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
I am shedding my skin— the old broken down shell is cracked and sloughing off my shining shoulders. I am letting go of the girl I thought I was last year two years ago, definitely ten. Would she recognize me? Would we be friends? I’m letting go of those questions too. They have no place in this pool where I wash the soot from my body and watch the way the moon gleams on my brand new skin. This coal mine cave turned tomb For minerals, miners, and me. Presented to the heat, the flame as a sacrificial offering. For what god—I wasn’t sure. I felt the flames lick my heels and I screamed until the air gave out—I couldn’t breathe and I collapsed as the cave collapsed and crushed me. But now I am stepping out of my skin cracked and scared like the granite of the mountain side, and I see the new underneath— shining hard facets sparkling in the light of a young moon. I realize it then: it takes defiance to believe in joy—to hold both happiness and sorrow in your hands at once— to believe in hope when the dark is caving in. I didn’t know it till the sorrow buried me alive. I didn’t know till I heard the canary sing— reminding me that somehow there’s still air down here. Still air in my broken down lungs crushed beneath worlds of weight beneath bodies of gods existent in the image temples of my heart where I worshipped perfection, performance and outward shows of grand love to be praised by man— Where I bowed to the love of a god who only loved what I had done lately and not who I always was beneath this skin I am shedding. Not who I was when the cave roof collapsed. And Oh what Wonder! the dust clears and I can see now these were no gods at all, only toppling stones crashing before the refiners fire licked my heels and made me clean. Now upon the banks of a pool on the mountainside, I shed my sodden, sooty skin— I wipe the dirt from my neck, and my chest thrums with a new more solid beat. Now, beneath the light of the young moon, beneath my shed skin, I can see clearly what I was always meant to become. Photo C/O KT on Unsplash