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Yad Ha'Elohim -- The Hand of God

Abinadab had gathered with the rest of the crowd. He stretched and pushed and shoved and shouted, “Uzzah, My son! My son! He carries the ark! He carries the ark as we celebrate its homecoming!”

He saw his son astride the ark. “My son!” Shouted Abinadab. “My son who guides the ark!”         For years, the ark of the covenant had been lost. Philistines had taken it, but the ark had, without the hand of man, destroyed the idols of the Philistines. False gods were, simply by being in the presence of it, beheaded and toppled. For years, the ark had rested in the house of Abinadab, and King David requested the ark return to Jerusalem.

The ark neared Abinadab. “My son!” He shouted. “I must see my son!” There was commotion in the crowd, all eager to press in and see the ark of the covenant up close. He shoved and was shoved sharp from behind. The air shot up out of him; skyward, as doves. His vision blurred. He stumbled.

There was a shout, and then a scream. 

When Abinadab regained footing and focus, the crowd was silent.

And in that silence, Abinadab noticed he felt different than before — something was missing. His hand, on instinct, reached for his chest. He felt it beat once, twice. He traced no wound or gape along his skin — but something had been removed. 

He paused to pray, and in a flash, the words rushed up from his heart and out between his lips —

“My son!” He shouted. “Uzzah, my son! I must see my son!” Trembling and panicked, he pushed through the crowd, now as motionless as reeds on a windless day.

He pushed through to the front. He saw first the oxen, and then the ark of the covenant.

And then his eyes tracked downward, where his son lay; dead in the dust. 

He fell. 

He fell to the feet of his son and gathered Uzzah to himself. 

“My son,” he wept. “My son who carries the ark. Speak to me, my beloved. Speak.”

*    *    *

Abinadab sat and lamented of Uzzah’s death to his friend. “Years have we watched over the ark. We are Kish, descendants of the tribe of Levi, chosen by God to watch and protect the sacred objects of Yahweh. Why would the wrath of His hand extend toward those he commanded to watch over the ark?”

“We do not know the ways of God,” replied his friend. “Uzzah sinned, Abinadab. God is holy, and Uzzah touched the ark.”
“Yes, because it was falling.”
“It is the dwelling place of God.”

Abinadab nodded. “From the days of Moses, adorned with cherubim, yes. I taught my sons to know the ark and love it. Who do you take me for?” Abinadab stood and paced in the room. “Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood— two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. He overlaid it with pure gold, both inside and out, and made a gold molding around it. He cast four gold rings for it and fastened them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. He made the atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. Then he made two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. He made one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; at the two ends he made them of one piece with the cover. The cherubim had their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim faced each other, looking toward the cover.”

Abinadab crouched and held the hands of his friend. “I have seen the space between the cherubim. I taught my sons to listen for the presence — for the song of God. I taught them to love Him and seek Him.”

“I know, Uzzah." His friend said. "I know. But if you have seen the space between the cherubim, if you know the sound and shine of hammered gold, then you also know the power and might of Elohim. You know the Hand that held back the waters, the Hand that washed away Pharaoh, the hand that opened the earth and swallowed the house of Korah.”
“Should my beloved have allowed that which he loves to fall, then? Would you have reached out?”
“I do not ask such questions.”
“Why? Because you fear the answer?”
“I have nothing to fear. I keep the commandments of the Lord, and I know the Lord is good.”
“Yes, yes —" said Abinadab. "I too believe He is good. He brought our people out of Egypt. He freed us from the bonds of slavery and Pharaoh’s horse and rider were hurled into the sea.

He guided us through the wilderness, though we forged a golden calf and forsook his commands. We transgressed, and those who transgressed were not allowed to enter the promised land. 

Even Moses, a beloved, in anger struck the stone, and by his wrath removed himself from the land. Even Moses, whom God used to free our ancestors, could not — because of sin — enter the land.

And then Joshua led us into the land. But upon crossing the Jordan, we had to wait upon the Lord for guidance and for his glory to be known. Joshua took the soldiers and marched around the city for seven days. On the seventh day, they gave a great shout, and Jericho’s strongholds fell away.

The Lord proves faithful. Kings go to war, prophets seek wisdom, the teachers and the priests seek out his presence where he may be found. Blood is shed, and God speaks — in whispers, in full-throated song.

The Lord is good, and He brought the ark back to the city. He has condoned the violence of David, our king — the bloodshed of Joshua, a great warrior, and the violence of the Sea, the hunger and the gaping mouth of the Sea which swallowed Pharaoh and his mighty army.

The Lord is good, and my son is dead because he loved Him and reached out in a time of need.”

Abinadab walked to the window. “When I held Uzzah, I remembered how I would find him at rest, close to the ark. I scolded him, because I knew it was dangerous. ‘I want to hear Him,’ he said. ‘I want to hear God.’ Tears formed in Abinadab’s eyes. “Did not Samuel sleep at the base of the ark? Did he not care for the ark, spurred on by love? And did he not, one night, hear God speak?”   

 “Abinadab, friend — please. You were wrong to keep the ark in your home. You know this.”

“Yes, I was wrong. Yes, I was reckless. But did not even those who cast the calf out of the fire, they were forced to drink their sin, but they too, they were still permit to choke praise from their lungs? How were they preserved and allowed to praise the Father — but my son, spurred by love, was struck down ?” 

At this, Abinadab’s friend fell silent.

*    *    *

Late, when all were asleep. Abinadab could not rest. He left his bed, and stood in the front room. He listened for any animals or footsteps outside. 

Silence. Abinadab prayed. 

I want to speak your name as I would a friend — but you are not my friend. 
You are my God. My creator. 
From dust have I been drawn, and it is dust that draws me now.

I wish to know the reasons behind your ways — which is blasphemy. 
I wish to call you by your name and pull you close — which is blasphemy. 

I wish to question you and doubt you — which is blasphemy. 

So then, God Almighty, my teacher, you know me, and my heart, and my name — 
and now you know what I wish for — what I long for — 
I pray for blasphemy. 

Amen.

infancy

      ”It is cold,” she thinks. “And dark.” 
     Her cloak frays at the edges, the long journey and excessive wearing having taken a toll on the fabric. Her husband cleared several small manure piles in order to provide a clearing, and now she sits, cross-legged, against a beam. Rings of dried blood stain both their fingernails, on account of handling the newborn. Joseph regrets not asking the innkeeper for a wash basin. He glances over at the trough, but hesitates before suggesting they wash their hands in the oxen’s drinking water.      
     Despite the chill, sweat appears on Mary’s forehead. She trembles, and chastises herself for doing so. “Don’t shake,” Mary tells herself. “You’ll wake the baby.”  
     “Don’t shake,” she intones, again and again. “Be still.”
     Bits of hay stick to the cloth. Joseph wrapped it, his hands steadier than hers, but his palms felt coarse on her neck and she brushed him away soon afterward. “Carpenter hands,” thinks Mary. “I don’t need carpenter’s hands. I need soft hands; steady hands prepared for a child.” Mary examines the crimson prints on the cloth, wondering which belong to her, and which belong to her husband.
     Joseph, though young, already bears marks of apprenticeship, having worked under an older carpenter for several years. He stands over Mary, who holds their child close to her breast. His eyes shift from the child’s face, to Mary’s crown, and lastly to the beam supporting both wife and child.
     Joseph notes the knots in the wood and guesses internally at the age of the beam, as well as the stable itself. He steps away, as quiet as he can, and examines the pieces of wood which form the stable wall. “Good choices,” thinks the young carpenter, “though many pieces will need replacing soon, especially if it rains as much as it did last season.” His hand traces the lines in the wood.
     He spies a crack in one of the pieces, just below the ceiling. “Ah,” he thinks, proud of himself for noticing, “there’s a piece that needs fixing right now. Maybe I’ll fix it in return for allowing Mary and the baby to stay the night. It wouldn’t take long at all to repair.” Joseph pauses to take in the night stars, shining through the slits in the stable ceiling.
     He hears the baby coo, and his eyes fall down to wife and child. Joseph remembers the steam rising from his child’s infant skin; a chorus of smoke plumes, as if he was born on fire. “Is everything alright?”
     Mary lifts her head to Joseph and nods. “Fine, Joseph, fine.” Her eyes focus on one rose print in particular; one she knows as hers. “Joseph.”
     “Yes?”
     “Did the…the…” The words lodge in her throat. They feel too sharp, too large to speak. 
     “What is it, Mary?” His hands return to her neck, but this time they feel softer, more tender. Mary inhales, exhales. Her eyes turn from the print and meet his stare. 
     “Did the — angel — when it — when he spoke…did his words make sense to you?”
     Joseph’s eyes don’t break from Mary’s. He smiles, and kisses her forehead. “…No.”
     Mary nods, and smiles. And then her sight returns to the baby, whose palm tumbles down the back of her fingers; tide by tide, learning the hand of his mother. A tear falls, landing square on the baby’s forehead, in the exact location where Joseph kissed her own forehead. She laughs, and the baby stirs.
     Mary, warmed by the child, whispers. “Peace, child. Peace.”

Homeward Sound

For Christmas, all I want are two fixed coordinates; X and Y.  Also known as a point of origin. 

I want to have come from somewhere ancient; to be able to first point to a very old place full of very old buildings, say “There, Then.” And second, point at myself, a heart full of trembling hands, and say, “Here, Now.”

Why do I desire roots, and by extension, Home? “This is where I come from,” I long to say, “This red dirt and these sounds of Blue Herons, these smells of lavender and this amber ray of sunrise — here and here and here.”

More than Los Gatos, California — more than Scotland and Italy — more than dirt and air.

Beneath the desire, a lament — that I wish to possess the virtues of age and place, but without any of the cost or process necessary to acquire them. I want to have roots, but I don’t want to grow them. 

In this way, I’ve forgotten what ‘growth’ even means. Nothing around me grows. Instead, everything around me — from coffee to money transfers to entire seasons of TV to air mattresses to an exact timeline of the French and Indian War to new homes — is Instant, Instantaneous, infinitely swappable for the next model and always — always at my fingertips. 

And not to say that speed is inherently evil — because it isn’t — But it’s not always good. 

Roots require growth. And growth hurts. Roots seep out from within my trunk, and dig deep into the earth. Into a place. Roots demand abiding and endurance, neither an idea with much sway nowadays.

Perhaps I take pride in having left ‘Home’, or having re-arranged the building blocks to the point of not recognizing it as home at all. 

I burn bridges as if it’s a rite of passage. I re-develop mangers into shopping malls. Re-configure cradles into convenience stores into coffee shops into co-working spaces into into into… 

Everything looks familiar, but nothing feels familiar.

Vintage is now virtue. Distressing material is now an assembly line directive. Grain and Dust are incorporated into clean pictures and used to displace, or de-place, ourselves. Wear and tear, brick and wood, Edison bulbs like sand on the seashore. Shiplap and hardwood floors. Rust and frayed edging, amen.

Yes, I am cynical of Time and Age’s mass commodification, but not of the desire. The desires are in me too — the desires to belong to somewhere, to someone — to yearn continually for Home — for a land you know yet cannot describe — a place you’ve never been, but have always known — and that is Good. 

But I cannot build Time, and I cannot manufacture Place. I cannot create Age. Rather, the best humanity can offer is the comfort of dust — from dust drawn out, and to dust destined for. but not of the desire. 

I build my pretty frames and admire the bark on the wood without stopping to acknowledge the deeper truth: I — We — are not made of bark.

We are made of rings. Which are, in turn, made of time. 

+ TWO +

What a beautiful truth — Yes, I come from a very old place.
What a strange truth — Yes, I belong to a current I neither created nor control. 
What a difficult truth — No, it is not a place to be bought, sold, subdivided, redeveloped or repurposed.

What a frightful truth — I am home in the hand of God.
What a loving truth — You are home in the hand of God.
What a painful, graceful, mysterious, burdensome, vibrant, wondrous, transformational-if-we-let-it truth — We are home in the hand and heart of God.

+ THREE +

One of my favorite movies is Hook, for the scene where Peter Banning — now an overweight, overwrought adult — has been rejected and disavowed by the Lost Boys. 

Until the last boy. He approaches, looks Banning up and down, and calls Peter to his level, down near the soil. And the little boy smooshes his hands against his face, pulls back the eyelids, and like magic — “Oh, THERE you are Peter!”

There I will be, in what the world considers my greatest success, me at my best and biggest, and there my beloved will smoosh their fingers against my face, and they will know me as no one else knows me, as only God Himself knows me more — “Oh, THERE you are, Dominic!” 

And there I will be, in what the world considers my greatest failure, me at my worst and weakest, and my beloved will smoosh their fingers against my face, and they will know me as no one else knows me, as only God Himself knows me more — “Oh, THERE you are, Dominic!” 

+ FOUR +

The world, like Saul maladapting David into a soldier, will drape you with ill-fitting armor and demand you fight battles you don’t believe in, for reasons you don’t understand.

"Be a soldier, not a shepherd. Be a warrior, not a lover."

But the Lord, the Shepherd who made me well, sees through all worldly adorning and shaming. It’s Padre, palms open, “There, Then…Here, Now.” 

Here, I’ve always been. Here, I’ll always be. 

Who sings the song I've heard all this time?
What is the still, small voice which has always stirred me -- which has sparked simultaneous dream and terror?


Does Home fill me with dread? With imagination?
Does Home dig deeper and wider than I'll ever know?

What King -- What Shepherd --
Where am I walking? 

What Lion -- What Lamb -- 
Whose steps are these? Whose blood in my veins? 

What Maker -- What Love --
Who are you that calls me Home?

Home might never be a single place, but it is always a Presence; less of an establishing and more of a knowing, where all of you is welcomed, at all times, for all time. 

Home again, home again — in the hand and heart of God — who holds the dust of the earth, who traces canyons in the lines of His palm, and as we bow low, in tenderness, a voice — 

“Son — daughter — child — to the river, to the table. There you are…Home.”

How Do Angels Get Their Wings?

 

MOMMY, MOMMY, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

When they hold onto babies who shake and shiver in new-hot-birth,
rattling lungs speaking in tongues discernible only to the Lord of Hosts
and the bleeding mothers.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

DADDY, DADDY, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

By Christ’s calm in maelstrom,
through child-laughter in an earthquake,
the holler at the snap of the bough-break, 
scaling cloud-faces and swiping at angels’ heels.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” 

BROTHER, BROTHER, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

The soldier, dying in the foxhole, 
as petrified as childhood trees, 
lost amongst metal-swirl
and snow-dirt-blood-blast, 
his heart shouts for God but his tongue calls him a motherfucker
and a vengeful sonuvabitch.
He screams and he screams, and his heart is as open as ocean water,
and by the time his whelps have clipped the treetops, 
they are rid of dross and come forth as gold.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” 

SISTER, SISTER, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

The old man with the little girl — the child.
Gray eyes meet green flame, his hatred of self passed between them —
Here he makes himself known and here she makes herself nothing.
Here he is most and here she is least.
Here he is cannibal and here she is feast.
He cloaks himself in the body of the licorice-black hair and tiny, unknown hands.
His exposure and her concealment,
his sound and her silence,
his living and her dying,
and all the while every move is the shriek-violin-bow over tuned strings, the lung-swell animation of clarinet, oboe, bassoon, flute, french horn, trombone, trumpet. 

Every move is scream and song and symphony.

Every evil sits side by side with every grace, 
every groan and scowl and howl and heap of chuckles and lover’s throbs,
every teardrop and tremble, every smile and every finger of every hand pressed to every back as part of every hand as part of every embrace, transubstantiated, from morsels of love and hate and longing and dying and dream and cowardice and despising and lament and shaking awake-awake-AWAKE and thump-thumping and blood-spewing sword-flash fire-breath —

All dutifully borne on the wings of angels.
And such glorious, voluminous wings are they —
that fearfully, wonderfully, thru night and day, them angels proclaim —
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

 

 

 

 

      

     

     

alms for a nurse

In the mirror, there i am.

In the dust, there you are.

In the water, there we are..

remember.

In the eyes of the nurse, violet scrubs and ratty-ass Nike’s, cigarette dangling from her cracked lips; salt-n-pepper hair pulled back and coiled tight as a boxer’s fist — squatted on the curb and waiting for her 48 bus, on another hot fucking day where she’s going to have to care for another batch of dumb fucking people who’ve gotten themselves hurt for no good fucking reason.

In the eyes.

In the cracked lips.

In the boxer’s fist.

remember.

In this lonely hour — the beginning of a night shift, the beginning of a day shift, the beginning of twelve hours of prizefighting through red-tape bullshit again and again and again.

In this lonely hour — doubt transformed into helmet, anxiety transformed into breastplate, fear transformed into shield, mourning transformed into sword.

In this lonely hour — heart full of blood, lungs full of smoke, muscles full of wrath. 

In the red-tape bullshit. 

In the sword. 

In the blood..

remember.

 

Do I Still Believe in Magic?

Mozart’s dying, and it’s all his fault. 

Antonio Salieri, a good-but-never-great composer, a figurine thrashing against the Almighty, meets Mozart and views him as a lunatic or divine joke, a brat not worthy of the genius inside him. In response, he hatches a plan to drive Mozart insane and destroy God’s angel.

And now, standing at the foot of Mozart’s bed, looking at the dying cherub, he’s almost succeeded. 

Except now he sees, before him, an unfinished work — a requiem. He examines the sheet music, and he’s overcome by the beauty of the piece. 

Yet Mozart, near-delusional and beyond the point of saving, laments its unfinished nature. Salieri, compelled by a new vision, hatches one more plan:

“…Let me help. Let me help you finish it.”

Mozart’s spirit awakens. Salieri pulls a desk over and stacks up blank sheet music. Then, armed with ink and quill, he prepares to transcribe Mozart’s dictation.

He begins with the tenors, and in isolation, their voices float over both Mozart and Salieri. The bass voices follow, linked now with the tenors. Bassoon and trumpet and timpani and strings cascade behind them, instrument building upon instrument. Salieri struggles to keep up — 

“You’re going too fast!” 

“Do you have me?” Screams Mozart. Have you translated it right? Is it written?

Salieri finishes the last notation and flips the pages to Mozart, who lunges for them. His eyes scan the pages, his right arm raises as if he’s conducting the orchestra, and — 

— with Bombast and Goth and Power and Fury, the requiem rises to life, all parts in unison, more beautiful and terrifying than Salieri or Mozart could have imagined. God’s glory on full display.

+    +    +

This isn’t a story from the history books. This is a scene from a movie, Amadeus, which itself was an adaptation of a play. 

Regardless of whether or not one calls the veracity of the scene into the question, the scene still hits like a wrecking ball every time I watch it. 

Each time I watch Mozart conduct an invisible symphony, I feel the hair stand up on my arms. 

Every time Salieri sees God on the page, I believe in magic. 

Every time two men engage the divine and experience grace, healing, awe — it makes me want to be a storyteller all over again.   

+    +    +

Here now, the question I pose to myself: Do I still believe in magic? 

Do I still believe in the power of storytelling? 

Because this year I’ve felt, more than ever, like quitting. The spec projects I’ve worked on go out into the world, and return void. I feel like I’m throwing all heart and soul into the ether, and it makes me want to cage up all the wild animals in my ribcage, and snuff out all the flames in my lungs.  

Because the world doesn't need cute stories. The world doesn't need ugly stories, either. The world doesn't need fairy tales. The world needs shields and bricks and cash and gas and pills. The world needs justice and revenge and more bullets and higher walls and faster download speeds and more renewable resources. 

Because the world will not, cannot, listen to 'once upon a time.' Unless you're building an empire along with it, the world will not stand for 'in the beginning.' 

That’s something they don’t teach you in undergrad — not how to knock on the next door when the previous one shuts in your face, but how to keep knocking on the fucking door, period. 

Even when no one answers. Because Christ brought you to the door. Because He put a bird in your heart, full of song and radiant light, and He promised you He would teach you how to sing, and you said — 

“Father, I’m s-s-scared.” Like Moses at the Burning Bush, yeah? ‘Not a good a speaker,’ said Moses, ‘better off with someone else.’ But Padre, He smiles, and laughs deep, and he says — 

“I will teach you to sing. Because you are mine.”

And then He walks you to the door. 

“Now, knock.”

+    +    +

This is my story, this is my song. 

knock, knock. knock, knock. 

Praising my Savior, all the day long. 

knock, knock. knock, knock.

This is my story, this is my song.

knock, knock. knock, knock.

Praising my Savior, all the day long. 

knock, knock. knock, knock.