Red-Eye Reflections

I honestly don’t know if I have ever flown all the way across the country on a red-eye.

Seattle to Philadelphia. It is almost 10:30pm and the lights of Seattle are just fading behind us. Almost five hours ahead. This is a slow process…I know, much quicker than the road trip we just completely…still, a slow process without  the interruption of changing flights and rushing through the airport. 

I like it, I like the hours to process the week that just completed. I am thankful for some uninterrupted time to read a little and to reflect.

I have a tendency to rush. I have a tendency want to move on to the next responsibility or appointment or adventure before the last has had time to settle. Seasons of quiet are always a challenge for me.

I learned something at the end of the week at Regent College that surprised me, something I wasn’t  expecting:

 I learned that poetry makes us slow down. 



The last evening in Vancouver I was able to attend a poetry reading by Luci Shaw and Malcom Guite. I already shared the other day insights I gleaned from Malcolm’s lecture, but this was different.

This was two friends sharing their stories and their hearts through these words they are able to weave with lyrical ingenuity, capturing our attention and our imaginations. Both Luci and Malcolm took us into the woods, took us into doctor’s examination  rooms, took us into their love of poetry itself, and took us into the presence of God.

  

Luci mentioned that poets are God’s gift to the world, and although she said it with a smirk and twinkle in her eye, she spoke the truth.

The poet and the artist are God’s gift to us. They force us to look differently at the mundane and ordinary around us. They force us to listen, through changing the rhythm of our words and drawing out the lyrical rhyme, they catch our ear and slow us down. They open our eyes to look in a new way, using light and color and shadows. They catch our attention, and they make us pause.

I know that I need this. I know that I get caught up in finding the solution, in analyzing and critiquing. The week was spent thinking seriously about Colossians, and that was good. My brain was enlivened and my thinking sparked….but I needed to finish on this note of pause. 

Friday night Luci and Malcolm, and a group of listeners in Vancouver, slowed and listened. The poets interrupted the normal rhythm of a busy week with words gathered to inspire, to enlarge and in the same moment to connect us with one another. 

Suddenly we saw pebbles on the beach and weeds beside the road as holy things. We were witness to their friendship as they laughed and even more as their countenance shone as they spoke of how and why they write, and of those poets they love. 

  

If you have never read Luci Shaw, well, you need to. This is not poetry that inspires fear as we try to understand. This is poetry that connects and gives words to the feelings we recognize. This is poetry made for enlarging our vision, for opening our eyes. This is poetry that reminds us matter matters; that the ordinary things of the world are holy.
Oh, but you think you don’t like poetry or aren’t able to understand? How about this?

Peeling The Onion



There’s not much I don’t know about you – 

yellow, red, sweet—grubbed up roots and all.

Essential for a vigorous cuisine, alerting

the sense—the crackle of your paper brown outer

skin, your translucent inner sheaths like

vegetable undergarments, your pungent heat

rising from sharp steel and cutting board

to my blurred eyes, your precise circles against

the wood, before the sizzle in the buttered pan.




Reluctant to relinquish our intimacy

your sharp essence clings to my fingers, like

a reputation. Hours later, in the dark, you season

the air around my hands, I’ll stud you with

stars of cloves to bury in the belly of the bird

before roasting. Or nestle your pearls

with a stalk of mint among the green peas.

If I leave you too long in the pantry, your

patience exhausted, attenuated, soft at the center,

you send up green spears through the mesh bag

that call out chop me, make a salad, I am delicious.


How do I interpret my own

layered membranes, like growth rings?

I try to peel away the layers of my

onion heart, never getting all the way in.



Pause.  Listen well and pay attention. Listen for the rhyme and the lyrical reminders to pause. Don’t rush….find some poetry and listen. Even about the most mundane activities of life….peeling an onion. 
Another? How about this from Malcolm:

Holding and Letting Go


We have a call to live, and oh

A common call to die.

I watched you and my father go

To bid a friend goodbye.

I watched you hold my father’s hand,

How could it not be so?

The gentleness of holding on

Helps in letting go.


For when we feel our frailty

How can we not respond?

And each to hold another’s hand

And feel the common bond?

For then we touch the heights above

And every depth below,

We touch the very quick of love;

Holding and letting go.


I’ve made it across the country. Thankful for a quiet, long flight. Thankful for the forced pause. Back to rushing a bit now, catching the final flight home, but doing so with a brighter eye and a heart full of inspiration. 




Fan the Flame

Did you see the finale of Survivor this year? The moment where the two contestants have to perform the fire making challenge. The moment where everything rests on that little spark of flame being nurtured and protected and fanned into a fire burning through a rope.

 

That little spark is everything. Keeping that flame alive. Their place in the game depended on their ability to burn through that rope.

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Life, in this moment, feels a little like that fire making challenge.  The constant demand of the news and culture to pay attention to who is arguing with whom and who is throwing rocks, literally. The demand of simply life with a family full of schedules and laundry and meals and the need to be heard. The demand of my emotions and my body.

 

There needs to be a moment where all the attention is on that little flame that brings life. The spark that can become a flame bringing life and warmth and renewal. It needs attention.

 

I can feel my irritation build through the days, my impatience and my uncertainty. It comes out in snaps to the children….when they have really done nothing wrong. It comes out in that desire to simply stay in bed in the morning. It comes out in the awareness that I need something, Someone, beyond myself in the midst of all of this life. The irritation and the impatience are the fruit of all the chaos around me. I feel out of control and that feeling has to manifest somehow.

 

In those moments, when I realize why I am snapping and being impatient, I have to turn the attention away from what is feeding the chaos.

 

I have to hear whispers of the faith that come in the moments of the day. Reminders of God’s faithfulness. Reminders of His grace. Reminders of His wisdom and His plan. They catch my attention and I find the irritation and the impatience and the uncertainty retreat in the midst of Truth.

 

 

“I got there as the saints were marching in

I sat down on the back row

and heard the story once again.

And the servants of the secret fire

were gathered there

the embers of the ages

like a living prayer

And all at once I saw the shadows flee

Shine Your light on Me

Be a light unto my path

and a lamp unto my feet.”

Andrew Peterson’s “Shine Your Light on Me”. I was driving down the road, windows down and sun shining, when this came up on my playlist. Words that remind me there is a struggle, but there is also One who brings help. And, reminds me that I am not alone. Servants of the secret fire.

I need those reminders, and I need to act on the truths they bring to mind. I approached a few friends about starting a book club, a chance to meet and talk about our faith in a more intentional and intimate way than I have in other situations. We are reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. The information is not new, but the chance to discuss is so refreshing. The awareness that we are not alone, that we can encourage and learn from each other.

I know I am not saying anything new. Yes, we need to think about our faith. Yes, we need to talk to friends about our faith. Yes, songs inspire us, especially well written songs. Yep, got that, thanks for the reminder!

I’m saying a little more, though: I’m saying in the midst of these storms of dialog about gender identity and this crazy election season, and the stresses of so many being overworked, or unemployed…we need even more intention to think about our faith. We need those friends to talk with who remind us of the reality of a Creator God, a God who moves history in a certain direction. A God who brings healing and refreshing, who breathes life into our reality.

We need to intentionally lash ourselves to these friends and to this truth. Have you heard that phrase…”Lash yourselves to (fill in the blank).”? Ulysses used it, when he was sailing his ship past the Sirens and he wanted to hear them, but he knew if the crew of his ship heard the Sirens they would be destroyed. So he put wax in the ears of his crew and had them lash him to the mast of the ship. He could hear the Sirens, but the crew focused on the task. He knew, in the moment before the confusion came, that he needed to protect himself and he needed to make choices that would carry him through the confusion.

Sitting around a table, sipping coffee, laughing and talking about God…I am lashing myself to the mast. I am making a choice in the midst of a moment of calm to do something that will carry me through moments of confusion.

We so need this in our lives. Find someone, find something that speaks life into your reality…and lash yourself to them, to it. In the moments of calm, intentionally turn your direction to learning how to fan that spark into a flame. Then, when the test comes, when everything is on the line, you will be prepared.

When the news unsettles you, when the FaceBook feed infuriates you…go back to the ancient Truths. Again, a little help from Andrew Peterson. Have you heard his music? If you haven’t, click on the video below and be encouraged. Then go listen to a few more of his songs. I quote Frederick Buechner and G.K. Chesterton here quite a lot, now is a chance to introduce you to another favorite. Feeling overwhelmed this morning? Go listen for a bit…

“Go back, go back to the ancient paths
Lash your heart to the ancient mast
And hold on, boy, whatever you do
To the hope that’s taken hold of you
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way

If love is what you’re looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
Back home”

 

There is a Light that Heals

Sitting down with my good cup of coffee this morning, held in a mug which holds memories along with caffeine, I began to read. The world opened before me in the form of Facebook posts and Twitter comments. Instagram photos and news headlines.

Fear. Anger. Outrage. Concern.

A few with encouraging words, with hope of things deeper.

I have not written here in months. There are things I would like to write about, yet they do not seem to come together clearly yet. So I wait. More thoughts about Mom and the toll of Dementia. More thoughts about homeschool and the joys and challenges of that life. More thoughts about kids and faith and creativity and wonder….but they all seem overshadowed now.

In the past I have daily posted poems as we have moved through the Lenten Season. I have fasted from Facebook and other things, sharing the reasons and the results.

This year, Lent has seem swept aside by all the noise and debate and discussion of politics. There is so much there to parse and think about. I have no desire to add my voice to that debate, unless you want to sit with me over a cup of coffee and talk at length. There is not much I could say in 140 characters or a Facebook post that would clarify a candidate or a policy. Plus there are so many already saying so much, I just don’t want to add to the mix.

Instead…can I encourage you?

I needed it this morning. I turned to Malcolm Guite  who faithfully leads us through the seasons of the Church with poetry and insights. I needed this this morning. I needed to be reminded of the rhythm and the truth of a reality beyond politics. Don’t get me wrong…I understand the importance and participate in the responsibility of our elections.

Today though, I needed to be reminded “There is a light that heals, and, where it falls, transfigures and redeems the darkest stain into translucent colour.”

Possibly you needed a reminder as well.  If you click the link you can hear Malcolm read the poem as well.

Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere

 

And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

 

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

 

The hopeless gate that holds in all the  fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds and fares

 

Through the dark pathways  where you run and  hide,

through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as His wounded side.

 

Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark

His light will go before you, let Him chart

 

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

 

And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call Him to all you cannot call to mind

 

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well guarded fortress let His love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core

 

Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?

Holding The Beautiful in the Midst of the Terrible

She had done this just the other day; falling out of bed only to roll under the bed and sleep the rest of the night there. I heard her moaning a bit, dreaming, so I gently pulled her out from under the bed and brought her in to my bed.

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It was time to get up. Time to begin another day, focused on homeschool and laundry and cooking. Time to wake and see what conversations were taking place on FB, time to listen and hear more of the state of our world.

 

I didn’t.

 

I actually didn’t have much of a choice: as I went to lay her in the bed she wrapped her arms around my neck, clasping her hands. She did not let go. I lay there, firmly grasped by the hands of a four year old.

 

The innocent, trusting and loving arms of a child.

 

And I thought about our news. I thought about the terrors all around. I thought about Syrian mothers and wondered if they lay by their child, firmly in their grasp, and smelled their hair. If they just waited and listened to the breathing, feeling that little one beside them.

 

I am sure their hair does not smell like strawberries, and their embrace is more determined because there is so much to fear.

 

I wondered about the mother near us who had her daughter, just a little older than mine, killed at a football game. One moment she was there and cheering on her brothers, and within moments she was gone.

 

I didn’t move. I inhaled the fragrance of this innocent little one, and swallowed down the fear which is so near. I thought of our sermons lately on the book of Ruth, especially this:

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.   – Ruth 2:21b

I wondered about the refugees and I wondered about so many who face immeasurable fear. Do they find the God of Israel to give them refuge? Through servants like Boaz? Like us?

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I found it interesting when I was looking at images with the above quote that none of them showed the terrible things. The quote was written across beaches and sunsets, pictures of stars and Northern Lights, in a variety of pleasing fonts.

 

Maybe it needs to be written across images of terror, because the encouragement to not be afraid rarely comes when things are beautiful.

 

Or, maybe….

 

Maybe in those moments when things truly are beautiful – like being held in the embrace of a child while the rain falls outside and all is quiet – reminds us of the starkness of terror. The sun still rose in a sunrise in Paris Saturday morning. There was still beauty, but it was all the more fragile because of the horrors.

 

I know, I am rambling. I have read several posts this morning from others sorting through these things as well. I am one of many. All of us. Trying to sort through our lives in seeming disparity from evil that is rampant. Still attempting to get the laundry done and cook dinner, teach the children and sing songs while things seem to be falling apart.

 

There is a fine line between discernment and fear. I do not want to let evil near my children. I do not want to turn away those who are without hope and who we can help. I do not want to tell my children about the terrors that exist across the ocean, across the country. Right next to their summer camp…where the little girl was killed just a few days ago.

 

The thing I am beginning to settle more and more with is this: we simply fall apart when we give ourselves completely over to fear. There are still beautiful things. There is still good. And we have been called to not be afraid.

 

Called by One Who is able. Able to be our refuge, or use us to be another’s refuge. We…I…so need the beautiful to give me strength to face the fearful and terrible.

 

Like little children sleeping under their beds and holding on in embraces with locked hands and innocent hearts. Like the sound of the rain, or the taste of chocolate.

 

Like the realization that God came here to this mess. And it matters. I wish His justice and His refuge was more immediate and clear…but I trust that one day it will be. There is strength in that, strength to face the evil and say no, strength to comfort the refugee and the wounded. Strength to embrace the beautiful even when there are terrible things around.