Suddenly I realize I am lost in the woods. I have followed one of those disappearing paths The ones that seem, perhaps, to be the way And, yet, lead only into a bramble. I stand there, looking one way and another. The fear begins to prickle at my neck And I know that I am lost Unable to find my way home My panic casts around for guidance I wonder if I can orient myself by finding the sun, By marking a shadow, By listening for the stream. I imagine that I can think the lostness away That I can retrace my steps Or just expand the field of my vision Far enough to find my place. But none of this works. Indeed, it threatens to deepen my panic And lead me further astray. I am helpless … I cannot save myself. I sit down upon a nearby boulder And my soul collapses within me I put my head in my hands and weep. This, this, is the lonely, helpless truth. I must wait And hope For rescue. The stone beneath me is cold. The sky is threatening dark. My heart is screaming so loudly within me That I almost mistake your voice for my own. And yet, my panic is a scream And your assurance is a whisper. It rises from somewhere deep within. Not from within me, but from within reality itself. I try to quiet myself To move myself aside, if that is possible, When it is me that must do the moving. How can I use my power to relinquish that very power? It is an ongoing mystery, This process of un-doing. This gritting of my teeth In order to let go. It is as if the deepest part of me Is not me at all, but part of something larger. As if, in the center of my very essence, There is a subterranean tunnel to the ALL. Can that be? Are you deep within the ALL? Within us all? Me, too? [image by jane cornwell per cc 2.0 from Flickr. The quotation is from Dante's Inferno ]
“So then, lets go.” The traveler is beside me. He taps his staff upon the ground. I have my staff in my hand as well, and my pack upon my back. So we strike out together, toward the wild. He is humming to himself and I am holding my heart tightly in my hand, hoping and hoping not to fear.
We walk for quite a while. We are down the hill into the bramble. The call is before me and the traveler is striding quickly and I am doing all I can just to keep up.
At last we stop beside a small stream for a moment’s rest. The path is bathed in shade just here and we sit upon a fallen tree and rest our packs against a second log that has fallen just behind the first, forming a natural bench and a great place for rest.
After I catch my breath I turn to the traveler. I don’t quite know how to begin with all the questions that bubble in my heart. So, that is what I say, “I don’t know how to start – I have so many questions.”
“Begin with the first that rises to mind,” the traveler replies.
And I quiet myself to listen. Several questions vie within my mind, not fully formed. But I just wait until the confusion clears. At last I ask him what seems a simple start. “Where are we going?”
He smiles and nods and seems to fall into contemplation rather than to speak directly to me. “We are going to the heart of who we are; we are traveling to the unfolding of ourselves.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. This is too much a mystic’s answer and I was looking for something rather more concrete. I tell him so. “I am not asking about some mystical thing, but just the destination of this simple path within the wood.”
He smiles. “It goes just where I told you . . . and it goes to Silverton.” You are always walking a double path, you know – in your heart, into your self; and in this world to some concrete destination. It’s nice to be able to go two places at once, he muses and chuckles to himself as if he had just made a joke.
I sit befuddled. I can understand the symbolism in his talk, but it seems rather frivolous today, when I really need more substance than a koan.
“The seed and the kernel, that’s what they are,” he says.
“Aren’t those pretty much the same thing?”
“Yeah. They are.” He laughs again. He is having altogether too much fun this morning and I’m not catching any of his jokes.
I kick at a small rock on the path with my foot, and when it turns over, I am surprised to see light coming from beneath it. It startles me.
I turn to the traveler and he kneels down in the path and picks up the stone, which seems really quite ordinary. But in the space where it sat, there is a tiny beam of light. He places the stone in his pocket as if it were somehow a treasure. He pats his pocket and says, “Now you don’t see that everyday, do you?”
“No,” I say “What is that light?”
“It is fire-moss,” he answers, “and it carries its own luminescence, even when apart from the sun.”
“Is that a good thing?” I ask.
“What do you think?”
“I thought we should not seek any light apart from the sun.”
“Well then, lets just cover it up,” he says and begins to push dirt into the dimple in the ground left by the stone. The light is soon extinguished.
Now I am really confused. “Why did you do that?”
“I thought you said we’re to find no light but the sun. So, I covered that which you did not want to see.”
“But is it a matter of my wants or of truth?”
“Ah!” he says and shakes his head and seems once more to hold a private conversation between himself and his own thoughts. That is the extent of his reply.
“Enough of these one way jokes and musings,” I say out loud and start to go back down the road from where we came. But as I rise I know that I will not retrace my steps. I turn and shrug and kneel in the path and remove the dirt from the fire-moss. It takes a bit of effort but soon it is shining once more.
“It seems a shame to bury a wonder.” I say, almost as if it was an excuse, but he seems to need no explanation. He just smiles again to himself, and it makes me want to strike at him.
“Why so smug?” I mutter.
“Not smug,” he says, “assured. I knew you would not let the light stay covered. You wouldn’t deny what is because of a rule someone once gave. Rules are often made especially for the time of their creation, but they stay around too long, sometimes. That is when we wilt.”
“But letting go of rules, is scary.” I object. “What gives me the right to accept and reject the rules of the wider world, of life? How would I know what to keep and what to ignore? I am far too ignorant to be a rule changer.”
“Oh, that is true,” he says with deep seriousness. “You do not rule the world.”
This slight twist on my words reveals their true meaning. It is not mine to decide on what is. Or what is not. Mine is to offer an honest response.
“So, if you can’t rule the world, at least will you rule yourself?”
“Seems I should … If I could.”
“Ah,” he says and nods. “Ah. There’s the rub.”
“Yes, there’s the rub . . . So, I must trust the rule maker to make the path and trust myself to walk it? But how do I know when my mind is playing tricks or when I am following truth? How can I discern the right path from fiction or convenience or my own wrongheadedness?”
“Right path, wrong path . . . you must trust.”
“Such changeability makes trust hard.”
I am befuddled again. How do I trust, when it may be the wrong path, when I am so easily fooled? It is certainly not the path nor myself where I must place my trust. And with that realization, I find a kernel of comfort, of truth. In my mind’s eye I pick it up and turn it over and underneath the fire-moss glows brightly.
“It is ok to trust one who loves you deeply.” The traveler whispers in my ear and then is gone.
I am left on the trail, alone, holding in my heart a small stone of helpful trust; a small light both new and ancient. It glows within me. And suddenly my vision clears a bit and I can see myself, the trail, the stone, the light, all in Gods hands. And she is smiling. And so I am content.
Let me be an April fool if I am in your hands.
I am content with foolishness and mystery.
They are close cousins and my friends.
(republished as a way back in … and as a recognition that I’m still grateful to be an April fool)
4 12 15
4 1 02
A sincere thank you –
One more slender thread
Holding me to you
Acknowledging the way our hearts
Are created within our mutual embrace.
I am grateful for your presence in my life.
I am grateful for the way you anchor my hope.
I am grateful for your breath upon my cheek
And your whisper in my soul.
Your love holds me together.
Romans 7: 4-6; Genesis 3: 7&21; Romans 8: 38-39
Don’t you know, my beloved,
That you can no longer live under that law?
The way the world used to work,
Works no longer – even for you.
You have begun to see the cracks in that system.
And what you fear has begun to happen.
It cannot hold together for much longer.
The privilege that protected you –
That put you first in line,
Or led those in authority
To look the other way
When you stole what was not yours –
That privilege hangs in tatters round your frame.
And you are naked beneath it.
You cannot re-arrange it enough
To cover your shame.
Nor should you.
Give it up.
Give it to me.
Now that you realize that you are naked,
You can also see that the fig leaves
Are not working.
They will never work.
Hide from me no longer.
The ‘fall’ you fear is not a fall from me,
But from the false version of yourself
That dared to claim completeness
Apart from me,
Apart from everyone, from everything, else.
It is that very delusion of separateness,
That keeps you lonely.
That idea that you must somehow be enough
By yourself, in yourself,
That idea is what keeps you keeps you stuck
In the empty, hollow place within your soul.
You are not alone.
And there is nothing you can do to change that.
It is not your fig leaves that will keep you safe.
See, I have clothed you in my love.
It fits you like your very skin.
And nothing can separate you from that love –
Not the hate another spews at you,
Nor the despising you paint upon yourself,
Not your worry, nor your abject fear,
Not a pandemic, nor economic crash,
Neither angels nor demons,
Neither the present nor the future,
Not any power … high or low,
Nor anything else in all creation,
Can separate you from the love of God.
Nothing can separate you.
You are no longer separate.
That delusion has been shattered.
And, in its place, the very vision
Of the beloved community.
You, me, and all.
All wrapped in the love of God.
May it be so.
It is so.
Does it matter to the world That I have lost my center; That I find my heart jerked back and forth With every new event And the conjecture about what it means? Does my own peace or angst Add anything to the world’s unfolding? The answer is either yes, or no. Either way, it makes a difference Whether I can find my way to peace, in You. If yes - If my own centering in Your presence Can help in some small way To remind the world that there is a center And that we are all invited in - Then it does make a difference To one small corner of the world. If no - If my peace or angst are mine alone, If there are no ripples from my presence, Then, I might as well seek peace. It will, after all, Make a vast difference to me Even if it is me, alone. And I expect the truth Is somewhere in the middle. It is both yes and no. I will not change the world, much. But even a little can make a difference. I know this because The kind smile of a friend, The simple sigh of one I love, The joy that invades my heart From seeing the pure joy of my granddaughter Or the soft, proud smile of her mother These make my life rich. I am pulled from poverty of spirit To the rich, full embrace of life By little things. And so, I resolve To offer what little things I can To life, To You, And, so, to the world. I give my offering As a ‘yes’ to the center That gives its life to me.
These hold me here, in time.
These still my soul.
These hold me true.
Why then do I hurry past the moments of opportunity?
Why does my heart keep turning aside
To gaze at the plastic trinkets scattered on the path
Or run to hide from the angry voices shouted in the air?
How do I let myself get distracted again, again, again?
I turn to run and find myself stumbling into you.
You have been standing there, waiting for me.
I cry out again and release myself into your arms.
And you take me in.
You sit me down upon the grass.
I lean myself upon your frame.
And sigh a tearful, stuttering sigh.
You place your hand upon my shoulder
And whisper in my ear, “Here, here.”
Not ‘there, there,’ as I might expect,
But ‘here, here.’
And that with that brief turn of phrase,
My heart takes its breath and turns, as well.
And I am, for just a moment, here.
Here – the only place I can really be right now.
‘There’ is only fantasy,
A wishful, fearful, fitful web,
Sticky with false promises.
Here. Here within your arms.
Here and nowhere else.
Here for just a breath.
Here, here, is life.
How long, oh Lord?
How long will it take
For us to show your mercy,
For us to live into your grace?
Like a Mother,
Bending over her young child,
You wait for our first stumbling steps
You wait for us to wake
With the compassion
You have placed within our hearts.
You wait with eager longing.
It seems you cannot compel our hearts
Without negating who we are.
We must learn to hear your call
And move ourselves toward you.
And yet, our eyes are turned away
From your dear face.
We let ourselves be filled with fear
And the anger that it breeds.
Our leaders curse and blame and fume.
We follow their example,
Letting their anger spark our own.
We yield to fear over faith.
Its hard to take that step
When we listen to the torrent of words
That flow from angry mouths
Feeding that anger and fear.
But deep within my heart,
When I am still, when I am quiet,
I think I hear you whisper,
‘One step, my child, one step.’
‘You learn to walk
By looking at my face
Not at your feet,
Nor at your fear.’
‘You learn by reaching for my hands.
You learn to walk by falling.
And by getting up.
And taking one more step.’
Help me to learn to walk toward justice.
[I need to acknowledge that my white privilege stains my words and shields me from much of the risk of striving for justice. Yet the guilt and shame and fear that are my first reactions to the dawning realization of my complicity are not the motivations that will best help to change my heart or my actions. Such emotions keep the focus on me. Instead, I need to keep my eyes and my heart focused on Christ, who shows himself in the oppressed and marginalized people around me.]
It is a wiry monster,
This system of oppression,
Who keeps his knee upon the neck
Of those deemed less than me.
The monster dons the authority
Of state-endorsed might
Choosing to enforce white-rightness
At the cost of life, of liberty,
Of full community.
It presumes my innocence
At the very moment it presumes
That a jogger in the wrong place
With the wrong color skin
Is somehow a thief of what is mine.
It presumes white property
Is worth more
Than black or brown lives,
Even when that property
Was gained through advantage.
Even as those same lives are put at risk
To deliver whatever I want to my doorstep
Or clean the hospital rooms
Or provide the doctor’s care.
It presumes that violence is justified
Whenever resistance is expressed,
Seeing resistance to authority as an affront
Even when it is the authority, itself,
That is the monster’s tool.
It presumes, because I am white,
I will not stop to see these truths.
Indeed, my hasty assertions of innocence
Make it hard for me to wake
To my very real complicity with the monster.
It whispers conflicting messages in my heart,
Trying to confuse and silence me.
It tells me of my ‘right’ to privilege
Even as it claims I have no ‘right’
to speak out against oppression
Because I am white and I couldn’t really know.
The monster claims that the words of resistance
From a white mouth
Must somehow be wrong, and so I must sit still.
And it is true, I do not know
The full expression of life – and death – beneath that knee.
But the truth of this monster’s presence
Can no longer be denied.
And I must acknowledge my complicity,
Even though my words are not free from the monster’s stain.
My silence would be worse.
It is not about finding the right words,
Or somehow erasing the stain upon my soul
Through (even if sincere) confession.
It is about finally seeing the truth,
Recognizing the monster’s web around me,
Acknowledging its tentacles around my heart.
It is about the unbelievably slow process
That will finally break the monster’s grip.
Somehow we must begin to see that our society
Is built upon the twin pillars of privilege and oppression.
It is not the ‘great’ society we’ve touted,
But the very failure of our hopes and dreams.
The presumption of superiority
Is proof enough of the lie.
And so I repent my complicity
And I praise the stalwart faith and hope
Of those who fight for a different way,
And have fought for centuries
In the face of this evil.
I pledge my feeble voice
To the deep melody of grace and strength
Sung by the black and brown elders of the struggle,
Raised by the brave, young protesters,
Following their lead toward true community,
Where, at last, they, too can breathe.
Oh, God, forgive me.
Oh, God, empower them.
Oh, God, our God,
I keep thinking that I’m stuck
With a do-it-yourself kit for salvation.
It’s not turning out so well.
As much as I’d like to fix myself,
I just don’t seem to have the right tools
Or even (deep sigh) initiative.
(I’ve lost the excuse that I don’t have the time.)
So, I sit here, with pieces-parts
Scattered across the table.
They fit together awkwardly.
There seem to be pieces missing,
And pieces that don’t fit.
And pieces that I’d like to hide.
I beat my head with my fist.
(Gently, of course.)
That’s when I hear your chuckle.
You sit down beside me and survey the scene.
You sort through the pieces
And carefully polish a small glass bead between your fingers.
“This one is for Tasha,” you say quietly,
And place it in your pocket.
I’m taken aback.
I want to grab it back from you.
“How dare you take this part of what is mine?”
You give me a look that takes my breath, as well.
I am appalled by those words
As they tumble from my mouth.
I want to stuff them back inside,
But that’s been the problem all along –
Those things I hold inside so deep
That I can deny they are a part of me.
So I revert to whining.
“I am already incomplete …
How can I possibly afford to lose more?”
My self-pity tumbles out,
And sits writhing on the table.
She scuttles to the far edge
Scooping scattered pieces into a pile.
She hovers protectively over them,
Shifting from foot to foot.
You shake your head and pick up another piece.
“This one is for Jorge. See how it bears his name?
And this one is for Raymond.
And, ah, Rachel needs this bit, just here.”
I sit with my mouth open and my hands trembling.
Self-pity reflects the horror in my heart,
Tearing at her hair and fretting to herself.
Will you take it all?
Will I be left with nothing?
My fear, which has been hiding under the table,
Clambers out into the light.
She is followed by the large and lumpy shape
Of my disdain, who turns her eyes toward me
And shakes her head with deep revulsion.
This project has fallen into disarray
And taken me with it.
But you sit beside me, unperturbed.
My cadre of false friends do not distract you.
You clear a small area on the table
And give me an encouraging smile.
From another pocket, you take a small stone.
It is an opal, small and deeply luminescent.
“Brenda sent this to you, knowing how you’d love it,”
You say, as you place it before me.
It wakes the tiny Hope within me.
She comes forward to hold the stone quietly to her heart,
Whispering her thanks, admiring its soft colors.
Then she wanders to the pile guarded by Self-pity
And finds a small seedling, ready for planting.
“Brenda would know just where this one would grow,”
She says and brings it to you.
“Do you think you could get it to her?”
You nod and Hope is joined by Delight.
These are the better angels of my nature.
In their hands, and yours, my project is transformed.
I thought it was a do-it-yourself kit.
All these pieces scattered across my table
Are but signs of your abundance,
An invitation to do-it-together.
You did, of course.
And, when I make room,
I do, too.