As we settle our collective breath
and feel the veil gently
gliding open for a holy glimpse
a bird calls from the sidelines
the sky weeps silent tears
the air faithfully allows itself
to be filtered into eulogy and prayer
the tear-soaked soil receives
collects along with all who will enter
its moist embrace
alive with dead things.
Accept the way of things.
Sing the Love that holds it all
the bird and the words
the soil and the souls.
Weep the Love that knows.
Breathe the Love that gives the bird her song.
Live the Love that sees beyond
the humus of this moment.
The sins of the fathers
there has been a reckoning,
a washing in the river
to a new awareness,
a new name reminding him
of that long night of struggle,
grasping desperately to the past
and finally letting go,
with a blessing, no less.
Ten sons had learned their lessons well,
living into a new iteration
of deception and manipulation,
Joseph and Benjamin were younger,
brought close in the evenings,
as Papa recounted his foibles, feats and failures
from the other side of the Jabbok.
With new sight
he connected the star-dots,
that ladder of angels
appearing in the night sky of his memory,
recalling the tale of Father Abraham
under that same sky of promise.
Understanding finally bloomed
as he planted the star-seed of trust
in a boy who would need it to grow
in the well,
in the prison cell,
and bloom once again
in a palace far beyond
Jacob’s wildest dreams.
I Arrive Late
I arrive late.
The avian chorus is halfway through the morning program.
Tiny wrens trilling,
crows demanding attention,
a catbird offering its scratchy exaltation.
The cardinal’s whistle, occasional and sweet.
Their song and the stillness they celebrate
accomplish my intention,
the daily challenge of heart-opening
that requires study, prayer, writing,
the diligent quest for communion with the divine.
The birds don’t know about theology.
They simply offer their voices
to the music of presence,
unstitching the veil to reveal
the cathedral of
this fragile, fulgent moment.
“Do not underestimate the thrill of trying.” –Julia Cameron
Mixed media art has always captivated me. I marvel at the imagination and creativity of those who bring together a variety of elements to interact and cohere to stimulate the viewer with the outcome. A bird rests on a torn edge of newsprint, and its song breaks into my thoughts. A disembodied hand offers a gift. Colors are layered, inviting me to pause and look more deeply into myself.
Would I like working with these materials? I’ve gotten hooked on it, but it took me some time to gather the courage to try it.
My first attempts at visual art were assignments in a college class. My initial drawings were so light that they could hardly be detected a few feet away. What was the point if nobody could see it? I had to be bolder. Charcoal drawings were assigned, so there was no choice to display my work for others to see. Gradually I gained a bit of confidence.
My best work was in calligraphy. It was the one skill I took with me and used in the years to come, crafting signs and small gifts. It makes sense that this appealed to me, because if I love anything in this world besides people and pie, it is the written word. It is almost as if words are old friends, so I am comfortable with the creative process in their company.
It’s no wonder, then, that my first attempts at visual art in recent years have involved words. In my desire to influence my grandchildren’s faith, I select a special Bible verse for each Baptism Day anniversary and render it playfully in calligraphy. They are not works of art, but they convey the value of Scripture’s wisdom for them. I hope they also indicate my love for them.
Calligraphy always caught my eye in gift shops and galleries, beckoning me to keep going back to this medium. It was daunting to attempt something that takes time to develop, but I had to try.
My next attempts used not only the Scripture verses, but paraphrase and color. Putting the verses into my own words drew me into their meaning. Imagining how to present them artistically was a new and exciting process.
My mind and imagination were opening up in other ways, and it seems that a new kind of creativity was beginning to flower within. I have always enjoyed the creative process in ministry and parenting, finding ways to teach and nurture within the bounds of traditional norms. As my perceptions about God, the world, and myself evolved, my desire to create expanded. I began to write poetry. This was fearsome at first too, probably because of my admiration for good writing. How did I dare offer my own words to the world when fine writing already exists, in abundance?
The inner voice refused to be deterred. Although countless other writers are blessing us with their wisdom and humor, they do not use my voice. I have something to say too.
It takes a long time to trust one’s inner voice. Mine is easily silenced by the fear that is perfectionism’s most effective tool. But these days I recognize the problem, so I can keep it at bay. “The perfectionist is a bully,” says Julia Cameron in It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. “It wants us to doubt ourselves. But saying no to bullies does often make them go away…Creativity is an awkward process, two steps forward, one step back…We must be gentle with ourselves and have reasonable expectations, lest the perfectionist try to take us out of the game. With humble forward motion we are strong—stronger than the perfectionist.”[i]
My skill at poetry has grown only slightly since I began, because I do not practice it often. I ponder whether it is important enough to me to give it more time. That will show itself as time goes on. As a mentor from years past put it, “Either you will, or you won’t, and that’s OK.” I don’t have to live up to expectations for writing that are not grounded in curiosity and joy.
It was in following Cameron’s process, using her tool of Morning Pages that compelled me to try mixed media. Writing every day helped me consider what I really want to do with my time. As it happens, an art class appeared in my social media feed. “Tiny Tattered Houses” was advertised by Jennifer Chamberlin, who teaches the craft on her website “The Maker Beehive.”
I toyed with it for only a few moments before I signed up. The fee was a mere $15. What did I have to lose?
I loved it.
Finally I found a medium that promises me satisfaction and joy without being squelched by perfectionism. There were no exact lines or colors, only what emerged from my fingers and imagination.
Playing with paper, paint and glue released a whimsical spirit in me that I hadn’t realized was buried under responsibility and worry, mostly stemming from pastoring three churches during the pandemic. I was also dealing with intense pain from a total knee replacement. The creative process distracted me from the grinding experience of recovery, and I was lifted into a place of adventure and beauty.
The same website offered a yearly membership, which I immediately dismissed as too time-consuming and expensive. But my newly-awakened creative spirit would not let it rest. The cost was not more than I spend in books in a year, I reasoned. Writing my Morning Pages gave me the moxy to register and put down the money. I wrote, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to accept the invitation to explore a fun medium with a little guidance and accountability. It will free me from trying to develop my creativity too carefully and open me up to my carefree, fun self. (I know she’s in there!)”
Julia Cameron claims “it is enthusiasm even more than discipline that brings creativity forward. With just the slightest encouragement, our creativity responds to our taps, as if it has been lying in wait. I would argue that it has—everyone has a wellspring of creativity flowing beneath the surface, just waiting to be released.”[ii]
Cameron has helped me stoke the fire of my creativity. Over the years other family and friends have encouraged me to find my voice—in whatever form it takes on a given day—and use it. (Thanks, Karen C, Barbara H, Wendy V, Ginger A-L, Vicky M, Steve J, Carol A-J, Pam V, Mindy M, Jennifer C and all the Maker Bees!) It feels like a wondrous gift after a season of difficulty and fear.
I am grateful to have found new energy that fuels other pursuits, including ministry and my work as a spiritual director. I have long experienced the flow of creativity directed by the Holy Spirit when I write sermons and funeral/wedding meditations. I suppose I have regarded those as safe vehicles for my voice. But now I find that any activity can be flipped from drudgery to joy when viewed as a creative endeavor. In my current role as a chaplain, I approach each nursing home resident and staff member with curiosity, ready to listen and respond creatively as the situation warrants.
I wrote about the new energy for ministry in my morning pages: “These understandings are reflected in my new interest in mixed media collage and the pleasure of writing free verse poetry. The outcome is not so much planned as discovered. The Spirit is party to creating, and sometimes surprises me. I can lose myself in the process and be open to what flows.”
That’s it. Losing myself in the process, being open to what flows. Not a bad way to approach life in general. I wonder how I can be creative today as I clean windows and iron the clothes? I might even get back to my little corner studio and do more mixed media first! Time to play some more.
[i] Cameron, Julia. It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, 2016. (New York: TarcherPerigree/Random House), p. 120.
What did they expect
when they followed him to Bethany,
a whole day’s journey from the scene of Jerusalem’s crime
and its surprising aftermath?
He had been talking about what they would do next,
but he kept leaving out his part
whenever they tried to tie him down on that point.
He repeated his big dream for them
one more time
before he grinned
and a gust of wind picked him up.
A brief tug of war with gravity
(they groped for him,
futile attempts to keep him grounded,
to call him back: please, please,
don’t let him get away!)
but Houdini Jesus shrugged
and sighed at their tattered faith
trying to hold him in its tether.
When he looked up again,
a mysterious, animated mist appeared,
beckoning and embracing him.
He relaxed into the welcome.
Only in his absence
would their understanding bloom
and go to seed,
a dandelion puff
the Spirit could not resist scattering
out of control,
finding purchase in
the most unexpected places.
A re-telling of Luke 5:17-26
Even though the house was already crowded, when the elders arrived, they were given front row seats, where the teacher was telling curious stories about seeds and banquets and quarreling brothers.
A Pharisee was posing a convoluted question when falling debris gave them just enough warning to avoid the chunk of ceiling that barely missed Jesus himself. The dust cleared to reveal a makeshift pallet lowering by ropes, tipping and wobbling, its passenger trembling and wide-eyed, wincing when he landed with a thump.
The teacher laid a calming hand on his shoulder and then smiled up at his friends, whose chutzpah left a ragged gap in the ceiling. Simon was heard murmuring his prediction: another healing!
But Jesus looked deeply and thoughtfully at the man and said, “My friend, be assured, your sins no longer have the power to cripple your spirit.”
The elders immediately exercised their veto power, with force. Jesus’ thoughtful gaze turned on them.
“Please trust me. I know the deepest truth and it is this: paralysis of the limbs is nothing compared to the paralyzing effects of a rebellious heart. So that you will know this too, watch this man walk home with healthy legs and an unburdened heart.”
Sure enough, the man stood, tentative, took a few shaky steps and left differently than he came, light on his feet, his pallet of shame left behind in a pile of dusty, broken-down dogma.
And a poem had to be written too!Look Out Below
The heavens were opened
when the Dove-Spirit
surprised Jesus with her
wings of light.
He looked up every so often after that,
just in case.
But what opened one day to his surprise
was the ceiling, breaking apart,
raining debris on everyone.
No dove, only a trembling man
on a wobbly pallet.
Despite the elders’ protests,
Spirit tuned him in to the fractured heart
of a broken man.
Not many of the crowds who came to him
were so easy to read,
but the shame had etched its lines on this man’s face
Such sadness needed its cure
and so he did,
touching the heart
with a refreshing wash of absolution,
and stroking life back into the shriveled limbs
for good measure.
The teacher couldn’t resist checking
the reactions of the men gazing down.
He did a double take when their glad faces
seemed to flicker and gleam,
and he felt a familiar flutter
stirring the air
just above his head.
The longer I watch him
the more I wonder
whether the Cross of Jesus
was not the only moment
our saving happened,
as if such cruelty could solve
an inevitable, deadly equation.
Perhaps it was only the
to resurrections’ triumph—
the sealing of
love’s new first word.
But even then it
would be hollow
without all those
the divine impulse
making food blossom
in their hands
on a hillside,
a girl’s lifeless eyes
Lazarus leaning into
the muffled announcement
that even time must step aside
for love’s insistent force.
The shape of all the saving—
all the loving—
required the alignment
of his arms.
He extended them
in one terrible
into which he gathered
all the other moments
and offers all of it
time after time
elusive as spirit,
Be still and see
there he goes again.
I often cross myself in worship
especially when the bread and wine of Christ
are re-membered in me.
The gesture is an affirmation of who I am
and whom I follow.
Today the cross is smudged on my face
for all to see how poorly I reflect
his cross I claim as my own.
It is out of focus,
lacking the crisp outline even a shadow can cast.
My feeble attempts at following in his way
make my cross indistinct.
And so I turn again,
accept the invitation to come closer, slowly,
to the cross made dim by distance
until its texture and detail draw me in,
fill my vision, and define me.
This poem came to me as I as cleaning the guest room, after Christmas and the pleasure of hosting family from far away. We took a calculated risk with COVID, since several of us had already had the virus.
They have vacated the room where I make the bed, unhurried,
unwilling to disturb their presence that lingers in the quiet.
They slept beneath the quilt my mother made.
My child-adult and her husband,
the soul mate and lover she awaited,
yearning for the one who yearned for her
while the patchwork of her life came together.
Granddaughter of a stitcher of longings,
a practical woman of vision, and prayer.
Daughter of the one who watched the pattern come together
and now makes the bed again,
runs her hand over the
storied, precious handiwork,
in lambent, loving benediction.
Only you could merit a name
that is a dawning
a promise daily kept
yes, I am here
never rushing, yet insistent
letting the dark take its rest.
You let it sigh and set
while you make yourself known
calling my attention not to yourself
but to the trees’ winter branches
pen their delicate praises
upon the blue of you.