Way Out Beyond Us

My father would lift me
to the ceiling in his big hands
and ask, 
How’s the weather up there?
And it was good, the weather
of being in his hands, his breath
of scotch and cigarettes, his face
smiling from the world below.
O daddy, was the lullaby I sang
back down to him as he stood on earth,
my great, white-shirted father, home
from work, his gold wristwatch
and wedding band gleaming
as he held me above him
for as long as he could,
before his strength failed
down there in the world I find myself
standing in tonight, my little boy
looking down from his flight
below the ceiling, cradled in my hands,
his eyes wide and already staring
into the distance beyond the man
asking him again and again,
How’s the weather up there?
~George Bilgere “Weather”.

It was hard work, dying, harder
than anything he’d ever done.

Whatever brutal, bruising, back-
breaking chore he’d forced himself

to endure—it was nothing
compared to this. And it took

so long. When would the job
be over? Who would call him

home for supper? And it was
hard for us (his children)—

all of our lives we’d heard
my mother telling us to go out,

help your father, but this
was work we could not do.

He was way out beyond us,
in a field we could not reach.

~Joyce Sutphen “My Father, Dying”

Deep in one of our closets is an old film reel of me about 16 months old sitting securely held by my father on his shoulders. I am bursting out with giggles as he repeatedly bends forward, dipping this head and shoulders down. I tip forward, looking like I am about to fall off, and when he stands back up straight, my mouth becomes a large O and I can almost remember the tummy tickle I feel. I want him to do it again and again, taking me to the edge of falling off and then bringing me back from the brink.

My father was a tall man, so being swept up onto his shoulders felt a bit like I was touching heaven.

It was as he was dying 24 years ago this week that I realized again how tall he was — his feet kept hitting the foot panel of the hospital bed my mother had requested for their home. We cushioned his feet with padding so he wouldn’t get abrasions even though he would never stand on them again, no longer towering over us.

His helplessness in dying was startling – this man who could build anything and accomplish whatever he set his mind to was unable to subdue his cancer. Our father, who was so self-sufficient he rarely asked for help, did not know how to ask for help now.

So we did what we could when we could tell he was uncomfortable, which wasn’t often. He didn’t say much, even though there was much we could have been saying. We didn’t reminisce. We didn’t laugh and joke together. We just were there, taking shifts catching naps on the couch so we could be available if he called out, which he never did.

This man:
who had grown up dirt poor,
fought hard with his alcoholic father
left abruptly to go to college – the first in his family –
then called to war for three years in the South Pacific.

This man:
who had raised a family on a small farm while he was a teacher,
then a supervisor, then a desk worker.

This man:
who left our family to marry another woman
but returned after a decade to ask forgiveness.

This man:
who died in a house he had built completely himself,
without assistance, from the ground up.

He didn’t need our help – he who had held tightly to us and brought us back from the brink when we went too far – he had been on the brink himself and was rescued, coming back humbled.

No question the weather is fine for him up there. I have no doubt.

When You are Dirty and Rattled

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You can change the world with a hot bath,
if you sink into it from a place of knowing
you are worth profound care,
even when you are dirty and rattled.
Who knew?
~Anne Lamott from Small Victories

 

 

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A hot bath is a most welcome gift to a dirty rattled soul and in turn, it is a gift to everyone around me.   I may not even know how grimy I’ve gotten, how smelly and offensive.

Yet there is profound care in the simplicity of being cleansing.  I am so in need and the world deserves a cleaner me.

 

 

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To Be Bathed in Beauty

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We do not want merely to see beauty…
we want something else which can hardly be put into words-
to be united with the beauty we see,
to pass into it,
to receive it into ourselves,
to bathe in it,
to become part of it.

~C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory

 

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Each day brings headlines that tear at us, pull us down and rub us into the mud.  We are grimy by association, sullied and smeared.

Yet in our state of disgrace, Beauty is offered up to us.

In His last act with those He loved, Jesus shared Himself through a communal meal,
then washed and toweled their dirty feet clean, immersing them, despite their protests,  in all that is beautiful and clean.
He took on and wore their grime.

It is now our turn to wash away the dirt from whoever is in need.  He showed us how.

 

 

 

 

 

The Withering Nourishing Light

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Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
~Eugene O’Neill

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We speak of the pain of childbirth, referring,
of course, to the mother, but what is pain
to the mother, the one through whose body
the course unwinds? She understands already
what kind of world she must return to,
how it daily hones its many edges
against human skin, unlike the child whose
untried limbs inch toward it, pressing now
so firmly against her he feels for the first time
the pinch of bone against bone and is seared
by the friction. Isn’t he the one
on whom the real burden falls, the one
to whom resilience means nothing yet? His
tender skin like a small measure of cloth
unfolding before the blade under which
he will, for a lifetime, bruise
and heal: Crush of the long descent, grip
of the steadying hands, brush of breath
against cheek, even the constant barrage
of the microscopic, the tiny plink-plink
of the dust motes knocking against him
before custom makes him numb to it. No wonder
the startled mouth cries out,
each pore suddenly hungry
in the withering, nourishing light.
~Trevor West Knapp  “Touch”

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We are born hollering,
already aware
of our emptiness
from the first breath,
each tiny air sac bursting
with the air of our fallen world
that is never quite enough.

The rest of our days are spent
filling up our empty spaces
whether alveoli
or stomach
or synapse hungry for knowledge,
still hollering and heart
broken.

~ so we are mended
through healing another~

~ sewn up ourselves
by knitting together
the scraggly fragments of lives~

~ becoming the crucial glue
boiled from gifted Grace~

until all holes
are made holy
when filled
so wholly.

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Where You Belong

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Tell me, where is the road
    I can call my own,
That I left, that I lost,
    So long ago?
All these years I have wandered,
    Oh, when will I know
There’s a way, there’s a road
    That will lead me home?

After wind, after rain,
    When the dark is done.
As I wake from a dream
    In the gold of day,
Through the air there’s a calling
    From far away,
There’s a voice I can hear
    That will lead me home.

Rise up, follow me,
    Come away, is the call,
With the love in your heart
    As the only song;
There is no such beauty
    As where you belong:
Rise up, follow me,
   I will lead you home.
~Stephen Paulus “The Road Home”

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We want to remember,
and be remembered.
We want to welcome,
and be welcomed.
We want to return,
forgiven forever
for whatever we had done.

We seek the comfort of
where we belong.
He brings us home from wandering.

Home.

Full of longing for belonging,
homeless no longer,
now homeful and hopeful.

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Praising God That I Can

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sunset

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blue skies

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river full of life

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the mystery of the sea

What’s enough? Countless times I’ve watched the sun rise like God’s tender mercy to gently lift the dark blanket from the earth, and countless more times I’ve watched the sun set in such a splendiferous farewell that it must reflect the fringe on God’s robe. I’ve seen the sky define blue and endless. I’ve watched rivers run to the sea, full as life runs to God. I’ve felt the sea roll in on the eternal note of mystery and assurance.

I’ve scratched the ears of dogs, laughed at the ballet of cats. I’ve heard the cry and gurgle of the newborn, played with children, rocked with grandmothers, learned from hundreds of teachers, some of them homeless, poor, and uneducated. 

I’ve been loved and forgiven beyond all deserving, and all breath to tell of it, by family and friends and God.

I’ve been shaken, changed, and blessed a thousand times — and still — by the prophets, and by Christ. I’ve felt the touch of God, each time before I realized that’s what it was. I’ve shared in the cantankerous yet remarkable family of faith called the church. I’m conscious of being conscious and alive. And all that’s just for starters.

How much does it take to praise God? I have a couple of trips around the Milky Way past enough for that, no matter if I never receive another thing. So I best get on with it . . . and praise God that I can.
— Ted Loder from The Haunt of Grace

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dog ears

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cat ballet

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photo of new great-nephew Samuel Oliver by Mieke L.

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play with children

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grandmothers

We forget, in our ever-inward focus, we were created for praise and to give all glory to God.  We are given mouths to sing, hands to clasp, eyes to witness His wonders, forgiveness to try once again to get it right.

Even so, we don’t even recognize the touch of God.

May we, the flawed and broken, meet together today in His church as a family of faith to praise God that we are able to praise Him.

What greater reason is there to exist?

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Awaiting His Arrival: From Silence to Time Suspended

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 Immediately his (Zechariah’s) mouth was opened and his tongue set free,
and he began to speak, praising God:
because of the tender mercy of our God,

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

~Luke 1: 64, 78-79

 

Upon the darkish, thin, half-broken ice
There seemed to lie a barrel-sized, heart-shaped snowball,
Frozen hard, its white
identical with the untrodden white
of the lake shore. Closer, its somber face—
Mask and beak—came clear, the neck’s
Long cylinder, and the splayed feet, balanced,
Weary, immobile. Black water traced, behind it,
An abandoned gesture. Soft in still air, snowflakes
Fell and fell. Silence
Deepened, deepened. The short day
Suspended itself, endless.
~Denise Levertov “Swan in Falling Snow”

And we are silenced too by our questioning the motives of God, by trying to be God ourselves, and so sit suspended, immobile, in the darkening quiet, waiting, waiting.
We are met by the tender mercy of His light illuminating our deepening, raised to the eternal, suspended, forgiven endlessly.

 

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