little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

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.

Advertisements

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.

Breathless Choir

While I confess that I am not an avid or active news-watcher, it’s been impossible to not hear about and be affected by the events that have erupted in our world recently.  Mass shootings. Terrorism. Senseless violence. Innocent lives lost. Millions of souls looking for a place to call home. Seemingly, each day, the news seems to smolder with horror and tragedy – both far and near, and in its wake, it’s hard not to feel fearful or angry; it’s hard to find hope.

Yet, here we are – planted right in the middle of the season of Advent – the seedbed for hope, for new life – the reminder that even in darkness, light does and will shine.

In the midst of these bleak headlines that appear in our news and in the beautiful mess of our own personal lives, I believe there is always reason for hope…for love…for peace. Those are the very forces we must use to fight against the fear, anger, and despair that can so easily paralyze and corrupt us. Those are the strongest forces there are.

Just this week, I happened to stumble mindlessly into an ad (of all things!) that reminded me of the beauty that can come from tragedy and the hope that survives when the sun sets.

The ad featured “The Breathless Choir,” a New York-based group of 18 men and women from the ages of 12 to 92 with severe breathing problems. They were brought together this past September and taught to sing again by an acclaimed British choirmaster named Gareth Malone. Yes, these people, many of whom are on ventilators and breathing machines, have been taught to sing again.

Any further words I could attempt to offer about this inspiring group would pale to what and who they actually are, so all I will venture to say is that their music not only consoles and heals but also it literally breathes hope into this fragile gift of life.

Enjoy this miracle of breath, song, and hope:

and Happy Advent.

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.

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.”

Post Navigation