The Thin Blue Bird

I was listening to the poet David Whyte the other day talking of how thin the line is sometimes between this world and the next. The nuances of his talk hinted at just how quickly things can change...

I was helping my mother-in-law today in our yard. She is a gardener extraordinaire, whilst I am better suited for a patio home. Anyway, we were moving rocks - not smooth, river stones, but big, mountainous stones with heft and spiders living underneath them. I had muscled three of them on my own from the backyard to the front, keeping them close to my body, utilizing lifting skills I learned working as a grunt years ago at UPS. We debated on bringing the fourth around, something about landscaping being done in odd groupings instead of even. I insisted, feeling the pump of blood in my arms from the previous three and loving that feeling. This fourth stone was evidently the mother of the other three - rocker mater. I shifted it around, cleaning off all the spiders, and tried to lift it. Pretty damn heavy; too heavy, in fact, for the trek around to the front yard. I borrowed my kids' red wagon and got that momma up in the bed and began the pull to the flowerbed. All was well until I lifted it out (still all was well) and placed it beside the other three. In a split second of a nanosecond, the rocker mater shifted slightly and my middle finger, the "bird" got caught between a rock and a harder place. I pulled it out quicker than a duck on a junebug - but I had crossed that thin line between this world and the next, if only for a moment, and the rest of my day was changed. The bird turned every hue of blue in the 64 Crayola box and then began to swell and bleed. I had to sit down because I feared I might faint. That would have been a helluva sight - long haired hippy man asleep in the flower bed with his size 12 boots sticking out, looking like the dead Witch of the West, while the little Oz people (my kids) look on in wonder saying, "Mom, Dad's sticking the bad finger at us and saying badder words."

The rest of my day was one finger off. From typing (God save me from "d's") to buttoning Levis (where are those pull-on velour pants?) - I realized just how quickly things can change. How fingers can become swollen birds in the twinkling of an eye and a kid can step off a curb and be hit by a car. How a doctor can say, "Six months - tops" and a pink slip in your job-box is like a stake through the heart. Life going well, arms pumped full of blood, and the rocks beneath us, or in our hands, shift, and life is different; maybe for a day or maybe for a lifetime. The line is thin, but our pride tells us it's not. I will nurse my bird for a few months; there's no way he can fly anytime soon. In the meantime, I'll probably bump it on everything from wine corks to dipsticks. But when I grimace I will be reminded of the thin places, the clefts in the rock, where the soul and spiders hideth.

Taste and see

"The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what's ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we'll never settle for less." 2 Cor. 5.5

This is a verse from one of the Anglican readings for this coming Sunday. I've been asked to preach, so it's on my mind. Then again, it may be on the tip of my tongue. Or the palms of my hands. Possibly the balls of my feet. Maybe that'll make a little more sense if we keep going. The entire passage has an emphasis on the life yet to come - heaven, glory, over Jordan, Colorado, whatever you want to call it, o.k? And the surface reading seems to be that this life is a crapshoot and the good stuff is yet to come; however, first we've got to endure this vale of tears. I've no problem with that - I believe there's much truth there. But, if God is whetting our appetite by giving us a taste of what's ahead and He's putting a little of heaven in our hearts, where is that taking place? [Cut to the chase] I believe those heavenly appetizers are being served to us right here on earth in the realm of blood and bone and sinew and muscle and spit and pee and earwax. I mean, where else could it be happening? Some might answer, "Well, in the spirit." Forgive me, but I don't know what that means. That sounds very ethereal, quite other-worldly and just a little Gnostic; Gnostic, as in, secretive, as in, you have to have the secret handshake or know the secret DaVinci code to get in the "spirit."

So, maybe the challenge is for us to continually be attentive to the world inside and around us, because that's where these foretastes are occurring; in other words, via our senses. There's a wonderful phrase in the story of the prodigal son that the entire story turns on - "When he came to his senses..." What if that means not only his thoughts or reason, but it equally means his sight, smell, taste, hearing, and so on. Maybe being heavenly-minded means being earthly attentive? Not numbed to our senses, as many of us usually are, but truly awake and alive to what we're seeing or hearing or tasting. One writer referred to what we usually do as "unconscious Christianity" - not fully present. So many believers or people of faith I've met over the years are so uncomfortable with their bodies that the senses are totally shut down or cinched up tight in a girdle of some sort - spiritual, I'm sure. But what if God is trying to show us images, sing us songs or feed us meals of what's to come, but we continually miss them? The New Testament definition of "sin" is missing the mark - could the negation of the body and her senses be sinful? We usually think of it the other way around...More later.

Amazin' Grace

Bewildered in our timely dwelling place,
Where we arrive by work, we stay by grace. - Wendell Berry

How much grace can one receive? - Father Murray

Two of my favorite poets; thanks, boys. The question of grace, posed most eloquently by Father Murray and hinted at by Mr. Berry. I pondered the question this morning while driving to propose some work to a publisher. The backdrop for my commute was Josh Groban music and the Front Range of the Rockies, Pikes Peak style to be specific; two elements of grace in their own right. How much can one receive? To ask some would bring a reply of, "What grace? Not much in my life." That's fair. But I cannot answer that way. My reply would be, "Grace? How do I receive thee? Let me count the ways." Where do I begin?

I feel grace is like manna - enough for the day and then you begin again. So I'll begin with today. This meeting with a publisher I had is, on some level, the culmination of almost two years of writing and editing and editing and writing. I wished it would've happened sooner, but grace sometimes seems shy; like it needs to be wooed or something. Our meeting was good - lots of affirmation and encouragement and hope-full talk of today and tomorrow. I left with gratitude, thinking, "How much grace can one receive?"

About five minutes from home, my cell phone rang; it was my daughter. She had good news - euangelion! After months of trying and falling and scraping and skinning, she rode the length of our street on her bike. I had tried to help her for months, but to no avail. My wife held her seat once today, gave her a push, and whala! Truly, in the fullness of time. I got home and we proceeded out to the road, where I watched my little girl ride like she'd been doing it for years. The smile on her face was almost as big as mine. My family just stood there on the curb, with the hot Colorado wind in our faces, watching a blond on a bike doing figure eights and I thought, "How much grace can one receive?"

How much can one receive? I guess it depends on how open your hands are. Or your eyes and ears. It may even depend on how much you're willing to commit to something, e.g., work (Berry's quote above). Not that grace is a result of our efforts or work, but being able to receive grace is often times, in my experience, the result of stepping into a job or a marriage or a friendship. Or getting back up on the bike. Or writing yet another cheezy column for some low-paying gig. But you open yourself to it and it creates space; space for grace. Spaceum et graceum or whateverthehell the Latin is. And it seems like grace is always there, just waiting to be asked to dance. But it won't force itself on us - it needs an opening or an invitation. How much grace can one receive? How open can one be to people, places and things? How willing can one be to write in obscurity for a season? How courageous can one be and get back up on the bike? How loving can one be to someone who always wounds with words or silence? How strong can one be in the face of the false self? Lotsa space, lotsa grace. That's enough for today. There'll be fresh grace on the ground in the morning. But you may have to stoop down to pick it up.

Beauty via rabbitears

The children were nestled, all snug in their beds. The sandman had sprinkled his dust on the wife and she was out for the count. And that left me, awake, tired, but not ready to slip into the rhythms of darkness just yet. I turned on the television and the PBS channel was the first to greet me. We do not have cable, so I adjusted the rabbitears and sat back down. A presentation was on that I had seen bits and pieces of, but never the entire show; it was a concert - Celtic Woman. Four young women sing hauntingly beautiful songs for a captive audience in Dublin; and then there's one young fiddle player. There's a lush orchestra supporting them, backup singers, and a video screen with screensaver type images that correspond to the music. It is simply spellbinding. And I was taken captive by its magic.

I knew I was tired. I hadn't slept much the night before and my emotions were quite close to the surface. Nothing wrong with that, mind you - it's just where I was. Within minutes I found myself weeping and smiling and being so grateful that I had randomly landed on this channel. Random; helluva word, huh? Yeah, I don't believe it either. I watched as these young women, physically striking in their beauty, sang individually and as a group for the crowd - songs such as "You Lift Me Up," "Nella Fantasia" and "Orinoco Flow." The traditional Celtic instruments were all there, especially the fiddle. The songs were about love and sorrow and longing and death and earth and sky and blood and hopes and dreams. I watched as the crowd, young and old, sat on the edge of their seats, singing along when they knew the words and nodding along when they didn't; they knew, as I did, that we were in the presence of beauty. Maybe there's another word to describe the experience, but I'll stick with beauty. A vein was opened up in my heart, mind, soul and strength and beauty was transfused in. And I felt alive.

When I think about what I could have watched last night instead: the early news - sorry, no beauty there; some show hosted by Donald Trump - yeah, faggitaboudit; a couple of canned laughter ridden sitcoms - how mindless can it get? Now this is no plug for public broadcasting, but it is a plea for beauty. When the scriptures tell us to fill our minds with beauty (Phillipians 4.8ff), what do we usually think about? More scripture? Thomas Kinkaid paintings (that's probably not how you spell his name; I guess I'd know if I had any of his stuff)? Happy thoughts? What do you think about or dwell on? The number of people watching Celtic Woman last night probably paled in comparison to the numbers watching reruns of Friends, the 10pm news, and that Trump show. But the way to life is narrow, Jesus said; you're probably not going to be able to fit many people on it at once. Last night there was room enough for some Celtic women, a captive audience, and me. And a fiddle player. And if you think all these Celtic women were paper-thin magazine models and that's all this post is about- faggitaboudit!

The Merman Stump

About a year ago, my wife read Sue Monk Kidd's The Mermaid Chair. She really enjoyed it and felt like I would too. I checked it out on one of those 7-day limit bestseller deals at the library. Seven days came and went without ever sitting in the mermaid chair. However, I saw it at the library the other day and thought I'd give it another shot - no 7-day limit on me this time. I was a little put off at first - I kept thinking, "God, I could write this." But then I realized that no, I'm not sure I could write this, at least not right now. Kidd's book is fiction and the heroine of her novel awakes one day in a dark wood and takes a road less traveled and ends up falling in love with a monk. Yeah, some road. She finds herself awakening after years of a good marriage to a good man in a good place. But some great things, like passion, desire, hopes and dreams got buried in all of that good. And she realizes that's bad.

I'm about halfway through the book. A little like I'm about halfway through my life. I'm 39 - I hope to live to be 78 and still be a presence in a room; but that may not happen. I did awake a few years ago in a dark wood - sorta. And I did take a road less traveled - at least in terms of the roads my family has traditionally taken. I didn't fall in love with a monk. But I may have become one - sorta. And I have realized that a life full of good can get in the way of great; that hopes and dreams and passions can get lost over the years. And that's bad. But, you say, what about the new dreams that have been birthed or the new passions that have been kindled while being or doing good? You know, here on the backside of thirty, I believe you are born with hopes and dreams and passions specific to you and no one else. And over the years those stay the same. Oh, they nuance on you sometimes and may end up being a little different color, but those core dreams keep breaking the surface. Like some mermaid that keeps swimming alongside your boat, cresting at just the right times and cutting those nautical eyes at you and beckoning you to follow her into the depths of the channel less traveled. Those little sea-shell tops are quite a number.

I'll finish Kidd's book; hopefully this week. And I'll finish my life - someday. I hope at the end of her book to close the back cover and smile, content at having read a great book. And I hope to one day die content at having lived a great life. Not one that got interviews on the Today show or left millions to school libraries, mind you. But one that believed in mermaids. And followed them. And became a merman - sorta.