Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Whimsy and Water

I was in Kansas City, Missouri on Friday, several states away from the cold and gloom of the northern Midwest. I was there for a conference that turned out to be inspiring and exhilarating, a chance to network and score free coffee. The days were 80 degree ones, full of green and sun and the smell of hot tarmac. Several of us left the conference center for an exploratory walk through a park and down busy streets, into a beautiful old train station that held the sunlight and reflected it from marble floor to gilded ceiling. I felt as if I was in a sacred space, the echoes of hellos and goodbyes murmuring from the walls.

We ate lunch in a square full of families and white tables covered with umbrellas. I leaned back, weightless as a balloon without the heavy drag of a coat. Warm breezes playfully lifted my skirt and for several minutes, I think I entered heaven on a Kansas City afternoon. The day would have been perfect with all of that, but an announcement filled the courtyard and kids of all sizes scampered to a nearby fountain in the square. Adults everywhere turned expectantly and we waited. Soon enough, an unseen symphony started its opening notes and suddenly the fountain came to life, plumes of water dancing and sashaying around in time to the music. Like children, the jets of water skipped and leaped, as if they were drunk on the playful music and the spring sunshine. The strings hit their crescendo and the water rose higher and higher until it came crashing down, the children squealing and shrieking as the water darted out to touch them. My group all sat and watched this beautiful thing we had stumbled upon and I felt dizzy with gladness to be alive, here in Kansas City with warm rays of sun cloaking my arms, surrounded by friends and beauty, music and water. What an opportunity, what a gift to be able to live to see such things. How lucky to be able to bear witness to the fact that whimsy still exists in this world and that we are all prepared to put down our lunches to enjoy it. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Coffee Shop Inspiration

This coffee shop is full of noise, a pulsing potpourri of voices and laughs and typing. Inspiration is so easy for me to find in this world and it varies with the day and my mood and the work I'm trying to do. Sometimes I find it under a tree or burrowed in the quilt on my bed. On Saturday, I heard it call me as I drove into the town on the Mississippi River in which I used to live for four years with all of my soulmates. I had been tense and worried as I wound around the bluffs in my little red car but as I turned the last bend, my soul leaped inside me like John the Baptist and the ugly floated out the window. My soul knows what it needs even when my head has no clue.

But this coffee shop is it today, the perfect blend of subdued frenzy and caffeinated energy that I need to power through the homework lying before me and the writing I'm dying to do. In a room full of people, I feel slightly invisible and small, which can be good feelings to have sometimes. This atmosphere- vibrant, loud, full of life- evokes a desire in me to be part of this world, to "contribute a verse," which helps me pick up the textbook and pull out the notebook. I listen and watch, one person with a story in a crowd of strangers who are probably just like me under the skin. My tea fills me up like grace and mercy, like a weekend of family and friends, like a lesson of compassion and a wordless prayer.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Holy Life

Beginning of Holy Week. Bread in my mouth, wine on my tongue. Hymn song, stained glass light, walking through a cloud-spattered morning waving palm branches and calling my Hosanna to the crows above. I pray in the shower, the steam rising from my skin. Besides driving in the car, it is one of my favorite places to pray, where I am naked and vulnerable before my God, without armor and distractions, cut off from the things of this world. Just me.

I am convinced that I have become crazy, that the soul thirst I have been feeling for months has consumed me and I embrace it, flinging myself into an awe too great for words, at this existent Great Spirit that I happen to call God. I am a soul with a body, a spiritual being, connected to the universe in unimaginable ways. We all are. This is the spring of my reawakening. I swear I can feel myself growing. It's all starts and stops, fits and spurts, but it's happening in a wave of vulnerability and connection and humbling and exalting. I hunger for words,  from the Bible, from Jesus, rediscovering Paul (I used to really dislike that guy), but also from women of faith I respect: Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker, Anne Lamott, Rachel Held Evans. Reading histories of the Bible, discovering how it was written and how it has been passed to us over centuries. And I still have no answers, only questions, but the questions exhilarate me. I love not having the answers.

Lent has been a practice in trying to embrace and accept who I am- even the messy, the unlikable pieces- instead of working to be someone I'm not. Trying to show myself grace even as I work to give others even more grace. I've started to realize that we all have the answers, that we are all living the best way we know how, and I am learning to accept everybody for exactly who God created them to be. I'm learning that people of faith come in all guises- that the definition of faith is far greater and more radical than I ever understood. I see now that there is no black and white, no either/or. There is both/and, there are gradations of gray, and God is in all of it. I try to worship not only with my voice, but with my eyes, with my hands, with a smile. And I see God everywhere now. He is in the sacred stillness of ritual, in candle flame, in the grass under my feet, in the songs of birds, in books, in the rude patron, in the garbage, in awkward silences, in the growth. And I'm amazed all over again.

The vulnerability, the opening-up, the deep gratitude, the connection, recognizing the souls of others- this is holy.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Whole in the Green Silences

Because my anticipation for spring and trees and grass under my feet is overwhelming, I'm sharing this piece from last year. It makes summer feel closer.

Fall has returned from its long hiatus, slipping silently into summer like a diver into water, without a splash. We greet each other as I sit under the tree where I sat a year ago. I see the ghost of myself a few feet off, head bent in concentration, her posture vibrating with nervousness and excitement, unsure of herself at the precipice of something new, yet ready to conquer. I salute her and pull my book from my bag, already stamping this place again with my memory. As the sun swims downward, I read my latest Barbara Kingsolver- a book of essays, the lyrical words and crisp fall breeze knitting a cocoon around my body. I read of hopes and fears and finding solace in the wild things. "Among the greatest of all gifts is to know our place." Yes. Me too. Always. Barbara Kingsolver has it- the magic of blending quiet words with a powerful voice. She pulls the detritus away and reveals shining nuggets of truth in mere sentences. It is a haunting power, and I eagerly sift through the debris with her. "People need wild places...We need to be able to taste grace and know once again that we desire it."

 photo Green_zpsfa1813f1.jpgI look at the time and then at the woods nearby. There's time enough. Quietly I stuff the book away, hitch up my bag, and follow the steep trail into a grove of trees that quickly muffles the sights and sounds of students. I take my time, wending down the path, stopping to watch a chipmunk- their voices sound like the chirp of birds, how did I never know that- and come to a little bridge, shielded from the bike path nearby, utterly alone and yet surrounded by life.

Slowly, I feel my mind stop its whirling dance, like a bird alighting on a fencepost. Letting go of the to-do lists written on the chalkboard inside my head, the endless litany of things to be done and things to worry over, I sink down and lay on the bridge. Pulling my body into various stretches, I breathe in and out, centering myself here, with the trees and the birds and the chipmunks. Now. Now is good. Feeling small is good. I lay down on the bridge, my gaze stretching up and I feel such a surge of love for the plants and animals. A connection thrums through my body like a plucked guitar string, bringing sudden tears to my eyes. I am part of this, I am of this, we are all of the same God. The trees above me seem so strong and enduring, but they are slowly being poisoned as I lay here, the whole earth bleeding out with each second that passes. The trees are the tangible past, our history, hundreds of years of days and nights that I get to witness. I wonder if the seedlings at my feet will someday stretch over the heads of my great-great-grandchildren or if this secret place will be a parking garage or a wasteland and trees will be beyond memory. And I feel such love and protectiveness for this massive system which is dying, but I cannot save it and I am filled with despair.

I stand and breathe in the oxygen these trees are making for me. I exhale some carbon for them. We feed each other. I feel so whole in the green silences, as I always do, as if I found something I forgot I was missing. In the wildness, I can let myself be me in a way I cannot in the world of people. The trees watch me with no judgment, no agenda, and I whisper promises we cannot keep to the leaves that flutter like fragments of paper above me. We could learn from the trees, ways of being that could save our souls. To watch and listen and let others be. To stand firm, but without malice or judgment. To understand our place and the larger picture we fit into. To love without destruction. I want to fill myself with the trees, with their knowledge and patience and beauty, and carry it with me like a talisman against all of the things I cannot change. I lift my arms above my head, like a child begging to be picked up, waiting to be anointed. Trying to slip my fingers into this awesome silence, offering my prayers and holy words to the caverns of leaves and branches above.

The sun is low. As I turn and walk on, the chime of bells from a campus building swells into the silence, the capstone of the sanctuary's architecture. There is still hope. There has to be.

"Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground- the unborn of the future Nation." ~ The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations

Friday, April 4, 2014


Tonight was a night of stress, where it all seemed to go wrong. My paper wasn't coming out right, another project not even started, and then I found I didn't get into the class I need this summer. It's always right when I think I have everything under control that I trip on the rug and fall flat. Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Quick prayer. Jesus, give me some of that strength. Or turn my water into wine. Literally or figuratively, either one works for me.

I remind myself that these shake-ups are good because they ask me to trust, they help me remember that it is ok not to be in control. It doesn't mean I don't hate them though. I cry a bit and eat some ice cream and say some more prayers as Nate looks over my paper (God, bless him for not killing my crazy and emotional self when I get like this) and then I lean into the quiet again and get back to business. My stomach is roiling less feverishly now and I even feel slightly relaxed, but the tears are hiding just behind the ridge and I know that stress weight on my shoulders will stay with me all weekend as I check my email, hoping for a tiny miracle. But tonight: Pray. Write. Eat ice cream. Heal. Start again tomorrow.


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