Friday, August 7, 2020

One thing

There’s a low-rumbling storm passing through. Flashes of light. Groans filling the sky. I’ve been sitting on my bedroom floor in the dark, trying to pray. But all I can manage to say is, “Lord . . .” Lord, like He knows what I’m trying to say even though I don’t. So, I sing Angel from Montgomery over and over again, the only words I have that come close to prayer, tears seeping, my voice cracking.

 

Just give me one thing, Lord, that I can hold on to.

 

I don’t know what to grab in this freefall, in this year from hell.

 

To believe in this living . . . Lord, this time it’s too hard, there’s too much piling on too fast. 

 

I am an old woman, alone in desperate times. I don’t know if this faith of mine is enough. One thing to hold on to.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The light. The darkness.

That bright ray of light became smaller and smaller.

A number of years ago I was attending a music workshop at a college in the mountains of West Virginia. I needed some quiet time, so I went to my room and sat on my lumpy dorm bed trying to meditate, gazing at the mountains in the distance. My attention kept wandering but I persisted. I began to sense a ray of light that encompassed my entire body and the light became smaller and more concentrated until it focused in the middle of my chest. I was able to keep my focus on that light to the point that it felt that the small beam of light was my entire existence. My body ceased to exist, the room around me ceased to exist, and nothing remained but the light. Even then I wondered if that was what it felt like to die, and indeed I wondered if I had died. I wasn’t afraid.

I have recalled that moment occasionally, but only remember how it felt. It never happened again.

Today I recalled the beam of light experience, comparing it in a strange way to my experience in the isolation of the pandemic. My world is getting smaller and smaller, compressing into a feeling that has settled in the center of my chest. But it is far from the bright light I felt that day in the West Virginia mountains. Instead it is a crushing darkness—sadness, anger, and dread. The reasons for this darkness need not be discussed. There is no useful reason to explore the darkness.

I don’t want to be crushed by the darkness. I don’t want my existence to be overshadowed by anger and disappointment. I don’t want to feel this insignificant.

The only thing I can think to do—I will sit in silent prayer and look for the light.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thoughts in quarantine

For forty years the Israelites wandered the desert. The Book of Exodus tells us the Israelites had been in bondage in Egypt for hundreds of years when Moses led them out of Egypt to cross the desert on the way to the Promised Land. God even parted the Red Sea to make their journey easier. The walk across the desert should have taken about a month, not forty years.

I’ve been thinking about the time that the Israelites spent in the desert, comparing it in a sense to the time most of us are spending confined to our homes because of the Covid pandemic. Perhaps we need to learn something in this time when life as we knew it has come to a screeching halt. We are in a virtual desert. Although I am looking out at a large body of water, it is a desert in terms of human contact and earthly distractions. I live alone, in relative solitude with no cable television and no companions. I have a refrigerator, running water, and air conditioning (thank you, Lord!). I’ve been complaining of course, especially since there is no end in sight. But complaining and kicking the baseboards has no useful value. Can I begin to see it differently? Can this time become something positive rather than a huge, frightening nuisance? 

God kept the Israelites in the desert for forty years instead of weeks. Obviously, they weren’t learning what He wanted them to learn. Moses never got to the Promised Land; he died in the desert. Jesus retreated to the desert to be alone and pray—the desert provided Him a chance to communicate with His heavenly Father. Early Christians—the Desert Fathers and Mothers—removed themselves to the desert in Egypt to live monastic lives in order to grow closer to God. I didn’t choose this time in “the desert” but I can try to overcome the loneliness and frustration and use it as a time to grow.

So I’m trying to accept this time, this vast desert of uncertainty, as a time to grow closer to Him. Something I read today struck me as way to approach this—to paraphrase, I read that even in misery, wanting to love Him is a sign of His presence.* Think about that . . .

*Reading Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Merton, Rohr, and God's plan

“We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.” 
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

This quote from the writing of Thomas Merton came to my attention today at a time when I am (once again!) desperately seeking the presence of God. A number of years ago, I went for a week-long silent retreat at an abbey on the banks of the Shenandoah River in Virginia. I wanted marching orders from God, concrete directions on what to do with my life. A moment in time is seared in my memory—standing in the driveway, swirling around searching the sky, so convinced of the presence of God that I expected to see Him drifting through the clouds. And the only message I got from that intensely connected moment was not the concrete direction I was seeking, but the words that came from my mouth, unbidden, “I just want to be closer to Him. Closer to Him.” The reality of that moment, the utter conviction of the connection to God is just as strong now as it was then.

These words written by Thomas Merton, “We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened,” were reassuring, an affirmation that it’s okay not to feel the ever-present rush of my driveway moment when God seemed to be within reach, almost visible. Sometimes I doubt His presence altogether while recognizing the spiritual darkness and knowing that—for a time—I have fallen away from Him.

These days, these months of late, have been a spiritual test. The world is in the midst of a pandemic and, for me, that means months of living a life of solitude, even more so than my pre-pandemic life. I miss my children and grandchildren so much I can feel it as a physical pain in my gut. There is no end in sight so I don’t know how long I will have to endure. And I am increasingly filled with red-hot anger toward those who are ignoring the precautions advised to avoid spreading the virus. Meanwhile our country is experiencing another wave of racism and political rancor. It’s ugly. It can’t be God’s plan. Or is it God’s plan, the only way to move us into a more loving co-existence. Can I trust that God even has a plan? Has He ever had a plan?

Today’s Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr seemed particularly on point. I will include it here in its entirety (emphasis mine):


The Wisdom of Job
Tuesday,  July 7, 2020


Theology does not by itself provide wisdom in crisis. All theology must become a living spirituality to really change us or the world. It’s disappointing that we Christians have emphasized theology, catechism, and religious education much more than prayer and practice. The biblical book of Job is probably one of the greatest books on prayer that has ever been written. It breaks our stereotypes of what it means to communicate with God.
If we view Job’s story as a journey into an ever-deepening encounter with God, we keep the question of suffering from becoming an abstract debate observed at a distance. It is a text that only fully makes sense to those who’ve felt suffering, been up against the wall, at a place where, frankly, God doesn’t make sense anymore and we no longer believe “God has a plan.”
Job loses his livelihood, his savings, his family, and his health. His practical, religious friends appear as self-appointed messengers, to speak what they are sure is God’s answer to Job’s suffering. They offer the glib, pious platitudes of stereotypical clergy. What they do is try to take away the mystery, but they cannot solve the problem. God says you cannot solve the problem of suffering, you can only live the mystery. The only response to God’s faithfulness is to be faithful ourselves.
Most of the things Job says to God in his pain are not what Christians have been trained to say to God. The pretty words are mostly gone; there’s no “swirly talk,” as writer-pastor Molly Baskette calls it [1], that Christians so love to put in their prayers. Instead, Job dares to confront God, the very thing many of us were trained never to do. In fact, we called it blasphemy.
During Job’s crisis, he yells at God, accuses God of all kinds of things, speaks sarcastically, and almost makes fun of God. “If this is a game you’re playing, then you’re not much of a God! I don’t need you and I don’t want you!” It’s this kind of prayer that creates saints. Yet we can’t pray with that authority unless we know something experientially about God. We can’t pray that way unless we are assured at a deep level of the profound connection between ourselves and God.It takes one who has ventured into that arena where we say angels fear to tread.
Ultimately Job’s story reveals that God cannot really be known through theology and law. God can only be related to and known in relationship, just like the Trinity itself. Or, as the mystics assert, we know God by loving God, trusting God, and placing our hope in God. We cannot really “think” God.
Job’s religious friends and advisers have correct theory but no experience; thoughts about God, but no love of God. They believe in their theology; Job believes in the God of their theology. It is a big difference. The first is information; the second is wisdom.
 I consider all the times I have shaken my fist at God, knowing that He would still love me in spite of my insolence and doubt. 

I consider what it means to stop believing that God has a plan, that all of this makes sense from a worldly point of view. Maybe He doesn’t have a plan, He doesn’t micromanage earthly existence the way we think He does.

And maybe giving up this magical thinking about God’s management of creation will lead me into a deeper relationship with God.

All of these thoughts may not make sense to others. They are connected for me in a way that I am unable to communicate well. The way I experience God is undergoing some sort of transformation that I cannot yet define.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Beloved

This morning I sat alone, for a long time, on the north pier. Surrounded on all sides by a living photograph. The water glistened. The green grasses of the marsh off to one side and waves lapping on the rocks. A small fishing boat perfectly placed in the distance. Sea birds darting over the water in their dance of joy. Sunlight breaking through the cotton-candy clouds. No photograph could have done it justice.

And on the osprey nest just yards away, young birds flapping their wings, building up the muscle to spend their lives in the sky. The privilege of my existence, in that place, at that moment did not escape me.

The wonder of God’s creation in one small slice and I had it all to myself. I said aloud, “Lord, I still find it hard to accept that I am your beloved. But allowing me to be here now is pretty convincing. Thank you.”

Lately the persistent evil side of life, our human brokenness, has been especially crushing. But I was able to understand that the glory of God and our brokenness can coexist and that God’s love—being the beloved—cannot be diminished.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Hatred

“We cannot pray in love and live in hate and still think we are worshipping God.”
A.W. Tozer

Admittedly, I don’t know much about A.W. Tozer. I know he was a Christian pastor, a humble man of great depth, and he is often quoted with reverence as a great teacher.

Reading these words of A.W. Tozer, in this time of great national turmoil, caused me to sit up straight and think—yes, those people, those awful hateful racist people are betraying their alleged Christian values, those Pharisees aren’t worshipping God.

Brakes squealing. I cringe to think of some of the racist attitudes I have had in my long life. As much as I try not to be like those awful racists, those ugly other people, my own knee-jerk racist attitudes are like an indelible stain on my own conscience. I am humbled, embarrassed, and I pray forgiveness. I’ve been blind and there’s no excuse. I wish I had done better.

And then . . . do you see what I just did? I’m throwing stones at other racists, especially those who call themselves Christian. Do I hate them? I want to follow the adage—"love the sinner, hate the sin,” but even that involves pointing a finger at others. Should I point the finger at myself?

And honestly, I admit to big, big hate for the elected leader of this country. I have such a visceral revulsion for the man and for everything he does. If it’s wrong to hate, then no hate is excusable. Is there another word for this feeling I have?

I have no answers to any of these questions. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Ants can't swim

Excuse me for my current craziness. You don’t have to excuse all of my other craziness, but today’s craziness should be forgiven. I am angry beyond words because of the horrible mess going on in my beloved country. I am sick of racism, hate, incompetence, blasphemy, rancor, political nonsense, Amazon furniture that falsely claims to be easily assembled, and ants. 

Suffice it to say, the furniture came in a thousand pieces, not one piece attached to another, no parts labeled, illustrations that were done be a two-year-old, and instructions written in ancient Hittite. I sweated blood in the assembly of this monstrosity. Two drawers are broken, things don’t line up properly, and it looks like it was put together by an orangutan. Sorry, didn’t intend to demean orangutans—they would have done it better. Enough of that.

Which brings me to the ants. There are tiny ants on my black countertops. I can’t see them because they are in camouflage. They are in my mailbox and inside the dishwasher. They attach themselves to any remnant of a food item or any kind of food serving item anywhere in the house. They are the smallest ants I have ever seen and I wonder if they are indigenous to South County. I know they have been swimming in my well, the bastards.

Because I’m in such a nasty mood I have not been kind to the ants. No more Mr. Nice Guy, picking them up gently and releasing them outside. I’d make a lousy Buddhist. I know I am harming living things and I don’t care anymore. 

Here’s what I have discovered: Ants can’t swim. I fill my kitchen sink with water and I sweep the ants into the sink to watch them drown. They move their miniscule legs as if they are trying to walk on water. Did Jesus invite them to come out of the boat? I don’t think so. If I’m feeling especially wicked, I douse them in boiling water. I leave the water in the sink all day and keep a body count. And I don’t feel guilty. So there. Don’t mess with me. I’m not in the mood to be messed with. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The pier

The pier is my sacred place. Let there be no doubt that it is there on the pier that I often find God. 

This morning I sat on the rocks near the water and waited while a family spent time on the pier. Before they left, some children went out there and further delayed my time. Then a woman riding an adorable fat-tire, mint green bike rode to the end of the pier. She was at one end, alone, and I figured it was safe to make my move. So I staked out my space on the opposite end of the pier and tried to connect with the Lord.

And from the other end of the pier, I hear the mint green bicycle woman say, “God, what do you want me to learn in this situation?”

What?!!! 

I couldn’t hear much else of what she was saying, but apparently she was recording something. When she finished and got up to leave, I told her I wanted to hug her because what she said was straight from the Holy Spirit. So we sat and talked. She lives around the corner from me. My sacred place is her sacred place too and we share the same search for God. 

God is good all of the time. Thank you, Lord, for sometimes being so obvious that even I can figure out what you are saying. My heart is full.


Friday, May 29, 2020

Merton's apple

James Finley, a student of Thomas Merton, recounted this lesson that Merton once taught him: (from Merton’s Palace of Nowhere by James Finley)

“Merton once told me to quit trying so hard in prayer. He said: "How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun." A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red, ripe, and juicy beside its small green counterparts. Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of true self takes place in God’s time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in his hidden action within us.”

Have patience with the process; it's all in God's time, not mine. This is the message I've been getting over and over again, in different words, from different sources, over the past few days.

It started when I sat on the pier, staring into the heavy fog, asking God what's next. The fog, my own personal "Cloud of Unknowing," hid everything from view. Eventually the fog will lift, but I may never know what's next in my life. It may be nothing. Can I accept that?

At about the same time I got a slightly different insight into Psalm 46:10--"Be still and know that I am God." In the past, my interpretation of the verse has been a call to quiet, to listening for God's voice in the midst of the clamor of daily life. But I saw it from a slightly different angle--it seemed to say to stop moving, stop trying to make things happen, and let God do what God does. 

Last night I sat outside in the dark, trying not to think too hard, or even pray too hard, listening to the quiet sound of the waves on the Bay. We're all living through dark days, but I've heard it said that God works best in the darkness. And a peace washed over me as I sat in the dark. I stopped striving, stopped trying to figure out what He wants, what I need, what it all means. I just let it be and told Him that I want to give up the fight. I submit, Lord--your will be done.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Not Simply Orange

A walking lie. This morning I walked toward the pier carrying a plastic bottle that claimed it was Simply Orange. It wasn’t Simply Orange at all—it was about 1/3 orange juice and 7/8 San Pellegrino. I saw two young men approaching the pier and knew that they were walking much faster than I could walk. I had no energy or even any desire to get there first. So I took my fake Simply Orange and waited on a nearby bench. The young men left and I began to walk toward the end of the pier. It was then that I started to cry.

The Bay is wrapped in thick fog today, angel hair spread thin. Nothing is visible beyond the end of the pier—not the islands near the Eastern Shore, not the boats heading toward the ocean, or the small plane overhead that I could hear but not see.

Once again, I pleaded with the Lord to take away this thorn, this depression that descends on me unannounced. Don’t ask me to explain it, though I’ve lived with it and through it for a thousand years. I don’t try hard to hide it—that’s my newest approach. I freely admit it. People say, “What’s happening? Why are you depressed?” As if it needs a reason. Sometimes I try to tie it to something situational, but often there’s nothing new to blame. It’s just what is.

“Lord,” I pleaded, “Give me some hope. What do I have to live for?” Out of the fog, a large dead fish passed in front of me, its eyes empty and its entrails floating behind it. “Really, Lord? That’s it? A dead fish?”

My beautiful renovated house with a stunning view of the Chesapeake Bay is nearly finished and I have moved in. My drawers are organized, most of the boxes have been unpacked, and I’m sleeping in my own bed. Finally. I did it with a plan to live out the rest of my life here. It was a great idea, wise to plan ahead, to take charge of my own aging. But that creates a problem. My next step has been finalized. What’s next? Do I sit here in pandemic isolation waiting for the plan to continue to unfold until its inevitable end?

I stared out at the Bay, looking for God, seeing only dense fog. Yes, a brilliant metaphor, placed there by God to remind me that I was not meant to know the future. Maybe there’s something exciting beyond the fog that I can’t imagine. Maybe it’s all fog. Only the Lord knows. Yet the plans to escape spin in my head. I have to get out of here, move away from this beautiful place where I planned to live out my life. And there’s the problem—I want to run away from this plan for the final chapter of my life. It may make sense rationally to take charge of my future, but I’m not a planner, not a rational person. And I don’t what to say this is all I could ever want.

Thelma and Louise race toward the cliff. They have a plan to take charge of their own fate. They realize too late that maybe it’s not the best plan after all.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Angel

I know I haven't written in ages, but this aching feeling won't leave. John Prine died last week. It hurts my heart to know he is gone. And I’ve been thinking about Mike, my cowboy, gone now for over eight years. Sometimes I miss him with an ache that feels as fresh as yesterday. So this is the story I wrote in my head.

Angel

She sat at the kitchen table, staring at the screen door, its latch broken as it opened slightly and slammed shut in the humid stirring of wind. Maybe there was a storm blowing in. The sky darkened and the air hung heavy. A fly buzzed past her ear and landed on the cold eggs on the plate in front of her. The fly had more interest in her breakfast than she did.

She stared at the screen door, the vacant stare of one whose mind was many miles, many years away. She tried to remember the melody of that fiddle tune they played together—he on guitar, she on banjo. There was some gimmick in that tune that was distinctive, a slide from the 2ndfret to the 5thand a hammer-on to the 7thfret. But the melody was lost in the quicksand inside her head. Maybe she could pull out the old recording of them playing together but it required more effort than she could muster.

What was beyond that screen door? The years had flown by leaving her a mottled string of emotions. Like her mother’s old recipes, scribbled on bits of paper, torn envelopes, and the back of Christmas cards, yellowed with age and stained with nearly a century of splattered food. She remembered how she felt when she once had dreams—hopeful, significant, young—but she tied the memories to no specific events. Nothing happened but she once felt young.

Big drops of rain began to fall as the screen door blew against the broken radio that had been sitting on her kitchen floor longer than she could remember. She knew the rain would come in and soak the kitchen but still she sat and stared. Ten years ago, just after he died, she stopped smoking. But now she wanted a cigarette.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Mama and her knives

I became nostalgic today as I was sharpening a pencil with a paring knife, a skill I learned from my mama. All of the pencils in my childhood home became short stumps with hand-honed points. My mama liked knives.

Apparently she liked knives from an early age because she told stories about playing mumbly-peg as a child. Mumbly-peg was a game that involved scoring points by throwing pocket knives into patches of dirt. I don’t recall her describing the rules of the game because I was distracted by the idea that my mother played with pocket knives as a child. I’m certain she didn’t wear a helmet when she rode a bike.

For a period of time in my high school years I carried a switchblade knife in the pocket of my coat, along with a string of rosary beads. The acorn/tree. But that’s a story for another time.

Mama had a way of slicing and peeling food items that looked really dangerous. She held the knife in her right hand using her right thumb as the stopper for the knife blade. To this day, I do it the same way and people shudder when they watch me. She never cut herself. I haven’t either. 

But she cut herself many times doing things that should have been less dangerous. Her trips to the Adventist Hospital ER were legend. I take that back—many of the ER trips were for one of us kids, injured when one of us “accidentally” got a head busted open by coming in contact with the heel of her shoe. On the way to the hospital, she coached my brother to tell the ER personnel that he fell and hit his head of the coffee table. Once when she cut her own hand using a knife to pry open a can of tuna she told the Adventist ER doctor that she fell and cut it on a whiskey bottle. I said, “Mom! That’s a lie—why did you tell him it was a whiskey bottle?” She smirked and said, “Those Adventists don’t drink. I thought it was more interesting than saying it was a tuna fish can.”

And she had a thing about sharpening her knives. Her favorite carving knife had a wooden handle and a blade about 10 inches long. Over time it became curved like an ancient Turkish scythe used in battle against the infidels. 

Her things are all gone now, disbursed to various people or taken to the thrift store—her pink hand-crank ice crusher, her big aluminum pot that she used to cook spaghetti sauce (including the incident when my brother threw a wad of chewed up grape bubble gum in the sauce, giving it an uncharacteristic and unexplained grape flavor), and her olive trays. All gone. 

I wonder what happened to the ancient Turkish weapon she called a knife. I could use that knife to sharpen my pencils.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The old woman's fairy tale

Where have I been? Everywhere. No where. I spent all of 2018 doing a fellowship on spiritual formation. There was a lot of reading and some writing, community engagement, and all-day retreats/classes once a month, usually in the Shenandoah Valley.

We were required to do a final project that somehow, in our own particular (for me, quirky) way reflected our year-long spiritual journey. There is really no way I can describe the journey. I have had a number of amazing encounters with a real God, indescribable pure love. So in a meager attempt to put form to my experience I wrote it as fiction, in the form of a fairy tale. Here it is.


The Old Woman and the King: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time in a deep valley at the foot of a majestic mountain there lived an old woman named Daria. No one knew how old Daria was, but according to legend she had been born in the valley just after the dawn of time and she had never left. Her clan was unknown and there was little memory of her husband or children. Faelan, the old man who kept the history of the valley, believed that she had children who had left the valley long ago in search of fortune and never returned.

Daria lived in a humble shelter near the river, far from the other villagers. She kept animals—dogs, sheep, and goats—and she could be seen collecting reeds and vines, berries, tree bark, lily leaves, and flower petals to weave and dye the baskets and woolen cloth that she sometimes sold to people in the village. She had woven bits of the forest and the wool of her animals into a large blanket that covered her shelter. Inside the hut she had a warm fire, books, baskets, and brightly colored woven cloth. Sometimes she sang beautiful old songs to the dogs who sat at her feet. Her solitary life, her loneliness, was both a blessing and a curse.

The village in the deep valley was part of a large kingdom under the reign of a wise and benevolent King who lived high on the majestic mountain. The King knew everyone in his kingdom and nothing brought him more joy than spending time with his subjects. He had been on the throne for a long, long time, even longer than Daria had been living in the valley.

But Daria kept her distance from the King. She didn’t trust that his kindness and concern for her were sincere. Her deep sorrow was that she was alone and rejected, yet that sorrow made her withdraw further lest she be hurt again. She didn’t want to need anyone because she feared that needing others would weaken her.

Early one morning on a dark day in deep winter, out of the cold mist, the King himself, alone, came walking along the edge of the river, cracking the thin ice that had formed on the bank. Daria was boiling water, bark, and berries in a large cauldron over a fire, stirring the mixture with a long wooden paddle. From a distance she heard the ice cracking and the dogs began to bark. Then she saw him, wrapped in a long woolen cloak, walking toward her, his eyes glowing, his mouth softly smiling, his arms stretched wide to greet her. In an instant the dye she was boiling became intensely blue—indigo, the color of the yearning in her heart, a yearning that frightened her in its intensity. She felt life swell up inside her, yet she also wanted to run and hide, afraid of the intrusion into her small, isolated world.

He sat on a tree stump. She smelled sunshine and lavender in the dark of winter.

“Your majesty,” she said, “I have nothing to give you. I am just a poor, old woman with nothing of value.”

“Daria,” said the King, “I have only come to see you, to spend time with you. Being with you is what I value most. I knew you even before you were born and I have always loved you, more than you can ever know. Will you make some tea and we can sit and talk?”

Daria stuttered, afraid and unsure how to answer. “Yes, your majesty, of course. I don’t have much to offer, but come inside and I will make us tea.”

The King sat with her by the fire inside her shelter. The tea warmed them and the room began to glow—crimson, gold, saffron, and indigo—and from under his cloak he unwrapped a loaf of bread, broke it, and placed it on the table before her.

Until the sun began to set in the west, Daria and the King sat by the fire telling stories, laughing, singing old songs, and sharing the deep communion of silence.

“Daria,” said the King, “I must go now. This time with you has filled me with such joy. I want to spend much more time with you. Will you let me do that? Will you let me show you how much I love you, how much I have always loved you? I want you to know me, to be with me. And, Daria, know that I am always with you, even when you can’t see me, know that you can find me in the silence. Will you do that for me?”

She looked at him in awe, unable to find the words to respond to him, and tears streamed down her cheeks.

He held her in his arms and wrapped his cloak around her, like holding a child. “Just say yes, my child, just say yes.”

“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes!”



Through the long, dark winter Daria spent many hours recalling the time she had spent with the King. She sat in silence, pondering what he had said about always being with her, even when she couldn’t see him. Sometimes she could feel his presence in the silence, yet other times she only felt his absence and longed to see him again. She had so many questions for him and she wanted his advice. But mostly, she just wanted to feel his love—the strong, pure love of a father for his child. Before he came to her that winter morning, she had nearly forgotten what it felt like to be loved. Now that she had rekindled that connection, she wanted to know him better, she wanted to bring him joy, she wanted to see their relationship grow strong, but she didn’t know how to do such things.

As winter slowly began to thaw, mosses remembered their unique shades of green and birds returned from the secret places where they had spent the long, dark days. Daria went to the river’s edge to gather reeds and among the reeds she discovered a small round boat and a paddle. The boat, only big enough for one, was beautifully constructed of bark and willow, the bottom covered in tightly woven fabric and sealed with resin. The fabric was dyed indigo. She knew that the King had left it there for her, to encourage her to explore the river beyond the hollow where she spent her days and nights. 

The little blue boat was like the boat she loved when she was a child. She quickly regained her skill with the paddle, softly skimming the surface of the water like an insect. She quietly paddled down the river until she came to the place where old Faelan lived. As she approached the shore, she saw Faelan stringing fish on a line to dry. 

He chuckled when she came near, and said, “Will wonders ever cease? Is this old Daria coming through the reeds?”

She couldn’t keep from smiling. “Aye, tis myself, old Faelan. How can it be that we two old goats are still here in the shadow of the mountain?”

They chatted unceasingly, catching up on the years apart, and the time together brought great joy to both of them. Daria told Faelan about her visit from the King. The old man agreed that indeed it was a rare and wonderous thing to spend time in the presence of their King. He then snapped his fingers, told her not to move, and scrambled into his hut to retrieve something.

“I have something very precious to share with you, Daria. It is a book—"The Book” we call it—and it tells the history of our people and the incredible story of all the King has done for us through the ages. Please accept this as a gift between two old friends. And I would so enjoy discussing it with you as you read it.”

Daria said, “Thank you, Faelan. How kind you are. Indeed, I will read it and we shall discuss it as long as we’re able.”

She wrapped The Book carefully under her cloak, climbed into the little blue boat, and paddled back up the river, waving to Faelan as he disappeared into the distance. Her heart was full.



Daria returned to the shelter at her quiet place on the river and read until the sun came up. She read a story in The Book about a poor mother who put her baby into a basket in the reeds at the edge of a great river in order to save the boy’s life from evil men who would kill him. The daughter of a king found the baby in the basket, took him in as her own child, and raised him in the royal household. The story reminded Daria about a young mother in the village whom Faelan had told her about during their visit. The young mother in the village was very poor and recently had given birth. She struggled to find food for herself and her child and she carried the baby with her everywhere. Daria’s heart ached for the young mother, for she herself had once been a young mother who struggled to care for her children. Suddenly a thought occurred to the old woman, as if she heard the voice of the King whispering in her ear, telling her how she could help them. She remembered weaving a long swaddling shawl to carry her own babies and realized that she could create such a shawl for the young mother to carry her baby. Daria began to spin and weave a shawl—yarn dyed saffron, crimson, the color of juniper berries, golden brown, and green, the color of spring. And intertwined among the other colors, some of her treasured indigo yarn.

Daria worked day and night and when the swaddling shawl was finished, she climbed into her little blue boat and brought the shawl to Faelan and asked him to give it to the young mother.

“Ah, Daria,” he said, “Such beautiful work. This kindness becomes you. Surely the young woman will be pleased to receive such a gift.”

Daria paddled home, speaking aloud to the King as if he was beside her. “Thank you, my Lord, my King, for you have been so good to me. Thank you for reminding me that I could do something to make the young mother’s life a little easier. Please keep her and her child in your tender care.”

Days later, Faelan came trudging noisily through the trees, a sack slung over his shoulder. Following him was a young woman, her child swaddled securely across her chest with the shawl Daria had made. 

Short of breath from his long trek, Faelan panted, “Daria, this is the young mother I told you about. She has come to bring you cheese that she made to thank you for your kindness. And this little one is her daughter Maire. Yes, she was named after the mother of the King. That promises great things for the child.”

The young mother smiled shyly as Daria clasped her hands with great tenderness—cold young supple hands wrapped in the warm gnarled hands of the old woman. Daria peeked inside the mother’s swaddling shawl and drew in her breath. “Such a face!” she exclaimed. “The child has the face of an angel—an angel with flaming red curls and indigo eyes like the sky! Surely, she is worthy to be the namesake of the mother of the King. Blessings be to Maire and to her mother. Come inside, my dear. You and the child must warm yourselves by the fire. We’ll have tea. And come along, old Faelan—you are family in my home.”

The three spent time by the fire getting acquainted and Faelan broke a loaf of bread at the table to have with their tea, and with reverence he gave thanks to the King who provided for them. 

In no time Daria had become a doting grandmother to the young mother and the child. 

Faelan was fidgeting in his chair. Daria sensed something. “What have you got to say, man? You’re squirming like a snake!”

“Ah, you’ve barely seen me for the past 20 years and you already read me like a book,” said Faelan. “Alright, then, I’ll say it—I’m thinking it would be a good thing for this young mother and little Maire to stay here with you for a while. The child is no trouble at all. This young mother needs someone to take her under wing—someone like you, Daria. I think it would be good for all of you. Perhaps you could teach this young mother how to spin and weave so that she can make a living for herself and her baby.”

Daria was taken aback. She became very quiet. She had never considered such an arrangement. Could she give up her quiet life alone, away from others? An image came to mind. She recalled her time with the King and felt the comfort of his loving embrace when he wrapped his cloak around her and held her in his arms like a child. She was filled with light and an unflinching knowledge of what the King had called her to do. She would follow his example; she would let the King’s boundless love and compassion be her guide.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes!”



From that day forward the young mother and the beautiful red-headed child lived with Daria. What Faelan had in his sack when they came tromping through the woods to visit was the young mother’s meager possessions. He had discussed the situation with the King and he was certain Daria would say yes, for the King had softened Daria’s heart.

Daria began teaching the young mother what she had learned over a lifetime. She taught her the long process of weaving—shearing sheep, spinning the wool, gathering berries and bark, and creating dye. The old woman found a new love for her work and her creativity flourished in partnership with the young mother. The young woman was a natural weaver, eager to learn, and together they created the most beautiful work of Daria’s life

At the summer solstice, a group of people from the village arrived at Daria’s place by the river, bringing tools and materials to build a shelter for the young mother and her baby. The sounds of saws cutting wood, hammering of nails, children playing, shouting and laughter filled the woods. When their work was complete, they shared a great feast to celebrate their accomplishment. A large cauldron of potage had been simmering all day. The hard work and the aroma of the food increased their appetites. They piled a large make-shift table with cabbage and beans, cheese, fish, bacon, plums, and honey.

Before they began to eat, Faelan spoke. “Let us give thanks to our King for his kindness and provision. None of this would have been possible were it not for his great love for all of us. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for creating this community, for giving us one another. Thank you for being with us through joy and sorrow. We break this bread to follow your example of sacrifice and your unending love for us. We are deeply grateful.”

As the evening ended, people returned to their homes while Daria and the young mother sat in the glow of the fire and marveled at what an incredible day it had been. The young mother took Maire into their new home, leaving Daria alone by the slowly dying embers to spend time with the King, thanking him for the day and sitting in the quiet of his company.

“Father King,” she said, “you can see me here. I know your great love. This growing love that I have for you, this sense of your presence, is not something I have created out of my own strength and imagination. You have drawn me to you. Create now a new story of my life—a story with you at the center.”

She began to see how his presence had transformed her life. Though she was advanced in age, she felt like a child cherished by her father. He became the most important thing in her life and, as she became more connected to him, she became more connected to others in the kingdom. He had claimed her as his own, put his stamp on her heart and she belonged to him, a connection of pure love. He pursued her when she felt unworthy of love. She became familiar with his voice as she spent quiet time in his presence. She sought to see herself as he saw her, to model her life after his, and to surrender to his plan for her. As she became more aware of his love for her, that love transformed her. She grew in kindness, compassion, and connection to others. As she became transformed she gained the strength to step out into the world and to try to make the world better for others. She continued to see his love in action, she grew closer to him, and as she grew closer she yearned to become more like him. 


The summer flew by—days of work beside the young mother, and nights of joyful chatter under the stars in the company of her fellow villagers. They kept Daria up to date about the all the pending births nearby and she went to work creating a special swaddling shawl for each mother and baby. She visited each new child to deliver the shawl and cherished the time she spent in the sacred presence of new life. Although she considered the creation of a shawl a small gesture, she did it with great love. Joy shone from her heart and soul. She gave thanks to the King for allowing her this privilege.

The long days of summer became shorter and a chill settled in the valley. Trees released their leaves and the sky became deep blue, indigo. Daria’s old bones ached as the wind became colder. She was unable to work as she had before. As the leaves fell and autumn settled in, word reached her that her old friend Faelan had taken to his bed, sweating with fever, and wracked with the cough. She sent him her warmest blanket with a simple note expressing her love and concern for him. She wanted to do more for her old friend, to sit by his bedside and feed him spoons full of tea and honey, but she lacked even the strength to paddle her little boat down the river.

She was tired, yet she felt satisfied, beloved, and part of the rhythm of life in the village. Her connection to the King continued to grow stronger. For so many years she had held her sorrow in her talons, afraid that sorrow was the glue that held her together and, if she released it, she would be empty. Yet she recalled that the King once told her that you need to be broken to become whole. And now she began to understand what the King had meant. She had lived many years in sorrow and brokenness, too absorbed in herself to see beyond it. Then she began to know the King, to understand his deep love for her. Had she not experienced the broken, lonely life, she may not have been so fiercely drawn to his love. His love transformed her. It made her whole. She saw that her pain had a purpose; it created a path that led only to him. For that she was grateful. Now all she wanted was to do his will.

Daria awoke one morning just after the first snowfall. The sun was shining, illuminating the snow like a million stars and the sky was deep indigo. The King was standing in her doorway with his arms open wide.

“My beloved child! Come with me. I want to take you up to the mountain to be with me forever. Will you come? Please say yes.”

“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes!”

_________________________________________________________________________



This old song has been running through my mind lately. It was written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson, a gospel blues singer, guitar player, and street corner evangelist who died in 1945. This song was the inspiration for this story.



Bye and Bye I’m Goin’ To See the King

I said bye and bye I'm going to see the King
Bye and bye I am going to see the King
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

I said bye and bye I'm going to see the King
Bye and bye I am going to see the King
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

You know after death,
you have got to go by yourself
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

I said bye and bye I'm going to see the King
Bye and bye I am going to see the King
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

Bye and bye I will hear the angel sing
Bye and bye I will hear the angel sing
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

You know after death,
you have got to stand your test
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

I said bye and bye I'm going to see the King
Bye and bye I am going to see the King
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

Songwriter: Blind Willie Johnson
Bye and Bye I'm Goin’ to See the King  © Alpha Music, Inc

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

That dance

Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
and renew a right spirit within me."
Psalm 51:10

Until the day when I see Him face-to-face, I will be dancing with Him--two steps forward, then one or two or a thousand steps back, anywhere in between. How I love, savor, promise I'll never lose the sense of intimacy that He allows me sometimes, often unexpectedly. Yet, inevitably it slips away. I have spiritual ADHD.

Lately I have been lost in a far-away place, unable to find God. The human struggle of death, illness, strained relationships, and inability to make decisions has had me in a cage. I keep crying out, "Help me, Lord! I really don't know what to do. I'm stuck!" And when I get into a zone of frustration, whispers of doubt sneak into my head. "Are you sure He exists? Are you sure it's not a fairy tale, a figment of your wild imagination? How long has it been since you've heard from Him?" Those taunting voices recognize my vulnerability.

Last night, soaking in a hot bath, as I scrubbed the soles of my feet, I heard the words, "Create in me a clean heart, O God."

Yes, that verse, I thought. I remember that--it's a good one. Where is it in Scripture? But I soon forgot to look for it.

This morning I sat in my usual spot to spend time with the Lord, whether He was going to show up or not. (I know He's there--I'm the one who doesn't show up.) I've been working my way through Psalms and turned to the Psalm where I was to continue reading, but I got side-tracked. Create in me a clean heart, O God--yes, I was going to look that up. I found it in Psalm 51.

The Lord sat next to me as I read it aloud and read it again.

Behold you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the the secret heart.

The secret heart . . . 

Create in me a clean heart, O God. . .

Restore to me the joy of your salvation . . .

My sacrifice is a broken spirit . . . 

Tears flowed down my face and I just let them drip on my chest. My sacrifice is a broken spirit. What can I give Him in exchange for all He has done for me? I can take that broken spirit and humbly offer it to Him. I can let Him restore my spirit, create in me a clean heart, and start all over again. I give Him my broken spirit and in exchange He gives me everything. From this broken spirit I find nothing but gratitude and praise for the One who loves me.



Monday, October 1, 2018

Rilke reconsidered

Funny how things you might have read in your youth might slip through your head--

"Oh, yes, that's interesting, well said. I must remember that."

And as age advances to the point that you have many more years behind you than you have ahead of you, you read it again--

"Wow--that's so profound. Didn't I read this once before? Funny how I forgot it."

As Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet:

I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves. . . . For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer. [1]
  

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows (HarperOne: 2009), 49.