New Glasses

I can’t explain it.

Words won’t do.

Reading and sharing,

I’ve encountered it before,

never understanding.

The clouds came in –

rumblings and flashes –

storms without and within.

I thought it would be safe here.

People were injured.

I was among them.

Confused, I made wrong turns.

And fell. And cried.

And died. The first time.

Still, I looked up.

Light must make shadows, I thought.

Then there was the turning.

Tender green things grew.

Shut spaces opened.

Light streamed in,

then out from here.

I can’t explain it.

Words won’t do.

But I know this:

Light came in a dark cloud.

Now I’m starting to see.

Like a sun-struck leaf after rain,

everything…

everything shines out

with the Light of God.

Does this mean

the Kingdom has come?

I’ll wait and see.

Sitting by the Tree

I remember the longings I’ve had to sit in quiet solitude by the tree in the evenings or early mornings after Christmas and reflect on the past while taking inventory of the present.  It seemed I rarely was able to find the time, and rolled on into the New Year carrying an empty space within me.  Now I know that the longing itself was a Christmas gift, a treasure given by the One who always comes to those who wait expectantly.

Before, I never felt I had the time.  Things begged to be done.  There were obligations to be met.  I felt guilty even thinking of myself at times like Christmas.  The world seemed to need so much.  I had to give, to work.  And I didn’t bother to open my own present, though it contained more than enough to share.  Little did I know – I needed to actually open mine before I could give to others.

But the longing was always there.  The star was shining out, the angels singing somewhere.  I’ve always known that very deeply.  Left behind with his duties, this wayward wise man was still a seeker.  I wanted to give my pearl to the King.  But I couldn’t seem to find it.

I suspect I am not the only one who has felt this way.  One can argue over the reasons — the work ethic we inherited, which had filtered through wars and the Great Depression, Old Testament teachings about straining for righteousness and suspicion of idleness – there are many others.  But I feel the core aversion to taking time to stop, rest and open one’s own gifts comes from a deep-seated mistrust or disbelief of unconditional love and grace.  Could anything good really come to those who don’t deserve it, who didn’t break their backs and work their fingers to the bone trying to gain it without messing up?  Could the fundamental message of Christmas really be true, that God had indeed loved us enough to do the unthinkable thing of donning our very flesh to heal it with the God-self balm?

I’m grateful for the longing, still there even at times when I crowded it out with my own trash.  When I wasted precious time on many nothings while the only Something worth anything lay unopened in its special spot under the tree.  It had my name on it the whole time, and I didn’t notice (Surely there’s not one left for me.)

But now, things are different.  Life has shown me, mostly through my own mistakes and tangents and the grace that followed, that there is, indeed, time for rest.  The tree is still here, and there are gifts to be opened.  There is always time.  And yes, I do deserve it.  Because God made me and loves me.  And in some mysterious way, God needs me to find my gifts and give them back to Him through sharing them with the world.  But not frenetically, like a Christmas week shopper.  Serenely, like one thankful for all he has received.

Henry van Dyke’s classic story of The Other Wise Man tells of the fourth king who missed the three as they set out after the star.  A series of circumstances caused him to pawn the treasures he had for the King so that he could help others along the way, as he wandered for years with the burning longing to find Him.  Not being present to the meaning contained in his wanderings and compassion shown to others, his aged heart was weary when it finally entered the gates of Jerusalem and heard of the trial and crucifixion of the One he had spent most of his life seeking.  Mortally wounded in a tragic accident while clambering to get a glimpse of his heart’s desire, and realizing his life was ebbing away, the Other Wise Man heard a voice speaking the words which would give assurance in his final earthly hour: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. “ The gift had been found and given back, after all.

So now it’s time to get my coffee, light a candle, and follow that prickly scent to a time of solace by the tree.  I will be present to the mystery and miracle of being alive right now, of living in a moment that has never been before, yet somehow will always be here with me.  I will be grateful for the journey I took to get here, and accept the times I made a wrong turn, yet was guided by the longing.  I will look back for that Unseen Hand that warmed the way, also looking ahead to know it will always lead me to a waiting rest beside the tree.  And I won’t be afraid to reach down and peel back the bow and paper of my gift.

Merry Christmas forever to us all.

(watercolor by my father, Lester, an artist who had Alzheimer’s disease)

Knowing Your Face

Like a newborn learns
the lines of Mother’s visage
help me to recognize Your face
known full on and radiant
each time I choose
yes over no
right over easy
others over self
giving over taking
trust over fear
hope over faithlessness
courage over self pity
gratitude over resentment
humility over arrogance
listening over chatter
beauty over glitz
patience over insistence
peace over war
mercy over judgment
serenity over turmoil
welcome over exclusion
truth over falsehood
soul over ego
love over all else.

The Gift Means More

The Gift means more to me now, since I’ve seen blessed hope’s turned-tail run, faces known full on, now only from the rear, dark Hell holes of not living up, all night vigils of the silent soul’s cry, free fall from what I wanted to be.

The Gift means more to me now because I’m the inn keeper who’s out of room, and finds himself on his knees with the sheep in a Mother’s gaze at a time of star light rising and coming kings, glory choristers and shepherds, good-news stunned, and all the room in the universe.

The Gift means more to me now because I can finally see myself standing beside it – the contrast, the poverty, the need, the Silence, the Mercy, the Love.

The Gift means more to me now because I‘ve known and forgiven myself in the flesh and the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The Gift means more to me now because He touched me, a man born blind, and now I see and tell it.

The Gift means more to me now because I’m giving it away.

Papa’s Christmas Apples

I can see my father’s face clearly now, beaming with anticipation and glee as I snatched the stocking from the mantle.  For he knew that nestled in the toe lay the fattest, juiciest, reddest, shiniest Christmas apples to be found.  You see, it wasn’t my obvious delight upon beholding a new bike or GI Joe doll that thrilled Papa most.  Rather, it was the pulling out of the prize apples that gave the greatest satisfaction.

Though I never saw the search, I know it was with loving care he must have chosen the fruit, polished the skin, and placed it in its familiar spot for tiny hands to grasp on Christmas morn.  Memories such as these fill my life with rich aromas of Christmases past.

Then came Christmas … anew.  The apples had been discovered.  The Johnny West doll set upon his horse.  The ambrosia served.  The blessing begun.

When came a knock; hesitant, but hopeful.

Papa answered, and there he stood:  reddened care-worn eyes, furrowed brown brow, curly white beard, tattered cap, shredded overcoat missing buttons, shoes with half soles.  “Christmas Gift,” he muttered, in hopeful resignation.  With compassionate countenance, Papa turned to ….

the apples.

Gathering up finest fruit (the Christmas apples, oranges, bananas), he filled the old man’s sack to overflowing.  If Christmas came to the old man that day, it came in double portion to me.

Looking back through years and “spirit” eyes, I see myself in tattered clothes at Papa’s back door seeking Christmas.  The Son’s finest fruit I don’t deserve, but such I receive.  You see, Papa’s Christmas apples were polished for you and for me, and the stockings are always hung on Christmas morn.

“Salvation is created in midst of the earth.  Alleluia!”

By the Lakeside

Walking near a shoreline we’ve known in times

when the world craved water more than anything

save for the burning bush of late day light and leaves,

my heart sank deep in a fern-fed inlet

brimming with molecules of darting minnows dancing

in the slowly parting wake of a Wood Duck’s goodbye float.

 

To such a setting, shimmering with sun scales

blown and scattered on the mirror of the liquid lake

where all is mute but wooded whispers and wind-fingered eddies,

I bring a sundry collection of all that is me,

fluted voices singing strange quarter tones,

fiery tongues reaching through stacks of limb-shaped shadows.

 

I feel compelled to set up camp here, on a low and level plot,

a mossy pallet walled with sandstone and red oak roots –

the perfect place to sit in civil disobedience, or else

to drain the backwash out of all my nearly – empty hopes.

 

Looking out over this mirage of light alive on water’s warmth,

my gaze lands in the great blue crook of a Heron’s neck –

the lines of that spirit bird lead me to the source

of swelling tears and unsung morning shaped-note hymns;

something in me stirs, stretching toward the circle to take a hand.

 

The motion quickens in me like a dragonfly’s wing.

My heart floats up from its muddy hull –

paddling, pumping, preserved.

The water wades to meet me all in spindly – legged wonder.

Through a gathering of bulrush and cypress knees

I can see your lifted arms, and am

caught up with you in this days’- end dance.

 

No more tethered in the net of people time

we swim and swirl, changing partners with the sun and stars.

Hand in moonlit hand we go,

headed back home by a different way.

 

 

A Christmas Kiss

To you I must confess a thing that shames me now, I fear:
that up until that God-sent day when Heaven’s kiss came near
I sometimes dreaded dragging out the ornaments and lights,
for worldly cares had made me long for rest on Advent nights.
Perhaps you can relate to my confession written here,
that workplace woes and manic malls and gifts to commandeer
and frantic fretting over guests for parties on the town
may make one miss the Heavenly bliss this season showers down.
As oft is so when older ones of us seem cumbered low
and care-worn, and we blindly miss the treasures here bestowed
in doing once again the things we do from year to year,
the children come and bless us with the simple truth, so clear.
So my dear toddler came that night, descending down the stairs
as if entranced (in retrospect, by Spirit, unawares),
as she was beckoned to the tree which half-adorned did stand,
and reaching for the ornaments to take them in her hand
she kissed them; then in soft, sweet tones, caressing every word,
said, “God is great and God is good.” The Spirit could be heard
as it breathed blessing to the corners of my soul.
Epiphany it brought to me, as from my heart did roll
true worship to the Heavenly Babe I then saw face to face,
whose radiance was reflected into every empty space
by all the many ornaments there hanging on our tree:
a Christmas kiss the Holy Child gave tenderly to me.