Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Chronology of Paying Attention (15): mourning friends

there was the time you called me up and met me with your tandem bicycle 
we rode eight miles back to your house then
picked out all the rocks in the yard by your swimming pool
because your father wanted it.
only then we collapsed on the grass
and I cried next to you because he had broken up with me.

there was the time your uncle died
and I couldn't find the Polish church and almost missed
you singing at the funeral
but I walked in right in the middle of the song.
when you sat back down in the hard pew
next to me I held your hand
because I didn't know what else to do.

there was the New Year's Eve our house
caught fire and my babies' clothes
all smelled like smoke.
you said come over and bring your laundry.
you took the bags from me at your front door
and told us to sit on your couch and take a nap.
you covered us in the red and blue quilt.

there was the Sunday night at church
i was so mad  i banged the door handle 
to leave the room in the middle of the meeting.
when I came back to my seat even though I didn't want to,
you reached your arm back through the crack between the
maroon and metal chairs and touched your hand to the top 
of my shaking knee. and then i sat still.

there was the Friday morning we drove to your
parents' house instead of sitting at the dining room table
in Endwell to pray.
we brought sheet music and you brought out the 
hymn books and we tried to find all four notes in the harmony
while we stood around your mother's bed.  she smiled at us and 
craned her neck to the spoon your father held out with ice chips.
we played her piano and the toddler plunked extra notes.
that was the last time I saw your mother
before she died.

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  For me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, to keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.

Won't you join me?  
I'd welcome your company along the way.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Five Favorites: Books I Read in April + great online finds this week

a favorite image from the week

beautiful Passover Seder with dear friends

Five Favorites: my 2014 reading list

-- 1 --

11  A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. 40 pages plus photocopies of the author's journal pages) 

The more I read about her, the more dear she becomes to me.  These earnest pages of prayer were recently discovered among Flannery O'Connor's papers in Georgia.  I thinks the impact might be similar to the response we gave to the posthumous words of the likes of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the Hebrew King David - doubt, anxiety and fear are a normal part of a life shaped by love for God and others.  With Ms. O'Connor they also come with a love for writing:

"Dear God, I am so discouraged about my work. I have the feeling of discouragement that is. I realize I don't know what I realize. Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted."

-- 2 --

12  Staying Put: Making a Home In A Restless World by Scott Russell Sanders: (Beacon Press, Boston, 1993. 194 pages) 

I don't quite remember where I discovered this title, but I enjoy reading those who value the meaning of place. Sanders writes from the perspective of one who has lost and now found the peace of living in place with a family he loves, finding peace in rootedness.  While I enjoyed the book, I found myself wishing the author would occasionally take himself a bit less seriously.  

-- 3 --

13  The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden by Stanley Kunitz with Genine Lentine, photographs by Marnie Crawford Samuelson(W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. 142 pages, including full-color photographs)

April put me in a gardening mood. I spent more time reading about gardening than actually working in one, but we managed to get a small plot in the ground. At the time of this book's publication award-winning poet and master gardener Stanley Kunitz was planning his 100th birthday.  This book was lovingly conceived by those who admired his long years creating beauty in words and soil.  A lovely, relaxing read even though I occasionally felt sad for one so well-acquainted with beauty to seem so unfamiliar with it's true Source.

-- 4 --

14  St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton(Image Books Doubleday, NY,NY. 1990. 158 pages)

Both Saint Francis and G.K. Chesterton are enigma to me -- in all of the most appealing ways.  The two -- one in his saintly excess, one in his saintly ascetic -- are perfectly suited literary journeymen.  Frankly, I can't follow all of Chesterton's turgid description but I soaked it all in with pleasure anyway.  As for the paradoxical monk, I'm glad to know him through the distance of centuries.  And hope to be just a tiny bit more like the best parts of his love for peace and the creaturely sacredness of our world.

-- 5 --

15  Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey by Luci Shaw (InterVarsity Press, 2014. 174 pages)

A warming Saturday morning read that, at times, felt more like a front-porch conversation with a woman in my grandmother's generation.  Luci Shaw is one of the writers I hope to emulate -- not in word only, but also in deed.  I'm glad she wrote this honest, yet hope-full, reflection on the act of aging toward inevitable death -- her adventure of ascent.  

A few favorite passages:
"Sometimes these changes feel volcanic and worrisome, as when my bladder doesn't heed my command to hang tight and I'm caught, embarrassingly, rushing for the nearest public bathroom in town and leaking along the way. Is this to be expected, and what am I to do about it? 
Oh, I know. Talk to my doctor about this or that prescription for "overactive bladder," a euphemism suggested to help one feel less mortified about bodily urgings: it's my bladder, not me, that needs help."
"Yet with Job, with Handel, I am learning to affirm, 'For though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God' (Job 19:26, as rendered in The Messiah).  I can hear the composer's tune in my mind. Is this what we can look forward to? No limited horizons, no more hearing loss, bloody noses, partisan politics, obstacles, canceled flights, stink of sweat, time limits, cracked bones, methane gas, sagging, underarm hair, global warming, wrinkles, aches, flue, yellowing teeth, floods, adipose tissue, tumors, tsunamis, cataracts, betrayals, myopia, hurricanes, irregular heartbeats, diverticuli, road rage, dementia, spider veins, erectile dysfunction, purple bruises, developmental defects, moles, anxieties, thinning hair, shame, delusions of grandeur, scars, lost socks, bald heads, unfulfilled dreams, longings for truth, oil spills, contracts, credit cards, debts, highway gridlock, meanness of spirit, discords, deserts, doubts, blizzards, deadlines... 

*Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from previous years.*


Other good words online this week

      • Easter With Flannery O'Connor by George Weigel at First Things"O’Connor’s sense that ours is an age of nihilism—an age suffering from by a crabbed sourness about the mystery of being itself—makes her an especially apt apologist for today: not least because she also understood the evangelical sterility of the smiley-face, cheap-grace, balloons-and-banners Catholicism that would become rampant shortly after her death."

      • Let's Not Get the Hell Out of Here by Timothy George at First Things: "Within the framework of redemptive history, it is also a chance to tweak the beard of the Evil One and remind him that his kingdom has been rattled: He is un roi prétendu. Despite the devil’s worst doings, God still reigns, Christ is risen, love conquers, and hilarity happens."


      A book-filled weekend for us all, dear ones.

      For more Five Favorites, visit Moxie Wife!

      Tuesday, April 22, 2014

      A Chronology of Paying Attention (14): All Who Enter Here

      In this chronology of paying attention, I've entered the middle school years.  Oh, joy.  I haven't actually written much about that yet, except for pages and pages of uneasy prose in the diaries I've locked away in a Rubbermaid container under my bed.

      Certainly one of the very best parts of my middle school and high school years were the sunkissed pond days we spent at my grandparents' cottage.  I've written one of my all-time favorite essays about that place here.  I'd love to share the words with you again. 

      All Who Enter Here

      In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  For me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, to keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.

      Won't you join me?  
      I'd welcome your company along the way.

      Sunday, April 20, 2014

      Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

      Resurrection Day

      Albrecht Dürer

      Seven Stanzas at Easter
      John Updike

      Make no mistake: if he rose at all
      It was as His body;
      If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
      The amino acids rekindle,
      The Church will fall.
      It was not as the flowers,
      Each soft spring recurrent;
      It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
      Eleven apostles;
      It was as His flesh; ours.
      The same hinged thumbs and toes
      The same valved heart
      That-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then regathered
      Out of enduring Might
      New strength to enclose.
      Let us not mock God with metaphor,
      Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
      Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
      Credulity of earlier ages:
      Let us walk through the door.
      The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
      Not a stone in a story,
      But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
      Time will eclipse for each of us
      The wide light of day.
      And if we have an angel at the tomb,
      Make it a real angel,
      Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
      The dawn light, robed in real linen
      Spun on a definite loom.
      Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
      For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
      Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
      By the miracle,
      And crushed by remonstrance.

      Saturday, April 19, 2014

      Holy Week Lament: Tamara Hill Murphy (Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!)

      Last night we attended the Good Friday service that Christ Church holds together with the hospitable Hope Chapel. On Thursday,  we wash feet and eat the Lord's supper before stripping the altar bare.  On Friday we sit in the dark, sing a few hymns and listen to stories.  Suffering stories framed in with the seven last sayings of the dying Christ. Each storyteller practicing the vulnerability of the exposed Christ, lifted up for all men to see the glory of the Father.

      Today I share again what I wrote last year.  
      Father, into your hands I commit my spirit 
               Tamara Hill Murphy, Holy Saturday 2013

      Because I've heard -- and haven't seen--

      I know the end of the story.
      Someone said this means we'll be 
      than the twelve --
      well, eleven.
      Because I know the end of the story, 
      I have a hard time seeing
      It's too easy to skip that day
      and say
      Sunday's coming!

      I need to hear middles of stories.

      So I can see.  Maybe not hear or
      see, but feel.

      In the dark church last night, the woman

      following her walker to the podium, she
      told us she lost the ability to hold onto things
      so a man carried her words to her (later, in the dark,
      I saw him put the straps of her purse over his own shoulder).

      She lost the ability to hold tightly
      but not to laugh, or 
      be held.
      Another woman told us her mama's deathbed was the first time she said
      "Your love was enough, mama." 
      And then with a last look, two women

      The middle of the story for the twenty-something,

      perched on a stool as if her body were so light it might
      slide onto the floor, assaulted by uncommon infection and
      the still-celebrated church man whose side of the story weighed
      more than her 

      All week I heard stories here --

      some beginning, some end, some
      The middle of Sharon's
      story, so nearly-capsized,
      she must speak in boat metaphors (as I have just done).

      In church, the six-foot-six bald man raised

      up the microphone to get it close enough to his (surprisingly) 
      quiet voice.
      I  thought about Sharon then, when the man told his story with
      boat metaphors -- the rolling on the floor in anguish 
      like a riptide
      of leukemia engulfing
      his six-year-old
      little girl.

      The safe harbor of hope where
      she just turned nine.

      I gave up my house for Lent.  And certain intimate pleasures

      my body is too wounded to enjoy.
      It's a story middle.  And like every year on this 
      I will write a letter.

      I will use a pen to dig into the mounded death of
      friendship, scooping for signs of life
      onto a peace paper;
      prayer of resurrection I do not expect any time soon.

      A eulogy to an ex-friend:
      I've given up hope for now, but let's put a pin in it --
      until the One holding that first breath of 
      once-dead for all the coming-alive-again in His 
      unbloodied mouth
      breathes hot life on us in the new city,
      the new garden where we get to try again.

      My pen a double-edged sword, pierces my own hypocrisy,
      frees the spirit -- my spirit! --
      the one I gave
      to the wrong person.
      I will pen-stab dead love with death-defying weapons:
      I'm sorry,
      I was wrong,
      Please forgive me.

      Even then, I'll suck in Saturday breath
      for alive-again life I do not expect,
       am not sure I really want, now that I've figured out
      the end of the story means death.
      Worse than death --

      Still, I listened to the stories all week, the ones

      that remind me grief is not terminal.
      The woman who made us laugh at Parkinson's, the mama who cried tears for 
      her preschooler to catch -- a too-soon old man growing young again,
      watered by his mama's tears.

      The boy sitting on a bar stool drunk on his daddy's words,
      This is my son.  Pass him the peanuts.

      The story of the cool cloth

      on the orphan's forehead, the poem finding hope in 
      hanging by a thread.  
      The airplane confessional, a woman committing
      her mother's spirit to the sky --
      maybe looking out the porthole window,
      hoping to cross paths up there in the clouds.

      The six-foot-six man standing on the church carpet like a blue wave,

      shouting into his tall microphone so that we jumped from our pews --

      Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!

      And I didn't see Jesus' friends catch him -- raggedy and shredded --

      off the wood.  Gauzing him up like a 
      bloodied toe.
      Burying him deep into virgin ground.
      I didn't see it with my own eyes, only heard.
      Maybe that's why -- when the scared story teller asked last night, 
      "Christ Church will you catch me?"
      I said -- Yes! As loud as I could so she could hear me.
      But also, maybe, God,

      to remind you in case you forgot -- 

      what with your back turned and all --
      that's what Good Fathers --
      airplane strangers --

      We catch the slip-sliding spirits falling out of the suffering.
      And hand them over to
      be held.

      Since it's only Saturday, and we haven't yet 
      really seen the Sunday (haven't beheld him in the clouds),
      all we can do now
      is hope you'll open your hands

      and catch us from the

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