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.
I got a call this morning from my daughter.
I am in Australia. She is home in Minnesota.
She wanted me to know there was no emergency but there was this:
Poet Mary Oliver died.
Knowing my heart as she does, she wanted me to know.
The melody of my soul is woven with Mary Oliver’s poetry and prose.
I was able to be in her physical presence once. She did a poetry reading in Minneapolis. The church where the event was held was full of those who, like me, came to pay homage.
I wept through most of it.
Some things are just too holy to behold.
I am far from my community and far from my books. I am far from the round table at our cabin that always held one of her books. I am left with Facebook as facilitator of communal testimony and grief and it is enough, I suppose.
The power of a soul compelled to sing is miracle.
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.”
Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to make it home again. It’s so far and out of sight. Carole King
Carole King’s Tapestry album was soundtrack for my adolescence.
One of the songs on the album finds the singer wondering if she will ever make it home again. Tired and dispirited, she knows the longing for a place that will take her in and hold her gently.
I am headed to just such a place. This Memorial Day weekend I will be home again. In a few short hours I will join my guy and my dog in the car for the journey to the cabin that has been in our family for fifty years. My girls and my new sons will join us in reading, coffee communion and lake watching.For nearly all of my life I have climbed into the lap of the logs and the water and the space of being home.
Going home is particularly poignant this year. My mother died two months ago and her being in that space echoes yet so I will miss her and celebrate her as the weekend unfolds. My father died in that space the day after Memorial Day twenty years ago. His presence lives in the logs.
And, I will be meeting with a realtor in order to learn what might be in store for me as I consider selling the cabin.
How can I let her go?
My sense of “home” has changed. For the years following my parent’s divorce and in the years following my own divorce I clung to the cabin with a sort of Scarlett O’Hara fierceness. I would not let it go. I could not let it go. The cabin was my childhood and my adulthood and it was my solace and it continues to be more things than my tender psyche will ever be able to articulate.
But home? I am learning that home is a movable gift. Home is where my loves are. Home is not frozen in place nor is it frozen in time. It is ongoing in its unfolding and for this I give thanks.
I don’t have to own the cabin to give thanks for my parents and my childhood and my children and the generations of friends who have shared cabin life with me and mine.
I don’t have to wonder if I’ll ever make it home again.
Turns out I’ve been home all along.
I went to church every Sunday while I was growing up.
Rarely did I get to sit with my parents during worship. My dad was up in the pulpit preaching and leading worship and my mom was in the choir lending the gift of her voice to the mix. Often I was in the pew company of my siblings. My older siblings tolerated the presence of my younger sister and me. We were preacher’s kids: watched and alone together.
When I did get to sit by my mom for worship, it was a treat. She smelled good. She sang harmony on the hymns. She did more than tolerate me. I could mold myself to her side and play with the rings on her fingers and when it was time for offering, she gave me a dime to put in the plate. I was no spectator. I was a contributor.
My mother’s birthday is this Sunday. She will be 85. What I came to realize is that more than anything else I wanted to sit by her side during worship. I never get to do that, since I am now the one in the pulpit and she lives four and a half hours away. On her birthday I wanted to be next to her in worship savoring her good smell, her fine harmony, and the unnameable gift that is her presence in this world.
I took Sunday off. I will be by my mother’s side as we share a pew and our gratitude to God for the brambles and beauties of life.
And maybe, just maybe, she will give me a dime to put in the offering plate.
Outside the sanctuary a bitter wind was howling. On this first Sunday of the new year the intrepid gathered to celebrate the power of light to guide us to new life. It was Epiphany Sunday.
We heard the story of how it was three wise men followed the star.
Most enchantingly, we heard the scripture read by young people. Both the prophet Isaiah and the writer of Matthew’s gospel were given voice by children and youth who call our church home. Their moms and dads had cell phones at the handy to record their young wonders and every person in the place leaned in and leant their breath and energy in order that the story might be told. Through the hearts and sounds of our very own beloveds the story was told.
The woman who directs the Little Angels children’s choirs – preschoolers who sing open-hearted beauty – shared a solo. Witnessing her singers watch their teacher bear witness with shine and beauty broke my heart open with wonder.
What is this glory that we share? What is this light we seek to follow?
On a wretchedly cold Minnesota morning the light of Christ drew us near and we bowed and offered our gifts. We offered the gifts of our presence and our intentions and our longings and our shine and we were warmed in the doing of it.
And the winter did not overcome it.
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.
Gratitude takes up space.
Gratitude swells and transforms and it is alive alive.
The kindnesses of my life sprung from the heart of human grace are tender mercy. Love lives in my home and it visits in the form of children who share life and laughter as well as questions and ache. The tender goodness of thick coffee and attentive hearts are ground for the stretch into the unknown of each day.
The artistry of the Holy pounds in the power of the Great Lake outside my window and it spangles in the still of night and the need to stop and pay homage lives in every “thank you” breathed on every day. Two bald eagles dipped blessing over our heads yesterday. Two.
Where is the space for so much gratitude?
I’ve had plenty of opportunity to think about kin these past months.
I left a church that had woven its heart into my own. We became Spirit kin and moving from them left me wobbly.
I arrived at a new place of making life, soul and ministry and have found kindreds who share hunger and thirst for hope and grace. We are making ourselves known to each other in the breaking of bread and the sharing of song and story. I preach and lead worship with pores open, seeking to hear their hearts and feel their questions. We are learning what it means to be kin.
My children by birth and by marriage have been surrounding their clergy parents with support and love and ground during this time of transition.
Cooper and I are learning a new town and new topography and a life without traffic jams and abundant concrete. The land here speaks in cadences of corn and curve.
We are listening to our lives.
On this day my children by birth are gathering at our cabin. They are celebrating a “sib fest”.
In their midst will be my eldest daughter’s dog. Chela came into Leah’s life in Denver after having roamed the streets. She has been Leah’s steadfast companion during times when her dog heart grounded my daughter in ways life saving. Sometimes I felt like Chela was my heart, able to companion and ground my daughter when I could not.
Said dog is very sick.
I pray body wisdom for my Pit-Bull granddog and heart ease for her mother.
And on this day my heart is sounding wonder about the vastness of love.
Love claims and and companions the making of life and it stretches hearts to the aching place.
We wobble, listen, weep and grow.
We are held by kin who walk on two legs and those who walk on four.
It’s Father’s Day.
I miss my dad.
He wasn’t the kind of father that taught me how to fish or change a tire.
He was the kind of dad who taught me to love poetry and truth and justice and the delicious oddities found in the daily of life.
I am spending this Father’s Day at the cabin. It was his home for the second half of his life and as I go through this day I remember cups of coffee and conversations, the rising of cigarette smoke and the rumble of his voice. I remember the ways that he paid attention and asked questions that invited me to move deeper into my life.
It wasn’t always easy between us. I remember that too.
On this day what I remember is the powerful pull that is love. From him life was given. Through him life was learned.
And still it is so.
Still it is so.