Thursday, September 20, 2018

Created for a Place I've Never Known



"I've got my memories
Always inside of me
But I can't go back
Back to how it was...
...Created for a place 
I've never known"

Memories—I have those, too. But they are intangible. A stack of letters, smooth under my fingers, they are tangible. They hold your ruminations, a hundred quotations, illustrations, and aspirations. But letters cannot give me a bear hug. So I have your blue plaid flannel shirt wrapped around me. But where are your strong arms, my friend?

I can't wander back to the Lodge and find you there. Can't find you perched atop a woodpile at my parents' house...or at your parents' house, either. Believe me, I've looked. I've seen your bookshelf, the beautiful things you crafted, your writing desk, the footprints you left in the closet, your handwriting on the mirror. But you have gone on without me—beyond the veil to a place I've never known. A place I yearn for in the beautiful, aching moments. You've run ahead to a place I long for more earnestly now than I ever have.

Looking back over your letters has become something of a yearly tradition around our almost-shared birthdays. Ever since the day I first met you, I have known you were different than other people. Sometimes that difference was frustrating, as I just wanted an answer about your favourite food or your week's adventures. But more often, your different-ness was perceptive and inspiring. You once sent me a heart-full poem, asking for my advice, only to have me mutilate it—blind until years later to the depth of sorrow and beauty commingled therein.

I should have known that the soul of an artisan-poet, so well-versed in the language and habits of the next world, wasn't long for this fragmented, still-fallen one. Perhaps part of your restless wanderlust stemmed from never quite feeling like you belonged anywhere. There was no corner of the earth for your very own, my elven-friend. At least, none that you ever found. So you chose to step out of this world to find the place you had never known, but longed for all your life.

"This is home
Now I'm finally where I belong
Where I Belong
Yeah, this is home
I've been searching for a place of my own
Now I've found it
Maybe this is home

Like Jewel says in The Last Battle, 'I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.' But there you are; you've gone further up and further in, without me. I envy you. So. Much. And I look forward to the day when I will get into Narnia and you can teach me the ways and words of the Kingdom. Who knows how long that will be, life is too dear to leave it without Aslan deliberately calling me away. But when He does—O friend!—come meet me. Show me sylvan glades where the dryads play. Teach me all the colours I haven't seen before. Tutor me in the names of the trees and the contours of the Kingdom. And help my trembling, tied tongue to learn to lisp the language of Heaven, until it becomes familiar to taste the words.

You have always shown me the world through different eyes. You have shown me beauty and wonder—ever my guide into Faerie Land. You have asked the questions I didn't even think to question. You have valiantly lived, trying to reconcile confusion and the constant hurricane of thoughts and fears. 

"And now after all my searching
After all my questions
I'm gonna call it home
I've got a brand new mindset
I can finally see the sunset
I'm gonna call it home"

Do you remember the time that you told me that your family went to the beach on or around Christmas, and that you saw a wall of water rising up and the sun behind it? Those lines from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  sounded so naturally like something that would actually happen to you. And now you're in Aslan's own Country, the Utter East. Perhaps you sailed so far West from the Grey Havens as to arrive in the East. But you left me here without you, friend. In many ways, you left me for another world years ago. I always hoped you would find your way back far enough to reach out your hand to me once again. But we can't go back to how it was. And maybe that is for the best. I don't know if I could have borne the changes in you since that last visit. They were already apparent then...and they hurt to see. But know that I never stopped loving you and being your friend, even from a distance.

Perhaps it is better that what I do remember is you running to ring the unringable church bell in Pagosa. You, sitting on the floor, reading The Silmarillion aloud to me. The vast amount of ham you could eat! 'Phoners' and enthusiastic letters. The artistry of your hands and the music you played. The enthusiasm you had for music and lyrics and poetry. 

You were hard for me to understand, my friend. But not hard to love. You were hard for me to know how to help in fits of depression. But it seemed to be a joy for you to help me—even when I didn't always know it was your hand reaching out to me. You visited me when I was lonely. You gave me one of the greatest adventures I've ever taken, and were an integral part of my other grand adventure. You gave me the gift of your friendship, even though it cost you dearly to be open to loving another living thing. When you withdrew that gift, I felt abandoned, betrayed, unwanted. But now I know it was not because you didn't care, you cared more than you knew how. A part of me ceased all those years ago, and now part of me has died with you, friend. There are things that will never heal this side of Aslan's Country.

Missing you hurts like Hell, Aaron. Because it is Hell that stole you from me, from your dear family, and from a world that needs to see through your eyes. 

'This is worse than Mordor!' said Sam. 'Much worse in a way. It comes home to you, as they say; because it is home and you remember it before it was all ruined.' I remember you before the enemy set about to ruin you, to try to take you. But though you have gone further up and in, while I am left in the Shadowlands, neither has the enemy succeeded. You are now safe forever from confusion and heartache. You get to know how fully loved you are. You belong. 

Your seed has fallen into the ground in order to bear much fruit. In so many ways, the Lord has already borne good fruit through you, my friend, but the harvest continues. I can't thank you enough for being you. I love you. So. Much.

"A truer, nobler, trustier heart 
never beat within a human breast" 
—Lord Byron





But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 
C S Lewis, The Last Battle
___________

Song lyrics: This is Home by Switchfoot
Quotation 1: The Last Battle, by C S Lewis
Quotation 2: The Return of the the King, by J R R Tolkien

Thursday, August 2, 2018

How My Shirt Changed the Day


For the second time in a month, I had a conversation in the grocery checkout line that left me reeling. This time it began while unloading my produce and grinning at the two big-eyed, energetic young boys behind me. Their mom caught my eye and and she looked friendly as she inquired, "What is that?" The red cabbage in my hand? I thought. "I'm sorry, my produce?" She clarified, "I've seen those shirts on people around town, what is it?" 


"Oh, it's from an organisation that helps women get ultrasounds and see their babies...to help them stay healthy. They sort of hang out around planned parenthood facilities and help women want to keep their baby. You know, save a stork, since people say babies are delivered by storks." I smiled as I made air quotation marks around the word storks.

It wasn't the most eloquent or elegant thing I've ever said, but it was the grocery line, and it was moving pretty quickly. She looked engaged, so I was startled when she said, "Oh, so you're against abortion, I get it." I quickly replied that I was pro-life and she said,  "I thought it was going to be something cute." I said the first thing that popped into my head, "Well, your little guys are awfully cute." Her response stunned me, "Yeah, well, we planned each one of them. I donate to planned parenthood every year because I believe in science. I take them to the library so they can read more than one book." As it was my turn to check out, I responded that her comment made me sad and that I, too, read more than One Book. 

I wished them a good evening when I was finished, then walked to my car. Tears welled up in my eyes as a response whispered its way out of my mouth, "But planned parenthood cuts babies into pieces. How could anyone support that?" 

More tears made driving blurry as I thought of all the things I could have said to that kind-looking woman in just ten seconds: "I believe in science, too. A baby has DNA from the time the egg and sperm meet, and its heart begins to beat at fourteen days. When someone ends an innocent human heartbeat, we call it murder, don't we?"

The words of the song I was listening to pierced my heart:
"I try so hard..to turn away and not become
Another nail to pierce
The skin of One who loves
More deeply than the ocean
More abundant than the tears
Of a world embracing every heartache"*

A world embracing every heartache, I thought. Embracing pain under the name and guise of science, knowledge. And yet it is lack of Knowledge that blinds them, and they swallow the pill, not to kill the pain but to kill the child...to increase the heartache. 

Then came the angry tears—for the second time in recent weeks, I had failed to share truth with someone in an adequate way. I was so unprepared in the moment to give that ten second reply, because I simply hadn't thought to prepare any words to say if someone asked me. I hadn't planned to have to explain my shirt when I debated about what to wear in the morning. I had gone back and forth and finally landed on my Save the Storks shirt because it's one of my favourites. I briefly thought that it was a bummer so few people ever asked me about the shirt. So, I didn't prepare. I walked into a store minding my own business, and my shirt changed the tenor of the evening. One simple choice this morning opened up a conversation... A conversation that I wanted to have, but where I failed to say anything beyond, "That makes me sad," when I had much more I could say. Much more I wish I had said.

How can I give someone food for thought if I'm not prepared with my own questions to counter theirs? I want to be kind, but I also want to make people think. I want to ask something for their own mind to to close around, rather than simply making insipid replies to their questions. 

Last time I was in that same grocery, I was totally unprepared for the conversation that sprang up in the checkout line. There was no way I could have known a question as simple as, "Where do you go to church?" from the cashier would lead to them telling me that they were in the midst of a gender transition. This time I could have been prepared for the questions, but I wasn't. 

Slow as I am, I'm realising that I should pray for the Lord to direct my mind and conversations before I step into that grocery—or any other grocery. And not only the grocery, but also restaurants and the sidewalks of my town; before I drive my car and as I prepare for each day. Perhaps, like the scores of other times I've walked into the grocery or worn this shirt other places, nothing will happen. But what about the one time in the midst of those scores when someone asks the question, when someone blurts out their hurt or their heart? To be ready in that moment means to pray before all of the moments that might be. 



*— Worlds Apart by Jars of Clay

** If you would like to learn more about Save the Storks, this video shows what they do to help women, born and unborn, around the country.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Passing of the Shadow




In the gloaming
across the sere grass
I see a shadow roaming
up the hill, across the loam
I see the dark shape pass.

Golden evening light
has given way
to misty twilight,
the shadow's flight—
or was it descent?—lost in grey.

Who was it
walked that hill?
Who was it
passed by without seeing—
the porch, the cat sleeping still?

And who, indeed,
let their shade-self walk
across the bare grass's screed,
sanding their shadow-feet
upon stem and stalk, root and rock?

The rambler merged
into the falling night,
not changing form, purged
of his soul, but submerged
into a deeper dark, without light...

Light, making stark
edges upon stiff grass,
cutting a shadow-leaf upon bark,
Light, making known the dark
and bidding it to pass.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Empty Hands



I want to hold my worth in my hands;
to trace my accomplishments
in gilded letters on spine and cover;
to smell them in ink and paper.

But my desire is a dream awakened,
and all I can trace are tears
of shame, that I have nothing
to hold out in offering but empty hands. . .

Empty hands—not clenched fists,
angry, or grasping at given gifts;
Empty hands, ready to hold another's,
to serve, to open and receive. . .

To receive trust—a hand placed
in mine by a friend or a child;
to receive that broken bread,
spoken over, speaking over me: "You belong."

To belong, to be welcomed,
is not something I can close my hand
around—my palm is empty
on this pilgrimage, ready to give.

I cannot hold my worth in my hand,
but I can hold His most precious Body;
hold the hand of one in His Body;
be a hand in His Body—empty. . .

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Hallelujah!



Proof of the healing God has been doing in my life and heart the last year or so: I was just hoping that tomorrow was Sunday, because I was looking forward to going to church. I just spent parts of the past four days at church for Holy Week. . .and I wanted to go again tomorrow.

"My heart overflows with a good theme," and "my tongue is the pen of a ready writer..."

Thanks be to God!

Friday, March 9, 2018

What if the Season is Barren




They are like trees along a riverbank bearing luscious fruit each season without fail.

Their leaves shall never wither, and all they do shall prosper.

—Psalm 1:3, The Living Bible



What if the season is barren

rather than bearing?

How if the leaves have curled

and the river has curved

away—away from from this tree, empty?



“Empty? Why art thou empty?”

Asks the Spirit-wind,

rustling through parch├Ęd leaves.

“Have you ceased to delight in

my Word—written, spoken, spilled down?



In the stillness after the query

hangs an echo from ancient days:

“Who told you you were naked?

Why are you afraid? Have you disobeyed,

eaten what I forbade?”



“Yes, Lord,” I whisper in shame.

“I have known good, but evil is now

natural to my broken frame.

I have not delighted in Your Name,

to Your Word I refused to bow.”



“Yet all these days

I have guarded your ways—

return to me, delight in me.

My arm is not too short to save,

remember this and offer praise.”



Like a long-waited rain to a dry tree

were His entreaties to me.

I took delight as I meditated,

both day and night, upon

His Word—written, spoken, spilled down.



_______

Photo by Peter Oslanec on Unsplash

Friday, January 26, 2018

Dear Elf-Friend

Ten years have disappeared,
Slowly, so-very-slowly in ways,
yet how fast and bleared
go those years of days 

So much has changed, 
and I've changed, too,
but some things stay the same—
like how I miss you

I missed the gift
of your letters, your self,
only when there was a rift
between you and health

Five years, nearly,
since I last saw you, so altered—
I miss you dearly,
even the way your words faltered

So much has stayed:
my foolish words and blind eyes—
but for change I often pray,
and the Lord hears my cries

I miss your songs
and poems, your wonder
and childlike joys, gone,
mind and reality torn asunder

Years and disease
have made you disappear, my friend—
Sorrow brings me to my knees
at how we came to an end

So much might resolve,
but my hopes wane,
as the days and years revolve,
and you don't write again

I miss who you were,
miss what I didn't value
enough when I had it, sir—
oh, if only we knew. . .

If we but knew
how to order our loves,
our minds, our days so few—
how to give thanks to Him above

Had I known
ten years ago,
had I received with thanks,
what difference would that make?


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Unmerited


















Kindness
flowing out
in wine and chocolate chip cookies,
in smiles and eyes, in words and hidden acts

Grace
flowing down
in water and wine and blood
over dark soul nights, to unworthy us

Love
flowing over
from hearts and hands, eyes and lips
in forgiveness again, and again—every time

Gifts
ever flowing
that we cannot earn, cannot repay,
we humbly receive with open, empty hands

Full
over flowing
hands and hearts, eyes and lives—
Lord teach us to receive with gladness and joy!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Do Not be Afraid



"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid."1
—Frederick Buechner


These were the words that marked a house fire and the death of a beloved dog for some folks that I met earlier this year. They are the words I wrote under a dark sky and a full moon, a picture I painted for my friend whose dear mom died on Easter morning. They are the words embodied in the juxtaposition of nature’s beauty and nature’s brutality when I was out hiking and found a freshly killed bird on my quiet trail. They are the words I am still clinging to, in hopes of making sense of a friend’s surreal situation. They are the words attempting to hold back my own fears of losing my family. They are the words seeking to reconcile a disappointed hope of healing—a wife and child, parents and a sister, all bereft of a man who was only thirty-four.

But they are only so many words. They don’t stop the darkness from coming. They don’t staunch the wound that death rips through so many whom I know—the wound that I feel, too. That I fear, too. At some point I have to face the reality of death and the loneliness—the isolation—it brings. And words do not fill the hollowed out people we become when death invades our lives. Those true words lie flat on the page, not shedding a bit of light or colour into our greyness. They lie flat, unable to lend us a hand, to pull us out of the mire of the Fall and its effects.

Words can kill and words can heal; but sometimes words are superfluous—flat-lined rather than life-lines. Brokenness doesn’t fit in neat packages or true-but-trite sayings. Brokenness doesn’t fit well anywhere with all its jagged edges lacerating those who get too close. When I can, I hug my friend who lost her mom this year. I try to just listen. I paint or sing to let the pain out. I cry with my friends—and for them, too. I pray the Kyrie often: Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

But how do I face my family’s mortality—or my own—when I am reminded of the brevity of life? I need to learn to take a page from Wendell Berry’s book:
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my [parents’] lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.2

“Who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” I can grieve alongside. I can grieve during. I can grieve after. And being a human rather than an animal, I can have a forethought of grief. I can “pre-grieve,” as I’ve taken to calling it—but should I? Or can I really even pre-grieve? I don’t know what certain losses will be like until they arrive. I won’t know what I miss until I miss it. Why try to grieve now, when I am called to live now? Why let grieving spoil being with my family and my friends, or the beauty all around me? And let me remind you, you who are in the darkness and that infernal greyness of numbed emotions—there are still candles and stars and beacons of beauty. How do I know? I have seen them. Beauty does not stop the ache, nor does it flip a switch, turning on one’s ability to feel. Yet, beauty creeps in—like a flame along a paper-edge, like ever-rising waters, like the grey light of dawn about to to turn golden and crimson—and somehow it lights a beacon of hope. Hope that one day this topsy-turvy brokenness will be made right.

How do I know? Well, Buechner said it better than I could: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” That part tends to get left off the quotation, but how are we not to be afraid—in reverent fear of the beauty and in fear of the terror of the world? We do not fear, because the One who made all things good, who made us, who loves us, walks with us. Why would we fear the darkness if the Light of the World is present with us? It isn’t that we aren’t walking in the darkness, its very fingers clawing at us—but, it cannot overpower us or leave us forever in grey-life. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it—cannot understand the Light, nor overcome it.

When words won’t stem the gushing wounds death opens in the heart, I go for a long hike. It doesn’t fix things or bring people back. It doesn’t change the realities that my family and friends experience due to loss. Yet, sometimes along the way, I am changed by the Maker of the wild things. He is the ever-present Healer. He is with us in the darkness, in the flat grey feeling, in the hollow emptiness, in the moments of meaninglessness. Though we may not feel His presence—and though we may forget, “we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.”3

Sometimes the Word is wordlessly present. Always He walks alongside us—He is with us—even when we can’t feel His presence. “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”


________

1. Buechner, Frederick; Beyond Words (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 2004) 139

2. Berry, Wendell; "The Peace of Wild Things" retrieved from Poem Hunter

3. Lewis, C. S., Letters to Malcolm (London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd. 1964) 100-101







Saturday, September 9, 2017

Arrival




                                            I watched the darkness come down
                                            as the breeze rushed by
                                            and the sawyers started to sound
                                            their aching choir, sorrows wound
                                            in a cricket's cry

                     
                                            I watched the lights spring awake
                                            in a dark-eyed casement
                                            trimmed with paint, starting to flake,
                                            saw reflected the glassy green lake
                                            on the glazed encasement

                              
                                            I heard the whisper of leaves in the wind,
                                            breath of Fall creeping
                                            into the colour of grasses that bend
                                            their tawny heads low, in gusts that send
                                            geese to the sky, weeping


                                            I felt the sigh of Autumn's chill
                                            breathe down my spine,
                                            paint bushes aflame, gild the hill,
                                            tinge the air crisp, and spill
                                            out the scent of pine


                                            I saw the day fall into slumber
                                            and stars blink awake,
                                            a silent host too many to number
                                            over black bear with heavy lumber
                                            shown by aspen's quake