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where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: October, 2013

gobsmacked by everyday prophets

Dew Drops

proph-et (n.) 1. (in some religions) a person believed to have been sent by God to teach people about his intentions. 2. a person who predicts the future. 3. a person who promotes or supports a new belief or theory.

and so it is that as we motor along the patched asphalt roads of our everyday, suddenly we screech to a stop when we realize, right before our eyes, a wise soul, a prophet, a shaker-upper has flung his or her wisdom splat in the middle of the lane. stuck there, not able to never mind, not able to turn the wheel and steer around it, we succumb to the roadblock. loosen our grip on the wheel, stare wide-eyed through the windshield, soak up every last tidbit of what’s there in a pile clogging the throughway.

sometimes that’s what it takes to get us to pause, to pay attention.

and so it was, not so many days ago, when sitting in the dim-lit auditorium where our synagogue holds the talk part of sunday school. the rabbi was up at the front, at the mike, sipping his starbucks grande whatever. and, once again, the conversation seemed to be steering into one of those ones i’ve heard far too often. the topic, more or less: how in the world do you talk to your kids about God, when you’ve no clue who or what that might be?

i’ve learned to sit on my hands. to mostly not raise one or the other. over the years, i’ve made it clear on several occasions that i DO have a clue who that is. that i find the Holiness all around and within. that it’s there at the dawn when i tiptoe outside and find the heavens alight with pinpoints of stars. that it’s there when the voice on the other end of the line breathes hope into my emptiness. that it’s there when the words that spill from the mouth of the child i’m tucking in bed hit me with a compassion i’d not expect from a grownup, let alone a 12-year-old who can’t for the life of him untangle the distributive property upon which his pre-algebra homework is hinged.

i’d more or less surrendered to the conversation, felt myself sinking lower and lower — in spirit and chair. but then, the long lanky fellow a few seats to the east in my row, he raised his hand. now, i know this fellow to be wise, and i know he’s lived through some tragedy. his wife died when his children were little, one still in diapers, one just past toddling. he speaks with a gravely voice, the result of a cancer.

here’s what he said: “when my son asked why people die, i said: because it means we have a limited number of days, so how we live matters.”

it means we have a limited number of days, so how we live matters… 

i sat there, low in my spring-loaded chair, and suddenly bolted upright. humbled. stunned. turning the words over and over in my head, as if marbles i held to the light. examining, absorbing.

how we live matters….

these words from a father to son, a son who’d just lost his mother.

i did what i do when i know i’ve heard wisdom: i reached for my backpack, i pulled out a pen and my red little moleskin. i loosened the elastic snap that holds open the next empty page. i scribbled. i suddenly was wide awake and taking in every word of this conversation, no longer the same old, same old.

all week i’ve drifted back to that moment. when suddenly, out of the almost dark, a gravely voice spoke words that stirred me, top to bottom, inside to out.

i was knocked over by what he said — especially since i’ve too heavy a dose of black irish soul, the sort that too often fears the end is just around the next bend, and this notion of using that as a wedge to take it up a notch, to live each blessed day as if it could be the last or the second to last, is rather a zap to the noggin, to the soul.

but even more i was knocked over by the blessed truth that we never know where the wisdom will come, we never guess the prophets around us. and that’s why it matters that we stand at attention. that we live on the lookout — for wisdom, for truth, for gentlest kindness and full-bodied compassion.

if instead of sinking low in our chairs, if instead of surrendering to the ho-hum humdrum we think is unfurling, we stay awake to the possibility that someone far wiser than we’ll ever be is about to brush up against us, pass along a kernel of all that’s holy and wise and forever.

and that’s why this mystery called life is so utterly and wholly capable of taking our breath away — without drumroll or siren — and filling it in with high-octane Holy.

so, who’s your prophet of late? and what wisdom was plopped in your lap?

photo credit above: my sweet will kamin. a morning’s dew captured in magnificent light. not unlike the gift of the prophet….

ministrations of waiting


they are the necessary lulls. the pauses between breath. the sometimes awful, often angst-filled hours of not knowing. of waiting.

of not yet filling in the blanks with answers just around the bend.

i am waiting now. waiting now that one editor has signed off, has passed along a final manuscript to another, to the one who decides. who deems yea, or hmm, maybe you should take another crack at this….

and if you are composed of the filaments and synapses that are mine, this is where all sorts of goblins filter in. you begin to imagine conversations. you picture emails. most of them begin, “i’m so sorry….”

you imagine the worst. you imagine, because at some deep sad level it must reflect the deepest reflection of your vision of your soul, that you’ve not measured up. will never measure up.

i’d thought it might be wise to not put these words to paper (so-called paper, anyway). but then i thought, oh geez, too many of us share this plight. we doubt ourselves before we’re given one chance to rise up, to shine.

so here i wait. and while i wait, i realize that the wisest thing for me to do — besides turn the dial on the little voices that fill my head, that convince me of my unworthiness — is to get about the business of tending to the oft-pushed-aside quotidian. the season’s turning calls to me. the night’s chilled air begs attention. there are bulbs to tuck into the gashes of the earth. there are long-frond ferns who beg for warmth inside, who promise green through winter. or at least through thanksgiving.

i missed last year’s call to tuck in for winter slumber. i was far away, and could not tend to the bulbs, the fronds, the birds that have come to depend on me. so i’ve been out already this morning, out since well before the inky dawn was rubbed away. i was out with my buckets of seeds, i was out unearthing bulbs from the layers of crinkled newspaper that blanket them, that i pray kept them safe enough through the night that grew colder while i was not paying attention.

the earth does that: turns on and on without heed to whether we are paying attention. if we notice, if we tuck the bulbs before they freeze, well then glory is the prize come springtime. if not, if we blew it, weren’t worthy of the glory, well then the earth will not crack, no green shoot will rise, no heirloom hyacinth or bread-and-butter daffodil will trumpet.

i will soothe myself with the apothecary of the home and garden that i’ve claimed as my surest cure for almost anything that ails me. i will slow cook. and dig in the garden. i will sit in dappled light, with sweaters round my shoulders. i will drink in arcing sunlight, and winged shadow. i will tend the tender shoots and leaves that depend on me. i will practice believing that the pause is not about my falling short, but rather simply for another reason.

i will try. this practice doesn’t come without its stumbles. this practice is emboldened with a sturdy trowel, and a box of bulbs begging to be tucked where they will thrive. after a long winter’s pause.

do you too suffer the plight of the deep gnawing misgiving? the cursed lack of faith? the scourge of never thinking you are good enough? 

holy lights

holy lights

you might think i was lighting vigil lights for my exhausted self, trying to keep the juices flowing just a few more sentences, a few more rounds of edits and revisions. but, in fact, i dipped into my files to find a snap from one of the holiest places i have ever knelt: deep inside the thick stone walls of the monastery by the bend in the charles river, far off now, in 02138.

i’m lodging it squarely on the page this morning because today, as i madly type, at least one more day, i am bringing to the table two bits of holy wonder: the first is a peek inside that monastery, a lovely video clip of a day in the life of brother geoffrey, brother superior of the society of st. john the evangelist. it’s the closest thing i’ve found to taking you by the hand, shoving open the oh-so-heavy oak-timbered doors, and tiptoeing across the hushed stone floors. for those among us who hunger for the occasional dose of monasticism, here’s your peek inside.

the next bit of wonder — and it truly is nothing short of modern-day miracle — is a mind-blowing interview with the new pope, francis, as he sits down with the self-proclaimed atheist founder of the italian newspaper, la repubblica.

there is a deep ecumenical thread to what’s brought to this table, and i certainly haven’t had much to bring from my old catholic church in recent years, but this pope francis is worth a watch. a close watch. and i am watching more and more closely all the time.

at rather a quick clip, he is racking up reasons to pay attention: he reaches into the throngs and embraces the disabled (he lifted into his arms a boy with cerebral palsy, a modern-day pieta, indeed — and on easter sunday, no less). he washes the feet of the sinners. he flicks away the papal apartment, opting instead for austere and simple digs. he drives a used car, for cryin’ out loud (and urges all priests and nuns to do the same). and, best of all, he wouldn’t know a prada if it hit him in the head.

well, check out this latest: he calls up common folk — that’s right, he dials them on his own, gets them on the line — and invites them over for a splash of coffee and conversation. and he sure doesn’t limit his phone calls to confirmed believers. he reaches out to anyone who’s reached out to him, or who might simply offer a stimulating hour’s conversation.

but even more than what he’s doing, it’s what he’s saying that makes me lean in close, listen hard, widen eyes, and fist-bump the heavens, holy hallelujah.

of gays, he said: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?”

on abortion and contraception: church hierarchy has been “obsessed,” the word he used, the word that stole headlines.

but i think it’s in the next few lines that the true wisdom is found:

“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

here’s the link to the whole of that interview, in the jesuit magazine, america.

and my favorite line from that entire interview:

“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds….”

…the church as a field hospital after battle….heal the wounds, heal the wounds…

ah, but it’s the latest interview, the one in the italian-language repubblica, that i set out to bring here (it’s dizzying, there is so much unfurling so swiftly from the vatican…).

even the big thinker andrew sullivan had his socks knocked off, by the latest. called the pope nothing short of “revolutionary,” and what he said, “miracle.”

i’m thinking that’s precisely the prescription for these times, a revolution laced with miracles.

one last bit of papal poetry, a line worth etching into your living room walls:

“God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us.”

finally the link to andrew sullivan’s musings in his blog, “the dish,” and the repubblica interview itself.

as sullivan puts it: “I urge you to read it, whether you are an atheist, an agnostic, a believer or anything in between.”

and i do, too. get comfy. please, pull up a chair.

now, back to typing, stirred by revolution. your thoughts on the vatican’s radical resident, the first in a very long time?  

the holiness of work

holiness of work this

the dry spell had been long. the dust, collecting in my throat. the days of wondering where i was meant to be. aching for a path, a sense of how to find the clearing, through the thicket, up the side of the mountain.

some days i swore i’d lost my soul. found myself pounding out tales of how to clear a plugged drain (talk about ironic). oh, sure, i liked the plumbers all right. didn’t mind learning a thing or two about the ways of my sink. but really? i’d left the bedsides of dying children, picked up pen and notebook, to find myself 30 years later, making sure the world knew how to un-plug that drain.

clearly, that was not my steady diet. i spiced it up with the occasional soulful musing. saying goodbye to kids headed off to college. saying goodbye to my own. but it was, more days than i wanted it to be, an exercise in driving me to madness.

i could barely remember those days this week as i sat, morning after morning, in the shifting light. heard the chatter from just beyond the screen, as the sparrows had it out with the cardinals. and no one appreciated the stalking ways of my fat striped cat.

but there i was, red pen in hand, poring over pages that are typed-out vessels from my heart. more like prayer cards, each and every one. it’s called editing, but really it’s distilling. distilling to the essence, paring away excess. cutting to the bone.

it happens to be essential to the craft of writing, but really it’s essential in this odyssey called life.

we are each of us, processing machines. we wander through the day, absorbing this and that, taking in that long tale, and this winding one. if we’re thinking, paying attention, we are always on the lookout for the essence, the gospel take-away, the distillation of heart and mind and soul.

one by one, we take the offerings of the day, hold them to the light, sift and sort. decide which ones serve up sustenance, which ones merely upholstered the day in wit and whimsy.

so that’s the task i’m attending to right now. whittling down page after page, sentence after sentence, to its essence. its holy spark, if there is one. others will be the judge.

and as i slowly turned the pages, as the red pen traced progress in the margins, i found myself bathed in an undiluted sense of the holy. maybe, just maybe, it’s baptism, all over again. a new beginning. maybe after all the years, i’ve stumbled on the deep pure vein that connects me, that i’ve been trying to find for what feels like forever.

holiness. it’s why i set out on my journey long ago. it’s the wind beneath my wings.

and it came up and tapped me on the heart this week. seeped in through the holes in the screen door. filled the kitchen.

there’s work to be done, from now till tuesday, when the next deep round of edits are due. this whole month is pretty much a blur of tight deadlines, one cascading atop another. thank God i live with someone who understands the urgency, and the long long dry spell that preceded it.  he seems to know that it’s a prayer i am offering to the heavens. because really that’s what this is.

and it’s the holiest work i’ve ever done.

thank God it found me. i’ve been searching for so long.

so that’s the update from here at the news desk. whirling madly toward the deadline. a dear friend visiting for the weekend, the joy of trying to sustain calm amid deep-down palpitations. so i’ll simply pay closer attention to whatever it is i’m doing in the moment. extract more essence. 

and the question: what’s your holy work? and how did it find you?