Mr. Jim

Mr. Jim sat in his wheelchair by the plexiglass cage watching the rainbow-painted birds. Their vibrant wing colors stimulated his retinal cells hiding behind curtains of cataracts and took him back to a summer sky and its setting sun, all Heavenly-hued and haunting. Their flitting and chirping titillated his spirit and propped open his eyelids tired in their woes, sagging like a tarp after a season of hot rain.

A little boy, in tow to his mother, came through the doors to the common room. “Let’s go see the pretty birds, Mama!” Letting go of his mother’s hand, he hurried over to the viewing, yet hadn’t seemed to see Mr. Jim.

Mouth agape, the boy put his hand on the cage, leaving a bit of this morning’s breakfast to mark his spot. “Look how they hop around,” he chortled to Mother, who was now speaking with a staff person at the home.

Sensing a nearby friend, the little boy reached for Mr. Jim with his other hand. “Look at their bright colors,” he said excitedly, as he gripped Mr. Jim’s arthritic index finger.

Mr. Jim looked at the boy. Through the mists of time to the creek bank he turned, where he and his best friend, Tommy, searched for fossils. Sparrows and wrens hopped the branches overhead, as rays of filtered sunlight hit his retina through the sycamores and beech trees anchoring the bank to the ancient bottomlands of home.

Turning his gaze upwards to the birds, Mr. Jim slowly put his arm around the little boy’s back, almost automatically. The two of them, heads at eye level, sat silent and awestruck at what the moment keeps for those who stop to listen, look, and take a hand to hold.

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Anxiety and Trust

I tend to be an anxious person. Always have been.

Usually, this stems from a feeling I have not done a good enough job at something, being afraid I have let someone down, unintentionally caused pain, not lived up to my potential, or that mistakes I have made will have consequences for another person. Unfortunately, during some challenging times of my life, these anxious fears have been realized.

Now, as I approach my 53rd birthday and have a chance to reflect, I can identify God’s loving providence, mercy and grace as the underlying forces moving along the river of my life. God is clearly writing my narrative. And I am supplying the ink, whether I have been conscious of this or not. But what a joy it is to be given this awareness!

Being mindful of this narrative helps me to develop trust to counter my innate anxious tendencies. I have found that this requires intentional mind work, including perception of the rising tide of anxiety in my mind and body, and a directive on my part to release this into the loving care of God and leave it there. This needs to be done many times a day, any time an anxious thought or concern enters my head.

Mindfulness techniques which bring me back to the current moment, such as awareness of breath, centering prayer, or repeating a word like “peace,” “trust,” or “love” seem to help. But the key is release. Letting go of the anxious fear, and the judgement I place upon myself. And usually I am letting go of things that are not mine to grasp, anyway. I should release these things into the river of my life’s narrative, letting them float off with the current.

Of course, much of the anxiety is about the future, and a healthy dose of reality shows me that most of the things I worry about never materialize. Deep to all of this lies the issue of control, and my attempts to grasp something solidly when it is only a vapor. Control is an illusion, as it relates to me. I control nothing, and God controls everything. Once this truth begins to take root, an element of freedom is born…freedom from fear (yet not freedom from the responsibility to do the next right thing).

Fear must flee in the freedom born of love’s recognized presence. When I can move around within this freedom, I am moving around within the force field of God’s love, where I “live, and move, and have my being.” A place where anxiety no longer has the power to put its choke hold on me.

I realize this battle against anxiety will be a lifelong one. But it helps to look at this not as a battle against anxiety, but rather, a surrender into love, through learning to trust God more and more, day by day, in the countless situations life presents. Perhaps reading back through my own narrative will help.

I challenge you to do the same.

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Reading “Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver,” Penguin Press, 2017

An Ordinary Afternoon

Look there, the way the light’s hitting that chair rail.
Something about the angle of it makes me want to sing.
An ode to the common wall on a Sunday afternoon.

The sky is very blue today, with magic carpet clouds.
A jet flies silently over them, and a hawk underneath.
I can hear the hunter’s call as it sails elliptically above.
Our little dog sits splayed in grass, coolly sizing up a squirrel.

Sycamore limbs wave to the neighbors by the barely-felt breeze.

The book in my hand I’ve been meaning to start;
it’s one of those that will make you glad to be sad.

The sun is just warm enough to bring out a scarcely seen
bird from a hollow in the winter of my heart
for a time to fly tree to tree in this late day peace,
settled here of its own accord all around you
and me and this love that quietly and strongly lives
among the lights and shadows of our home.

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Undecorating

It’s always a bit embarrassing.
Our tree stays up with a parched throat
‘til needles fly when the heat vent coughs
and neighbors’ trees lie out by the road.

I’m the reason for it, I think, still searching
with my gifts for the Child, expecting
an elusive Epiphany.

Some say Christmas has come.
I say it keeps coming.

In ways, taking down the tree means
packing up the party, throwing out the card,
muting the carol.

Eventually each finger lends its ring.
The dove’s song is silenced.
Elves go into hiding.
Every bell lays down its clapper.
Ribbon rolls up the red carpet
since the New Year has come.

Again I walk the stations of a child.
Nothing seems more sacred
than stories, sounds, and smells of home.

Each ornament is laid to rest
in a mausoleum of memories.
A tree is never known so well
as when it’s taken down.

As the last lid closes,
I think I hear a baby crying.

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Bank The Embers

(A poem for New Year’s Eve)

“All right. That brings us to a close, my dears.
Now you two sisters listen up. All ears!”
The old man closed the book, clearing his throat,
and pocketed his glasses in his coat.
“Before the last among us goes to bed
a most important task still lies ahead.
The warmth that wakes the morning will depend
on banking well the embers at day’s end.”
So, grasping hearthside tools his father made
he poked a bit, then shoved a sooty spade
beneath the ash dust in an oak log’s grave
its smoky ghost was powerless to save.
The fire popped and spit a final word
of some same truth an ancient hunter heard
before the slate shard cinders stirred a cloud
that settled on the embers like a shroud.
And after little girls had gone to bed
each dreamed within her hibernating head
of cozy coals with eyes too bright to sleep
up under ashen blankets buried deep.
Next morning, footpads arched above the chills
of hardwoods, cold as frosty windowsills,
ten toes-times-two tipped near the hearth to see
what gift the coals left fires yet-to-be.
The old man dusted off the clump with care
and sure enough, still glowing under there
were lumps of what the little girls supposed
they’d see if earth’s deep center were exposed.
Rich heart of pine across that ore he laid
that had been split in pieces by his blade
as yester-coals brought fire to the space
and flames between each oak log danced in place.
At such a sight, one grandchild chimed to sis,’
“When we grow old, let’s each remember this:
the dancing flames that leap to life from dust;
the fire–building hands that we can trust.”
There comes a day, as to each one there will
when heads are bowed, and every soul is still
in homage to a love that only grows
if banked beneath life’s mounting winter snows.
Then little eyes and little hearts will know
the light that warms the world with Heaven’s glow
lies buried like a treasure in the ground
‘til lifted by Love’s hand, and thus is found.

My Hope and Prayer for This New Year

I share again. May it be so.

The Wooded Path

My hope and prayer for this new year is that God will enable me to be a light-bearer, and give me the courage, integrity and humility to authentically share the story of my spiritual journey through dark valleys and mountain clearings; paying forward in gratitude what those who have loved me have given to me, bearing witness that the end of faith really is its beginning, that in all places and at all times, the love and mercy of God can be found and must be counted on, even, and most especially in spaces within in our lives that we might call Hell; that I might never shy away from telling the truth of this great good news, or seek the comfort of sitting in safety with such knowledge that is too important to remain unshared. I say again, I know God can be depended on, even in the many…

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A Late Year Lament

(For those experiencing losses at this time)

Since you’ve been gone I look for me
beyond the cloudless sky.
Now blue’s the only clarity
I get for asking “why.”

I smile at friends who cheerfully
take time for stopping by,
then watch the window tearfully
as prayer becomes a sigh.

I guess some things are meant to be
the wings that make us fly;
you were the dove inside of me,
but then you had to die.
You had to go and die.

The sunset now looks gray to me,
the rainbow’s out of dye,
the only other tint I see
is blue eyes in the sky.

Still searching for serenity,
I bid the world, “Goodbye,”
and sleep beneath a maple tree
as Love lies down to cry.

The river plays a melody
and bids me, with him, try
to lose myself in reverie
as Love lights up the sky.
So brightly lights the sky.

At night the shadows hauntingly
tomorrow’s hope belie:
you’ll not be coming back to me,
and fires slowly die.

We’re closer to eternity,
so near the bye and bye,
if only we had eyes to see
forever in the sky.

Please make a promise solemnly
from your fair home on high
to sing an angel’s song for me
to Love that cannot die.
Our Love will never die.