Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bethany Patchin, Wise Soul

I sincerely hope Bethany Patchin starts writing books ala Anne Lamott, because I would devour them whole.

"I'm to the point now where I know that I belong anywhere, and that there is shit everywhere, and I can take or leave what I need to. The Catholics and Episcopalians won't mind me falling on grace..."

The ice is thin enough for walkin'
The rope is worn enough to climb
My throat is dry enough for talkin'
The world is crumblin' but I know why
The world is crumblin' but I know why

The storm is wild enough for sailing

The bridge is weak enough to cross
This body frail enough for fighting
I'm home enough to know I'm lost
Home enough to know I'm lost

It's just enough to be strong

In the broken places, in the broken places
It's just enough to be strong
Should the world rely on faith tonight

The land unfit enough for planting

Barren enough to conceive
Poor enough to gain the treasure
Enough a cynic to believe
Enough a cynic to believe

Confused enough to know direction

The sun eclipsed enough to shine
Be still enough to finally tremble
And see enough to know I'm blind
And see enough to know I'm blind

Should the world rely on faith tonight

Monday, September 17, 2012

As far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone

"The pattern of this world is chock full of people taking controversial stands on issues. Our world loves taking stands on issues. The worldly approach is to shout your point of view whenever possible and use any means necessary to make sure your team wins. And when Christians follow the same pattern, it doesn’t matter if the stand is different; we’re still following the same pattern.

What isn’t the pattern of the world is a position of humility. Of love. Of stopping to listen to the person you disagree with. Of compassion for your enemy."

Justin Lee, Worldliness in the Other Direction is Still Worldliness

The Peaceful Faith

“Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one’s faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one’s faith is unshakable.”

~Hillary Clinton
Violence is not just in our actions, but in our words. Let's speak the language of peace as we state, fight for, debate, and discuss what we believe.

My First Crush

I remember my first crush.

I was in the sixth grade, scanning the shelves at the county library wondering where I could find poetry.

I had never written poetry. I had once written in my fourth grade class that I would never be a poet. "I prefer stories," I said to my teacher who encouraged creative writing. I had a strange, vivid, but fragmented imagination. I wrote short, bizarrely humorous stories about my family (my sister as an alien, mailing my sister to Cuba, various interactions with my father who was easily made into a caricature in my youthful illustrations). I also enjoyed our daily oral language exercises which included making simple plain statements into eloquently described scenes. "Charles sat in the chair," became

" Charles slowly reclined into his overstuffed red leather chair as his beloved servant Aaron served him tea and stoked the fire."

But I found within me an urge to write poetry. I didn't understand it. I thought it was an inferior art form to story-crafting. But the truth was, while my fragmented imagination could create powerful or humorous scenarios, I couldn't write the novels I devoured so eagerly.

And there was that pesky urge.

I hated asking people for help, but I was at a loss. I couldn't wrap my mind around the Dewey Decimal System. I had no idea where to start.

There was a slim, middle-aged man with long salt and pepper hair and trendy eyeglasses sitting at the reference desk. I managed to squeak out,

"I want to read poetry."

He looked up from his computer and smiled brightly.

"Do you know what kind?"


"Well, what do you like?"

I thought for a moment.

"Trees. I like the woods."

He smiled knowingly (I had no idea what it was he knew) and led me to the stacks. He pulled off books, one by one, and handed them to me.

"Her name's Mary Oliver. She writes about nature."

I smiled shyly and held the load of books in my small arms awkwardly.

I read Mary Oliver and fell in love. Lines like, "All the darkness ever wanted was to become light," or "If the world was only pain and logic, who would want it?" spoke to me deeply, though I didn't understand why.

I became older, and went to her poetry occasionally, but not the way I did when I was a preteen. I didn't see the salt and pepper haired man at the library anymore. I think I asked about him once and was told that he went to another branch. I found many of the library reference workers fascinating, but especially him. Perhaps because he didn't brush a child off as merely a child. He treated me with respect and it changed my life.

When I struggled with my faith, Oliver's line from "Singapore" (the pain and logic line) kept me from Atheism.

This Christmas my fiance's family purchased Oliver's Thirst as a present. Oliver has been compared to Thoreau in her love of nature and the fulfilled life. In 2005, her partner of several decades, Molly Malone Cook, passed away. Her death devastated Oliver, who went on a spiritual pilgrimage that influence Thirst. It's filled with Christian imagery, theology, and truth. I suppose some would question whether a lesbian could communicate any truth about God, but I have yet to renounce many of my struggles but I hope God continues to work through me.

A recent poem of Oliver's (I don't believe it's included in Thirst, but is in some other work), spoke to me so much in a Barnes and Noble cafe that I had to buy a journal so I could have a paper to write it on. It explain my life as this moment. My desire to love more, to leave the past behind in a dramatic way, to look for an easier world.


Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman's boot
With a white belly.

If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
Under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharp nails.

And you know
What a smile means
don't you?

I wanted
The past to go away, I wanted
To leave it like another country; I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of a song where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;
I wanted
to hurry into the work of my life; I
wanted to know, whoever I was, I was
for a little while.

It was evening, and no longer summer
Three small fish, I don't know what they were,
huddled in the highest ripples
as it came swimming in again, effortless,
the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish

Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
don't we?


the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water

You don't want to hear the story of my life, and anyway
I don't want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.

And anyway, it's the same old story--
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
to survive.

Mostly, I wanted to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
this world.

And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that it
bulging toward them.

And probably,
if they don't waste time
looking for an easier world,

they can do it.

Eight years later, a simple gesture from one man is still affecting me. And so is Mary Oliver.

My Little Patch of Eden in the Asphalt Lands: Part Two

My little patch of Eden
In the Asphalt Lands

You stand there
A testament against cynics,
And the unbelievers

With your branches outstretched
With blossoms
Of which this world is not worthy

They are dazzling
In their dew

Under the morning light
Pink and delicate

But you have been ever faithful
To produce your fruit
In the midst of upheaval

How I wish to be like you

My little patch of Eden
In the Asphalt Lands

My family has lived in the same ranch house since the 1960s. There are many trees here that have been here since that date, or before they moved in. I am writing a series of poems on the most significant trees, the trees I climbed, the trees I planted, the trees I sat in for refuge from a troubled childhood.

The crab apple tree is significant because her continued survival was so unlikely. Every year since I was born I heard how she was dying, how she needed to be cut down. There were years when half of her branches wouldn't blossom or have any leaves. When I was older and learned things about trees after working at the plant nursery, I went out and pruned her long, spindly, branches and mulched around her tired roots. The next spring she was still struggling, but there was noted improvement.

This year, I had forgotten about her. I didn't notice her until this morning. Every single branch is covered in those delicate pink blossoms. She is glistening in the morning light. She is alive, despite the naysayers.

This is the first well-crafted poem I've written in months. I was discouraged this past summer by a number of troubling events. I died a little inside. And I was also discouraged because I was living in Donne's shadow. How I admire his work. But I am the product of a post-modern generation, and my mind is not structured in rhymes and preset formulas. I am a stream of conciousness animal, and my poetry will have to reflect who I am, and literary snobs will simply have to deal with my "lesser art-form."

Wear Yours with a Difference

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the young Ophelia is tormented by grief and guilt over the death of her father. A misunderstanding results in her suicide. But in her final moments, Ophelia offers rue to those who hear her, admonishing them to “wear [it] with a difference.” In Shakespeare’s England, flowers were symbols for various emotions or characteristics. The virtue of grace would have done Hamlet well, instead of seeking vengeance.

I’m drawn to the character of Ophelia because she is tragic, like many things in this life. Her grief is unwarranted, her suicide devastating, because she is not responsible for any of the affairs unfolding around her, but the victim considers herself the perpetrator and cannot handle the responsibility of the guilt. She crumbles.

Life is not easy. If only some of us were to wear grace with a difference. Tragedy would still occur, no doubt. But the world does not need more condemnation; it needs forgiveness. Certainly we all do. A chance. A kind word. A safe place to stand when everything around us is falling apart, abusing us, subjecting us to exploitation and over-work. We are weary, victims, perpetrators, and human beings deeply in need of grace.

My life has not been easy, though perhaps it has been more simple than I realized. I have spent my days consumed with worry, bitterness, rage, and have viewed it all through a caustically critical heart. But touches of grace have changed me for the better. The world does not need more people like me. It needs people seeking love, seeking the good of others before their own, kinds words, encouragement, peace. I have fought for my way, for everyone to know that I’m right, for everyone to believe me.

At the end of the day, it is not important if you believe me, or even like me. Love is what is important. Love is important to me because I am a follower of Yeshua. I have failed in following His precepts. I have been caustic when I should have been gentle; hardhearted when I should have been tender; critical when I should have been accepting. I have been hurt deeply and have used that as an excuse to hurt others.

I do not wear grace with a difference. Ophelia, although fictional, is a tragic symbol for what happens in a world fueled by revenge and selfishness, not servanthood.

But I have experienced grace. I want to be different because of it.

South Carolina, A Love Letter

These are homeless men wandering in front of speeding motorcars. These are trees suffocating under the weight of kudzu vines. These are words thick like honey but deadly as venom. These are voices lazy as the summer heat that passes through the body. These are flat lands where water rushes into pools searching for a place to fall. These are piles of dry earth after torrential rain. These are Bible-thumpers with porn palaces every five miles on a crowded stretch of highway. These are laurel cherries pouring pollen on my windows. These are traffic jams for miles as all citizens inquire into who is receiving the ticket. These are overweight shirtless men, no accolades or titles, playing with their children in the garden hose, not the automatic sprinkler. These are honeysuckle vines devouring my metal fence. These are dandelions, magnolias, wisteria, and roses seeking whom they may devour, not manicured gardens obediently bowing to their superiors. These are buildings with chipped paint and homemade signs where they sell turkey wings two days a week. These are angry insects who protect the sanctity of their homes with fiery mouths. These are snow-less days, unchristened earth begging for a cover of white tears to cleanse the stains.

This is where the wind is a surprise guest, not a reckless tenant;
Where life is obtrusive,
not tame.

Imperfect, contradictory, beautiful.

And I am just like you.

Perhaps it is why I'm falling in love,
despite all my efforts to the contrary.
I see my face in your many turbulent rivers
And know my soul has been suspended here until I could retrieve it
On a quest to find courage, not trepidation, and suffocate the past under a torrent of hungry vines.

Advent (written in 2009)

I’ve been wanting to feel something concerning this Advent. I chant. I kneel. I pray in expectation. I even looked intensely at my Christmas tree and saw streams of blood in a golden twinkling universe, but no baby.

I peruse liberal blogs to learn about extreme opinions. Something rattled me to the point where I actually thought writing something in response on the internet was a worthwhile endeavor. Certain couples don’t believe in the use of birth control out of religious conviction. However weird that may seem to Christians and non-Christians alike, they have several thousand years of church history to show for support. A couple has recently been in the news because they gave birth to their eighteenth child and there’s a TLC special about it. My thoughts regarding reality programming aside, it was my belief they had the right to do as they pleased.

The amount of venom I saw spewed at this family was appalling. Because in the name of “caring for the earth” these people joked about forced sterilization, abortions, and murder. Some strongly advocated it. The words of Flannery O’Connor became startlingly clear: tenderness divorced from its source leads to the gas chambers. This family wastes resources supporting human life and their religious ethic, and therefore should be destroyed.

It didn’t come into full focus until I heard mention of children of leukemia on television. They have made no measurable impact on society. They “drain” resources, millions of dollars, to attempt cures that are probably impossible, or at very least ease their pain and suffering so they can enjoy longer days learning, laughing, and loving with their friends and family. They are just alive, but that is not enough for some in the name of responsibility. The logic that leads one to destroy a large family also leads one to destroy the weak.

I do not advocate destroying the earth because God’s going to give us a new one anyway. My family attempts to live an eco-friendly life, and I wish I could make greater sacrifices in that regard. The greatest drain on our resources is insisting on constant use of electricity, fossil fuels, and forest destruction for the sake of “progress.” It is not family. We traded family for material means, and now that the earth is being destroyed we blame families rather than materialism.

Underneath the family Christmas tree is a gift bag with a Byzantine icon of the nativity. The Child is framed in the classic golden halo that indicates divinity. He is born to a teenage mother out of wedlock in an impoverished setting. He has come to say all things are held together in Him, and without Him we can do nothing. He has come to take us into His hand, and no one may pluck us out. Life, breath, trees, lights, smiles, children, parents, the aged, all of have meaning.

The Child is under the tree, and I see Him now. The bloody universe pulses around Him, groaning for release and twinkling with His life. The icon is misleading in its cleanliness. Birth’s not tidy because love never is. Not this side of heaven. We cry for life in this vale of tears. In the heights of our hypocrisy we make these cries as we murder each other and the gifts He has given.

Kyrie Eleison
Christe Eleison
Kyrie Eleison

Eucharist in the Traschan

It was during Advent.

I saw it in a trashcan at a church that I clean with my husband, among candy wrappers, coffee stirrers, and dried poinsettia leaves.

The high-church Anglican in me recoiled at the sight.

My savior in the trash...the symbolism was too much.

I gathered the bag in my arms and took it home to dispose of it properly. I don't know your Christian tradition, or if you're even Christian, but during the Eucharist in the Anglican communion, whatever remains must be consumed or disposed of on the earth. It cannot be thrown on asphalt, down a drain, into the trash, or a garbage disposal, for somehow, mysteriously, Christ is present.

The garbage dump of Jerusalem was called Gehenna, and is used frequently in Scripture as a metaphor for Hell.

He descended to the dead...

As someone who straddles the line between Anglicanism and Catholicism, the sight was that much more gruesome to me. Christ is present, and those He bought with His sacrifice, instead of offering burial spices and wrapping Him in loving care, have discarded him as refuse. Just a symbol, I hear them say. Just a reminder. Just a memorial. But what does it mean to be just a symbol? My wedding ring is a symbol of my covenant with my husband. My husband is not contained within it, nor is our love, but I polish my ring, admire it lovingly, and remember the wonderful day he gave me my precious ruby.

But I do believe His presence is in the Eucharist.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

My Little Patch of Eden in the Asphalt Lands: Part One

You were such a contrast
To the inhabitants upon your land
Who sought gain, power, ease,
Life without the burden (or blessing) of family

You, in death, gave life
To a little child whose eyes beheld only regret

From your tired branches, your withering leaves, I gathered the only fruit of that season--
I gathered your infant in my trembling hands--
Planted her in the soil
And with wondering eyes and bated breath
Watched her climb
Higher into the sky.
She is a mother now
Her seeds gliding toward the ground in the wind
(little birds released, but not free—not yet. Some visions are yet to be seen)
Your remains in the soil about her roots,
Giving life to a new generation.
And I pray, seeing your roots decay into black earthiness as your daughter flourishes:
How I wish to be like you
My little patch of Eden in the Asphalt Lands.