in the morning, immutable

***

the face peeks

just out from the shadow of

stiff brisk brick.

nineteen degrees.

the head – its squinting eyes, its

blistered lips, cracked from wind and

overuse, its gray jelly belly -

warmed by hints of day.

the rest, though, the

body, stands motionless in the shade.

blood still moves, but flows

floe cold. toes frigid,

rigid in iceberg shoes.

hands in empty pockets, holding

nothing, warming nothing but

themselves.

***

praying bernhard reimann was wrong

 

we’ll see how this goes. whimsy often betrays.

 

***

last night i was certain

that i wanted

some scorching black drink brewed

fresh and only for me

 

and when it was done and

all the grounds were coursed through and

all the oils and sacred secrets had been

sucked out i

poured it into a cup and

set it somewhere new, different,

seemingly benign

 

heat scores and

time wears and apparently

together they conspire to draw

rings in unsuspecting innocent wood

 

at last when

undeft fingers clumsily looped into

ceramic rings to

rescue planks of ancient trees it was

too late

 

and already carelessness had

spent its fortune on

making some mark that

no one but me would

ever see

 

i hoped, more

dearly than i hope that

euclid was right, and that five hundred

billion years hence no one

still

will have heard my name

 

***

it’s been a while. challenges are welcome. please, shout to the heavens the horrors of this poem. it will, in all honesty, be appreciated.

Reunions

***

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.  - Psalm 36 : 5

***

Not long ago i had the joy of attending a reunion of some of my friends from high school. Initially i had quite mixed feelings about the event. There were, of course, a few friends who i was very excited to see, knowing that our friendship from school remained (mostly) intact and untainted. Overwhelmingly though i felt a tremendous sense of dread about encountering many of the attendees; i had not left a good impression on many people while in school, and i could only begin to guess at how much this would still be a factor.

The evening was quite pleasant at first, comprised primarily of the standard exchange of updates. Conversation centered around jobs, children, living locations, and other sundry pieces of data about each person’s current situation. It wasn’t long, however, before talk naturally shifted to more nostalgic ground, and tales from our time together 15 years prior began to surface. This, of course, was the part of the evening i had been dreading all along.

i will spare you the details, because some of the stories i heard about myself are truly too embarrassing to pen, but suffice it to say that even i was shocked at the level of callousness, selfishness, and utter depravity that the character Rich Wilson exhibited in some of these stories. With no exaggeration, i can honestly say that i was such a pompous and disgusting ass in high school that i had forgotten some stories that most people would remember with cringing horror. In essence, i had done so many awful things to people that my memory could not contain them all.

Reflecting on this later in the evening, i found myself shaken to no small degree as a result of these encounters. This event revealed two things about my heart, things which i knew to be true but clearly needed to be reminded of. First, it still matters to me a great deal what people think of me, so much that i believe it is somewhat idolatrous. While it is true that i should be concerned with how i come across to other people, i should only have this concern in the context of my identity in Christ. My primary concern should be reflecting Christ’s love to the world, and not what opinion people may have of me. If anything, my self-image issues frequently get in the way of this reflection, and often i find myself less bold about the gospel than i ought to be for fear of seeming crazy or silly. Secondly, i have a tendency to dwell on the mistakes of my past, so much so that sometimes this becomes my identity. My mistakes and inadequacies also have relevance only in the context of the gospel: they display, if i allow them to, how deep is the Father’s love and how powerful is His redemptive might. If He can love even me, He can surely love anyone.

Somewhere between the abject blind selfishness i showed in high school and the co-dependency i exhibit in current relationships lies the proper place for my heart. This place creates a man who is aware of his failures and yet not afraid to show them because in them Christ’s ultimate grace is displayed. This place creates a man who is concerned with how others see Christ, not himself. In this place, my image is of no consequence; in this place, i am not afraid in the least of looking like a fool so long as it is done for the sake of loving God and loving others well.

Outside of this place, there is only worry, guilt, shame, and dark, weary stories from the past. i do not want to forget these stories entirely, because they remind me of who i was, and they remind me of who i would be without Christ. At the same time, i need not fear these stories nor run from them any longer. i may concern myself with how others feel about them for the sake of healing and amends, but i myself can be free to feel nothing about them. That man, praise God, has been and is being put to death each day.

Ultimately, the only opinion of me that matters is God’s. It would be great if these people learned to love me, but if they do not, God has chosen to, and that is not only enough, it is everything. i would be lying if i said i understood it, and even to say such is humbling beyond words, but for purposes of His own He has chosen to see in me His child. i pray that i will learn to see myself in the same light.

***

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.  - Lamentations 3 : 22

What i learned while i was away

***

Wondering if i still have the knack for this. Or the stomach. I was so driven, so committed, so wonderfully enthralled such a short time ago, but so much has changed since then. Other things have just seemed to loom larger. i am a little embarrassed at this point that i made such a big deal out of the importance of writing in my life, although i am not sure if this is because i was right or not about that importance. Either way, makes me look kind of foolish. Either it is not important, and i allowed it to take over, in which case i am obsessive and fickle, or it is important and i haven’t done it in months, in which case i am simply lazy and sluggish. Either way there is a weakness involved; i am like a building in constant danger of collapse. This isn’t the result of wear or age as in the case of some buildings, though there has been plenty of use, but rather the result of neglect. i have forgotten to install certain mandatory frameworks that contribute to structural integrity. i have skipped over essential elements of the building code to save time and effort. (Something like that. My sense of metaphor atrophies.)

Recent events have actually highlighted this in my life somewhat strongly, and through the process i have actually learned a little bit about weakness. Some time ago i learned that self-deprecation and arrogance were not opposites as they may be defined, but were in principle two sides of the same egoist coin. They were, at root, exactly the same sin: the sin of overt self-focus. Whether that focus manifests itself as depression or haughtiness depends largely on whether or not the person has had good fortune. The sin itself remains the same.

Frailty, i have learned, is much the same. It may seem to be the opposite of over-reliance on one’s own strength, but in reality the lie at its heart is identical. Those who rely merely on their own strength are clearly not in recognition that it is the Lord who gives them strength. They are obviously not acknowledging that there will be times when human strength is insufficient, and that all strength ultimately comes from the Lord. It is no different for those who, by believing they are weak and frail, commit to idleness or inaction. They too believe the same lie: that the Lord does not provide all strength.

There have been many changes in my life in the past few months, some of which i may delve into at some point, but all of which have been both a difficulty and a blessing. These have tested my resolve lately, and i have been found wanting. i have fallen into the trap, the old familiar trap, of believing that i am incapable; that i am not adequate to the task, whatever the task may be. Most often, that task was loving my wife well. It is easy when i am tired and stressed to believe that i do not have the strength to have patience with her or to be kind. And this may be true. But this is not an end result, merely a jumping-off point. There is actually value in recognizing my weakness, so long as it leads me to the cross, where i may be replenished. If instead, as it has lately, it leads me to self-pity or to the hollow comforts of ineptitude, then all value in it is lost.

Looking back on this post, i realize that what is missing is the anecdotal element of a good blog, and that there are no specifics herein. i also can recognize that the form is a bit sloppy and undefined. Don’t worry, i’ll get there. It will just take a little time to get my chops back. But this, too, is part of strength: committing to be just a bit better next time.

***

fifty-one

bth_iphone-Scary-Shadow

***

i am not he

any longer

 

and yet my shadow is

as angular, black as

his was, my voice as

scratched and rasped as

his was, my words

carelessly swung

swords as were

his words, my deeds

like plowing barren fields, like

breaking rocks into

dust, sad and pointless and

empty:

 

so too were

his filthy sick

 

hands.

 

his folly is my

sadness, his failing becomes my

habit, his silliness my frivolity; his

each new birth means

my death

 

and he is born

anew

 

daily.

 

(but so too

am i;

 

his is merely of

air,

dust,

 

wind;

 

mine of

water, of

fire, of

 

spirit, unnameable un-

tameable, un-

quenchable.)

 

 

(amen)

***

Honey from the Rock

tumblr_m7jid7nJYP1qzhokmo1_500

There’s no falling back asleep once you’ve wakened from the dream  - from “February Seven” by The Avett Brothers

***

Is it possible a scent can actually hurt? That the right particulate olfactory matter can actually translate through some registering synapse into legitimate pain?

I didn’t go there with any purpose other than to kill time. Get out of the house for a while. Stretch my legs. Live up to some other clichéd phrase about wanderlust or boredom or some such sensation. I certainly, at least on the conscious level, didn’t go there to catch fire or to have life breathed into my stagnant malfunctioning lungs. I hadn’t been there in months, in fact. Used to go every day it seems. Did some of my greatest work there, though greatest is at best a relative term and at worst a complete misnomer. My portfolio, to date, hardly includes anything that merits the creation of a ranking system.

But the smell. It burned like icicles on bare hands. I’ve been to coffee houses many times since, and I drink coffee every day, so it couldn’t possibly have been just the coffee. Instead it must have been some amalgamation of that scent mingled with the aromas of unread novels and newsprint that did the killing; or rather, undid it. I found myself almost unwittingly back in the bookstore which during my fervent writing days I often haunted. Now instead it was I who was the haunted: potent, almost feverish, memories of those days when I felt right with my purpose and place in the universe now plagued me as I wandered from shelf to shelf. I felt like an amnesiac almost; there was a lingering and perfect sense that something significant had happened here, but I couldn’t grasp it, couldn’t lay hands to it and hold it tangibly, lift it to the light and inspect it. Instead I could only walk from floor to floor in the store, wondering, fearing. I was covert, on the sly, sneaking almost, either hiding from something or desperately searching for it. Rows of books that I had never read assailed me like the faces of people I thought I should recognize, yet I was adrift in a crowd of strangers.

I settled on a book, almost at random (although I have my doubts that anything is truly as arbitrary as it may seem) that was a compilation of essays by various successful writers about there motivations for pursuing the craft.

Not one of them said they did it for the money.

I would love to claim that I didn’t know the reason I stopped writing, but that would be a lie. I know exactly why and when it happened. Truthfully, I didn’t actually stop writing altogether, I merely stopped doing it for myself and began doing it for someone else instead. There was an immense and seductive thrill in this: someone actually wanted to give me money in return for borrowing my skills. Isn’t this, after all, what we all dream about? What we all think we need? Finding someone who is willing to pay us for doing what is our passion?

I have awakened from a dream that was not mine, as if while I slept my mind was transported into someone else’s body. In truth, money is a beautiful and alluring mistress, and an absolute, horrid lie. I probably run the risk of alienating my employers by even saying all of this, but nevertheless I felt snapped out of a coma in that store. I have left something essential, fundamental to who I am behind to pursue something that is not only unsatisfying, but ultimately unreal. I haven’t felt so sad and wonderful at the same time in a while. It is the blessed delicious hurt of tonguing a sore tooth or pressing on a knotted muscle. I feel bruised and bloody, like a survivor of a building collapse or a car accident, and I have the same sense of contrite gratitude at still being alive, the same sense of having narrowly escaped a crushing and tragic fate.

Who can say why the Lord gives us what He does? The obvious answer, of course, is that we need whatever He supplies, but sometimes it seems He gives us those things not so that we may be satisfied by them, but so that we may truly know that they do not satisfy. It is hard to say, but it seems this might have been the case for me as far as my recent “jobs” are concerned. I will undoubtedly continue the “professional” gig for a time, at least to fulfill my contract, but I am beginning to be possessed of the notion that said path is not for me. After all, money comes and goes, but the impressions we make upon our brothers may echo many lifetimes into the future. This is what writing should be about. Forgetting that was like forgetting my own name.

And I already hear the clamor: Rich, you have said this before. In fact, I can recall several posts, (this one and that, among others) in which you stated nearly the same thing. What can I say? My heart is fickle, and a liar. No doubt in a few months I will need to learn this lesson again. In the meantime, while this correction is fresh (and since this prose is awful and meandering and utterly indicative of someone who is out of practice), I will stop boring you with all of this and get on with some real writing.

May the results matter not nearly so much as the reason for the act.

***

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

“But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.

So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.

Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!

and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

Psalm 81 : 10 – 13, 16b

Housekeeping

 

 

images

***

i don’t think of myself as a perfectionist. i’m too off-the-cuff to worry about perfection. i do tend to think of myself as an idealist, though, and i feel that this has played itself out in an interesting way on this site. For the most part, i have no desire to ever write anything that isn’t in some way artistic. i want each post to be revelatory, insightful, incisive if necessary, droll where appropriate, poignant where pertinent. Thus i have largely steered away from writing about the day-to-day occurrences of my life, and though i certainly don’t mean to impugn the work of those who do specialize in this particular diarial brand of writing, it has never been a strength of mine. My tendency instead is to think that, frankly, no one gives a d__m about the particulars of my everyday life. i do not live a tremendously exciting or interesting life, especially lately. Don’t misinterpret this for a gripe: i am thrilled that most of the artificial excitement of the life in motion is behind me, and grateful that God has seen fit to enable me to lose the gravity with which i once held certain more adventuresome habits in orbit. Most of my life is fairly repetitious at this point, fairly mundane, fairly ordinary, and i am quite happy about it. i do not travel to unique places, i do not often meet new people, i do not seek out new music, i do not seek out new life and new civilizations. All of this is absolutely alright with me.

This lifestyle, however, has not been a kind muse of late. Not only has inspiration been somewhat nonexistent, but time for writing for pleasure has as well. So in reaction to this, partially as an exercise in disrupting this natural bent, i do want to talk about one of the latest developments in my life, because it might be an experience from which other writers could benefit.

Somehow, through a rather diligent search and no small measure of God’s generosity, i have managed to land my first professional writing contract. i do not tell you this because i want pats on the back, because believe me, the writing is hardly commendable, i am sure. i do say it so that anyone who reads this would know two things.Ffirst, if you are a person who has enjoyed this blog (and i hope you are not reading it if this isn’t the case) then know that it is not abandoned. i have every intention of keeping it alive, albeit this may be via life support for the time being. Although it is an exciting and challenging opportunity for me, my moonlighting is demanding a fair percentage of my time, so i am rather focused on it right now. i shan’t be for long distracted. It is nice for my writing to be functional, utilitarian for once, for someone to be able to use it in a marketplace transaction. But it is not where my heart is, ultimately: my heart is here, peeling off layers of sin and falsehood from my ragged soul, exposing the lies and guilt i have carried in my innards, and testifying to God’s grace through (possibly insert: “attempts at”) more artistic varieties of writing. i am hopeful that this will be a reality again soon, and already feel an unspeakable draw back toward this site. It it the way i feel upon seeing the face of someone who i think i know from years past, but can’t be sure; the way i feel when a piece of music plays that i had once played, but now do not know the stops.

The second reason i bother to tell this story is as a simple encouragement. Most of my readers are also writers, and many of you perhaps long for the day when something like this will fall into your lap. i only want to testify that it can. i do not promise, of course, that it will, but if it something that you are seeking feel free to ask any questions and i can tell you how i went about it. Again, i do not want to romanticize this. It is hardly winning a Pulitzer; it is hardly even good writing, at this point, i am sure, but it is a step toward those things; it is a step toward writing becoming more than a hobby for me. i am struggling a bit with word choice and tone here (clear evidence that my writing is, as i say, not really very skillfully done), but the larger point is, there are opportunities out there. Certainly not all of us will be able to follow our dreams professionally, and as i say, this is hardly “following my dreams” at this point. But one of the main reasons that people, and especially writers and artists, do not succeed is because they just don’t try. So more than anything, if you desire it, seek it. You may or may not find it, but at least you will not regret having made decisions out of cowardice and fear. These have been the impetus for many of my choices in life, and as most of you know, many of the choices i have made in my life have been rather poor. Thank God He has seen fit to redeem those decisions and lavish even more grace upon me.

***