Saturday, October 01, 2011

Wonder-Full

I devote the darting, winding hours of each day to the pursuit of that which is true, beautiful and good in this world. I lead students to do the same. "I am all wonder" as Odysseus said, gazing at the intricate dance-steps and whirling color in the palace of his hospitable hosts in Phaiakia. How extraordinary that in our exceedingly imperfect world with all of its pain and evil that we even can perceive as much the former glory of creation as we do. Ruins as they are, they stand in towering, majestic
memory of what it once was - and will again be one day.

As humans, we are a microcosm of the fallen and glorious. We are absurd and inexplicable (or downright evil) one moment; capable of great sacrificial, heroic love the next. (See Carnegie Hero Fund for some examples, or recall Flight 93.) We are the being-restored, if we accept Him Who makes all things new. I snap and lord my pride over another created one. I repent in the dust that I am. Thanks be to God who leads us in His triumph. I love again, and (hopefully) better. Daily the prayer, forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. Groaning inward, we wait for the redemption of our bodies in full.

Whether glimpsed in the immensity of creation, or tracked in individual human stories, I have always been amazed by extent to which we are granted grace to see truth, beauty, and goodness. It might take long, patient hours of study - but it is all around us. Speaking about working with Terence Malik on his film Tree of Life, Brad Pitt reportedly said: "He’s like a guy with a butterfly net waiting for the truth to go by.” He seems to expect that kind of patience from his audience as well, and we do not live in an age given to careful and deliberate consideration.
The stunning images of his movie originally stretched over six hours, but he cut it down to a (mere) 139 minutes. This glory-seeing takes a long-staying eye. Though a masterpiece in terms of this kind of deliberate gazing, Tree of Life was booed at Cannes, and many people have walked straight out of the theater.

Whether glimpsing good or reckoning with evil, in the wide world or within myself, I have been given an opportunity to spend the lion's share of my days doing just this. I awake early and
bike to the bus stop with stars above my head (Is that Jupiter? I should ask the physics teacher later...) On the bus, I pull out an article on the sacraments in the church and their aesthetic meaning, which my colleague has asked me to help him translate from French to English (Now, what did Aquinas mean by that? Huh..) Once at school, I pull out Homer's Odyssey and carefully re-consider how to tease and guide the conversation for the first two hours of discussion with my juniors (Would a 16-year-old girl connect with what he's saying here about longing for home? How can I get her to feel this?) Onto the whirlwind of lunch and monitoring, which really means I just get to play chess with junior-high boys and talk about the Vikings (The people group, not the football team, believe it or not).

The rest of the afternoon I swim happily through languages: senior French class and wide-eyed seventh-grade Latin and pretty soon I plop myself in my chair in the faculty room and think about how to prepare for tomorrow. I don't get very far, however. The mind-bending conversation - it might be about prairie grasses, music theory and math, or epistemology (how do we know what we know?) - but it's always something.

Wonder-full.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Birds of Passage over Loring

video video
Over the mountain-growths disease and sorrow,
An uncaught bird is ever hovering, hovering,
High in the purer, happier air.

From imperfection`s murkiest cloud,
Darts always forth one ray of perfect light,
One flash of heaven`s glory.

To fashion`s, custom`s discord,
To the mad Babel-din, the deafening orgies,
Soothing each lull a strain is heard, just heard,
From some far shore the final chorus sounding.

O the blest eyes, the happy hearts,
That see, that know the guiding thread so fine,
Along the mighty labyrinth.

Walt Whitman, "Song of the Universal," Birds of Passage



Friday, August 26, 2011

In the Beginning

I awake early this morning with the sensation of fresh eyes, even before they open. Deep breath. And these words weave through my waking. I walk in the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. Yes. I steal out quietly to meet the day in its glory hour.

It is cooler now, and so the mist lingers patiently over the summer-warm pond, framed by spiky cattails and the silhouettes of mallards gliding, graceful. It is easy to breathe. Is this how the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters, in the beginning? In a world not yet illumined by Let there be!..He was. Before the world, the Word.

I find a tree that seems bent to perfectly hold my body, and lean there, content. I feel comfort from material things, the solidness of this oak along my back, smell of wet stone, the sharp roughness of marsh grasses along my hand. I cannot imagine before the genesis of matter. But He was there, in the beginning.


When was the last time I took a moment like this? To remember who I am, and whose I am? It's been too long. And what brings me back but the God-breathed, created world. Gift upon daily gift, He makes Himself known to me. Will I have eyes wide open? A striking line from Terence Malik's Tree of Life rings deadly familiar about the human penchant for missing the gifts: "trees, birds. I dishonored it all and didn't notice the glory." Re-align my retina, reset the lens to rightly discern these symbols of His love. Look at the birds of the air. Consider the lilies. Creation as parable within parable within parable.

And even more than the world that surrounds, the worn book under my arm. God-breathed, written words. Where I learn of the Word that was with God in the beginning, made flesh, then dwelling among us. Watch how He walked. This takes more than the natural eye. Though You do not see Him, you love Him. It is more like hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching rolled into one, then magnified a hundred times. No wonder we are to eat the scroll, taste and see, hear and obey, sensory experiences all mixed. Maybe we need a sort of synesthesia to discern things spiritually. Is this what Paul means by combining spirituals with spirituals? (1 Cor. 2:13) And lest we begin to think that this is a kaleidoscope of images unconnected to reality, like the poet who pleads:

take me on a trip upon your magic, swirlin' ship
oh, my senses have been stripped
my hands can't feel to grip...

though you might hear laughin, spinnin', swingin' madly 'cross the sun
it's not aimed at anyone, it's just escapin' on the the run...

No. My senses are not looking to escape, but return. To repent and be revived and rejoined to the material and everyday. Only He who came and felt all in the flesh, loved deep, died in loneliness and utter pain, and rose triumphant forevermore can breathe into the dust and remake me like this.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Happening


Artistic efforts in the avant-garde vein often sound much cooler than they end up being in reality. I think of Minneapolis' foray into a nuit blanche (all-nighter) at the beginning of the summer, which vividly described in advance a number of installations that a potential festival-goer could experience. Who wouldn't be intrigued by a "Sewer Pipe Organ" or "Panelectric Dream Streams"? Armed with a picnic, schedule, and short nap, Karl and I set out for a night of exploration.

We realized afterward that the most artistic highlight of our evening was probably the dinner we brought. The sun set in bold orange and splayed across an interactive spread of bread, cheese, and rosé. Total audience participation. Oh, and we caught the last set of the delightful Romantica, in that space sandwiched between Tugg's and the bar next door. But the well-touted "happenings" of the evening were comparatively boring. "Egg and Sperm Hide-and-Seek?" Yawn. Rather uncharacteristically, we went to bed early.


So, when I heard on the radio that this week's Movie in the Park was going to be Fritz Lang's 1928 silent film Spies, accompanied by an original score performed by live band and sound effects orchestra, I was a bit reticent at first. Was this going to be another strained attempt at semi-scripted movement, too bound to unrhythm for those of us mere mortals fool enough to try to follow? Still, I couldn't stay away. This would either end up being extraordinary or painfully awkward, but I had to find out for myself.

The audience stretched out in the hundreds up the hill behind the Walker Art Center, and a friend and I scouted out a minuscule patch of green between swaths of endless picnic blankets. When dusk had sufficiently descended, the reel-to reel whirred into action, and a bouncy hand eventually settled black-and-white images on a square of white floating in the foreground of the Minneapolis skyline. Cello and violins sprang a tense, fitful waltz, intoning suspense. When the first dialogue flashed across the screen, an eerie voice repeated some of the words, hummed them, and disappeared into the darkness. For the next hour and a half or so, I was spellbound.

In fact, I think my mouth hung wide open most of the time, as if my ears and eyes were too full and I needed some other way to take it all in. Paper crackled, toy gunshots snapped, feet scuffled and stomped. Woven lovely throughout, the music of Dark Dark Dark kept pace with the spastic, fantastic plot lines drawn from Fritz Lang's imagination. In particular, the climactic train scene near the end was such a coordinated feat of music, sound, and thrill that the audience broke out into spontaneous applause when came to its dramatic end. We were moved and felt the need to participate, to respond in some way. It was a happening that - well, actually happened.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Place for the First Time

If you take a moment and glance at the top of this page, you will see that there are banner-words that are etched in digital precision across every lifelongfling that is posted here. It has been that way for a number of years.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The lines are from T.S. Eliot's poem cycle The Four Quartets, a text whose twists and turns of phrase have been food and drink for my soul for many years. Have you ever listened to a song and felt that the chorus and perhaps a verse of two suddenly clicked into line with your own experience, your own heart? Portions of these four poems have been like this for me - as if the shape of my inward being had been carved out to house the particular images found there.

One recent Monday, in morning-glory hours, I gulp down droughts of fresh coffee and pack my bags for a brand-new journey. Official forms scrawled with signatures, a plastic container of food, map of the building, an unfamiliar textbook or two, bottle of water. I also fill my mind, subconsciously gathering the flotilla of disembodied names gleaned from email lists and more distant impressions from now-long-ago interviews. Knots in the stomach made it difficult to disentangle worry from excitement. I grabbed the keys and burst into the sunlit present, ready to explore.

I will drive this road thousands of times. This is the first time.

I arrive at the school fifteen minutes too early, wondering if I should wait in the car for politeness, but others are quietly making their way inside. Oh yes, I don't park in the visitor's lot anymore. I belong here. My eyes run again across the native prairie-beauty that encroaches onto school grounds; deep magenta grasses sprouting out of cracks in the sidewalk. I wonder if they encourage that kind of growth here...I have ideas, vague shapes and forms of what I think this place will be like. It remains to fill them in with solid day-to-day reality.

I walk through unfamiliar passageways and remember how it all seems so big at first and grows smaller the more you know it. Tentative first steps into the faculty room and shy hellos. Feeling around for my place in this expansive, common room with many desks touching together, and then I see my name scribbled on a post-in note. There I am. Other things have been left behind. A box of Kleenex, a copy of Plato's The Republic, paperclip, and what's this sheet of paper? Handwritten across the top, I see the words:

"To the one who comes after." Under these words, a repetition: "Who comes after..." I have inherited a piece of paper with coffee stains and history, a kind of chain letter. I glance at the printed text below the mysterious hand-scrawls:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time...
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well...

I have been holding my breath and exhale. The final stretch of the poem, my poem, the lines engraved on my inner self. I look around for someone to tell. All unknown faces, and yet I must share this deepest of secrets with another flesh-and-blood being, and so I venture to explain to my brand-new colleagues. You're not going to believe this, but... Yes, I manage to convey some of the gravitas of this moment, and their faces register matching delight, startled into pleasant surprise, lifted eyebrows. Indeed.

I know this place, but I will not cease from exploration. I will continue to tramp through untouched stretches of waving Big Bluestem, thrust my face into the inky night sky pinned by points of ice, be wrapped up in the covers of well-worn books, and let the fireworks in my brain explode into ah-ha's and what if's and imagine what might happen's. I am stunned to have found a workplace that holds up a sense of wonder as a primary part of our vocation. Annie Dillard articulates it well:

I am no scientist. I explore the neighborhood. An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment. He hasn't the faintest clue where he is, and he aims to learn. In a couple of years, what he will have learned instead is how to fake it: he'll have the cocksure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place. Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood,view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we can't learn why (14, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).

This is going to be a good year.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Crossing



"And thou hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; Thou hast set my feet in a large place." Psalm 31:8

HALFWAY THROUGH last semester, I was swept over by wave after wave of startling, cold revelations. The academic path I had chosen to take for so many years disappeared with each ensuing crash, revealing only more shifting sand. "All Thy billows and Thy waves have gone over me." Whereas I had thought to finish my course, the Lord had other inscrutable plans. As I wrote to a circle of faithful, praying friends - almost exactly three months ago today:

"I'm standing at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians closing in. I am standing by to see the salvation of the Lord. This morning, I prayed that when dry ground appears, that I would have the discernment to recognize it."

When you have lived in Egypt for most of your life, you get used to believing that maybe that's all there is. Head down, making bricks, sun in your face, press on. You live with the rhythm of the Nile tides, the rainy and dry seasons. Eating cucumbers, leeks, and garlic. Yum. But surrounded by an endless pantheon of foreign gods, you grow used to the daily sacrifices, the ones that that stink in the nostrils of the Most High. Sometimes it takes a sign and a wonder to pull you out and make you see how very unfree you are.

For me, it took a few harrowing months of stormy sea until the swirling eddies collected at my feet, and I could see well enough again to walk forward. Meanwhile, the landscape had completely changed. Before, the path through and toward academia had seemed to stretch on obstructed (and forever), but now the way was firmly blocked. My committee did not think that the path I had been forging was best finished in this department, at this particular juncture. Explanations abounded, though the matter was entirely, breathtakingly...inexplicable. I exercised the ingenuity and strength that the Lord gave me to effect a solution. What could I change that would not compromise my main priorities - department, program, advisor, school, campus? Nothing. Lord, what are You doing? The hearts of those in authority are "like water in His hand...He turns them whichever way He chooses."

Confusion, anger, sadness...these all took their turn with me, as it is the way in times of unknowing. Our hearts. He made them to feel, and it is good. (But not to stay there.) After a time, He picked me up. I brushed the gravel off my knees, and the seawater out of my eyes. That dream was buried and grieved, at least till a future time. Now I began to get really curious. What had He cleared my mind and heart (and schedule) to do next? Like many aching souls in this time, I began the laborious process of presenting my credentials to the slumping job market. Rework the CV for each, can I learn the corporate jargon fast enough, interviews with a disembodied voice several states away, face-to-face and fearful (did I do all right?), will you take someone part-time? Meanwhile, the daunting hurdle of preliminary PhD exams, endless meetings with faculty, and still having something left to give my students at the U.

My students.

It took a good many years for me to realize that while I value research, my heart is on full-throttle in the classroom, tutoring, office hours, casual conversations - with my students. So, I applied for several teaching positions. In the end, it was an off-handed suggestion from my mom and a facebook message dashed off to an old friend that sparked the chain of events which (paraphrasing the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge), "picked me up and placed me where I always wanted to be." It so happened that a community of high-school learners in Eagan called Trinity needed a full-time faculty member to teach French, as well as other fascinating humanities courses. As I met people and saw the culture of the school in action, my jaw dropped. I had the distinct sense that I had come home. All that remained was to wait and see if the search committee agreed with my hunch. Thanks be to God, they did. I begin this fall.

The Israelites traversed the dry ground with miraculous curls and crests held back by the Lord's mighty power...only to fall into a humbling wilderness. I am no stronger than they, so Lord preserve my thankful heart and keep me from grumbling when it gets hard again. For the moment, though, I'll spend the summer whooping and singing at the top of my lungs: He has triumphed gloriously!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

What I did for my summer vacation (so far)

Warm-breath summer evenings. Limpid light over Loring pond. Falling asleep on a park bench in the sweet-hot sun with a book on my chest. When I dozed off, Jane Eyre was almost finally reconciled to her dear old Mr. Rochester. Another day,I bask with mom in the earthy smell and light of the plant nursery, pick out healthy green shoots and plunge them into the dirt before the evening sun slips away in the yard. There was spotted light through honeysuckle blooms when I went to check the status of the mulberries this year. When all is dark, my brother and I read Twelfth Night aloud and guffaw at all the crazy jokes. I split a cigar with dad around the campfire. Another night, Karl's away gigging, and I spend it with Bob Dylan (happy 70th birthday), window open to the smell of rain; figs, red wine, and a good book for dinner. The next weekend, ducking in through the back door of the Fine Line Music Café with the musicians - that feels fantastic. We haul the keyboards downtown two nights in a row, and I get to dance all weekend. Yet another evening, we smile straight through the new Woody Allen movie with dear friends. Midnight in Paris, it's like home movies for us. Afterwards, we traipse through the book store, end up around a bottle of French wine at Lucia's. But why let it stop there? Another Woody Allen movie and ice cream to boot? Yes. 2 A.M. is the new midnight. Another day, afternoon tea party in a tornado, and I get to catch up with old friends, newly-found. "You really should read some Willa Cather." The next morning, her prose grabs me and thrusts me into the fields of Nebraska, and it's all I can do to tear myself away to cook dinner - everything else is on hold to find out how Àntonia fares in the end. I think I would have made a good pioneer woman. I like hard work...when I'm not devouring books. A knock on the door surprises us several evenings later. "Grab some shoes, we're goin' to the park to play fourquare and shoot hoops." We still have neighbor "kids", even though I'm 32. The next night is spent chasing three little pink T-shirts of various sizes all over the playground, discovering and giggling till exhausted. I biked, ran, and babysat that day. That's like 7th grade. Most days, I bike all over, and I cannot do so on a summer day without a silly grin affixed to my face. Everywhere smells like flowers - first the lilies, then the lilacs, and ever more. I spend a late afternoon with yarn wound 'round my fingers in the coffeeshop down the street, and the Knitting Club finds me there. "You have a thing for yarn, too?" Wednesday nights are booked, hereafter. Another day, drove Karl to work in Northeast, and spotted flowers in the dumpster in my rearview mirror - who would throw away blooms like that? Oh, my path is strewn with flowers. And music. I jog laps to the strains of a Saturday afternoon mariachi band and cheers from the horseshoe court. Homemade coffee ice cream to cool down. Grilling down by the river with our tackle-box bbq from Grampa Walt, followed by a stroll under a yellowed fairy-tale moon aside the mighty Mississippi and dam. We try to pinch our eyes awake for an all-nighter arts fest, but end up sacked out on the couch. Avant-garde is only so engaging after a certain hour.

A time to be thankful. To write letters. To pray. To scrub my kitchen floor. To invent. To play. To work, quietly. What a gift, this summer vacation! He makes me lie down green pastures and leads me beside the still waters, restoring my soul. A recurring thought over the past few days: I don't remember the last time I was this happy. It's not that I have been unhappy as of late. But this feels like fulness of life. More about that soon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Saltating Sand

In For the Time Being (1999), Annie Dillard tells us how she became obsessed with the idea of sand. Where did all of this sand come from? She briefly recounts how her curiosity led her to the topic of sandstorms. One particular fact caught on my own imagination. Apparently, these impressive shows of nature create massive amounts of static electricity.

A memory. Me, a gangling kid in wool socks, laboriously shuffling around the beige shag carpet. My little brother, too. We worked up a bodily charge, then barely touched fingers, felt the spark leap, squealed with delight. Under the same charge, many times more powerful, soldiers in the desert lean over and puke.

The difference is the vast quantity of sand and the arid climate air. Dry particles lift easily off the ground, whipped by the wind. They rub together, creating a charge. Once the process of friction begins in earnest, the electrostatic field draws yet more sand up into the fray. Suspension of density. This continues and billows into gigantic, cloud-like formations, sometimes reaching two miles into the sky. Two miles. In this electric atmosphere, ungrounded vehicles being refueled will explode, the online Army Guide to the Desert informs me. People become nauseated, but they can drag a cable behind them to offset the negative charge.

They are only tiny grains leaping and dancing, technically "saltating" (L. saltare). But in a matter of hours, the whole topography of the desert can change. On March 25, 2011, a massive sandstorm in Kuwait prompted the photo above and a flurry of shaky cell-phone clips on YouTube of the event. Go and watch a few, and just try to separate heaven from Armageddon.

"Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee. " Ezekiel 38:9

"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Luke 27:28

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Gone Writin'

Just a brief update to say that I've got a couple of research projects to nail down, but I'll be back mid-May with more musings.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Already Not Yet

I am a broken not-yet kingdom
Cisterns dried up in tiredness.
I tell all the old tales to myself,
Awaiting the return of a king
He who rides through deserts
To set me completely free, indeed.
I believe already, help my unbelief.
For all has waned to a standstill,
Caught in unmoving, restless time.
Perhaps a chance to firm feeble knees
And put feet straight on broad path
But there's no lifting power left in me.
Listless, I scribble many words
For the simple illusion of progress,
To keep the plot moving forward.
But inwardly I still groan, forlorn -
When will life have taste again?
Without vision I would perish here -
Lead me to the Rock higher than I.

Friday, April 08, 2011

When folly quits to stir

When folly quits to stir
Warm in the prickly heart
And inflames no more
Bare my soul and an arm
Swollen and tattoo-crossed
Self-made crown of thorns
Over the sin of my forefathers
Rage seeps from the bones up
Spreads its toxic fever bubble.

Try to suppress the humors deep
And the hidden tumor will burst,
Break the lips and shatter
On a unrelated but fated day.
To sublimate only serves to
Silt the reddish ire in the veins
Deeper ore still and unreachable.

Claw at the pain but cannot
Scratch away the inky deeps
It seeps into the life streams.
But there is another choice.
To see another's blood spilled
And split the ground with joy
Uprooting the old evil paths
That run me through and through.
Redeeming me from mark of Cain
When folly quits to stir.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Conversation


Yeah, don't read into the question.
That's so weird, I was just thinking about that,
But I was thinking, what it's okay with me, flirt with life, I'm sure-
She was very quiet.
Three days of detox
I think that's a powerful experience – I wrote right back.
And so, I'm like
I don't know
Questions.
We can talk about it any other time but now.
That's what you said the last time.

You would have been in serious trouble
Why, seriously
See ya, hey, thank you
We're gonna hang out
It's been a while
Seriously.
It's been an hour.

Laughter.

Monday, April 04, 2011

show me your glory

there are tear-ridden days
when soundless lips
wrenched wide open
mouth again and again,
i want to understand.
would you show me
the fulness of your plan,
just let me read it all,
straight from your eyes,
as a man speaks to a friend?

but you know my frame
maybe this wracking pain
is but the backside of glory.
who can bear it up and live?
i beg to see his face
do i know what i ask?
but he hides me instead
in the cleft and shields me
from a certain death
and still holds me near.
lord, i won't complain anymore
when your love covers me.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

the work of dreams

every day i awake a new adam

the dream and the hand of God

having labored an eternal hour long

upon my unswept wilderness.

i lay my body in a grave of sand

let my stormworn soul settle still.

then he comes, traces in the dust

ciphers of mercy i strain to understand.

why do they lie behind my memory

once morning beams light my eyes?

maybe a secret name to be given,

or a someday body to be risen,

will hold the imprint of very good.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Flowers to Fruit

For years, my academic efforts have brought me along a good many true and right paths. I was always surprised when the trail kept spreading out before me. There were a few contorted twists and switchbacks here and there, but always moving upward, forward. And always a delight for the eyes. Words spilling out of books, I stood under them and tried to catch what I could of the blooms sailing down. Beneath my feet, ideas as old as dirt from which new thoughts poked up from deep, unseen places, just showing their tips above ground in the early season. I tilled till I ached, I took it all in. Work and pleasure.

Last weekend, a sabbath from the toil. The impudent spontaneity of a Sunday on the verge of warm kept us out after an afternoon concert. We whisked through cold blue shadows between tall buildings until we reached golden beams and lingered there, languorous. No flowers. Concrete and rusty pine from December, placed at regular intervals along the Mall. "Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged." I pick up a line or two and let my mind wander to gardens. Our feet follow, through the brass-handled doors, up the escalator seven times, and we find ourselves engulfed by buzzing crowds, the heady scent of greenhouses, and bursts of impossible color. Thank you, Macy's. Even if it is "the spring time, but not in time's covenant." Not in Minnesota, at least.

I am not a botanist, or even a well-informed amateur gardener, but it seems as if the best sort of bloom ought to also be a harbinger of fruit. When blossoms come to the end of their ephemeral life, shouldn't they go through that painful-seeming process of turning inside-out, transforming themselves into bread for the eater and seed for the sower? Woe to the tree that does not bear fruit.

And so my thoughts run for these long seasons of preparation - paths of beauty that have been unto themselves, many blooms holding out for transformation into something one could eat. We long for at least a partial fulfillment of the creation mandate: "Be fruitful and multiply." To reverse the curse of the ground. While we groan with Adam and Eve, we have a better hope. "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

snow and ash

after the fire, the ash.

delicate petal-flakes

of once material things

whisked away in the wind

the snowfall leans long

this year in a shadow,

a dull white of weeks.

life is underground,

pinned down for now

like gabriel's great wing

held by the prince of persia.

where is my clarion message

from the almighty direct ?

covered hopes smothered

but this is mercy maybe

that renders them scentless

not senseless, i know that.

this is death's season

in death's covenant.

when we mourn

our falling, our failing,

his lifting, our raising,

above the snow and ash.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Between Topographies

There are whole worlds hidden and obvious, and I walk past them everyday. Mostly I forget to look, but sometimes I see. I am learning again to look and when I do, I am confronted with spheres of life that overlap, coincide, collide. I find myself in-between the infinite and infinitesimal.

I bend my eyes to the frozen topographical map that splays out under my feet, and imagine that I am looking down at a planet, each of those cracks is a fissure in the crust, each bend a river. Now I am an explorer, charting this moment, memorizing what I can for later, when I'm starved for beauty in a stretch of dull grey cubicles, stress, and fluorescent lights. Packing a meal for my journey through the worldly world.

I continue running, the crunch of mountains and valleys under my feet is satisfying. Looking up into the white-capped blue, I catch a snapshot of the endless of the sky. It keeps going, and going. Giddiness. Suddenly, I am back in the upstairs bedroom as a gangly girl, darkening my room late at night, and training my telescope on the moon till she filled my vision and my heart skipped a beat. Every time. I puzzled over that. Why does seeing a faraway, bright thing so close make the heart race so? I'm still not sure, but it's possible that it has something to do with glory. I never had a hard time imagining that the ancients worshiped the great lights. But they "worshiped the creation rather than the Creator." St. Paul, who grew indignant at the neverending pantheon of gods in Rome, says that this is "to exchange the truth of God for a lie." My head spins with implications, but my heart rests secure now.

I am too large in some topographies, stomping like a clumsy giant over ants and ravines in the sidewalk cracks and snow-tipped tufts of brown vegetation. On the other hand, I am too small, lost with my blood pounding in my ears for all the glory out there brought too close. "What is man that you are mindful of him? And yet you have made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory..."

Something else rings in the memory, something I read long ago: "les deux infinis" (the two infinities). Pascal. How did that go again? Finger runs along my bookshelf, and eyes across digital pages too, remembering, until I see and yes. This is what is happening. This is where I am. And it's meant to feel awkward:

"Let man contemplate Nature in its entirety, high and majestic; let him expand his gaze from the lowly objects which surround him. Let him look on this blazing light, placed like an eternal lamp in order to light up the universe; let him see that this earth is but a point compared to the vast circle which this star describes and let him marvel at the fact that this vast orbit itself is merely a tiny point compared to the stars which roll through the firmament. The entire visible world is only an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of nature. No idea can come close to imagining it. We might inflate our concepts to the most unimaginable expanses: we only produce atoms in relation to the reality of things. Nature is an infinite sphere in which the center is everywhere, the circumference is nowhere. Finally, it is the greatest sensible mark of God's omnipotence, that our imagination loses itself in that thought."

And then,

"Let him behold the tiniest things he knows of. Let a mite show him in the smallness of its body parts incomparably smaller, legs with joints, veins in the legs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapors in the drops, which, dividing to the smallest things, he wears out his imaginative power, and let the last object which he arrives at become now the subject of our discourse; he might think that this perhaps is the smallest thing in the universe. I wish now to make him see therein a new abyss. I want to paint for him not only the visible universe, but all the imaginable immensity of nature within the confines of an atom. Let him see an infinity of universes, in which each has its own firmament, planets, earth, in the same proportion as the visible world; within this earth, there are animals and finally, mites, in which he'll find again the same things as he found in the mite he started with; and finding again the same things without end, let him lose himself in these wonders.."

Let me lose myself in these wonders.