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. 




A Staggering Reality.

Yesterday, thankfully, was better. Hitting a wall makes you sit down and catch your breath. That helps. I let go of some things and now we proceed. That is the wonderful thing about grace…we do not move on nagging ourselves about our failures and our shortcomings. About our sin.

We take a breath, we realize that this walk of faith is about what God has accomplished, not what we accomplish. There is great strength and relief in that. I can’t accomplish much in my own strength.

The reality of Christmas is striking me more and more this Advent season.  It is interesting how something different will grab our attention each year, and this year it is the shock of the Incarnation. The starkness of God becoming flesh.  Yesterday in the quotation from Buechner did you catch this line, talking of Christmas:

We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one.

We do that, don’t we? It is not that all our traditions and the holiday lights and the decorations are bad…but sometimes we hide in them. Sometimes we get comfortable in them, and we allow Christmas to be nothing more than a beautiful occasion. That is what those who see Jesus as nothing more than a good teacher or an historic figure would think. Those of us who believe him to be the Savior…the reality of Christmas is staggering. It is uncomfortable in the depth of its reality. And yet, it is also the most amazingly wonderful story we could imagine.

We need the space and the silence and the waiting of Advent to sit with that thought for awhile. The reality of Christmas, the reality of God-made-flesh, is a reality that takes time to soak into our souls. We cannot glibly accept it and move on through our day. We need to hear it in the silence and in the ache of need and in that moment of yearning and anticipation. We need the fullness of Advent to expand our hearts and our minds and our Spirit to take in the fullness of this event. And we need it again and again each year…because this is a staggering event.

Allow the joy to be part of Advent, allow the wonder of the twinkling lights and all that we have brought in to this season. Allow the joy to envelop us, because our souls need that joy…and it is such a part of Advent…but it is wedded to the starkness of a babe in a manger.

Let the reality of the Incarnation sink in deeply. The reality of a world lost in sin and unable to overcome…waiting for a Messiah. How utterly unimaginable that He would come like this.

Mary’s Song
by Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

Hope.

It begins today.

Did you catch it, even just a whisper. Or did you catch a full shock of it?

The breath of hope.

Living, breathing hope.

Not the hope of stores that offer sales that bring people in droves, climbing over each other. Stomping each other and shoving each other in the desire to get ahead. Not the hope of bettering themselves and getting ahead. No. Not that hope.

Not the hope that some help is on the way from government or employment or education or…any other work of our hands.

No. Living hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -1 Peter 1:3-9

Advent.  Anticipation.  We are on our way. Set your eyes toward Bethlehem.

God has broken in to our world. The Creator has come into our midst. Living Hope is ours.

Amazing. Indescribable.

Hope.

More than we can imagine.

And He did it in the most amazing way. We never could have dreamed this up. A stable. A young girl. A baby. Take the time to think about this. Take the time to focus, even just for a moment, on what this season is truly about. Take the time to realize what our hope is all about.

Too Much To Ask
by Luci Shaw

It seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
All she had to hold to
were those soft, inward
flutterings
and the remembered sting
of a brief junction- spirit
with flesh.
who would think it
more than a dream wish?
an implausible, laughable
defense.

And it seems much
too much to ask me
to be part of the
different thing-
God’s shocking, unorthodox,
unheard of Thing
to further heaven’s hopes
and summon God’s glory.