He was moving his hands too much

I originally wrote this after the death of Terence Crutcher in 2016. It remains unfortunately relevant.

When they gunned God down on the side of the road,
they said God shouldn’t have moved his hands so much.

When they threw God in a prison cell for failing to signal at a turn,
they said she should have showed a little more respect.

When they shot God playing in a city park,
they said he looked so old, so threatening.

When they heard God lift up her voice to demand justice for her children,
they said she was too loud and shrill.

When they executed God in his own neighborhood,
they said he looked suspicious.

When they asked God who could throw the first stone,
he bent down in the sand to write us something.
We might know what it was if we hadn’t stopped him.
He was moving his hands too much.

Instructions for Collecting Sea Glass along Lake Michigan

Yesterday I ventured to my favorite Evanston beach, longing for a sight of the wildflowers I knew would be there. I also walked along the shore and remembered a poem I had written last year about collecting sea glass in this season. Here it is. 

Springtime is sea glass season.
Early spring:
when the ice floes have dissolved again into churning lake,
but new leaves are only a thought curled in a budding branch.
The freshly-freed pebbles cast shadows on the wet and gleaming sand,
and lying between them
are rounded, sanded shards:
creamy white, jade green, coffee brown,
and oh-so-rarely
a weathered but brilliant blue.

The foraging is not hard:
wander along the waves
(it’s best in rubber boots)
until a shining flash or impossible color
catches your eye;
scoop up the object, with as little sand as possible;
rinse if necessary,
and if the surface isn’t still cloudy when wet,
the sea glass is not yep ripe;
the edges should be smoothed,
like the pebbles at your feet.
If the sea glass is ready,
slip it into your pocket
to clink with all the other treasures there.
You’ll know you have enough
when your pockets weigh heavier than your boots.

But if the sea glass is not ready,
if the patina washes off with the sand,
or a lingering sharpness remains,
there is still a job to be done.
Gently bury the shard in the crunchy sand
or toss it with vigor into the waves.
The earth and the water will continue their work,
slowly wearing down the sharp edges
and the shiny surfaces,
the brokenness softening into pieces rounded enough to hold,
until something miraculous remains,
something that another beach-goer,
with pockets weighed down
and boots squelching,
will gather in
and carry home,
or throw back to the water,
to begin again
and again
and again
the journey to ripening.

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We never left.

The robins never left this year.
I’ve heard them twice –
their light and lilting trilling
filling January air
damp with strange warmth.
Do they know something I don’t?
That the ground will never freeze,
and the maple sap will never run,
not this year,
not ever again,
maybe?
The robins always know.

On muggy summer evenings,
my windshield stays clear,
no arrhythmic tapping
of insects who meet their end –
splat –
on the glass.
There aren’t enough bugs left, you see,
to cover so much ground,
to fill the air with humming,
to remind me
as I drive
that I am only one
in a multitudinous world
beyond my comprehension.

The robins sing
and the insects are silent.

How will I know
when to look for trillium
or when to plant my salad greens?
If the robins never leave,
will the frost still creep up my windows
and seal me snugly
into winter’s dreaming time?
If the insects are so diminished
that their evening songs
grow dimmer and dimmer
each year
will I have to explain
to my friend’s little boy
why his napping white-noise track
is called
crickets?

I’m in a new world now,
but like the robins,
I never left the old one.

(image credit)

Inner Cartography for the New Year

How to Make a Map of Your Heart

First things first:
when you set out
to chart the landscape of your being
set aside every other map you’ve held
with longing and frustration.
They will get you nowhere,
which is to say,
your heart is off their edges.

If you can manage it,
don’t worry about the tools you have
or the colors you carry –
you will find what you need.
Leave behind, too, your previous drafts,
as they cannot account
for your seismic activity.

You are always becoming.

Start with slow and simple steps:
take in one square inch at a time.
Or you might begin
with a bird’s-eye view,
construing the contours
with broad, sweeping strokes.
It matters less how you begin
than that you begin at all.

You will get lost.
It is inevitable.
I’m telling you now
so that it will not surprise you.
But of course it will,
and you will wander wild lands
you never imagined you could contain.
You will find your way out,
and whether you plot
a carefully considered cartography
or simply scribble in
“here there be dragons”,
you will,
no doubt,
Come back that way again.

Sometimes you will start over.
Occasionally you’ll have to tear up your attempts.
And every once in a while,
what you thought was a mountain
will turn out to be the foothills
of something entirely new.

Be forewarned:
you will never finish.

But this is not a curse –
it is an invitation
to toss away the inks of certainty
and the gold leaf of perfection,
to sharpen the pencil
that is your attention
and give it to the loving wonder
that compels you to write
one word in the key:
home.

 

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On Psalm 106

On Psalm 106

 

We move in circles,

spiraling around your presence

and our absence,

spinning from faith, to doubt,

to apathy,

and swinging around

to faith again

only through

centrifugal grace.

Fill our empty centers

with stories of your fullness,

until we stop seeking for signs and wonders

and rest in the miracle of movement.

Conversations I had with local flora and fauna on Monday, December 10th

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Walnut tree – are you a walnut? 

My forestry is less refined 

without leaves. 

Your ancient bark is so deeply ridged –

I want to fold myself inside

and learn from you

the slow pace of winter sap rising. 

 

Is there a minute network 

of chattering fungi beneath my feet?

My tree book suggests there is,

but you are a newly reborn forest, 

so recently returned to life from clear cut ground. 

Has your speech returned?

We silenced you because

we didn’t know what we were doing. 

But I am listening now. 

 

I was walking too loudly –

I’m sorry –

cracking ice and branches and frost. 

But now I’m stopped and waiting and still,

and you can come out again, 

chickadees and sparrows 

and whatever bird you are,

nearly infinitesimal,

almost hidden by the branch you land on. 

Hop, scuttle, peck. 

A bright yellow stripe

crowns your tiny head,

and I’m not sure that I have ever seen you before. 

Genus? Species?

For the first time ever,

it occurs to me 

to ask you what you call yourself. 

 

Equine companion,

who rode through here sometime last week,

might you have left your piled gift

somewhere easier to get around?

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O, great mystery!

A canyon of color 

contained in a mushroom. 

You are a bearer of worlds. 

 

The river breathes. 

More slowly than humans,

and even than the green things,

but there is a rhythm,

in and out,

and I can see it in the ice on the flood plains –

in the layered ice rings around your trunks,

and the cracked lines dipping in the sheets of ice above your roots,

proof of water levels moving

up and down,

expanding high,

and compressing low,

like lungs,

water like air,

the earth a body,

where a flood is not a disaster,

but a deep breath in.

 

You really wanted to see that bridge,

my own dear self,

and when one way was blocked

by thunder-cracking ice

with slowly breathing water pulsing beneath it,

you came this way. 

Was it worth it?

On most paths,

the mud is frozen

in space and time

with prints preserved

of human, deer, horse, raccoon,

and maybe occasionally

a dog.

But this path,

this leaf-strewn,

mud-caked, 

water-widened way,

is quickened by the breathing river,

and your feet sink into the loam,

muddy water rising over your grey suede boots. 

Cold feet. Potentially ruined shoes. 

It wasn’t so much that the bridge was worth it,

was it, my own dear self,

but that the setting sunshine,

and the sliding black river,

and the maple leaves still hanging,

were calling for a witness. 

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Thursdays in the Lectionary – Stones

I do know it’s not Thursday … I’m a day late with this post because yesterday I was busy finishing up my FIRST YEAR OF SEMINARY!  It was a pretty grand day.  The world got so excited about it that it forgot what season it is and snowed today. 

Rachel Held Evans, a writer and thinker I have long admired, began a new series in which she will be dedicating her Thursday blog post to the coming Sunday’s lectionary texts.  She invited her readers and fellow-bloggers to join her in this task of delving into the Bible as a community – whether through a traditional sermon, a poem, a reflection, art – and I am taking up that invitation.

This week’s texts are: Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14

 

One Stone

I jumped on the shovel

shlmph

It sliced into the hard-packed earth

Roots and sticks and last year’s leaves turned over and under

klink

I shove aside the dirt and look down to the heart of the world.

Will I hurry away

and sell everything

for the the Stone I see there,

One large enough to host the the longing of universe

and build it into reality?

It was so terrifying,

they buried it in the loam of the garden,

hoping it might grow there into something more

manageable.

Two stones

They fit like they had always been together

one stone next to the other

breathing with one sturdy lung

binding the whole wall together

into a sanctuary of holy possibility.

Three stones 

When I ran into town

and told them all about the wall I had built,

with the Heart-stone pulsing powerfully at the center,

I asked them to come and see

and imagine with me

just what kind of

roads and bridges and homes

such a living wall could offer.

Lord, do not hold this against them:

three stones hurled in fear.

We will pick them up together

and add them to the wall.

The cornerstone is large enough

to hold every stone they throw.