On mother’s day I rise early to ask the viola’s how they slept. To see the marigold & verbena shining velvety with morning dew. To ask the snapdragon & the daisy if they have enough room. I listen to the chatter of the birds singing glory to the maker of the morning (as they do every day) without question without fail. I think of how the earth knows better than I do how to receive the love of a God who is both Father & Mother— words I am only just learning how to say. In the morning light this day does not feel tangled up as I know some (perhaps most) people feel it to be. Here there are no mothers abandoning their children. Here there are no empty wombs. Here there are no harsh words spoken with anything less than utterly devoted love. Here there are no tiny graves; no buried children of any age. Here no arms ache for the love they used to hold. Here there are no women deceived or forced into life’s most terrible choice. Here there is only dew on fresh flower faces & light & grace & the God who says he loves us— like a mother hen longing to gather us beneath protective wings— like a nursing mother who cannot forget the son of her womb because of the ache in her breasts— the nourishment she must pour out she cannot keep it to herself. And perhaps what I want to celebrate today is not me; someone privileged to be a mother to earthly children; who holds five hearts in her hands like the abundance she knows she doesn’t deserve. A kindness to which she is neither entitled nor guaranteed. Perhaps instead I want to celebrate like the birds the King of Creation— the God of the morning— who loves me like the child that I still am. Who loves me so much it would hurt to turn away. Who loved me to the point of death & life again. The Mother God who is even now preparing for me a feast of welcome & celebration when I have done all my wanderings in these shadowed lands. I catch glimpses of this & more in the shining dew dropped faces of the violas in sunshine. In the tears I know our truest father & mother sheds for the ache of us all.
let me be/ your breath a poem by Grace Kelley grow in me— all that is new & tender the unseen seems more real with each fluttering sign of presence. (the flutters gave them away after all) —how I knew they were two & not only one. Now my desires are more refined than ever. so grow in me— until the pain makes it hard to rise from my sheets until I’m stretched & marred far beyond my capacity until red stripes mark my belly full & heavy with the weight of the glory of you. grow in me— until sleep becomes a stranger until breaths feel hard to take— for the crowding of my lungs is no less Holy than singing praises to the God who made you. grow in me— until you are ready to breathe with fresh lungs— until the sweet echos of your first cries tear open places always meant for loving you. Until then Dear Ones, grow in me— & let me be your breath.
I didn’t know what you meant by “kingdom” the words felt foreign & meaningless in my mouth. Perhaps I pictured the caste of some fairy tale aspiration—foreign to my modern mind. Perhaps I pictured something archaic something that cost more than it was worth. Perhaps I pictured a moat & drawbridge full of beasts snapping at the heels of those who don’t belong. Perhaps I envisioned those streets of gold the palace with your robe, the temple full of smoke— But nothing else. No true life, no blade of grass, no creatures (except those terrifying ones) setting themselves to sing your praises for all eternity. But then I saw it. A picture of a long table on a mountain top. Cushions littering the ground, linens & lovely place settings, a breeze blowing the soft grasses. I could almost smell the aroma of a feast being prepared— & I knew I had gotten it wrong. The Kingdom is a table— Where those who were enemies become friends with each other & the God who made friends with us all. Where the hungry eat without price— wine & milk honey & marrow in abundance. Where we dwell in your presence & soak it in— like the lush grasses beneath my feet in summertime. We are not forced to praise, with harps of gold on nimbus clouds— rather, praise flows from our lips like wine as we see you as you are. Today, I think about the last supper & how you washed the filthy feet of an enemy who betrayed you & dined with friends who did the same. Can I help but marvel at the God who still prepares wretched sinners a table in his presence? A table that will satisfy all the lack & longing we have felt for all these painful earthly years— Where all at once, we will be full of joy & satisfied.
Photo c/o Stella de Smit on Unsplash
I know your heart is full of anguish & longing — mine is too. How I have longed to gather you beneath my plumage; as a mother hen gathers her vulnerable chicks—shielding them from all that would seek to do them harm. I would treat your wounds with the balm of my presence & cure your sorrow with the sound of my laughter. Oh if you only knew how I delight in you. But you have been wayward sons & daughters— Jerusalem the Holy City slaughters the prophets & those who are sent to seek and save it. Yet I would gather you even still; —children who cannot believe a promise only because it isn't the way you imagined it. —children who cannot believe my words because your eyes have yet to see them come true. But it was for this reason Beloved that I have come.
Those who said they would help have only hurt me more. The blood won’t stop coming & all these wounds refuse to be bound. But I heard a rumor yesterday— it caused my heart to leap inside my frail & aching chest. They say: a man— a prophet— a healer— has come to Israel again. In the crowd I hide my face behind my shawl. I hope no one recognizes me— I don’t belong here. All who touch me are unclean & in this crowd I could pollute dozens—yet do I really seek to touch him? Not him I say to myself just his hem— if I can just touch the hem of his robe I know I will be healed— After all this time walking alone perhaps I could be a mother— a friend— a daughter— again. When my fingers graze fabric I feel the Power working. My body feels more whole than it has in twelve long years, but with the joy comes like a lightning flash both awe & terror. What have I done? But before I can slip away anonymous & unnamed his eyes turn toward me. His gaze is searching & he’s asking; “Who touched me?” And I, shaking in a body only moments made whole, confess it all before him. I thought he would chastise me for making him unclean— instead I feel his hand beneath my chin, lifting my eyes to his gaze. He looks at me like he knows me from the top of my head, to the soles of my feet. He calls me daughter & says my faith has made me well. If only everyone could be seen like this— his loving gaze made well parts of me even miracles couldn’t heal.
Photo c/o Luca Lawrence on Unsplash
Sometimes the heaviness here makes it hard to breathe. When my lungs are burning for breath I close my eyes & think about the wedding feast. The long table, laid with fine linens & fruits of glorious labor— beloved faces of those I have wept with, rejoiced with, & grieved— all shining like the glassen sea’s surface in summer. I hear the wind blowing fragrance through the trees in the orchard. Joy overwhelms me & I know he’s coming. I lift my eyes to meet his own & when he smiles, I feel it to the soles of my bare feet where they plant themselves in warm grass, like a tree who knows where she’s growing. He laughs easy as breathing & like the sudden break of dawn over mountaintops I breathe in the reality that this sound could fill every crack, every lack every longing of my whole life. I open my eyes, shining with unshed tears & my heart breaks to find myself here again. But the burdens feel lighter with his laughter to buoy me.
To the God of Hagar— God of wandering people in wilderness places— We know that you see— but we are having a hard time believing what we are seeing and seeing it— still believing that you see. God who has seen all violence done upon the earth— who sees the mothers and fathers fleeing— their babies in their arms only to arrive at safer shores that do not want them. God who has seen every innocence stolen by the hands of wicked men some who claim your name while inflicting unspeakable pain. God who has seen every victim silenced by lies and deceit and the idolatry of the comfort of lies so much easier to swallow than the bitter draught of truth. God who has seen every genocide, every leader drunk on power and prejudice, who values not what you called holy —the imago dei— of all of human kind. God who has seen the ruthless grip of natural disasters tearing houses and lands and peoples apart. God who has seen the ravages of every kind of sickness and disease; we know this is not the first pandemic you have seen. God who himself has felt the sting of sickness that leads to death— the tears of grief for your beloved, Lazarus in the tomb and for the moment out of reach. These times are not “unprecedented” to you. But we are still afraid. We need to know— do you see us here? Do you see every lonely heart turned lonelier by pandemic isolation? I had days where I was scared to make contact— to smile, to wave even to those a street away. The distance has felt more than social. But God, these are small things I know. What about the family members saying goodbye with nothing but a lousy internet connection connecting them to a parent a child a loved one— dying in the ICU? Do you see how the fingertips ache to be squeezed? to be held one last earthly time? Do you see the fear in our eyes— that we (or one we love) could be next to die alone? Or what about the cries for justice God? You’ve been hearing some version of the these for millenia— the oppressor always has his boot pressed against the neck of someone unable to fight back. Some of us are just now beginning to understand this is not the promised land. This is the valley of shadows. I’ve known it since I was seven. And despite all you’ve done to heal and redeem— some days all I can say is: “I hate it here.” Like Hagar running through the night her heart beat slamming her short breaths burning her shaking lungs. forced into service forced into her master’s bed forced to carry the burden of the patriarch’s lack of faith and her mistresses’ abuse— she fled. But where could she go? Where can we find shelter in a world that seems to be tearing always at some new seam we didn’t know was there? Do you see her God? See the tears track down her dirty cheeks? See her face, pale with fears her heart cannot hold? What more can she take God? (What I mean to say is what more can we take?) Is there a spring after all? A spring rising up in this wilderness— water bubbling like the sound of joy from the ground? Would you speak as you once did to Hagar— to ask us where have you been and where are you going? Will you give to the wounded, outcast, abandoned, lonely, bleeding heart— promise of a blessing? Can we name our sons Ishmael—knowing you have heard our affliction? Knowing you have your eye upon us even still? The chickadees in the barren lilac out my window always have enough to eat— will you feed us even here Jesus? Will it taste like bread and water to know you see us still?
They were angry with you when you turned over those tables. The coins clattered in the courtyard and you could hear the cries—the bleating, cooing cacophony of the sacrifice-for-sale. The offerings offered for a price that seemed payable that seemed enough perhaps— but missed the heart. Your heart beat hammered human in your chest as you, the righteous God-Man ransacked the place. Wrath is reserved especially for we who have eyes but refuse to see. They were angry. They called you a thief, a menace—a disturber of the peace. They said the prince of darkness had paid to have your soul But you were the One who spent 40 days with nothing; a wilderness wandering, just so you could return and wonder of wonders give us a world in yourself— the Word. How many tables have you toppled this year? How many images did we imagine were worthy of you, but we see now are rotted, rusted with all the rest of our earthly treasures? How many idols of security, of normalcy, of the easy & good life, you have shattered— scattered at our feet like coins from the money changers. Like the dung scattered from the sacrificial sheep? Who our true gods are has never been more obvious. Where we put our hope in the midst of crisis— the thread, the shred that we hold that helps us sleep at night. LORD, if it be not the edge of your robe then turn it over again— Turn us into children hungry for you, O Bread of Life— who thirst for water that quenches the soul.
Header photo c/o KaLisa Veer on Unsplash
1. Ash Wednesday Leaves burned last fall just when yellows and reds should have swept us away with the colors of flame— Instead aspen leaves dropped charred from the sky dark at noon. They crumbled to dust in our hands while smoke made it hard to breathe. Thoughts of our own mortality have never been nearer than these masks that hide our faces but not our fears. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust— fears coming nearer like the lines the fire fighters drew to protect the houses the roads, the school campus in the mountains burning down. Like the lines marked every six feet with signs reminding us to keep our distance. But it’s the loneliness that weighs me down the most Most days I stare out the window and wonder— who are the faithful friends? the one’s who’ll weather this storm too and stand by my side again— when spring finally comes when fresh leaves emerge from aspens scarred by flames of last year’s destruction? It’s Ash Wednesday now a time to think about all that perishes— and what remains. what Beauty is already standing sentry when the pine seeds are sprouting in glorious resurrection? I know the answer like I know the sound of his voice— In this life so full of loss and lack that burns like smoke in my lungs there is only One True and Lasting Beauty: One God who put on fragile flesh to kneel in the dirt, to plant himself like a seed sown in tears in a borrowed tomb. Like a pine seed, awakened by the flames just waiting— to burst forth.
This poem is the first in a series I will be doing, one poem for every Wednesday of Lent. I hope you follow along and that these poems of lack and longing meet you where you are this Lent. To receive updates in your email, click here to sign up for my email list and you’ll be sure not to miss a thing, even if you take a step back from social media for awhile. 🙂
Blessings on you Dear Reader, wherever this Lenten season finds you. And may the only True and Lasting Beauty—meet you there.
*Header Image C/O Malachi Brooks on Unsplash*
The Anvil I. Loss is like an anvil sitting silent on my chest. The only noise comes when I try to breathe. The creaking of my lungs fighting to expand in this weighted world sounds like the rattling of chains softened by padded walls. Words pad the cell: “She lived a good life.” “It was her time.” “She was ready.” AND IF I COULD ONLY STAND I’D RIP THAT PADDING OFF THE WALLS AND DASH MYSELF AGAINST THE COLD AND SOLID REALITY THAT DEATH IS ALWAYS AN UNINVITED AND GREEDY HAND AT THE TABLE AND THERE IS NO EXCUSING HIM. I have tried to move the anvil by ignoring it. Pretending that I believe padded words are enough to quench embers burning a hole in my chest where my heart used to be. But surprise, surprise! It didn’t work. After sitting in the numbed silence for 100 more years I took another rattling breath—my lungs like a bellows on the embers of a heart gone almost cold as I whispered— “I didn’t get to say goodbye.” And the anger lifts the anvil— throws it broken to the ground. And I do as I said I would; tearing padding, dashing every part of me against the cold hard stone until either my bones or the wall must break. II. Blind and wounded is this how we come? Crashing through that solid wall of reality my bones turned to powder my eyes gritty my nostrils full of dust & funeral ashes. Lying under a bright & open sky— the beauty sharp like grief— at first felt worse than the anvil that sat on my chest 1000 years—a weight where my heart used to be. And now this!? As I crashed through the walls to the truth that death was always just a door— out of the tower out of the nightmare out of the Shadowlands to Here— where air is breathed just for laughing. (This poem is an excerpt from my poetry chapbook As the Sparrow Flies, a collection of poems about the various forms of grief that come with love.) Header photo by Yang Shuo on Unsplash