Ashes

Author Annie Dillard says this about the urgency of writing:

“Write as though you are dying.”

What then is it to live with that same sense of urgency, to live as though we are dying?

What does it mean to write the story of our days in such a way that we are present to the power and poignancy of being alive?

Today I will have traced upon my forehead the symbol of my intention to be present to the ongoing story of breaking and being reborn. As I inhabit this story called life I join my soul to the eternal community of others who believe and seek to live the power of embodied love taught by Jesus.

The grit of the ashen cross traced on my body is reminder to live as though I am dying.

Because I am.

new old year

I am home sick on New Year’s Eve.

This was not my plan.

Instead of playing games and eating food with great folks I am tuned into a concert being broadcast from Lincoln Center.

I turned it on and my mother swooped into my heart.

For many years we gathered at my brother’s house to celebrate Christmas on New Year’s Eve. We would eat and play and then gather around an outdoor bonfire with the stars dancing overhead.

That tradition morphed for my mother into symphony concerts in the company of my sister and her husband.

And then, as the years made getting out harder, she took in the concerts available to her on television. I would call her and she would fill me in on what the orchestra had played.

So I am carrying on her tradition, I guess. She would have enjoyed this concert.

On this first turning of the calendar without her, I ache with missing her as I wonder at this living of life without her.

This year would have worked her fierce heart.

The falling from the sky of her grandson and his miraculous healing would have made her near sick with worry for Miles and Brook and for her beloved daughter Margie.

The finding of cancer in the body of daughter Cynthia would have been anguish for her.

And this election? She would have been spitting mad.

I dreamt about my mother last night. In my dream, she was dying. I remember thinking in my dream that I thought people only died once. But there she was, readying herself for death. I was grateful to be with her.

I wonder: Do we die more than once? Do we leave incrementally?

The gifts of those who touch our lives sound on in Copeland and in Strauss. Stars shine over bonfires. Hearts ache with missing.

Blessings on that which was.

Blessings on that which will be.

Blessings.

Happy New Year.

pilgrimage

A new year dawns.

My beloved has left on a jet plane. He is Hawaii bound. He will join his two older sisters for a sacred time of sharing breath and paying homage to the odd and powerful mystery of kinship.

Cooper’s eldest sister is dying. There have been years of silence and wrangle and now, now the time for transcending hurt has come.

It seems fitting, somehow. In the midst of paradise three people of soul and story will open themselves to the ache of the old and the invitation of the new and their vulnerable courage will free them each.

We are called to such freedom. The compassionate heart of the Christ calls us to such freedom.

A new year dawns.

We are the vulnerable and courageous and life is so very short.

May the time of transcending hurt come to us each.

reunion

It has been a season of reunion gatherings at our church.

Through reunions called “funerals” lives are remembered, strands of relationship and being are celebrated, and gratitude and grief are named.

As pastor, I am able to feel the coming-home of children raised in the church. For perhaps the first time they sit in a pew without their father or their mother by their side. The jarring is so real. Powerfully, the sanctuary holds their beloved yet; it always will.

Picture boards showing big fish and wide grins bear witness to a singular life. The innocent hope shining through wedding photos and the rascally delights of play bear witness to the unfolding of story and heart.

Friends and co-workers, long-lost relatives and church companions share sugar and coffee and a need to bear witness.

The mystery that is life, death, and resurrection. Together we bow before the enormity of it all.

The church writ large flops about in a scramble for relevance. We sometimes chase after the latest gimmick that will settle our anxieties about decline.

Would that we would cease the scramble and remember that the center of our being is reunion: reunion with the beating heart of the Holy, reunion with the ongoing presence, power and guide that is Christ Jesus, reunion with the promise that in the midst of life God longs love for each and all.

The church exists in order to facilitate reunion.

Through baptisms and funerals, faith groups and worship, we exist to host reunion.

Holy work, that.

vigil keeping

“Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”. John Lennon

In the thread-the-needle that is daily life scheduling, this summer was planned oh so carefully.

And then life happened.

Having just come out of the Boundary Waters with a group of youth I received a text: Son Jameson was in the emergency room with unspecified misery.

The drive home was endless. He was discharged. He was brought back the next day with more howling pain and admitted to the hospital and is yet at home recovering.

This on top of the death of my nephew has stuttered my life-cramming ways.

I was supposed to attend a conference in southern Wisconsin. I had looked forward to it all summer.

I didn’t go. I stayed home and kept vigil and thanked God for the opportunity to be present to my son and to the needs of my heart.

Really. Conferences and calendar cramming will all pass away.

People do too.

Having witnessed the searing pain of son loss, I got to son tend.

Life happens.

time and rivers

Of time and rivers flowing
The seasons make a song
And we who live beside her
Still try to sing along
Of rivers, fish, and men
And the season still a-coming
When she’ll run clear again.

So many homeless sailors,
So many winds that blow
I asked the half blind scholars
Which way the currents flow
So cast your nets below
And the gods of moving waters
Will tell us all they know.

The circles of the planets
The circles of the moon
The circles of the atoms
All play a marching tune
And we who would join in
Can stand aside no longer
Now let us all begin.
                Pete Seeger

How is it we are given this gift of life?

Having returned from vacation a scant 24 hours ago, I officiated this morning at the funeral of a woman who blessed.  She blessed through laughter and quick humor.  She blessed through a willingness to “join in” as Seeger sings in the lyrics above.

She lived a singular life; unrepeatable and precious.

And so it is for each who join in.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  My prayers for my loves and the real clamor of my longings sound relentlessly in my soul.

Sometimes the “I want” is a gong noisy and clanging and that gong has the power to create such cacophony within that the still small assurances of the Holy are near overwhelmed.

And then I remember.

Mine is to cast my nets below; deep into the moving waters of grace that will tell me all I need to know.

Still.  Small.  Powerful.  Deep.

Let us all begin.

 

 

dust

It is so elemental:

A thumb-full of ash traced on forehead.  Eyes that meet as words are spoken about inevitable death.  The deep knowing and willingness to name the beauty and vulnerability of living and the sometimes elusiveness of surety.  The breath of the Holy inspiring being.

We gather each Ash Wednesday and share such intimacy.

And we are changed.

 

space

I’m learning this new life; a life without Zoe.

The smallest things lurch my heart.

When arising, we had a ritual of greeting.  We’d have a conversation about whether the night on the couch was to her liking (I know, dogs on furniture are anathema to some but she was old and creaky and I could deny her nothing in the comfort department).  She would gaze into my eyes as I appreciated the silk of her ears.  Her fine dog smell graced me before I moved to the second grace smell of morning:  coffee!

Scraps of food in this house are no more cause for canine celebration.  We throw them away without being able to hail the dog with great good news of treats.

There is no click of nails on the floor or jingle of collar or nudge of nose when a petting is due.

There is no welcome when we come home and no barking salvo when anyone nears the fiercely and loudly protected domain of her house.

The space left behind is immense.

I’m left pondering the mystery of dog companionship.  For fourteen years she raised children, comforted the lonely and found her pleasures in bread and fishing.  She asked for little.  In return for food and loving she gave and gave and gave.

I’m missing that giving.  I breathe my thanks for her being.  I apprehend the vast space she has left behind.

I’m humbled by the power of grief and gratitude, both.

 

 

precious

My uncle Peers is nearing death.

Peers was born with a double portion of zest.  His liquid brown eyes were searching always for the next big delight.  He reveled in people, laughter, martinis and love.

His lust for life was both blessing and bane, I suspect.

His younger brother John was born with Cerebral Palsy.  Peers was coach, goad and heart for John through their growing up and into adulthood.  As John grappled with mobility issues, Peers was by his side in ways tender and fierce.  My mother’s voice lowers to the tone used when speaking of holy things when she talks about the love John and Peers have lived all their lives.  It is wonder, this love.

Peers made his way in life guided by his heart and his passion for people.  His passions took him to places sometimes difficult for his kin.  His convictions were seemingly unshakeable and his belief that hard work and determination would win the day seemingly endless.

And his laugh;  his laugh danced in his eyes and travelled with him as he wove life.

He was a man acquainted with sorrow and the soul need of joy.

Peers has been about a gradual leaving.  He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a number of years ago.  His sons have been seeing to his care with the kind of beauty that stretches the heart.

A number of years ago Peers came home to say goodbye to his sister Carolyn.  He needed to make a plane hop between Denver and Duluth.  One of his sons called and asked if I could meet Peers in order to be sure he made it from one plane to the next.

Of course I could.

When Peers walked off the plane, his whole body lit up with welcome for me.  I was wrapped in his arms and heard ringing out from him the self-deprecating laughter that marked his being in the world.  We had time to drink coffee and swap stories and as he walked onto the plane to Duluth, I knew myself to be blessed.  I didn’t know that I would have a chance to spend time with him in such a way ever again.

Oh, life and love are precious things.

May the huge wander of your spirit find delight, my uncle.