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

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…)

Sunday is a stillness

Sunday is a stillness
in my week
not restful
for a pastor’s family
but restorative
and right
the church standing tall
like a father
doors like open arms
welcoming the penitent child
wrapping me
in belonging

Sunday is a stillness
in my spirit
ever how fierce or frayed
ever how dismayed
like a calming infusion
like a healing balm
the stillness seeps
so deep, so deep
for in all the unholiness
the holy remains

Sunday is a stillness
in my life
for the living
for the forgiving
for the remembering
for the mattering
for my walking in the footsteps
of those who walked before me
in the rhythms of grace
singing old songs of belief
through all our yesterdays
until our eternal Sunday
comes at last.

Be still

Psalm 46:10 is one of my life’s verses: Be still and know that I am God.

It’s appeared, and re-appeared, at various junctures of my life. When I was a teenager, my youth minister presented me with a little plaque bearing this verse. It hung on my bedroom wall until I married and left home.

In recent years, a church member gave my family a stepping stone with Be still and know that I am God etched on it. That stone hangs on my bedroom wall now.

Imagine my delight— awe, rather — on researching quotes by Saint Patrick and discovering Psalm 46:10 and how it’s reduced, a line at a time, to one word:

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

I can’t verify that Patrick actually deconstructed the verse this way, but it’s widely attributed to him. If so, what was he getting at?

My first thought: It’s an admonishment to be still. How fitting for the present time. With a pandemic on the rise, when we are at the mercy of a new ultramicroscopic virus with the power to deconstruct society, we must pull in and be still. Fear not. And wait.

It is not what we do best. We are not patient. We “do” fear and anger far better. We are accustomed to go go go and hurry hurry hurry and get get get. We have to-do lists that are never complete, that only grow longer.

And when do we ever just be?

Maybe right about now.

Oh, and by the way, here’s the whole of Psalm 46:10:

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

I shall leave you with the words of Saint Patrick — but not the one you know. This day cannot pass without mention of my grandfather, born in 1906 with the given name Columbus and the middle name St. Patrick (yes, for real). In one of our last phone conversations (his love for me evident in that he would talk to me on the phone, for he hated it; he was hard of hearing), I said, tears streaming, which he couldn’t see, thankfully: “I love you, Granddaddy. You’re safe in God’s hands.”

To which he replied, in his raspy, precious voice: “There’s no better place to be.”

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

—St. Patrick’s Day blessings, dear hearts.