On the Way to Work

“What part of ‘Thou shalt not’ do you not understand?”
J., who was deaf and hadn’t been taught to read 
but who had eyes as keen as a red-tailed hawk’s
looked up at that writing on the church marquis
and only understood the contrast of meaningless
black letters on the white background and how
that made him want to paint a warm yellow sun
behind the first few words and blue-green wings
on the last few so he could fly away to the only One
who he felt had ever loved him whose picture hanging
in the little corner church looked like the One who came
and held him at night when angry words from faces
that contrasted terribly against the dimly lit air of his
bedroom hurled their way into his heart because of
something he did or didn’t do and he thought about
again when he looked up at that white church sign
with black letters and it made him want to paint
bright colors to bring the two together somehow
and join him with the kind One in the sky who said
in a language only J. could understand “Thou shalt be J.”
and “Thou shalt be good” and “Thou shalt be loved”
and “Thou shalt not be afraid.”

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Oak Affinity

On one level, I understand my affinity for white oaks.
Dad loved them, and we used to talk about that. The texture
and hue of their leaves, their steely bark, ancient angles
of their limbs, the swath of their colors – russet, gray,
old-world green, textured black at twilight – their affinity
for each other, growing with their kin high above hollows
on hillsides and ridges. The deep peace of their shade.
Their loam-scented skirts studded with acorns hidden in
the wrinkles of their roots. At times, among them, the sap
of me seems to channel from some source below, rising
through root and trunk and branch to be launched toward
Heaven in a leaf, falling to the sheltered path as one who’s
seen the light, yet comes back for a scripted death. Some-
where inside I knew this affinity was more than could be
explained, and bowed my head to the riddle. Then I saw it.
In the cemetery of the old family church. I’d been there many
times and never had noticed the lone grave on a hillside
sloping down and away from other markers gathered in
familial groups, most decked with plastic florals or the rare
live potted plant. Set off by itself among the roots and shaded
by the largest white oak tree on the place, its small flat head-
stone partly buried in sand and clay, was the lonely grave of
my great-grandfather. Why here? Why away? What were the
missing words of that narrative? Then, while standing in the
speckled sunlit shadows of the father oak, I began to write them.
“The tree had been his confidant, a childhood’s cherished friend.
It’s limbs had written down the dreams he’d whispered to the wind.
And when the one who’d held his heart slipped silently away,
he’d stood among its roots and shade, with nothing left to say,
but on that very spot he firmly made his solemn vows
that in this ground would be his rest, beneath these ancient boughs.”
Hearts live on in other hearts. Do you believe? Could the
channel for one to another be the roots and trunk and limbs
and leaves and shade of a white oak tree? Now when I walk
among their groves and groupings and put to silence the chatter
of doubts and disbelief and all illusions of ever being alone in
the forest of this or any world, I stop and stand long enough
to take root in the land and listen awhile for an old man’s voice
before leaving with an acorn and a leaf and a sprouting soul.

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Wonderment

Have you ever considered what happens
in spaces between breaths? Molecular
moments beyond exhalation, when the 
essential exchange of gases needed
for the maintenance of life has occurred?
Think about it. That second or two is
like life; our duration juxtaposes
one first gasp and the final out-letting.
Let’s embrace it. Between, we are breathless.

 

Digging Deeply

If we allow ourselves to dig deeply enough into the present, we may find treasure there. Silence, stillness and space are required, as are trust, vulnerability and surrender to the ego’s need to remain in control.

The place where the treasure lies may be dark, but it is a luminous darkness, like the God-cloud of the Hebrew Exodus. It is necessary to be confronted by the truth of the “Thou shalts, Thou shalt nots,” and thereby to see the unholiness of our apparent separation, the utter death in our wandering, in light of the holiness of God. Then, by grace, in a state of deep need, we may turn.

We must camp awhile in the desert until our resources are depleted, and our divining rods lead to the bottomless lake of love from God’s well of the True Self, the Kingdom within, the water poured into us by the merciful One with hands that look like ours, though pierced straight through.

This Jesus, with his wounded body, has bridged the gap between what we were created to be and what we have become. It is He who we find in the depth, His Face we see.

Finally face to Face, we are fully known and forgiven. Then Love begins our transformation into the person we were made to be in Christ.

Authentic personhood found in divine relationship. This is the deep and universal treasure.

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The Importance of Narrative

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

In my opinion, we healthcare providers don’t do a good enough job supporting psychosocial/spiritual well-being (both in our patients and in ourselves).

We should strive to help people live well both in the presence and absence of disease. Appreciation for narrative is an essential element in helping to support psychosocial/spiritual, and thereby also physical well-being.

We live in a society increasingly characterized by data inundation without the framework of depth, ethics, knowledge and narrative to always make that data meaningful. Data uncoupled by knowledge of and connection to narrative is not always helpful, and can be harmful or misinterpreted. Just because data can be acquired, doesn’t mean that time and effort should be expended acquiring and presenting it.

In my opinion, efforts should be made to bring back an appreciation for and use of narrative and story and let it inform, broaden and deepen our experience.

Educational models which make use of personal, familial and cultural narrative should be developed, supported and implemented for all ages in the educational system, particularly pertaining to education in health-related disciplines.

We should stop, look each other in the eyes, and listen to one another’s stories.

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

Something of Home

I carry something of home into each new year.

Into encounters with sick folk, seekers.

Loners sizing up shame from across the room.

Learners getting acquainted with the language.

Helpers suffering strong in their strength.

Old people looking for a lost child’s face.

 

I remember how it felt to be mute;

life like a lump stuck in my throat.

Crying on the pages of an untold story.

Wanting to come home, but afraid.

Afraid to listen to silence I had never heard.

 

I came back with empty bags, open hands,

and a heart soaking in serenity.

Door unlatched. Table set. Gathered good.

Saints and singers. Mercy menders.

Tutors of the languages of Love.

They’d been reading a book titled my secret name.

 

So I sat and learned to listen.

Quietly. Safely. At home.

My bag filled with new tools and tokens.

 

Now in every New Year

I can bring something of home to every house call.

Lester Potts 50

“Rainbow Smokehouse,” watercolor art by Lester E. Potts, Jr., and artist who had Alzheimer’s

 

My Hope and Prayer for This New Year

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 faces of death, and Love is the core reality of our existence. We are embraced safely within it, whether we know it or not. This is what I want to share in the coming year. May it be so.

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