a different view

overwhelmedI am feeling overwhelmed and lost in the stacks of things to do. My day is pressing down upon me and in response I am deeply tired. I cannot find the energy to dig myself out of this hole, so that I can even begin my day.

I come to my meadow discouraged. Too much to do, to late to even hope to do it well. Now, all I seem to have left is the fear of total embarrassment to keep me going. The best I can do is barely enough. I wander down the hill, scrubbing my toes in the short grass, which is dried and brown. My sweater is drawn up around my shoulders, more to find comfort in its bulk than as a reaction to the cool of the day.

I find a smooth, round stone by the edge of the stream and sit down, dropping my head into my hands. I sigh deeply and shake my head. I’d like to curl up in a fetal position and sleep away the day, the chores, the responsibilities before me. But I cannot. They will not go away.

Slowly the sound of the brook fights its way into my consciousness and the crisp brown reality of the winter grass shows itself to me in intricate patterns at my feet. There are things beyond me in this world, though I don’t always raise my eyes to see, so self-absorbed am I.

So I settle in upon that rock and try to broaden my vision of the meadow, try to move my focus beyond my self pity. As I do so, tiny signs of life become evident. A field mouse runs across the path and finds a discarded shaft of grain to carry home. A tiny grass flower has forgotten its seasons and struggles to grow in a sunny spot beside the stream. Small signs of life. I am grateful for these signs of hope, yet my heart has not been lifted from its sigh.

I sit a while longer and an angel appears beside me to guide me to the well. The angel is a child, younger, more timid, than the angels I have encountered before. Even his robe does not fit right. It’s sleeves dangle over his fingers and the shoulders droop.   He pulls up the robe to keep from tripping over it on the way back to the well and scruffy tennis shoes can be seen beneath its hem.

No so intimidated by this angel, I reach and take his hand We walk together to the well. As we approach, I can see that Jesus is seated on the side of the well. He is facing off to one side and is ministering to the crowd which surrounds him. There is a whole variety of life before him and around the well.   Older men and younger travelers, men and women, who have stopped to renew themselves for their journey. Families sit together at the well, children leaning on their parent’s arms, swinging their feet absently to pass the time.

My escort stops a good distance from the well and takes off the robe. Its reminds me of a child from a nativity play, taking off his father’s bathrobe. The boy is wearing a wrinkled tee-shirt and jeans. He smiles at me and goes off to find his seat in the crowd. I pick up the robe and put it on, tying the sash around my waist. It doesn’t fit me very well either.

I walk toward the well and take a seat on a stone bench at the edge of the circle. Jesus continues to talk to the crowd, to touch the heads of small children as they wander up to the well and play in the open space at his feet.

His words do not sound urgent or hurried, but they are captivating. It is as if he speaks and the reality of this world becomes just a bit clearer. His words are not begging words of should and ought and urgent supplication, but being words of the reality which we seldom see. He reveals the parts of heaven which brush into our days and which we can take hold of and weave into the picture of who we are. He speaks his own spirit into our hearts and we feel an echo there, an answer which whispers a fervent “yes” to what he says we can be.

I am fed slowly by the words, each a drop of strength in the reservoir which was so empty. They fall onto my ears, into my soul.

Then he rises to go and looks around for his outer robe. It’s not on the well beside him, where he had placed it. The child who guided me here sneaks a look at me and wrinkles up his face in a silly grin, shrugging his shoulders. The robe I wrapped around me belongs to the Lord. Quickly I take it off and fold it over my arm. Tentatively, I make my way to the well and offer it to Jesus. He chuckles and takes the robe from my hands. Then he swings the robe up, as if to place it around his shoulders, but instead it envelopes the whole crowd. His robe wraps us all in warmth and hugs us in a collective union to himself.

Wrapped in his love, I think I can find the strength to enter my day. I do not feel triumphant, not even sure that I can accomplish what I have placed before myself to do. But I know that his word is slowly feeding my soul and bringing pieces of a different reality into my world of desires and fears.  So I am grateful, almost content, as I return to my office and my tasks.

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[image modified from photo by amenclinicsphotos ac per cc 2.0]

 

 

Our future’s history

One dark night – I think it was in the early 20’s or just before – there was a great and terrible storm in Denton. It engulfed the whole city, especially the city center.

soldier monumentOn the south side of the square, there was a bolt of lightening as bright as the light on the Damascus road, and that young confederate soldier looked up. He shook his stone head and covered his eyes. When the flash and rumble had subsided, he put down his rifle and climbed down from that arch.

As he was climbing down, he stepped for a moment on the old water fountain on one side of the base of the arch and it crumbled under his weight. From it sprang an arch of water that sprayed up – higher than the stone arch, itself – and fell just to the other side. Seeing that, the young soldier moved to the other side of the arch and raised his foot and stepped down on the fountain on that side, crumbling it and releasing an arch of water that rose and joined the first in mirror image.

Suddenly there was another crack of lightening. It struck the stone arch and broke it into a thousand pieces, but the arches of water remained, dancing in the bursts of lightening that continued to spark the night around him.

Then Johnny went to work. He took the pieces of the stone arch and began to fit together a mosaic that extended up the sidewalk toward the courthouse. It was tedious work. He had to fit and re-fit the pieces until they came together well. As the night wore on, he realized that he would not be able to finish his work before daybreak, when the spell of his re-enchantment would break. He sat back in despair and dropped his head into his hands.

Then, slowly, he noticed dozens of other forms had gathered round him – men and women, boys and girls, a diversity of faces and voices. They all took up the task with him – fitting the pieces of the mosaic along the line of the sidewalk, moving northward. The continuing rain created a small stream that ran through their work, from the courthouse to the water-arches. The gathered throng finished the mosaic just as the rain stopped and the sun ran its rosy finger across the horizon.

Johnny stepped back to admire the view, resting his tired form upon the wall of courthouse, his feet planted among the low bushes that ring the building. A shaft of sunlight fell upon him and the spell was broken. Johnny turned back to stone. He stands there now, gazing out upon a different world than the one he knew when he was soldering. There is a new look of pride in his stance – one that sprang from his change of heart, from his awakening to a world where difference is strength and where the circle of his heart was expanded with one great lightening strike. It is the same world where we can learn and grow and work together, as our hearts, too, are changed.

The dawn now finds its reflection in the small stream that, miraculously, continues to run from the seat of justice to the water-arch. There, on a hot summer day, the children of Denton cool themselves as they splash together. They, in their laughter, continue to write our future’s history.

[images from the Portal to Texas History ]

my cavern

cavernI stand at the mouth of a cavern – huge, dark … powerful in its presence and mystery. I want to enter, something calls me in, but I am also fearful. If I walk this path, will I soon get lost amid the stalagmites and stalactites and crevices and boulders that lurk within the shadows? Will I fall or be trapped? Will I simply wander to no avail?

Yet, there is this call, not really audible, just a tug upon my soul. I take a deep breath and step toward the dark. And in that first step, I feel my heart open just a bit – or perhaps it just softens. It is an almost imperceptible move, like the coming wakefulness of morning, arising from the deepest sleep to the next level, just below awareness.

I take another breath and resist the urge to steel myself. It is not about holding tight, but letting go. Another breath, another step, ears on alert, heart inching ahead of my frame, I move. One slow step at a time, searching … or, no, opening, I move.

This is different. I somehow know that this is not a process where I will find something, or figure it out, or come to understand. This is a process in which I will be changed, opened, melded.

It has taken these few steps for the whole sense of this call to change. I am not called to some great mission, to some accomplishment that will be a offering for you. I am called to become someone different, someone melded, molded, reconstituted into a vessel, or … not so much a container for something other than I am, but a container that is an amalgam of me and you – a container that can now hold something that could not otherwise be held.

Beheld… that word, itself, turns a corner in me. If I let myself be seen – and the darkness provides a bit of a robe for my nakedness even as I shed my successive layers of protection – if I let myself be seen, I will become more of myself. Beholding as creation.

And beholding goes both ways. As I find my way through a successive unmasking of my very self, I find my way to you, as well. You dwell in truth. An honest soul, and only an honest soul, can truly encounter you. It is a law of the spiritual realm – that truth is a prerequisite.

Yet truth alone, sterile and hard, will not suffice. Somehow, honesty must be mixed with the affirming pulse of life itself, the truth of true connection, where the coming together is full and free and beautiful. Some would call it love, but even that word seems too light a thing.

And now all my words fade to mere filaments of hope. They cannot really do justice to what is.

I stand, naked, in the dark, still shedding layers of presumption and constraint. And the darkness, itself, a deep and quiet and holy darkness, swirls around me, urging union, promising completion.

Slowly the darkness becomes light. Turns out the darkness was within me, and I have begun to shed it, ever so slowly. The light begins to smile upon me, to welcome me, to make its way into me. My growing honesty is, at last, allowing me to embrace – to be embraced by – the truth of you.

This process is not done, but it is begun. And I am glad.

My soul, a bit raw from this successive unveiling, feels closer to itself. It confirms a truth that has long dwelt with me. I have no words. Except, perhaps, ‘thank you.’

[photo by Emily Mocarski per cc 2.0]

a Narnia encounter (5)

 

giant's wonder[This is a continuing meditation. Part 1 is here; part 2 is here; part 3 is here; part 4 is here]

A day has come and gone. The giant is beside me and we are sitting together in the clearing. He says that the magpies have brought a message that there will be an assembly tonight. He hugs his knees and rocks himself, humming softly a rumbling tune. There is a eagerness in his presence that is hard to miss.

“What will happen at the assembly?” I ask him.

“We shall see, we shall. “ he replies.

“Couldn’t you give me a hint?” I find my impatience rising, again. Seems I never quite learn.

“A hint? I just told you what will happen – we will see.   Really see. We will know what is to be done. We will see the Lion. Really see him. With our own eyes.”

“Have you never seen him?” His eagerness reminds me of a child, ready to open a gift.

“Not till tonight.” He closes his eyes to get a bit closer to the coming moment. I close my eyes as well and listen to his rumbling melody. At first is sounded rather clumsy, but when I let myself relax into it, a hidden majesty is evident – a majesty born, not of titles and honors and acclaim, but of humble service done with dedication. His simple faith is pure and strong, much less complicated than my own, or so it seems.

Eyes closed, I lean back into the rumbling melody as if into a chair. It holds me up, comforts me, builds me.

“Thank you for the tune,” I say aloud.

“I learned it from the mountains,” comes his reply. “The waterfall at Deista sings it, too.”

It starts to hum itself within my heart and wakens emotions that lie dormant there. Wonder, awe, excitement and solemn ecstasy compete to fill my heart. I sit beside the giant and begin to weep.

He looks at me with a knowing smile. His eyes are also damp. “When He begins to play his tunes within your heart, it stretches you, it does, until you ache with joy. He must make room, you know. He is coming.”

 

[image edited from photo by Rach per cc 2.0]

Follow the Song

through the plainI wake on the plain, beside the angel. The fire has died into ash-covered embers and the night sky has begun to fade to morning. The angel is sitting, back to the fire, looking out into the plain. He is robed already and has his staff in his hand. He looks at me and smiles. We gather our supplies, cover the fire, and begin the day’s journey.

It is a pleasant walk at first. He is humming softly to himself and the air is almost sweet with the fragrance of the wet grass. My feet are damp with dew. I shift the pack upon my back, balancing it on my hips, letting the shoulder straps lie slack.

The pack creaks softly as I walk. The weight of the backpack is so much easier to carry when it fits well.

On we walk, step, step, step, forward on the faintly visible path. If the angel were not guiding me, I would not really be able to tell the path from the ruts of dried streams and the passageways of animals who cross the plain in their daily search for food. My own path is hard to discern among the others. But the angel is confident and strides forward in even, unhurried, but determined steps.

“How do you know the way'” I ask, “since all these patches of earth look the same?”

He pauses on the trail and looks down. “The ground does look the same,” he observes. “That is not where the path is marked. It is written in my heart. I follow his call and not a path. Do you not hear it?”

I strain my ears, but I am not aware of any call, of any sound to guide my steps. I shake my head, a bit chagrined. It’s obvious that I am a novice here.

“Then I will teach you to listen,” the angel replies. He begins to hum. “This melody has been sung throughout the ages in response to the majesty of God. It springs forth when his presence is seen. Its tune, its cadence, its underlying essence is the pattern for your call. Learn the song. Sing it to yourself.”

“The song is my call?” I ask. “The same song of the ages, the same call?”

“No,” the angel replies, “the song only reveals the pattern in which your call will come and acquaints you with the essence it will bring. You learn from the song to recognize your own call when it comes. The song trains your inner ear to hear the call of God.”

“When will he call?” I ask.

“He calls you now.”

I feel desperate. “But I cannot yet hear it.”

“He knows and he will call until you hear. Be patient. Trust him to teach. As long as your heart is directed toward him, you cannot fail, for he is your partner in your journey. And he never fails. He is still creating you, with your cooperation. He tunes your ears, your heart, to hear the melody, to play the melody. Then you will find your purpose, and others will use your melody to find their own.   As long as you desire to follow, he is patient to lead. You demonstrate your desire; indeed, you fulfill your desire by singing the song that tunes your ears to his call.

When you have learned to recognize it, you will hear and know.”

“Teach me the ancient song.”

“Listen.” The angel begins to hum an ancient and intricate melody, a rich history of faith played out in notes of strength and assurance upon the air. There is an essence in the song that speaks to my ears. I strain to hear and learn. The angel smiles and we begin to walk again. He is humming, and I, once in a while, can anticipate a note and join the song.

Don’t look to the earth to find your path. It is not there. It is being called forth within you by the partnership between his creative hand and your willing spirit. It fits you well. Rejoice in the process and in the promise of its completion.

1/11/95

[the photo is my own]

Unwrapping a gift

unwrapping a gift

As a child I always unwrapped my gifts slowly,
Cutting the tape with a slender knife,
Trying not to tear the paper,
Preserving the ribbon.
It was my way of making the anticipation linger.

My sisters used to laugh at me.
Now, sometimes, they join me …
Extending the moment,
Making the process a part of the gift.

This morning, I hold within my hands
A small gift, as yet not fully opened.
Indeed, as I carefully remove the wrapping,
I find another layer underneath.

I cut a piece of tape
And the paper on that corner pops free.
I turn the box and touch the knife to the edge of the tape
Another corner, freed.

The gift, I realize, is the gift of attention.
To feel the crinkle of the paper,
The release of tension as it opens up,
To see, with sweet surprise, the beauty of each layer.

I look to the first wrapping, now at my feet.
It still holds the creases of the box,
Curled up, as it is, into a shape
That echoes its earlier embrace.

It is not the box, but it hints of its presence.
Just as the practices of my faith
Hold and convey a form that is very like the gift inside
They help me see its shape.

I am grateful for the wrapping
And the treasure, deep inside,
Not yet fully revealed,
But happily anticipated.

[image modified from photo by mob mob per cc 2.0]

a monopoly on reality?

monopoly gameI am the small tin dog in the Monopoly game, caught in the circuit of the board. Pass go, collect $200, buy a house, market and trade, weather the bad cards, revel in the good ones and then… go to jail. I sit for a moment concentrating on the board in front of me when suddenly the “jail corner” grows to envelope the whole board. There is noting there but jail.

I turn and trot on my little tin legs to the edge of the playing surface and, without warning, I jump. I tumble through the air off the edge of the board, off the edge of the table, falling into nothingness. Panic strikes my heart – maybe the game is all there is. Maybe I am wrong to believe that truth lies elsewhere.

But just as these thoughts enter my head, I am caught in a strong wind. It whips around me at first, tossing me with its turbulent edges. But when I find the middle, there is calm. I sit within the movement of its powerful direction, and because I move within it, it seems almost still, like the calm of a sailboat catching the wind and pulling forward. The waves slap and the sail billows, but the riders who follow the wind are not buffeted by its power.

The wind carries me along like this for a good distance, high above the surface of a country I cannot identify, high above the trees and cities, over wisps of cloud that sit below me as I move on the current of the higher air. Then I am deposited on a hillside. I shake my tinny legs and roll in the grass for a moment and then lie, panting with excitement, on the grassy slope.

I am met there by a child. He wears a sweater and some woolen shorts. He walks over to me and sits beside me and places his hand upon my tin body. As he does, beginning where his hand touches me, I slowly turn from tin to flesh and bones. The doggy colors of my new coat melt over me, almost anoint me as they replace the coldness of the metal that I was before. I lick his hand with a warm, wet tongue and he smiles and wipes his hand upon his shorts.

“I’m glad you came,” he says, and rises. He begins to walk toward the crest of the hill. I follow. As we reach the top, I can see, spread before me, a whole countryside of fields and forests, with a small town nestled at the edge of the woods. Scattered among the houses in the village, there are a few red plastic houses from the Monopoly set, full size but just as empty as they are in the game. They boy smiles at them when he sees where I have fixed my gaze.

“When they no longer choose to be empty, they will be transformed as well. It seems an easy choice, but it is not.”

“I know.” As I speak the words, I am no longer a dog. I am a child about the same size as the boy. He reaches out and takes my hand.

“I think we are ready to begin,” he says and he turns and walks with me on a path toward the village.

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[photo by Barbara Friedman per cc 2.0]