The Knowing

We thought we were the perfect family—
loyal, stable, a brick wall you couldn’t topple
with a wrecking ball. Parents dependable
as the frozen Minute Maid juice
we squeezed from cardboard cans and drank
mornings, reconstituted.

We’d come to this place just to be together.
October in Ogunquit, record heat,
no need for the sweaters we’d packed.
Dad had died but Mom, in her 80s, sat
pouring green tea, our wicker chairs
on the small porch, six sets
of knees touching.

She didn’t mean to mention
Dad’s first wife.

To our collective what?
she sputtered lasted a year, before the war,
her name: Phyllis.
Remember that chest in the basement?
It was hers.

Some moments passed, then mutely
we agreed to let it go.
Radium glowed green in our brains
but didn’t burn. The knowing, a relief:
We didn’t have to be perfect.

The August-warm wind felt pleasant
and odd. We sat on that porch,
orange leaves pinwheeling down the street.
~Karen Paul Holmes “Rental Cottage, Maine” from No Such Thing as Distance

Surfacing to the street from a thirty two hour hospital shift usually means my eyes blink mole-like, adjusting to searing daylight after being too long in darkened windowless halls.  This particular day is different.   As the doors open, I am immersed in a subdued gray Seattle afternoon, with horizontal rain soaking my scrubs.

Finally remembering where I had parked my car in pre-dawn dark the day before, I start the ignition, putting the windshield wipers on full speed.  I merge onto the freeway, pinching myself to stay awake long enough to reach my apartment and my pillow.

The freeway is a flowing river current of head and tail lights.  Semitrucks toss up tsunami waves cleared briefly by my wipers frantically whacking back and forth.

Just ahead in the lane to my right, a car catches my eye — it looks just like my Dad’s new Buick.  I blink to clear my eyes and my mind, switching lanes to get behind.  The license plate confirms it is indeed my Dad, oddly 100 miles from home in the middle of the week.  I smiled, realizing he and Mom, the best parents ever, have probably planned to surprise me by taking me out for dinner.

I decide to surprise them first, switching lanes to their left and accelerating up alongside.  As our cars travel side by side in the downpour,  I glance over to my right to see if I can catch my Dad’s eye through streaming side windows.  He is looking away to the right at that moment, obviously in conversation.  It is then I realize something is amiss.  When my Dad looks back at the road, he is smiling in a way I have never seen before.  There are arms wrapped around his neck and shoulder, and a woman’s auburn head is snuggled into his chest.

My mother’s hair is gray.

My initial confusion turns instantly to fury.  Despite the rivers of rain obscuring their view, I desperately want them to see me.  I think about honking,  I think about pulling in front of them so my father would know I have seen and I know.  I think about ramming them with my car so that we’d perish, unrecognizable, in an explosive storm-soaked mangle.

At that moment, my father glances over at me and our eyes meet across the white line separating us.  His face is a mask of betrayal, bewilderment and then shock, and as he tenses, she straightens up and looks at me quizzically.

I can’t bear to look any longer.

I leave them behind, speeding beyond, splashing them with my wake.  Every breath burns my lungs and pierces my heart.  I can not distinguish whether the rivers obscuring my view are from my eyes or my windshield.

Somehow I made it home to my apartment, my heart still pounding in my ears.  The phone rings and remains unanswered.

I throw myself on my bed, bury my wet face in my pillow and pray —
for a sleep
without dreams,
without secrets,
without lies,
without the burden of knowing the truth
I alone now knew
and wished I didn’t.

In Solitudes of Peace

There seemed a smell of autumn in the air
At the bleak end of night; he shivered there
In a dank, musty dug-out where he lay,
Legs wrapped in sand-bags,—lumps of chalk and clay
Spattering his face. Dry-mouthed, he thought, “To-day
We start the damned attack; and, Lord knows why,
Zero’s at nine; how bloody if I’m done in
Under the freedom of that morning sky!”
And then he coughed and dozed, cursing the din
.

Was it the ghost of autumn in that smell
Of underground, or God’s blank heart grown kind,
That sent a happy dream to him in hell?—
Where men are crushed like clods, and crawl to find
Some crater for their wretchedness; who lie
In outcast immolation, doomed to die
Far from clean things or any hope of cheer,
Cowed anger in their eyes, till darkness brims
And roars into their heads, and they can hear
Old childish talk, and tags of foolish hymns.

He sniffs the chilly air; (his dreaming starts).
He’s riding in a dusty Sussex lane
In quiet September; slowly night departs;
And he’s a living soul, absolved from pain.
Beyond the brambled fences where he goes
Are glimmering fields with harvest piled in sheaves,
And tree-tops dark against the stars grown pale;
Then, clear and shrill, a distant farm-cock crows;
And there’s a wall of mist along the vale
Where willows shake their watery-sounding leaves.
He gazes on it all, and scarce believes
That earth is telling its old peaceful tale;
He thanks the blessed world that he was born….
Then, far away, a lonely note of the horn.

They’re drawing the Big Wood! Unlatch the gate,
And set Golumpus going on the grass:
He knows the corner where it’s best to wait
And hear the crashing woodland chorus pass;
The corner where old foxes make their track
To the Long Spinney; that’s the place to be.
The bracken shakes below an ivied tree,
And then a cub looks out; and “Tally-o-back!”
He bawls, and swings his thong with volleying crack,—
All the clean thrill of autumn in his blood,
And hunting surging through him like a flood
In joyous welcome from the untroubled past;
While the war drifts away, forgotten at last.

Now a red, sleepy sun above the rim
Of twilight stares along the quiet weald,
And the kind, simple country shines revealed
In solitudes of peace, no longer dim.
The old horse lifts his face and thanks the light,
Then stretches down his head to crop the green.
All things that he has loved are in his sight;
The places where his happiness has been
Are in his eyes, his heart, and they are good.

* * * *  
Hark! there’s the horn: they’re drawing the Big Wood.
~Siegfried Sassoon “Break of Day”
(written about his memories as a WWI soldier)

When we are at war,
whether deep in the foxhole
hiding from the enemy,
or deeper yet in a hole of our own making,
trying to conceal our sins.

Amidst that mire and mud,
we dream of better days
and an untroubled past,
when the hunter and hunted was merely a game,
not life and death.

May we know the means of peace was brought to earth.

May we surface in mutual surrender,
begging for reprieve, longing for redemption.
May the solitudes of peace overwhelm
those who are angry and conflicted.
May we lift our faces up
and thank the Light.

A Bright Sadness: The Anguish of Earth

The pain and tears of all the years were met together on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God’s future was poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation.
~N.T. Wright from Simply Jesus

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.


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.


It is a life that is open before God.
It is a life in which all that is done is done as to the Lord.
It is a life lived by principle, not expediency;

by humility before God, not defiance.
It is a life lived under the tutelage of conscience that is held captive by the Word of God.
~R.C. Sproul

As millions watched and wept over the burning of a venerated cathedral built to the glory of God, we must remember even this anguish happened under the gaze of God. Our sorrow over a building destroyed is trivial compared to the loss felt during Christ’s suffering and death.

The temporal ashes of the Notre Dame Cathedral mix now with our own mortal ashes. We have been redeemed through no action of our own. Our debt has been paid out of Christ’s sheer grace and love.

As we walk together with our Christian brothers and sisters through Holy Week and beyond into the holiness of every day, may we remain under the gaze of God, under the authority of God, open before God, captivated by the Word of God.

We see the gaping hole in the ceiling of a great cathedral just as we witness the open hole of Christ’s tomb: whatever we do, wherever we do it, it is to be in His name, to His glory, under His Holy gaze.

Coram Deo.


A Bright Sadness: Through a Glass Darkly

A cross and nails are not always necessary.  
There are a thousand ways to kill him, 
some of them as obvious as choosing where you will stand 
when the showdown between the weak and the strong comes along, 
others of them as subtle as keeping your mouth shut 
when someone asks if you know him.

Today, while he dies, do not turn away.  
Make yourself look in the mirror.  
Today no one gets away 
without being shamed by his beauty.  
Today no one flees
without being laid bare by his light.
~Barbara Brown Taylor

 

teahouseceiling

Shame is considered old-fashioned these days;
too erosive to self-esteem,
a drag on our self-worth,
an inconvenient truth.

Yet how else do we see ourselves
through the glass darkly
than to see our shame convicted,
and be convinced in our guilt:
our darkness exposed
by a Light that reveals all shadows,
forgiving as it illuminates all –
there is no place to hide,
nor should we want to.

 

window


For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1Corinthians 13:12

 

graymirror

A Bright Sadness: Quickened

I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the fallen leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall–the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
~Christina Rossetti from “A Better Resurrection”

I remember panicking as a small child when my mother would help me put on or take off a sweater with a particularly tight turtleneck opening, as my head would get “stuck” momentarily until she could free me.  It caused an intense feeling of being unable to breathe or see – literally shrouded.  I was trapped and held captive by something as innocuous as a piece of clothing.

That same feeling still overwhelms me at times when I’m frozen in a winter of my flaws and deficiencies, bruised and fallen in my struggles to be freed.

My only hope for salvage is a new life quickening within me.  There is no freedom without spring sap flowing, His life blood rising in what is left of my dried husk.

And rise it shall — the confining shroud of discouragement discarded and cast aside.

Now that it is spring once again,  I can breathe free, quickened.

Completely and Deceptively Rotten

“When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response:

‘Dear Sirs:
I am.
Sincerely Yours,
G. K. Chesterton.’

That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.”
~Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God 

O lovely apple!
beautifully and completely
                 rotten
hardly a contour marred–

                 perhaps a little
shrivelled at the top but that
                 aside perfect
in every detail! O lovely

                 apple! what a
deep and suffusing brown
                 mantles that
unspoiled surface! No one

                 has moved you
since I placed you on the porch
                 rail a month ago
to ripen.

                 No one. No one!
~William Carlos Williams “Perfection”

I am what’s wrong with the world and so are you.

Not one of us escapes the rottenness that lies not-so-deep beneath our shiny surface.  We are full of wormholes, inviting the worms of the world to eat us alive.

One look at the news headlines of the day is enough mar the most perfect surface. No one moves to save us from our over-ripening fate; we sit untouched, withering and shriveling.

We are the problem and the problem is us.

We need rescue by a Savior who is the one good apple among a barrel of contagiously bad apples. We are so tainted, it takes Someone who truly is Perfect to transform us from the inside out, from worm-holes back to wholeness and on to holiness.

May we fall to our knees, weeping and grateful, that Christ, who is the Leader of all in His Kingdom, will grant us a grace and sanctuary we emphatically don’t deserve.

May He pick us before the worms do. We are in this together.


Filthiness and Froth

No one can stem the tide; now watch it run
to meet the river pouring to the sea!
And in the meeting tumult what a play
of waves and twinkling water in the sun!


Ordained by powers beyond our ken,
beyond all wisdom, all our trickery,
immutable it comes, it sweeps, it ebbs
and clears the filthiness and froth of men.

~Jane Clement “No One Can Stem the Tide”

If one were to spend all their time just looking at news headlines, it would appear humankind is made up of nothing but “filthiness and froth.” Whether it is politics or entertainment or sports – there is little that is pristine, selfless or wise. We are all covered in the mess we’ve made of ourselves.

No one will be able to stem the tide when its cleansing power comes, nor should we. We are overdue for some serious sweeping up.

…filthy, frothy and fluffy…