But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget. You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present. The memory traffic feeds into a rotary up on your head, where it goes in circles for a while, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic emerges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you. That’s the real obsession. All those stories.”
-Tim O’ Brien, The Things They Carried, page 31 & 33
I am finally reading this book and it is just grabbing my mind and heart and I know it is about the Vietnam war BUT I think it’s actually an exploration of human need and a breakdown of Maslow’s hierarchy.
The spiritual life is comprised of liminal spaces.
(these are three seemingly unconnected anecdotes from last Sunday, but i promise you’ll understand how they connect at the end)
When I think about angels (which is almost never), I think about 6-winged seraphim with necks bent to protect their face from the Holy, and I wonder how my wingless body expects to behold God when Isaiah’s response was: “Woe is me! for I am undone.” (Isaiah 6)
Then, I think of that girl I met that one cold Monday night. She (Brittany) stood to my right and handed out styrofoam to-go boxes as I poured hot chocolate for the hungry. I went alone that night (and every night) because the solitude makes me more aware of my body and of my spirit–but more than that–being alone keeps me vigilant to the moment when my hand flinches from another’s around the cup of hot chocolate. In other words, vigilant to the moments I forget I am there not to feed, but to be fed by the presence of Christ who is in those hands I am afraid to touch.
But It wasn’t the frightening fingers that remind me of angels, it was that girl to my right. After that night, Brittany and I agreed to meet on Thursday for coffee. As I walked out of the Jam, it crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe, I had dined with an angel. In our time together Brittany told me many things about God–some of which I wrote down on an Iphone note, most of which I have forgotten. But the thing I cling to even now is when she said “do not despise your journey”.
On 22 January 2015, I did not know I was headed towards 6 slow months of being taught how to praise God because he says “no” rather than despite the fact He says “no.” To praise God in the midst of a time of “no’s” means you’re learning to trust that God does not waste our sickness, our heartbreak, or our confusion. It’s a time of angry prayers, of laments; It’s a time where you say things to God you could never have imagined saying. But there you are, you’ve been parked in your driveway for 27 minutes but you still can’t get out of the car and you’re not totally sure if you’re talking to God or to yourself.
But in that season, it was as if the words “do not despise your journey” were seared into my mind so that in the moments when I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God (He seemed so far for so many months), I knew that I could not despise all that was happening. So when I think of angels, I think of terrifying Seraphim hiding their faces from God, but also, I think of that girl I spent a couple of hours with on a Monday and on a Thursday, whose message of “do not despise your journey” echoes in my mind even still.
I have to tell you about Ray because he is becoming an essential part of my journey.
Ray is much older than me and lacks both sight and a car. We formed a random friendship in August and now I pick him up each Sunday for Church. One day, I will write more about the incredible amounts that God is teaching me through Ray and more about the incredibly unique parts of our friendship, but for now, I just want to say a quick word about touch.
Ray’s sight comes in and out, but by most definitions, Ray is blind. He needs me to guide him and so we walk with his arm around my waist and my arm around his shoulder, we hold hands as I walk in front of him through the narrow aisles of Church of the Redeemer, and leading Ray up to the front of the sanctuary to take communion is always a slow, humorous affair. Needless to say, Ray and I have a lot of physical contact and it’s causing me to think about touch more. I don’t have some grand conclusion, but I am learning that there is something spiritual about the kind of touch that heals and has no expectations.
As I’ve said before, hands are marvelous, and the condition of my heart is so often revealed by what my hands are doing. On that Monday night, they both flinched away from and clasped onto homeless hands. Now, in September, I find myself in a place of joy. I told someone last week that I’m almost afraid of what is next because life has been so sweet of late.
But last Sunday, I wrote in my sermon notes: “I have a profound desire to hold someone’s hand”. I was sitting in church distracted, tired, and selfish–having a hard time listening to the sermon let alone to God. But then I realized that maybe someone sitting next to me also needed a hand to hold and despite my inattentive ear, the Holy Spirit still stirred within me. So I grabbed Ray’s hand during the prayers of the people and prayed for his sight, which was particularly bad last Sunday. After the prayer, Ray told me he could see better; He called me a saint and I laughed because he would say differently if only he had known that I grabbed his hand out of my own need to quell the selfish and distracted thoughts of my heart.
But then I thought about Brittany. It is possible that she was an angel, but it also possible that she was just a human that God decided to use in a particularly poignant moment. It’s possible that her heart is just as sinful as mine, but that God gave her a prophetic word to guide me through the next 6 months in which He would feel distant and unreal. It’s possible that I am Ray’s saint, and that Ray is my saint–that despite ourselves, God is using both of us to teach one another of His love.
Today, Ray told me that he has been seeing better all week since that prayer, and as we exited the sanctuary he told pastor Tom (still looking slightly left of Tom’s eyes) that God has been healing his vision all week long. He also told Sarah and I today that he has seen all 5 “Bring it On” movies and that he loves Pretty Little Liars.
So then I did the right thing and told Ray that he has bad taste in movies.
Rilke cautions the young poet to not write about love.
It’s good advice to a certain extent, but from my experience, we have to write shitty poems about romance before we can learn to write about anything else. Part of me wants to apologize for some of the poems I’ve written in the last three years, but it’s all part of the journey and so while I won’t share any more than I already have, I’m not sorry.
Also, I think that every poem is about love in some form (the absence of it, the perversion of it, the love of mornings, of self, of god, of brother, of partner etc.) and so rather than being banned from writing about love, we should readjust the kinds of love we write about.
All that to say, I don’t know if I’ll ever be any good at writing poems. But I want to practice because that’s the only way to really tell. So here are three very short poems. I wrote them all tonight, but each are based off my own journal entries from last semester. In some ways, therefore, these poems transcend time in that they contain both old stories of pain and current moments of joy. If you hate them, it’s ok. me too (depending on the day). They’re works in progress.
As am I. (As are you.)
On Cleaning Out the Car
Beneath the seat,
we found unsent letters stuck to gum wrappers and
half -drawn monks:
there was a point of reference, but no shadows.
In the console,
we found words about the skin of teeth
(please do not forget the half-drawn monks).
All is shadow.
But we keep them
(the monks, not the letters).
stilled at the glory of a head-tilted-back, upper-belly laugh of
those who have learned that love is aggression
and wait to rest among the lambs ear