POETRY & WORDS :: When She Asks You What Mercy Means


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“Do you love Bible?” She looks up at me with those big eyes of hers. “And does Papa love Bible too? Because I love it. So much.” It’s spontaneous, this declaration of hers. She keeps talking, looking up at me as she pushes her unruly honey-colored hair out of her face. “Where’s God now?” “What is a soul?” “What is mercy? Read more Bible, mumma.”

We just returned from seeing Fernando Ortega in concert, and she is humming the songs as she asks me these questions. “Why,” she asks earnestly, “Why did dat man say dat song about da fire of angels is sad? Why is it sad, mumma?”

At three, her tender heart knows nothing of the aching in one’s soul. “It is sad, baby, but it’s beautiful too, though, isn’t it, that song?” I can feel the tears begin to burn. How can I untangle these questions, when I don’t understand why people slip away and leave behind the empty foothills, burning in the light? How can I explain to a three year-old the concept of mercy, when I still can’t wrap my head around the marvel of it all? And what is this intangible thing inside me, this soul of mine?

She stands in front of me, eagerly, waiting for answers.

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I don’t feel like I can reduce these mysteries to a sentence.  I’m worried I’ll go wrong somehow. But I know Jesus told us to learn what mercy means [1]. And I know love and mercy is how everything — all of this, this big, overgrown mess of earth and humanity — is made whole. Death is swallowed up[2], and the old system of law is fulfilled [3, 4].

So I tell her what I know. I tell her about His love.

My words aren’t perfect, but it doesn’t matter.

“We must try to speak of His love. All Christians have tried but none has ever done it very well. I can no more do justice to that awesome and wonder-filled theme than a child can grasp a star. Still by reaching toward the star the child may call attention to it and even indicate the direction one must look to see it. So as I stretch my heart toward the high shining love of God someone who has not before known about it may be encouraged to look up and have hope.” -A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy

And when it comes right down to it, it’s that high shining love and mercy He crowns us with [5], not rules. And so I point her to that great Love, toward Him, and I take her hand as we run toward the rain.

“…[she] grew up in that Florida rain
They were carried along like leaves on a river of faith
They’d float
All the way home…
And they walked in the rain of His mercy
Let it soak them down to the bone
And they splashed in its puddles
And danced in its streams as they’d go
And, oh, they walked in the rain of His mercy
All the way home….”
-Andrew Peterson, All the Way Home

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INSPIRATION :: Mary Oliver on Writing


“I want to write something so simply about love or about pain that even as you are reading you feel it and as you read you keep feeling it and though it be my story it will be common, though it be singular it will be known to you so that by the end you will think— no, you will realize— that it was all the while yourself arranging the words, that it was all the time words that you yourself, out of your heart had been saying.”

Mary Oliver, that beautiful poet soul, expresses exactly how I feel about the words I weave. I want to give wings to the secret voice you, the reader, cannot — or are unable to — utter. I want to weave these threads together so you can hear your unspoken words in mine.

I want to write something so simply about love or about pain that even as you are reading you feel it and as you read you keep feeling it and though it be my story it will be common, though it be singular it will be known to you so that by the end you will think —- no, you will realize -— that it was all the while yourself arranging the words, that it was all the time words that you yourself, out of your heart had been saying.” -Mary Oliver

POETRY & WORDS :: We were created to know beauty beyond what our senses can take in


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We see it in the burst of green which sprouts up from a thick, decaying layer of broken leaves in the spring. It fills our hearts the way of vase of daffodils fills a room, like a smile brightening every line of the face of the one you love after a long, long absence.

This is beauty.

And mountains and sunsets and the magnetic tide, beautiful songs and lilting poetry, and laughter, clear like bells; these are beauty. These things lift our spirits. They buoy us; they bring happiness. We’re created to see this, to breathe this, to be enveloped in this.

We were created to know beauty beyond what our senses can take in.

And all of this earthly beauty — a fire-tinged sky, the quiet breathing of a sleeping child,  velvet buds on a tangled vine — all this great, overwhelming, everywhere beauty is reflection of the One, the author of good, the divine Creator of all things bright and beautiful.

INSPIRATION :: “Every day do something that won’t compute”


Jesus Storybook Bible

“So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. …

Ask the questions that have no answers. …

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

…Practice resurrection.”
-Wendell Berry

POETRY & WORDS :: I sit, wrapped in my thoughts moreso than anything


Poetry on Oaxacaborn - I sit, wrapped in my thoughts moreso than anything
tonight,
wrapped
in the blanket of red
and green
that only sees use on those
rare days when
the temperatures deign to lower
themselves to us,
i sit.

i sit,
wrapped in my thoughts
moreso than anything;
wrapped in the memories
of thanksgivings past
of home and laughter
of tall pines and
rivers
of turkey leftovers
always finding their way
into a tortilla
on a bed of
cilantro.

tonight,
i ate my leftovers with black beans
and kimchi
and laughed.
everythingandnothing
has changed.

i sit,
wrapped
in the glow of tiny lights,
next to a toy elephant and
three dozen crayons
and a hula hoop.

i sit,
wrapped in the sound of endless
automobile engines, humming
outside
through the exit ramp
like messengers
announcing
they will not sleep –

but i will,
wrapped in words
and thoughts
and near-silence,
enveloped in this warmth
and this home
and this hope
and this light,
tonight,
wrapped
in this old blanket of red
and of green.

“Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.”
-Wendell Berry

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: But now I am mostly at the window watching the late afternoon light…


1000px - Barefoot on a wooden chair, Late Summer

1000 px- Looking out the window in late summer

“…You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light…”

-an excerpt from Billy Collins’ On Turning Ten

POETRY & WORDS :: There are no rules in poetry except


There are no rules in poetry except

Poetry has no rules, it has been said.
I say, rules exist. They lie
in how poetry should be read.

For instance, one cannot
read Octavio Paz
without first pausing
to sink into a faded velvet chair
of some bookstore
now out of mode and forgotten

And when
one reads the words of Billy
Collins it can only be
at a kitchen table
after dark
by the light of a single flame.

Shakespeare’s for the school halls, read
by one who thinks he knows
and Dickinson’s for the garden
with a single yellow rose.

Frenzied prose is for the birds,
scattered in the mist of ancient cobblestone
a panicked pandemonium set off
by the toss of a head
or sleight of hand.

But the poem, in all its outdated ink
remains unruffled
and to think

you nearly passed it by.

POETRY & WORDS :: I no longer take fresh air for granted


Curtains, bunting, and lanterns in the corner of Aveline's room

One doesn’t open the windows, often, here, in this place where the air holds a strange combination of constant heat and dampness.

Most times there’s barely a difference in the numbers telling us the temperature and the percentage of water in the air.

Most times the air outside smells thick and old, as if it hasn’t moved in hundreds of years; it’s clinging to the trunks of trees, inching down the crevices in the sidewalk, barely keeping itself afloat, pouring itself into your lungs.

Inside, we empty the dehumidifier, over and over and over again.

But then, sometimes, ever so rarely, there comes a day when the dampness leaves momentarily and the humidity dips down, just a tease, just for a handful of hours. And I run to fling open all the windows, and shake out the blankets and rugs, and turn up the music and laugh and breath it all in and think of Pablo Neruda, who said

“Walking down a path
I met the air,
saluted it and said
respectfully:
‘It makes me happy
that for once
you left your transparency,
let’s talk.’
He tirelessly
danced, moved leaves,
beat the dust
from my soles
with his laughter…
the day is coming
when we will liberate
the light and the water,
earth and men,
and all will be
for all, as you are.
For this, for now,
be careful!
And come with me,
much remains
that dances and sings,
let’s go
the length of the sea,
to the height of the mountains,
let’s go
where the new spring
is flowering
and in one gust of wind
and song
we’ll share the flowers,
the scent, the fruit,
the air
of tomorrow.”

And I am happy, with this one short gust of fresh wind.

POETRY & WORDS :: The Glass, Dimly, as We Wait for Christmas Like Children


Reaching and Waiting, a Poem about Christmas and the Second Coming

Here, in the humid fog
(which, I imagine, might not be much
unlike The Night
in which the angel appeared)
here in the humid fog
the only snow looks like
paper scraps and
shaving cream. Bubbles and
these circles of vinyl we
press to the windowpanes
with hearts of hope
as though we were two again
or five or nine or eighty-four
as though we pressed up our noses
to the glass
waiting for papa to come home
or waiting for Christmas time
or waiting for snow.

But while we are grown
and while we are tall
and while we can reach the upper shelves, now –
we are still children.
We are still waiting for Papa,
every day,
and this window is a glass, dimly, and
we see glimmers of celestial light
inside claypots and
outside trimmed oil lamps, and
in cups of cold water, given.

Christmas day was the first time He came and
so now through the centuries since
we press our noses to the glass
reaching,
waiting,
longing
expecting,
Christmas Day, Round Two
(in which we will all be made wholecompleteperfected

and the sky will light up.)

These are tidings
of the greatest joy.

A bit later, He told us this, so that His
joy might be in us, and
our joy might be full.

So now let’s all press our noses
to the glass
and look heavenward
and reach high
and hope

and rejoice.

MY LIFE IN PHOTOS :: “I woke up this morning, as the blues singers like to boast…”


Toddler in fluorescent pink dress sitting in a mini IKEA Poang chair“I woke up this morning,
as the blues singers like to boast….
Everything seemed more life-size than usual.
Light in the shape of windows
hung on the walls next to the paintings
of birds and horses, flowers and fish.
…I closed the door to that room
and stood for a moment in the kitchen,
taking in the silvery toaster, the bowl of lemons,
and the white cat, looking as if
he had just finished his autobiography.”
-Billy Collins, from the poem “The Literary Life”

WRITING & WORDS :: I don’t have to be able to see clearly for it to be beautiful


She was desperate to look outside. She pulled at the shades, tangled herself in the curtains, and whined, impatiently dancing on her tiptoes.

I understood. I understand.

I swept the curtains aside and tied the gauzy fabric into a loose knot. Tugging the braided cord downward, we watched as the slats slid upward, pouring sunshine over us.

She was instantly silent, instantly still.

She rested her fingertips on the wooden sill, the wooden sill which has seen more tenants than just us. It’s buried in coat after coat of sticky white paint, and not all of them had been evenly applied. She doesn’t notice this.
Toddler looking out of apartment window - Black and white photo via Oaxacaborn dot comShe is still, transfixed, mesmerized by what’s beyond those two panes of glass.

For a moment I feel sorry for her. She looks at the grass and barely knows it beyond something that’s labeled “Keep Off”, “Pesticides Applied mm/dd/yy”, “Clean up After Your Pet”.

But this does not trouble her. She is quiet and calm, lost in her own little world of thoughts.

In this moment, I feel that her world is much deeper than I can begin to imagine.

She places her small hand on my arm, and my precarious camera-toting, nearly-kneeling balance is lost. She pats my arm reassuringly, and looks up at me from her squatting position.

I click the camera button, and glance at the screen.Toddler in Black and White - via Oaxacaborn dot comYou can’t really see her face clearly.

And then it hits me. That’s ok. I don’t have to be able to see clearly for it to be beautiful. I don’t have to have a perfect exposure, a perfect view.

I just have to be here — here in this quiet moment, kneeling in front of the low window with my daughter, quietly watching the trees and the sky, washed in His redemptive Grace and Peace. Here in gratitude, here in thankfulness, here in the kind of perfection that I can’t create, but can receive, with arms open wide and eyes fixed on my  great and wonderful God.

My arms of full of blessings; my heart is full of peace.

“So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. … In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” -James 1:17+, the Message version

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: A favorite moment, one month ago in California


“…or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe..

…I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.” -Billy Collins

CHRISTMAS :: It is as if Infancy were the Whole of Incarnation (Lucy Shaw)


I first read this poem years ago. Lucy Shaw’s powerful words have stayed with me, a reminder to look up from the cradle and worship the risen King, who we are celebrating today.

Merry Christmas, friends! He was born so we could live.

“One time of the year
the new-born child
is everywhere,
planted in madonnas’ arms
hay mows, stables
in palaces or farms,
or quaintly, under snowed gables,
gothic angular or baroque plump,
naked or elaborately swathed,
encircled by Della Robia wreaths,
garnished with whimsical
partridges and pears,
drummers and drums,
lit by oversize stars,
partnered with lambs,
peace doves, sugar plums,
bells, plastic camels in sets of three
as if these were what we need
for eternity.

But Jesus the Man is not to be seen.
We are too wary, these days,
of beards and sandalled feet.

Yet if we celebrate, let it be
that he
has invaded our lives with purpose,
striding over our picturesque traditions,
our shallow sentiment,
overturning our cash registers,
wielding his peace like a sword,
rescuing us into reality
demanding much more
than the milk and the softness
and the mothers warmth
of the baby in the storefront creche,
(only the Man would ask
all, of each of us)
reaching out
always, urgently, with strong
effective love
(only the Man would give
his life and live
again for love of us).

Oh come, let us adore him-
Christ–the Lord.”
-Lucy Shaw

WRITING & WORDS :: Let My Eyes Always be Open to Your Beauty


There is something in this night that makes it quiet, even though the freeway is just outside my window. Between the time the sun bows down and the sun stands up again, the cars still shuffle past, slowing to pass between the concrete pillars marked with blinking toll lights. The drivers must slow down before they speed up again, driving away from one place and toward another, probably in a hurry, probably unaware that the hum of their car engine is a steady backdrop to my dreams.

Aveline holding yarn looking at tree

I could never have made these dreams come true, not on my own. But you know, don’t you, that the Giver of All Good Things takes these threads, one by one, and gently untangles them. He weaves each shining thread into my life-filled hours, weaving in and out, always with purpose, always with design, always toward a beautiful end, until I’m walking on a tapestry I didn’t even realize was there.

Oh, Father God, Creator, let my eyes always be open to Your beauty.