Family Unties

October 31, 2011

Sometimes we find ourselves at the end of the path in a relationship with a loved one. It can be particularly bewildering when it is a family member, one who perhaps stood by you through many things, who is no longer a support. Just as with any season, these relationships sometimes run their course and are through. Other relationships will come to fill the place left behind. All people in our lives are used by the Gardener of our souls: some water, some plant, some prune–and the flow of growth continues.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”



Wingspan of an Eggshell

September 30, 2011

Sometimes you spend a long, hard-earned season ensconced in a little womblike world, sheltered from the caustic glances of impartiality and malaise. You hide out, waiting until it is time to begin again. After many deaths and depths within the shell (whether of one’s own making or someone else’s does not matter) the intentionality of one’s spoken words, coming forth shaped exactly as a the point of a beak poke a little hole in the shell, just enough to see that it is indeed time to emerge. The unfolding to take place of feathers and wings cannot be compared to the small hollow of safety that breaks to pieces and cannot be reassembled: it is only temporary, and is not an adequate measure of wingspan.

Don’t Try So Hard

August 29, 2011

“Hey, let’s go for a walk! We might not be able to once the storm hits tomorrow.” Quickly grabbing sneakers and hoodie, clad half in sweats/loungewear and street gear, I realized that I had inadvertently assembled an outfit that was truly unique and what I would have intentionally chosen had I not been in a circumstance requiring unchoice. It is ironic that the times I try to pull together an outfit for whatever the occasion might be, from non-formal to casual to formal and non-casual and everything in between, it is a struggle that does not always produce the desired effect, which at the end of the day, no matter what the occasion, is comfort in my own skin.

The same is true for writing: trying to write according to a topic results in forehead wrinkles, squinted eyes rolled towards the ceiling, gum chewed in double-time, and too much coffee. And rewrite. After rewrite. After rewrite. Whereas, just writing to write, typically, no edits are needed, and it is easy, it flows, and it is what I would have wanted had I tried harder.

Handwriting: the same thing. Trying to write neatly, it doesn’t happen: not without a struggle, or not without it looking a little too stiff. But jotting something down, a list just to myself, letters are perfectly formed, consistent, and expressive.

Maybe there is something to the anti-ambition of someone like Emily Dickinson, who had no desire to publish her brilliant poetic insights–not having the pressure to perform perhaps resulted in finer work than had she tried to please a faceless public. I always appreciated one of her poems in particular:

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

I’ve decided I’m going to try hard not to try so hard. So, how exactly does that work?

The Wealth of Mistakes

July 31, 2011

One of my favorite people and a very wise mentor (though he likely didn’t see himself that way) was fond of saying when I would acknowledge a particularly brilliant remark that he had ‘a wealth of stupid mistakes from which to draw great wisdom.’ Despite the self-deprecating element, the comment itself was very typical in its humor and pith while still elucidating a principle.

He speaks for all of us: we have all made mistakes; some are particularly stupid. Yet, sometimes it takes an escalation in stupidity to show us the right path: increased contrast; increased vividness and clarity. I find it particularly heartening to think that it is possible to glean a great harvest of wisdom from missteps and mishaps, even those perpetrated by others.

The key to this is simple: the ability to see the better path, which usually begins with the humility to admit what wasn’t working. Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)

Before we could even talk, most of our families had an idea of what we should do and who we should be. Later, friends, teachers, mentors, colleagues have ideas of what we should do with what we’ve already done. We continue to be shaped by these intentions to whatever extent they were suggested, required or encouraged. As we evolve more and more into who we intrinsically are, the pressure to be what others think we should be continues.  It takes a lifetime to assert our identity.

There is a certainly nothing wrong with those who know us and love us best to point out things we cannot see to help us along our intended path. Yet there is a place where we need to be clear on what we most want to be–and the actions that flow forth from that.

When we are in a place where we are lacking the clarity to know what we value most, we are vulnerable to being moved upon in ways not intended for us.  When our hearts are empty, we are at risk to be filled by something that is not true to who we are, and never more so when it comes from those we respect in the form of well-meant words. It is especially dangerous if it provokes action that is not true to our intended call, and can do violence to our souls by  leading us far from the path we are intended to walk.

We need to know what we love, and walk accordingly: no matter large or how small the steps.

Desire is protection.

“Anyone who can shout vowels out an open window can learn to deliver a speech.”

A favorite line from a poignant film.

Stuttering is not necessarily a verbal condition: it can show up in other areas. The remedy for the Duke of York was to shout vowels and at times profanity in front of a window to get a consistent verbal flow going. I find that impromptu expression in the form of music or even written words can at times meet with great resistance that is not a true reflection of the capacity to ‘speak.’ This is can be very frustrating, and at times, humiliating. But finding ways to bolding express one’s thoughts and feelings in whatever form they take is to create a wider path for them to come forth.

Sometimes, the vowel sounds come out all at once. Sometimes, one at a time. What matters is that they keep coming, and keep coming on strong.

Mindlessly Heartful

April 5, 2011

Left to their own devices, our heart can run us into a rut only our brains can figure us out of.

We are created with the head over the heart so that the mind can rule the emotions. Interesting however: one can live without a brain but but not without a heart.

Critical calculation without heart is not only unproductive, it is destructive, no matter how much truth it accompanies.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

The Ringleader

March 3, 2011

When tempted to look at circumstances that are not what you would have chosen, it is important to not only to remember but to know that joy is still a choice.

Joy is more powerful than happiness. Not to knock happiness! For all its relative unsturdiness, it is still a highly desirable condition. Nothing wrong with it.  Happiness is a gift, and as with any gift, it is not a choice; circumstances are the giver or at least the courier.  But happiness is much like infatuation: enjoy it while it lasts. Joy however is like love: it is not based on a feeling.  By definition, it holds up, come hell or high water.

The power of joy is consummate.  No matter what events or lack of events are taking place, it is entirely, comprehensively, unequivocally and stupendously possible to transcend them.  To not only be up-lifted, but to feel the peaceful thrill of the wind rifling through the feathers of your ‘faith wings’ as you fly above the limited circumstance that had the nerve to dictate how you should feel or not feel.  Even if it is a veritable circus of circumstances, it is still possible to look down with a renewed perspective, in its proper context. And like a circus, to laugh in the midst of them. You are allowed to be the ring leader.

Even so, it is just as necessary to understand what season your circumstances respresent. Weeping may remain for a night but joy comes in the morning–or as it is so beautifully expressed in Ecclesiates:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

But how does experiencing joy no matter what the circumstance actually work? And why does it work?  It works because the very foundation of joy is not embedded in any earthly circumstance: rather, it is rooted in an eternal place where there is nothing but unshakable, brilliant and all-encompassing joy.  The human experience is fragile, limited.  We are dust from first to last, we live with an expiration date.  The events which at times avalanche upon us can be entirely daunting.  But we still have a choice to choose joy.

I have set Yahweh always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 
You make known to me the path of life;  
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Where there is Presence, there is fullness–where there is fullness, there is joy.

At Cross Purposes

February 9, 2011

Regardless of faith perspective, in pondering the physical cross of Jesus Christ I find it laden with symbolism, offering keys or at least a few clues to a deeper understanding of its significance.

Of course, the Roman cross was nothing but a tortuous device of execution for common criminals. When considering that Jesus Christ was the very antithesis of criminal makes it all the starker a contrast.

Arms nailed open are a picture of the painful punctuation of our lifespan which begins and often ends in pain. We cannot nail ourselves to our own cross; we also get here through someone else’s choice. And even if we decide to exit on our own terms, how that ultimately plays out is still not in our hands.

The nexus of the cross where the horizontal beam meets the vertical represents the necessity of divine intervention, intersecting outstretched arms of surrender, of ‘hands off’ an attempt to save oneself or to prove oneself worthy.  The weightiness and breadth of the vertical earth-to-the sky beam is exponentially greater than the limited horizontal timeline of pain and difficulty.

This central interruption of the vertical beam points in a completely opposite direction from human limitation to something far greater: the incomprehensibly powerful love of God,  promising us that salvation is not man-made, and not based on our comparatively pitiful attempts at perfection, but is entirely dependent upon our accepting with arms wide open that Someone Else made a choice to pay the price for us to walk in true freedom, and to accomplish what we could never be capable of in our fallibility.

It is crucial to remember that Jesus was not hijacked; he chose the cross in a voluntary act of surrender for a higher purpose. No one took his life, he laid it down of his own accord.

There is not one trial or trouble we face that cannot be redemptive: we ceaselessly have the freedom to choose how we will respond to everything and anything that unpredictably comes our way.

We may not like what we have to go through to get to the other side; Jesus did not want to suffer any more than we do. But that does not take away from the victory that awaits us as we go all the way through the pain, allowing the lesser desire (to flee suffering) to die. Then, and only then, we resurrect as a renewed person, stronger for having gone through the rigors of whatever cross has been assigned to us.

We endure it, as Christ, for the joy set before us.

Wood Stoves + Tennyson

January 31, 2011

I thought this post was going to be about beloved out of state friends who don’t know exactly where I live now and whose forgetfulness or unawareness actually invokes a kind of delightul reminder that where I reside is, as Robert Bolt once wrote ‘just a place, like any other place.’  It starts that way, but takes an unexpected turn, in keeping with picnic-in-the-snow sensibilities.

One such friend who lives in a house deep in the Wisconsin woods recently sent me an email mentioning the considerable efforts to keep warm tending my wood-burning stove.  He is pushing 90 and did not remember it has been a decade since I was caretaker at a lodge with a wood stove as the only source of hot air–not counting the frequent philosophical discussions many a late night with the other caretaker.

It was not until living with a wood stove as the sole heat source that I understood the reasons for what is now considered rather arcane divisions of labor.

Prior to this living experience, I would have described myself as consummately egalitarian regarding men and woman and their respective roles.  Then came my first winter in a drafty circa 1910 lodge.

My colleague and I would arrive back to the lodge from our winter day jobs only to enter into the still, frozen indoor air that somehow seemed colder than the outside. At first, he and I took turns making the multiple trips to the woodshed required to have an adequate supply for the evening and into the night. Whomever was not schlepping wood made dinner, and it seemed a fair exchange.

In a short period of time, it was evident that he was capable of bringing in twice the amount of wood I could in half the amount of time. We never so much as sat down to discuss it; we gracefully switched places, and he became the designated wood-getter, and I the dinner-starter.  It was sheer logic, efficiency.

This  and the fact of no television on the premises eventually led to another of our famous mind and soul -spelunking coversations about what made the differences between men and women so unspeakably blissful and difficult at the same time. Both in dating relationships at the time, one new and one serious, he remembered a poem by Tennyson that shed better light on the matter than either of us had perhaps ever encountered.  Following are some favorite excerpts from ‘The Woman’s Cause is Man’s.’ Enjoy–that is, if you do not find it as antiquated as men who prefer to haul wood or women who prefer to make dinner…

‘Blame not thyself too much,’ I said, ‘nor blame
Too much the sons of men and barbarous laws;
These were the rough ways of the world till now.
Henceforth thou hast a helper, me, that know
The woman’s cause is man’s: they rise or sink
Together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free:
For she that out of Lethe scales with man
The shining steps of Nature, shares with man
His nights, his days, moves with him to one goal,
Stays all the fair young planet in her hands–
If she be small, slight-natured, miserable,
How shall men grow? but work no more alone!
Our place is much: as far as in us lies
We two will serve them both in aiding her–
Will clear away the parasitic forms
That seem to keep her up but drag her down–
Will leave her space to burgeon out of all
Within her–let her make herself her own
To give or keep, to live and learn and be
All that not harms distinctive womanhood.
For woman is not undevelopt man,
But diverse: could we make her as the man,
Sweet Love were slain: his dearest bond is this,
Not like to like, but like in difference.
Yet in the long years liker must they grow;
The man be more of woman, she of man;
He gain in sweetness and in moral height,
Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;
She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care,
Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind;
Till at the last she set herself to man,
Like perfect music unto noble words;
And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time,
Sit side by side, full-summed in all their powers,
Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be,
Self-reverent each and reverencing each,
Distinct in individualities,
But like each other even as those who love.
Then comes the statelier Eden back to men:
Then reign the world’s great bridals, chaste and calm:
Then springs the crowning race of humankind.
May these things be!’
Sighing she spoke ‘I fear
They will not.’
‘Dear, but let us type them now
In our own lives, and this proud watchword rest
Of equal; seeing either sex alone
Is half itself, and in true marriage lies
Nor equal, nor unequal: each fulfils
Defect in each, and always thought in thought,
Purpose in purpose, will in will, they grow,
The single pure and perfect animal,
The two-celled heart beating, with one full stroke,