Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Oh hey look, it's the love of my life!

"There was an intense emotionality at this time: music I loved, or the long golden sunlight of late afternoon, would set me weeping. I was not sure what I was weeping for, but I would feel an intense sense of love, death, and transience, inseparably mixed."

-- Oliver Sacks, On the Move

So much I want to say, and no clue where to begin.

I could start with the moment he proposed to me beside an outcrop of rocks near the Sky Meadows trailhead, but that moment was surreal.

I could start with the thrilled, marveling look on his face (mirrored on mine as well) when we first used the word fiance, but that look was fleeting.

I could start with the unnerving sensation of my feet floating three feet above the ground, levitated by the outpouring of love and support and exclamation from the people dearest to our hearts, but that sensation moves me to tears every time I examine it, and writing an entire essay about it might lead to hospitalization.

So instead I will start with my first lesson of engaged life -- that to be now on the other side of engagement is to learn exactly what it entails and why it is, in fact, a really big deal.

I don't say that last statement tongue in cheek. After all, I am part of a faith tradition that celebrates and upholds marriage, and I have always applauded sincere commitment, the sacrifice and "death to self" that it entails. It's more that my fiance (!!) and I had been saying to each other for months that we were "engaged in our hearts," so what, we thought, could a mere question change?

Apparently, everything.

In case it's not clear, we're really, REALLY excited.

Stating our commitment out loud -- officially, formally, in a way that asks everyone in our lives to bear witness and keep us accountable -- kicks the whole endeavor up six notches. We have told the world we are serious about each other and our shared life, and by gum the world is going to hold us to it.

And that's just the external effect. There's this whole internal shift too that I didn't fully grasp until my in-that-moment-soon-to-be-fiance (!!) was standing before me, sharing how much he loves me, holding an oval box in his hand, asking me to marry him, and suddenly after years of faceless, backdrop-less daydreams about my future partner, it hit me: Here was the real person, the real deal, and the reality was a million times more profound than anything I'd ever imagined on my own. (Which is saying something, because I have a very active imagination.)

What's more, I finally grasped the full measure and value of my past experiences and relationships, however confused or painful or breathtaking they were, for I would not have become who I am today, or appreciate my partner so fully, without them. How healing, then, to find my person. How healing, to love him. How healing, to experience his love in return.

So much I want to say, and no clue how to say it. So I will simply say, he is here. The bright, kind, compassionate, loving, funny, adventurous, thoughtful, good man I always envisioned. He is finally, beautifully here. He is standing before me. He is standing beside me. He wants me as much as I want him. We are creating a future together, a terrific marriage, one that (God willing) will involve board game nights and Pizza Fridays and bocce on the back lawn and a thriving kitchen garden and Post-It love notes and trips around the world and fat babies we will squeeze and love until they grow up and have fat babies of their own and then we'll squeeze and love them too, and all because we had the great good fortune to join the same guitar group, strike up a conversation, and fall in love.

So much I want to say, but now I have a lifetime to say it to him, over and over and over again.

That's where we'll begin, then. With love.

Prayer #293: The Prayer I'm Thrilled to Finally Write

God of loving covenants,


Thank you thank you thank you thank you.

Thank you for this person, for everything he already is, for everything we will become together.

Thank you for this opportunity -- for the chance to draw closer to you through the act of loving another so deeply and completely.

May I ask one more favor, though? (As if you haven't done enough.) Please be the hand that underwrites our contract. Be the witness to our pledge and the buttress for our vows. Help us keep our soul-deep promise to each other as we prepare our own covenant -- one that honors capital-L LOVE, which is to say, you.

And did I say "thank you" yet? Because thank you from the bottom of my puny, weepy, overjoyed human heart as it blossoms ten-fold in gratitude's bright light.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Prayer is a conversation we carry on in questions

Who asked first? Photo by Jared Cherup, Flickr

"I am not a man of God," said Tauwhare, frowning.

"And yet there is much of God in you," Devlin replied. "I believe you must have an instinct for prayer, Te Rau -- to have come here today. To pay respects at your dear friend's grave -- to pray over him, indeed."

Tauwhare shook his head. "I don't pray for Crosbie. I remember him."

"That's all right," Devlin said. "That's fine. Remembering is a very good place to start." Smiling slightly he pressed the pads of his fingers together, and then tilted both hands down -- his clerical pose. "Prayers often begin as memories. When we remember those whom we have loved, and miss them, naturally we hope for their safety and their happiness, wherever they might be. That hope turns into a wish, and whenever a wish is voiced, even silently, event without words, it becomes a supplication. Perhaps we don't know to whom we're speaking; perhaps we ask before we truly know who's listening, or before we even believe that listener exists. But I judge it to be a very fine beginning, to make a practice of remembering those people we have loved. When we remember others fondly, we wish them health and happiness and all good things. [...]"


"A prayer needn't always be a supplication, of course," Devlin added. "Some prayers are expressions of gladness; some are expressions of thanks. But there is hope in all good feelings, Te Rau, even in feelings that remember the past. The prayerful man, the good man, is always hopeful; he is always an optimist. A man is made hopeful by his prayers."

Tauwhare, who had received this sermon doubtfully, only nodded. "These are wise words," he added, feeling pity for his interlocutor.

In general Tauwhare's conception of prayer was restricted to the most ritualized and oratorical sort. The ordered obeisance of the whaikorero produced in him, as did all rituals of speech and ceremony, a feeling of centrality and calm, the likes of which he could not manufacture alone, and nor did he wish to. The sensation was quite distinct from the love he felt for his family, which he experienced as a private leaping in his breast, and distinct, too, from the pride he felt in himself, which he felt as a pressurized excitement, an elated certainty that no man would ever match him, and no man would ever dare to try. It ran deeper than the natural goodness that he felt, watching his mother shuck mussels and pile the slippery meat into a wide-mouthed flax basket on the shore, and knowing, as he watched her, that his love was good, and wholly pure; it ran deeper than the virtuous exhaustion he felt after a day stacking the rua kumara, or hauling timber, or plaiting harakeke until the ends of his fingers were pricked and raw. Te Rau Tauwhare was a man for whom the act of love was the true religion, and the altar of this religion was one in place of which no idols could be made.

"Shall we go to the grave together?" Devlin said.

-- excerpt from The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

Prayer #292: Some Questions

What is prayer? Pleas and bows, yes, but is it also hugs and screams? Is it as simple as remembering, as immediate as invoking?

And what of its tone? Is a "prayer" by nature positive, in that its creation signals a flicker of faith where perhaps none is thought to be? Then what of those times when the prayer is a wail, a keening moan flecked with spit and blood that twists throughout an unresponsive cosmos?

And what of your response? If your unpracticed antennae cannot detect a reply, how does that build hope? How do you put an ear horn to the most remote canal of your psyche and listen for speeches in a language you don't speak? How can you not in these silent, ticking moments feel less heeded, less wanted, less loved?

And what of different kinds of love? What of the contemplation of it, the experience of it, the demonstration of it? When the wild first surrounds you, undirected and circumspect, do you make your steps more tender across the shifting bog? When the second hugs you from behind, do you whip around to match arms to face, or do you simply revel in the tight sensation? And when the third -- focused, ordered, intentional -- speaks what you cannot articulate and shows what you cannot describe, what is left for you to do?

What then is prayer? It is a conversation we carry on in questions.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

In search of a church

"We are each other's holding bread." Photo by Susy Morris, Flickr

Earlier this year, the new pastor at my parish dissolved the music ministry group I was an active part of. For three years, there in the corner to the left of the altar, I had contributed to dynamic worship, befriended faith-filled musicians, and -- in answer to many tearful prayers said from that very spot -- met and fell in love with a wonderful man.

Yet with one executive decision, my roots in the parish were yanked out, replaced with an approach to liturgy that, while I don't disagree with, is not the sole way I want to serve and worship. I hoped for a congregational outcry, a change of heart from the pastor, but neither arrived. Within months the music group was officially dead. So, cut adrift with our wounds still raw, Nature Boy and I spent the summer searching for a church.

The process has been neither easy nor successful. Each weekend we bounce around from pew to pew -- weighing the quality of the liturgy, the impact of the preaching, and the spirit of the parish -- and each weekend we realize anew the depth of our loss. Change is always hard, but it's a particular slog when you feel so powerless throughout the process. And though we've experienced other moving services and witnessed other loving communities in action, none of them feel quite like the home we knew and loved.

One unexpected benefit of this unsettled period, however, is that it has given me a new appreciation for the doctrinal tenet that the Church -- the people of God -- are the body of Christ. Bodies have beating hearts. They are warm, lively, breathing, aching. They yearn to hold and be held, just as Nature Boy and I are yearning right now.

Anne Lamott put it poignantly in a recent Facebook post:

"I think often of the weeks after the end of WWII, in the refugee camps for orphans and dislocated kids. Of course the children couldn't sleep! But the grown-ups discovered that after you fed them, if you gave them each a piece of bread just to hold, they would drift off. It was holding bread. There was more to eat if they were still hungry. This was bread to hold, to remind them and connect them to the great truth -- that morning would come, that there were grown-ups who cared and were watching over them, that there would be more food when they awoke. [...] We are each other's holding bread."

We, the wider community of believers and want-to-believers, are all striving to follow a higher power, though we have moments where doubt and fear tell us otherwise. What we do know for sure, however, beyond dispute or refute, is that other human beings are with us right now, and it is our mandate as fellow travelers to extend hands, offer snacks, and say hello. Because even if nothing ends up coming after this bumpy ride of a life, we will at least have manifested love during our time here.

That's why I remain hopeful that Nature Boy and I will find a new spiritual community. The body of Christ is by definition much bigger than one person and one decision. And the more we seek, the more we explore, the more we hold hands with smiling strangers, the more I feel the wide circle of arms drawing closer, and I know we will be ok.

Prayer #291: Holding Bread

As bakers yawn and stumble gather in the pre-dawn hours to tie their aprons and stoke their ovens, so we rub our groggy eyes and squint to see You in the filmy light. And though we cannot not always see clearly, we continue to bake bread and break bread in Your name.

Help us offer this sustenance in abundance and never with condition. When we profess our need for you, knead us in return -- a gentle heel, a firm pat, an attentive push to rise higher than we've risen before, filled with breath and room and life to spare.


Tuesday, August 04, 2015

What to pray for when you don't know what to do next

What comes next? Photo by Niklas Friedwall, Flickr

Where do you turn when you don't know what to write your next blog post on? To a classic Ignatian prayer about discernment, of course.


Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
-- St. Ignatius of Loyola

I had never heard of this prayer before coming across it on Facebook one day, and I immediately filed it away in my "Blog Post Inspiration" folder (for yes, I do have such a folder) for future noodling.

At first reading, I interpreted it as a prayer of thanksgiving -- a saint-backed example of what you pray for when life is good. But then I did a little research about it, and I learned that it's part of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, a four-stage process designed to deepen people's experience of God in their daily lives.

In particular, the Suscipe -- which translates from Latin as "take," the opening word -- prepares the pray-er for discernment. What's discernment? Check out this article's explanation:

"The Catholic spiritual tradition calls decision making “discernment.” The word implies not coming up with a new idea completely out of our own creativity, but clarifying things so that we can see and understand something that’s already in place: what God wants us to do."

I like this explanation because it maintains how each of us has free will to choose our path, and that there is no preordained plan about what that path will be. Rather, putting ourselves in the mindset of the Suscipe achieves two seemingly contradictory goals: It liberates us from our own preconcieved options while it also deepens our responsibility to mull over any routes that maybe we ignored, feared, and didn't even recognize before.

So, while I doubt the Higher Being is overly concerned right now with the contents of my blog post, I do like to think I've taken one baby step toward venturing farther into the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises so that when the time comes for discernment beyond the scope of a blog topic, I'll be ready.

Prayer #290: Suscipe, Inverted

You took, Lord, and recieved all my demands,
my complaints, my discomfort with mystery,
my entire willful spirit,
all I grip and refuse to release.

I forget you've given all to me.
To you, Lord, I owe credit.

Everything should be yours; I'll do with that what I will.
But give me (please) your love and grace anyway,
So I learn it is enough.


Monday, July 27, 2015

An open letter to couples in the first year of their serious relationship

"Are you ready for the spin cycle, Larry?" "Nope. Are you?"
Photo by Fabrizio Lonzini, Flickr

Dear committed couples who have been together one year or less,

Congratulations! After much searching and wondering and wringing of hands, you have found someone whom you are 99.9% certain you want to spend the rest of your life with. I applaud you for this achievement; it is 50% attributable to your hope, optimism, and smashing good looks, and 50% to fortunate timing.

I can see Year One of your relationship unfolding thus: first a period of intense infatuation where everything you discover about this person is miraculous and enriching; then a period of necessary acclimation where you accommodate your daily rhythms to fit this new addition; and lastly, a period of escalated social activity where you rush to not only introduce your person to everyone you love, but also to meet all of the people your person loves.

It is this third stage I would like to warn you about today.

Perhaps "warn" is too strong a word for a time so precious and fleeting. Precious because you are watching people you'd give your life for all get to know one another and become friends in their own right. Fleeting because amid the scheduling and driving and cross-country flying, you -- the one more wrapped up in making it happen rather than the actual happening -- forget to pause and absorb what you hath so finely wrought.

Perhaps a better word would be "caution." Or "advise." Yes, let's go with advise, seeing as this entire letter is unsolicited anyway. I advise you, dear couples, as you traverse the period I like to refer to as Getting Everyone to Know Everyone as 'Now' Becomes 'Forever,' to stay mindful of three sizable demands on your time:

1. You must grow together as a couple.

You had the first few months all to yourselves -- week after week of happy daydreams and pajama snuggles and a romantic cocoon of your own devising. Prioritizing your relationship was easy because it was exciting and new. Once real life reasserts itself, however, you must put extra effort into carving out that special, undisturbed time where just the two of you can explore what you're creating together. Consider this time together sacred, because so are you to each other -- "dedicated, set apart, [and] exclusively appropriated" (in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary).
2. You must maintain your individual relationships as you also build new ones.

Friendship is a gift, one that nurtures and sustains you in different ways than a romantic relationship. Your friends were there with you when you were single, and they (hopefully) will continue to be with you as you add a partner to your life. But just as your romance requires investment, so do your friendships, be they old or new. Know it will not always go smoothly. You will run up against others' expectations or desires, and more often than not their reactions will be out of your control. What you can control, however, is your response. Continue to listen, acknowledge, and ask your friends to do the same for you. I promise, the new normal will emerge.
3. You must protect and foster what makes you, you.

No one can complete you. Not your partner. Not your family. Not your friends. They support and encourage and love your soul, but they do not embody it. It is up to you and you alone to tend that essential part of your being. Engage your interests, pursue your goals, deepen your connection to the world around you. Remember to be quiet occasionally, and sit by yourself. Such moments will keep you in touch with what makes your friends cherish you, what makes your lover want you, and what makes you feel exactly like you.

By now you're probably sweating and searching for Xanax beer chocolate. I don't blame you -- each of these demands requires diligent care and feeding, and there are only 24 hours in a day, much of which you must devote to sleep, food, and basic hygiene. So here is my final piece of unsolicited advice:

4. Go easy on yourself.

You are doing the best you humanly can. With that effort at the forefront, you will end up in the right place, even if there are some bumps and tears along the route. And no matter what else happens, remember that you're bound to learn much, much more about your partner, your friends, and yourself.
Godspeed, new(ish) couples. I look forward to seeing you on the flip side. But not too soon.

With love and admiration,


Prayer #289: Falling for You

God of hand-holding and hand-wringing,

Hold me in Yours as I figure out how to be present to myself as well as to those I love. Let me peek through Your fingers and spot when my people are striving to give to me as I am striving to give to them. Caress me when I am anxious; block me when I am injurious. And if You must let me go, let it be so I may continue falling in love -- with him, with her, with them -- all intoxicating reflections of You.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tell us in your own words

There’s a delightful moment in the musical “Guys and Dolls” when self-righteous missionary General Cartwright declaims in operatic tones to gangster Nicely Nicely Johnson, “Tell us in your own words.”

She's referring to the personal story of salvation he's purporting to have. And "tell us" is exactly what Nicely proceeds to do, not just with words, but with rhyme, rhythm, melody, harmony, and a full choreographed dance routine alongside a bunch of sin-riddled gamblers.

Could the character have stated his story simply, a la group therapy? Sure. But this being a Broadway musical, he was beholden by the laws of his theatrical universe to make it big. Different. Memorable. So memorable, in fact, that twenty years after I first listened to the "Guys and Dolls" cast recording in my parents’ car, I can still recite “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” by heart.

Yesterday I channeled a bit of General Cartwright when a poet friend shared how unhappy she was with her verse of late. “I want to be like Robert Frost,” she told me. “He has these perfect images, and he just drops this wisdom in … but everything I write comes out coy or arch.”

“Is that your voice, though? What if instead of fighting it, you embraced it?”

She considered that for half a second. “But I don’t like it. I want to be like Frost.”

I tried again. “But why be a second Frost when you can be a first you? I want to hear your voice. What do you have to say?”

She, however, had none of it. Which means -- to my great sorrow -- that I will have none of her for the foreseeable future. None of her wit, none of her creativity, none of her unique, specific, compelling worldview.

Talk about wasting one's most valuable asset. What do I have if not my own voice? Who else has my exact senses and sensibilities? Who else has my mix of experiences, my list of desires, my raft of dreams? No one. Only me. And for you, only you.

The man who gave us the classic lines "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- / I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference" would never in a million years want a writer to follow his well-trod path. Let's plot our own instead and explore a wilderness not yet charted.

Prayer #288: My Own Course

Rock your own boat. Plow your own field. Tilt at your own windwills, the ones that in steady thrums claim you cannot defeat them, that you are doomed to stand before them forever, disarmed.

God of voice and character, speak through the conflicted cacophony in my own mind. Endow what I have to say with confidence. Help me leave my windwills far in my past, twirling listlessly against an empty sky, while I carry my message farther than I thought possible.


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

On the Charleston shootings

Three weeks have passed since Dylann Storm Roof killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, and I cannot stop placing myself in the middle of that Bible study.

Bible studies provide time and space for contemplation. They offer guided meditation, academic exercise, and community bonding, all in one construct. To think that a man, a stranger, sat in the participants' midst for an entire sixty minutes before opening fire boggles my mind. Did the environment of devotion and love move him at all? Did Mother Emanuel's community sway him, even for a second, to reconsider his actions? Did an opportunity for grace present itself to him? Or was he so rotten, so sodden with hate, rage, and pain, that not the smallest chink of light got through?

I will never know, of course, because I am not Dylann Storm Roof. I was not sitting in the church that day listening the words they were poring over. I do not know how hard God was beating against his rib cage, trying to push aside the pitch-dark fury, struggling to reach Roof's core humanity.

But what I can do instead is turn the questions on myself. Whenever the world pours forth such tragedies -- when we can longer turn a blind eye to the worst elements of our shared humanity -- I force myself to ask, "What hate am I carrying? What prejudice? What fear?"

In essence, how am I failing to love?

"Love will always win." Photo by Matt Drobnik, Flickr

Because the one rule above all is love your neighbor as yourself. And it's the #1 rule because it is the most difficult. It both draws on our natural goodness (for yes, I believe people are fundamentally good) and assaults our learned behaviors. So we end up in a constant war within ourselves, nature vs. nurture, joy vs. fear, whisper vs. shout.

Why are we not love to and for each other?

Love your neighbor, even when he is wrong.

Love your neighbor, even when she scares you.

Love your neighbor, even when you hate them.

But guns are easier. More expedient to use. More expedient to blame. When what we must really do is live out love, even if we don't yet feel it.

Prayer #287: No Words

I have no words left
none to ease the pain
none to soothe the grief
none to stop the violence
except for the hardest ones of all:
I love you
I love You
I love.