Sincere

“Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling.”
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

The days have been sweet and beautiful, full and expansive. Unfamiliar faces have become dear and precious. We have laughed and healed and changed.

Still, something has been lacking: so slight, so hidden I hardly notice it.

I drove into the sunset this evening, a wide field of sunflowers on my right, silhouetted mountains on the left. Moments like these, my senses sharpen to the ache within me.

More and more I long for sincerity. I long for truer, deeper encounter. I want to soak in the presence of those who live uncontrived and un-self-conscious, unconcerned with praise and criticism, who love and live pure and free.

Is this too much to ask? Can we strive to prefer the person standing in front of us over the image we create of ourselves on a screen? Can we break out of insecurity long enough to let love flow through us? Can we be people who move beyond mere talk to live and love in sincerity? Can we close our mouths and make room for stillness to come in?

Can we be like the mountains, the sunflowers, the setting sun, living as they were created to be, that still, that lovely, that free?

Curator

Some days I fear I have lost myself: the creative, the explorer, the treasure-hunter, the one who savors my days. In more solitary, slower-paced seasons of life, I paid attention to the inner workings of my being, found words for the process, and named themes in my seasons. But the last months have gone fast, too fast to ground myself in truth for this day. Now here I am: a stranger to myself, speaking a language I do not recognize.

I have entered new worlds these last months, each governed by its own language—a spirit-empowered church, a discipleship house, a graduate social work program, a homeless shelter for people living with mental illness, an urban missions training organization, and a drug and alcohol treatment center. I have loved each one individually but none have become home; I stand at an axis point where these conflicting worlds and conflicting words converge.

As I operate in each realm, language is my passport and credentials; if I do not know the language, I will forever be a stranger in the land. Although I have done my best to be a student of the language, my words still come halting and labored. I speak borrowed words, words I have not yet fully understood or inhabited. I find myself speaking not lies but untruths, words I do not mean, cheater words, words that taste stale on my tongue.

When I think of past seasons, I think of words with intricate three-dimensional meanings, words like extravagance and terror, grace and beauty, intentionality and ownership. But when I speak or hear these words in this valley, the meaning flattens out. Take, for example, the word community, a word that has traditionally elicited sweet memories of laughter, meandering conversation, shared meals, spontaneity, discovery, and beautiful stretches of unstructured time, as well as some heartache and tears. In my present life, this word has lost its sacredness and become common, meaning everything from a geographic neighborhood, ethnic heritage, field of study, rules and regulations, the inconvenience of sharing space and bathrooms, obligation, and/or a large web of people who know each other’s names but do not know each other.

Why is this a problem? Because the way we define and use words set our perspective, determine our reality, and influence our values. A culture that does not realize that the choice to use one word is a choice to not use another does not understand intentionality. A culture that does not value the search for the precise word does not understand nuance. A culture that uses dichotomous or hastily judgmental language cannot understand ambiguity. A culture that does not savor words cannot rest.

The sentimental and commercialized language of this valley makes it hard to live sincerely and creatively here. The words we use in this valley reveal that we are too busy for the things that take time: friendship, conversation, and art. We are too busy for beauty. We have bought into this culture which fears the real and values entertainment over encounter. And for all that I value about my new career path of social work, I see a sinister lie trying to weave its way into my life: that poverty and injustice are too real and important to waste time on “useless” endeavors such as creative expression or savoring the beauty of each day.

A month or two ago, K asked me, “How is your soul?” I did not understand her question then, but now I see that I have been feeding my spirit, sharpening my mind, and taking care of my body, but neglecting my heart and my soul. The real issue, though, is not that I am wasting away from lack of beauty and creativity. No, the real issue goes far beyond that: I have forgotten how to love with a pure and free love. I have forgotten how to receive all things as beautiful and worthy of love.

It is easy for me to say that my present life is poor and dull in comparison to my past, but, really, all that has changed is my heart. I remember how a tree or a certain shade of blue in the sky or the roar of the Santa Anas sent me into raptures all day long. I remember sitting at my window for hours watching the light change. I woke early and came home late, walking all day to see what I could see. I answered the pull of adventure on my heart and traveled to foreign countries when no one would come with me. I ran in the rain and climbed trees and sang from hilltop to hilltop. And when Rilke asked, “In the most silent hour of your night, must you write?,” I answered with a simple but imperative, “Yes.”

See: when I approached each morning with love, all things were transformed, and nothing was dull or mundane. This world, each blade of grass, each person burned with golden light. And I know: that same brilliance is waiting for me today. So I am opening my heart to love again, my eyes to see, my hands to receive, for when love is the starting place, nothing is too poor and nothing is wasted. I am no mere product of my environment; I am the actor, the wordsmith, the curator of my life. I am the one who chooses what good, what beauty, and what love will fill the empty galleries of my days.

Have You Forgotten?

For Good Friday this year I had the privilege of performing a spoken word piece at my church. The words are below; the backing track was “Slow Your Breath Down” by Future of Forestry, the piano and strings, instrumental version, which can be found on Noisetrade. Press play and relive the experience. 


 

Have you forgotten to be amazed? Have you forgotten the value of the treasure hidden inside your heart? Has your longing for the endless One, the God of the universe grown dull?

You have heard the message time and again: He loves you so much He died for you.

Once, the words burrowed deep and lit you up from inside until you thought you would burst from carrying such radiance in your heart. You saw His light all around and held Him close like a marvelous, living secret.

Sometimes, your awareness of Him fades. The stories and words feel heavy, the meaning melted right out. And you ask Him: How did I lose You? When did the brightness and beauty go?

But He says: Little girl, get up! Little boy, get up! Sons and daughters, wake up! My love has never run out on you. My love for you is like a rushing waterfall, tumbling full force and new every moment, never letting up. Come back! Come back to Me for in Me there is rest, in Me there is freedom.

Now this day, this Good Friday, we remember His weeping and His sacrifice. No tear, no drop of His blood was wasted; each one was spent on purpose for you. He died that you may live. The same love that raised Jesus can bring the dead places in your heart to life.

So do not fear, He has conquered death. Do not fear, He is with you always. Do not fear, His perfect love casts out all fear.

Now: stir up your wonder again, stir up your love and your longing. Become like a child, curious and inquisitive. Reach out your hand for more, for more and more. He will meet you and take you on a grand adventure. A grand adventure of love.

The Life I Have Let Live for Love of You

More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it…
I give you what is unbounded…
I give you the life I have let live for the love of you…
I give you my love.
Wendell Berry, “The Country of Marriage”

And the Lord says: What is this little life you are living? The earth goes hurtling around the sun at breakneck speed—can you feel the turning beneath your feet? Do you see the way the light gathers and spreads, shimmers and shines each morning? Have you chosen to go without food or drink to know—to know—what that kind of alive feels like: that sharpness, that desperation, rather than this heavy, cushioned, comfortable stupor? Do you know the shape of foreign sounds on your tongue? Have you fully inhabited the creativity I have given you? Are your eyes open? Are your hands ready to receive? Do you live your days wide-open and vulnerable, like a sail, catching the slightest breeze upon the surface of the waters, like a camera lens and your heart the film? Oh alive, alive, alive—are you alive and do you know it? Are you more alive than all the world?

*

Oh I love You, Jesus, so I speak to every dead and dormant shadow in me: “Come alive, come awake!”

I unbind all that is within me, let my passion loose.  No, I refuse smallness and the mundane; I refuse to live what is not life; I refuse to endure the hours like a slave to time.

You draw me with Your many-splendored love; You stir up dreams of destiny in the secret places of my being. And I know—I can embody Your hope for me. I can make Your dreams for me reality.

Yes, I will dare to let this life You have given me live. I will dare to let my little life be like a comet, exploding the darkness in gold and fiery blue. What does it matter that the light will only last a moment? You are the One my heart loves–I will spend every last ounce of my being in a gesture that wild, that bright, that extravagant, all for love of You.

In Returning & Rest, Quietness & Confidence

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

…everything faded, thinned to nothing, beside
the light which bathed and warmed, the Presence
your being had opened to. Where it shone,
there life was, and abundantly; it touched
your dullest task, and the task was easy.
Denise Levertov, “Conversion of Brother Lawrence”

For the first time in months, I am breathing easy. It is not because the semester finished and my schedule has eased, it is not because I left town and spent good time with good people in beautiful places, it is not because the Christmas craze has come and gone. No, the turning point came in the quiet, secret place.

The morning I left town, I awoke from a dream with words echoing back from the shore of sleep: “Turn your grief to prayer, turn your grief to prayer.” Only, time was short that morning: I packed my bags and headed south, carrying with me the dread and heaviness I had learned to accept as normalcy.

I made it to the butterfly grove just before the sun dipped below the ocean waves. There, wandering that old familiar place—eucalyptus forest, plateau, cliff, ocean, all washed over with December color—something in me started to awaken, the heaviness began to lift…but I stayed too late and the light faded. I climbed back into my car and arrived at my sister’s apartment still heart-heavy and world-weary. I found myself counting steps from stove to sink, couch to bathroom, ticking the time to bedtime. Ten hours of sleep later and a perfect day with dear faithful friends only heightened the heaviness. I returned to a dark and empty apartment and sprawled out on the carpet in exhaustion.

And there I turned my grief to prayer. For the first time in months, I let myself inhabit my solitude fully. I let my defenses down, let all the hard things I have witnessed and compartmentalized this year flood in. I let myself feel all that I feel, let myself mourn for these people and this city I am coming to know and learning to love, and raised all this—everything that has been weighing down my heart—into God’s sight, dropped all this into His hands.

Hours later, my grief had turned to laughter, my heaviness to peace, my dread to ease, my darkness to light. I had been thirsty, sprinting through my days, searching for a spring to quench my thirst. It was only when I stopped and stepped out of the frenzy of daily life that I remembered: there is a well of refreshing hidden deep within myself—Christ in me, the hope of glory. And He speaks: “Come away, come away, come away with me. Come be alone with me.”

In the quiet, secret place, I am recreated. Words go silent, colors come in again.  I enter back into a sweeter rhythm of living, take on a gentler speech. Here I find strength to stay afloat in this winding, raging river of Time. Here I am only a channel for a larger, fuller life. I am a wick, burning with a flame not my own.

Still, I carry questions in me, truths I do not yet understand, injustices I have witnessed that burrowed deep, a sense of vulnerability and urgency—but the sharpness, the blade has lifted from my heart. Here in the secret place, my vision widens: the One God, the Good God, the One hidden in the heavens is hidden in the secret place of my heart. He hears. He is on the move.

All Around the Earth Cries: Grace Grace Grace

When rain falls soft but constant, when my heart has been in shreds for days, when words don’t fit the magnitude of all that is in my head, what can I do but step into the garden barefoot? The damp soft earth bends beneath my feet, carries my weight and the weight of all I carry. Raindrops kiss my head, nose, fingertips. I pause underneath a tree, branches heavy with rain. There I am cradled as Wendell Berry rises to my lips: “I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.”

I keep on moving, going deeper in, the white roses jostling for attention, the drooping hellebores past their prime, the gladioli singing their colors with all their might. The grass gives way to a herringbone pathway, bricks, dirt, stones, wood chips. I stoop by the strawberry patch where some have turned color already. I place one of those little red-hearted treasures on my tongue, bits of dirt clinging to its skin and rubbing against my teeth.

I keep on going in, my body leading me into birdsong. They sing, sing, sing all day long, rain or sunshine, with every ounce of their being. I catch a glimpse of one, a flash of color. I have seen and heard these birds before, but today each sweeping dive, each effortless lifting off into flight stuns me into silence.

I almost tread on a slug, brown, fat, and ugly, but happy to be alive and in the rain. The rain pelts his skin but he delights in it, moves his head first one millimeter to the right, pauses, then moves his head back again, over and over, reveling in this wonderful wet world.

I go further, lose myself in the smoky smell of flowers mixed with rain. And the colors…oh the colors! Everything reaches towards heaven: irises, poppies, lilacs, roses, mulberry, sweetpeas, fennel, rhubarb, and all those other names that have drifted out of my memory. The flowers bow when the rain hits them, they nod with the wind. Each sway, each wave of their head is a song of gratitude: Oh how we love living! We will give everything we are to Your praise.

And the ones that are dying say with each petal they surrender to the earth: See, it is okay to die. See how beautifully we die. All those tears running down your face—let them fall. See how they disappear into the rain; they will water the earth and we will rise again.

And I stand there with the rain falling, with all this living glowing green, with all these sparks of purples and blues and reds and pinks and oranges and yellows, with the wet ground soft beneath my feet, with birds singing wild circles of joy all around me, I stand there in the midst of all this life and I sing: Praise praise praise to the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. What can I do but raise my hands, my head, my heart to heaven?

The raindrops fall on my face, soft and gentle. Each one touches my skin with a quiet affirmation: Grace, Daughter, Grace.

Memory

The reality of this day. The reality of the days that came before.

I have been in love before. Such love. With people and winding streets and trees and living.

To get back to that place. To hunger for the names and stories of people all around. To live an explorer, curious, inquisitive. To spend all my love with extravagance. To receive it back a hundred times over.

Oh when did life turn so serious? When did my love grow tired? When did this hoarding begin?

Now this pressure: say the right thing, do the right thing, live in convention. The knowledge that a word spoken out of turn can wound so deep. A liberty taken can send someone out to the streets.

Let me come back to that simple place, that recklessness. 

The Secret of Our Days

There are no fanfares these days, no shattering revelations. No mountain-top encounters followed by a plunge into the valley and a rocky climb back to the summit.

These days there are no fanfares, only focused, steadfast footsteps towards the One my heart loves. He is here, He is everywhere, He is hidden in each moment. He is the secret of our days.

No shattering revelations, only God the most commonplace, lighting up everything I see. What a fancy place this world is: we are jars of clay, lit up from within, shimmering and shining golden light. And all this–light and shadow, roadside flower, diversity of peoples, conversation, endless exploration…–all this extravagance is normality, our daily inheritance.

How did you get here? How did this come to be? This mystery sneaks in. You look for it, ask for it, wait for it, cry for it, over-intellectualize it, agonize over it—then somehow you realize: it has been hidden inside all the time. The power arrives when you stop paying attention. Days go by before you notice: what you asked for has already happened. What you asked for has become a rhythm, as natural and necessary as breathing.

You open your arms to receive, your mouth to speak: what you receive and what you give are the same. You are moving in the unforced rhythms of grace.

The Real

Call this country what you may: the City of Wait, the Island of Hopes Deferred, God’s Silence, Barren Tree, Whittling Point. This land is rugged, ravaged, bleak, and spare; its inhabitants spend their days in continual twilight; their moments are occupied with any distraction to ward off each coming night.

So. You have left the cold cheer of their company behind in pursuit of the Real. Here you are wandering somewhere in a wild wintry territory where the bitter has already begun to numb your extremities and the altitude your mental capabilities. You must stay awake to the beat of blood pounding in your veins, stave off the onslaught of white all around you, twist the shifting, flashing, shimmering kaleidoscope of your mind—that is all you can do to keep alive. You have no choice: you must go to the limits of your longing, explore and test the boundaries of your desire for this Treasure which you have only heard of in whispers and rumors.

That moment when you think you can go no farther, when the light has dimmed and you are hopelessly lost—look, your feet have already crossed the line. You have reached the edge of the Known World, and gone farther. You are in No-Man’s Land. You arrive, empty-handed and empty-hearted, raw, naked, and hungry, having given much away, and lost the rest as you wandered: all direction, all dignity, all sustenance, all sense. You have no words, no context, and no perspective to understand or name what you find there. You are Adam, the first, newborn. You are utterly alone.

But there is a Fountain there. You approach with shreds of a memory of an outrageous hope that there you are seen and will receive exactly what you need. What you receive there—if you will—seems small, irrelevant, and ludicrous in light of your circumstance: a word, a garment, a vision of a shimmer of something just outside your range of vision. Or it may be only a vast stillness where your fears go quiet, where you can rest your feet and be warmed.

*

This journey happens each day, several times a day. In this wilderness, there is the fallacy of progress, the illusion that you get anywhere or learn anything at all. The pathway is not a linear road that moves from point A to point B. You are no strong oak, growing taller with each new revelation. You are nothing special, only a planet “the size of a hazelnut” flung broadside into a current of gravity which keeps you orbiting an Expanding, Exploding, Eternal Sun.

Each moment you are reminded of a grace that looks like injustice: if you advance on your own terms, you are instantly incinerated; if you retreat, you freeze over. So you circle—moving at least but in a void, not away, not toward—being emptied and filled, emptied and filled, days without end.

*

Until one day when nothing particular is happening and suddenly the significance slams down, blowing all illusions to smithereens, preserving intact only the astonishing extravagance of the Holy and Real. This Fountain you receive more from with each passing day never runs dry. The One whose blood fills the Fountain considers it His highest honor to lay his life down—and daily—to let His blood run fresh and new over you. His blood is your blood; His heart yours.

This Real you are bent on, will brave a blizzard for, will sell everything—your possessions, dreams, and reputation—for—this Real has already caught you and is hidden in the deepest, most secret, truest part of your being. This Real is all and more than these: the twilit light, the winter storm that wraps around you, the void, the hidden Treasure, the Fountain, the Sun. And you can never fall out of His favor for you are held in the gravitational pull of the Real—which is Love—which keeps you circling forevermore.

Beauty-Stalker

I have become a stalker of beauty, for moments of extravagance. My life has recently intensified in terms of busyness; my schedule tightened and became rigid. My remedy: leave my desk, take long winding walks, steal time for conversation. It’s counter-intuitive and seems frivolous, but these stolen moments of beauty, these soul-feeding moments, bring me back to myself and awaken a sleeping joy.

It’s not that I’m a beauty junkie; what comes most naturally would be to choose misery each day, smallness, the dry and mundane. But something inside pushes me out of myself for more and more. So often I find myself reciting Mary Oliver under my breath: “I don’t want to let go of the wrists / of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money, / I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”

I don’t want to grow so hungry for the things of this world—money, status, prestige, or even productivity—that I lose my hunger for the real things of the world: a blue sky, changing leaves, soft rain, sunlight moving across the kitchen table, laughter with the ones I love. I’d rather leave a few items on my to-do list left unchecked than to wither inside from lack of beauty.

I am never disappointed. An ease comes over me. What I am learning: my God is not a God of scarcity. The beauty that flows from Him is inexhaustible. Not only does this world re-create itself in extravagant gestures moment by moment—and for me, for me!—, but even time and money are abundant. There is money enough for all I need; time enough for all that must be done; time enough to laugh and savor and sleep. My needs shrink away; there is enough and more than enough for all I have ever needed.

There is more to living than mere survival. I am tasting a sweeter way, where life is not a series of transactions, where beauty is not a commodity, where I am not bound by money or time constraints. Instead, each thing—each moment, each individual drop of sunshine, each roadside flower, even each trampled and downtrodden person—is a gift from the good and generous One, waiting to be opened, admired, used, and enjoyed.

More than anything, I want to be the one with eyes to see, the one who has let down my umbrella and is soaking in that good life-giving rain, the one who spends everything in extravagant praise. All around me, everything is on fire, charged with the goodness of God. How can I not spend my days looking for the flame and saying, thank you, thank you, thank you, every time my eye lights upon it? And if not me, then who will?