Lent — day eight

Buechner once talked about a character that he wrote
as if the man were a friend, born of a chance encounter;
which, in some ways, I suppose he was. Buechner spoke
of the way the man stuck with him – a shadow,
an unasked for cat – and how he couldn’t help
but to write him, again and again.

My brother, who is twelve next Monday, is a writer.
He prefers doing anything that involves sweaty skill,
to writing; and I wonder sometimes that he’s afraid
he can’t love both, that he’s afraid he is not created
to live in all kinds of paradox, though he doesn’t know
that word yet. He is a paradoxical thing – we all are –
so, he writes. Mostly for school. Still, he writes.
And his words remind me how words can play,
and look like one thing, but mean another.

I wonder, sometimes, what it was like to worship
Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths, still a small bit
purple and slimy. I wonder what it was like to
celebrate Love itself, the one who came to rewrite
every ill-spoken, misguided, wrong word; the one
who came to look at you with visible eyes.
What it was like to look at him and see only
the promise of a story still to unfold.

Emptiness and What Fills It

I dumped out my letter box the other day. I gently discarded its dear content on the floor, and took to the task of throwing away the things I no longer needed.

The box itself had been a birthday gift. Some friends of mine found it at an antique mall and told the cashier who offered to clean the dust off of it to “leave it on there please – it’s part of the story.” It’s painted dark green and has a creaking handle and sighing hinges. It used to be a tool box. Now, it houses memories and lessons learned and pieces of hearts given and taken and a collection of leaves I pressed two autumns ago. I looked at it now that it housed nothing but that ancient dust and I felt its nakedness and hollowness, and I stroked its side to comfort it – and myself. It mourned what had filled it before and I whispered that I would fill it soon again, and I would fill it with only what it needed. Then, I turned to its inside.

I read each article that had been placed, for whatever reason, in that box – I felt their weight, their good, deep weight. And I rejoiced and I lamented and I pondered and I turned from the empty box and its full contents and I sighed. A good sigh.

And God gently turned me upside down and spilled my dear contents all over the floor. He looked at me and felt the nakedness and hollowness, and he stroked my hair to comfort me. I mourned what had filled me before and he whispered that he would fill me soon again, and only with what I needed.

And then came Autumn. Autumn that gets inside a person.  That burrows deep down and unsettles that ancient dust called to life so long ago.

I’ve been reading again.

I went for far too long without reading. And its return and the passion for words and life and truth that it brought leads me to believe that reading is essential to my well being. And I don’t simply say that to be poetic. I am more alive when I read. And Christ did not come to set me free to a half-life, or even a nine-tenth life. He came to set me free to a full and then some life, bursting, recreating – a blazing trail through the settled confusion of night, a wild creek, the crescendo of the symphony where your soul cannot take in the beauty and you weep. So, I read, I am read to, I soak in, soak up, and let the words get into my soul like autumn does.

We’re hungry beings, humans.  We ache to. just. be. filled. And then we are filled, we think that we have finally reached the depths of that restless, moaning hunger, and we sigh – content.

But it deepens. It’s endless. And that, my friends, is the beauty. That impatient ache is Eternity waiting for the day it can be fully revealed.  Eternity cannot fit inside of our finite minds and hearts and souls – yet it is there. God himself put it there. He put it there because he knew it would be restless. He knew Autumn would get inside of us. He knew reading would bring us to more life.

And he knew that if we were quenched, we would stop looking for the wonder.

We would stop asking the questions that tear against humanity as we know it – humanity as the world has defined it so deeply for so long. He knew we would stop running in the night, though we could not see and our lungs were fire. He knew we would end our ravenous search for that thing for which we so ache. He knew Sunday would become enough for us. He knew following Christ’s teaching would become deep enough. He knew we would become satisfied with our 4 or so dimensions.

He knew we would stop seeking. And we would stop finding.

And we would miss the passionate Romance calling to us. That Love that digs into you with Autumn’s fire and crisp air and stirs that ancient dust of hunger deeper still. That Love that gently turns you upside down and empties your dear contents onto the floor and holds you tight as you scream and curse and flail. That Love that then lets you go – lets you have what you want. And stands, heart-broken for you, as you try to replace the contents you think you need – a child, a mess. Hair in tangled, tear-soaked array covers your face as you cradle the things you thought would fill. The things you thought would silence Eternity. Eternity that you wanted to silence because Eternity that was so good before, now aches to the marrow of your bones – aches when you taste what is Good and you can’t touch it, can’t hold it, can’t see its face. And all you long to do is see its face, hear its voice, feel its breath, know its love. And the things, as you clutch them, don’t silence like they did before. And you curse the Love that ruined them for you, and you hurl them, desperate, and cry.

And Love cries with you. For you. And brushes the hair out of your face and holds you. And you know it. Though you can’t see It, can’t feel It, you know. And it’s okay. Though Eternity still aches in its terrible beauty, it’s okay. You have a promise, “I will fill you soon again, only with what you need.”

Another Untitled Poem… Suprising, I know

I’d like to point out, before any of you thinks to suggest that I name my poems, that Emily Dickinson and e.e. cummings never named their poetry. (and yes, I realize “entitle” would be the proper word – I meant what I said)  I can never really find a suitable name for any of my poems. So, they’re all Untitled – which, in a roundabout sort of way, is a title. It does make discussing my poetry with anyone rather inconvenient – they become then, “that one poem…. about light… oh, that’s half of them…” This one can have a pseudoname (and again, I realize “pseudonym” would be the proper word – I meant what I said) in order to make it easier for all of you. You may refer to it as “that poem you entered into a contest, which is potentially a big deal”… or something along those lines.

Her great uncle’s name was Friendless,
She had glasses on a string,
Her eyes grey puddles endless,
On her hand worn wedding ring.

It was given’ her by the Baker
many Harvest Moons ago,
when the morning sun would wake her
and her skin was fields of snow.

Now he’s only just a facet
of those deep grey-puddle eyes
that call with longing ‘neath those glasses
like evening sun calls moon to rise.

She loved him when her hair was auburn –
fiery as the setting sun –
when her heart was young as it was stubborn,
all young men able with a gun.

He loved her in those hellish summers
where heat drove deep into your skin.
He kissed her to drown out the bombers,
assured her with a crooked grin.

Now he rests upon her finger –
cool, well-known, and fitted tight,
like quivering hand upon that trigger
sent war-bent bullet through the night.

Kentucky Road and When

Banklick is a quaint, unassuming road I encounter every Friday on my way to the grocery store. It has a creek for a companion, blue-brown and glittering – it winds as quietly as the road. Gravel driveways, dirt roads, and rickety fences framing butter-cup fields, meet Banklick. They saunter comfortably to a twist, nook, or turn and greet the road as an old friend – because they are old friends.

Houses rest on hillsides – simple, homey things. These are the houses whose front porches serve the deepest purpose of community and gathering. These are the houses whose inhabitants are part of them. These are the houses that wake before the sun because there is day to be savored, devoured. These are the houses with creaking floors, uneven ceilings, distinct smelling attics. The houses that belong tucked in a hillside. The houses that are created to be full of life – be it joyous or bitter. Story-houses.

And hugging the road itself are trees. They are very alive trees, drinking daily from the lively creek into which their roots hang lazily. Trees eager to share with the world their beauty, their shade. They stand up taller as we drive past, “look at me and my splendor,” they beam with gentle pride. I smile to give to them well-deserved praise, slighting them not for their vanity for it is well-placed – they truly are glorious things. Fresh with their new swaths of green, radiant in youth and sage. Some in purple vestige – fairie-like and regal.

This is a Kentucky road – the place my heart goes when I call this state my home.

We glide in our cherry-cobbler-red bullet. Around one curve a plowed field lays naked, vulnerable, ready. My toes curl in my shoes, longing to feel that earth, longing to run wild, careless, through it. Soaking in its moist blood-warm offering. Remaining there until I am empty and full – earth in my fingers, on my face, in my hair, the dirt more alive for my being there. Both of us more hopeful for my being there, brimming with anticipation of new life, growth, new things. Leaving it with my scent on its breath – purpose now coursing through its moist, blood-warm offering.

I catch my face in the rear-view mirror. When did I get here? When did I become who I am now? When did my face become so narrow? When did I start speaking deeper? When did my writing, speaking, singing, living, become more than well-chosen words that gloss over the deep, terribly beautiful truth of who I am and what the world is and to whom I belong? When did I begin to live as who I am, really who I am – Beloved? When did it take deep root in my soul, alter my eyes, my ears, my thinking, my speaking? When did my breathing change to the breathing of one who is the object of God’s passionate longing, scandalous love, deep, deep intimacy? When did I taste the delight of the Creator and become ruined for anything less? When did I walk out of those cages? When did my eyes open wide to the chains I’ve placed on myself – to the freedom so close I can feel it? When did my heart know I am absolutely, completely, to the depths of me, always, intimately accepted by God? What morning was it that woke me up different? Was it morning? Is there truly any point I can gesture toward and say, “that’s it! that’s the moment I woke up!”?

A train track weighs down gravel adjacent to the creek – a steady contrast to the merry water. It courses just the same, is determined just the same, and yet, it holds importance and an unmovability. The creek is a joyous, carefree running – the train track a reliable, unchanging march. I’m swept away, now, to far off places – the march of the train setting my heartbeat. Adventure coursing where blood used to be – it is now my life-source. Forward, endless, on. The wail of the whistle resonates as the cry of an orphan. She is waiting to be heard, fed, cared for, loved, known – like all of us. My heart runs there, carried by its train-march-beat, and I stay, I hear, I feed, I care, I love, I know. People are persons to be loved and known. Period. She cries, my heart echoes. He calls, my heart breaks. We are created to be loved and known. Period. I soak in that offering, remain until I am empty and full. I come back panting, deliciously starved for air. When did I get here?

Writing

I am finding repeatedly that there are not words for the things I so desperately want to put into words and I feel as if I am incompetent. I feel as if there are so very many words, surely some can be found… and yet, I return to the ones I use daily and they are not suitable, not broad enough, or narrow enough, high enough, or deep enough – and my heart sighs. I try sometimes to fill the void of words with the language of poetry, because it truly is a beast and tongue all its own. There are times, however, that even poetry will not encompass what needs to be encompassed, though, it may fail with more grace.

I once wrote a small something to a friend of mine in regard to one of their poems: Do you have a translator to cross for us the ground between that languid land of poetry and the usual one of simple English? I’d very much like to meet him. – I have no such translator. And really, most times, I need a translator for my soul – changing that complicated, interwoven language into some understandable, heart-breaking, and beautiful English. I cannot find one. I don’t know that anyone can. God. God I’m sure has such a translator as he lent it to David for the Psalms and King Solomon for his song of love and passion and Andrew Osenga for his songs of loneliness and whisperings and glimpses of the answer, the answer, the answer.

I sometimes want to give up – just stop trying to put into words what cannot stand to be contained. Oh, but I long so to capture it! So I keep trying, and I pray for God to lend me his translator – the one he lent to David, to King Solomon, to Andrew Osenga, to my momma, to authors – Ann Voskamp, C.S. Lewis, Donald Miller – to songbirds, to poets.  Sometimes, when I cannot stand the things pent up inside of myself, when I can hardly breathe or think because they have wrapped themselves so around me, I open my mouth and release a mournful, joyful, complicated, interwoven note. It’s rarely followed by another, rarely filled with words, but it’s an utterance of the soul and it feels free and it feels like the translator has come and gone in the seconds that the note lasts and my heart leaps at his brief presence and aches that it was, indeed, brief. That’s how it feels though, I know, when the soul is allowed to speak. Writing for hours on end when words flow like honey and emotions like milk – that’s the soul being allowed to speak. Listening to other people who have managed to contact that translator – that’s the soul fluttering in its space, bursting with things to be released and no way to release them. I can speak only the language of the three-dimensional world I know – and even that to only a certain extent – and so the four, five, six, seven dimension of the soul and its ponderings and longings are lost in translation, even if you do have a translator. So, I write what I can, how I can. Sing what I can, how I can. Become lost in a music as well as I can, however I can. Open the cage, let that fluttering bird fly beautifully and sing its song, even if I cannot see every dip and glide, even if I cannot hear every note.

I realize now that writing is not a struggle to capture what is somehow floating in the air as I often feel. Rather, it is a release of something deep inside of oneself. Writing is an utterance of the soul.