Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Here it is with no poetic language or decoration: this was a mostly bad year. It was full of pain from several directions. I won't bore you with the specifics of what hurt or who (including myself) caused me so much downright awfulness of soul. Because these things don't really matter. Well, some of it matters to my journey to wholeness, but for readers of this little blog, any knowledge is likely to start people thinking with opinions the same way people watching a two minute news piece seems to have answers before the story.

How bad has it been? My prayers have sometimes gotten diabolical: asking for things I should not have or that I am not ready for, begging to be taken in my sleep, cursing some of the good I've been given.

It does not help to say or think, "It could be worse" or "Look on the bright side." Even a paper cut can seem like an amputation in the moment it has taken center of the human stage. So platitudes and advice can do as
much damage as an axe to the head if one doesn't take care. And by this, I mean doling out words with no heart, like tossing change out the window of a Mercedes while driving past quick enough to avoid the stench of the beggar.

It has not been all bad, however. In fact, with all the terribleness came a couple heaps of wonderfulness that I could not have expected and I certainly did not deserve. Here is what has helped me: walking and reading and church. I have lost about thirty pounds this year from diet and exercise, but walking has helped me to think more clearly and pray more honestly. I always been a reader, but this year I rediscovered the joy of what some call "getting lost" in a book. I call it finding more of my true self and place. And my faith community has been exactly that: a community, building me and stretching me. I haven't escaped the world, but found more reason to be in it. It also doesn't hurt to have a comfy chair and an empathetic cat.

But you need to know what has made the most difference: presence. People literally giving me time. Listening, laughing, lamenting (and yes, offering advice). Friends drinking coffee or tea, writing notes, tagging me in funny posts. Family saying prayers and putting up with my shit. My grandson making me laugh and giving me squeezes. And people letting me say, as they have said to me, "You so matter."

i know you can't quite fix me
but thanks for opening 
your workshop
and letting me get warm

I still have some shaky days and nights, and I can't say I see that the coming year will actually be better than this. Because despite all my best efforts, I'm going to fail at something, and despite my good will, somebody is going to die and someone is going to let me down. But it appears I can live through those things, and I won't be alone. That might be enough.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

With Us

One of the names ascribed to the Christ during the Christmas season is Immanuel. It means "God is with us." For me, particularly during walking year, the idea has been significant.

During our roughest moments, we need, more than anything, the presence of others. Not just hanging around, but not just being in the same room. I have all sorts of friends and family who have tried to help me during my difficulties, and advice has been helpful. But what has meant the most is that they have let me have a few minutes of just being with me, "[rejoicing] with those who rejoice, [weeping] with those who weep."

sometimes the bread and wine
bring me to tears i don't understand
and sometimes You find me
in the field thinking i'm alone
and feed me again

And solitude is not being by one's self. Prayer has been at times more fragmented, part moan, part exclamation (of praise, anger, frustration), part looking down at the dirt and walking in slow careful steps, part looking at the sky to take in the beauty of streaking clouds and hiding suns and moons.

But it's the "being with" that makes the most difference. Good friends, most of us know, don't always speak in words, and sometimes do not seem to speak at all. I've never been a good friend to God, but He's always been with me, not just listening to my many complaints.

too often i've heard
only echoes of my hurt
my voice bouncing off
the walls of the universe
mouth closing my ears

During the Christmas Eve service last night, our priest said, "And there was Mary, holding Immanuel." I noticed my daughter giggling, and I started to give her a father's frown of rebuke. She made the sign for book, and whispered, "I thought he said Mary was holding a manual."

And so I thought, perhaps we look for God in all the rules, all the things that seem to bring order to life, when the real need is us to accept God with us. Walking. Stumbling. Laughing. Weeping. With us, Being.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Of mud and mercy

This week has been shaky. I've walked, but not first thing in the morning. I've had to pretty much talk myself into it every day. Emotions wrecked, and suffering the post semester let down I should know by now will always come. Then there has been the rain and gray that is always here this time of year. About the only way I've been able to get myself moving is the fear that if I don't do it today, I might not do it tomorrow. I'm pretty good at believing my powers at keeping at bad habits.


So I go. Perhaps there is something of me thinking of John Irving's dictum to keep "passing the open windows." But he was talking about being inside and having windows to jump out of. I'm not good at seeing windows, only out of them. Often I find all I have to say or add to the conversation of the world is, "Have mercy!"

no dry place to sit
or kneel so i must seek
stillness on my feet

The honest answer to "how do you do it?" when one manages to accomplish something amidst chaos is "I had no choice." This year, I thought about the choices, and doing so has been scary. A choice to keep moving along, trying one's best, trying to seem meaningful despite the soil on one's clothes, despite the gunk weighing down the only shoes one can travel in--well there is a bit of grace in that, yes?

Finished reading Anne Lamott's wonderful Traveling Mercies a couple days ago, from which I found the following: "The truth is that your spirits don't rise until you get way down. Maybe it's because this -- this mud, the bottom -- is where it all rises from. Maybe without it, whatever rises would fly off or evaporate before you could even be with it for a moment."

Walking is supposed to be my time with God, and not just mental and physical exercise. I've taken to stopping during the longer trips and spending a few minutes meditating. But this week I've also realized that I've had too many conversations with people who aren't there, people who won't ever be there, instead of talking to God, or better yet, opening myself up to find what the Holy Spirit has to say to me.

So I'm hoping I can rejoice not only in the intermittent sunshine, but also the mud punctuating my days, caking my feet, slowing my racing heart.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Still whispering

This week has been the first of the Advent season. In my faith tradition, it is the time of waiting and anticipation for the Christ to come. And yet, I have had great trouble looking forward.

We think of Christmas as a time of coming together, but most of my friends are leaving, and I will not see them again until well past the traditional twelve days of Christmas. A friend and colleague died this week, finally losing his battle with cancer. And I must struggle, after months of the push and shove, trials and joys of teaching, to shift gears for a few weeks to rest and less stressful projects. When I imagine it, the rest is easy; when the time comes, I'm a mess.

 hello sun
hiding behind clouds
peeking around trees
still whispering to me

Many are not aware that in the early days of Christianity, Christmas was not a major feast day. The time most honored was Easter, the celebration of the resurrection. Now even the good and wholesome aspects of the holiday bring stress, so many find the whole month difficult.

I know I don't want to think about death so much, even with awareness of the end of the story, where life comes back and blooms. But I suppose that's what faith is about. You hold on because better is coming, all evidence to contrary.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Opening my eyes in meditation
I see a broken lamp,
or what seems to be.
With eyes like mine
one can never tell.

Breathe in. Breathe out.
Still, there is breathing.

Across the street
the better tended field is green.
I don't know what it is for,
but it's green defies the winter.
And I stand in brown and pale yellow.

Breathe out. Breathe in.
You are breathing still.
As I head toward home,
I see a sky that rained last night
and will rain again.
It won't be Hell, nor Heaven.
But it will be water.

Breathe in. Breathe out.
Until you are still, breathe.
Until then, find the stillness.
Until God finds you, breathe.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Unnatural Progress

fat dark grasshoppers
leaping beside me
running from the snake
missing the sun i catch

First real walk in a week. Between a chest half full of pain and Chelsea on television, I couldn't get myself moving this morning. So after grading a few papers, I got out into the balmy December afternoon.

We buried my grandfather yesterday. He was 94, and had been sick and unhappy about being sick. I suppose the missing him part of grief hasn't yet hit me, because mostly I have been glad to see him away from pain.

As I walked, I thanked God for friends who have been so loving
and supportive, not only during this grieving, but who have been helping me walk the dark part of my road the past few months. As I prayed, stepping through the piles of grass in a recently mown field, a rat scooted from where I had stepped, and scared the shit out of me.
As I recovered from my shock, I looked up to see dirt mounds and dirt moving machines left for the weekend. I tried not to be sad. I'm not a guy who extols the virtues of "the country" (whatever the heck that is), but I also don't always readily accept the destruction of nature for closer convenience store. I couldn't help but call to mind Cummings' wonderful line about progress.

But there were blue skies deep as love and sunshine. I've wept a lot this week, and not just for the passing of a good man. But I've also wept with gratitude -- so unnatural for me -- that so many people have let me into their hearts, let me hear their sorrows and frustrations, but also let me love them, because in there -- loving others -- is healing.