While we couldn’t attend church yesterday, it doesn’t mean a presence wasn’t there.
A friend went to photograph the dawn and heard a song coming from the steeple.
The building, empty like the tomb, had its own winged messenger at the first light of Easter.
If you do not know: A cardinal bird can be considered a sign of the divine—I’ve written of it before (Divine appointment). The vivid red birds also represent life and blood. In Christianity, specifically, the blood of the living Christ. Thecardinalexperience.com states: “Traditionally, the cardinal is symbolic of life, hope, and restoration. These symbols connect cardinal birds to living faith, and so they come to remind us that though circumstances might look bleak, dark, and despairing, there is always hope.”
Cardinals were named for the red-robed bishops (although this one’s sitting on a Baptist church). Name associations include heart and possibly the Old Norse word for cross.
Which is, of course, atop the steeple where our visitor perched to offer his doxology.
First light of Easter morn Found the church silent, forlorn Empty of its life, its music, its people And a winged messenger on the steeple As if proclaiming the old, old story Singing, full-voiced, Glory, glory, glory.
Waking to grayness rain slapping windows winter wind crying because it does not heed spring and life. Wrapped in my blanket I listen to that unrelenting wind daring not caring moaning mourning around the edges of existence.
Through the gusting gloom wailing doom a faint sound. A solitary little bird singing joy joy joy-joy-joy honoring the light ever how dim.
Today I write with a group of friends for Spiritual Journey Thursday.
The word restore has been on my mind these days. More or less as a question: When will society, the economy, the country, the health of the globe be restored to pre-COVID-19 conditions? And what will that restoration look like? How changed or different will everything be?
I think on this a lot, as is there is a lot of time to think.
Naturally a well-known line from the Psalms also comes to mind: He restores my soul. It speaks of peace and confidence, of a daily trust. I watch the news, the frenzy of those in the medical profession, pleading on behalf of us all; the government having to count the cost of a shut-down economy as weighed against the life and well-being of its citizens; and everyone worried about having enough resources for coping. They’re all waging a mighty battle against an insatiable, tenacious, invisible pathogen.
While the rest of us watch from a distance, sheltered. Protected. Trusting that the decisions made for us will preserve us, restore us.
We wait in the stillness.
It brings the preceding line of Psalm 23 to mind: He leads me beside still waters.
I could make an analogy of a stormy, violent sea for the government, the medical field, and the stock market, in contrast to the majority of us waiting at home, by the still waters … but a story resurfaced in my memory instead.
Long ago, when I was about seven, I attended a church service where an older girl was baptized. She was perhaps twelve or so, a sweet and affectionate girl well-known and loved by the congregation. It was an exciting morning for the church … except that as this girl entered the baptistry, she was sobbing.
“I can’t do it,” she bawled. ” I can’t …”
Even as a seven-year-old, I knew she’d chosen to be baptized. She’d walked the aisle some weeks before and professed her faith. I knew the pastor made new members, including children, attend a series of classes to understand the tenets of the faith and the ordnance of baptism. I didn’t understand it all myself, not yet, but I knew this girl, garbed in a white robe, hovering at the steps leading down into the water, crying, wanted to act on her faith. I’d never seen anyone react this way to being baptized: Why’s she so scared?
I look back now and wonder: Was she simply afraid of water? Had she never gone swimming in a pool, as I had?
The water wasn’t deep. It wasn’t cold; it was heated to be comfortably warm. It wasn’t waves crashing on the shore, no dangerous undertow, just clear, still water.
Our pastor, a humble, middle-aged man, a former Navy pilot in WWII and a Bible scholar, stood in his own robe of white at the center of the baptistry. He reached out his hand: “It’s all right, Dear Heart. See, I’m here. It’s safe. You know I’m going to hold onto you.” When she stayed rooted to the steps, clinging to the hidden rail, our pastor waded over, put his arm around her, and led her into the pool.
He held her for a moment. We heard him whisper: “Are you ready?”
Loud sobs, but a nod of her little head.
He raised his hand heavenward:
“I baptize you, little sister, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit …”
She went under and just as quickly, he raised her back up.
“I DID IT!” she shouted, hair plastered to her head, wet face shining. “I DID IT!”
If ever there was a vision of radiant joy, that’s it.
The entire congregation wept, even seven-year-old me.
The tears return even now, remembering.
He leads me beside still waters. Sometimes through still waters. When we cannot see the bottom. When we’d really rather not descend into them, when we don’t want to get wet at all, when we fear not so much immersion but submersion: How long will we be under? Can we last?
He restores my soul. It is a matter of trust that, somehow, all will be well, that we will be raised back up, we will be led safely through.
For now, we wait in the stillness like water lilies … which, in the Tamil poetic tradition, happens to symbolize the grief of separation.
On the placid surface
rest the blooms
in waters still.
Their unseen roots
to the earth
And so we float
this strange baptism
to one another
by unseen roots
while time stands still.
Today, in my mind, in my heart, the word restore echoes over and over and over like a prayer.
I’ve created heart maps before with students, for staff development, and for workshops on teachers as writers. I have, and love, Georgia Heard’s book: Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing.
But this global project literally caught my heart.
In the words of LitWorld: “Heart Maps allow us to connect with each other by sharing the ideas and feelings that define us in the most elemental of ways —and in these uncertain times, that connection is more important than ever.“
Their call is for submissions of heart maps as a means of inspiring hope and strength around the world. For me, at the moment, it’s about the collective story of humanity, uniting now in time of great need. This is something children of all ages can do to express their fears, concerns, gratitude, and love. And, with distance learning in full force by necessity, I cannot think of a better way for teachers and students to connect, combine, and contribute to the world.
The directions on the site about how to submit are simple, as is the invitation to create the heart map: “Inside the heart, draw or write about the ideas, the feelings, and the things that are most important to you at this time.”
And so I did.
Up until now, I’ve only written words on my heart maps. This global one, in these times, seemed to call for something more … so I drew what’s in my heart today.
I’ll supply you with a key, in case.
In the center of my heart: Faith. I have never been more grateful for it. This is where my map begins.
At the bottom of the map: Hope, as the rising sun; I see everything else in its light.
The rays of Hope are shining on a clouded world. If you look closely, all around the rim of the world are the words The Earth is upside down. The Earth is upside down … the compass directions of N and W are there but the map must be turned upside down to see them as they should be.
On the left, Friends, above it, Family, and between them, Books; this wasn’t intentional but it occurs to me that books ARE my friends and my family, too … there’s clearly some subconscious stuff coming to the surface here…
Beneath Books: The American flag. My country, ’tis of thee, my home sweet home … how my concern increases daily for your well-being … for our well-being … Old Glory touches Faith. Behind the flag is is a chain; on each link, a tiny letter, spelling Technology. How grateful I am to be living in a time when isolation is only physical and that technology exists to keep us connected to one another.
Looming rather large at the top through the middle: A rose. It developed of its own accord out of the swirls around Family. I found myself just drawing it out. Why should a rose appear here in my heart map? What does it mean? Maybe it’s again representing my country; the rose is the national flower of the United States. And of course a rose stands for love. I think it may be a memorial flower, for those who’ve already died in the ravage of COVID-19. Most interesting to me … the words sub rosa, “under the rose,” mean secrecy and confidentiality … if you look, you’ll see the bottom of my rose is connected to Writing. I don’t know why I connected the rose to Writing. I just knew the rose should spring from the end of the word. I don’t know the secret yet. I’ll probably have to write to find out. Even further sub rosa are tiny music notes; at the edge of the upside down world, in light of Hope, a song remains in my heart.
Beside the pencil for Writing is a teardrop for losses and sacrifices made in this pandemic, and a caduceus representing the medical profession, fighting hard on behalf of us all.
Note that entire upper right corner is cracking. My heart breaks for Italy today; their losses, the horror. It’s staggering. That’s the Italian flag there behind the praying hands, encircled with the word PRAY repeated over and over: PRAY PRAY PRAY for the tide to turn in Italy …
We went anyway, my husband and I, on this dark Sunday.
Sanctuary silence. Stillness. Social distance.
But still a sermon, for social media.
A few friends, who filmed.
Here’s the preacher
in spite of the scares
here he is
saying our prayers
No hymns, no music, no choir except birdsong beyond the hallowed halls:
I sing because I’m happy I sing because I’m free
An ill wind moaning under the eaves, an unseen person pulling on locked doors:
I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger Traveling through this world below There is no sickness, toil, or danger In that bright land to which I go…
I went to see. Found no one but me. The sky so moody, the day so broody, like forces dark. Sickness makes its mark. It lurks nearby and that is why—no immunity, no community, Day of Prayer, no one there. In the shadow of the steeple, no people; it’s safer to be home. The Vatican says there’ll be no Easter services in Rome.
Penitents without one plea. Lenten lament, mourning this morning.
Morning has broken like the first morning Blackbird has spoken like the first bird Praise for the singing Praise for the morning Praise for them springing fresh from the world
The songbirds sing, the recorder runs, Scripture is spoken.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Only an interlude of isolation. Will be our preservation.
My husband, the preacher, prays without his congregation.
I bow, and feel a sudden warmth from the stained-glass.
The sun, at last.
Quotations: “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple” nursery rhyme, adapted; John 8:12.
Hymns: His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Wayfaring Stranger, Morning Has Broken
Last July, my husband suffered a heart attack and cardiac arrest. After thirty minutes of CPR, shocks with defibrillator paddles, an emergency stent (four telescoped stents, to be exact), induced hypothermia to minimize damage to his brain, and a week in the hospital, he came home. He was readmitted a few weeks later with chest pains—another heart attack. We spent two more weeks at the hospital for a “wash” of blood thinners and subsequent bypass surgery.
It was a long, bleak period. Time seemed to stop. We did not know what each day would bring, or how altered life would be.
Throughout this time, cards and calls kept pouring in. Not just from our church, where my husband is pastor, but from churches all across the area. We are praying, everyone said. We will keep praying.
One night, when my husband was home at last, recovering, a friend came by with a special gift: “The Women on Mission at my church made this for you. We prayed for you out loud the whole time we worked on it.”
A blanket of many colors. Big, warm, laced with love, with faith.
My husband healed, wrapped in this prayer blanket.
Life slowly returned to normal.
I share it now with you, Friends, in this bleak period when time seems to stop, when life is unexpectedly altered.
Today’s post serves a dual purpose: My daily Slice of Life Story Challenge and Spiritual Journey Thursday, organized by my friend Margaret Simon on the first Thursday of the month. Thank you, Margaret, for the invitation to host.
I chose to write around the theme of “balance.”
Not necessarily what you may think…
It’s almost here.
Spring. The equinox.
A balance of light and dark in the world, or “equal night.”
My thinking radiates in a number of metaphorical directions here but I’ll begin with the moment I was at school grappling with a new data reporting system that I have to teach to colleagues. I logged in and discovered this message: Alternate Data Entry for Dark Period.
It has the sound of a span in history, like it belongs in the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period, the current one in which we live, geologically speaking (“current” meaning over 11, 000 years old, for the record). As if it can be marked in time like the Ice Age or at least the Dark Ages.
All it means, apparently, is the time when the data reporting system is shut down to be updated. It’s tech housecleaning. During the Dark Period, no additional data entry can occur, until everything is verified and balanced.
The words stuck with me, though.
Many would say we are living in a Dark Period now. It’s an era of strife, vitriol, backlash. An age of ever-increasing concerns over mental health. Over health in general—the coronavirus.
And at the heart of the darkness is fear.
A. Roger Ekirch writes in At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past: “Night was man’s first necessary evil, our oldest and most haunting terror. Amid the gathering darkness and cold, our prehistoric forebears must have felt profound fear … that one morning the sun might fail to return.” He goes on to say that many psychologists believe that our early ancestors feared not the dark itself but harm befalling them in the dark (for it was an unlit world at night) and over time night became synonymous with danger.
Fear leads to anger and anxiety. In the dark, things don’t look as they should; they’re distorted.
What’s the balance?
Now we’re back to the equinox, metaphorically.
Light. Day. The assurance that there’s still good working in the world, undoing harm. Think of the destruction of Australia and the human involvement in deliberately setting bushfires. Then think of soldiers in the Australian army, lined up in rows, cuddling and nursing koalas when off duty. Then apply it to people suffering around our globe …
We are our own greatest enemy and helpmeet. We all hang in the balance of these: despair and hope, destruction and edification, hurt and healing.
In The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Patricia A. McKillip describes a monstrous creature like “a dark mist” who embodies “the fear men die of.” The novel is about learning how to live and love in a different world.
That would mean overcoming the dark, the fear.
Incidentally, in a strange balance, the current virus causing so much alarm shares its name with the crown of the sun.
And, speaking of the sun, here’s the secret of the equinox, why it’s not really equal: There’s actually more day than night.
More light. Literally.
And figuratively, it has nothing to do with moving around the sun and everything to do with moving the human heart.
It led me to look for a beautiful book, The Lost Words.
I couldn’t remember where I put it.
I looked everywhere.
Ah. A theme.
Maybe it’s the dreary January dusk, or the drizzle, or Monday.
Maybe it’s the news. Lost lives.
Maybe it’s growing older and being reminded of things I loved long ago, like koalas, because of a book my grandmother read to me, and wondering how many koalas are left in Australia now. Wondering if there are enough eucalyptus trees left in that charred landscape to keep them alive.
Maybe it’s everything.
So much is lost.
I am not lost.
Just caught in layers of lost, like being wrapped round and round with invisible tulle.
I feel it.
That’s what sent me searching for The Lost Words as reading it suited my mood. The book is a glorious creation based on words that are disappearing from the dictionary. Words about the natural world that children don’t know anymore. Lyrical verse, majestic illustrations, making something beautiful of something lost . . . it was calling me to reread it. The very thing I needed.
But I can’t find it or remember where I last left it.
It’s really lost.
Naturally that beckoned lost associations. Lost people, lost friends, lost dogs, lost moments, lost time, lost things. Lost opportunities. Lost relationships, lost trust. Lost vision, especially in the educational world of late. Lost sense, lost direction. Lost ideas that I didn’t write down (although I am better about it now than I used to be). Lost dreams, so vivid and clear — what great stories they would make! — disintegrating as I wake, alas. I can’t seem to hold onto the dream and wake up; too often I am left with odd fragments.
But even in my tulle-swathed, piece-y malaise, never lost hope. No, not that. Never lost faith. Never lost love, because, if it’s love, it’s there forever.
I lost interest in reading tonight. So, I write.
Never lost words, not for me. Not yet. They find me, somehow.