Spirit lifter

Upon arriving
at church
to teach a lesson
on the work of
the Holy Spirit
what should greet me
but the wafting fragrance
of cinnamon coffee
brewing serenely

so good and perfect
restoring my soul

even though the world
is no less broken

it is no less loved

for God so loved

as I read
the Scripture
sipping my
cinnamon infusion
what should appear
on the windowsill
but a little bird
looking through
the glass
at our class

a swallow
who’s built her nest
under the eaves

Even the sparrow
has found a home,
    and the swallow

a nest for herself,
    where she may have

her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, 

my King and my God

they know, birds
they know

wingbeats flutter
in my struggling
human heart

it’s all
the work
of the Spirit

I came to teach
I am being taught

I know
I know

my cup
runneth over

Stillness

I find there is nothing that drives away dark thoughts as much as Sunday morning, especially when it follows a night of strange and troubled dreams after a week of increasing tensions at work in a school year that seems never-ending. As I wake, pondering the attrition of humanity in general with a hymn-line playing in my head, Change and decay in all around I see, unable to tell if I am feeling heartsick, soul-sick, or just plain sick, the Sunday stillness settles my spirit. My stomach, on the other hand, needs more time…not sure if I will make it to church or not. A riotous melody from the front porch works like a tonic: a finch fantasia. The mohawk-headed babies that hatched in my door wreath should have flown on by now. I am glad they linger. I need these bright notes. I wish I could interpret them and know exactly what the finches are saying to one another… if they were not here, the silence would be so loud. There is a time for silence and it is not now. It is not the same as stillness. Sunday brings stillness, the finch song brings stillness, the wall clock with whirring crystals brings stillness. I am craving prolonged stillness, I am so tired, but I make myself go.

And if I had not done so, I would have missed it.

Backing out of the garage, closing the door, turning down the driveway… there.

Across the street, lying on the grass in front of a tangled green thicket, a large white cat, so still it seemed an alabaster statue. It didn’t move as I approached. It gazed at me as if it belonged in that very spot (I have never seen it before).

Sphinx-like. Pristine. Regal. Otherworldly. Breathtaking. I think I whispered the word Amazing.

I could have stayed and stared, I think, forever.

But, without movement of any kind, the white cat reminded me that stillness isn’t an untroubling; it is, instead, a submerging, away from surface-level fear, a shaking off, a resting place, a deep abiding.

Which paradoxically involves moving on.

I feel certain it winked at me as I did so.

Curiosity drove me to look it up: Pure white cats are rare, 5% or less of the population.
It didn’t seem to mind my taking its picture.

*******

special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Sand dollar etheree

Inspired by and dedicated to Margaret Simon, who shared the photo and who’s mourning the loss of her father.

Photo: Kim Douillard

Half
remains
afterward
it is enough
tangible beauty
even in mourning throes
to sense the infinite flows
of life undulating beyond
what the eye can see or hand can hold
where the spirit abides whole, unbroken

Abundance: Spiritual journey

May. Newness. Longer days, more sunlight. Blossom-laden trees perfume the air, geese with goslings glide across glassy ponds. Along the backroads and byways, the fields have been plowed; John Deere tractors roll over the naked earth, freshly dotted with neat rows of little green plants.

I think of sowing and the harvest to come.

My illustrious daily planner seems to be a cross between almanac and oracle these days. It offers this quote:

Small seeds of gratitude will produce a harvest of hope.

I love it for its own merit, emphasizing gratitude, which I know to be as transformative a force as love, forgiveness, and possibly awe. I envision tiny seeds of gratitude planted in the furrows of the heart, eventually producing a harvest of hope to be stacked and stored for when it is most needed in the future.

And I remember Joseph.

Unlike the chief cupbearer in Genesis 40, who “did not remember Joseph, but forgot him,” after Joseph interpreted his dream, correctly and prophetically. At the time they were in prison with the chief baker, who would be hanged by Pharaoh (yet another accurate dream interpretation by Joseph). To this point, Joseph had endured quite a bit. His mother died just after having his baby brother. His older brothers detested him for being their father’s favorite and for being “this dreamer” (37:19)… perhaps Joseph shouldn’t have told them of his dreams in which they, and their father, Jacob, all bowed to him. His brothers discussed killing him until Reuben, the oldest, intervened. They threw Joseph in a pit instead and sold him as a slave. Joseph is purchased by Potiphar, the captain of the guard of Pharaoh. Joseph serves Potiphar with great efficacy and integrity, so much so that Potiphar “left all he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate” (38:6). Until Potiphar’s wife tried repeatedly to seduce him, that is, becoming so aggressive that Joseph wriggled out of his garment to get away from her… a garment she used to make the accusations which landed him in jail for thirteen years. (Note: This is the second garment that causes trouble for Joseph; the coat of many colors given to him long before by his father didn’t set so well with those brothers. Imagine their initial self-righteousness while tearing it, dipping it in goat’s blood, and presenting it to their father as evidence that Joseph was attacked and killed by wild animals…which, of course, they’d live to regret).

And Joseph is forgotten in prison until Pharaoh has a troubling dream and the restored cupbearer finally remembers him.

Here’s the thing: It was God’s plan all along for Joseph to stand before Pharaoh and interpret his dreams of coming famine, that Pharaoh should be so impressed he’d set Joseph up as prime minister of Egypt, that Joseph should execute his proposed plan for planting and harvesting:

During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. -Genesis 41:47-49

It is this divine plan of action that eventually saves Joseph’s brothers when they come seeking food in Egypt.

Joseph weeps a lot through several chapters. When his brothers realize who he is, they bow before him (every dream having come true) in fear and trembling… and Joseph chooses reconciliation over retribution. His father is still alive; he brings the whole family to Egypt to survive the famine. The brothers again fear his wrath on the death of their father, but Joseph’s words ring with gratitude to God: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, that many people should be kept alive…” (50:20). And so the Twelve Tribes of Israel were preserved.

Seeds of gratitude, shall we say, protect against spiritual famine, yielding hope to be relied upon in times when faith is tested, as Joseph’s was. He never wavered; this is why I love him. He’s one of my favorite Biblical figures, exhibiting integrity and faith in abundance.

In the midst of our trials, God is at work. In times of bleakness, verdant lushness awaits.

Begin with seeds of gratitude… and expect a harvest of unimaginable abundance.

Joseph Storing Grain During the Seven Years of Plenty. Patrizio Cajés (1540-1612).

*******

with thanks to my Spiritual Journey friends who write on the first Thursday of each month, and to Susan Koehler for hosting today on a theme of “abundance.”

It’s all about the journey

Flipping through my planner today, scheduling even more things to be done before school is out in June, I discover this quote…

We go through things we never imagined but it may lead us to places we never dreamed.

For just a fraction, a breath, the brokenness of things diminishes…

I could write of this school year’s hardships on colleagues, with colleagues, on families, and on children most of all…

of COVID still rearing its tiny invisible head in the community…

of young and beautiful creatures that have died…

of incomprehensible suffering and loss…

but I will write instead of lush green moments, the “birdiest” spring I’ve ever known, an abundance of wings and chatter and song each day, so many things I’ve never seen before, like a pair of great blue herons flying low over the road from pond to brush…

my son arriving at home, placing his baby daughter in my arms, her tiny sweet hand reaching to pat my face as she drinks from her bottle…

a newness that is more than seasonal, invoking the eternal like shafts of sunlight in shadowed places…

for just a fraction, a breath, I have a sense of undoing, of forests, animals, people restored, rejoicing, the Earth itself laughing, the whole atmosphere charged with absolution, pure, deep, and complete…a bright glimmering, a pulled curtain quickly falling back into place.

It is enough.

I turn the pages and keep writing on my tomorrows.

Annotation found poem

Today on Ethical ELA Jessica Shernburg invites teacher-poets to find 1-3 short texts to read and annotate or texts that we’ve previously annotated (“examples you have modeled for your students, your responses to student work, books you have marked up, etc.”). The idea is to use your own annotations in creating a found poem.

This is the kind of thing that could keep me busy for days, weeks, infinity…

My annotations come from an eclectic mix of professional development, research, an old but much-loved novel, and the Bible: Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students (Zaretta Hammond), The Power of Moments (Chip and Dan Heath), The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (Patricia A. McKillip), and John 16.

Might I violate the expectation
of an experience
with the right amount of tension
keeping the rubber band taut

bearing in mind that
there must be trust enough
for productive struggle

risking vulnerability
even as a disciple unprepared
for the terribleness
of what is to come

imagine tapping inner power
to call creatures with ancient magic
unto myself

while tasting
the freewheeling thoughts
of birds

More birdspiration

Finch eggs in a nest
on my front door wreath
captivated me
to such a degree
that I failed to see
what was happening
outside the back door:
a bright flash of blue
disappearing in
the little bird church
-bluebird occupants
brought Easter eggs, too.

On my back deck, Easter afternoon: a male bluebird is either bringing food to his mate or helping to feed babies. He entered and exited multiple times; once I was sure he was flying off with a bright blue piece of eggshell. These are the first-ever occupants of the little bird church, which has just been sitting on the deck as decor. I’ve seen the female as well. So hoping to get photos of bluebird babies soon (I need a better camera…this was taken with my phone through the kitchen window and screen).

My soul rejoices in this proliferation of feathered life, that songbirds have chosen my home for their own.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

 Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.

Psalm 84: 1-3

Easter exultation

In honor of the day, an excerpt of “Jesus Makes Sin Forgivable” by Anne Graham Lotz in Just Give Me Jesus (2000):

The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him
but found they couldn’t stop Him
Satan tried to tempt Him
but found he couldn’t trip Him
Pilate examined Him on trial
but found he couldn’t fault Him
The Romans crucified Him
but found they couldn’t take His life
Death couldn’t handle Him
and the grave couldn’t hold Him.

*******

And a happy Easter haiku for you:

I have no more eggs.
As of this morning, new life.
Dawn exultation.

Good Friday tritina: It is finished

Eternity hangs on it
there where our sin-debt is
paid in full, finished

we would be finished
yet out of love, He did it
He is

what love is
the robe of righteousness is finished
take it, wear it

It is finished

Detail of a shirt made for me by a friend

The words “It is finished” are a translation of tetelestai – Greek for what a servant would say on returning to a master after completing a mission. It’s an accounting word, signifying a debt paid in full; it was stamped on receipts. The phrase indicates a final and complete sacrifice: Christ died as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. And where were Passover lambs born? Bethlehem. The responsibility of those shepherds in the field abiding, keeping watch over their flocks by night…

The tritina form is comprised of ten lines with repeated ending words in this pattern:
1
2
3

3
1
2


2
3
1

1 2 3


Tell me without telling me poem

Yesterday on Ethical ELA’s VerseLove, Scott McCloskey invited teacher-poets to compose around “tell me without telling me,” the popular social media meme from a few years ago: “Tell us (through vivid sensory details and whatnot) that you are __________ without telling us you are __________. ” In his model, Scott masterfully incorporated many fragments of famous poems that have inspired him to write, followed by this reveal: “Tell me you’re a poet without telling me you’re a poet.”

So for Day 9 of National Poetry Month, here’s mine… it incorporates bits I’ve written before… and there’s SO much more to write…

It all began, I suppose,
in a darkened room
when Grandma plugged
this thing called a color wheel…

it sat on the floor, rotating, illuminating
the all-foil Christmas tree.
There in the dark
the sparkling silver tree
transitioned to red, blue, gold…

a stillness, a riveting

There was a girl
in my childhood church
who played the piano
accompanying the sanctuary choir.
Once, she stood alone
in front of the handbell table
reaching, grasping,
her white-gloved hands
a blur of choreography
playing those bells solo
never missing a note.
She was sixteen.

a stillness, a holding of breath

I don’t remember
learning how to read.
It was just a thing I could do.
But in fourth grade, the teacher
(built like a mountain, with a face
and heart of carved stone)
read to us every day.
An intelligent, artistic spider
who saved a less-than-radiant pig.
A boy who didn’t want that annoying,
subversive, endearing, ol’ yeller dog
that ended up saving his life, 
before picking up the shotgun…

My God. My God.
I almost died with that dog

and there have been books
in my hands,

in stacks by my bed,
ever since.

a stillness, an absorbing

There’s more, so much more.

At nineteen, 
walking into the community theater audition
where the handsomest man I ever saw
sat with a script…

we were married in less than six months.

Thirty-seven years this summer.

Two years in, when he said he was called 
to preach, I said
Well, you’ll be miserable 
unless you do.

a stillness, an abiding

Our oldest son saying
over and over
I’ll never go in the ministry.
It’s too hard a life.
Not getting married or
having any kids, either.

Just after he enrolled
in seminary,
he met a lovely young lady
with a little daughter
named for the title character
of his favorite book.
In the fullness of time
and in the span of a month
he became a husband, father, 
and pastor.

It was ordained. Jehovah jireh.
God provides.

Last fall, he named his newborn daughter
Micah. Which means
Who is like God?

Indeed, who?

I am still, and know.

*******

(Tell me you are awed without telling me you are awed)

(likely to be continued…)