The gift of presence

Leaving is like a slow grief. As we leave this place we have put roots down in together for thirty years, there is pain. Actually, counting childhood, I have been in the desert for forty years. Not sure about the wanderings….

And so we gather with groups of folks we have loved. These are people, young and old and in between, whom we have done life with in raw, bold ways. And in those places I have an invitation before me. Do I dare to remain present? Am I willing to listen with my heart?

Part of me wants to bolt! (And this from an “extrovert”)!

There is something I am startled by in this season. I have “done” many things; written curriculums, facilitated groups, midwifed women, taught classes. These are not the things I am hearing back.

From the teen moms, now grown, the take away is simple. I greeted their babies and drew on their bellies (belly mapping a baby). Greeting babies, so common to me, gives connection to that little human. And I asked permission (may I touch you?). This is life changing for those of us who have been violated.

Not the curriculum, the knowledge, the program. The things that stick are put into words: respect, dignity, permission, voice. And I offered my eyes.

This theme I also heard from my journey-mates. “You gave me your eyes.”

What is that, the offering of eyes, of presence? It is an invitation.

I also hear that I invited story, that we created places that flowed from our own stories. It seems small, really, the inviting of story. But this is radical, revolutionary stuff. When I engage my story deeply, and wrestle with its pain, only then do I have the right to dive into story-waters.

This desert landscape has been the place of my deep wrestling. Everything I thought was true about me, and my childhood, has been exposed in the light. Layers upon layers have been stripped away, until I stood figuratively naked in the arid landscape.

It is only from this place that I have the privilege to hold space for stories to emerge.

These are things that I am invited to notice. I am going to a place, in grad school, where other things matter. Titles, letters behind a name, publications, position….

And in this season of goodbyes none of those things have been spoken once.

Eyes, presence, respect, story.

This is the invitation, to my heart. Am I willing to enter a new place and offer my eyes? Am I willing to be present, in that green and rainy land, to another? Am I willing to offer my story, to create safe spaces for stories to emerge? In a more scripted, techy birth environment, will I continue to ask permission, to honor the yes and no of a woman young or old?

I am listening.

Thank you for gifting me with your words.

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And go….

I have been thinking a lot about Abraham lately. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, God is crazy!

He basically tells the patriarch of old, “Get up. And go. To a place which I will show you.”

In case he doesn’t get the picture, God spells it it out. Leave your home. Your people (kindred), your lands. And go….

Not go from this point A to point B. At least we have a geographical locale. Just go.

And so he packs up. His goats. His tents. His wives. His kids. His life. I can picture that.

Can you imagine the questions from the kids: daddy where are we going, how long til we get there, what will it be like, how many more miles, my feet hurt!

So many questions.

So few answers.

It’s a story I can enter on so many levels. After 40 years (literally) in the desert I know about Desert travel.

So much learning into the I. I will show you. I will be with you.

I.

Not the long goodbye yet…

I sat surrounded yet alone as a journeymate was honored. Her long goodbye came far too soon, it feels to me. She lived in a broken body, but her spirit was strong and vibrant. It pulsed and moved with life as multi-faceted as the flowers in her gardens.

Her life calls to a deep place in me.

I know something of broken bodies. Right now, mine is strong and almost supple. But always there is the awareness that it could change in a day.

I am reminded again tonight that all I have is this moment. This breath, this day…

I want to hold my kids, in their teenage push-pull, a little longer than is comfortable.

I want to speak truth. Not the truth/beauty/goodness kind but the real deal. The messy, cut the cliché, truth. The kind that cuts through to harsh realities with grace.

I want to co-create safe spaces; in my home, in my world. Spaces with food that reflects artistry. Spaces where conversation flows like water.

I want to be present. Today.

It’s not the long goodbye yet.

Letting go

This place has sheltered us for 24 years. We entered it as young parents, with a toddler. Our ideas of parenthood and life were clear and strong. We were leaders, planting in the inner city. Everything was in a neat box, tied with a bow.

And so this has been in place of learning, and of letting go. The process of unraveling has occurred here. Much pain has been revealed. There has been an invitation to continue to live into the space. To continue to live into the stories of our growing up years, and the growing up happening right in our house. That is a painful road.

It has been a place of joy. Countless birthday parties, Easter egg painting, games of “ha!”, and cooking experiments galore. Five of our kids have grown up here largely. They are desert kids. We have learned how to blend of family. We have learned to love here.

And so the invitation comes to step out. We say and we hope that we will be back to this desert, to this city, full of people we love. But much is unknown.

What is known is that someone steps out with us. And in that knowledge, into the swirling mist we go. But we do not go alone.

And so far this place, we ask that it would be found by someone who would need a space of refuge. A place to call home. A place for the heart. Perhaps, in it’s very walls, lies the courage and the invitation to go farther in and farther up.

May it be so.

I am not alone

Sitting at neighborhood this morning, I felt waves of emotion. The reality is hitting me. I am leaving this community where I have woven into the lives of now the third generation of this Neighborhood.

How do you begin to form a community in a new place? I know that it starts by being willing to open my heart. And then, the risk is, I don’t know where the journey will lead.

But that is the only way. The reality is, that’s community. I have to be willing to enter with my story, to listen to the stories of others. And it is in this sacred space of story that the bonds began to form.

I am in the midst of the grief, of goodbyes yet to come in the move and now the long goodbye to my dad.

And so this morning the song washed over me.

I am not alone. I am not alone. You will go before me. You will never leave me.

And my heart says yes. This is truth.

It stands in stark contrast to the cry of evil that resonated through my childhood; you are alone.

Truth says, I am.

I will go before you.

You are not alone.

Listen to the song Here

The Lenten Writings: post a guard

“Pilate bends once again to their wishes. He assigns them a guard detachment and the power of royal seal to go and “make the tomb as secure as they know how.” With all their might they seek the security of keeping the truth buried—an effort designed to maintain their own illusions of righteousness alive. They will not let go. They don’t know how to sit with the truthful silence of Jesus’ death.” (Joel Van Dyke, Street Psalms)

The Lenten Writings: floating on my back

The Avowal

by Denise Levertov

As swimmers dare to lie face to the sky and water bears them,

as hawks rest upon air and air sustains them,

so would I learn to attain freefall, and float

into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace, knowing no effort earns

that all-surrounding grace.

Source:   “The Avowal” from The Stream and the Sapphire, by Denise Levertov. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1997.

I remember…

Trying to learn to do the back float.

Arch your back, they said. Look up at the sky. Don’t look down. Don’t tuck your chin. That was hard. Invariably, I would try to see where I was, tilting my head down. And I would sink.

I do that in my journey too. I stop floating. I want to see if I am making progress. Where is everyone else?

And I sink.

Recovery is hard work. The road back into my story has lots of twists and turns. If it were a river, there would definitely be whitewater and a waterfall.

I want to pause, to look around the bend ahead.

And I sink.

Today’s Lenten poem is about just that.

Just float.

The Lenten Writings: strong in the wind.

The Observer
by Rainer Maria Rilke

 

I can tell a storm by the way the trees are whipping, compared to when quiet, against my trembling windows, and
I hear from afar things whispering
I couldn’t bear hearing without a friend or love without a sister close by.

There moves the storm, the transforming one,
and runs through the woods and through the age, changing it all to look ageless and young:
the landscape appears like the verse of a psalm, so earnest, eternal, and strong.

How small is what we contend with and fight;
how great what contends with us;
if only we mirrored the moves of the things and acquiesced to the force of the storm, we, too, could be ageless and strong.

For what we can conquer is only the small, and winning itself turns us into dwarfs;
but the everlasting and truly important will never be conquered by us.
It is the angel who made himself known
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
for whenever he saw his opponents propose to test their iron-clad muscle strength,
he touched them like strings of an instrument and played their low-sounding chords.

Whoever submits to this angel, whoever refuses to fight the fight,
comes out walking straight and great and upright, and the hand once rigid and hard
shapes around as a gently curved guard.
No longer is winning a tempting bait.
One’s progress is to be conquered, instead, by the ever mightier one.

Source: “The Observer” from Pictures of God; Rilke’s Religious Poetry, translated by Annemarie Kidder.   Livonia, MI: First Page Publications, 2005. I am standing. I am feeling the movement of the wind of the spirit of God. I am standing. I am listening for the voice underneath. I am standing. I am speaking voiced truth.I am standing. I am keeping my eyes open, and asking for courage to see.I am standing.

The Lenten Writings: footprints

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream! —

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our heats, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead

Act,- act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead.

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

a forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,

with a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.

The story beneath, the relentless pull to life. The hint that perhaps there a footprints of another.

These are the echoes that whisper in the dark corridors of my journey. And the voice speaks to my core lie and says “you are not alone.”

And that is enough. O to be accompanied.

Source: “A Psalm of Life” from The Complete Poetical Works of Longfellow

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1893.

The Lenten Writings: remember

God of peace,

God of justice,

God of freedom,

We give you thanks for your cadences of peace, justice, and freedom,

Cadences that have surged through the lives

Of Martin,

And Ralph

And Rosa,

And John,

And Fred,

And Hosea,

And Jesse,

And Andy,

And all that nameless mass of risk-takers who have been

Obedient to your promises

And susceptible to your dreams.

Deliver us from amnesia

Concerning their courage in the face of violence,

Their peace-making against hate,

And their hunger for you in a devouring economy

Deliver us from amnesia:

Turn our memory into hope,

Turn our gratitude into energy,

Turn our well-being into impatience.

That these same cadences of your will may pulse even among us.

Amen

Source: “Deliver us from amnesia”, from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, Walter Brueggemann, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2003.