Everything is waiting

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte, River Flow: New & Selected Poems. For more poetry, visit OnBeing’s Poetry Radio Project.


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Too Small

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.”

– David Whyte

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A whole heart is a broken heart – or at least an open one

by Mary Oliver

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing.,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

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Make up your mind…

“I don’t trust myself to form my own theology or polity. The institution isn’t infallible but fallible people like me need to submit to it” – E. Peterson
Recently a pastor and acquaintance posted this quote on Facebook.
This quote makes me uncomfortable. The word “submit,” especially when referencing an institution. Maybe it is living in Germany where, for good historical reasons, people are especially wary of institutional power over individuals and of any thing that reeks of authoritarianism (we remember Pogram-Nacht tomorrow and will be at the place where a local synagogue in our town was destroyed, while many well-intentioned people submitted to the authorities, religious and political, by remaining silent). But I also think that as a woman I am learning to value and trust my own opinion and instincts in matters religious and personal more deeply as I get old, even though I know I am also fallible. I will not willingly relinquish to any institution my own need and responsibility to wrestle with the truth myself, to engage deeply with theological ideas or ideas about church polity and how it needs to be reformed, even or especially to the church (and I am minister, so this is sometimes tough, because that institution is also my employer!). In fact, I think that it is my own God-given responsibility as an adult to cultivate my conscience and pay attention to it, with guidance from the voices of the “saints” through time and today. Not believing I have all the answers but also not deferring too quickly to “how things are” in theology or polity. Of course, I am willing to be held accountable by the community of believers as a community if that is what Peterson is getting at but I am not giving away what I have finally learned to claim: my own story, my experience, my opinions, my voice.
I had a professor in seminary in the States (Stanley Hauerwas) who, on the first day of his intro to ethics class famously stated “You don’t have minds worth making up!” He was trying to criticize the extreme individualism of our society which focuses entirely on choice and which yields people who believe life is about picking and choosing what one likes, whether theologies or cars. He argued that this mindset has profoundly shaped us so that we unconsciously adopt the values of our democratic, market-driven, sometimes militaristic society without realizing that those were the values to which we adhered. We constantly believe we are making choices when in fact, we are following the scripts we have been given, he argued. Fair enough. And yet… I can agree with the critique but not his conclusions.
Because his response seemed to be that the church was the place where I needed to be reshaped into a new person and that translated in practice to a more or less uncritical following of the church and expectation that the church should dictate my choices instead. Or at least I saw a number of fellow students, especially doctoral students, seemingly follow this path. They seemed to believe there was one coherent tradition historically that was reliable, one reliable form of authority now which could be trusted. But it seems to me that this naive trust in a fallible institution with a messy history was precisely the kind of authoritarian view of church power that led to our current situation in the first place. We can’t simply go back to some mythical time when the church knows best, and when church authorities tell me what to believe and what to do as the solution to the problem of individualism, pluralism, fragmentation. I do believe the church can be a place where we tell stories about God and the world, where we learn to practice virtue and embody justice, where we act out liberation and cultivate hope. It must be a collaborative community, a transformative community, not an authoritarian or exclusive one. But the goal is not to lose our minds but to re-make them again, to let them be renewed – together.
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Not pretending anymore

“You won’t do anybody any good by pretending to be less than who you are.” – Nora Walker

I am a master chameleon. I spent much of my life moving and being the new kid in town. Now I am finally at a place in my life, almost 40 years old, where I am trying to become who I am, to emerge from my self-imposed protective cocoon. I have spent far too many years being what I thought I was supposed to be, a “good girl,” pleasing people — partly because I genuinely enjoy being with other people and making them happy but often, to be honest, because I was afraid. I dislike conflict and prefer harmony. It is easier to change or subtly hide my opinions to match those of others,  to portray my own complexity in a way that makes me seem un-threatening, or just internally to quash dissent and not even realize until later than I had changed my colors again.

I am done doing that. But it is not easy to change your colors, especially when you are not entirely sure which color(s) you really are …

Can I have a firm core of values, beliefs, hopes and dreams that guide me, yet also be open to change, to my own seeming contradictions and complexities, to the ways I am truly both/and – not because I am playing it safe, but because I really treasure different parts of my own life journey that make me who I am and do not want to excise all the parts that don’t quite seem to fit.

This blog is part of that process of figuring out what I believe and who I am now in this time and place. I hope sharing my journey will help others as well.


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What is a “Hallelujah” Day?

It has taken me a while to figure out what to write and to make the time to do it. But here goes …

Having a child is an excellent, if challenging, way to figure out what you actually believe and whether it is simple enough to explain to a small person new to this world. When you are a minister and theologian used to using — and hiding — behind long-ish words, this is hard. You have to spell it out. You have to commit.

In church last Sunday for All Saints, we sang the standby “When the Saints Come Marching In” and my four-year old son fell in love with it. It is now one of our “lullabies” along with “Simple Gifts/Lord of the Dance” and “Rock my Soul.” (I tend to forget the words to all but church songs, it would seem, so those have ended up being our songs before bed, even the really up tempo ones.) Anyway, he loves the line in the song “And when that Hallelulah Day has come” and so he asked me to explain what that is. Hallelujah is one of his favorite words, an almost magical word. I remembered that one of the advice books I like about child rearing said kids tend to remember best the feeling conveyed in conversations with adults and how it makes them feel more than the actual content at times and wondered how to convey the excitement of God’s kingdom, of the vision of shalom, wholeness, wellness, restoration, the joy and relief but also trepidation of the “Last Day” in Christian tradition. I tried to explain that one day God would help make things all better again, that, to borrow the language of Isaiah and Revelations, there would no more crying, no more death, people would be happy and would not do bad things to each other any more and Jesus would be there and it would be a big party. But I also tried to say that this was not just one day a long time far away but that we see little hints of it now. And we can help God now so that God’s will may be done “on earth as in heaven.” “Make sure people have their daily bread to eat, that people are safe and loved and cared for.”

He liked the idea of no more crying and said “and all the dead people will come back” (which I had not said, but he got that somehow). He does not understand death at all really yet, of course, so this was harder to grasp but then he exclaimed. “I don’t want to die ever,” not worried but defiant. Who can blame him? I kissed him on the forehead and on his mop of curls and said I hoped very much that he would live a long, happy, healthy, good life. And I squeezed my sweet, squirmy, curious little boy a little tighter and prayed that it would be as I had promised him. That there will be a time of reconciliation and wholeness and restoration and peace. And that he will be propelled by that vision, that hope, to help, in some small way, to make it so. Hallelujah.

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Shining like shook foil

God’s Grandeur

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)
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Quiet in heart and and in eye…

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

– Wendell Berry

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A Whisper will be heard…

I want more poetry in my life again so here is another I ran across today by one of my other favorite poets.

The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

I feel a sigh of relief ripple through my body when I hear these words. But also doubt that doubt and love could do so much. I still cling to the “place where we/I am right” because it feels safer. But I know it is the opposite. Intuitively Amichai’s words resonate with a deeper, gentler truth beyond our worried and tiresome shouting and finger pointing. And I want to live this in my life, work, and parenting. A thought for the day.

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Wandering in the woods above Heidelberg with my Little One

Wandering in the woods above Heidelberg with my Little One

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

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