little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

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.

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Today

As a new season has swept in through the limbs of late September, I find myself (again and always) marveling at the passage of time. The leaves, still heavy and full of greens deepened by summer, are just beginning to flirt with change and try on new colors. They are passing through, just like us. It is a time of transition that I, too, feel in my own bony branches, in my sinews and filaments, in my tender heart space. I pray that I would be as open to what is and what is to come as these brave leaves.

In the midst of these changing, seasonal winds, I feel tugged by both a deep longing for the silhouettes of the past and a fumbling towards what may lie ahead. I can so easily be distracted from the present by falling into rhythms of playing and replaying what has been, pondering what could have been, and wrestling with what I still do not and may never understand. Similarly, just as I can bury myself into yesterday, so too can I lose myself and the present moment in the imaginative fantasies, musings, or worries of tomorrow that appear and become so real in my head.

Enter Frederick Buechner‘s wise words to bring pause, remind, and shed light into the clearing of Today. No matter what has been, and no matter what may come, we have this very present gift — this new dawn — of Today:

“It is a moment of light surrounded on all sides by darkness and oblivion. In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another just like it and there will never be another just like it again. It is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious it is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.

‘This is the day which the Lord has made,’ says Psalm 118. ‘Let us rejoice and be glad in it’ (v. 24). Or weep and be sad in it for that matter. The point is to see it for what it is, because it will be gone before you know it. If you waste it, it is your life that you’re wasting. If you look the other way, it may be the moment you’ve been waiting for always that you’re missing.

All other days have either disappeared into darkness and oblivion or not yet emerged from it. Today is the only day there is.”

Amen.

Today.

May we bask in this clearing — this moment of light — this miracle.

Today.

May we, like the leaves, turn and open, and allow ourselves to be lifted and seen through — right down to our heart stem — as we live in the only day there is.

ForestClearing

“…let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

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.

quiet courage

I haven’t known how or what to write over this past, difficult month…or for much of this difficult summer, but on this sweet Sabbath eve, words finally found me. If this is the last blog post I’ve been given to write for a while or forever, that will be just fine, for this post is dedicated to my mama. As I continually recognize and learn, even while words house tremendous power, they often can only whisper echoes of what the heart has to say. So, while whole-hearted, these humble words-tumbled-out-on-a-page could never convey the fullness of mama’s quiet courage, her resilience, her faith — not just over these recent tough weeks while enduring and recovering from major surgery, but also over the course of her beautiful 69 years of breathing and loving and living on this earth.

Each day of my life as her daughter, and now more recently as her nurse, has made this life the blessing that it surely is.

As she encourages me daily, I pray that mama’s quiet courage can inspire us all through whatever storms we face to remember that though “weeping may stay the night [or a lot of consecutive nights], joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

quiet courage

For these four and something weeks,

you have battled not

with heavy armor, defending and deflecting,

or glaring an enemy in the face.

For these four and something weeks,

you have donned the quiet courage

of saints who fight pain and circumstance

with love,

who look to the rising sun

and feel hope

heavy in their pockets.

Even while pained and blurred

by the unexpected,

your eyes reflect

the wonder of this universe

and the hands much larger,

much stronger, much wiser

that made it.

You preach the Gospel, mama,

with those dancing eyes,

with your outstretched arms,

with your holding others’ hurts

even when riddled with your own.

You choose joy

with open, desperate palms

and a soft, willing face lifted to your Maker.

And now I see you stand again

on “Faith” and “Hope,”

unassisted and yet assisted by

these long, often nightmarish weeks.

As night fades into a deep sky,

small specks of light glitter

like childhood fireflies,

like the Grace that carried you through,

like the joy that will always

rise up

like a songbird at morning.

-C.C.T.

For beloved M.F.T., my songbird

“Counterintuitive Wisdom”

A simple (yet loaded) quote I’ve been pondering today:

“We suffer to get well.

We surrender to win.

We die to live.

We give it away to keep it.”

-Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater

This is the Good News, friends.

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

“I am looking at”…down by the riverside

By the shoreline of the Chattahoochee River, these words tumbled out today during a 10-minute writing practice. While it wasn’t to the tune of “I remember,” as I mentioned earlier this week, it was to another starting place that Natalie Goldberg recommends: “I am looking at.” Often, if not always, we must start right where we are – with what’s right in front of our face, and thankfully I found myself there today.

I am looking at a humming, drifting river, widened by time and man’s manipulation. In spite of her grim, muddy color that does not invite one in for a swim, she does give life to a handful of creatures that must surely love calling her “home.” A slicked-back otter (or maybe a nutria, his far dirtier cousin from Louisiana) glides with grace ‘neath current and wave as a regal mallard stretches his neck high above water so that all may glimpse his emerald authority. Along the distant shore, wild geese assemble and hover, ever faithful in their waiting for the others to catch up. It has been supremely quiet until now, as man-made sounds break the low murmur offered by river – her steady breath and rhythm come to be because of the big-bodied rocks that punctuate her path – the obstacles in her way. It fascinates me that she can still find and use her voice when the way is not easy. She goes on gliding and careening as God made her — and even with a song. I want to be like that.

I look over at mama, the shared silence between us yet not between us, but rather drawing us together in this union of sweet sun, gentle breeze, and the canopy made by regal, stately trees whose limbs loom above us, heavy with sap and wisdom. In this very simple time that needs no introduction, no disclaimer, no explanation, nature invites my mind to empty, my soul to rest, and my eyes to explore the mysterious depths of a river and my own lonely and infinite heart.

Even if you aren’t looking out from muddied river banks at the masterpiece nature offers, wherever you are deserves to be noticed. Be right where you are and look out from where you are. Pay attention. What do you see? Write it down.

As Natalie urges, “let it rip.”

“More Than Our Mistakes”

Since January, thanks to my dear friend Cheryle, I have been reading Mark Nepo‘s The Book of Awakening as a part of my morning quiet time. While many would describe Mark as a New York Times best-selling author, philosopher, and poet, I tend to think of him as a wise old friend, for that’s how he comes through the page: patient, humble, and encouraging. He listens to his experiences and composes honest words that tell the story of his own human brokenness, and in doing so, he helps us see, move through, and give thanks for our own.

Today’s offering (and its closing meditation) especially moved me, as I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot about the twists, turns, detours, and stop signs in life, in addition to the mistakes and failures along the way that help pave new paths. Grace. Mark’s words for today speak to that subject far more eloquently than I ever could, and I hope and pray his words — like gentle words from an old friend you’ve somehow known forever — meet and hold you right where you are.

Please take a few minutes today to read “More Than Our Mistakes”:

The buffalo fed on the buffalo grass that was fertilized by their own droppings. This grass had deep roots bound to the earth and was resistant to drought.

– David Peat

Try as we will, we cannot escape the making of mistakes. But fortunately, the ever humbling cycle of growing strong roots comes from eating what grows from our own shit, from digesting and processing our own humanity. Like the buffalo, we are nourished by what sprouts from our own broken trail. What we trample and leave behind fertilizes what will feed us. No one is exempt. 

A pipe falls on a dancer’s leg and the dancer must reinvent herself, while the worker who dropped it is driven to volunteer with crippled veterans. A dear friend discovers small bulbous tumors and his tulips begin to speak, and when he dies, his nurse begins a garden. Things come apart and join sometimes faster than we can cope. But we evolve in spite of our limitations, and though we break and make mistakes, we are always mysteriously more than what is broken. Indeed, we somehow grow from the soil of our mistakes. And often in the process, the things we refuse to let go of are somehow forced from our grip.

I have been broken and have failed so many times that my sense of identity has sprouted and peeled like an onion. But because of this, I have lived more than my share of lives and feel both young and old at once, with a sudden heart that cries just to meet the air. Now, on the other side of all I’ve suffered so far, everything, from the quick song of birds to the peace trapped inside a fresh brook’s gurgle, is rare and uncertain. Now I want to stand naked before every wind; and though I’m still frightened I will break, I somehow know it’s all a part – even the fright – of the rhythm of being alive.

You see, no one ever told me that as snakes shed skin, as trees snap bark, the human heart peels, crying when forced open, singing when loved open. Now I understand that whatever keeps us from burning truth as food, whatever tricks the heart into thinking we can hide in the open, whatever makes us look everywhere but in the core, this is the smoke that drives us from what is living. And whatever keeps us coming back, coming up, whatever makes us build a home out of straw, out of heartache, out of nothing, whatever ignites us to see again for the very first time, this is the bluish flame that keeps the Earth grinding to the sun.

  • Light a candle. Sit quietly and focus on the blue part of the flame as you meditate on one loss you carry within you. It could be a person who has died or left your life. Or a dream that has evaporated.
  • Sift through the feelings that surround this loss and find one detail that seems worth saving. It might be represented by a pen or book that someone used. Or a favorite chair. Or a piece of music. Or a gardening tool. 
  • Holding this detail in your heart, look into the bluish flame and meditate on the gift you carry from what is gone.
  • Now use this detail, if you can, to help you build what is presently before you.
  • Try to infuse what is worth saving from what you’ve lost.
  • Use the old to build the new.

Amen.

(and please forgive any conventions mistakes I’ve made in retyping this excerpt; I’m sure they will help me do better next time) 🙂

Back to the Blog

Oh, friends, it’s been a long, long time, and while there’s always meaning and importance in the silent seasons, it feels good to be writing again (at least for today!). I find myself “back to the blog” (as “Carty McFly”?!) for a handful of reasons important enough to name and for which to give thanks:

1. Gevin, a former student and forever friend, who is off to college next year, recently encouraged me to write again this summer, and goodness gracious, I cannot say “no” to this wonderful gent!

2. Today is June 1st. The first of a new month. Clean slate. Tabula Rasa. I love that feeling of “new,” and I especially feel it today, the threshold of a new month, a new season. So much of our lives wades in the waters of endings and beginnings, and I feel grateful for a new beginning this day.

3. This past week, I had the incredible fortune of participating in a workshop at school called, “Root to Rise,” and in each day of this three-day, full-day workshop, a group of us 10 women (mostly strangers) practiced writing and yoga together. Thanks to our wise, encouraging, and beautiful leaders Maggie and Mary, each day was sacred, as we rooted ourselves on the page and on the mat, finding meaning along the journey.  Each writing practice was modeled largely from Natalie Goldberg‘s methods of writing practice, in which we would write continuously for ten minutes based on a specific prompt. Interspersed with yoga, we wrote (and shared when we felt called to do so) about eight writing practices per day, and like any good practice, there were specific rules to follow (from Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind):

Natalie Goldberg’s Seven Rules for Writing Practice

  1. Keep your hand moving
  2. Be specific
  3. Don’t think
  4. Lose control
  5. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar
  6. You are free to write the worst junk in America
  7. Go for the jugular (don’t be afraid to write about the hard stuff)

These rules, I think, can apply to much more than writing practice, but I’ll let you explore that notion for yourself. As for writing, these rules were hard to follow initially, but the more you can surrender to your wild mind, the more it will take you where you need to go.  Some of our writing prompts included, “I am looking at,” “pancakes,” “what have I lost?” “what have I found?” “failing and flying, “fathers,” and “what will you miss when you die?” (whew, light subject matter, eh?). Regardless of the prompt, these writing practices not only helped us explore ourselves, but often they allowed us to visit certain terrain we haven’t wanted to, and while that is not exactly comfortable, maybe that is exactly what we need – what we all need from time to time. I know I did, and perhaps they can do the same for you…

The very first prompt given to us was “I remember,” the one with which Mary, our teacher, always begins. This seems the perfect place to start for anyone, and perhaps I’ll share my writing practice from that prompt next time.

For now, as I begin again, little by little, thank you for reading, listening, and following, friends; slowly but surely, I’m finding and learning to use my voice again…

I pray the same for you…

Write on.

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.

IMG_0360

Amen.

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