Wednesday, July 28, 2010

[Quote of the Day:] Sparks of Souls

Fantastic quote courtesy from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
For that forty minutes last night I was as purely sensitive and mute as a photographic plate; I received impressions, but I did not print out captions. My own self-awareness had disappeared [...] I have often noticed that even a few minutes of this self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I wonder if we do not waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves. Martin Buber quotes an old Hasid master who said, "When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you."
I love this image of sparks that fly off of souls and cling like static, like burrs on your clothing, like a child in your arms. And as for wasting my energy, and scattering my soul to shards, by saying hello to myself: Yes. I would like to stop. How, I don't know. But stop: stop. Stop chewing the inside of my lip, stop picking at my fingernails, stop holding my jaw tight. Stop running back and forth like a squirrel, and learn to stand in the wind like a pine tree. Then the sparks will land on me and set me aflame like the burning bush, and I won't have any sandals to take off on the holy ground, because each foot will be a buried root.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I woke up slowly this morning, and I woke up early. Sometimes it seems I sleep less soundly in my own bed at home than on the narrow, thin mattress at school, or on the unfamiliar and lush beds in hotels. Which bed is most "mine", though? At school, the room is lent to me, but while I have it, it is mine alone, with conflicting allegiances. At home, the bed is covered with complications like layered quilts. Memories and obligations are the walls and floor of this room. It's "my" room, but not all the memories send their roots into my past; they are "my" obligations, but all of them bind me to other people's ideas.

I woke up bound to someone else's ideas. I woke with someone else's worry tightening my shoulders. The shoulder blades lie uneasily under my skin: ready to explode into wings and feathers, ready to shift like tectonic plates, like Africa and South America in their continental dance.

I woke in the blue light, in the cloud hour. Green leaves hang from the trees outside my window, but at dawn, all the leaves were silver and blue. The little dog's barking had broken the calm of my sleep, but when I drifted to the surface, all the sharp sounds had ceased. I woke to stillness, I woke to the silver noise of the cars floating by.

I woke, and I bobbed up and down through sleepiness, till I settled at the surface, floating on the silence. Through the dark hallway, into the empty kitchen, into the cool dawn that poured through the windows: the house was asleep, and I was barely across the border into waking.

I stared down into my mug at the minute bubbles sizzling up through the tea, but the hot liquid couldn't soothe me. I stared up with inner eyes, but morning imagination failed. I saw only the ceiling.

Meditation: what am I thankful for? what do I want? So crude, to want, but in the end, I am not a creature of the dawn, with mere blue wishes and dreams: I clutch my desires with curled fingers. Where did I experience God's love? where did I ignore God's love? today, how will I allow God to lead me into tomorrow? I am thinking about a day, just one day, but 24 hours is a million moments, uncountable thousands of thoughts.

Wrapped in a blanket, I fell asleep on the couch. Later, the poodle's nose prodded me awake, and she leaned up against me. We slid into sleep, in concentric curls.

I woke again, slept again, woke, slept, bobbed in and out, till finally I washed up on the shore in the full light of day. The moon was gone, the dawn had drained away. In the kitchen, my mother and I ate marionberry pie. I opened my battered Bible and read Psalm 44 (For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil.): We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.

In the light of day, in the light of your face, I cast off worry. I cast my bread upon the waters. I bade my worry sink in the lake of sleep, where the dreams lie in layers on the bottom and the silt settles on them softly. Having woken a hundred times, I woke yet again, and now I can go out to live.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fairytale Gods

I reread Pat O'Shea's The Hounds of the Morrigan last week. I love this book for many reasons, but mainly because it is 674-pages of Irish fairytale. Epic struggle of good against evil, but even more than that, of innocence against corruption.

Pidge and his little sister Bridgit have no idea what they're doing, but help always shows up, because they are under the protection of the Dagda. While there are several gods and goddesses in this story, not all of them good (i.e., the Morrigan, the goddess of battle and destruction and rot), the Dagda seems to be a class above the rest.

In fact, it's easy to read the Dagda as simply God... I don't recall noticing much about the character of the Dagda, or about Pidge and Bridgit's relationship with him, when I read this book before, but on this reading (2nd? 3rd?), I paid more attention to the writing style and the themes and characters and such, which was all quite lovely. Anyway, I wanted to type of a scene from the beginning, when Pidge first meets the Dagda, whose voice whispers to him:
Pidge froze into a statue of himself. He didn't dare move. He sat with his eyes staring straight ahead not seeing anything, but feeling with the back of his neck. After a long, long moment of this, he tried to make his head vanish inside his body like a tortoise pulling into his shell.
It was as though he were getting ready to receive a blow on the head.
Don't be afraid, said the Voice. I am your friend.
Oh, what'll I do, thought Pidge fearfully.
Am I hurting you? the Voice asked with infinite gentleness.
Believe in my friendship.
"But, I'm afraid."
said the Voice.
Music flooded down the chimney as if it were water surging over the edge of a fall. It hushed--and there was a down-pouring of perfumed light, in accord with the clear and perfect notes of a solitary flute, in which the light rejoiced and danced.
It all faded and whispered away.
Look up!
Pidge looked up and saw the night-time. It was filled wiht glittering stars.
I write my name, said the Voice.
Out of the multitude, the biggest and brightest of the stars formed the word: DAGDA.
This scene is lovely in itself, and even better in the context of the story. But I think it's also a great depiction of what our interactions with the real God can or even should be like at times. It's so easy to lose the sense of wonder and pleasure, and get caught up in duty and guilt.

But the truth of the relationship, the heart of the matter, is the music and the mystery, the stars rearranging and the world seeming safe, beyond all reason. It's the quest and the questions, and not needing the answers because you know the Person is with you.


I just finished reading A Man in Christ. This took several months since I've been digesting it slowly, but it is my new favorite book. It is better than C.S. Lewis. (!!!)

That's all for now! I think I'll be typing up some long chunks of it though for further digestion and general spreading of insight and understanding and amazingness.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

[Quote of the Day:] Beauty

From Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
Beauty itself is the language to which we have no key; it is the mute cipher, the cryptogram, the uncracked, unbroken code. And it could be that for beauty, as it turned out to be for French, that there is no key, that "oui" will never make sense in our language but only in its own, and that we need to start all over again, on a new continent, learning the strange syllables one by one.
I've never thought of beauty as a language, but I can see it now. Beauty is a message and a meaning and a moment. Beauty needs to be learned, needs to be absorbed. When I was little, my mother would point out landscapes as we drove by. I just wanted to read my book. Why look at mountains or green fields? I only knew how to read stories, read motions, back then. These days, I am learning to read beauty: poems and still-lifes and flowers and the light. Someday I'll speak the language.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Place and Time

Today, I was so glad to be in all the places that I was.

I was at the beach, as the fog drifted by and the paragliders floated overhead. I was in the Pacific, getting sand in my jeans, getting salt in my hair. (In the evening, the dog licked my leg, and tasted the sea.)

I was in Haight-Ashbury today. I was eating coffee-malt-English toffee-whiskey ice cream from Ben & Jerry's ("Peace, love & ice cream"). I was in a vintage store, making my boyscout friend wear a giant floppy burgundy hat. In the photo, the hat has draped over his eye, like a veil. His face is hidden, and he says he's glad.

I was walking a dog today, a sturdy black terrier. He barks, he jumps, he races out the door. I walked him for an hour as dusk descended, and he left his scent on every corner. There are secret messages for him all over the sidewalk and the ivy and the posts that hold up the mailboxes. I watch him get the messages but I never know what they are saying to him.

I know what was being said to me, though... I was on the phone today. I was sitting in a stream of words, letting them flow over me, even as I walked down the tree-lined lanes and tugged the terrier out of the street. The stream flowed from far away, but the water was just as fresh as if I were at the spring itself. Listening is good. Later I spoke, and that was good too. (You thanked me for my words, and your gratitude was a blessing. To refresh you refreshes me...)

I was at church today. A visiting pastor, who had conducted a 24-hour funeral, sang to us, about the new Jerusalem. (I thought of you, how you would close your eyes if you were there to listen.) The pastor spoke about prayer, about God's heart for us, about disappointment, and the words rolled over me but they didn't sink in. My friend's words sank in, though: "We need you." Someone is badly sick, and the crazy hectic amazing day camp for a hundred kids is starting tomorrow, 9am. So: I'll play Sally a few mornings. I'm here, I can help--because I chose to rest this summer, instead of trying to fulfill some imperative to be productive. They thanked me, over and over, and I could genuinely tell them, "I'm happy to help."

Blessed to be a blessing, my pastor says. To be a blessing is to be blessed, some days: today. I am blessed. Here is my note of gratitude, and here is my note of apology for the days I despair. Thank you. Life is beautiful, and I am so glad to be here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Time to do some weeding...

It was one of those mornings, and it's going to be one of those days. The morning sky was gray and mostly not silver, as I walked down the street. I walked all the way down the street, see, because it was one of those mornings. A brooding, blue morning; a morning where the thought "I can't do anything right" slid around inside my skull. It slid around till it put down roots and it grew till it overshadowed the weed named "I can never do enough."

It's the smallest seeds that grow into those pernicious plants with their poisoned fruit. It's the comment, "That bread will be good today and tomorrow but it will be stale after that." It's the wall behind the words, "I guess it's okay if you go out"--the dam I feel holding back some river, though what flows down the river, I don't know, whether the water is potable or poisoned. It's the edge that flicks out of "I'm really busy right now."

No one plants those seeds. They just fall. The wind blows them in. Summer, the dry season: on all the hills, the grasses are golden and light. The grasses, the weeds, have died, but they are still standing. Their skeletons rattle, pale yellow, light brown. Their seeds wait, dangling from dessicated stems. The wind will pluck them and sweep them into the sky.

The seeds soar across the blue. Drifting, dancing, they travel.

Then they land, they prick. They burrow into the dirt. They wait again, for water. Summer, the lawn season: the grass in the green lawns needs watering. The sprinklers play at any hour of the day, and if I were still a little child, I would be playing in the falling water. As it is, I can only think about the waste, all the precious water escaping into the sky--evaporation, that thief! And age is just as much a thief, to replace joy with judgment.

The water falls, whether from sprinklers or from tears, and the weed seeds grow. I haven't been weeding lately. Summer, the hot season: I don't want to kneel on the ground and look for the problems. I don't want my neck to redden, I don't want the sweat to drip. Besides, I can't see the weeds from where I stand. I would rather assume they aren't there.

Also, if I stay out of the yard, I won't get scolded for being dirty. I can stay inside, like a good girl, and put the dishes away in the kitchen. Stack the plates, nestle the cups together in the cupboard. I can answer when I'm called, speak when I'm spoken to. Outside, I don't always hear my name. You call me, and I don't respond, and that never ends well. Fearing this, trying to do it right, I stay in.

Outside, neglected, the weeds grow.

Monday, July 5, 2010


The lesson for the season is abundance, it seems. Someone keeps telling me that whatever I need, however much, it will come. Someone keeps telling me that I won't be left in need, that I don't have to just get by. Someone keeps telling me, "I am happy to give to you, to give you good things. To provide. To satisfy. To rejoice with you, to rejoice in you." Really? I can ask for more?

You won't be mad at me?

Someone keeps telling me that this doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus says that the Martians had a win-lose philosophy (I will win even if it makes you lose), and the Venusians had a lose-win philosophy (I will lose so that you can win). I am learning: God doesn't work that way. He doesn't resent giving me things. He doesn't invest in me coldly, waiting for it to pay off, cursing when the stock goes down as I get worried or impatient or sick or side-tracked. He doesn't wish He hadn't lavished so much on me to get so little in return. He doesn't think that I already have my fair share, I can't possibly ask for more.

I'm the one who thinks those things. I'm the one who draws those lines, lines on a graph, trying to quantify, or at least develop a model of myself relative to the people around me--or no, that's bad! A model of myself relative to the self I was in the past. That's good, right? I just need to know what's expected of me. I just need the syllabus for life so I can tell if I'm doing okay. Just the syllabus and my grades. Professor, I don't need your time, I don't mean to bother you. I know it's not your office hours right now. I just want this little thing: tell me I'm all right.

I just want to know what's expected of me? No, I am just want to know what to expect. I am so afraid to hope and be disappointed, I am so petrified by the idea of asking and being turned down. So I stop hoping, stop asking.

But this isn't the season for scarcity. Life isn't a bowl of waxy apples being passed around the table--only take one, there aren't enough. Life isn't a pile of cold oranges at the grocery store, stacked in a giant pyramid, $1.29 / lb. Count out how many you'll eat this week. Don't buy too many, they're expensive. Besides, who knows if they're any good. They're not in season.

Life isn't even the overflowing boxes at the farmer's market, the little trays of samples, the earnest sellers who tell you, Those are sweet, those are still crunchy. Try this, you'll like it. Discount if you buy five pounds! The sun shines on the people and on the canopies. In this little island of shade, the scent of summer wafts up from the peaches and nectarines, the plums and tomatoes.

For the season is summer. Winter has passed, the pale creature. It has stalked off into the night. The season has turned.

We are staring into the sun, as it pours down on us sunbeams without number. Who could count them? Who would want to? Abundance is the sunshine streaming down. Abundance is the tree in the yard, laden with fruit, a hundred jewel-toned globes like Christmas ornaments. Two hundred. A thousand. The apricots fall to the ground, ooze underfoot. The ants swarm around. But no matter how many fall, the tree has more. We climb the tree, plucking the fruit one by one. We pass empty baskets up into the tree, and lower them full and heavy and piled high. We look for people to take fruit from us. We thank them for receiving it. We are so happy to give it away. We just want it to be enjoyed.

That is abundance. That is life.

"If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" Jesus said. Someone keeps telling me to ask. Someone keeps telling me to hope--Someone keeps telling me to live!

It takes practice, asking. Let me start out small: God, please give me a good summer.

Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayers.

[In reality, apricot season hasn't come yet. But that is irrelevant to this post, irrelevant to this point.]