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We are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our “horror vacui,” our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, “But what if …”
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It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God’s actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let’s pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.

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Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance.
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Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.

in memory of Aimee Schultz Losse
April 24, 1918 – February 27, 2002   

“Purge me with hyssop, and wash me, . . .”  Psalm 51:7

We took Aimee to the hospital
in the wee hours of Thanksgiving. And I saw
medical workers insert a tube through her nose.

That was before the feast
that should have been—no, was—but got delayed,
as they drilled us for reasons (in ER),
for justification

for the many pills we brought along
to keep her body in a fragile balance,
gone—unknowingly—with a broken sternum,
from the accident in Shelby.

We saw coffee-ground vomit,
knew only some of the answers, felt
reprimanded by staff doctors,
for ignorance, for nocturnal confusion.  Still,

up for a day and a half,
I know what dehydration is
and tried hard to prevent its happening.

At home, I washed soiled sheets,
not for love (nor lack of it) but to put things
right. I moved like a poet—laboring—
under the weight of the burden of truth.

And once,
when we came to visit and found her unclean
with a powerful stench wafting in the air,
she waved us away with bony fingers,
hiding her face in a cotton blanket.

The nurse would clean her. We’d eat
hospital-chicken. But by accident, we left our
money in the car and—discovering our oversight—

left food near the register, fled
into the cleansing rain, much needed and ever-so-
welcome like the promises found in the canon of God.

Promises?
Yes. But hers is a much longer story.
And I deal here with possibility only:

How sometimes the mind fails to know
what the body fails to do. And sometimes it does know.
Sometimes the mind fails to know what it does,
the soul fails to know what the mind is doing—

like the time she said, especially
delicious meals, always, to my knowledge
and for many years, eaten in the company of Paul,
whom she misses—
and her mouth in sorrow now just forgets to eat.

So five—or was it six?—and three
at Monday’s Care Plan Meeting,
where the Springwood staff and her next of kin,
address her waning effort, her long-held depression.

We hear out their plan—(give it two weeks)—
buy wine and a bird feeder,
notice the commode, newly placed in her room,
hang an analog clock, or try to.  And we,

who live in her dwindling shadow, quarrel,
while she nudges the contents of her
lunch with the tines of her fork. She lies there
day after day, her eyes either foggy
or shut.

But knowing that the past is never “just the past”—
knowing things she does not know—
what I want is a miracle. (Perhaps,
she wants the same.)  I want to scream
like Jesus, no, to Jesus: Take up thy bed, and walk!
and watch her walk.

Too tired?
Why we all are.

I had even asked my friends—
when we left the Ghoeles’ house following the Fifth
Saturday Social of the local model railroad club—
Is it all right to pray for snow?
And they all said, yes!

With the new year, the snow came.

So we re-built four computers
in four acts of restoration
that helped us with the claiming of our peace.

She asked us to go away, visit her later—
just as January settled in—
on that Saturday
before it rained a cold and freezing rain,

the sky as dark and lonely as a prayer
thrown back from heaven.

And then one night, she said,
we’d kidnapped Aimee, even prompting me
to write it down. So I’ll include known details:

When she choked on breakfast sausage,
she got oxygen. The pneumonia had settled in,
clogging her lungs with invisible pus.
And the ligament—exposed and visible—
in the sore on her left leg was slow to heal.
Fact is, it never did.

She used her energy to resist therapy, or
so it seemed. She felt caught in the middle,
didn’t know what to do, said, it seemed
we all wanted different things.

And we did. We’re different people.

Then we said our good-byes in a hospital room,
cried and held each other’s hands. A kind nurse
drew the window shades. She told us to
take our time.

first published in ShoeBox Diaries

The angel stands, not in the water
of the flowing pool, where the four cherubs
frolic, but on a lonely slab of cracked cement.
And surely, as she reaches outward
toward an unreachable lamppost—

where joe-pye weeds line the garden wall,
and it is always moist, especially in summer—
the daisies flutter at her with their ostrich-eyes.
A part of her hair has eroded away.  A part of her
right hand is broken, and the grass nearby

is as green as the Emerald Isle.  In September,
the coneflowers accent the white garden gate.
The wind chases certain oak leaves through
deepening shadows, through expedient
patches of navy blue shade.

But the wind blows most of the leaves away,
and sometimes, after the rain, the sun casts
elongated rainbows on the sculpted path,
perhaps even, on the chestnut orb of a pumpkin,
or on the gourd that sits near the angel’s cooling toes.

Once cuddled by ivy, the statue stands forgotten,
up to her knees in the drifts of a late winter snow.
Icy cherubs gaze toward the stars.  Then crocus
appear, and daffodils emerge from the melt,
their yellows as soft as a neonate.

The sun seems still innocuous, when Flowering
Cherry-petals become springtime confetti.
The angel wears, on her cheek, tiny droplets of rain,
a smudge of petal-pink for blush.
She’s been crying but pretending she wasn’t.

first published In Mastodon Dentist

“From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth,

From the laziness that is content with half-truths,

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,

O God of Truth, deliver us.”

                                                    —Leslie Weatherhead

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Hat Tip: Richard Groves

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Richard Groves is the pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. He once said reminded me that the truth does not lie somewhere between two extremes. The truth is wherever you find it. Dr. Groves continues to inspire me.

 

There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society. Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired, whether you are a writer, an actor, a musician, or a politician.
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Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It is not easy to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with great patience, perseverance, and love.

I’ve been reading much too much prose,

too many blogs. I’ve been arguing

too much politics, while the core of Lucipo

is hooking up in Asheville, readying them-

selves to perform. Sure I want to read. I want it

.

like I long for the snow that now always

veers itself north, dumping on the Great Lakes

and New York, in awkward aside to

the theory of warming—coming or political—

depending on how you interpret Al Gore.

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Mardi Gras precedes Lent, year after year.

And I have been hoping that hope and hard work

would pay off, hoping that someone would listen,

but there are Republicans among us, ever-ready,

to tell us how dangerous I am.

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I’m a poet. And Utopia is where

I don’t have to travel to read in a bar. Sure,

I want to read, but perhaps in a garden like the one

I should have planted, before theories of Muslims

grew underfoot like crab grass, giving rise to

.

the butthole-police who inhabit our American airports,

and shortly—I hear—are coming to thrash out the grass

of a railroad, near you. But in spite what they say,

I am neither communist nor alien. I am a poet and have

no conspiracy to hide from the day. Thinking it over,

.

maybe I’ve been pushing the wrong buttons.

 

We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, “Whatever I do in my private life is nobody else’s business.” But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life.
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Jesus says, “No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15). The most inner light is a light for the world. Let’s not have “double lives”; let us allow what we live in private to be known in public.

The real bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat

This photograph of the actual bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat was taken by Rev. Donnie Williams, a participant in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and author of The Thunder of Angels: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the People Who Broke the Back of Jim Crow. The bus is now in Detroit at the Henry Ford Museum.

Eulogizing Rosa

Rosa Parks left us
an un-payable debt:  A Pathway to Freedom.
Legacy secure, work unfinished,
this Freedom Fighter passed.

When God simply asked her to surrender,
her soul had said, “Yes!”  “Seems like
it all started happening, when I stopped
talking,” she said.  And so she sat quietly

in that Montgomery bus, so she could
feel the Spirit and do the right thing.
“If I perish, I perish,” she thought.
Servant-leader, giver, mentor,

she was a light to challenge the darkness.
And now we gather while yet we live
to honor her at this her Home-going.
The defiance that made her holy brought her

to the place from which she went quietly Home,
leaving us behind as her living memorial,
to be known by our works.  “God uses
the available, grounded in Something larger,”

said her eulogizer.  “Turn our mourning into
living, into something love-based.”  And if
we believe that honoring our elders is the first
Commandment with Promise,

we’ll heed unto Preacher Jackson’s words.
We’ll follow freedom’s unselfish path,
hailing her as our (nation’s) Mother Parks,
both now and when “we meet her

on the Other Side.”

first published in TimBookTu

Intimacy between people requires closeness as well as distance. It is like dancing. Sometimes we are very close, touching each other or holding each other; sometimes we move away from each other and let the space between us become an area where we can freely move.
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To keep the right balance between closeness and distance requires hard work, especially since the needs of the partners may be quite different at a given moment. One might desire closeness while the other wants distance. One might want to be held while the other looks for independence. A perfect balance seldom occurs, but the honest and open search for that balance can give birth to a beautiful dance, worthy to behold.

February 2007
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