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.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


It has been a very long time since I've written anything here, which I could chalk up to any number of reasons. Very busy. Writing energies elsewhere. Lack of inspiration. But one reason became abundantly clear to me as I began reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts this week. The writer-poet's words trace her own aching, triumphing path through pain to thankfulness in all things. This is no self-help, slap on a "Thank-you-Jesus-now-I'm-fine" attitude. It is gut-honest and God-glorifying, a rare combination. (Job comes to mind.) I am finding my mind fully engaged, as a self-described "farmer's wife" teaches me more about true philosophy than some of my professors have. My heart is also alert, taking in her stories, the Word of God, drawing conclusions about my own, weeping sometimes. For Voskamp, the center of our lives is eucharisteo, or giving of thanks - the words that Jesus spoke over the bread of His body (Eucharist), the words that Paul gave the suffering early church, the words that are lost on our 21st century ears unless we trace back and listen hard. Voskamp's confession is an invitation to us all to slow down, consider the details in our lives, and by being thankful, we unwrap God's gifts to us, one-by-one, both easy and difficult. A woman, up to her elbows in laundry and bread dough in rural America, echoes saints and prophets and philosophers of old and reminds us how to practice thankfulness. It is a pure joy.

What became apparent to me was that my main way for unwrapping of the Lord's many gifts to me was this place called lifelongfling. All these years, beginning with our voyage to France, and up until the present time (however erratic!), I have been creating a backlog of thankfulness. At least, I hope so. There is the crafting of words, the selection of images that captured a moment just-so, and the bringing together into a cohesive whole, trying to make a joyful noise. One Thousand Gifts is reminding me that writing is a holy calling, a naming of things that God brings before us, like Adam and the animals in the garden. Sometimes in the confusion of the after-fall, I feel like I'm just seeing prints in the snow, but I'm still called to name them as from the hand of God.

Definitely time to write again.