little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

Archive for the category “Poetry”

Kindness

 

This. This poem. To heal wounds. To hold hands.

For hope. For humanity. For today and each day that may come.

 

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

 

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

 

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.

Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

 

Peace and kindness to you, dear reader, whoever and wherever you are.

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The House of Belonging

THE HOUSE OF BELONGING

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

thinking for
a moment
it was one
day
like any other.

But
the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
and
I thought

it must have been the quiet
candlelight
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

And
I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the black day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,

the tawny
close-grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels of this housefly
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun has made.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

– David Whyte
©1996

The Peace of Wild Things

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This is a portrait of my Gran Edie, a woman with the strength and beauty of wildflowers.

And a poem posted for her (and for new friends found in the Granite State):

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry

 

As Terry Tempest Williams says, “I want my life to be a celebration of s l o w n e s s.”

Yes.

And today, may we slow and stop long enough to count the miracles growing from the ground.

40 years…

Today, my dear parents celebrate 40 years of marriage.

40. years.

Hmmm…

All thanks be to God.

It is miraculous to say, to write, to ponder — in so many ways, but especially as the years they have seen together — the years that have witnessed their growth side by side — have been beautiful and anything but easy.

In honor of the joy and sorrow that have left marks on their 40 incredible years and that do the very same in each of our lives, I will post this powerful excerpt from Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet. It is aptly titled “On Joy and Sorrow”:

“Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

And he answered:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorry,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.”

 

Thanks be to God for the life of my parents,

their journey together,

and for the sorrow

and joy

that give meaning

to our paths —

the fullness of life.

Miracle

AdventMoon

Photo captured while on a mid-December “moon walk”…

 

Night falls.

Moon rises.

And beneath this miracle

whose ingredients are

star

and dust,

light

and darkness,

life

and death,

joy

and pain,

we go on

singing —

the low notes,

the high notes —

into the rest

of our days.

 

p.s. Thank You

for the miracle

it is

to see,

to feel,

to wonder,

to write,

to love,

to remember.

Amen.

golden bees of Advent

“Last night, as I was sleeping,

I dreamt – marvelous error! –

that I had a beehive

here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures.”

-Antonio Machado

————————————————————-

Isn’t this the message of Advent –

the autumn version of Lent –

the very tilling ground

for grace in our lives?

I so desperately need this.

We so desperately need this.

Sweet honey from failure.

Light in darkness.

Green shoots of hope bursting forth from the stump.

All things new.

Meanwhile we must wait,

as the bees tend to their magic:

quiet transformation

in the heart’s comb.

Storage

Just recently my dear mama surprised me with the latest book of poetry penned by Mary Oliver, my forever favorite poet. At a ripened 80 years of age and blessed experience, Mary O. writes openly in this latest collection called Felicity about “The Journey, “Love,” and “Felicity,” and as always, she awakens my spirit and leaves me breathless.

During this season of my life, when I feel so much but often don’t know what to say or how to say it, Mary’s words open and fill, watering my dry places and nourishing its knotty soil.

In particular, her poem called “Storage” has settled in deeply as I have spent the past number of months getting rid of things. Yes, there are more things to clean out, and yes, there is more love – of God, of trees, of birds, of everything – to let in.

Thank you, Mary, for your inspiration, and dear God, on this first day of Advent, help us to empty our storage spaces and make room for what really matters.

Storage

By Mary Oliver

When I moved from one house to another

there were many things I had no room

for. What does one do? I rented a storage

space. And filled it. Years passed.

Occasionally I went there and looked in,

but nothing happened, not a single

twinge of the heart.

As I grew older the things I cared

about grew fewer, but were more

important. So one day I undid the lock

and called the trash man. He took

everything.

I felt like the little donkey when

his burden is finally lifted. Things!

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful

fire! More room in your heart for love,

for the trees! For the birds who own

nothing — the reason they can fly.

The “unsayable” gift of forgiveness

On this final Monday in July (gasp), I stumbled across a reflection by Mark Nepo. In it he talks about the beauty of the sea that he has been drawn to since he was a boy, and yet he asserts how even now, in his 60s, he cannot fully describe or name it. It’s “unsayable.” I can relate to this as I attempted to give life to mama’s “quiet courage” through words in last week’s post. The feelings are there – always – but the descriptions often pale to what can only be felt.

Here is the juicy conclusion of Mark’s eloquent reflection:

“I only know that what matters is unsayable. And yet, every attempt to reveal it helps us live, the way every plant grows by reaching for a light it can’t see or name. God is such a sun. Truth is such a sun. Love is such a sun. And each of these—God, Truth, and Love—is just a temporary name for something too big to stay named.

I only know that to be alive and to gather meaning from living, we’re asked to throw our words and feelings and questions, like wood, onto the fire of all that’s unsayable—to keep the shimmer of what matters before us.”

Yes.

And so now, with those powerful thoughts in mind, “to keep the shimmer of what matters before us,” I throw out with love and hope and gratitude these words and feelings in attempt to reveal and describe the unsayable gift of forgiveness and being forgiven:

Forgiveness

While walking

just the other day –

a summer day cloaked in heat –

I got caught in a rainstorm

far from home

with nothing to protect me

except these weary body clothes

and this fragile, beating heart.

The first drop compelled me to look up,

and from there

rains fell

in heavy beads

swollen with purpose,

as if filled with far more than water.

Without protest or permission,

they drenched me, head to toe,

and I surrendered –

outstretched my arms and opened my palms

to the soaking embrace.

The rain danced and dripped

like fingertips across my brow,

softening every inch of skin

and thought

and even soul.

While the quiet pour

came down,

something lifted me

up and out of my water-logged shoes

on that holy ground.

When I look back now,

it reminds me of the undeserved rains

of your forgiveness:

a force of divine love

spilling unquenchable hope

from out of the great big blue –

a baptismal flood

soothing stubborn stains of sin,

cleansing tired wounds,

to reveal healing scars

that cover over what cannot be reversed,

and yet liberating me from their bondage.

Washed and bathed

by grace,

I am able to continue the journey home

beneath parting clouds

and soft sunlight

as wet tears leak joy

and the forever memory of your

loving, forgiving rain.

-C.C.T.

(By the way, I think it no small miracle that as I type/write this, heavy, healing rains fall again) 🙂

Amen.

The Slow Work of God

About a year and a half ago, before preparing for a 3-week sabbatical to Blue Mountain Beach along the Gulf Coast, my precious “othah mothah,” more affectionately known as “Mama O,” sent a poem/prayer to carry with me on my journey called “The Slow Work of God.” In reality, I think it carried me on my journey. Immediately, it took a prominent position right smack dab in the center of the fridge in my little coastal haven, and with no other competing distractions, technological or otherwise, it was part of my daily reading ritual while listening to the brewing coffee and the brewing tides at the dawn of each new morning.  How often I need to remember to be patient with the world, with others, with myself, and with God – a reminder that seems as essential as food and water, and dare I say breath. Often, life’s frantic pace (the pace we can choose to follow or not), ruts of worry, and our human want to be in control (do we trust instead the fast, “efficient” work of self?) withhold that very breath we so desperately need.

How hard is it to “let go” and surrender, much less to God’s “slow work”? It’s so hard that I think I need reminding every conscious minute, and I pray for reminders even in the unconscious minutes of my sleep. For me, letting go, when you say it out loud, can sound so easy. However, what true intention it takes to release our white-knuckled grip of our immediate desire to know, to take off that tightly-fitting mask of who we think we are (versus who we really are), and to shed our deep and self-justified need for safety and security. Through this letting go, I think we can also relinquish the fear that is at root behind all of it.

When I came home from sabbatical, fully recharged, renewed, and surely changed, I pinned this prayer/poem to my fridge at home, hoping to maintain the daily ritual of reading it, praying it, trusting it as truth. My, how the spirit can be so willing, and yet the flesh, so very weak. Just recently, in the beautiful, slowed, intentional space and pace of summer, I noticed this neglected piece and revived it after it had seemingly drowned in the midst of the crowded collage of photographed faces, my shamefully large magnet collection, inspiring quotes, and yes, a few lingering Christmas cards and new baby welcomes.

Do you ever have the feeling that you’ve read something – really read it – for the first time, even though it’s quite possibly the millionth? Finally unearthed from the surrounding rubble, I gave it a second, lingering glance, well, more like an extended gaze, and read each word slowly with my fingertips and a new pair of eyes.

It’s a piece that is worth reading each day, a piece that is worth re-reading each day. It’s a piece that, even beneath a layer of dust, when it finds you, will not leave you, however long it may linger on the front of your fridge, the bulletin board of your classroom or office, or at the bottom of a file folder. It will find you when it is supposed to, however long that may take. Remember, it’s slow work.

While I have passed it on to a number of dear friends and family members over the past year and a half, perhaps it can serve as a hopeful reminder – for today – right wherever we all are – to trust the slow work of God…the countercultural, intentionally slow work of God, which harvests patience and trust, in our lives and in ourselves. May we allow the words to shape us and loosen our hold so that we can let go long enough to feel ourselves “in suspense, incomplete”…as works of art that are most assuredly in progress.

Even though we might feel like we’re falling, maybe that’s the only way we’ll be caught…and then taught how to fly…

The Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

French Philosopher, Jesuit Priest, Paleontologist, Biologist, and Visionary

Autumn

It’s a bright and chilly new morn here in Georgia’s capital city, and a clear indication that fall — autumn is here. Leaves have begun to turn and cast down their golden, scarlet, and amber bodies on the ground, and with their turning and falling, they remind us of our own lives, which house both life and death. This season is one filled with both astonishing beauty and quiet suffering, both elation and desolation.

Thank you, autumn, for telling the story of life’s fragility and life’s vitality — and of our Creator who enables the tender places of both and still holds us up.

Autumn
by Rainer Maria Rilke

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all the other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one… It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands,
infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.

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Amen.

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