Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Do you wonder why you write a blog?

Me too.

These past few days, I've been wondering why I blog. I have talked about words on this blog. I have talked about God. I have splashed virtual ink about forgiveness, joy, Italy, homesickness...

but the thought won't leave my mind: why do I do this?

and the thought trailing after it: does anyone read it?

Those two thoughts are mischievous - they're tying my writer's shoelaces together, that third grade trick, so that when I get up, I am soaring through the air ... and colliding with cold elementary school tile (or in this case, a sense of dejected writer's block). And the only way I can think of to undo the knots, and retie my shoes is to freewrite, go back to my basics, and let myself answer the first question.

Why do I do this?

Because I can't not do it, I can't not put something onto the paper and onto the screen and into your head. Because thoughts are thoughts, only for a  moment and they aren't eternal and they are worthy of the words that capture them like a butterfly net. I want the thoughts to flutter against their lettered cages and move off the page and make art. I want people to conjure up images when I talk, feel calmed and intrigued, imagine the world with me. I write because writing is a way to be alive. I write because my mother is a poet and my father is a professor and art and academics are mingling in my blood, because I want to become something. I write because I hear words all the time. I write because I can't draw the world like Monet and I can't dance the world and I can't act the world but I can write it. And no one teaches you how to trust yourself in these things, to trust that you are in fact going the right way or the wrong way but it'll turn out all right. I write on this blog because I want to create. I write on this blog in the vague and unfathomable hope that God does something with my words, and maybe just maybe there is a way to sing by writing.

My sorrows are commonplace and ordinary, my joys the kind that everyone knows: fresh-cut grass and birds perched on wires, laughing with friends til sides ache and fighting for an idea against the best arguments, making someone smile, listening close and hearing the heart, wondering. I write because even though they aren't the stuff of epics and novels they're the stuff of being alive. And what else is there, except this? That the world is ours to share, not own, and ours to treasure, not possess, and people are miraculous and I write to reach them?

I write because writing bends and challenges me, pushes me farther and makes me more faithful. I write because there is never enough time to give thanks and never enough time to be breathless and never enough time to teach and learn from the people of books and the places of books and the wonder of books. I write to remember. I write to pray. I write to grow.

And so while these answers are uncertain and confused - and maybe you ask them too - they have answered the knot of writer's block: if I must write, Rilke reminds me, I must write. And not worry about the rest. 

He says, dear readers and writers, the best words:

"You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must", then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose." (Letters to a Young Poet, Letter One)


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Have you gotten lost in a book today?

Last week I asked you about dancing in your kitchen: if you let yourself fly free from restraints, if you turned the music up too loud and bumped into tables and chairs as your feet found their rhythm. And how much joy we found together! I can just see all of you with your smiles and laughing eyes not even glancing out the window at the gawking neighbors.

And today, I want to share another delicious joyful question: have you gotten lost in a book today? 

I woke up in the leisurely hour of 8am. I stretched like a cat, my arms creaking and feet wriggling. The bright sky streamed through my windows and I felt the cool air waft through my window fan. A bit later, as our dog nestled into the space between our two couches, and I lounged on the bright blue and green cushions... I fell into a story.

It's called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer, and it is the most delightful collection of letters I've read in such a long time. In the past few weeks, I've gone whaling with Captain Ahab, I've defended Tom with Atticus, and I've even traversed the strange swamps of Muchinkinland with Elphaba. But this morning I fell into the small island breezes of Guernsey, hidden between Great Britain and France (two of my beloved friends)... fell right into the narrator's life.

Her name is Juliet, she's an authoress writing in 1946 right after the war, and by some delightful series of events, Dawsey Adams writes to her about Charles Lamb and books, and the story is all the adventures and learning that follows.

I was so captivated by the stories she was collecting that I forgot where I was and who I was and I lived on the edge of each page. My eyes strained at the margins, and I could see everything with her eyes: the vivid colors of sky and easterly winds, the mail boat arriving in the port, the fields and the shattered remains of Occupied territory.

So I ask you: have you gotten lost in a book today? Have you wandered the caverns of a story, imagined things almost faster than the author splotched them onto paper? Have you felt your heart leap when the heroine finally realized that she was being foolish, and asked the bold brave question? Have you laughed out loud to a silent living room when your favorite character said what you'd been thinking all along? Have you let a book lay claim to your entire mind for a few hours?

Because if we let them, literature and stories will litter our lives with their wisdom and beauty. You will find yourself on a run down Wethersfield St looking out at the vast expanse of Mansfield Park. You will pick up a box of coffee at the grocery store and suddenly wonder if The Real Inspector Hound shouldn't have somehow involved a stain carpet with the undiscovered body. You will be calmly alphabetizing, cataloguing, vacuuming... whatever other verbs - and the story will creep up on you and illuminate. To read, to curl up around words and let them scatter seeds in the wind? What better way to sow joy into life? 

So, your assignment in the project of opening ourselves wide to joy. Pick up a book. Feel its spine, the strength of its pages, how they might be leathery and worn, or crisp and clean. Smell the book itself - its secret love notes, its dreams, the person who read it last hidden between dog eared pages. And then find yourself the most sunny corner of your house, preferably filled with tulips or roses, and read the book. Let it illuminate. Let it whisper and shout its wonder into your life. Because of course stories are about the Story: the Story of who loves us, the Story of who we are becoming, the Story about this vast inescapable expanse of muddy paths through forests and foxes spotted between trees and the call of morning doves and the broken fences and the feeling of being alive and the smell of lilacs (yes, especially that). Read the story.
(mandie sodoma, sindisiwe photography)

And if you're hankering to know what I would pick up?

1. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows)
3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery - in French, L'élégance du hérisson)
4. The Complete Short Stories (Flannery O'Connor)
5. In The Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alvarez)
6. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
7. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
8. Watership Down (Richard Adams)

Love, from my joyful reading heart,

Friday, June 24, 2011

For those who wonder (a five minute post)

It's that time... Five Minute Friday time! Come join us - Lisa-Jo picks the topic, and we let our words fly free like birds over oak trees. It's so much fun, and we would love to have you!

This week is about wonder.

Her face bursts into a grin when I make my smile, eyes scrunched up and nose crinkling in her tiny, perfect face. She wiggles toes and arms and rocks back and forth on her blanket, staring into my eyes like there is nothing else in the world to look at. She is a five month old reminder of the miracles God makes out of the abounding, overflowing love in His heart.

I pick her up and the world dissolves for a few moments in the awe of her - how she is formed, yet her tummy and squirming limbs remind me that she will keep growing, spiraling through years and dresses and putting things in her mouth and laughing, so much of that. But right now, in this moment, in this living room, her parents looking on in the same wonder and amazement, I have eyes only for her.

Because she is the reminder of the wonder - that God loves us each wildly and fiercely, that He delights in our flailing limbs and our first few hesitant rickety steps towards Him. He sees us as those miracle seeds, His children. He sees our stumbling and He holds us tight, just as I hold this little girl and rock her close and feel her little body in my lap. I remember that the wonder keeping the stars in orbit, the wonder of bird nesting in the lilac bush, the wonder of understanding each other, the wonder of meeting someone new who you love, the wonder of this achingly beautiful world is just this: that His love is the single thread running through it.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

When God tells you something in your car

I wasn't going to blog today. I wasn't going to put tired fingers to keyboard and bombard you all, dear readers, with more words. Because, quite honestly, my words sound a bit hollow, echo chambers of the things unsaid, and I thought I'd keep quiet today.

But can we ever keep quiet when the words arrive? They choose us for some inscrutable reason we can't possibly understand, and He chooses us, too, to be the vessels of His love. They choose us when we yearn for silence, so that we can sit and look at the sadness in our hands... we don't really want to write about it but we sense that we are supposed to. So here I am, on this blog, this grey misty morning, hoping against hope that the words written are spoken in my heart and yours, that somehow they help. 

I was driving to work this morning, talking my way through a prayer, my voice choked up because yesterday was the day of departure, the goodbye clattering to the floor, looking at me. The countdown of days and hours, mugs of tea and cupcakes, sighs and questions - it's brought us here to today, when your car rounds the corner and I sit in my office, my usual perch, and wonder at the fact that you are gone. And as I rounded corners and listened to the hum of lawnmowers and the thud of newspapers on front porches, I knew He was praying through me, this rambling prayer and realization:

I spend too much time in the glamour of doubt.

I linger in the corridors of questions I know the answers to: I know how He loves me, how He has whispered and waited and rejoiced over me. I know His existence like I know why the surface tension of water molecules makes raindrops circular; mysterious certainty. This is how I know that we will remain close - with the same mysterious certainty. But I lurk, tracing my fingers over the doorknobs and windowsills, peering in to see what it might be like to be uncertain and curious, to wonder, to search for ultimate meaning with the real possibility of finding a new answer, or a different Person. I draw through the dust on the windows the idea that maybe it won't work, and we will unravel, the years of mentoring and boys and questions and silence and growing will unweave as we put distance between us. I lean against the walls and imagine that doubt is a glamourous occupation (even as Melville spins it in Moby Dick).

But what I need is the dirt of obedience. I need to kneel next to rows of newly planted corn stalks and bean sprouts and the creeping branches of strawberry plants, hands in the dirt, packing soil around each tender new seedling. The Gardener looks at me, shaking His head. I can hear Him say, "How long, little one? How long will I need to come fetch you out of your whirlwind, out of your anxious spinning? Can't you see how much there is to do here? Get in the dirt and plant with Me. Don't you see how I long for you to help Me?"

For the first time, I see it: how trusting Him with my heart is like trusting the gardener with his saplings. How I could still, even though doubting seems smarter, more prudent... I could still give my heart over to the dirt of obedience. I could dig my hands into the soil and plant trust and hope and love in rows like lettuces. I could trust Him when He tells me that you love this web of time and trust we are building, just as I love it, and that He is guardian and protector of us both.

Do you ever realize that God's talking to you, only to then realize it's the same conversation the two of You have always been having? You've tuned in and out, wandered through corridors where you can't hear Him, but He's always been talking to you? And today I hear that same refrain: "How long, little one, will you hold your heart away from Me? How long, little one, will you wait before you come running back to Me?"

Mary Oliver and Pablo Neruda keep asking and sounding their questions and answers in my heart, and somehow they are reminding me that even our wildest dreams are planted in the dirt of obedience. Mary Oliver asks:

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

And Pablo Neruda makes my answer: "So, through me, freedom and the sea will make their answer to the shuttered heart." Or, in his Spanish... Y así, por mí, la libertad y el mar responderán al corazón oscuro. This is what I long to do (and you understood it, didn't you? All those years ago?) and to begin, I have to start gardening.

I kneel in the dirt today, dig my hands in between the roots of what we've planted, and watch in amazement as He and I plant beautiful things. 

Love, always, in the grey days of homesickness and the gentle rain on the roof, 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I remember the word release (a post about freedom)

The song sounds on repeat through the quiet office. She sings about arriving, coming to Him, bending our hearts again to unload the storms and the distress and the weight at the foot of the cross. About His light, and His calm. But in the quiet place where Lent feels like every day, release is a word for being washed clean of whatever you are bearing, unclenching your hands from the paper that is due, the laundry that needs folding, the letter that needs writing, the report you didn't manage to finish at the office. Release is a word for an exhale and a small smile when you realize you need not hold all things all together all the time.

Word for Today: Release

Definition: Release means freeing from restraint, confinement or servitude. It means to relieve from something that confines, burdens or oppresses. Release is a word about setting free, unyoking. It is about relinquishing. Release is a word about freedom. 

Release, v. To lay down the expectations. They are heavy loads, the things we demand of ourselves. The narrow vision - I am this kind of friend, I am this kind of wife, I am this kind of teacher, I am this kind of Christian. We whisper the vision in each moment of possible failure, of the coming up short. It's at the water fountain when I'm gulping down replenishment in the thirty second window before I need to go to work, that I feel them clamber into my head - be this, do that, if you were a better this thing you wouldn't feel this way. Release is the word for standing up, feeling the water journey down into your stomach, full of its necessity, tracing its path down the back of your throat... standing up and saying, "I can do no more."

Release, v. To run forward. We can't run with burdens, our pockets full of gravelly guilt and shame and that word failure. We can't run, new sneakers on pavement, the pounding heartbeat and the Kreb's cycle at work in our mitochondria... not if we carry restraints. Not if we are yoked to what we imagine we ought to be. Not if our hearts are shackled to the first glorious imagining where we are perfect and life is perfect and nothing falls apart, because if it falls apart, we whisper, it just proves what we secretly worried all along - that we aren't, can't, won't be, that other word enough. Release is a word for things falling out of your hands and your feet taking you forward anyway.

Release, v. To shout in your car against the pounding rain that this is the truth: He came for you. He came for your small shivering self. He came into the world as a child to make you His child. As I drove home the other night I swung my car around my favorite bend in the road in the state park, and I started talking to God about the things that are confusing, and about how much I don't know, and how I'm so tired of not being chosen, of feeling like I can't do it right, or right enough. 

How can this be, Lord? That you came into the world for me? That you want me to be yours? That even though I jump out of the sheep pen and even though I prefer the wandering wilderness and the shadows and every broken heartaching drama to you, even then you come to look for me? Because it's not my goodness. It's your grace. 

Release, n. This is the being-set-free. The promise He shouts everywhere in this wide earth - a promise that in this moment, there is nothing more beautiful than your delight in sunlight dancing through trees. Release is standing still, grass tickling your bare feet, closing your eyes, and hearing Him say: 

"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." - Isaiah 43.19

May the promise, and the freedom, and the release sound in your heart today. 


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do you dance in your kitchen?

I have a confession for you.

When the day runs long, I turn on pop music. Not to make a clever, ironic and ultimately sophisticated statement about the banality of repetitive chord progression, or the blank pages of lyrics. Not to lament my 10 hour day or to escape thinking about things, to make my own mind void.

Nope, I turn it on because there are moments when I must remember that dancing in your kitchen and laughing are important parts of choosing the joyful life.

I thought about blogging today about Trinity Sunday, and the beautiful strong Name of the Trinity. What does it mean to bind yourself to that name? What is the mystery of Trinity, of Three and One?

But if this life is about growing in joy, binding myself to Him means remembering out loud the ways that He teaches me to love this world. And today I want to share a little bit of that with you.

We dance in the kitchen. Me, Mom, the brothers and sister when she's home, even Dad on occasion. We bump into chairs and into our table, we spin around and glasses of water shake precariously as the floorboards quake. The sun sneaks in through the windows, the breeze through the hallway. The music blasts from my laptop and it's too catchy not to dance.

It starts in our shoulders, the uncontrollable bopping to the beat, and then we are on our feet, sneakers and hot pink shoes and sandals. and our hands are in the air and we are snapping fingers and jumping up and down. And we sing the wrong lyrics or no lyrics, and it's just us and the laughter beaming from one person to another. And we are never embarrassed (well, almost never), because the music is in our veins and we move in spite of ourselves and all those pesky insecurities.

How can this be? Because when the world presents itself to us, all full of mess and glory, when we watch water beads on the rhododendron petals, when we share stories over cupcakes and tea, when we try new recipes on the grill and offer to buy groceries for our parents - we can choose to make that the heartbeat of our lives. Those don't have to be isolated moments of love in a story of despair. We don't have to live a lamentation punctuated by joy: we could live hope tempered with sorrow, love softened and deepened by what is difficult. But the story we tell could spell joy and love and laughter in bigger letters.

It's not easy. I feel like I fight the temptation to lament often these days. I feel like the vortex of dramatic despair is wide and beckons, calls out a wild call that my troubles are insolvable, and my heart is wounded, and my fears are going to be realized, and all my hopes will be disappointed.

But there is a fidgety and joyful person inside me, and she wants to dance in her kitchen and sing loudly in her car and let her feet carry her through streets and past barking dogs on long runs. This Hilary doesn't have patience for wallowing in what is difficult. She wants to look foolish and laugh and beam back the joy that surrounds us all every moment.

So I ask you: is your fidgety joyful person aching to dance in your kitchen? Have you given them a chance to let loose, shaken off the weight of work this week, uncertainty about love and future and departure, and hit "Play" on the cheesiest pop music you can find? This person, too, is you. You are and can be this full of laughter and your cheeks can ache and your stomach hurt and the smile leap off your face and into our hearts.

(Mandie Sodoma, Sindisiwe Photography)

Here is your assignment: wherever you are, reading this, listen to the following, and dance your heart out:

1. Tonight, Tonight - Hot Chelle Rae
2. Party Rock Anthem ft. Lauren Bennett, Goon Rock  - LMFAO
3. Say Hey (I Love You) - Michael Franti & Spearhead
4. Celui - Colonel Reyel
5. Alors, On Danse - Stromaë

And imagine me dancing my heart out with you!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Home (A five minute post)

It's that time - when we throw caution to the writing winds and write, just five minutes free and clear, into the ocean of words. Join us, won't you? The Gypsy Mama hosts - and this week it's about "home."

Let me whisper a secret to you: I make homes in my heart for the people I meet, and there is a carving out of space and the decorating of the room, painting it bright colors, letting light and sunshine and cool summer breezes through. I want my heart to be filled with homes for the surprising, the challenging, the questions that lurk and settle and that kick up dust.

Home is a word for what our hearts do for each other - how we move mountains and rivers like chess pieces, how we clear paths through the murkiness and the fog, how we speak through tin can telephones the truth and the goodness and the beauty. Home is how we love each other, and how we journey through life, and more than anything how we manage to leave bits of ourselves in the soil of other people's hearts.

Home is a word for all the places I carry inside me: sun-soaked Italy, my gurgling river in England, the whisper of French lavender, the hope and ache of the Southern veranda overlooking hazy blue North Carolina mountains, the cornfields in Gilead, Iowa, and the mysterious places between, and all of the people who I reach out my hands to, wherever you are, who hold pieces of me as well. You are all home. ee cummings is right: i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart).


Thursday, June 16, 2011

How wonderful life is (I sing a little Elton John)

"I know it's not much, but it's the best I can do, my gift is my song, and this one's for you... I hope you don't mind, I hope you don't mind,  that I put down in words, how wonderful life is, while you're in the world..."

The song is cheesy. I thought that when I first heard it at Waring, while watching the premiere of "Teacher's Wing" (courtesy of the incredible Tim Bakland and his wild imagination and talent). I think it's cheesy now.

But maybe cheesy is just truth spoken plainly instead of draped with elegant phrases. Maybe cheesy is a way of admitting that we are uncomfortably humbled by the clarity, the precision, the... true-ness of it. I think Elton John is cheesy for writing that life is more wonderful because she (whoever she is) is in the world, but perhaps that's because truth spoken without metaphors and analogies, no adjectives, just noun sitting neatly next to verb... it makes me nervous. You can't forget the idea for the words, and the truth is not slant, just true...

Ahem, so I sing a little Elton John to you today, wherever you may be reading this, between sips of latte or squinting at your iPhone, in a hard place or a tired place or a sunshine place or a laughter place. I'm singing "Your Song" to you as I type the non-slant truth over the waves of electrons and pixels and unfathomable technology to wherever you happen to be.

Verse 1:

I went running yesterday, my head so full of frustrated that I found myself whispering over and over in the first ten minutes, "I just can't do it, I can't do it, I don't have time. I don't have TIME!" And it took a mile before I had calmed my heart back into being a muscle for a while, working in tandem with my hamstrings and my feet. And I was headed home, home to that awful sinking feeling - you know the one? - of "I can't. I can't." But then, at that very moment, the sun peeked out from a cloud and the breeze picked up my face and shook me and the smells of motor oil and freshly cut grass and hamburgers grilling across the street wafted over me. How wonderful life is.

Verse 2:

When I see your comments on my posts, I want to laugh and jump up and down and possibly cry, but mostly laugh. How did it ever happen that my words, wandering through cyberspace, found you? And that you read and you take the time to tell me that you appreciate, that you hear me, that your listening ears have caught a glimpse or two of something true and even beautiful over here? Thank you, thank you, thank you. Having you here, knowing you took the time to say hello, that you took the time to read, makes all the difference in the world. How wonderful life is (while you're in the world).

Verse 3:

I know it might not be easy right now. Maybe you are so tired you could fall asleep, sponge in hand, at the kitchen counter. Maybe you wish for a love not yet realized. Maybe you wonder if you're worth it. Maybe you see the path in front of you disappearing into a foggy unknown - what the heck am I supposed to do NOW? But I promise that God's blessings are good in every single direction. They stretch over you, too, even when you can't see them. And when you think, "How can that bless me too? Doesn't it just bring me hurt? Doesn't it just promise rocky terrain and broken hearts?" I've thought that too. But His good is infinitely good. And He does not forget you when He blesses others, when you watch friends find love you can't seem to find, when people move in and out of your life, when you aren't getting the job and the acceptance letter to graduate school that everyone else seems to get. Trust me. His blessing moves in your life even now - how wonderful life is, even when we can't see it.

Verse 4:

Now just picture me, singing this to you, laughing and rejoicing that you are YOU, that He made someone so beautiful, so thoughtful, someone who can write like you, who can listen, sing, think, solve problems, write papers, cook, dance, and love like you do?
(Mandie Sodoma)

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Remembering Life is Not Stoichiometry

I loved chemistry my sophomore year of high school. I loved drawing lines from one element to another, as I imagined how copper could possibly rearrange the molecules of itself into silver, as I watched the beaker burn away gases and leave a smoldering residue of a totally transformed element.

There is cleanliness in chemistry, how it models the shifting shapes of carbon through the Kreb's cycle in our cells, or watching the exploding balloon and knowing that we created water. I remember weighing carefully measured portions of the cement of our cells and our selves, and wondering how it was that this could be true, and how a gram balance could help me predict what would happen in moments or even days.

But lately, and strangely, I've had this temptation to map my life like a chemistry equation. In stoichiometry, you predict how the reaction will run - how much water, carbon dioxide, copper, silver will be made by adding this much, or that little. And I've wanted to predict how much the elements in my life - departures, arrivals, disappointments, plans, fearful and trembling hope - how much is all that going to weigh next week and month and year? Maybe if I can map the strange wayward paths of sadness and confusion and excitement in and out of my heart I can prepare myself, make myself ready. I can stock up on reserves of worldly wisdom. I can hide pithy phrases in the storage room in my mind and wheel them out as summer bends to the pressing of fall, and I won't be sad. I won't be confused.

And though our selves may be built of the periodic table combining and recombining, aligning and rearranging (like Sodium [Na] that binds itself ionically to Chloride [Cl] to make salt [NaCl]), binding and unbinding, I have that sinking feeling I cannot measure out my heart on a gram balance. I cannot make stoichiometry tell me the story of what To Kill a Mockingbird will do to me curled under the blankets late at night. I cannot manipulate the equation to predict with any accuracy the way an idea - an idea about God or about Jacques Maritain or about how to read books or about how to teach on a farm - will root itself so firmly somewhere in my clavicle bone that I can't shake it.

I sit in my office before the day begins, staring at this screen, hoping to make equations sing like muses about me, who it is I'm becoming, what it is I'll find myself doing next week and month and year, how I'll find my footing. I want to know if there are three parts joy and one part fear, and if I add the humming energy of praying and a carefully measured portion of throwing my hands in the air - how much will it yield? And I am now copper and God wants to make me gold, if I am fallen and He wants to make me whole, how much waiting will it take? How much patience learned, how many wrong paths trod over and over, how much stumbling? How many years, O Lord, will I wander in the desert looking at the manna from heaven and wondering if it is food? 

And my heart fears and wishes and longs for measurement and calculation, for the ordering, the penciled Q.E.D. at the end of the equation, the neatly typed notes, the finishing. And who hasn't at some point wanted the delicate prediction of science to make you a promise about how this will feel, and what it will do, and who you will become afterwards?

And there is no stoichiometry anywhere to be found, but the words of the One who watches over the wandering promise:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you. 

Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. (Deuteronomy 8.2-9)

So I wander on, hands itching for a pencil, hoping instead that the unmeasurable love of God meets His unmeasurable goodness meets my unmeasurable heart - and begins the mystery of becoming.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Because departure is near

I do not know how to write about departure in a lovely way. I want to. I want the right image and metaphor, I want to spin words for us that promise understanding, that promise new light on the hard things. I really wanted this blog post to capture some miraculous, never-before-understood thing about leaving that would make my friend's move the subject of wise reflection rather than twenty-something angst.

But this word, departure, it does not give me metaphors. It brings the hard gravity of loss. And that gravity lines my face and hides in my voice and so when I've talked these last few days, or tried to sit down and write, I echo back my fears that departure means disappearance. I echo the edge of loss, and it sounds like a storm and a cliff and I'm afraid. And as I keep typing and typing it feels more and more like angst, like gravity, like loss, and less and less like a pretty word picture.

But this morning in the early grey rain and the words of Rite I and the promise of praying, I was reminded of a scene in a story I've been reading for years, in the middle of thinking about how I was going to talk about this departure. The funny part is that I've never played the character I now find myself playing, and she is strange and new and fits awkwardly in my skin.

I've always believed I'm Lucy in Narnia - the one who believes, the one who adores Aslan and sees Him first. I've always thought of myself as the person who is faithful, loyal to the promises even when they seem far away. So when the scene that appeared in front of me as I thought about departure and my fears about my friend moving away in two weeks, it surprised me that I was not Lucy, but Susan.

Susan? Seriously, Father? I'm Susan? The one who doubts, who is too practical by half, who prides herself on being realistic and thinks that Lucy is crazy for finding a world in a wardrobe? I'm Susan who chases this world and fears change and waits too long to see You?

Literature does not budge. No matter how deeply I want to play Lucy or Peter or even Edmund, no matter how desperately I pass off the moment as, "It's just me being me and reading too much into books again"... Susan and I find ourselves bound to the same moment of fear. Literature will do that to you, find your heart out in its secret hiding places, expose you to yourself, make you read in surprise your own story in other words.

"Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, 'Susan.' Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. 'You have listened to fears, child,' said Aslan. 'Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?' 'A little, Aslan.' said Susan." - Prince Caspian

And I hear the same deep voice sounding in my own life. Hilary, He says. You are listening to fears. You are listening to the fear of disappearance, the fear of anonymity, the fear that when the car door closes it's like a door locked and bolted on the friendship. A fear of "never again." A fear that you haven't said all the things you want to, and now there is no more time. A fear of no more time. A fear that friendship does not cross borders, after all, but fades and falls apart as the threads are stretched over miles.

And yes, Lord, I am afraid of all these things. I am Susan, and her realistic, unhopeful self. I am Susan, afraid to trust someone else who says they see more clearly than I do. I don't believe that Lucy can see You; I wander through the forest complaining that I'm following blindly the faith of another person, and as far as I can tell this venture towards "Aslan" will get us all killed.

And then there is enough silence in my heart, enough waiting, just enough courage, to see Your outline moving in front me - to see the shadow You cast over my life and my heart. There is just enough pause to open my eyes to see how You must have been walking in front of me all along, ordaining the things that come to pass, parting the seas and calming the storms.

So today, facing the soon departure of my dear friend, I blink twice and strain my eyes to see His outline. And I hear His deep voice resound somewhere in the pit of my stomach, chiding me. "You have listened to fears, Hilary." And then He does something we celebrate at Pentecost, we celebrate in the upper room with the disciples. Come, let me breathe on you. Forget your fears. Are you brave again?

A little, Lord. I whisper. Just enough to keep walking.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Backward (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo's prompt this morning - write about backwards in just five minutes! Join us, please? It's so much fun!

Some days the world feels like a backwards mystery carved into my heart - I have no idea what is logical, my brain's neatly ordered puzzle pieces are scattered on the floor. Why do I love writing so much? I ask the Lord as yet again I feel like I have stumbled in the back door of vocation. I'm no English major, no history major, and yet what I want more than anything is to breathe deep the language of history and write the books that blaze trails into other's hearts and minds. Isn't this backward?

Aren't I supposed to proceed in a logical, orderly, neat fashion towards what it is you want me to do?

And then the miracle of backwards must be that Love is the only path we must take. When the day makes us forget things - doubling back over the same piece of highway because we didn't plan our errand route, or having to search the same terms in Google over and over because we can't remember what it is we want to know, or when in your senior year of college you discover what it is you want this gorgeously rich life God's given you to look like - when the puzzle falls into place backwards we can see Grace in it.

I want more than anything, friends, to go in order, in what my mind whispers is the right way to do it. I want to make a mark on the world and some days my mind whispers to my heart that it's backwards, falling in love with writing and history so late, falling in love with peace and joy after I gave up being a good debater, and... and... and.

It is backwards but it is gorgeous and it is Life and I love it.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Pantoum for the Un-Poet

So maybe this should be a week for the un-poet in me. The person who sits staring at the computer screen waiting for the words to be released, for the sounds to slink, and the meanings to follow. When I was in high school, I put the pen to paper because the world was poetry to me, was rhythm and consonant and form. The world was the Pablo Neruda poem, "Poet's Obligation," as he writes, "So, through me, freedom and the sea will make their answer to the shuttered heart." 

Is it my own heart that's shuttered? Against the changes surely knocking at my door? Against growing up, and apart? In high school I dreamed that through me, freedom and the sea would make their answer to the shuttered heart of the world. And now, do I dare to dream that wide? Do I imagine that through me, these humble words and ideas and meanings, these questions I ask and answer, freedom and the sea might make their way to you? Do I imagine that the act of writing, however difficult and however unwilling and unpoetic I feel, might unshutter my own heart? Sometimes writing is the only way I can listen closer to the world. 

Assignment: Write a poem. Write a pantoum, this time, a different rhyme and rhythm scheme: each stanza is 4 lines. The second and fourth lines of the preceding stanza become the first and third lines of the next, and so on. The last stanza ends with lines from the first stanza.

Okay. Deep breath. Here we go!

Rouen Cathedral (The Monet Series)

I never notice anything but light:
you brushed this canvas full of sun
and colors bleed their darks to white,
Did you paint to pray, your heart undone?

You brushed this canvas full of sun
shadows arch their backs towards the night.
Did you paint or pray, your heart undone
by time's untimely march, the painter's plight?

Shadows arch their backs towards the night:
your whispered windows, doors, melt to one
in time's untimely march, but not your plight,
each canvas holds a moment just begun.

You whispered, "Windows! Doors!" They became one.
Evening shafts of sunset climb the heights,
each canvas holds the moment now begun:
The harmonies of wind and stone take flight.

Evening shafts of sunset climb the height
your hands prepare; your patience won
by harmonies of wind and stone in flight
you touch the brush, your blindness all but gone.

Your hands prepare the place, your patience won.
The West Façade dissolves. The world breathes bright.
You touch the brush, your blindness finished, gone -
A purple streak drips through our shallow sight.

The West Façade dissolves: the world breathes bright.
I close my eyes, and pray, may I become -
a purple streak drips through my shallow sight -
someone with eyes and heart whose song welcomes?

I close my eyes, pray, please, become
the colors bleeding darks towards white -
become the song - eyes - heart - welcome.
I cannot treasure anything but light.

© Hilary Sherratt.

May poetry sing in your heart today, and may Monet's Rouen Cathedral series whisper about the beauty of this world.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Villanelle for the Un-Poet

Assignment: Write a poem, one even from the heart that feels conspicuously void of poetry. Write a villanelle, to be specific. And do it in the blogger window, straight into the screen, without worrying. Write a poem to put a piece of yourself on paper, even if it's incomplete.

Phew. Okay. I type this assignment to myself because I feel distinctly un-poetic these days. I can hear words whistle by but I can't catch them. My writer's net feels light, and empty, looking at the people and places in my life I want to give words to, and being lost. How do you write silence into being, the quick intake of breath when you watch the retreating figure? How do you put words to the aching swell of the violin? How do you slip the nervous heartfelt eyes of horses in between letters on a screen? 

I don't know how to do these things, and again and again I come back to words. Words as clean and clear as water. Words that lilt and dip like hummingbirds into honeysuckle. Words that spin constellations. 

Okay. A villanelle. I'm going to try!

The Sea

Write soft and slow, and let the words emerge,
and coax their music from its twilight cave.
The sea and stars and skies at once converge. 

Lean low and hear beneath the wind's slow dirge
a joyful whispered "praise" where wind meets wave, 
write soft and slow, and let the words emerge.

And here you sit, your hands washed in the surge
the water cool to touch, you find you're saved - 
for sea, and stars, and skies always converge.

Is there more to know? You ask, immersed.
To make the newborn poem whose words engrave -
write soft and slow, and let the world emerge?

Tread lightly now, tiptoe to the verge
and watch the trees quiver, bold and brave
the sea and stars and skies again converge.

Your heartbeat quick, you breathe the word, "diverse,"
and know the poem makes music from its cave.
Write soft, and slow, and let your words emerge, 
for sea and skies and stars touch, then, converge.

© Hilary Sherratt.

That was the first attempt! May poetry be near your heart, however un-poetic you may feel, dear friends. 


Friday, June 3, 2011

Like a ship blown from its mooring (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo says, write about every day for just five minutes - won't you join us? There's nothing like letting your words fly free and watching with amazement at what comes out!

I've been singing (off-key) the final duet from "Wicked" - the one about being changed for good, forever, because you met this person and they changed the course of your life. And there's a line that hits the high notes sweet and every moment of every day that I feel like I just might not be enough, pretty enough, smart enough, good enough - I belt the note in my head and sometimes out loud to remember that

every day 

I sing the praises of the good God and I laugh with the achingly beautiful wind through the summer leaves and I get to read words flowing like water and I get to write. That every day people enter this whirlwind heart of mine and blow it from its mooring further out towards heaven, towards love, towards the path of obedience.

And thank you for the every day: the extra second of hug when you read my face knowingly, the email that carries an extra paragraph for good measure telling me that I matter, that this life is good, every day it's good. And thank you for being the people who make my life changed for good. Who teach me to sing the high note in my head and out loud and to dream ramshackle dreams and to venture out into the ocean of love and letting my life be a song of rejoicing.



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