Leavings

In the rearview mirror, I catch a glimpse of you, lone figure, silhouette, watching me drive on down the hill. I catch a glimpse of you, watching me, waving.

You leaver, left behind. You pioneer, left to observe as I journey into a new land. You leaver, you stay, you grant me freedom to come and to go.

Only—what is this in me that cannot bear to stay and cannot bear to go?

I talk of “presence” and “intentionality” and still our time has been fragmented and fraught with distraction. All this time we have been two moons orbiting separate planets.   

How can I leave when we have not truly seen each other? When we have not truly spoken? When the moment of encounter slipped through my fingers? 

Awakening

What is important is the moment of opening a life and feeling it touch—with an electric hiss and cry—this speckled mineral sphere, our present world. – Annie Dillard

It could be almost nothing—morning haze hovering on a hillside, a shimmer on the palm of my hand, the cool of evening coming in the window, words on a page—but it shifts atoms, startles something in me: an electric current barrels through my being.

I awake: my cells fill up with light, veins swept through with singing. This joy beats against the underside of my skin, wild to burst through the seams. Buoyant, so full of light am I, I could kick off my shoes and float right up through the ceiling, shining and bright, keeping company with stars.

In these moments, these nothing moments, so easily passed over, I find myself more truly and more strange. I find myself breathing the sweet air of the land of the living. Here, briefly, I am alive, alive, alive, more alive than all the world, and consumed, achingly in love with living, with the living, with the living God.

Still, it is easy to forget. So quickly I come back down to earth and lose myself in the trudge and trample of days. I come back to a safe, moral life and fill my time with littleness and clichés that satisfy my superficial longings and leave me exactly where I started, only more miserable, only more numbed to my own ravaged appetite for the deep and real.

So, mornings, I direct myself to hunger for the rich fare, to refuse to lift even a spoonful of anything meager and bland to my lips. I renounce the commonplace, the mundane, the tedious, and the dreary. Instead I claim extravagance, the thrill, and this humming, sparking, trembling awareness of constant conversation with this good, gracious God as my inheritance.

And when He shows up, the moments of my days hit like bombs, that momentous, that consequential, blowing to bits all the illusions that what I have seen and what I have already known is enough. There is more, more than eye can see and ear can hold, more than my slight, fragile frame can contain. The most mundane of moments masks the most marvelous of mysteries. Oh the living, the living—the opening of a life and the touching of fire…

Streets of Gold

When the light is fading just behind the hills and slants in just right, the asphalt looks flecked with gold, like a river of night, shimmering star-studded, whispering ‘Follow, follow…’

So I followed, bare feet on baked asphalt, following the sun sparks round the corner past the cricket field to the mystery tree. The mystery tree, so named for its shape-shifting nature. The first time, I saw in bark and branches the curves of an Aphrodite carved from marble, arm curled overhead. The next time, I saw a Native American woman with a shawl covering her head, deep lines on her face, carrying flowers. I’ve seen an eel writhing from its cave, a howling wolf’s head, a twisting tornado with two heads.

Tonight the breadcrumb trail of gold dust led me to a lightning bolt caught mid-strike, dividing half from half.

I don’t know what that means, if anything. But a joy rose within me, a lightness wakened my feet to dance and spin, spin as fast as my clumsy feet would let me.

Spinning: a haze, a blur: swirling sky, leaping shadows, swinging breathing leaves of trees, grass grown golden, cricket song stirring, lightning bolt tree stark, severe, gold dust rising from the street…golden extravagant light weaving through, cast over all. And I was a child running through open fields, chasing lightning bugs, fired by the thrill.

Then: the sun dipped down, the light snuffed out, the gold sank back into darkness.

But the soles of my feet, hardened and dirty,—they hold the memory of dancing on streets of gold.

After Solstice

The days had lengthened. The sun had journeyed northward towards the point of convergence. There, briefly, the sun stood still, then subtly directed its path southward again.

Solstice: a turning of the year, a turning of the light. Waypoint for our nomadic sun.

A few hours later, already, daylight had shortened. The first day of summer holds the seed of summer’s end.

This is all to be expected.

But this year the turning of the year birthed more turnings. On the heels of the longest day, a hot, wild wind tore through the valley and up and down the hillside. A thick, tangible heat descended. Then: overcast skies and drizzles of rain came. A supermoon rose.

And finally: the dry heat of summer arrived, steering wheels fiery to touch, steaming asphalt, silky water streaming through my hair. Evenings, I open my windows to this darkening world, let the cool come in.

And inside me, inside, the turnings, subtle shifts this way and that. Who can tell what is happening? A lengthening, a shortening, a dawning?

Patchwork Days

What is this mystery—the way time goes? Time goes, shuffling on its feet or shooting past like a comet, lighting up a little darkness. Time goes, creating distance, creating space. Memories crash and shift like kaleidoscope patterns. Days interweave.

Where have you come from? Where are you going?

Moments of time—-patches of color: deep purple of a jacaranda in full bloom. Grey and green of steel and city gardens. Silver shine of rain and moonlight. Streetlights shimmering in a dimpled pond. Colored lights strung on a porch. The swirl and swell of milk poured into black tea. Dappled sunshine on the arch of a deer’s back. Flowering cactus.

Do you remember? Do you see yet?

The hours, the hours, passing by… Sift through the hustle of days, choose to remember, extricate moments of light and life: fragments with ragged ends. Bind them together in your mind, mismatched textiles pieced together.

In the choosing, in the binding, in the remembering, in the telling, a vast rich new pattern emerges. They come alive again. You come alive again.

What A Life I Lead When The Wind It Breathes: The Necessity of Extravagance

A few days ago I went for a spontaneous walk in the last hours of the day when the light was tinged with gold and the colors of the sky were shifting. And it was the most wonderful, to stand alone on a shining golden hillside with the wind making patterns in the wild grass grown waist-high, the world spread out before me, the wide sky, eye of Heaven, gazing down on me. Long-forgotten joy stirred inside me. I found myself waving my arms in gestures of animal, instinctual praise.

This is what I had forgotten: that spontaneity and beautiful things and this lovely, extravagant world can surprise one into joy. Life in the Silicon Valley had been tearing me apart, slowly corroding my aesthetic sense. There is a metallic taste of lifelessness in this cutting-edge, mystery-less atmosphere of progress and innovation.

But I firmly believe that extravagance is the substance of our days and our inheritance, that extravagance is hidden in dailyness, that extravagance is a lifeline in this rat race for status. Each morning is burning with extravagance. Look for it and you will be richly rewarded in sunshine and shadow, glimmers and sparks of holy fire hidden in daily life.

I am thinking in particular of stringing up peace bunting on the streets of Stratford, playing piano at midnight on the banks of the Thames, serving elderly Cockney ladies their very first cream cheese and smoked salmon sandwiches, converting a vintage double-decker bus into a traveling puppet theatre, catching poems falling from the sky, resting in a tiny chapel in a tiny country village in the middle of nowhere with Marc Chagall stained glass windows, marching down the road on Palm Sunday with people from all countries singing praise to the One God who made us all.

Through these extravagant gestures, something was branded across my heart: there is another way. There is always another way. I don’t have to live my life as a slave of money or career or worldly success. I don’t have to follow the tried and tested path. I can choose to push back the boundaries of what is acceptable, I can choose to live art-fully, create-ively, generatively, a brimming, overflowing life that declares: “Beauty is my birthright; extravagance is the rhythm of my heartbeat; worship is what I was made for.”

Extravagant gestures bring life. They infuse days with surprise, meaning, beauty, and unexpected joy. They break barriers, make space for new conversation, and build community. Extravagance multiplies and inspires. Extravagance is daring, fearless, and curious. Extravagance heals, restores, uproots tedium and dread, and breaks performance mentality and the scramble for position.

I can testify. A few weeks back, when the world weighed heavy within me, I turned to beautiful things. Philosophy, media, conversation, and memory had sucked me dry. I turned to poetry, I dried roses, I picked cherries, I wrote letters, I played music for hours, I went for a late-night run and, as I rounded the corner home, spontaneously stripped down and slipped into the pool. The water was inky black, the sky above studded with faint light, and I was held there, weightless, nowhere, between dark and dark.

I lost my words, my sense of time. I forgot my to-do list. All that existed was water, sky, and starlight. Fear, anxiety, defensiveness, bitterness, and anger had calloused my heart, but the callouses fell away as the water slipped and slid over bare skin. I was a snake shedding my constricted, rotten skin, revealing something underneath sleek and gleaming. My heart opened again to receive, to rest, to be.

I remembered myself: a worshipper, a lover of beauty, a mirror of extravagance, one who gives thanks and chooses joy, one who has been loved with an extravagant love. Extravagance opened my heart again to praise.

This is all I want: to go through life gently, carried by the current of love and peace. To live my life wide-open and vulnerable, ready to see, naming beauty and radiance and extravagance wherever I am, even—especially—in unlovely places. To become only something small, a blade of wild grass, waving in the wind, bending this way and that, my every movement an extravagant gesture of praise.

The Naming of Things: Part Two

So there I was, in the tangle of things, the mundane, trying to name things, grasping at presence. Naming anchors me, embodies me in the present, and affirms my joy and pain. Without this discipline, I would be swept away by the current of time and to-do lists, a wreck washed up on a distant shore.

Still, saying the almost but not quite right name for things is not enough. That moment I stood still and silenced the running commentary in my head long enough, I lifted my head and noticed: I was headed for disaster. I could sense the planks beneath me weakening, giving way; I tumbled all helter-skelter into that furious surge and swell of current.

Desperation sank and settled like a ball of lead in my hands, the dense, compressed weight of it, dragging me down. I cried out in half-faith to the only God I know, released my desperation to the ether, and suddenly—who can say how?—it was transformed, drifted away like a dandelion floret on the breeze.

Somehow naming the wreck released me from it. Acknowledging my desperation allowed God to meet it; owning my deep emptiness created space for God to enter in. Raging at God in all honesty is better than white-washing wounds.

He whisked me out of the storm and dropped me, weightless, on dry ground. He took the heaviness and gave instead a lightness of being, a garment of praise.

It is not that the wreck was never a wreck. It is not that lead is only a dandelion in disguise. It is not a matter of perspective. That caustic grief, that hounding fear, that sickening vulnerability—they are real. Their roots sink deep. Only, here’s the kicker: the One Incarnate God—He was there, screaming and scrambling for dear life alongside me.

Now He says to me: Let go. Name your grief and let it go. I have already taken your grief as my own. It is by my stripes that you are healed. Release your wounds to my care; they will only fester otherwise. My blood is the balm that makes you new.

His wrecked beautiful body bears the scars that should have been mine.

And here the word for Love expands. Here is Love that suffers so we don’t have to. Here is Love that says: You are welcome here. Come in, come in, come in. Leave your bags, your weapons, your defenses, your fear, your weariness, your grief at the door. Come to the table, you my most treasured guests, commune with each other and rest. Rest. Rest. 

The Naming of Things

I do not know many things for certain anymore. Knowing starts with words—speaking the right name for things. If there is anything I know for certain it is this: this world is bigger than I know and my words are small, so small.

My words wither. The life I had shrinks away. I find myself in dreamland, my body a shadow in a land of shadows. The stories I tell are a stranger’s stories.

Most days my time is filled and frantic, too frenzied to notice the tangled mess of words that slip from my mouth. But months have passed and the effect of careless words has seeped into my days like an odorless poison gas—no one notices how it kills. My words have turned sharp and harsh. They reek of falsehood.

What can I say? I am afraid. I am afraid of the way that days stretch on and on. I am afraid that I will be caught in this limbo forever, this inability to know what is hidden in me and to speak it, this persistent state of feeling off-kilter with myself and the outside world.

I am remembering words tongued with fire. Each word a discovery, unknown and unplanned but spoken from my deepest being, ringing with clarity and truth and joy and passion. Words bursting with meaning and hope. Words that spilled forth into love and action. Words of movement. Words birthed from wholeness.

So: what does it mean to be made whole and then to be battered by life again? How do you let these new wounds heal, carry them with grace, attain a new wholeness that holds these new scars? How do you cope when you lose the best part of who you are? What do you do when you discover a dragon awaking from deep sleep inside you, seething, breathing fury and fire? What do you do when words for God, (supposed) timeless truths, and old mantras go stale?

And how can you tell if all this is only God taking you farther and deeper into Himself, into His darkness, so His light can break through, new, clearer, and more wonderful than you could have imagined otherwise? Is He only trying to smash your dependency on anything but Himself? To remind you that He is, after all, the God of the present tense, and what was enough for yesterday—some word, love, or truth—will never be enough for today?

Oh I am learning humility in a hundred ways. I am learning to keep room in my heart for the unknown to come in and take residence. To accept newness from God’s hand without nostalgia for the past or fear for the future.

In the meantime, in ordinary time, in this season that can so easily feel like a passing in-between season, what I try to do is practice naming and grounding myself in the present. Even if I cannot say good or right or true or love or grace, I can say, This is the world. The real world. Here is my body, my hands, my feet. Here I am in my little octagonal bedroom, surrounded by tokens of love from friends in faraway places. Here is my smallest brother, peeking around the door with a deck of cards in his hand.

Here is a pile of dishes in the sink. A pile of laundry to be folded and put away. Mail to sort, bills to pay, forms to complete. Here I am, driving, always driving.  

Here are showers of bougainvillea blooms and pomegranate blossoms. Here is a cherry tree, shining orbs ripe and hidden in leaves; the firm flesh rolls and pops on my tongue. Here is the sunlight coming through the slats, making patterns on the kitchen counter…

This is the world, complicated and complex, simplified. Here is the ground beneath my feet. It is all I have—but it is enough.