Tuesday, January 31, 2012

what i learned about mercy from the orthodox church (#ATLT)

It's a privilege to be a part of ATLT: At the Lord's Table, a blogging conversation hosted by my friend Preston (we've been writing letters about theology and life and wonder back forth on Tuesdays and Thursdays). The series features writers pondering the beautiful, messy Church. I shared a bit yesterday about my journey with Orthodoxy (a journey I am still on).

It had been a year.

A year since I had crept away from Orthodoxy, left books gathering dust on a shelf in the attic, left my catechumen-self mouthing the words to Divine Liturgy. A year since I had first heard the Kyrie, eleison. It had been a year since I stood in the entrance of the church, confessing the Nicene Creed. Then, my voice sang out three times, “I do unite myself to Christ.” I walked right up to the iconostasis, that wall of painted faces, and felt my heart lift towards the Christ looking out at me in blessing from the golden circle of Mary’s womb in the platytera, the icon behind the altar.

I stood outside the church doors, my breathing fast and heavy. I can’t go back. I don’t know what I am doing here.  I fumbled with my coat buttons, and finally forced my body through the doors. Who am I to be here? I climbed the stairs. I’m the girl who ran in and out, who became a catechumen, and then stepped away. I dropped two dollars in the offering plate, and took a slim golden candle to light before the icon of the Annunciation. I waited in line behind a woman in a heavy fur coat as she kissed the feet of baby Jesus. When she had shuffled away, I walked towards the icon. I didn’t want to look at it. Icons are part mirror, part window, all mystery. They read us. As I wedged my candle into between two others, I forced my eyes to the cave, to the mother and then, finally, to her Child.

I think I stopped breathing. I blinked. He looked at me. Oh, God.

Keep reading over here.  


Monday, January 30, 2012

our second beating hearts (the fourth week)

The only way to become a poet is to write. The only way to know good words is to find them, and love them. So I've started a series here on Mondays, where I share some of the good words I've found throughout the week, and I share some of my scribbles, too. Together, we write the contours of our second beating hearts. 

Good words I've read: 
Dear Sugar at the Rumpus: The Dudes in the Woods Debacle
Alyssa at alyssaclaire's: A case of the winter blues
Sarah at Emergingmummy: In which it's a Sunday alone and we're all singing
The whole ATLT series over at Preston's blog: at the lord's table: a conversation
In particular, Nish's post at Preston's blog: i have the heart of israel
Joy at Joy in this Journey: A Plain Ol' Ordinary Love Letter

A poem to hear sounding through your week: 

Human Beauty
(Albert Goldbarth)

If you write a poem about love...
the love is a bird,

the poem is an origami bird.
If you write a poem about death...

the death is a terrible fire,
the poem is an offering of paper cutout flames

you feed to the fire.
We can see, in these, the space between

our gestures and the power they address
- an insufficiency. And yet a kind of beauty,

a distinctly human beauty. When a winter storm
from out of nowhere hit New York one night

in 1892, the crew at a theater was caught
unloading props: a box

of paper snow for the Christmas scene got dropped
and broken open, and that flash of white

confetti was lost
inside what it was a praise of.

And a poem from me:

Birthday Cake

She gathers her breath
in her purple shirted chest,
hands pressed into the planked table,
knees into the big kid chair.

Suddenly, without warning,
she unleashes the wind inside her.
The force of the wish knocks us back,
we sputter like flames,

wipe bits of frosting from our cheeks,
she offers us the first handful of cake. We don't see
how she is the only one at the table
still in love with believing.

The rest of us float, pink and green balloons
bobbing against the ceiling,
unwilling to unleash the wind,
afraid to whisper the wish.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Precious Words (the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany)

It's been a busy weekend, my sleep patterns have disintegrated at the hands of busy schedules and a lack of routine. So when my mom, the boys and I sat around our table this morning, talking about whether we would make coffee at home or drive to the Dunkin' Donuts close to our house, and I felt this pull towards church, I didn't think too much about it. Would it really matter if I went? Wouldn't God understand that I was tired? 

But the pull got stronger, and so I threw on a dress, some tights and clambered down the stairs, my feet sliding in their shoes, just as mom was about to walk out the door. "I think I'll come with you," I said breathlessly. "Great," she said. "You can read the lessons this morning, because PJ just called and asked one of us to sub for her."

As we drove, I remembered that we are still in the season of Epiphany, when we celebrate this journey the wise men made, when we embark on our own journey into the year. Epiphany matters because it is a time to plant the seeds of the Incarnation deep inside us. Epiphany matters, for our weary hearts need to kneel in front of the good God in the manger and we need to feed on His nearness to us. We need Epiphany so that we remember His nearness when the desert of Lent tempts us to forget, when the ordinary everyday crowds Him out, when the world closes its shutters and the darkness seems too big to overcome.

I walked into the church, grabbed the bulletin, and looked at the lessons.

Jeremiah 29.10 - 14.

Psalm 27. 

2 Corinthians 3.12 - 4.12

In a rush of gratitude, or perhaps of shock, I touched fingers to forehead, and shoulders and heart, as I whispered, You were the one who called me here this morning, weren't you? You were the one who wanted to tell me something? 

My feet slid in their shoes down the aisle towards the altar. I was still me, in the same blue dress, the same unruly hair in a hundred directions around my shoulders, still with these inquisitive eyes and my inability to sit quietly.

Jeremiah 29. 10 - 14. Because it is the LORD who makes the plans. Because His are the plans with hope. Because in the past few weeks, when I have asked him, "Will anyone ever really want me?" His words are: You will seek me, and find me when you come and seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you."

Psalm 27. Because He is the light, the salvation. What then should we fear? And oh, how close I come to losing heart. How close I come to giving up the fight, the struggle for obedience, how close I come to thinking, "It doesn't matter, I just won't bother, who cares?" And His words are: "I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord."

2 Corinthians 3.12 - 4.12. Because the truth makes me cry with frustration and joy. Because in the long winter days, when the moon hangs low over the stenciled branches of the trees, I wonder out loud to Him, if these words He's given me are really true? If I should stake my life on them? And His words are: "For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake."

His words hold the particular answer to every particular question. His Spirit tugs us to the Word so that we listen, and remember, and carve into our minds that the Word is alive. It listens to us as we listen to it, loves us as we clamber down stairs and through deserts and across valleys in our attempts to love Him.

Jeremiah 29.10 - 14. Psalm 27. 2 Corinthians 3.12 - 4.12. 

You were the one who called me here this morning, weren't you? You were the one who wanted to tell me something? 

May we have hearts to hear Him.


Friday, January 27, 2012

the tender are the strong (a five minute post)

It's Friday - a chance to write, play with words, share the joy of our writer selves with each other over at The Gypsy Mama's space. Won't you come along, and let your words fly free, too?

This week our prompt is: tender. 

My arm falls asleep only three minutes into rocking her, and her wails seem to echo in my small apartment and I worry, for the first time, that I really might never hear quiet again. And she's just four months and I am with her for two hours, just so that mom can meet with students, send emails, type with both hands on the keyboard.

So this little one and I rock, my feet in their silver Toms sliding against the carpet, and my voice cracked as I sing softly that I wish you'd hold me when I turn my back, the less I give, the more I get back... because The Civil Wars calm us both to sleep.

She is so strong, eyes laughing at my smile, arms flailing against my chest when we both know what she needs is mom but all she has is weak, small, insufficient me. And so we rock, arms asleep and weary, and suddenly, without warning:

She nestles into my chest, puts her small sweet face up against my skin, and I can feel her breathing, feel that pulse of life beat relentlessly in her chest and I realize that she carries me, in her softness and her helplessness and her need. She carries me, because my heart has been opened and widened beyond what I believed was possible, and it hurts a bit as it grows, and I keep wondering if the tenderness of the questions will ever become strong.

But she is the strong one in my living room. 

Her tiny fingers grip the edge of my sweater and she breathes life back into me and I realize that sometimes the messengers of God's love are only four months old and they only have one thing to say and it is this:

His love for you is big enough to fill your heart.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

grace for our hunger, letter four, hilary to preston

It's Thursday, so I'm sitting down to write a letter in a series of letters between me and Preston. He's doing something pretty amazing in his space called "At the Lord's Table: A Blog Conversation" (we all tweet about it with the #ATLT hashtag). I hope you spend some time in those words, from such incredible writers. Today I'm responding to his letter from Tuesday.

Dear Preston, 

Does that wondering ever drive you crazy? I feel it wake up in me some mornings, this hunger I can't shake, to know how it really is. Raïssa Maritain said it best. Someone asked her, "What is it you want in life?" and she, brilliantly, brilliantly, said, "To know what is." And I long with her. 

You write so beautifully about the wonder, how it is different from doubt, which seeks proof, but a part of me wants to know if you have this hunger too, and what you do with it. I talk about mystery, how the three year olds in Sunday school who say that the sheep feel good with the Shepherd, and that He is happy with His sheep, they know the truth more than I do. 

But then I wake up on a morning like this hungry to know what is. I want to know if sacrament is, as you say, carried and covered with a grace bigger than the words and deeds we recognize. I want to know the truth about Baptism and Eucharist and I want to know if anyone has really, really learned to recognize Grace. I want to know. I don't want to wrestle, exhausted, with the angel anymore. I don't want to collapse into the Mystery at the end of each day, blind and feeling my way through with my fingertips.

But perhaps this is the only way we are given - this limitation, this blessed confinement between the things trusted and the things unknown, between what we think we know and what is. I long for St. Thomas' apparent confidence, his trust in human reason and rationality, his idea that "grace perfects nature." He believed that we could see pretty far, and pretty well. I imagine him chiding me for so much complaining, telling me that if I devoted myself to theology, to reading Scripture through my whole being, to meeting Jesus in prayer, I would know.

What was that line in the poem? And I believe the saint. I believe his imaginary reprimand. I imagine that the true story is hidden on high when in fact it came down to live with me. I imagine that God is withholding Himself from me, keeping Himself shrouded in shadow, when in fact He's humbled and revealed and bared Himself on a cross to announce His love to the world.

I think it's time for me to do some of the work. To devote myself to studying Scripture through my whole being, to meeting Jesus, collapsed and exhausted, to wrestle with the angel even when my side is touched by pain or longing or hunger. I think it is time I got on my hands and knees with the three year-olds and asked them to tell me about this Good Shepherd, how good the sheep feel with Him, how happy He feels with them. I think it is time I leaned again on the grace that covers us. Grace for our wondering. Grace for our hunger. Grace for the mystery. Grace for the journey.

I'm praying that grace is yours, today and always, and thankful for you.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love Hilary: Fling Your Heart Open

This is a year for advice, and for finding the voice that sounds inside me. I'm writing letters to unmask the truth, over at Joy's life, unmasked series. This week I'm answering a letter I received from another writer, about being scared and having hope. 

Dear Hilary,

I write because I’m scared. I’m scared of the coming and leaving, the hellos and goodbyes, the falling in love with people and places and experiences and then having to put it all away, like they’re only memories and nothing more. I’m scared of the “next steps” - the new relationships and the new places I’m about to embark upon as I graduate because I know I’m going to going to fall in love and get my heart broken. I already have — haven’t we all? So I’m asking if it’s worth it to give ourselves completely to the people and the places and the relationships, knowing we’re going to weep and be heartbroken? Is it worth it to invest myself in the things that I do, even though I know I’ll be disappointed and hurt? I guess the question really is... is it worth it to live fully?


Dear Scared, 

I am a crier. Good movies, happy news, knowledge that horses and dogs and cats die, transitions, a really good piece of cake… you name it, I can tear up over it. And when I cry, it is not the elegant single tear trailing down my cheek. I wail. My face scrunches up, my body folds in on itself, my hands spread out towards the ceiling and I feel this question ink its way through my veins: why did I even bother?

It could be about anything – why did I say that? Why am I always such an idiot? Why did I borrow her earrings without asking, knowing it would hurt her? Why did I write that letter, let my heart out of its birdcage, apply to that program, become friends with them?

Doubt wants to eat us, Scared. It wants to live like cancer in our bodies and in our hearts. When we’re in raw pain, when we’re naked with ourselves, there are openings in our pores, in our very skin, for second-guessing. The lies and the half-truths, the voices that sing out – “You sure screwed that up!” don’t wait for our invitation.

I have been rereading your letter, Scared, and it sounds like you are in some raw pain yourself. Maybe there haven’t been big fights or noticeable confrontations; raw pain doesn’t always come with obvious moments that show our pain to the world. Sometimes raw pain comes from carrying heavy questions in your heart, invisible to everyone except yourself. Sometimes raw pain comes from looking at the people you love and feeling for the first time how much you love them, and what that means.

The thing you must remember is not to run from raw pain. You do not know what it's worth, that ache, those broken bones. You do not know how utterly, completely essential it could be in the story that comes next. I’ve called it the beast inside you. And it is. It is a beast inside you. Doubt will find its way into you only if you try to distance yourself from your raw pain. The lie of why did I even bother? is born from trying to run away from the beast inside us, trying to outguess our own stories. 

So. You can’t run away from it, because the doubts and fears and second-guessing-games come from running away. So, the next normal question is, what do you do? What do you do with the love you have for the friends you’ll be leaving so soon? What do you do with the unfulfilled hopes you have for relationships, jobs, this stage of your life? What do you DO with leaving?

I will tell you what, Scared. You live the hell out of it. You take the raw pain for a walk around the pond. You drink a few too many Starbucks lattes with those people you love, the ones who've broken your heart (especially those people), the ones who have loved you well (especially those people too). You put on high heels and go out for dinner with your girlfriends. You laugh too hard, and too often, until you fall out of your chair. You sit with a journal and a pen in the early morning light and you wail over those questions and you get naked with yourself. You hold it up to the light.

The morning is cold and new, and you’re new in it: and it is always worth it, the brief, tormented, difficult things. I think sometimes those are the most worth it. We have such a short time to love, Scared. 

The most we can ever do is fling our hearts open.


Monday, January 23, 2012

our second beating hearts (the third week)

The only way to be a poet is to write. The only way to know good words is to find them, and love them. So I've started a series here on Mondays, where I share some of the good words I've found throughout the week, and I share my scribbles, too. Together, we write the contours of our second beating hearts. 

Good words I've read:

Preston at See Preston Blog, in the beginning of our series of letters: In Him we have our being, letter one, preston to hilary 
Katie Davis from over at (in)courage: A Harvest of What is Yet to Come
Sarah at Emerging Mummy: In which I won't tell you that you're pretty
Susan Cain with an op-ed in the New York Times: The Rise of Groupthink
Ann at A Holy Experience: A Nutcracker Birthday Party

A poem to hear sounding through your week: 

Self-portrait as Eurydice
Edward Hirsch

How I dreamt about your engulfing arms,
my Orphic secret, my haunting primal chant,
from my place and the phantom forms

and waited for you to startle the grave
path into the underworld - dank, silent -
where I shivered in the night's embrace

until I heard your fatal cry, your fate-
ful voice rising like a forgotten dream
or a wandering soul calling for light

in eternity's dense fog, an eager song,
and I followed it towards the earth's seam
hoping to breathe again, listening,

until you whirled around, my dark flame,
and then I died for you a second time.

And a poem from me:

Orpheus and Eurydice

We feed on the failure,
the almost-escape,
the near-freedom.
They carve into history the pretty

It was a stitch in his side, a dizziness, breath caught
in his lungs.

It was a rock in the path, her arm flung out like a banner
to keep him from falling.

It was an accident, that while they ran blind and singing
the ground did not rise up under them.

We ask them to tell us again, how for that brief
space touch was electric,
singing a roar,
imagining in our hunger
there is another ending.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Wild Call (the Third Sunday of Epiphany)

I can hear the football came from around the corner - whistles screeching like brakes, the thud of helmets colliding with each other, and the frantic voices of the commentators, rising higher and getting louder as someone rushes down the field, and a penalty flag flies!

The fire has sunk low in the stove, and I drink a glass of red wine, eat a bit of omelet, listen to the clink of my silverware against the china plate.

Today the Book of Common Prayer offers our hearts this prayer:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our 
Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good 
News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may 
perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who liveth and 
reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and 
ever. Amen.

I read it out loud to myself as I finish my wine, and put "Poison and Wine" on repeat, again. Tonight, I need the grace to answer readily the call of our savior. Tonight, I need grace to pry open my heart again and make me hungry to chase him.

The call is wild, untamed: it does not confine itself to Sunday morning worship songs or beautiful starry nights. It does not ask you just to enjoy what you have, or to live just as you are. When He calls, He crosses every boundary, every wall, every electric fence we've wired around ourselves. When He calls, He does not notice what makes us uncomfortable or nervous or even terrified.

And some days I am afraid to say yes. I can hear it whistling to me - Hilary, come here - and I, like Adam and Eve, crouch in place, shadow myself in leaves and branches, hope that He doesn't notice. I tighten my grip around myself, and I try to close my ears.

But the wild call of Jesus is too much for my small hands pressed over my ears, for my small self crouching in the corner. It's too beautiful not to listen to. It's too good not to slowly unfold myself and peek out for a glimpse.

And tonight, I open my ears a little, walk out from behind my uncertainty a little, and He is there, singing the wild song: come here, and follow me. 

Pray with me, that we would all draw a little nearer?

Heavenly Father, we thank you that you sing us a wild and beautiful song. We thank you that in all things you are preeminent, and that you make all things new, and call us to come and follow you, over mountains and through valleys and across deserts. In all things, may we find the grace to come out from our hiding places to find you waiting for us. In all moments, may we listen to the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and draw nearer to you.

We pray this in the gracious Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Friday, January 20, 2012

and you arise (a five minute post)

This week, I'm joining Lisa-Jo over at The Gypsy Mama to write, free and clear, for just five minutes. It's about letting loose, no editing or frantically rewriting... just enjoying the words and the truth that lives in them. Join us, and let your words fly free, too?

This week it's on: vivid.

I learned about hearts this week. I learned about the road dusty with hard, long questions and what it is like to set off on it without being sure if anyone will come with you. Without being sure if the answer sitting at that horizon line is the one you want or the one you're expecting or just the one that is there. And I learned what it's like to sit in your car, radio blaring, in a parking lot paralyzed by the realization of what your words build, what hope beats inside your ribcage.

This is what I know: you arise. You cry your eyes out, harder and more furious than the rain hurricaning your windshield. You exhale. You repeat, maybe once or twice. But you arise. You wake up, the next minute or day or ten days, and you hear it, echoing from the window and the open door - that this, too, is a part of the great work going on inside you.

This, even when you feel most like throwing a glass at the wall or driving all night, is the great work, the work that sadnesses and hard brave things build. This is the world that begins when you let your heart beat wildly and you live the one wild life and it is vivid in front of you.

I lie in bed this morning and the world is in technicolor and the light flashes off the snow and I know: there is nothing, in the end, that is not part of this great work. There is nothing, in the end, that will not sputter and spark and catch flame. There is nothing, in the end, that does not carry a piece of the promise.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

He is Immanuel, letter two, hilary to preston

So in this space, where the word is build, something new is beginning over here on Thursdays. My good friend (it seems like we met and became friends much longer than a few months ago) Preston and I are writing to each other. We already write, and ramble, our way to Theology so often in our Facebook messages and Skype conversations that we thought we should bring it our spaces, too. So Preston writes a letter to me in his space on Tuesdays, and I respond over here on Thursdays. This is how we really talk to each other, raw and mixed up with poetry and wonder and Gossip Girl episodes and Flannery O'Connor and Mystery. We hope you'll come join us, as we ask and wonder with each other and with you.

Dear Preston,

I'm biased towards Advent. Can one be biased towards a particular time of the Church year? Maybe I shouldn't be, but I am. I love the newness of it, how our hearts relearn their own beginning, how we are brought up short, gasping, at the wonder made real once again. Because He doesn't ever seem to tire of telling us this story about Himself - how He is Immanuel. God with us. 

I've been thinking about that - it has such implications for our bodies. You said it so well - "The Jews with Elijah and the valley of dry bones and the awaited resurrection and a soul that could not exist without the body and a body that could not exist without a soul—they knew." Oh yes, this being remade has everything to do with the mystery of souls that meet bodies and dwell together in such a way that I don't know how to know one without the other. 

And He blessed it. He blessed our limitations, blessed this humanness that we are. He saved us through it, by becoming one with it. Do you ever just sit there, at your kitchen table, paints and brushes still, and think about how much He must love you? How particularly He must love us all, to do that? How He must marvel at what He's woven together? 

I was at Lessons and Carols this year and the choir sang this piece by Lloyd Pfautsch called "A Wondrous Mystery." They split into two smaller choirs, on opposite sides of the church, and began to sing in dissonance, fighting with each other musically, singing about the Fall, and this separation, chasm, between man and God. 

And then the choirs bridged, resounding, and this sound filled the place and I started crying because the bridge is this - God became man. 

Immanuel. You've said it to me before - He tabernacles with us. This is, I wrote to someone once, the biggest reason I trust Christianity, hard as it is. Because He is God with us. Because He built the bridge in a body, with flesh and blood and sweat and the making of all the cosmos is found in the fingertips, in the wailing, in the fists that flail against Mary deep in the night. 

They say, you know, that the universe is expanding at a rate that our minds can't contemplate. It's too many orders of magnitude high, too much to understand. My friend once explained to me how they found the newest sub-sub-atomic particle, and I think I nodded, and tried to understand it, and I'd like to really understand it... but all I can remember is thinking of that Baby. She waved her arms in a complex three dimensional drawing, and all I could think was, "What about that Baby?"

Our hope as we live among this rate of expansion, the cold potential meaninglessness of it all, the indifference of 8,000 billion galaxies, is in nothing less than the bridge He builds with a body. Nothing less than that Baby. It seems so absurd, sometimes. I feel like I'm standing out in a field in the middle of winter, shouting to that cold blue sky - "I'm staking my life on that Baby!" 

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? What do we call wisdom, what do we call foolishness, if that is what we're going to shout to the sky?

I hope you're well. And when I found this, it seemed right -  "Perhaps what we are called to do may not seem like much, but the butterfly is a small creature to affect galaxies thousands of light-years away." (Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love Hilary: The Plunge (A Guest Post)

This week I have the privilege of sharing my Life, Unmasked post over at Joy's space. I hope you join us over there, where we talk about the messy and real and all that God is doing in the midst of it.

Dear Hilary,

I avoid confrontation. When someone says something that irks me, I shrug it off. When I sense there is a problem between a friend and me I say nothing. I’d rather sit in silence, awkwardly holding our Starbucks cups, hoping that the tension will dissipate if I give it enough time. You wrote once that we had to do the awful, obedient things. I’m kind of wondering what the good is of confrontation. It just seems to make it harder. You have to say hard things. You have to watch your hard things land in the person’s lap. Why should I do it?



When I first started talking to someone about confrontation, this is what I said. “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.” I sat on her couch and cried, and cried, and shook my head in this determined, no-way-in-hell-will-I-ever-ever-EVER-do-that way. 

Keep reading, over at Joy's? Just click on over here.


Monday, January 16, 2012

our second beating hearts (the second week)

The only way to be a poet is to write. The only way to know good words is to find them, and use them, and love them. So I'm starting a series here on Mondays, where I share some of the good words I've found throughout the week, and I share my scribbles, too. Together, we write the contours of our second beating hearts.

Good words I've read:

Emily at Chatting at the Sky (from over at incourage): For When Your Future Keeps Changing
Preston at See Preston Blog: Back to Manna
Kate at The Sexy Celibate: What Single People Wish Married People Knew
Chris at From the Smallest: Beauteous Buteo / Why I Love Poetry
Anna at Goannatree: A naked theologian
Joy at Joy in this Journey: I'm in a hopeless place but...

A poem to hear sounding through your week:

The Widening Sky
Edward Hirsch

I am so small walking on the beach
at night under the widening sky.
The wet sand quickens beneath my feet
and the waves thunder against the shore.

I am moving away from the boardwalk
with its colorful streamers of people
and the hotels with their blinking lights.
The wind sighs for hundreds of miles.

I am disappearing so far into the dark
I have vanished from sight.
I am a tiny seashell
that has secretly drifted ashore

and carries the sound of the ocean
surging through its body.
I am so small now no one can see me.
How can I be filled with such a vast love?

And a poem from me:

The Road to Nowhere

The ancient birches wave.
Shadows fall across the ground,
venetian blinds in a big, white room.

They've seen it before.
The sky is cold, scraped by branches.
Just a thousand years ahead of here, it turns blue.

This is the road frosted, well-traveled.
The horizon doesn't want us,
so it keeps moving.

It edges nearer the endless.
Our footprints and tire tracks plow
the way, red faces stroked by fading light.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Shepherd's Voice (The Second Sunday of Epiphany)

"The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” - John 10.3-5

Some days I think I don't know that voice. There are so many voices to choose from - the voice of expectation, the voice of recklessness, the voice of I'll-just-do-whatever-I-want, the voice of reason, the voice of what-happens-if-I-fail... And when I hear Jesus say, "the sheep listen to his voice" I wonder if I would know that voice if I heard it. What does it sound like?

I huddle my coat closer around my waist as my sister and I trudge between the cars in the parking lot. Our heels clip clop alongside each other, and we swing our bags, laughing at a joke that is just funny because of how we tell it to each other. We laugh, and when our eyes meet over our white Starbucks cups, I realize that sometimes the Good Shepherd's voice sounds like her wise words and bright laughter.

Sometimes His voice sounds like the silent tears streaking down my face as I crawl into bed with Mom, still confused, still wondering how to be brave in this mixed up world. It sounds like her warm arms and the silence we offer each other, just to lie there together. Our feet touch, and we nestle further into the blankets, ruling out the cold and the pounding wind. I can feel the covers rise and fall with her breathing, and I hear Him, making space with us.

His voice sounds like mentors who exhort you over tea and cupcakes to be the best version of yourself. It sounds like you and your best friend surprising each other with letters and cards and music and poems. He calls out to us, over and over, in the shouting matches about honesty and truth, in the blooming of the first morning glory in May, in the phone call she makes "just because" and it makes all the difference.

Are we listening to that voice? The voice that wants to fill our lives with manna from heaven? The voice that spills goodness and life over, and over? Are we listening to the voice of the one who won't stop chasing us down to show us His love?

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep."

This week, I want to know His voice again. I want to hear snatches and echoes of it scattered across my life, how it calls, relentlessly, for me, how it calls me by name, and I want to run to it.

Will you come with me, following the Good Shepherd's voice?


Friday, January 13, 2012

Awake (a five minute post)

On Fridays, I join Lisa-Jo for five glorious minutes. Just to write, and write, and not worry about whether the words are a elegant or as polished as I always think they should be. Just to let the words fly free. Won't you join us?

This week our word is: awake.

Awake my soul, they sing to me from the computer in the quiet afternoon that bleeds into night. Awake, my soul. And isn't this what I long for? I think to myself as my feet tap dance their way to the end of the day and my fingers itch for a pen.

I write to be awake. I make poems and stories and I write letters to myself and I try to listen closer, closer, to the words that the world is telling me. Because I want my hand on the heartbeat of the truth and I want to write what I discover there.

I'm terrified, you know. Of writing, and getting it wrong. Of blundering in love, or of being alone and uncertain. But more than that I am terrified of sleepwalking my way through the world, dulled to the miracles, immune to the richness. So I breathe deep and wrangle the fear. I open my eyes, and pick up my pen, and let the words flow out.

Awake my soul. Because the world offers itself up to this young imagination. Because the people in my space are only here for such a short while, and these hours are better spent with them, drinking them in, marveling, challenging... than all the hours running away from fears and chasing expectations.

So I meet you, in this space, on these pages, and I write to you. I write you letters and postcards and blog entries. I write you phone calls and chocolate and hugs. I write you difficult honesty and beautiful brave honesty and so much love I hope we both burst with it. Let's be awake together.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: The Beast Inside You

This is a year for advice (Dear Sugars, especially), and for finding the voice that sounds inside me, for the letters I have to write to find the truth. I am linking up with Joy's life: unmasked today. I'm unmasking the only way I know how: in letters. 

Dear Hilary, 

I feel sick to my stomach. Not the cute, butterflies anticipation heady something really cool is about to happen sick. No, I mean the on the floor, doubled over, why won't this end and I hope I don't throw up all over this airport floor sick. I write to you because my plane just landed back at home, after a trip to a city that I love, and I am a mess. I want to cry, or rage, or yell at my innocent family members, or throw up. What's wrong with me? Why does this happen? 


Dear TW, 

If I were a doctor, instead of a voice out in cyberspace and heart-space trying to sort out life, I would tell you to rest easy, take some antacid and close your eyes. I would tell you that you might have inner ear balance problems, and so flying might not be a good idea, or I might dash off my signature on an order for a blood test or a CAT scan or an MRI. Just to be on the safe side. 

But as this voice in cyber//heart space, I'm going to tell you that you are homesick. How the hell can you be homesick if you're at home? I can hear you rage at me too as this terrifying and unknown thing leaps out of you determined to cry and attack and mourn as soon as the plane lands. That's the beast of homesickness. It's curled up inside you, and when you leave the place you love, it wakes up. 

Do not be afraid of the beast inside you. 

Like all of the beasts and dragons and beautiful heroes and scientists and painters who live inside us, homesickness is a part of you. You didn't "catch it" from someone or somewhere. You haven't lost your mind, or been temporarily taken over by hostile forces. You are just deep in love with somewhere you have to leave. You are just exploring the edges of yourself rubbed raw by that love. 

Who doesn't rage a little bit when they leave their heart in Kampala, Uganda? Who doesn't cry and shoot get-out-of-here looks at their family when they've knelt on the ground outside St. Peter's Basilica and asked only to stay a little longer, only to stay forever, and had to depart? Who doesn't double over wanting to throw up when the plane or the train or the car screeches to a halt, and we realize we can't go home, to that home, for another ten months or years or half a century? 

There is not a day that goes by where I don't think about the places I've left. They flash before me in journals and photo albums and names of foods and strange memories of kayaking or drinking cappuccino in a cold kitchen or the look on my friend's face when she hears me talk about mornings at Eastern Market. The beast inside me can be mean, and angry, and so deeply disappointed you can measure it on my face when I come back. And when I double over, TW, like you, clutching my stomach - I think something is seriously wrong with me, too. 

But it isn't, love, it isn't. We are rubbed raw by love and we ache with leaving. Our bodies want to remind us. Our bodies wants to help us embrace the beast, and keep on loving the places that bend our hearts.

If I were you, I would keep that seemingly terrifying beast inside you. Stay deep in love with the places you leave, raw at your edges, aching and hopeful. 


Monday, January 9, 2012

our second beating hearts: the first week

The only way to be a poet is to write. The only way to know good words is to find them, and use them, and love them. So I'm starting a series here on Mondays, where I share some of the good words I've found throughout the week, and I share my scribbles, too. Together, we write the contours of our second beating hearts.

Good words I've read:

The Gypsy Mama: Be careful which mirrors you choose to believe
Dear Sugar: How the Real Work is Done
Joy over at Deeper Story: A Revealing Lecture
Emerging Mummy: In which [love looks like] a real marriage
Billy Coffey (found through Joy): Writing Naked

A poem to hear sounding through your week:

Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus (trans. Stephen Mitchell)

O you tender ones, walk now and then
into the breath that blows coldly past.
Upon your cheeks let it tremble and part;
behind you it will tremble together again.

O you blessèd ones, you who are whole,
you who seem the beginning of hearts,
bows for the arrows and arrows' targets -
tear-bright, your lips more eternally smile.

Don't be afraid to suffer; return
that heaviness to the earth's own weight;
heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

Even the small trees you planted as children
have long since become too heavy; you could not
carry them now. But the winds... But the spaces...

And a poem from me:


The coffee is cold,
the morning already more than half
done. See, there, the light
drips through the shades, leaning
towards night?

It's not her friend's lateness
or the lukewarm porcelain
the straw like a periscope in her ice water
even the salt between the cracks of the table.

It's the realization (and we all have it)
that this moment is always over
before we get our fingers around it,

that we barely blink, and the sun has kissed us
and crept away -

before we remembered to see it.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Relentless Journey (the First Sunday of Epiphany)

I'm sitting in the Reagan National Airport, my heart heavy with leaving. Everyone around me holds their world in between their hands and types furiously, the glow of the small screen casting strange shadows on their faces. I watch as they nod curtly to one another, and shift their feet on the tan and blue carpet, and wait for the planes to board. I wonder where they are going.

I wonder how many of us sitting here remember that today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. Today we remember how the wise men saw the star and took off after it. How many of us tapping on our iPhones and sleeping in the uncomfortable black chairs and feeling the ache of departure roaring in our hearts remember that thousands of years ago, these men, staring up into the sky, saw something shoot of beams of light they'd never seen before, and they believed they were supposed to follow it? 

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 

We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. What would it be like, if this year, we watched the sky and the earth for the signs of Him? 

I spend too much time debating whether or not it was a speck of dust or a trick of the light. I try to reason my way out of the arduous journey. I suggest to myself that, in fact, it's way too long to Jerusalem and it's such an inconvenience to my life. I look up at the sky, or at incredible mentors in my life and their sweet little girls, and I walk between the Supreme Court and the Capitol in the blessing of being in DC, and I forget to trust the recklessness of God's love. Instead I shy away, thinking, "How humiliating would it be if there was in fact no baby, no king of the Jews, no star sent from God?"

But the Magi remind us that to find the Child, you have to be relentless. You must grab the sign, however uncertain you are about it, and go. You journey to Herod and ask him where the King of the Jews is? You journey to Bethlehem, following the star you probably aren't even sure you see anymore. You press on. And when the star comes to rest, you rejoice. "When they saw the star, they were overjoyed."

This year, we must be relentless in our journey - across the desert, to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, beyond into Galilee and Nazareth and around Judea and up to the Mountain and down to the city and to Calvary. All the while, the magi remind us, we must trust that however daunting and impossible the journey, we will be overjoyed when we arrive.

And the star, which rose to call out to them, which guided them along their way, will hover over us. Wanderers and worshippers, let us go to Him. 


Friday, January 6, 2012

The Lion's Roar (a five minute post)

Today I'm linking up with Lisa-Jo, over at The Gypsy Mama, where on Fridays we let our words fly free and clear, without editing or worrying. Just five minutes to run a little wild and beautiful. Won't you join us?

This week the word is: Roar.

Turn the music up, I whisper to myself as my feet make wet prints on the old wooden floors. Turn the music up, because you know all the words and you already know how to sing and who is listening besides you?

I sing it loud, this song about "shaking it out" this song that is the anthem of our late night study breaks and our drives to the wine and the live jazz music on Friday nights, this song that she and I play when our words falter but we want to inspire, we want to build up, we want to create.

We play shake it out. And then we do. We roar with our whole 22 and 21 year old selves. We roar in joy at being young and knowing practically nothing but living everything, we roar to the sounds of Florence + the Machine and we sing with her.

We sing because when the winds roar you have to roar back at them. When the cage rattles you don't have anything to fear, but everything to discover. This is your own life, we tell ourselves, yours and it's beautiful and in the making and so turn the music up and fill the place with laughter.

Roar means courage. Roar means fearlessness. Roar means even when you look at it and it terrifies you, life and love in all its many colors, you step into it and roar right back.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: Life Unmasked

This is a year for advice (Dear Sugars, especially), and for finding the voice that sounds inside me, for the letters I have to write to find the truth. In trying to sort out this blogging world, Preston suggested that I link up with Joy's life: unmasked. I thought today, I would give it a try, in the only way I know how to unmask - in letters. 

Dear Hilary, 

I believe in blogging. I believe in writing down what's inside me. I believe that there is worth and fullness there. But I don't know anything about layout and I don't know anything about growing readership and I don't know how to tweet my posts in a cool way or how to catch people's eye. I hear people say, feed who is at your table, and trust the rest. But what if I'm not cool enough to be a blogger? What if I don't belong in this world? 


Dear Blogger!,

I changed your punctuation to an exclamation point. Did you notice that? I changed it from the question mark (doubtful you) to the exclamation point (hopeful you). I changed it for you, because I have a feeling that you don't trust yourself enough to get rid of the question mark. 

I'd like you to name ten people on this planet who have never put a question mark next to their name. 

I would pause, and let you start trying to name them, dipping into your history of elementary school teachers or musicians whose concerts you went to or the woman grinding coffee beans at the Atomic on Thursday mornings... but I won't today, because there aren't ten people. There probably isn't even one person. The question mark is part and parcel of doing the thing you really love, the thing that you love so much your insides ache and you'd just die, die, die if you couldn't do it. For you, it's writing. For someone else, it's environmental engineering or art history or restoring 19th century model trains. And we all put the question mark after our names: Environmental Engineer? Me? Art Historian? Train Restorationist? Blogger? Me? 

I would tell you to stop doubting, to stop second-and-third-guessing every time you hit publish and try to tweet your post and try to figure out if you should be on Networked Blogs or not, or if anyone will comment today... but I think the best thing for you, love, is to unmask the confidence and whisper out loud that you tremble at the idea of being a blogger. 

You won't fall apart by admitting that all of this scares you a little bit. Whenever we do the things we're meant to do we're scared. Whenever we stumble into true life we shake. You, the environmental engineer, the art historian, and the train restorationist. And probably every blogger out there. 

So, Blogger?! Welcome. Hopeful you, meet doubtful you. Let the hope and the doubt collide. And above all, write.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The way to be a poet is to write (a series)

When I don't know what to write, I peek inside old journals, look for the scattered half-ideas, for the poems left unfinished. I found one in the journal from Italy, where one year ago I discovered how our hearts sing. In Italy I promised, one year ago, that I would keep poetry alive in my heart. I promised I would read it. I promised I would write it - on napkins and in the corners of notebooks and about the small things that almost nobody notices.

And so here I am, surrounded by my scribbles. The only way to be a poet is to write poetry. The only way to discover what's inside my heart is to ask out loud.

I promise to write the contours of my second beating heart. This is the beginning.

the metronome of rain

tonight, the clouds practice percussion
on car windows, spotted umbrellas
the shined shoes waiting on the platform.

tonight, the trees crack and shudder
under the insistence of the wind,
the headlights flare in six-eight time.

tonight we will hear of flash floods
burying towns, of shattered windows
and bicycles snatched by the crescendo.

but you?

tonight, you tiptoe, mud-rimmed khakis
and hair dripping, across the sidewalk.
you scuff the pavement,
scatter the puddles.

are you going home?



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