everything_sings-7.9#

Tonight I found the night I needed. Or rather, found it given. Now the dark, the dock, no stars, a storm. An insect thrum, a mockingbird, a mockingbird. Everything sings, it’s all wondrous, I am known by the things in this night.

There was one that has been since before I was, that sang a pure vision of me. In a darkness, that vision stood lit. But last week it burned in fire, it burned with the heavy heart that sang it. That heart, always heavy, now flies. There are white markings on the wings that bear it.

Before it burned, I saw a grove of trees joined by lit wires beside a lake. It stood unbroken, and yet stands, and what joins those trees feeds me as I go. Since then I’ve glimpsed more of those strands, not only in that grove, but abroad and manifold.

Then tonight the present fled into the past. So I took up the loose ends of my life and followed them backwards to find it. I ended up in a diner, with a woman who to others is a wife, a mother, a grandmother. To me she is a friend, and has poured me hundreds of cups of coffee.

And the diner. From it grew the thoughts I think. It housed me reading books, writing letters. It is now more of a feeling than a place, the feeling nostalgia flees to for strength.

My friend and I looked at the wire strung between us. “I’ve missed you,” she said. “You’re an important part of my life. You have been for years.” And we talked about our friends and our families.

Tonight I flew again these roads, saw again the trees that line them. I’ve heard what sings from them, in them. I know there are yet more wires to be seen, more even to grow. The wind that followed me here carries the scent of a storm. But it feels like hope.

it_is_enough_pt_2-6.6#

Finally
by Wendell Berry

Finally will it not be enough,
after much living, after
much love, after much dying
of those you have loved,
to sit on the porch near sundown
with your eyes simply open,
watching the wind shape the clouds
into the shape of clouds?

Even then you will remember
the history of love, shaped
in the shape of flesh, everchanging
as the clouds that pass, the blessed
yearning of body for body,
unending light.
You will remember, watching
the clouds, the future of love.

Last night, some friends and I were speaking about the Eucharist (the Lord’s supper, Communion, Common Meal, etc.) over whiskey-and-gingers. Thinking back to our conversation, I was reflecting today on the persistent mystery of the Eucharist. And my unabated tendency to talk too much.

Afterward we drove to a downtown grocery store, listening to John McMillan’s choral piece “Seven Last Words from the Cross.”

We bought some juice, some flatbread. And we had a small service on the back of my car, around midnight.

The windows of the car down, we played Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” through the stereo, his meditation on the Trinity. The simple violin and piano competed with the hip hop blaring from other cars. It was beautiful how clearly the music sounded through as we partook: the body of Christ, broken for us. The blood of Christ, poured out for us.

The past few weeks, I’ve seen friends old and new, from so many different periods of my life. I saw a high school friend, a few friends from college, a friend from England, new friends.

I think I entered these encounters looking for some kind of sign to who I’ve been and who I’m becoming. To trace the path of my life, to scour it for some sort of key to myself. And I found no such key, and the questions that I have about my life and myself are like an unanswered grief. How could I have lived so long and still not know the things that I don’t know?

What I found in place of an answer, though, was hospitality.

Two friends from college sitting in my basement, showing a deep hospitality through their interest, their kindness, their love. I wrote of it to a friend: “I felt that they’d invited me in somewhere warm on a cold night, that they’d set a chair close to the wood stove where I could sit and listen to the melody of the wind, the music of low and loving voices.”

A high school friend helping me think through issues in a parking garage at 3am. Another college friend sharing his passion for the creative community of his city. Sharing a pipe and conversation with two friends on the river downtown, and more conversation by candlelight in my home.

Sitting on the porch with two new friends that I already cherish, sharing a love for pipes, scotch, poetry. And speaking that poetry, words we have known and loved well, into the night. Words that are small but have so much power. Words that bring joy and laughter, or that open up worlds of meaning within the silence.

Last night, in that parking lot, the four of us came to eat the meal that God offers us. We ate, and drank. And maybe Communion doesn’t provide us with answers to many of the questions that haunt us. But in it we find the presence of God. A deep and abiding hospitality.

I wonder if some part of Job was dissatisfied when God offered only His presence, a Creation described in terms of intimacy with its Creator, at the end of Job’s trials: no real explanation, no comfort. Or maybe Job was just wiser than me in the ways of a mysterious God. Which is not hard to imagine.

In the midst of dark trial, I know I have looked at what God has offered and thought, “It is not enough.”

But then, sometimes, astoundingly, in those same dark places, it is enough.

God’s presence, and the remembrance of His presence, may be dramatic and awe-inspiring in such moments. Or they may come on quietly, as when Elijah heard the quiet whisper of the presence of God.

But in that moment, either can seem like nothing less than an invitation to eat and drink at an extravagant table.

familiar_birds-5.17#

Today I decided to rest.

I woke late. Heated up some chicken tikka masala I made for lunch yesterday. I ate while I perused a Henri Nouwen book I’ve read before.

I went for a drive. The usual drive. Forty-five minutes of winding through forests to a lake-side park. I always stop halfway at the same grocery store for a rather humble cup of coffee to accompany my pipe.

Today, the whole drive out, I felt like I was waiting to wake up. I have been tired. And I’ve been blowing on an ember of discontent, and it’s been glowing. And it’s been hard to hold, and I’ve been holding.

I parked in front of a wall of honeysuckle. I stepped out, and was struck by the scent. Just like always, like every spring, when those fragrances of the warmer South spread again.

I sat at a picnic table there, looking out over a broad expanse of lake. I lit the pipe, which took a while in the wind. I sipped the coffee. And sat.

And the only thing over all that water, under all that sky, were five birds, small and sharp-winged. They sped and dove, they played the whole time I was there. I would forget about them, and one would arc a few feet away from me. I hope to remember enough about them to identify them later. But I do not trust my memory, as fleeting as those fast wings. The birds either did not know I was there, or they considered me harmless. They flew close enough to feel kindred.

When the pipe was done, I took my coffee back to the car and got in. But then, I got out again, the car still running. I walked to the honeysuckle bush, and bent to find a suitable flower. I picked it. Pinched it at the base and pulled the pistil through to drink the nectar. I drank a couple more–like when I was a child. It was sweeter even than I remembered, the flavor stronger.

I heard a rustling–a cardinal, in the bush near my feet. A flash of red among the green. He saw or heard me, and he vanished.

And then I left. Almost as if to remind me of their play, the birds danced around the car as I drove from the park. I almost had forgotten them, as I forget so many of the small joys each day brings. I turn from blessing to blessing to blessing. Like a child, I forget, and I am overwhelmed again and again.

What a joy to share the world with these creatures that could occupy the novels of Marquez or Murakami: strange and beautiful birds that seem to know me, but whose names I either can’t remember, or never knew.

The day made me think of a Li-Young Lee poem.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Note: After spending some time with my copy of the Sibley Guide to Birds, I think my friends at the lake are cliff swallows.

it_is_enough-5.4#

It is enough that the arrows fit exactly in the wounds that they have made.

-Franz Kafka

I read this quote earlier today, and I have been turning it over in my mind since, with a host of other thoughts that sweep and startle like scattering birds.

Some think Kafka was saying that we had been prepared to receive our wounds, that our bodies held a readiness to shape the affliction. Looking afterwards, it is as if we had borne the arrows’ mark before we met them, and thus shaped our meeting. And, most importantly, as we reflect on our injuries, it is impossible to see the arrow apart from how we have received it.

Or maybe he is, more simply, referencing the kind of intimacy that we build with our sufferings. How beautiful that our lives turn into our stories! and that the borders of ourselves meet the edge of that which has helped to shape us.

hail-4.28#

The morning after,
the whole town a soft bed
of torn and shredded leaves.

Last night, a storm. A greenish sky in evening that gave way to wind and rain. Hail as big as your palm, in the shape of stars. Today, cars on the road with dents, with broken windshields.

I waited at a friend’s house until it was safe to drive home. Conversation was the rhythm of the storm’s passage, candlelight warmed our watching.

In the sky, lightning like rivers too quick to cross.

dancing-4.23#

There is just something about dancing.

two_dreams-3.28#

I had two dreams last night that were both very striking. I wrote them down, and spoke with a couple of friends about them earlier. The language might seem a little more sparse than in my average post: many of the details are already difficult to remember, and I didn’t want to embellish.

In the first dream, my whole family is together in a miserable place. It’s like when you see a horror movie about an abandoned mental institution–white walls, a sterile feel, but now dirty from years of disuse. Except that there are people everywhere, just walking around aimlessly.

We start seeing people among the others who have turned into monsters. Awful things, that sometimes are people, but whose limbs sometimes twist into something horrifying. They keep scaring and harassing us.

At some point, I talk to another girl there, and she explains that the goal is to make us cause each other pain. The ultimate goal is to get us to turn into monsters. There is a name for each of these things, but I can’t remember it.

At night, my family members all have sleeping bags, and we all go to sleep in one room together. I wake up in the middle of the night and there’s soft music playing in my sleeping bag. I look, and I find that the source is a piece of candy I’d been given earlier. I decide that that must be what makes us cause each other pain, and eventually turns us into monsters. I want it. I had wanted to eat it all day. But instead, I throw it out the cracked window.

I still hear a soft music. And one by one, I find the pieces of candy–there are tons of them–that are all around the room, and throw them out the window. At one point, my brother wakes up and asks what I’m doing. I explain, and he says that he had wanted the candy but he understands, that I should go ahead, continue throwing them away. At one point a girl who’d turned into a monster flies by outside on gigantic wings, looking in at me–which is terrifying, grotesque.

The dream was incredibly frightening, and I feel that I’ve forgotten all the scariest parts.

I know that I remember less from the second dream. In it, I’m on an island. There’s a tall building with many floors right on the edge of the ocean, where everyone in the dream lives. Almost everyone else there seems to be strongly against reading. There’s a girl there that I’d grown up with, who is everything to me. But in the dream something happens to her, and she dies.

We are having a funeral for her. She’s wrapped up in a sheet, and we’re getting ready to throw her from a balcony into the ocean. But I want to read something over her first, even though the others are all upset by the idea.

I go to find something to read, running down several flights of stairs to search through books, trying to find just the right passage. I’m down there an hour, maybe a few hours. Finally I find it, something from a novel. But as I’m running back up all the stairs, someone sees me and tells me that they’ve all been looking for me, that they couldn’t find me anywhere.

By the time I get back to the balcony, almost everyone is gone. The few of us who are left have a short service there, and throw her over the railing into the sea.