The cat calls for her dinner. On the porch I bend and pour brown soy stars into her bowl, stroke her dark fur. It’s not quite night. Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky. Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent moon, a pink rag of cloud. Inside my house are those who love me. My daughter dusts biscuit dough. And there’s a man who will lift my hair in his hands, brush it until it throws sparks. Everything is just as I’ve left it. Dinner simmers on the stove. Glass bowls wait to be filled with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley on the cutting board. I want to smell this rich soup, the air around me going dark, as stars press their simple shapes into the sky. I want to stay on the back porch while the world tilts toward sleep, until what I love misses me, and calls me in. ~Dorianne Laux “On the Back Porch” from Awake
If just for a moment, when the world feels like it is tilting so far I just might fall off, there is a need to pause to look at where I’ve been and get my feet back under me.
The porch is a good place to start: a bridge to what exists beyond without completely leaving the safety of inside.
I am outside looking square at uncertainty and still hear and smell and taste the love that dwells just inside these walls.
What do any of us want more than to be missed if we were to step away or be taken from this life?
Our voice, our words, our heart, our touch never to be replaced, its absence a hole impossible to fill?
When we are called back inside to the Love that made us who we are, may we leave behind the outside world more beautiful because we were part of it.
To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God.
There is no place so remote that we can escape His penetrating gaze. To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity. It is a life of wholeness that finds its unity and coherency in the majesty of God.
Our lives are to be living sacrifices, oblations offered in a spirit of adoration and gratitude.
A fragmented life is a life of disintegration. It is marked by inconsistency, disharmony, confusion, conflict, contradiction, and chaos. Coram Deo … before the face of God. …a life that is open before God. …a life in which all that is done is done as to the Lord. …a life lived by principle, not expediency; by humility before God, not defiance. ~R.C. Sproulfrom “What Does “coram Deo” mean?”
We cannot escape His gaze. Why is that?
We…all of us, all colors, shapes and sizes… are created in His image, imago dei, so He looks at us as His reflections in the mirror of the world.
And what would He see this week? Surely nothing that reflects the heart or face of God.
I cringe to think. I want to hide from His gaze. All I see around me and within me is: inconsistency, disharmony, confusion, conflict, contradiction, and chaos. And most of all: defiance.
Surely, surely I know best.
I’m not alone: so many others also each know best, calling hypocrisy on one another, holding fast to moral high ground when the reality is: we drown together in the mud of our mutual guilt and lack of humility.
It is past time for us to be on our knees pleading for mercy, certainly not on our knees leaning upon the neck of another imago dei, squeezing out their very life breath and right to exist.
We are miserable reflections, each and every one of us, surely not coram Deo.
All that we have done, we have done onto God Himself. Kind of takes one’s breath away.
After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world. Philip Pullman
You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions, and songs–your truth, your version of things–in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born. ~Anne Lamott in a recent TED Talk
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. ~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”
I began to write after September 11, 2001 because that day it became obvious to me I was dying, albeit more slowly than the thousands who vanished that day in fire and ash, their voices obliterated with their bodies. So, nearly each day since, while I still have voice and a new dawn to greet, I speak through my fingers and my camera lens to others dying around me.
Over the past several months, there have been too many who have met their end sooner than they wished, having been felled by a rogue virus that cares not who or how badly it infects.
We are, after all, terminal patients, some more imminent than others, some of us more prepared to move on, as if our readiness had anything to do with the timing.
Each day I too get a little closer, so I write and share photos of my world in order to hang on awhile longer, yet with loosening grasp. Each day I must detach just a little bit, leaving a small trace of my voice and myself behind. Eventually, through unmerited grace, so much of me will be left on the page there won’t be anything or anyone left to do the typing.
From the petal’s edge a line starts that being of steel infinitely fine, infinitely rigid penetrates the Milky Way without contact–lifting from it–neither hanging nor pushing–
The fragility of the flower unbruised penetrates space ~William Carlos Williams from Spring and All (1923)
Here is the fringey edge where elements meet and realms mingle, where time and eternity spatter each other with foam. ~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm
It is common to look for love only inside the heart of things, watching it pulse as both showpiece and show off, reverberating from deep within, yet loud enough for all the world to bear witness.
But as I advance on life’s road, I find love lying waiting at the periphery of my heart, fragile and easily torn as a petal edge – clinging to the fringe of my life, holding on through storms and trials.
This love is ever-present, protects and cherishes, fed by fine little veins which branch out from the center to the tender margins of infinity.
It is on that delicate edge of forever I dwell, waiting to be fed and trembling with anticipation.
April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water.
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. ~T.S. Eliot from “The Wasteland“
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2
We do not want to think of ourselves as the dust we were and the dust we will become but the last several months have changed that. We have become hosts to a virus that can transform us to dust.
We thought we were living fully before; now, in our isolation, we have to examine what a full life really means, mixing our memories and desires.
Dust, like the relentless emerging life of April, is so cruel~ it reminds us of what could have been, as life rises miraculous from the dead.
We become nothing more than a handful of dust… yet the Creator lifts us up in the palm of His hand, and blows on us: we then breathe and pulse and weep and bleed.
We shall be like Him, part of his Hand, breath of His breath, for we shall see Him as He is.
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors which it passes to a row of ancient trees. You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.
leaving you, not really belonging to either, not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent, not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing that turns to a star each night and climbs–
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads) your own life, timid and standing high and growing, so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out, one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star. ~Rainer Maria Rilke “Sunset” (Trans. by Robert Bly) from The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy
We, frail people that we are, live out our lives between heaven and earth, sometimes in an uneasy tug-of-war between the two. We feel not quite ready for heaven as our roots go deep here, yet the challenges of daily life on this soil can seem overwhelmingly difficult and we seek relief, begging for mercy.
As we struggle to stay healthy during a spreading pandemic, it is frightening to watch others suffer as death tolls rise. We pray for safety for ourselves and those we love, knowing we are living “in between” where we are now and where we soon will be.
Shall we remain stones on the ground, still and lifeless, or are we destined to become a star glistening in the firmament?
Or are we like a tree stretching between soil and sky trying to touch both and remain standing while buffeted by forces beyond our control?
Christ the Son, on earth and in heaven, maintains an eternal connection to above and below. In His hands and under His protection, we are safe no matter where we are and where He takes us.
We can be mere stones no more.
This year’s Barnstorming theme for the season of Lent:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
I am a breath Of fresh air for you, a change By and by.
Black March I call him Because of his eyes Being like March raindrops On black twigs.
But this friend Whatever new names I give him Is an old friend. He says:
Whatever names you give me I am A breath of fresh air, A change for you. ~Stevie Smith from “Black March”
Suddenly, in the last week, buds are forming everywhere.
From seemingly dead wood that stands cold and dormant in late March, comes new life, returning like an old friend.
Transforming what seems lifeless, as if fresh air has been breathed into a corpse.
What could be more lifeless than a cross piece of timbers built specifically for execution?
Yet life sprung from that death tree, an unexpected and glorious bud, ready to burst into most fragrant blossom.
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
O Deus, ego amo te, O God I love Thee for Thyself Nec amo te ut salves me, and not that I may heaven gain Nec quod qui te non diligent, nor yet that they who love Thee not Æterno igne pereunt. must suffer hell’s eternal pain.
Ex cruces lingo germinat, Out of the bud of the wood of the Cross Qui pectus amor occupant, wherefore hearts’ love embraces Ex pansis unde brachiis, whence out of extended arms Ad te amandum arripes. Amen. you lovingly take us. Amen. ~Prayer of St. Francis Xavier “O Deus Ego Amo Te” 18th Century Traditional
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response.
That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” ~Mary Oliver
Everyone needs a reminder about the privilege of waking up still alive. Having had that opportunity this morning, I’d like to make a comment.
This has happened at least two times over seven decades, and yesterday provided a third reminder. The common theme is that each involved my driving to work in the morning.
Maybe that alone should tell me something.
Yesterday, my 200,000 + mileage 14 year old hybrid suddenly died while I was going 60 mph on the busy interstate on my way to work. There are not many options for a driver in such a scenario: no power steering to help navigate out of traffic, nothing but coasting to a stop in the safest place available. God’s hand controlled that moment as there was no car to the right of me, so I was able to ease over to an exit that I could roll down, with a spot at the bottom where I could sit with my hazard lights blinking until a very kind policeman pushed me with his car onto a quieter residential side street to wait over two hours for a two truck. Needless to say, I was very late for my clinic day but very grateful to show up at all.
My car awaits diagnosis and prognosis. I can tell you my diagnosis is “gratefully still alive.” My prognosis is: “still alive enough to make a comment.“
My first “dead car in the middle of a busy city street” story was forty years ago during morning rush hour when my ancient Oldsmobile decided to drop its drive train on a rainy steep hill in Seattle as I was driving to my neurology rotation at Harborview Hospital. God’s hand managed to hold my emergency brake in place until a police car with protective flashing lights appeared within seconds to park behind me while streams of highly annoyed traffic passed by. It took a tow truck only 15 minutes to remove me and my car from what could well have been a much bigger mess. Yes, I showed up late and grateful to my work day.
My most dramatic near miss was twenty years ago. I was driving into work on one of our county’s rural two lane roads, going the speed limit of 50 mph, all while in a grumbly mood and wishing I was heading somewhere else on a bright and sunny day. My mind was busy with the anticipation of my workday when I noticed a slight shift to the right by the driver in the car ahead of me. It inexplicably moved over the fog line and then suddenly I realized why, in a moment of stark clarity. A huge empty gravel truck and trailer rig was heading north, moving at the speed limit, the driver seemingly oblivious to the fact his huge trailer was starting to whip back and forth. As he approached me much too quickly, his trailer was whipping back to the center line, approaching me full force at a ninety degree angle from the truck, filling up the entire lane in front of me. I had no choice but to run my car off the road into a grassy field to avoid being hit head on by the still attached but runaway trailer. Only by God’s hand were there no deep ditches, telephone poles or trees at that particular point in the road. My car dove right into tall grass, which enfolded me, like a shroud of green, shielding me from a tangle of metal and certain death. It was a near miss, but a miss nonetheless.
I sat still, gripping the steering wheel, gathering my wits and picking up what was left of my frayed nerves from where they had been strewn, feeling my heart race from the sheer relief of still being alive.
I was able to drive out of the field and happily headed to work to do what I initially planned to do that day, abruptly made aware of the privilege of having a life to live, a job to go to, and a grassy field that rescued me.
It was only later, while calling my husband about what had just taken place, that I cried. Until then, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Now, I don’t feel the need for any more such events to remind me to make comments, other than: Here I am, still alive.
We never know if the turn is into the home stretch. We call it that—a stretch of place and time—with vision of straining, racing. We acknowledge each turn with cheers though we don’t know how many laps remain. But we can hope the course leads on far and clear while the horses have strength and balance on their lean legs, fine-tuned muscles, desire for the length of the run. Some may find the year smooth, others stumble at obstacles along the way. We never know if the finish line will be reached after faltering, slowing, or in mid-stride, leaping forward. ~Judy Ray, “Turning of the Year”
I’m well along on this journey, yet still feeling tethered to the starting gate. I’m testing how far the residual connection to beginning will stretch; there is still a strong tug to return back to how things were, like a bungee cord at the limits of its capacity.
Yet there is also an inexorable pull to destinations ahead. I know what once was a vital conduit to the past is withering with age, so I must move forward, unsure what is around the bend.
It can be turbulent out there without former ties and tethers as anchors in the storm. It is possible I will lose my balance, stumble and fall and end up limping the rest of the way.
When I hear the call of a new year, I know it is time to simply face the wind and surge ahead to what is coming next, no matter what it may be. I can choose to struggle along, worried and anxious about the unknown, or I can leap ahead at a skip and jump, jubilant, eager, ready, feeling nearly weightless in my anticipation of a joyful finish line.