Thursday, June 26, 2014


A small stack of unevenly-cut cardstock sits next to the mirror on my dresser where I prepare for the day. I glance down and notice the scrawls for the first time this morning. With a quick movement, I slip them into my pocket, finger the worn edges, and make a mental note to pull them out later, anticipating a probable hour of need.

My soul is a forgetful creature. You would think that out-and-out revelation would have more staying power, those brief but holy flashes when I see life clear and pure. This is good. That is true. This is the way, walk in it. Monumental moments, and yet even half a day later, the glimpse has been forgotten in the swirl and eddy of a million synapses since. We manage to pack a delicious, nourishing lunch most days so we don't end up standing in front of the vending machine with a forlorn dollar bill contemplating candy bars. But when it comes to our heart-hunger, somehow we are not always as purposeful.

Maybe we ought to construct phylacteries, or some other kind of storage unit of reality whereby written language comes to the rescue. The Jewish people understood that you could carry transformative words through memory and other devices. There, on your forehead and on your doorposts, they would remind you of the past, define your actions and your affections, and prepare you for the future. And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt. Bundle up some truth and take it with you today; you're going to need it something desperate. Tell your heart to tell your heart all that it has learned. Learn to talk to yourself.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

On Tabernacles

I love the word tabernacle. It is one of those words that trips off the tongue and lips in a very satisfying way. Just try it, nice and slow. Tabernacle. I type out the letters one by one and tag on "etymology" in a search engine eager to help. Did you mean...? When I click my yes, I uncover the word taverna (hut or tavern), and tabernaculum (tent). Well, here's a humble beginning for a word which later came to describe something so exalted; nothing less than the bejeweled house of the God of the Hebrews. It was this, his mishkan (residence), which made it possible for the unseen presence to travel with them seen, all the way through the wilderness.

I've been contemplating for some time how a home might a sort of tabernacle or dwelling place for something other than just us. As in, a presence unseen. People talk about houses being haunted, and even if you think that's bogus, we all seem to be able to agree that spaces have a certain feeling to them. What must one do to create a positive atmosphere (at the very least), or even to invite the presence of the living God (to be a little bit more specific)?

For starters, there's always the original tabernacle-building in Exodus. If we look close, we see a man named Bezalel who peeks out of the shadows of the story and takes the spotlight for just a moment. This master craftsman apparently had his "spirit stirred" to put his hand to metalwork and other skills. He, along with other similar souls, were charged with constructing the tented sanctuary as a total work of art. The combination of strong, learned hands and artistic sensibilities was due to specific "wisdoms" they had been given. Wisdom to wield, weld, and make new worlds.

I am in the middle of re-making my kitchen and I want that wisdom. Right now, it all smells of fresh paint and...spice. A week ago,  I dumped everything into new jars which brought order and beauty but also fragrant, escaped clouds of scent. The madras curry, for example, greets everyday me when I come in to make breakfast. Perhaps a little like incense in a church.

Do you think of your home as a sacred place? How long did it take to make it that way? What are the practices that you engage in to keep it holy? 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

From Garden to City

It is said that we begin in a garden and end in a city.

In these first ten early years as a married couple, we have always been at our best, our most-loving, in gardens. Though we live in the middle of a city, we are oddly compelled to carve, till, and plant the little tenth of an acre around us. We pore over articles about compost, chickens, seeds, and planting dates. We cultivate the soil to bring forth vegetable, flower, and fruit of all kinds. I think of the tensions that ease when I take up a spade and he takes up a rake and we labor as one. At those times, one must let go of any extra weight in order to work for the common good.

Later, after hours in the burning sun, we take up food and drink with tired grins and light hearts. The things we set aside in order to work together now seem unnecessary, even petty. Through this mindful labor perhaps we reverse, in part, the curse. "In pain you will eat of the ground all the days of your the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground." To find happy satisfaction in our work is part of renewing earth - our bodies and our abode. All is from dust, but only we are god-breathed. Because of this, we will rise again the next morning and we will be presented again with the hard but joyful choice to "practice resurrection," as a "mad farmer" once put it. And one day we will awake to the real resurrection, life for keeps.

But before we go there, a brief glance back to the garden. It is written that God planted many things there that were good for food. And for all the infamy of that one particular fruited tree, there must have been hill upon rolling hill of bounty otherwise. When we bought our slice of earth over a year ago, there was nothing. Empty and void, neither shrub nor weed to grace the neutral drop cloth  of dirt. But the spirit hovered over the surface, so to speak, and soon compelled us to act, to re-create this sad, vacant little world.

The landscape slowly took shape as we spoke it into being, mostly during the long winter months. What has emerged so far? Our first tree, a cherry, stands at the ready to be fruitful and multiply. The food scraps we threw in the compost pile after dinners last summer have worked magically into rich, dark, living loam that will feed this year's crop. We have been scattering bright radishes over greens fresh from the garden for months already. And bits of potato gone to sprout are hilled up in a bin, working silently to push tubers out on all sides. So I say, in faith believing. No peeking until fall.

There are also gifts that arrive unplanted. Sprigs of mint from unseen roots deep. A mulberry tree on the property line, and crabapples from the neighbor, which simply breaks down the idea of a property line. Even the forest sometimes creeps onto our modest plot to surprise us. This year, the late spring rains birthed a crop of about two dozen morel mushrooms, which we happily unearthed. Omelettes were awfully special that week.

So here we are, living with a bit of Eden and a bit of the new Jerusalem. (Holy Land deli up on Central helps to re-enforce this impression.) Our chickens escape and run down the alleyway. We harvest wild pears while a city bus zooms past on Johnson Street. We buy bales of hay from Home Depot. And yet there is something that feels right about the colliding of these worlds. We yearn to bring green, pulsing, cyclical life to burst upon the gray concrete grid. And it seems equally good to imagine and build cities that are safe, beautiful and brimming with the intellectual and artistic foment that only comes when scores of people live in close quarters.

It is well-said that we begin in a garden and end in a city. From our mysterious, shadowy and god-breathed genesis, we move toward the greatest of revelations, the unveiling of the holy city and her descent from heaven to earth. Crying will be no more. Death shall be no more. Night will be no more. The city will be lit by God himself, who will make his home with man.