Advent 2021: Elizabeth

Advent 2021: Elizabeth
I couldn’t tell you 
when it went absent 
without leave but 
one day I noticed it was 
gone. The last shred of 
possibility 
slipped out 
the door. 
 
You adjust.

The sadness becomes mortar 
for a wall just high enough 
to keep the dream from getting in 
finding its old place 
where it fit in so well 
until 
it didn’t. 
We resigned ourselves to 
a good enough life.

But then—years later, mind you—
he came home from Jerusalem
out of breath and out of 
words to explain himself.
He kept making the same 
frantic motions 
desperate for me to understand.
When he finally settled down 
we played a guessing game: 
he acted out a story 
that began with routine but 
ended with surprise.

I laugh when I think of 
his exaggerated gestures 
his repeated look of goofy astonishment 
his tears of frustration 
before I blurted the unthinkable 
and the joy knocked us 
onto the floor in a tangle. 

It’s been quiet around here 
for months
except when we smile at one another 
and a gust of hope stirs, 
rearranges our secret.
One day it blew down the last 
remnant of resignation.
I can tell you the exact moment 
because it was the day I felt 
a tiny breeze 
fluttering in my womb.

Advent 2021: Isaiah

(The “Prompting Creativity” posts have been moved to a page by that name. Find it in the menu.)

This year I will focus on the stories of several players in the big story of the incarnation.

In Advent we realize that the birth of Jesus is part of a bigger story, thousands of years long and eternal in scope.  It includes the prophecies of people like Isaiah, who lived 2800 years ago, centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.  He was an ordinary man whom God tapped to be a prophet in Judah.  Judah was a small nation with mighty nations surrounding it.  The only way the kings thought they could stay safe was to make the best alliances with those other powers, and to fight against the enemies of their so-called friends.  Their security was shaky, based on the whims of other kings and conquerors.
	Isaiah kept telling them that they should trust God, but they wouldn’t listen.  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, they say.  Better the chariots and horses you can see than the God you cannot see. Better the idols of those other strong nations, even though idols were made of wood or stone and could easily be broken apart, worthless and powerless to do anyone any good.  Isaiah said that God would make a light shine in their darkness if only they would trust God.  (Is 9.2)
	The thing is, the upper classes in Judah did not see the problem.  They were prospering, albeit at the expense of the poor.  They simply chose not to think about how vulnerable they were, how their security was built on a shifting foundation.  
	Their situation sounds too familiar.  We feel secure if we don’t think too hard about our situation.  But when we do, the news about riots and lootings, disease and rising prices closes in on us, making life feel darker and darker.  Blocking it all out is its own kind of darkness.  My own sense of helplessness to do anything about these events sometimes makes me feel panicky, given to despair when I lie down at night. The darkness is real.  
        John said that Jesus was the light who came into the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.  No matter how depraved the criminals, nor how bad the diagnosis, nor how frustrating our economy and politics and conflicts, nothing and nobody is beyond the scope of Jesus’ light and the power of his love.  His light shows what is true and his love heals all brokenness.  

Isaiah
In those days the people thought him crazed 
for saying things were gloomy when they weren’t.
Their bellies full, their fortunes had been made 
and regularly sacrifices burnt 
to make a show of opening to God 
while turning a deaf ear to those whose cries 
were heard in heaven, many lacking food 
and suffering the cost of rich men’s lives.  

The prophet saw the thin veneer of pride 
that covered fear and deeply harbored sin, 
how rulers schemed to have themselves allied 
with power that would vanish in the wind.
In him the dream persisted, clear and strong 
of God who made them all and loved them long.
The Advent of Jesus

He came
to help us see 
that there is more than this 
that joy is not small 
confined to new toys 
or proper thinking

He comes 
standing ready to lift 
me out of the angst 
that masquerades as normal 
to distract me from the urgent 
to see the trail of frost on the pane 
the bluejay’s haste
the curve of the cheek 
on the neighbor’s child

He will come again 
this fresh afternoon 
when I sit down to listen to 
her earnest ramblings 
and notice the way she 
keeps her hands 
in her threadbare pockets

Pallbearing

Funeral of Eunice Mechler, October 25, 2021
What is the heft of a quiet life 
that her grandchildren carry today?
More than the weight of a mother and wife 
as they solemnly march to her grave.

They bear the imprint of soft, storied arms 
from her lifelong earnest art 
honed by the tasks of family and farm 
and a gentle, loving heart.  

Heavy their hearts as the memories gel 
and the tears of loss consume, 
but lighter their steps at the thought of her smile 
that accompanies them to her tomb.

The worker performs his lowering job.
Her children toss earth on the chest 
containing her form but never her love 
that survives to inspire and to bless.  

We Remember Him

Graveside 10-3-21

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.

Sing!
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.  

Seed of Israel

The sins of the fathers
are tenacious 
unless

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,
greed, competition.
Striving.

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
within himself
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.

Morning Inspiration



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.      

The Energizing Flow of Creativity

“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.

[ii] Ibid., p. 97.

Ascension

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
everywhere
out of control,
finding purchase in 
the most unexpected places. 

Healing 101

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.

A pause.

“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 
long ago.

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 Time it Takes

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 
penultimate moment
to resurrections’ triumph—
though unheralded,
un-choired—
the sealing of
love’s new first word.

But even then it
would be hollow 
without all those 
other interruptions:
the divine impulse 
making food blossom 
in their hands 
on a hillside,
a girl’s lifeless eyes
fluttering open,
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 
timeless moment
into which he gathered
all the other moments
and offers all of it
time after time
resisting confinement, 
elusive as spirit,
expectant.
Constant.

Be still and see
there he goes again.