Jesus Wept

This was the writing prompt I found:

In order to grow, I feel I need to…

            Cry.

            That’s all. Simple. I’d John 11:35 it. Jesus didn’t cry though. He wept according to some versions of biblical text. One short sentence. Two words. Jesus wept. Period. Full stop.

In order to grow, I feel I need to…

            Weep.  

            Weeping seems like more of a holistic release. A slow burn. Letting the tears fall where they may. Instead of blood-letting—tear letting, as it were. Slit those ducts open and let it rip.

            Fill in the blank: _______ wept.

            I used to cry quite a bit, back in the day, before pain, hurt, and loss weren’t thrown into an everlasting pyre and minimized as “life is difficult”– nothing to feel here. What the… How in the world?

“Have a heart,” they say.

“Do I have a heart?” I ask.

My as-sigh-nment this week from my counselor is to sit with the pain. What pain? Which pain? I’ve been to pain and back many times. Haven’t you?

Wait.

Sit.

Jerry, sling your memories over your shoulder as best you know how. Gather up your humanity and come down to the river. Be brave and vulnerable. I’ll help you unpack it. You know how people say “I laughed until I cried.” It works both ways, you know. You’ve said over the years “tears lubricate the soul”. You’ve stopped taking your own medicine. Your heart is broken, but not broken open. I Am a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. I’ll sit with you by the river as long as it takes. I want to replace the stony parts of your heart and give you a heart of flesh. Do you want a heart like that?  

  

“He leads me beside still waters and restores my soul.” Psalm 23

  

Going and Coming

Never-never mind

the wherewithal.

The acuity wanes,

searching soul-level

perceptions.

Blank stares burning

focal points down.

Unfinished sentences

atrophy further

into the silence.

Their memories left

for us to curate.

We place warm dignity

over the frontal lobes.

Our prayers shape

around a long farewell.

We know them,

and they knew us.

Let us come as close

as we can.

For Ellen, Nathanial, and Oma and all who love them.

“God, my shepherd!

I don’t need a thing.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,

you find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word,

you let me catch my breath

and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through

Death Valley,

I’m not afraid

when you walk at my side

Your trusty shepherd’s crook

makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner

right in front of my enemies.

You revive my drooping head;

Your beauty and love chase after me

every day of my life.

I’m back home in the house of God

for the rest of my life.”

Psalm 23 The Message

For Rest

The other night, after my face was warm from the glow of the T.V. I took Apollo for a roundabout. Dog and human under a canopy of a starry starry night. No earbuds. No screen. Simply deep space and fire hydrants to bounce contemplations from twinkle twinkle to tinkle tinkle.

The next morning no word from the burning bush, so I walked to the other one by the garage. The red flamed leafs buffered a cool breeze, but offered not even a whisper. The leaves still spoke though. Color, loud and clear. “Red is our flame,” They said. “Don’t try to extinguish us. We will surrender soon. We will lay ourselves down.”

Then I sat bare foot on the back deck, early, coffee and a small stack of books. Each time the wind picked up the crimson maple leaves fell down. My mind quieted enough so I could feel my heart.

“You are never a great man when you have more mind than heart.” Beauchene

Why is nature so nurturing sometimes? Mother Nature–so apropos I suppose. Like a few evenings ago when we piled into the car for a drive. After a while our breathing found a rhythm. The beauty, deer, and cozy houses dotting the countryside relaxed our shoulders. We got out in it and were the better for it.

I’ll wager that if Jesus showed up and found us overthinking, worrying, and grasping for some sense of control in a schizoid world, he might send us out. I remember my mom doing that very thing, maybe for her own sanity, but nevertheless pushing us out into infinite air to breathe.

The order of the creation story is God saved the best for last. Us. Humans. There was a lot of creating going on before we arrived on the scene. God spoke and bam, out of chaos, order. Out of darkness, light. So much lush, sensual appropriations. It was a set-up–for us.

This weekend I walked nine miles through a forest full of trees. My legs were complaining loudly at the end, but my heart thanked me. Nine men and a cream colored lab hiked the Jordan Valley Trail in the northern Lower Peninsula on a crisp autumn day. The trail’s personality bore resemblance to a thirty-something—just enough weathered skin to settle in, but a passion for what’s next. There were so many metaphors laying around like dead trees. The path, a single rut, wound up, down, and around like a vein, carrying us like platelets as our chests felt both heart and lungs react. Air flow. Blood flow.

We’d ascend to ridges to step along the spine of foothill-like amalgamations, then descend to find the Jordan River meandering, chit-chatting over rocks and weaving through fallen debris.

If a tree falls in the forest… If a rivers babbles in its crevices…? Does anybody hear?

 Again, my heart searched for a baseline—a resting rate. I left much behind for a few days, we all did, and some of it oozed out over the campfire that night, seasoned with a ballad-singing, guitar-playing soul.

The forest was like a bold lettered clarion call to not loose heart. The trees, both fallen and upright whispered, “We’ve been waiting for you. We’re here for rest. We grow and fall just like you. We understand.”

The river had something to say as well. “Eternity is in your heart, like my open-ended flow.”

I know it was really God speaking like a creative via a brush stroke or the rhythm of pedantic pentameter.

“I Am, you know, and here you go. Get out into My gallery, and I will give you rest… Forest.”

Sunday Psalm

With each meandering breeze,

crimson leaves dripped

from the melting maple.

A crowd of color is

forming beneath.

A circular red spread

like a ring, humble,

thankful embers of redemption.

I’ll gather them up

eventually, but for now

I pray for soft kisses

of wind on each

falling flame.  

The Hippie of the Long Gray Hair

On my way into the store for dog food and sour cream I stopped and took in the last call of the sun. You know, when the magnifying glass of the horizon burnishes the great circle before it drops below the surface. A man was trying to capture the image with his phone a few spaces over. Futile. I thought of Elton John.

“Don’t let the sun go down on me.”

Isn’t it funny how the greatest metaphors are so easily dismissed, or just missed? Lately, when the sun is a bit weary and heads under the covers, I think of my sister Ellen (The oldest hippie I know.). She sundowns every evening. Jack, her husband, texts me updates a few times a day. More like downdates after supper. Sundowning is a term attached to people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Sundowning turns my sister from forgetful half sentences (Of which no two fragmental sentences cohere.) to an obstinate curmudgeon. Curmudgeoness?

When dementia began defacing Ellen’s brain at a more rapid pace earlier this year, it was time to get more help.

“Help! I need somebody! Help! Not just anybody!”

Her kids, my siblings, gave Jack some respite. Needless to say it’s a lotta work to manage a person who can no longer manage. Applause and thanks go out to all!

So, I found myself in the same living room that held my mother sitting in a lazy boy wondering who I was. It’s been almost ten years ago. The other day I stopped by to visit Ellen and sat across from her on the same couch. She says I’m still her boy. I’ll put that in my pocket!

Don’t cry Mare, this was your idea!

The crazy thing about this dementia is the teeter-totter aspect of it. Like my other sister (Mare) said it’s like Ellen doesn’t just become like a little child. In fact, as I’ve observed, a stutter step of doing life took over. Stubborn and snarky. Frustrated and fun. Up, then down. Jack texts me often…”She’s back!” As we come and go, she doesn’t know if she’s coming or going.

“I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello.”

Ellen, the hippie of the long gray hair. Those who love her pluck the petals of she loves me, she loves me not. Mostly, Jack wonders what petal is it today, this hour, this moment?

“Love, love me do. You know I love you.”

For now, we who know Ellen hold on to her memory for her. I’ll remember for her the time I jumped on her like a flying squirrel after a long absence. I was just a kid, but the memory is as fresh as dew. Like I said somewhere else, round and round her memory goes, but this time it spins out of control. The centrifugal force peels her fingers off the stories which once were milestones of her identity. We do what we can but still feel…

“helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still calling her Ellen, we all are, for good reason. Her spirit, soul, and body are still spouting her humanity. It’s her mind that has wandered off because her brain keeps misfiring. C.S. Lewis once stated “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We happen to have a body.” I wonder if God sent most of her mind on ahead to scope out heaven and left little half thoughts with us to try to decipher. Easy there Jer.

“It’s a long and winding road to your heart.”

The other day I walked in, grabbed the reaching tool thingy, you know, the one with the trigger you pull, and on the other end it clasps things you can’t get at. Anyway, Ellen was wearing her winter hat with the ball on top. She kinda looked like a cone-head. I grabbed the ball with the tool and lifted up the hat to check under the hood as it were. She smiled. I smiled back. Such a simple thing. Showing teeth. Curling the mouth. Revealing dimples. I’m sure Jack would tell you it’s the little things that hot-wire hope in the midst of hopelessness. Small gifts.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, Bra.”

I don’t know what a bra has to do with it, but life is going on, even in the small significant world of Ellen and Jack and attendants. I believe a Big God sees what’s going on there. Ever present, maybe a bit more present when worship music fills their little living room. God isn’t watching from a distance.

Back to the sundown metaphor and how it reminds me of Ellen. How about this? The sun can’t set without getting up there first. Up. Down. Just like the hippie of the long gray hair. Life.

Sure,

“Yesterday, all my troubles seem so far away.”

But,

“Here comes the sun, do and do do.”

This has become a song that reminds me of Jack and Ellen

God in the Dock, Again.

Thinking on these things again. Heart abnormalities. Human condition shtuff. Then the argument ensues. Just read an awesome book suggested by a friend that addresses the thoughts in this rambling.
“A Grace Disguised”
“How the soul grows through loss”
By Jerry Sittser

Gerald the Writer

“Just who do you think you are?” I demanded.

“Who do you think I am?”

“You are the God in the dock, often under investigation, especially when things go awry.”

“For example?”

“When plates under the ocean slide, causing a wave to morph into a wall of destruction on innocent people. When tornados twist through towns and suck the life out of them. When land dries up and fails to give sustaining crops to families. Anytime Mother Nature gives humanity a swift kick.”

“Natural disasters.”

“Yes. I struggle with them. Why don’t you give Mother Nature a stiff lecture ending with ‘God so loved the world?’ Sometimes it would be easier to be a deist, believing you set the world spinning and then walked out the door.”

“There are many easier ways.”

“Do tell.”

“You may not like them.”

“Well, right now I don’t really care for what you’re not

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Taking Thoughts

The bookmarks sprung up

in odd arrangements on the shelf,

like so many weeds in a garden.

I pulled them a couple of months ago,

All of them.

In part to put out of mind

the sight of unfinished business.

But also to put to rights

the little irritations some books

might endure of a distracted thinker.

Sure, I purposely lost my place,

but is place a deterrent of getting

lost in thought?

Is turning the last page a

guarantee of closing the book

forever?

Apparently not, for the volumes

in the case are still there,

like a well-tended garden,

waiting for thoughts to be taken.

Look closely at the image…how easily the weeds pop up like my own bookcase!

 

A Sunday Psalm

Take me to the river,

the currents that carry away.

Be the banks of faith

as my feet feel the passing by.

For now, the ocean isn’t needed

with waves that overwhelm.

No, it’s the redemption of here.

The forgiveness of now

channeled and contained,

yet flowing on and down.

The present and eternity

as indistinguishable as the I Am.

 

Take me to the river,

the conversations which float by.

Be the impeded stream

and sing a long ago song.

For now, a waterfall isn’t needed

with its deafening overtones.

No, it’s a smaller voice I lean into.

The whispers of hope

riding on the vein of a meadow.

The past and its echoes

fading into grace and mercy.

You Are.

 

Take me to the river,

the baptismal space.

Be the undercurrent where

the world is muffled.

For now, a heavy rain isn’t needed.

Should I scream or cry,

the undertones are received

and washed away.

The covering of love,

before, behind, above, beneath,

wrap You around me.

Take me to Your River.

A Novel Story (Flash Fiction)

Sitting on the seat of my pants rather than flying by them, I settled in. Tucked in a corner of Casey’s, slurping off the Wi-Fi and staggering sips on a cup of Joe, my fingers danced on the keys. I tuned out the pitter-pat of the keyboard that so annoyed me when someone else was doing the pounding. The character driven novel I started had morphed into a plot twist like a pretzel. The protagonist was on the verge of becoming too becoming, and if I didn’t reign her back in, this could end up a screen play for a Hallmark movie.

The lockdown had siphoned off my Muse. Writing at home in the utility room sucked, plain and simple. Half-hearted attempts at moving the novel along became a droning, on the nose, word count. To feel productive I let my characters wander off the preverbal page as cobwebs and half empty paint cans looked on. The fact was, jealousy took over. With the world on fire and truth stranger than fiction once again, my novel couldn’t hold a candle to a media driven culture with all its flash-mob images. I envied journalists and all the morsels they stabbed at in 24 hour cycles.

A novel requires a long attention span, as opposed to sound bites, podcasts, and twit tweets. Without the coffee shop I relied on, putting on airs of fresh ground beans, and patrons shuffling in to order drinks with fraps and frills, well, my mojo atrophied. Casey’s was my bunker, my base-camp to revive and move a novel along. All of those coffee shop types of distractions became a wall around my imagination. It didn’t make sense, but it worked for me, and I was back with my butt in the chair. ‘The’ chair.

Something was off though. Maybe it was the hand sanitizer. Could be the masks we all wore. The extra effort it took to read people’s eyes rather than facial recognition. Tricky. Chairs were missing as well as half the tables. I was glad to be back, and yet after a while I felt like my imagination, like the invisible virus, was ready to find another host. The shop turned into a surgery theatre with all the Muses observing from the other side of the glass. The world had changed, or had been chained. For a moment I wondered if I had time to finish my novel. I could have written War and Peace 2.0 during the lockdown if my Muse hadn’t skipped town.

Fear crept in like I had left the door of my creativity cracked. The usual writer’s doubts marched past. “What’s the point?” “You don’t have what it takes.” “There are a thousand billion books at thrift stores everywhere, what makes you think…” I pulled my mask down for the umpteenth time to slug more coffee. I was tempted to find a tape measure and see if all the X’s really were six feet apart. I wondered if picking my nose was part of the cease and desist order. The public was much pickier now. It seems we all became Big Brother. George Orwell, smiling from his grave, a self-assured corpse of Christi, pointing his boney finger at all the points he made decades ago.

Damn. I guess I have to find a new normal. What a contradiction of terms…new—normal. The war of the words threatened by writer’s block once again.

I asked my protagonist her opinion. She offered me a cup of tea, shrugged atlas eyes at me, and demurred a smile underneath her N-95 mask.