Archive for the 'memory' Category

Lent: Trust

amywink February 27th, 2018

img_2490.jpg

Trust

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” Teilhard de Chardin

I am thinking of myself
about to be seven,
standing alone
in a black velvet dress,
trimmed in lace,
standing on the
caliche drive
between home
and church,
accompanied
only by a cat.

I am in a pensive, shy
pose, tucking my head
unlike in other photos
I have of myself at the time,
where I am shining
with happiness,
surrounded by animals,
laughing, bold.

Many things are
about to happen,
beautiful and terrible,
but here, in
this photograph,
is a moment in
her beginning,
between home
and church,
in the year
she began
to pay attention,
in the year
she began
to write.

Ashes to ashes, Stardust to stardust.

amywink February 14th, 2018

“In one of the stars I shall be living.
In one of them I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing
when you look at the sky at night.”

~The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When Stacey decided she had to go on disability as her cancer spread, she faced mounds of paperwork made worse by the continuing solicitous phone calls from her case managers, who always seemed to be asking the most pointless questions that feigned concern or empathy, as if that could be scripted and no one would notice as long as the pauses were in the right place. But Stacey was an authentic person and one who did not tolerate fakery at all. At All. Still, she understood that the person was simply reading off a script and wasn’t really to blame for the words that were not their own. So I heard all about it instead of the case manager and I sympathized, gasped, offered rolled eyes or righteous anger as we wrote to each other so we could both deal with her approaching death.

After one particularly irksome call, during which the case manager glided right over Stacey’s comments about having terminal Stage IV cancer, about being riddled with cancer, about only having maybe a year to live, and asked “what do you think you’d like to do after you get off disability?” Stacey was simply flummoxed as to how to get the person to go off script, to listen to her, the person, not the case she was managing, to think of her and not the money that she was costing her insurance company. As she raged with me, I said “Why don’t you tell her you are looking into a future in compost?” And suddenly her frustrated rage turned to laughter, that saving grace that somehow I often managed to find for her, a little light in the dim world. She laughed and laughed and we thought together about how what her future in compost might involve and how that might trip her case manager off her script. But for me, what I recall was that Stacey laughed. I had given her the right word to turn her draining anger into the nourishment of grace, like compost. It is a lovely memory of a terrible time, good dirt made from decay.

Good dirt nourishes the living. That rich dark compost we add to our gardens comes from the organic remnants we discard, returns to us the food we eat, cycling through our bodies, connecting us whether we notice or not. And in our bodies, the atoms that are “traceable to stars” and our cosmic, biological connection to “every other living thing in the world.” Our chemical “connection to all molecules on Earth.” And our atomic connection “to all atoms in the universe.” We are, as Neil deGrasse Tyson says “not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust.

The dust of stars in the ashes of our bodies.

Compost.

Ashes can be added to acidic soil to raise the Ph balance in soil. Consciously applied, ashes make the ground more tolerable for some plants that need a less acidic soil.

Consciously applied, a single word can make the world more tolerable for someone.

Consciously applied, a single life can turn the soil into something else, balance the faulty chemistry into richness and change the possibilities for a fallow field under a universe of stars.

So many times, Stacey offered the right word, or right understanding, and turned my life onto something else. And so many times, I did the same for her. All of my friends do the same, offering themselves, their understanding, their light. I always try to do the same, to see the person, not the case in front of me, to hear the human being and understand what they might need to hear, so as to turn toward the light. We are in the world to nourish each other, to make each other rich with growth, to return what has been given to us from the soil from which we’ve grown, the soil that also contains the dust of stars.

I do not know what her husband has done with Stacey’s ashes. I am sure she had a plan. I have my mother’s ashes and I hope one day to drive them to New Mexico and leave them in the mountains where we used to camp, where the wind in the trees sounds like the sea. When my father dies, I expect I will do the same. Those ashes may enrich the soil, like their lives enriched mine and others, and I like to think of them returning to the place we loved so much. As for me, I am making rich and vibrant dirt with my life, cultivating myself so I may nourish others. I hope when I am done, when I return to the earth and stardust, I will have left something growing because of my presence, or perhaps at least a little starlight for this dim world.

The Language of a Quiet Faith

amywink February 13th, 2018

“Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent.” Acts 18: 9

In 1987, I moved to College Station to enter graduate school at Texas A&M, where I would pursue and earn two graduate degrees over the next nine years. I was 22. It was a lengthy and continuous lesson in dogged persistence but I had a powerful inner drive to complete what often seemed a very distant and indefinable goal–one with very few benefits except, perhaps, a job teaching and writing at the end of it. But like writing a book or living a life, it is hard to think of an end goal as the whole purpose of the journey, especially when traveling through the branching streams of choice that may or may not appear along the way. Recently, I read a Twitter post that asked “Why didn’t they just call the Eagles in to carry Sam and Frodo to Mordor at the beginning?” as if efficiency should have been the entire point of the story that Tolkien wrote. The point, of course, is not only the end result, so much as the entire journey we take, what we learn along the way, how we live, and how we keep going, faithfully. I bought a t-shirt in graduate school that read “The Road to Enlightenment is Long and Difficult, so Bring Snacks and a Magazine.” It is also important to keep laughing.

I could have stopped, and I knew people who did. I understand and respect that decision completely, but I couldn’t stop and when I completed my PhD in 1996 (I was 31), I thought I had been too slow. Seriously. I was driven. What a nutcase.

My long experience at Texas A&M returned to me recently, the memories triggered partly by reconnecting with some people who had made a profound difference for me while I was there but even more so by the language I began to encounter in the workbook for my New Testament Disciple class, the language of Christianity. I had a visceral response that I did not quite understand. I was set on edge, suddenly wary, irritated. I had no such reaction to the Old Testament workbook. What I had loved reading, and often read privately throughout my life, seemed to be filtered now through a language I found alienating, a language that subtly pushed a specific kind of response to the Biblical readings, a language that separated me from the text I loved, from the faith I lived, language that said my experience was not the right sort of experience, that implied I’d better have the right kind or keep quiet. It was the code I had learned well at Texas A&M, where the conservative right prevailed and employed the language of faith as a weapon. Loudly. When someone asked if you had experienced the power of Jesus, they were ready to pick up a stone if you answered incorrectly. I understood the code. I knew what was being asked, and that coded language pushed hard against my quiet faith until I felt compelled to speak, to push back, to challenge what I had long remained silent about. I changed the language, reworking a particularly egregious section even before I was very wisely counseled to do so (thank you, wise counselor). I had an effective argument against the language used but more importantly, and less articulately, I could only say “This isn’t right. It’s just not right.” Rewriting it was the only way I could find peace.

I know I am more attuned to precise language than most people and I may be “overly sensitive” but precise language can be the difference between opening up to understanding or closing to it. What words mean and what they imply make a difference in how we understand. To think that precise language is insignificant to Biblical understanding is to miss the entire beauty of the Prologue of the Gospel of John, to miss the meaning of many parables, to stand like Thomas confused and asking “what road are you talking about?” when Jesus says “you know the way.” Perhaps that is why the Gospel of John speaks to me and why it confuses others. There are, however, three other Gospels that do well to reach as many readers who may seek to understand. There is not just one way to learn, nor is there just one way to experience “the power” of Jesus, nor is there one kind of power.

The conversion narrative has always taken precedence in the literature of spiritual autobiography. The showy conversion, like Paul’s, dramatizes an unmistakable change. There can be no mistake about the presence of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost–and that seems on purpose, those Apostles could not wonder about that meaning. Conversion narratives from the Middle Ages often turn on a terrible illness or crisis during which the speaker encounters the Divine and is forever changed. Even now, the drama of a changed life is more exciting, someone “coming to Jesus” from drugs, or alcohol or prison or, as we may often hope might occur, a wrongly held political opinion. We want the drama. We want the certainty of a fiery revelation, the certainty of “arriving” at the right place, something no one can miss, some thing that cannot be mistaken. Even so, many of those narratives end before the converted have a chance to find themselves asking “and now what?” It is the glorious wedding with no ideas on the marriage.

There are precious few narratives for those of us to whom God may speak quietly and continuously, offering peace and clarity when we most need it, without fireworks or flames, or getting knocked off our horses, for those of us who think we were born okay the first time, for those of us who take up our journey with God and our living faith, for those of us who are not lost to God but always in his Presence. And this is where I find myself now, thinking about my quiet faith, which I have become suddenly very public about because I feel compelled to speak. I am writing different answers in my Disciple workbook, challenging the code I learned to understand, subverting that which has kept me on the outside of “the church” because I am tired of the language that claims the faith for only one kind of Christian. I am tired of being told that my faith isn’t. I do not know if I am up for the task but when I found myself thinking “we don’t have enough good writing about faith. We don’t have enough good writers exploring this kind of quiet faith,” the answer that came into my head was “well, that would be you now, wouldn’t it?”

Be careful what you ask for

amywink December 14th, 2017

Be Careful What You Ask For

How difficult it
must have been
for my mother
who planned
and willed
and prayed
for a daughter
like herself, to realize
her prayer was answered
with some one more,
more real,
more powerful
more frightening
and yet more beloved
than she thought possible.

This daughter who would not
be molded like porcelain clay,
who would not turn her head,
even at her mother’s request,
but who would instead,
set her jaw and mind
against the boundaries
of her mother’s life
this daughter who would
continually push against
those confinements,
an uncompliant Eve,
intent to bend all arbitrary rules
to the point of breaking
so that we might all be freed,
into our own Edens,

This daughter, an answered prayer
for the freedom she was afraid
to know she wanted.

“I miss my little boy”

amywink December 3rd, 2017

“I miss my little boy”

In the presence of
our friend’s deepest grief,
the rending of her heart
tears at both of us
while we listen,
wanting to say
something,
anything
to ease her
unrelenting hurt,
as if words could
mend what only
time may change.

But there is
simply nothing
we can do
as she breaks
before us shattering
in grief
in anger
in fear
in longing for
her bright boy,
now gone.

In her wailing darkness
all we can do
is be with her
while she breaks
and breaks,
and breaks,

be with her in her
unfathomable pain,
be with her,
wordless,
be with her,
waiting,
be in her
present,
her broken
yet unbreaking
friends.

« Prev - Next »