A beating heart

I’ve spent the last several hours in my kitchen. I successfully connected my phone to Kaia’s speaker (this was a major win, by the way) and played some random Adele playlist and marveled at her low notes and her longing made bare, by notes on paper. I’ve made dozens of mini muffins for our annual meeting tomorrow, and I’d like you to believe, and I’d like to believe, that it was an entirely selfless pursuit, that something inside of me shines so brightly that it just needs to make muffins for a meeting. But the real truth is that I can hide in my kitchen, with Adele singing out through the speakers. The real truth is that this somewhat shabby room, with it’s old brown cupboards and scratched Formica and not matching appliances, its a sort of oasis for me.

The news is overwhelming. I can’t be the only person who wonders what to believe, who is almost suspending belief pending further evidence and fact checking. But then I wonder who is out there to do that fact checking and to gather that evidence, and I feel a slick and greasy ball in my stomach turn faster and faster, because I realize that I don’t know what is true any more, I don’t have a reliable source.

In times like these I have to finger the things that I know, I have to take them out and make them tangible in some way, even if that way is only a song in my head, words on my lips. I’ve chanted over and over to myself, what does the Lord require of me? The do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly — and I sort of get tripped up there, where I should say, walk humbly with my God. I’m not sure that I’m walking with God, not sure where he is, if he’s turned up the TV real loud in the caretakers lodge in the heavenly campground to drown out what is happening over here or what. I picture his wife, Wisdom, making him a patty melt in the kitchen, the way the grease pops when her tears strike, the way she knew and called out to us. The warnings she’s made known.

I’m left to walk humbly instead, and hoping to encounter God somewhere on the path.

Last weekend one of the three bishop’s of our state visited school, he shared with us the difference between awareness and action, the stopping place of discernment, of thinking about what we know, what we can see, what we can hear, and the pausing to listen before we act and go forward. He laughed ironically and said he could pick from his hand the small mistakes we will make because we did not discern, because maybe we didn’t even ask. He also read poetry to us, just enough to leave us feeling open and raw and then he let us go to lunch.

I wish I knew what the answers were to the absolute absence of sense, the spreading of rumors about our refugee vetting process, the folks who toss their two cents like stones into a conversation and say, well we have to do something. When we ARE doing something.

I read a story today about a family who was scheduled to arrive at O’Hare on Monday with their one year old daughter, how the vetting has been done, the paperwork completed and the things that occupied their place in a refugee camp packed up. I thought of the sense of anticipation I have about a trip to see my very own mother in 98 days and how excited the woman must be to lay eyes on her family, to show them their infant daughter, to be safe again.

But they are turned back.

They are left, at the eleventh hour, in a refugee camp, unpacking those bags through their tears, trying to communicate with family settled here last fall, trying to find the words to say, we can’t make it. We won’t be there. I’m sorry.

A friend of mine leaked tears all through our small group last weekend. And I told her that I looked at her, listened to her, that I had this image of the same desert she said she was walking through, a sandy and dry place with walls all about her. I saw how she longed for rest, how she longed for an oasis.

And so there she is, in the center of a pool in a place covered by the blue damask sky, pin points of light illuminating her as her tears drip endlessly down and fill the pool at her feet. And we come and we lap at her tears, taking small swallows of her sorrow in a lobby on a Friday night.

I’ve been saying for a while that a battle is coming. We’ve been on this road together, making camp at night and kicking dirt over the embers of our fires in the morning, setting out again. We’ve had hot days where all we could do was put one foot in front of another, and we’ve had fair days singing old Church of Christ rounds, Lord I lift your name on high, where we’ve fairly scampered down the path, rushing headlong toward what comes next.

Now we’ve reached a place where the doors and windows are covered, where the bodies are smoking in a mass grave and not a person remains. Now we’ve seen the pennants of the others unfurling in the wind and snapping to and fro. The easy thing now is to go back, to find another road. The easy way is to say we’re tired, we are so tired, of the fighting and the political posts and the arguments with people we don’t even know. The easy thing is to shrug and say, well, there isn’t anything I can do about this anyway.

But there has to be something we can do. Three million people marched with us last weekend. All of those people believing that their voices mattered. Our voices matter, what happens next is largely up to us.

 

As we wandered to lunch after the poems on Sunday I imagined myself in a wood carpeted with pine needles, in a white shift. It was foggy and cold, and I was hauling on the rope over a well, bringing up a bucket. I pulled and pulled, and the bucket surfaced finally, and in the bucket was my beating heart, blue and glistening in the misty light.

I wish that for you.

I wish you the sticky resin on your feet, the smell of pine in your nostrils, the goosebumps on your arms and the sick fear as you push forward through the fog. I wish that you would haul up your own beating heart, find a way to put it back inside of you.

Every heart will be needed, and soon the woods will fill with pilgrims in search of their own.

Because I’ve been saying that a battle is coming, the other camp is moving closer, but the example of one who wept at the grave of his friend, who forgave the people who hung him on a cross, who went down into hell and defeated it – we have that before us, our standard and our hope. This isn’t over. Please don’t give up. Rest when you must, nourish your body, I’ve a feeling this is only the first test, that this is only the beginning.

Go and find your heart, so that you can join our pilgrim band on the road. So that we can dream up ways of finding and animating with flesh the reconciling love we know is out there, the mercy we have experienced, the bravery that is down inside of us somewhere that needs only to be dusted off and shined up a bit.

Take heart.

I love you still.

 

I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.

THE AFTERLIFE

by Billy Collins

They’re moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go,
the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors
into a zone of light, white as a January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
of animals–eagles and leopards–and one trying on
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
He will bring them to the mouth of the furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
They wish they could wake in the morning like you
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

 

 

 

 

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