Thursday, December 30, 2010

Winter Break

This is the tangerine time. The orange is burning through the green in the tangerine rinds that are still wrapped around the fruit, which is still hanging on the tree. The frost polishes the fruit, wearing away the green. At least, that's what it looks like to me.

This is the mucus time, the mucky time. We are all coughing, choking, sputtering. The phlegm leaps out of my throat, or it threatens to explode my skull. The words do the same thing. They take possession of my tongue and spray out into the kitchen or the living room. Sometimes they collide with someone's face. Sometimes they look like tears when they land on skin.

This year they seem to dry quickly though, and it seems more and more plausible that the words were never actually visible, that I am imagining them, that in fact the world is quiet and still.

With the cold, peace is burning through the murk and muck. Delusions and deceptions are being ground away, leaving the truth to gleam in the winter sun. The pile of dirty tissues is getting higher and higher, but someday soon, I will be able to breathe. I believe.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Sometimes I see myself through your eyes. I stand straighter; I move like a leaf or a tree, blown by the wind. My skin is smoother, softer. I smell like spring, like flowers pushing through the dirt, like the soft rain. My smile comes like the sun bursting through clouds. It dazzles.

Or my smile is the horned moon when it has slipped sideways--light through the latticed trees. And when I look away, I am an image like a painting on the wall in a museum, in a gilded frame. My face is the object of admiration, not analysis.

And all of this is a reflection of a reflection -- the reflection in your eyes, reflected in my words. I see myself in a dark window-pane, as I sit inside this lighted train, speeding through the night.

Winter Air

[This is from last week, actually. I wrote it into my psych notebook after thinking through it as I was walking to class.]

I have to shatter the air to breathe. The crystalline shards pierce my nostrils and lungs as I inhale. (I wonder, will one find my heart?) The sun slices through my eyes, and through the few remaining leaves. The naked trees stand bravely, but I tuck my chin into my scarf and scurry toward shelter.

Winter has descended, turning all things sharp: the tree branches, the blades of grass like swords; the passage of each minute as we tumble toward the precipitous drop from this year to the next; the rays of the brilliance from our star; the crescent moon; my words. Each movement crushes a thousand frozen structures, the dirt, the air. The wind moves in unison, an army of air, marching in perfect step, even running, graceful as dancers who have been practicing together for thousands of years.

Monday, December 13, 2010

[Some rambling reflections:] Sabbath, fear, trust, humility

From the last page of this article in Veritas Riff about Christian politicians and sex scandals:
"Practicing Sabbath rest is one way of exercising humility, but we do it very, very poorly in this country."
I've never thought about it that way. Sabbath as tithe, Sabbath as discipline, Sabbath as a fast, Sabbath as simply following a rule; Sabbath as gift and blessing, Sabbath as "joy-day" (in John Ortberg's parlance); Sabbath as breaking the bonds of putting faith in work and achievement, even Sabbath as an exercise in trusting God, which comes closer. But not Sabbath as an act of humility.

My relationship to the Sabbath has gone through a lot of different phases. When I was little, I never thought about it. Then there was a long period where I fasted from novels on Sunday (though I didn't think of it as fasting, at the time). Then I went through a phase where I tried to get all my homework done on Friday and if necessary Saturday; then some time after getting to Stony Brook, I started counting the day of rest as being from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday, with the result that I would end up staying up really late Sunday to get homework done. I was keeping the Sabbath rigidly, in a practice that was still good but definitely tainted by a mix of fear and pride.

Then my attitude changed a lot, because I was absorbing the truth of my freedom in Christ. I think I was reading Hearing God and maybe also Celebration of Discipline or Into the Depths of God, all of which discuss listening to the Spirit instead of being tightly and mindlessly bound by rituals (which is what my personality drives me to). No longer knowing how to motivate Sabbath-keeping, I stopped altogether.

Then I went to IVCF's missions conference, Urbana, and read Mudhouse Sabbath, which talks about how the Jewish Sabbath is a day of celebration and community and good eating (not of austerity and fasting and constraint, as in traditional Protestant practice). That was an eye-opener, and it built the bridge in my mind between the teaching I've heard about taking a "joy day" and the Bible's descriptions of the Sabbath.

Lately I haven't been consciously practicing a day of rest. I have effectively been keeping a day of rest from work, because I spend almost all weekend with O., talking and reading and eating and cooking and sometimes watching movies (and last weekend, our (dating) anniversary, going to the Guggenheim and being enthralled by Kandinsky's colors). But I hesitate to call that time a Sabbath because it's not time devoted to God per se. Moreover, I'm not sure I can even call it a day of simple rest, because this semester, Saturday has often brought some emotional stress. Relationships are not about work, but they do require work. (So many intense conversations: sorting things out, finding out how much fear colors my emotional experience.)

Trusting God: that theme keeps coming back this semester. Trust and fear, the opposites that push me back and forth. I'm afraid of judgment, afraid of failure, afraid of being a bad person--and so I keep the Sabbath as an attempted good work. Or: I trust God to take care of my work, I trust God to know what's best for me, I trust God to give me good gifts--and I keep the Sabbath as an act of intimacy with my Father in heaven.

If anxiety is really about arrogance ("this has to happen my way, and what if it doesn't?" in Oswald Chambers' model), is there an element of pride in all my fear? Is my fear the fruit of trusting my own understanding rather than God's revelation? Maybe all trust is predicated on humility. To trust someone else, even God, is to submit myself to their reasoning and decisions, to believe they know and speak the truth. To trust God means to believe His statements about Who He is ("the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness"), rather than believing the lies about Him that my own faulty understanding spews forth.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Every Month

I consider writing this poem every four weeks, and last month I actually figured out something to write, and this month I will actually post it, since I rather like it. But do understand, this is pretty much a first draft. Comments?

Like the smell of the grey sea when it races
up the shore, when it throws uprooted seaweed
onto the sand, when it sprays the cold boulders
and the sea gulls float on it, white birds buoyed
up and down, but not carried by the waves--

and like the smell of the damp earth
when the spade crunches into the soil
and lifts a dark mound into the sunny air
and the dirt tumbles down, black, and the worms
hide themselves futilely, as the gardener loosens the roots
of a chrysanthemum to plant it like a flame
burning against the black earth--

and like the smell of animal fat in the fire,
a sausage smoking and the grease dripping--

like salt and seaweed and decay
and like roots and earth and growth
and like fat and flame,
persistent as smoke in my hair and clothes--

Like that, crimson, the smell
of the moon's rule.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


The sun is glorious through the ragged edges of the clouds, as I wait for you. The cloud have deep gray bodies, soft and thick, tinted blueish, or maybe lavender. At their fringes, the light blazes through, burning the gray away to a brilliant white. The trees burst into twists and tangles of twigs closer by me, but the sky shows pale gold behind them. Hours of daylight remain but sunset is already hanging in the sky.

Inside, I am hanging, too, suspended in time, not space. When I feel this alone, I am not sure who to tell. When will you come? This is Sunday, but for me it is a cloudday. My tears have dried. My face, like the ground outside where the rain has not fallen, has clouds, fringes of sunlight, cracks of blue sky. But there is salt here, and the seed of a headache.

And finally, you have come, and now I do not know what to do.