Filtering by Tag: faith

Once Upon a Howl

First and foremost, you need to know that the third ‘a’ in ‘Appalachian’ sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘lack,’ not the ‘a’ in ‘lake’. Phonetically speaking, it’s pronounced app-uh-latch-uh, not app-uh-lay-shuh.

Okay. Now that we’ve squared that away, we can start. 

*

In the middle of a slow day in the middle of a February in Philadelphia, my friend (who also happened to be my co-worker and housemate) came over to my desk. “Hey, you’ve got to check out this Kickstarter. It’s a pretty great video.” We sat down on a couch and he showed me the video on his laptop. 

The video was made by a singer-songwriter who needed money to finish recording a full-length album. It was one of the more earnest, sentimental videos I’d seen. Normally, I’d be quick to critique any imperfections in the video itself. I was working for a production company at the time and had been working as an editor for several years. 

I knew what a “great video” looked and sounded like. This was, by most aesthetic markers, an “okay video.” But I watched the whole video with my friend. Then, after he returned to his work, I watched the video again on my laptop.

And then I watched it again. And again.

In the middle of that slow day in the middle of February in Philadelphia, I was in the middle of a slow-motion heartbreak. Many things I’d believed in, both personally and professionally, were dissolving before my eyes. And despite my efforts, I couldn’t do anything to stop it. 

In hindsight, it’s not a surprise. After all, I was broken myself. It was akin to Humpty Dumpty attempting to piece back together someone else who’d fallen off the wall, while himself still scattered across the sidewalk.

I watched John Lucas’ video in the middle of a heartbreak. I heard his overly earnest, carpe-diem words talk about the kind of man he wished to be, the kind of songs he wished to write, the kind of world he longed to contribute to. Had I watched this video a year previous, I would’ve criticized his framing, his editing, and his color grading.

But watching it at that exact moment, all I did was watch it again. And cry. 

And watch it again.

“Yes,” I said, rejoicing, from the bottom of the pit in which I found myself. “Someone who believes. Someone who hopes. Someone who yearns and is unashamed in their yearning. Someone who has determined to love at all costs, no matter where that leads.”

I gave what I could, more than I’ve ever give to anything before or since. Included in the funding, I wrote to Lucas — “Much of what you hope to see, much of what you believe exists in the heart of every person — I believe and walk with you. I'm too broken to be cynical, too hurt to be angry. I'm just gonna believe every word you say and do what I can to support the howl in your heart.”

Lucas responded, surprised and grateful for the funding. We kept in casual touch since then — I’d listen to his music, and he’d read the poetry I’d post online. Last year, he interviewed me for his personal blog, which was another lovely experience. Earlier this year, I received an email from Lucas. He and his wife were backpacking in Nepal at the time, but they were looking to return Stateside soon: “It's been wild to say the least,” he wrote, “and has made me think a lot about what life could be like when we get back home. I've been thinking for awhile that I would love to finally get to spend some time with you…I wanted to extend you an invitation to come stay with us and to be one of our first guests at our new place.”

I responded hours later by forwarding my flight itinerary, the trip planned for the Fall.  

*

I arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina late in the day. Lucas picked me up and drove the hour-plus out to Boone, located along the Appalachian Mountain Range. Though we’d only emailed for approximately three-and-a-half years, we leapt into conversation as old friends. 

The next morning, we set out along the Blue Ridge Parkway. While taking on a series of hikes, we talked about — in no particular order — Jesus, the Devil, aliens, siblings, creativity, farts, music, climate change and sushi. 

Over the course of my days in Boone, I learned about Wooly Worms, the Brown Mountain Lights, and the lawn game Kubb. I learned that sriracha mixed with honey tastes delicious, but that sriracha mixed with maple syrup might taste even better.

I learned the beauty of what Rosaria Butterfield calls “radical hospitality”: a generosity of home and all resource. Lucas is a thoughtful, imaginative artist who, from time to time, loves a good game of backgammon. Danielle is a heart-shaped pistol, unafraid to both speak her mind and love without reservation.  They’ve backpacked together across the world and continually explore what it means to be courageous in both word and deed. My time with the both of them reaffirmed my own desire to love people, to know and be known by others. Lucas and Danielle’s constant affections for friends and family alike showed me the potential of what could happen when you intentionally pursue relationships with others.

The last hike they took me on was Snake Mountain. We began our hike at approximately 3,000 feet above sea level, and though the hike to the summit was only three miles, it also included 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The last half mile involved trudging through bits of snow slush, ducking trail overgrowth, and a small bit of rock-climbing. When we arrived at the top, Danielle took Lucas’ and my picture.     

Many times during my trip, I thought back to when my friend first showed me Lucas’ video. And in those times, I smiled. I thanked God — for my friend, for Lucas and Danielle, for the heart God placed in me, and for seeing it through the breaking. 

Sometimes, when a heart breaks, it shatters. Its fractures are gaping and cavernous. The heart splits open and tears apart in seismic fashion. Through its breaking, it births new territories of raw-nerve-grief-despair-confusion. Sometimes it’s hard to tell between a joyful howl, and am embittered wail. But in the midst of that volcanic ache, seeds of healing are planted, sometimes without our knowing.

Sometimes, in the midst of the dying, resurrection is already on the move.  

landing

I have this obsession with “sticking the landing” — so do pilots and gymnasts. TV show-runners to a lesser extent. Children pretending the ground is hot lava and using pillows as rocks to carve out safe passage — they’re most concerned with sticking the landing. 

I don’t write because I fear I’ll be imperfect — because the first draft is, in Anne Lamott’s words, “shitty.” In her writing book Bird by Bird, she says that “very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it.” 

I begin with the inclination to write, though some would use —

(employ/deploy/conjure) 

— stronger words —

(fiercer nomenclature/more pointed jargon/more vibrant images)

— to describe — 

(illuminate/give life to/chart out)

Damnit. 

Doing it again. 

I don’t write — I don’t speak — don’t extend myself in conversation — don’t show my anger — because I’m afraid I’ll be crooked or incomplete with my answer. I want my words to emerge fully formed, shining-shimmering-splendid. I want my words to captivate, like people watching the ball drop in Times Square in New Year’s Eve. 

I want my anger and my conversation to be symphonic.

I don’t want to confess what I don’t know. I don’t want to have to double-back and rephrase my answer, or swallow my answer entirely so that someone else has space to correct me and show me where I was wrong.

I’m afraid to let the words out of the yard and be a good-and-proper free-range linguist because I fear the reaction of others — and that’s a terrible way to live. An essay or a blog or a text message or a letter to a loved one shouldn’t feel like a game of “Operation,” but to me, that’s what it feels like. 

Which is why a text message conversation is, at times, exhausting for me. It has nothing to do with me not wanting to talk to the person, and everything to do with me attempting to end-around the other person’s reactions and words. 

*

Bring what you’ve got, says Padre.

“But I don’t believe that’s enough,” I reply.

Enough for what?

“For the post to go viral. For the essay to win me an award. For people to read this and like me and follow me and never be upset by a thing I say.”

Is that why you write? Is that why I made you to write? Why I made you to live and move and breathe?

“…No.”
Sorry, couldn’t hear that last bit; was hopping across lava rocks. What’d you say?

“I said ‘no.’ That’s not why I write.”
Ah. Got it. So why then?

“Because it’s communion. Because when I write I’m with you.”
Fishes and loaves, poopsie.

“Poopsie? Only my mom still calls me that.”
Your mom still calls you ‘poopsie?’

“Yeah.”
Good for her.



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.

The Good Shepherd

    He entered the house, shook his head. “Your son, again.”

    Without looking up, she tsked-tsked with her tongue. “Our son, again.”

    “He loves you more.”

    “He loves you as well.”

    “He never says it.”

    “Because he doesn’t know the words yet.” She turned to face her husband. “You are a good teacher. You care about about his learning, yes?”

    “I do.”

    “Because you want him to be a good shepherd, yes?”
    Adriel sighed and glanced back out the entrance, before returning his focus to his wife. “He lost some sheep. I found all but one. We’ve been searching, but…” He shook his head. 

    She nodded. “Where is he?”

    “Outside, I think. I shouted at him, and told him to wait until I allowed him to enter.”

    Galila put her hands to her husband’s cheek, and with her thumbs, she traced crescents under his eyes — back and forth, back and forth, like tidewaters from the sea. She pulled his head down and kissed his forehead.

    “You, my love, are a good shepherd. You sit. I’ll go talk to him.”

    

    *    *    *

    

    “Nechemya,” she called. “Nechemya, where are you?”

    Silence. Galila took a few steps, noting the sound of the rocks beneath her sandals. “Nechemya, it’s your mother. Come sit with me.” She sat on the edge of the well, and exhaled. “It’s beautiful this evening, no? Why don’t we sit together?”

    Silence. Galila looked down at her hands, flipped them once, twice, then slid off the edge of the well and sat down on the ground. She rested against the well. “I’m going to tell you a story, Nechemya. Is that alright?” She waited, but heard no response.
    “Once, I lived in a town. This is before you were born, before I knew your father. When Roman soldiers rode through the village, they would ask for wine. I would serve them wine.”

    Galila picked up a small pebble, held it in her palm. “They would ask for other things as well…and I would give them those other things. Because they could make life bad for me if I said no.” She closed her fingers over the pebble, turning her hand into a fist. “You understand this, Nechemya? There was no choice.” Her breath, heavier now. “But people in the town, they disapproved. They wanted to teach me I was wrong to do what I did.” She paused. “So, one morning they — ”

    “Teach, mama…like the way papa teaches?”

    Galila turned her eyes right, and she saw Nechemya, her son. He held his shepherd’s staff loose. He didn’t stand still, but instead shifted his weight from side to side. 

    “Why do you do that, Nechemya? You sway like a reed.”

    “I don’t like to stand still, mama.”
    Galila opened her fist, and re-examined the pebble. She dropped it. “Nechemya, my love.”
    Nechemya approached and sat next to his mother.

    She smiled. “Papa teaches out of love. But the people who wanted to teach me — they were angry. They took me from my house. I shouted for help, but no one stopped them. They brought me to the feet of a Teacher in the square. I’d been accused of a crime, but they weren’t sure how I should be punished.”

    “What did the Teacher say?”

    Galila smiled. Her finger traced a winding path in the sand. “He said nothing. He drew.”
    “What’d he draw, mama?”

    “He drew a tree. He asked me what kind it resembled. ‘It looks like an olive tree, Teacher.’ I said. ‘Is it an olive tree?’”

    Nechemya shifted closer to his mother. “What’d he say?”
    Galila shrugged. “He told me about how he knew many people who’d sat under trees. ‘Friends, Teacher?’ I asked. He nodded. ‘Yes, child. Friends.’ He told me about one person who sat under a tree, and ravens came to him with food. This man was tired and near death, and he was afraid — but the tree provided shade and shelter from the sun. As he sat, ravens visited him and kept him alive with food, and the nearby river gave him water to drink.

    As he told me this story, he drew the wings of the raven. ‘Do you have a favorite bird?’ He asked. ‘No, Teacher.’ I replied. ‘The birds,’ he said, ‘the birds provide shelter and safety for their offspring with their wings. When a predator comes, the birds spread their wings wide and gather their young to their breast. Here, they are safest.’”

    Galila extended her arm and draped it over her son. Nechemya glanced at his mother’s hand at his side, and smiled. “What happened next, mama?”

    “Next, he wrote his name — the name of God.”

    Nechemya’s eyes opened wide. “But that name must not be said. It is blasphemy.”

    She nodded. “Yes. But what if it’s God who’s doing the writing?” Nechemya said nothing. Galila continued making a path with her finger. “Other people before him claimed to the Messiah, my love. And afterward, people after him have claimed to be the Messiah. They come from dust, they claim to be the Messiah, and then the dust claims them back.”

    “Did he die?”

    “Yes.” Galila thought of the hill. She thought of the storm and the blood and the crown. “Yes, he did.” She wiped a tear from her cheek. “But the dust did not claim him.” 

    “What’d he say — when he wrote his name?”

    “He — ” Galila stopped, laughed. “He started humming; singing even.” 

    “What’d he sing?”

    “Do you remember the song I sang while you were falling asleep?”

    “Yes.”

    She kissed her son on the forehead. “That’s His song.”
    Her son smiled. But when he looked back at the house, his smile fell from his face. 

    “Why now are you sad, my son? I thought my story made you glad.”

    “Father hates me.”

    “He’s angry about the lost animals, but he loves you.”

    “Do you believe that?”

    “When he’s out with the animals, keeping them safe, he’s finding the words to tell you how much he loves you. When he’s repairing the walls of our home, with each movement of his hand, he’s building the words, casting the words.”

    Galila leaned close to whisper. “And when he sits alone in the room, as he does now, he prays for words, for help — and like manna, the words fall into his lap. Everything he does, he’s learning how to say ‘I love you.’”

    “I don’t think I’m going to be a good shepherd.”
    Galila paged through the hairs on her son’s head. Specs of dust kicked up in the air. “Do you want to be a shepherd?”

    “I do.”

    “Do you want to care for the animals?”

    “I do.”

    Galila put her hands to her son’s cheeks and, with her thumbs, drew crescents underneath her son’s eyes — back and forth, back and forth, like tidewaters from the sea. She kissed him on the forehead.

    “Go back to where you last remember having all the sheep, and start there. Look in the shaded areas, in the cracks of rocks — in the shadows of the mountains.”

    “Yes, mama.”

    He stood to leave, and headed toward the pasture. 

    “Nechemya,” she said. “If you’re still having trouble finding the sheep…sing.”

porcelaing

     Sometimes, the world — specifically, climate change — scares the hell out of me, and I feel like hiding.
     Sometimes, the world — specifically, climate change, Donald Trump’s impending presidency and the threat of nuclear war — scares the hell and the ever-loving shit out of me, and I feel like hiding and burying myself alive.
     Sometimes, the world — specifically, climate change, Donald Trump’s presidency, the threat of nuclear war, plane travel, the web of responsibilities associated with home ownership, my near-crippling negative self-view, my dissatisfaction with the eat-drink-be-happy-but-if-you’re-not-happy-here’s-netflix-and-that-should-do-the-trick-until-tomorrow idea of living, my near-constant Eeyore-cloud-heart-steering belief that we’ve broken the world and that I broke myself along with it, and no one, myself included, is ever going to be fucking okie-dokie, a-okay, right-as-rain regardless of how hard anyone tries— all of that scares the hell and the ever-loving shit and the absolute fucking life out of me, and I feel like hiding and burying myself alive and wishing I could give back every breath I ever-ever-ever took.
     Sometimes I am so scared of everything being so much bigger and faster than I am that I feel like the only logical response is freezing and letting everything else pass me. 
     Sometimes I’m so scared I’m PETRIFIED.
     But you know what helps?
     Cereal.

+ TWO +

     Yeah, I mean, the kid’s stuff — Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Puffs, Honey Nut Cheerios, etc. Cereal makes me feel better, because it’s sweet and delicious and it reminds me of a time where none of the things that scared me dominated my thought process. It makes me think of a time where one of my best friends and I split a whole box of cereal over the course of an afternoon. We talked and laughed and ate cereal, and that was as complicated as the day got.
     It’s a defense mechanism, a comfort food, and emotional concealment.
     But sometimes, the wolves are bigger and badder and huffier and puffier than any castle of cereal I could make. Sometimes the wolves cross the moat without any problem and tear a hole in the cereal walls, and Tony the Tiger hurries back with a report, raving to me that “They’re Grrrrrrowling at the door!! They’re going to break in any second! Wwwwwwwwwhat do we do?!”
     And then I’m gone, hiding again. 
     Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. 

+ THREE +

     Writing — storytelling — aches and dreams shared with a community — a campfire. 
     It’s what I always go back to — it’s been my love language for decades now. There’re journals filled with stories, stories I haven’t shared. A library of caged birds. And why?
     Because of the wolves, that’s why. 
     The wolves are the ones who piss on the campfires and swallow the birds. If I let the birds go, the wolves will devour them, and they’ll put out the fire, and I won’t have anywhere to go. I won’t have anything to say.
     I love to write, and I love storytelling, and I know storytelling’s in my marrow — but I’m afraid.
     Why?
     Because it feels like the world needs storytelling like it needs a hole in the head — because it actually HAS a hole in the head, and it needs a medic, and it needs a top-flight surgical team to put it back together. It needs higher walls and more skilled sharpshooters. It needs antidotes to the viruses spread by the enemy, and then it needs viruses that the other side doesn’t have antidotes for yet, and it needs something loud and snarling and foaming at the mouth.
     Because it feels like the only thing the world needs is more wolves.

+ FOUR +

     And then Padre shows up. “Hey,” He says.
     “Oh, hi.”
     “Bad day?”
     “Yeah.”
     “Sorry about that.”
     “Thanks.”
     “Might I suggest something?”
     “Sure.”
     “Read the Psalms.”
     “Excuse me?”
     “Read the Psalms. It’s the one after Job.”
     “Who do I read them to?”
     “Yourself. In time, the Wolves.”
     “Why?”
     “Wolves love Psalms. Didn’t anyone tell you that?”
     “No. Why should I read them to myself?”
     “Because I know.”
     “Know what?”
     “That feeling in the back of your jaw — the feeling like your mouth wants to wire itself shut, lock the door and throw away the key. Because I know every thing you think of saying feels incomplete and off-target and late-to-the-party. Because I know you’re afraid to address the world — your neighbor — your reflection — because you think your words have to be the skeleton key that unlocks all the sorrow and vitriol of this age. All of that’s very admirable.”
     “Thank you." 
     “And it’s also profoundly, utterly foolish.”
     “…Yes.”
     The Almighty crouches low, His eyes meet mine. “Dom. I know it feels like your love is insignificant.”
     “…Yeah.”
     “I know it feels like you need to be a medic, or a sharpshooter, or a wolf.”
    “…Yeah.”
     “But you don’t.” He wipes a fallen tear from my eye. “You’re not a medic, and you’re not a sharpshooter, and you’re not a wolf. You’re Dom. And that’s because I made you like Dom. I made you Dom-shaped, with that Dom-laugh and that Dom-smell. I made you to look like Dominic. To sound like Dominic. To breathe and weep and dance and laugh and love and hope like Dominic.”
     “And,” He adds, “I did it on purpose.”    
     I nod. Another tear. “That’s what scares me the most, Padre — that you knew exactly what you were doing when you made me. I feel it in my chest.”
     “Yeah?”
     “Yeah — that forest fire — that burning bush, that lion’s den — that heart of mine — you put it there. You were sloppy.”
     He smiles. “How so?”
     “If the cops dust my heart they’ll find your fingerprints all over the place.”
     He nods. “Guilty as charged.” 
     “I forgive you.”
     He kisses my forehead. “Ditto.”

+ FIVE +

O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.

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.”

 

 

 

 

      

     

     

the cowardly lion

"My son, my son," Padre's kiss on my forehead. 
"My love, my love," My body borne up by His. 
"My flame, my flame," His finger held to my sternum.

“Heal, Lion."
 
“Roar, Beast.”
“Love, Beloved.”

The lion; wounded and shivering, cowering in tree-shade at the river’s side.
The lion; half-cleaning its wounds of caked mud, dried blood.
The lion; terrified, filthy, shorn of pride — muscle — indwelling.

Padre kneels and speaks in hymns.
Padre matches breaths with the lion and speaks in dreams.
Padre combs his hand through the lion’s mane and speaks in tears.

He holds the head of the weeping lion in His hands.
He whispers and sparks fire in the lion's heart.
His eyes glow and He claims the lion —

"You — all of you — you are mine."
Now the lion sees its wounds slipping from its flesh as beads of water.
"Your story — your song — is mine all mine —”
Now the lion sees its wounds transferred to the lamb.  
“I make all things new, lion. You are mine all mine.”
Now the lion sees its shadow — held in the shadow the lamb.

The lion feels its frame renewed, and the lamb embraces the healed Lion. 
     "Feel them new bones — oh Lion —”
The lion hears sounds renewed, and the lamb holds fast the healed Beast.
     “Hear that new music — oh Beast —”
The lion sees its wounds closed and cleansed, and the lamb loves the healed Beloved.
     “See that new flesh — oh Beloved —”

And the lamb holds the lion’s gaze. “Watch — watch them wounds vanish as smoke" 
And the Passover Lamb — bleeding sweet, bleeding bright. 
“My lion — my lion — how wonder-full."

"How I love you, my oh my oh — how Deep and how Wide I love you."

Lions and Tigers and Bears...Amen

“I [Nebuchadnezzar] had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me.”

daniel // four / five

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I don’t dream as much as I used to; which scares me.

A lion, a lion — there’s a lion inside my chest — 

I dreamt something last night, but when I woke up in the middle of the night, I told myself I didn’t need to write it down, because I’d remember it. 

A tiger, a tiger — there’s a tiger inside my chest — 

When I woke up this morning, I’d forgotten all the details. All I remembered was there were three people, and I was one of them. 

A bear, a bear — there’s a bear inside my chest — 

I don’t dream as much as I used to, and I don’t write down my dreams like I used to, and I don’t wonder as much as I used to — but I still believe I was built for dreaming. 

I know my heart and my soul were built to be dream-makers and I know my hands and feet were built to be dream-makers.

Oh my — oh my — there’s a dream inside my chest — 

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“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.”

daniel // seven / one

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Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Teach my heart to dream again. Teach my heart not to fear the lions, the tigers or bears.

Teach me tenderness in the lion’s den. Teach me grace in the fiery furnace. Teach me peace in the parting of the sea. 

More sleepless nights. More fragments. More of what I don't understand. 

Still me when the dreams shake my sternum. Hold me close when I squirm and seek to flee from the fire-breathing dream. Help me to count the costs and to take one step after the other — Right, then left; heart, then soul. 

Teach me what it is to love and be wild. Teach me what it is to dream and be your child.

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.

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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.   

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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.”

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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.