Celebrating Life Triumphant

Each day we are surrounded by thousands of examples of life triumphant over death — an addict lives another day clean and free, a scientist perseveres believing a cure will be found, an elder rocks an orphaned infant, a CEO builds a Habitat home, an athlete gives up glory for the team, a busy student visits the nursing home, an artist with no arms paints with her feet, a soldier prays for the enemy, a random act of kindness makes the news, a handicapped choir brings down the house, someone gives a hard-earned dime for a good cause, one who is soul-sick catches your contagious smile, a depressed person writes a poem or a song, mercy turns the life of a sinner around, forgiveness comes to conquer a rift, someone learns to love themselves for the very first time, a champion gives up the gold for the one who fell, someone plants a tree in the city, victory is found in surrender, someone reaches out through resentment to offer a hand, racial barriers are breached to find the common good, someone finds himself in another — let’s talk about and reflect on these people, these experiences, these snapshots of grace, and let them change the outlook of our lives.

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“Blessed is the Man”

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,

nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord;

and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,

that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;

his leaf also shall not wither;

and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

–Psalm 1: 1-3

 

Sunday afternoon.  Sun sank on my father’s earthly life.  Something told me, if ever I was to do it, that day should be the day.

Nearing the end of his battle with Alzheimer’s disease, essentially unable to speak, walk, or care for himself, Dad resided in our local VA nursing home, a place of compassion and peace.  Mother sat faithfully at his bedside, feeding his body and soul, singing, reminiscing, showing him snapshots of himself.

It was Sunday afternoon. The Psalmist was speaking.  I was listening.

Giving Mother some respite, I shut the door and sat down in front of Dad, close enough to touch his face, to see the vessels in his eyes.  I wanted to hear them speaking to my soul as I shared what was on my heart.  I knew the end was nearing, and I wanted him to know how grateful I was for his life.  For his fatherhood.

Not sure if he would understand everything I was about to say, I started with silence, with touch; holding his hand, looking long into his eyes.  I quieted my mind and tried to listen.  Sensing the holiness of the moment, I humbled myself, thinking of the Psalm.  After a while, I spoke, as tenderly and honestly as I could.

“Papa, there are some things I need to say to you, some things I want you to know.”

The cold, blank stare somehow warmed.

“I’ve never told you this.  You are the best man I have ever known.  I look up to you and try to be like you.  You are the best father I could ever hope to have.  I thank God for you, for your love, and for all you have done for me.  I will try to follow the example you have set.  You have always done what you thought was right, and your faithfulness to God, to your family, neighbors, community and country inspire me.”

He cried.  I knew he understood.  I knew.  His body and mind were so broken.  Yet “his leaf also shall not wither…”

“Papa, I know you are tired.  You have fought the fight and run the race courageously, cared for your family, and your legacy is one of love and faithfulness.  It is all right to let go, Papa.  It is all right.  We love you, pray for you, and are with you.  God will care for us, as He cares for you.  We love you, Papa.”

A few weeks later, kneeling in a hospice prayer room beside a lit candle commemorating his life, I breathed a prayer of gratitude for having been given the opportunity to say these things while he was still living.  I come back to them every Father’s Day.

“Blessed is the man…”

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“Beyond the Sunset,” watercolor art by Lester E. Potts, Jr., an artist who had Alzheimer’s

Fleshed-out Love

Eternal morning Light of the Presence
brings forth colors of the Soul –
pimpernels of purity suspended
in the first Breath…
Molecules that remember their birthplace.

At its blind end, each sap channel
leads to Heaven’s ever-flowing fount.

Let others fly to the Light
of this fleshed-out Love.
Let all feel the primal Breath and live.

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Poetry of Hope for Dark Times

This morning, in the wake of recent suicides and the much-needed conversations around the topic, I will post some poetry that I pray will be a source of hope for any who are struggling.

Selection #1

Morning Star

This night – 
a gift for galaxies of star-set eyes,
for lip-locked lovers,
dizzy dreamers turning ‘round the world,
story-lined faces in a campfires’ glow –
This night holds so much pain
for those whose center didn’t hold,
who fell clean through the bedrock of their souls
while no one saw, while no one knew;
while no one felt their throaty waves of screaming;
and their hiding holes filled up with shame
and there was no air, no light;
and the only constellation they could see
shot an arrow through their heart to the grave.
Pray for them. Pray for them all to hold on.
Yet again, the morning star will shine.

Selection #2

Right Now (The Moment of Surrender)

Right now there’s a closet corner nearby
with somebody in it
crumpled like a soiled shirt in a pile of shame.
Blame is a cop out, a cheap cab ride to the park.
An abdication.
“She did it to herself,” some smugly say,
flagging down a ride as she flat lines.
Others look away as her soul floats out like a bottle
bobbing in the water of her eyes
and leave too soon to see the turning –
finally, the turning toward a Face and not away.
The Dove is descending. Does anyone notice?
Does anybody even know her name?

Selection #3

I Believe in Hope

Today I believe in a hope 
that gives breath to the lifeless
holds the untouchable child
brings consolation to the terrified
and connects the disparate;
paints where there are no colors
sings where there is no windpipe
prays over death-cursed soil
turns the stone-cold heart to Heaven.
I believe in a hope
that grows green in frozen ground
calls crippled legs to dancing
makes a moment last forever
sees itself in all others.
I believe in a hope
that finds mercy at the heart of justice
and would rather weep forever in a song
than silence any other singing soul.
I believe in a hope
that knows it’s never too late for turning
says yes to Self and Truth in any form
lays every treasure down for love
and sees in each moment
an eternal habitation
where we all are one in God.

Selection #4

silent cries

silent cries of the soulsick
arc across the starset night
with eyes submerged so deeply
they cannot catch hope’s comet
streaking through the third Heaven
with its tail nearly touching
flesh of their broken bodies

Selection #5

“What the World Needs Now”

“I don’t need you to try and fix me,” he muttered,
“or tell me everything’s all right, because it’s not.
What I need is for you to be here.
I need you, not your medicine or advice.
Presence, not pat answers. Do you see?
Bearing with me. Listening. Hearing.
Trying to know how it feels here.
I need you to look at me, even if
I have to look away.
To be my mirror, reflecting everything but shame.
It’s dark here. But there must be light for reflecting, right?
I need you to bring light to this darkness.
You don’t have to be a hero, a winner, all put-together.
I need to hear you say my name. The name I’m named in my soul.
Whisper it to me. Will you do this? Do you know that name?
Whisper it again ’til you see me turning around. Looking up.
Please, you don’t need to bring me anything.
Empty hands are better to hold.
See? What I need for you to do
is bring God in here, into this empty, dimly lit room.
That’s right. God. The Light where God is.
And the mercy they say shows up in rooms like this.
Will you come and bring those things to me?
I hope only for this.”

Selection #6

INCARNATION

In a silent room where even broken spirit weeping burns its torrid day and lies vacant, dry, spent of any flow, coldly dying down a stiff wood grained gray as the heart of all good spills away its blood pools of fingers groping underneath the shutting door of night, in the rip-stained, stripped-through stillness of this time something starts to sing.

Selection #7

TO THE WOUNDED

My child. My beloved one.
Do not fear. I am with you, always, now.
Come here to My unending Love.
Nothing can touch you. Nothing will harm you.
My arms enfold your whole being and your world.
Bear your wounds to My anointing hands.
I have healed them eternally in My Love.
I am ever with you, ever in you, ever through you.
My streaming Love light pushes darkness away.
All that you are I have Loved and made new.
Bathe your weak and hurting parts in My compassion.
It flows out forever toward the pain you feel.
I will not leave you here, in this place.
But I will take you out and lift you,
sing to you of peace, and joy, and Heaven.
Be still, be silent, let Me strongly hold you, comfort you.
Know that I do feel what you have felt. Trust this.
Your wound is transformed in the glory of My rising Life.
Let my Love be lifted up in you.
Amen.

 

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Another Side of the Sea

(A lament inspired by the incredible experience of visiting the coastal region of Cornwall, UK, and the ancient Celtic ruins there)

I looked for you at low tide
as cupped fingers of the surf
left their ruby-shaded sand
in beds of cleft rock pools, and
sustenance of gulls lay writhing
in a harbor’s teeming silt bed.

I felt you in the crag-kept cave
that once taught us to sing
with its billows of salty spray.

Down the vaulted sea wall
a glowing cloud of sentience
ushered you into my mind
on the narrow sheep path to
to our cliffside churchyard and
silent stone-walled chapel.

Lifting latch on the weathered oak
we moved into the transept
where three chairs blazed with
the light of window-set penitents.
Saints sat there among us.

Then, kneeling in cross-shaped
shadows of ancient Celts whose
names have been razed by the ages,
we each prayed a prayer for the other
and for the many unnamed lost.

As the blazing western stone sank
finally into the turquoise deep,
I felt the brush of your spirit
winging toward a horizon of hope
in this great cloud of Being,
only to be fully known on
another side of the sea.

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Different Now

Sadness is different now.
I woke up sad yesterday
not knowing why, or why not.
The breath was heavy, the soul still.
People were crying. That, I knew.
Some sang a lament to themselves.
Others stood alone searching for a star.
There were those draped in mourning
for lost years looking homeward.
All of them were with me, somehow,
gathered in the space around my core.
A leaning tower of the wounded
posted in the deep soil of this valley.
I stood there among them, empty,
yet looking upward, thinking back.
Remembering a time when Another
felt my pain, held my hand and cried.
I started to chant…an ancient melody
of a once-dead, now living company,
witnesses all to the thrice-lit
fires of a Love that cannot die.

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Relationships and Personhood

Of all the losses associated with dementia, I believe the greatest loss is that of relationships, fueled in part by stigmatization. Yet a sense of relationship is vital to the integrity of the self.

What fuels the toxicity of this stigma, of this pulling away from those who are living with dementia? I believe it is our failure to recognize and honor the inherent personhood of every human being, regardless of conditions or circumstances. The loss of personhood does not follow from the loss of cognitive abilities. I strongly understand personhood as being imparted, and therefore inviolate, unfading, even unending. And certainly not lessened by any disease.

If I do not hold such a view of personhood, then I am apt to regard those who experience cognitive loss as “less than,” negatively biasing my treatment of them, and my expectations of being able to form or maintain relationships with them. This amounts to a judgement…a judgement in favor of dementia, and against the human spirit.

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