October 13, 2009
It rained all day today, and that is a rare moment in southern California. To celebrate, I posted an old poem I wrote in college on my Facebook page. I thought I’d post it here as well, just for fun. Enjoy!
On Rain and Torn-Down Houses
I miss the sound the rain made at my house
when I would sneak out to the porch at night
on tiptoe, quiet, so as not to rouse
my mother, who could stop me in mid-flight
from watching as the sleepy world got wet.
The vinyl awning kept me dry in spite
of Angel, dripping, begging me to pet
her slick black fur and licking at my knees
all goose-bumped in the hurried wind that let
my unclipped hair swirl tangled in the breeze.
I miss the mist that held onto my skin
and how the rustling leaves fell from their trees
and dropped like unwrapped gifts from distant kin
to lie forlorn and dying at my feet
before the wind would whip them up again.
I sometimes wander down that lonely street
and wonder if the rain still falls as sweet.
August 18, 2009
A friend of mine accidentally gave me this poem, and I accidentally read it. It accidentally struck just the tender chord in me, so I am with intentionality and purpose including it here without any commentary or insight of my own, just to rest in the knowledge that yes, someone else knows what it is to walk alone.
“The Journey” (by Mary Oliver)
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life that you could save.
July 25, 2009
How long, O LORD ? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Remember how fleeting is my life.
For what futility you have created all men! (Psalm 89: 46-7)
Psalm 89 moves chameleon-like through different emotions of the psalmist, almost as though there are different speakers. First, there is praise, then an oracle of the Davidic covenant, and finally complaint and plea before God. Though there are several different sections to the psalm, Psalm 89 is clearly at bottom a psalm of lament. The fact that the psalm does not resolve into praise at the end supports this claim. Thus the psalm’s purpose is to accuse God of not fulfilling God’s covenantal promise to David to be faithful and steadfast in his love. The psalmist is calling God to account first by reminding God of his covenant agreement and then by describing the facts of the current state of the king that contradict that agreement.
The psalmist clearly has no trouble pointing out exactly what he or she expects God to be doing and asking God when circumstances will be righted again. It is difficult to have a picture of God that seems imperfect. I remember my mom once double-checking a children’s book against the biblical text of the story of Noah’s flood because she did not like that it said, “Then God remembered Noah,” as if God had forgotten him for a while. (Incidentally, it does say that in the biblical text as well.) But this psalm exemplifies just this tension between God’s sovereignty and our participation: God is acknowledged as being faithful, yet God is being reminded of that faithfulness. This tension is something that must be dealt with both in the psalmist’s mind and in our own context today. When God is described as remembering something, it simply means to the Hebrew mind that God is once again mindful of a situation and is going to do something about it. When the psalmist asks God to remember the covenant, there is no real fear that God could have forgotten it. It is rather a call to action: “hey, we’re over here feeling abandoned, so come put things back the way they should be.”
To our contemporary ears, it seems brash and even insulting to accuse God of anything at all. We are taught to accept whatever happens as part of God’s plan. Psalm 89 proves that God allows our interaction with him even when it closes the distance of king to subject. The psalmist approaches God’s throne as an angry child approaches a parent: “you’re not being fair; you said I could such-and-such; how long do I have to wait?” That kind of intimacy is almost frowned upon in many of today’s western churches. In attempting to set God apart, we separate ourselves from God. This psalm serves as a necessary righting of that false mindset toward God.
Sometimes we do not feel like praising because God seems to be the opposite of what we would say in God’s honor. The psalmist gives us permission to remind God of his promised steadfast love and faithfulness, whether we are praising or lamenting. The psalm can serve as a reminder: God doesn’t want you to stay this way, so it’s okay to ask God for help! Sometimes we feel forgotten by God, like we do not matter, as if God is too busy elsewhere to notice our particular pain. We think we are not allowed to require of God. But God has promised.
This psalm gives us permission to call God to account, to remind God that we have not forgotten that he should be steadfast and faithful. It is okay to tell God we feel forgotten and remind God of his promises. Sometimes God may want us to wait on his timing, but other times God may be waiting for us to interact with him, to let him know we want him. Thus, this psalm can be used to remind people not only that it is acceptable to complain to God but also that God is a personal God who wants to interact with us. God is not a watchmaker who winds up the world and sits back to let it run all by itself. Sometimes God allows us to fall into situations that will remind us that God is there, waiting to be acknowledged again.
I have learned from this psalm that lament is an acceptable form of prayer to God. More than that, I have learned that it is necessary at times to leave lament in its raw state of pain rather than attempt to temper it with praise. Clearly, Psalm 89 is not entirely a psalm of lament. The first 18 verses praise God for all the goodness in creation and the covenantal promises. The next section even details the nature of that promise. It is not until verse 38 that the lament begins, so the psalmist certainly cannot be accused of simply griping to God all the time. This is no complaint in our modern terms but a genuine expression of distress and frustration.
I have not always felt free to express my own lament to God without couching everything in praise to avoid offense. There is great freedom in being able to express hurt and anger, even to demand that God make good on his promises, instead of meekly accepting life situations as ordained by God and suffering in silence. Silence breeds resentment, and resentment breeds death. Psalm 89 teaches us to break that silence, even when God seems silent toward us. God may just be waiting to hear us acknowledge that we notice the lack of God’s felt presence.
April 26, 2009
Another little piece from my writing lab…
(desert pictures are copyrighted!!)
There is something haunting about the barrenness of the desert. The dry, cracked earth produces little more plant life than bristles, thistles, and thorns. I am sitting on the hillside overlooking St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California. The cemetery rests behind me, just up the winding dirt path. The sun is unmerciful, but I shiver, defenseless against the wind. It is Ash Wednesday. I have never been to a monastery before. I envy this rhythm of life so firmly established here, so deeply rooted in history, tradition, and meaning. I envy the unrushed movement of the brothers as they go about their daily tasks with studied patience. Mostly, I envy the cultivated attitude of reverence toward solitude and stillness. Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season, is marked by fasting, prayer, and quiet. I have hiked up this hill, away from the monks and visitors, in order to break the silence with my sad song.
My experience at the monastery is nothing like I had expected. I’ve never been in the desert before. I’ve never really been able to understand the draw of barrenness and wasteland on the human soul. I find rest and restoration for my thirsty soul in the calming presence of green and growing things, in the canopies of the Appalachian mountains, in the cool shade and roar of the misty waterfalls. Retreat for me is seclusion in the deep forest, crunching leaves and underbrush under my feet or drinking hot tea under a warm blanket at the picture window overlooking an undisturbed lake. But the desert? I never understood how one could draw peace and strength from a place where nothing grows, where it is at once hot and cold, where desolation and isolation reign. I never understood until this moment, perched on a bolder with my hair wild and lashing my face, watching a hawk in flight. I see him take off, flapping wildly in his ascent, struggling in the wind. Suddenly, the fight is over; the hawk catches a thermal and glides, free and calm, coasting on the breeze that carries him along the way. I’ve never actually seen a hawk fly over the desert before. There is no peace like that moment when the wind takes over and the wings can rest on the journey. I see myself in this moment, resting mid-flight and trusting that the wind will hold me up. I never expected to see myself here in the desert. I stop singing. Suddenly, silence is everything.
***** ***** *****
Lent is the season of repentance, the space between Christmas and Easter when one’s spirituality is devoted to sin, darkness, and death in preparation for the joy, blessing, and life that come with the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. I never liked Lent or paid much special attention to it as part of the church calendar. But this year, the year that marks a quarter-century in my life, Lent has taken on an unexpectedly profound significance. Being a graduate without any sense of definition for my occupational future has thrown me rather roughly into a deep, unstable darkness. My identity is wrapped in a shroud of uncertainty. My right-brained creativity should be my salvation, but it has only fed into the anxiety of left-handed living. Lent reminds me just how weak I am.
I am an anxious person. When I don’t understand, or when I feel out of control, my anxiety overwhelms me and destroys any chance I have at the rest I have been called into in this season of life. I am most anxious when I lack the words to express myself or define the world around me. This season of waiting, this moment of rest on the journey, has produced an intense experience of rootlessness. I have been like the hawk, flapping anxiously upward, desperate for the invisible breeze and unable to find it—until that moment on Ash Wednesday when I see the hawk rest on the very wind that had caused him to struggle in flight. In that moment I realized what the Abbey brothers have always known: silence is the sister of waiting. I have been trying, and failing, to describe this place I live in these days, this holding cell between my past and future life, between who I have been and who I am becoming. I have been failing because it is an impossible task, like the hawk fighting the wind. The time has come for silence. The time has come for acceptance of this weakness, this waiting. Words fail and anxiety immobilizes; rigor mortis sets in. I do not move on, not because I will not but because I cannot. I wait because I can do nothing else, but in the waiting—I am learning—I must be silent, as silent as the grave.
March 11, 2009
Here’s a little bit of the piece I’m working on currently for my writing lab.
I love the story in the book of Luke where Jesus comes to stay with Mary and Martha. Lazarus is there, I always imagine, sitting near his friend and playing the host while his sisters ready the guest room and prepare the evening meal. I often wonder what he thought when his sister Mary put down her laundry basket, entered the room quietly, and sat at Jesus’ feet. But Luke allows us a glimpse only into Martha’s inner world as she breaks into the conversation in a fit of frustration and demands from Jesus what she feels she deserves: “Tell my sister to help me!” She was only asking for what she felt was right. She was only requiring of others what she was also willing to sacrifice. I always identified with Martha, the oldest child, the helper who finds her worth in performing, in conforming. Martha was a doer, and so am I. Now that I think about it, I bet Martha was right-handed.
There are days when I set out to complete a task, to fulfill an obligation, to meet someone else’s expectations that I feel every bit of my left-handedness weighing me down, holding me back. Being left-handed is my weakness, my inability to fit the round peg that I am into the square hole of the world. Or maybe I’m the square, and my corners are too sharp and awkward to slide across the smoothness of the world’s curve. Lefties are the gangly, uncoordinated adolescents that society passes over when choosing teams in kickball. Lefties are the benchwarmers, the underdogs—but doesn’t everyone love to see the underdogs win? Isn’t it in the very nature of the right-brained person to turn her weakness into some undiscovered strength?
That’s what I am learning, as I sit in the waning afternoon sunlight, watching my soy candle burn into dusk. I’m learning to embrace my sharp corners with my uncoordinated limbs and wait, and wait and wait. I have tried to be Martha too long, the active, capable, do-everything-er who always plays by the rules and never once steps out of place. Now I wonder if Mary isn’t a more likeminded role model. Did Mary like washing dishes, I wonder. Was she as careful at folding the laundry or sweeping the steps as her sister expected? Maybe she wasn’t that good at housework. Maybe Mary’s sharp corners grated on Martha’s round world. How long did Mary wait for the right moment to enter that room, when her brother was sufficiently enraptured in Jesus’ voice and her sister engaged with the servants? Did her heart beat and her palms sweat with anticipation? Did she know, when Martha barged into the room, what Jesus’ response would be?
I think she did. I am learning to wait in the darkness with just that anticipation, with only my candle for light. I am learning to sit as Mary once did, at the feet of Jesus. When Martha complains in front of Lazarus and their guests, Mary never even flinches. It is Jesus who rises to her defense; suddenly, Mary’s inadequacy as a be-er in a doer’s world—suddenly her apparent failure—is transformed into the “better part.” Suddenly, Mary’s weakness becomes her strength.
January 30, 2009
The description under this picture has a profound significance for me in this season of my journey–in limbo between school and work, child and adult, past and future: “We each must enter into the belly of the whale and risk being spilled forth on unfamiliar shores. Resting in the body of the whale is just one letter away from resting in the body of the whole.”
I like this carving because it is reminiscent of a child in the womb. I feel like an unborn child these days, being knit together in the darkness, waiting quietly in the secure warmth of the Mother for the birthing pains to come. Sue Monk Kidd writes of being both the pregnant mother and the unborn child as we undergo transformation.
Both figures learn the same lesson–that waiting, far from the passive negation of responsibility and participation, can be the most active part of our spiritual journeys; it is during the waiting that we are moved, and it is only through the waiting that we can ever arrive at another place. This being still is what reveals God’s character to us, even as we reach new depths of our own. I’ve been looking for an image to help me define my journey. The cocoon, the winter-frozen field, and this carving that seems at once the whale and the womb–these are the creative expressions of my dark night of the soul. What are yours?
October 6, 2008
August 31, 2008
January 26, 2008
I’ve been trying to learn balance. With so many things demanding my time and attention these days, it seems impossible to prioritize rightly anymore. I’m having to let go of my identity as the stellar student who throws herself into every assignment and turns in only the most meticulously researched and edited papers. Even taking advantage of the option to pass/fail a class feels like cheating (but what a relief it has turned out to be!), as though if I were just dedicated enough I could do it all.
I don’t want to be the kind of person who is so busy learning how to be in community that I forget to take time for people. Working at the bookstore provides the perfect opportunity for daily interaction with the Fuller community, but sometimes it seems like just a job. Or worse, just one more burden, one more demand on my time and energy. It’s so easy to get distracted from the subtle ways God sets me up for practicing the theories of “third place” community interaction. I’m trying to learn how to think “people” instead of “obligation.”
I don’t want to be so busy practicing leadership and administration skills with the coordination of Presbyterian Chapel that I forget to be involved myself in that opportunity for the corporate worship of God. I was telling a friend yesterday how ironic it is that while our theme this quarter is “building community,” I’m too focused on last-minute details and time management to notice who came to chapel or whether the Holy Spirit moved among us.
Going to PIHOP (the Pasadena International House of Prayer) gives me an opportunity to practice the fluid moving in and out of worship as necessary. I try to read for class while entering into worship and meditation with others in the room. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing a disservice to both activities by not devoting full attention to one or the other. But here’s what I’m discovering through my efforts: those of us who will be in any kind of full-time ministry position simply will not be able to focus on only worship when engaged in leadership roles. We may find time for individual worship, surely, but the participation in corporate worship is also a vital part of the Christian life. Our only option, it seems to me, is to learn to balance worship and leadership, to develop the ability to move fluidly in and out of these roles so that everything about our mindsets and actions revolves around and centers on the worship of God.
This is the balance God has been teaching me since moving into my second year at Fuller. It’s a real balancing act, and I fall all the time. I have the bruises to prove it. But isn’t that what seminary is about? Learning to balance? Learning to build community? Learning to worship?
December 11, 2007
I’m finally home for the holidays. I’ve been gone a year, but it feels like nothing has changed in this place. Good ol’ Greenville. But of course, a lot really has changed. Businesses have moved locations. Road names have been altered. My home church got a new senior pastor. My brother has a girlfriend. My mom got a new hair style. And I’ve changed, too. Maybe not so much in appearance, but in mindset I’ve become a different person than the girl who graduated college with no idea what would come next.
Well, I’m still the girl who has no idea what will come next, now that I think about it. I’ve hardly had a moment to myself to take a deep breath and begin to discern what shape my life will take in the coming months. I have at least two quarters left in California, and another one (or one-and-a-half) at home. But after that…what? I’m still thinking about massage therapy, especially since there’s a great school a literal two minutes from my house. But then there’s that dream I’ve always had about creative writing, and that would take more school, too. And just yesterday my friend was mentioning that hospital staff jobs have really good medical care, which I will need in less than a year when I have to take on my life fully by myself. But do I want to be stuck in a nothing-nowhere job? Even just long enough to pay off my debt and send myself back to school again?
I’ve always been that girl with so much potential, so many possibilities for the future. And no clear, attainable goals (because we all know starving artists have rotten health insurance). It doesn’t help that everyone I see asks me what my plans are. I can barely figure out next week, much less next year. Much as I love my mother, I really don’t want to live at home forever. Something happened, and all of the sudden I’m grown up. It’s exciting and fatiguing all at once. I just want someone to tell me what I should do next. I keep waiting for God to part the clouds and boom down from heaven the authoritative dictation of my life, step by step.
Of course, my faith is more mature than that. I know often God is waiting on me to walk in my own maturity and make wise choices with the guidance he places all around me. So then, it’s just a matter of recognizing that guidance for what it is, and using the wisdom I have to discern the best direction (or maybe just any direction) for this next year of my life. Well, I’m always up for a new adventure. Good thing I like mysteries!