Category Archives: Worship

What Some Call Coincidence

First, I read this article about Stephen Colbert and was awed by how deep the conversation was and how much I needed to hear it.

Then, I opened David Whyte’s River Flow collection and read this:

Yorkshire

I love the dead
and their quiet living
underground
and I love the rain on my face.

And in childhood,
I loved the wind
on the moors
that carried the rain
and that carried the ashes
of the dead
like a spring sowing
of memory,
stored through all
the winters past.

In the dark November
onset of the winter
in which I was born,
I was set down in the
folds of the land
as if I belonged there,
and in that first night
under the evening shadow
of the moors and most likely
with the wind in the west,
as it would be for most
of my growing life,

I was breathing in the tang
and troubles of that immense
and shadowing sky
as I was breathing the shadows
of my mother’s body,
learning who and what was close
and how I could belong.

What great and
abstract power
lent me to those
particularities
I cannot know
but body
and soul were made
for that belonging.

Yorkshire is as hard
as a spade-edge
but the underpinnings
of the people and the land
in which we lived,
flowed and turned like the
river I knew in my valley.
The blunt solidarity of my elders
floated like mountains
on the slow but fluid lava
of their history.

But on this solid yet floating
land I must have been
as Irish as my mother
and amid the straight certainties
of my father’s Yorkshire,
I felt beneath the damp moor’s
horizon the curved invisible
lines that drew everything
together, the underground stream
of experience that could not
be quarried or brought to the surface,
but only dowsed, felt, followed
or intuited from above.

Poetry then became the key, my way
underground into what was hidden
by the inept but daily coverings
of grown-up surface speech.
Something sacred in the land
was left unsaid in people’s moths
but was written into our inheritance
and that small volume of Thom Gunn’s
youthful poetry from
the library’s high tiptoe shelf
was the angel’s gift to me.
Opened and read in my
young boy’s hands,
it revealed the first code
I sought and needed to begin
speaking what I felt
had been forgotten.

Full stretch I reached again
along the spines and touched
another, other life, pulling
down into my hands
The Hawk in the Rain
Ted Hughes’ dark book full of northern omens
hovering above my
own child’s shadow on the ground,
my heart and mind
caught in those written claws
and whisked into the sky.
The first rush of poetry’s
extended arms a complete
abduction of my person.

That was the beginning,
The first line on the open page
of my new life, the rest
would be more difficult
but that was the soil in which
I would grow, and that was the
life into which I would grow,
blessed and badgered by the northern
sweeps of light and dark
and the old entanglements
to which I was born. Always
on the wuthering moors
the gifts and stories and poetry
of the unknown and unvisited dead
who brought their history
to the world in which I grew.

Orphaned by poetry
from my first home,
to find a greater home
out in the world,
I wandered from that land
and began to write
youthfully and insubstantially,
slowly making myself
real and seeable by writing
myself into an original world
which had borne and
grown me so generously.

Belonging to one old land
so much by birth,
I learn each day now
what it means to
be born into a new land
and new people. The open
moor of the American
mind, gusted and shaken
by imagined new worlds
and imagined new clouds
and the fears and griefs of
the peopled and unknowable distances
of a vast land, and still amidst
everything, an innocence
which survives hear untouched
amidst a difficult inheritance.

Let my history then
be a gate unfastened
to a new life
and not a barrier
to my becoming.
Let me find the ghosts
and histories and barely
imagined future
of this world,
and let me now have
the innocence to grow
just as well in shadow or light
by what is gifted
in this land
as the one to which I was born.

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Lenten Writing Challenge #6: Recipe for a Perfect Day

I didn’t write yesterday. With two services (still getting used to that) and an evening meeting, it was a conscious choice to let it go.

Today’s topic: What ingredients go into your perfect day?  How will you measure the components?  Assemble the presentation?  Check for doneness?  Write a recipe poem today.  Use words that aren’t found in a cookbook or use cookbook words in a mixed-up way.

I’m starting by changing one thing: even in the realm of hyperbole, I prefer to avoid expectations of perfection. So this is a recipe not for a perfect day, but for a good day.

sleep with angels
guarding and no worries.
awaken without alarm,
perhaps from a pleasant dream.
blue sky visible through the skylight
the first one awake,
but only for a moment.
the dogs always sense consciousness
and come to greet another day
with kisses.

finally arise,
moving quietly,
leaving love undisturbed
in quiet slumber.
move deliberately,
slowly,
find the rhythm of
this day.
walk the dogs–
wander them, really–
through sparkling drops
that fall from bushes
onto their backs,
tiny green filaments
growing between bricks,
the gray, blue, pink, gold
of this morning’s sky.

Slowly the soul
recalls and is recalled,
ready to ride
inside these bones
for another
holy
day.

Leaving a Trace of Whimsy

So, I’ve chosen to do something that is intentionally and completely just for me.  As I mentioned briefly before, I am enrolled in the Interplay Life Practice Program this spring.  It’s something that I think would surprise people who don’t know me well or who only see the public persona of “minister.”

Interplay touches some very important parts of my life and passion. I identified as a dancer before anything else I can remember.  I started dance classes when I was just about four years old and immediately fell in love with ballet.  Dance class was a place where I was allowed to be strong, beautiful, graceful, committed, disciplined, and it was all suffused with joy.  Flying through the air in a tour-jete or leaping in a grand jete was like flying under my own power.

There are two stories of my time as a dancer that illustrate the passionate love I had for what I loved to call “the dance.”  The first one happened [edit: I’l have to tell you the second one later, this got way longer than I meant it to be] when I was eight or nine and Up With People came through our small Iowa town.  My dad was a radio guy and his station was sponsoring the show, so I was allowed backstage during the day before the performances. I got to watch full rehearsals, but I also stumbled upon a ballet class being held for the performers.  It was in the gymnasium, and I’d snuck up to the balcony.  But when the class started the music and the instructor’s voice leading the students through plies, adagio, and then the leaps eventually drew me out of the shadows and the teacher noticed me, up in the balcony, dancing along.  He invited me down to participate in the class.  I began dancing along, doing whatever the class did. It only took a few minutes for me to let go of my shy self-consciousness and begin to dance for the joy of it.

At some point–I’d really lost track of time–the instructor suddenly yelled “Stop! Stop! Everybody just stop!”  I was surprised and a little scared.  Then he turned to me and asked me gently if I would continue dancing for the class.  My self-consciousness returned immediately and I shook my head “no” in panic.  He said, “Really, it’s okay. I’ll dance with you. There is something I want the class to see.”  And so we danced, this grown-up man and me, side by side.  Again, my shyness slid away and I danced with joy.  Eventually, the music ended and the instructor thanked me for the dance.  Then he turned to his students and said, “I wanted you to watch because I wanted you to see for yourselves what dance looks like when it is danced from the heart. This child has all the passion you lack.”

I remember being embarrassed then, because being used as an example for the purpose of reprimand was a bit scary for a child in a room full of adults.  But I remember being proud too.  And I remember knowing that he was right–it wasn’t that I was technically perfect or even that I danced better than anyone else in the room–after all, I was a child.  But I truly danced for the joy of it.  And during the hard times in my life, I danced the pain of it.  I may have been a geeky, unpopular kid, but I could dance!  My family may have been full of pain and conflict, but I could go to my room, put Rampal on my record player and dance. For years, dance was the center of my life and when I was dancing, I was unafraid.  When I was dancing, I was happy.

But when I was twelve, things changed.  My parents divorced. My body began to change and I was overwhelmed by experiences of its vulnerability to abuse, sexism, teasing…it wasn’t safe.  My mom and I moved to a new town where I was treated cruelly by the kids that had lived there their whole lives.  A relative began systematically abusing me emotionally and sexually.  The demands of my life and the fact that we lived in a very small town made dance classes impossible for a year.  When I could finally return to the studio and dance again, it wasn’t the same at all.  My body’s angles and balance had changed. I hadn’t practiced for over a year. Gender was being enforced in new ways and ballet seemed suddenly to be about who was prettiest.  It didn’t matter that I was strong or that I danced with my whole heart. When my left hip and knee turned in pathetically while doing a plie in the fourth position, I quit.  I simply walked away from the barre and never went back.  It was over. There was no more joy.

I was twelve then. I’m forty-four now.  For the thirty-two years in-between I almost never danced.  The one exception was in seminary, when I took my first Interplay classes and touched a tiny bit of that joy again and the miracle of my body’s knowing.  It was that class that made it clear to me that I needed to transition.  Listening to my body in that class, I heard its knowing of itself as a transgender man’s body.  I started hormones that June.  During that second adolescence I was just as shy and self-conscious as I was the first time.  I experienced too, the vulnerability of being transgender in this culture–not so long after I transitioned, Matthew Shepard was murdered and I felt in my body the danger of being a gender transgressor.  The only song in my head for months was Melissa Etheridge:

“Scarecrow”

Showers of your crimson blood
Seep into a nation calling up a flood
Of narrow minds who legislate
Thinly veiled intolerance
Bigotry and hate

But they tortured and burned you
They beat you and they tied you
They left you cold and breathing
For love they crucified you

I can’t forget hard as I try
This silhouette against the sky

Scarecrow crying
Waiting to die wondering why
Scarecrow trying
Angels will hold carry your soul away…

And so I did not dance. I learned other ways of touching joy, of knowing myself, of channeling the pain and passion of my life. I became a preacher.  I wrote poetry. I painted.  I took photographs. I began blogging.  But I did not dance.

And then, my last ministry ended abruptly and painfully.  I was blessed to be held together by my partner and the grace of the universe as new opportunities began to unfold.  I found myself heading back to the Bay Area–to Oakland, no less–where Interplay has its headquarters, the Interplayce.  And I remembered.  I remembered that Interplay was healing, powerful, and deep down fun.  And so I made a commitment to go back.  I sent a few emails so that I couldn’t back out and run away.  And a few weeks ago I did it. I went to a class, and then another.  I admitted that I was considering the Life Practice program and the idea was met with pure enthusiasm.

And so I am now a dancer again.  A dancer and singer and storyteller and PLAYer.  And my body had a pretty wonderful secret to tell me, “The joy wasn’t buried very far under the surface.  It’s right there. You can have it again.” And I do.  As weird as I know I must look–an overweight, forty-four year old guy spinning and swinging and playing–I have my joy back.  I don’t care how it looks. A part of me has come home.  Laugh if you want–I am.  Laughing and laughing at this absurd little dance that is my sweet, sweet life.

Oh, and our homework was to accept the gift of a green feather–meant to remind us to leave a trace of whimsy everywhere we go. Not a bad assignment.

Running Through My Mind:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that follow’st all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

Spiritual Practice: Four Word Poems

This from Maxine Hong Kingston:

Idea!: Four word poems!
An old Chinese tradition.
Easier, faster than haiku.
To carve on rocks.
To write on doorjambs.
To write on thresholds.
To tattoo on arms.
Anybody can write one.
Form takes no time.
“Father Sky, Mother Earth.”
“Raid Kills Bugs Dead” –Lew Welch
“Beyond mountains, more mountains.” –Lazy Old Man, my father
“Across rivers, more rivers.” –Old Idle Man, my father
Father gone Rabbit moon.
Giant anthuria Mother’s Day
Sun beams me love.
Redwood tree one seed.
Strawberry Creek be free.
All rivers be free.

The oldest prayer is a four-word poem:

     “May all beings be happy.”

Well, that’s sayable in four words in Chinese.
     “All beings be happy.”
     “All beings be peaceful.”
     “All beings be kind.”
     “All beings be free.”

Remembered while Dancing:

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that’s blazing inside your presence.
. . . all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what’s hidden.
Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not. (172)

~Rumi