticking true,
seeds splitting, green limbs unfurling,
leaves leafing toward sunny skies.
Things familiar as fall following summer,
April lingering to blot out blue March
like a shadow on a sidewalk.
True things: each branch that holds,
the cloud that does not rain down disaster,
all that clicks, swings, springs,
latches, locks, hooks and shuts,
again and again.
Precise. Predictable.
As ongoing as the love
we lean on when all else goes awry.

Sometimes my sweet, sleepy, lap-lying kitten will wake up and bite me for no apparent reason. His mother died before he was weaned, so he’s a little lacking in the etiquette department. Also, he thinks biting is fun. I have come to understand that biting (and clawing) is just something he does. I can correct him (politely) till the cows come home, but it won’t matter. Biting is part of his standard operating procedure.

It’s a lot like people. You can offer help or love to someone and be received with open ears and arms. Or you can be metaphorically bitten. The bottom line is: You can’t help someone who won’t help herself. So then, what does one do as a concerned, empathetic bystander?

Advice not wanted:
shut door, shutter shop.
Still, light steals in under the sill.
What we forget most often is this:
God does not fail us, nor people,
prayer, favor or fortune.
We fail ourselves.
Wake to the abundance of light.
Let it touch you tenderly.
Be willing to grab it though it may burn.
From scalding comes healing,
though you must choose this rougher road.
You do not walk it alone, no matter
what your eyes describe. Look —
there is light aplenty and green growth
for rest. It is enough if only you would know it.

You may have heard that all of the cells in your body completely regenerate every seven years; that is to say, every seven years you are a whole different person from the one you were before. This isn’t true of course, but it’s a fun thought to play with. It would mean that I am six people different from the little girl who wore Heaven Scent perfume and thought herself quite grown up. I would be two persons different from the woman who had eleven cats, but three persons divergent from the woman who only had two cats, as I do now.

I imagine my cells flipping over like scales, changing colors, going from green to blue to orange to purple, like a chameleon. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

Most of our cells do regenerate, at various rates. But what about our souls? Do we wear the same one, tattered and mended, or does our soul, like our body, wound and heal, growing (hopefully) more fit and lovely even as our bodies disintegrate?

Do you come
with needle and thread
to mend me in the night,
like a shoemaker’s elf?
Or do I unravel myself,
stretch warp and weft
with sin and sharp words,
only to patch with small heart
and clever stitches?
Will I ever be a garment
fit to wear before you?
I long for lace and finest silk,
but will wisely warm to burlap,
a tougher textile of longer wear.
Perhaps the itch of it against
my skin will keep me aware of it,
keep it spotless and altered to fit
the vagaries of my changing form.
I only hope to wear a worthy gown
when at last we meet.

I’ve been wondering for some time what God has planned for me and whether I am, in fact, mulishly resisting his call. I think my hearing is adequate. I say, certainly, that I am willing. So why do I remain standing alone, the wall at my back, watching others in the dance? Perhaps my partner is waiting for the right accompaniment?

Turn your will to music;
teach my heart to dance.
I will move to the tune of your making.
I will follow your footsteps as you lead.
I haven’t the grace you gave the stars,
pirouetting ever heavenward,
nor the artistry of angels,
nor the simple step of saints.
My raw parts hold no rhythm,
yet you call me to perform.
Here. I hold out my arms,
angled to envelop you.
Let us take up the tune
together.

I received my first vaccine last week, and vaccine #2 is on the books. What will that mean for my life? I’m not sure yet. There are plenty of things I’ve missed during this pandemic: receiving the Eucharist, seeing people in person, hugging, eating in a nice restaurant. But there are also plenty of things I have not missed…things I’m not looking forward to incorporating into my life again. I don’t miss crowded theaters. I don’t miss noise. I don’t miss socializing on a regular basis. I liked the quiet of the past year. It gave me something I can’t get enough of: solitude. Peace. Time to do — or not do — as I please. I had an excuse (and a good one at that) to withdraw. How will we choose to face life, should the pandemic become past-tense? I’m still pondering.

If I should opt out
what would be missed?
Can silence fill the spaces
where words have been?
Yes, and well enough.
And yet, I miss the muck.
Might I rush in like a fool
or tread, cautious as an angel,
into whatever haze lies ahead?
I think I will know. The time will come,
bubbling with possibility,
a soup that demands to be shared,
or, alternately, ice over, a caution
to step as lightly as a snowflake falls.
God must be our eyes and ears,
the cane that taps the ground,
the hand that reaches into the dark.
The way ahead is only as safe as our faith.

Just over a week ago, we bought a new toy for our seven-month-old kitten, Pugsley — a plastic butterfly attached by a wire to a wand. It fluttered, at least at first, rather convincingly, spurring Pugsley to terrific leaps and epic pounces. He gloried in snatching it away from me and parading his prey proudly through the house, wand dragging forlornly behind him. The toy today looks nothing like it did when it was new. It is chewed and bent and bedraggled beyond recognition. The wings have been mended with duct tape. It resembles a crumpled leaf more than an insect. But Pugsley still loves it.

Perhaps the butterfly makes a good comparison for our souls. They are tattered, sure, but God still loves them ardently. And all that wear and tear? Maybe it’s a good thing. To end our lives with a soul beaten and crushed by years and years of extreme love; by good, hard use in working for a better world — what could be better? Sounds like a goal to me.

Take me as I am, Lord, in ill repair.
Mend what you can, moving your hands lightly
over me like the sun that dapples the floor
where the cat shifts and rolls and purrs.
The worst bits can remain; I will wear them
as badges, each rip a reminder of how hard
I loved, how frantically I held to hope.
Though I am ragged, you regard me
as rare and precious as a ruby.
I am yours, despite my ravages,
whole and healed in your eyes.

How’s your Lent? Mine has been…arid, thank you. Perhaps it’s because the entire last year has had a Lenten quality to it, but I’m finding this season especially rough. I don’t feel like I’m connecting with my goals. I’m impatient. I am tired of wandering through the desert of my soul. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In more ways than one.

I made myself a desert place
and waited for Lent to come,
to roll like a storm,
rinse grit from my sand-caked soul,
beat into me a scrubbed resolve.
Instead, came dervishes of whirling dust,
heat to crack the skin, no shepherd
to steer me as pellets pocked my eyes.
I made myself a desert place
and longed for Lent to find me,
devour me like manna, drink me to the lees,
like the swollen tongue of a parched wanderer.
Instead, I have ceased seeking saints
to reckon with my resemblance
to things that slither in the shadows,
tongues primed to flick my skin, name me kin.
I made myself a desert place
and begged for Lent to change me
only to find I will not reach the other side
until the Lent of life finds me fallen
on the final dune outside the city
I sought so far, so long.

Feathered, almost, I suppose.
an egg cupped in a nest,
the worrisome business of being born
blunted by something sure
bringing light and heat
to the blind uncoiling of limbs.
There will be no abrupt nudgings
to take flight with wings too weak
to shatter air; you are welcome to stay
a week, a year, a lifetime.
All you need do
is never look down.
Instead keep your vision fixed
on the sky: something is coming,
flapping furiously, with arms like an angel,
to enfold you. Believe in this.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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