Open Cages

Once I saved a dirty, derelict bird cage from a dumpster site, brought it home, and then I let it just sit around ever since. Right now it occupies a spot in my office; I’m just  not sure where to put it or what to do with it. It’s quite  rough and old, and, I noticed, really noticed the other day, some oddities about it. First off, it has no floor. The thing has no ability to hold any sort of living creature. It’s also a wee bit skewed on it’s wooden frame,and, even though it has a cute little perch inside, where the door should be, there is nothing. It  really is a forlorn little piece of work; charming in its carved wood and wire way, but quite useless.

I have something like that cage inside of me: a structure I have slowly grown up around my heart and nerves. It’s old,it’s creaky, it hurts, and makes me far less flexible than I would be without it; there’s nothing even asthetically pleasing about it. It’s so easy to crawl inside and swing nervously back and forth on the perch. So strangely comfortable and familiar. My feet know the feel of all the bumps and scratches and bent wires around me. I made all of it. It’s my default. My rut. My natural bent. Sometimes it’s my home. I don’t love it, but I still return to it again and again, like it has some weird control over me.

Control? How could it possibly hold any sway over me? Excuse me! It has no floor….! And,remember?no door…!And anyway,it’s old and not all that strong. Anybody could burst through those rusty and bendable wires.

So if it’s not control, then it must mean that I choose to stay in there because I….. want to? Otherwise, surely, I wouldn’t be giving it so much head space. Sometimes, I even let it take over my sleep and the fears of the day slip over the borderland into the convoluted, distorted world of the night where everything feels slow-motion and dread is stretched out like the sticky dividing of a wad of soft bubblegum. For some reason it feels intelligent to sit and worry. Is it an addiction? An obssession? This cage of fear that I hold inside of me, do I hold it or does it hold me?

I don’t know that,but this I do know. When I go to it for comfort, I don’t much sing in the shower anymore. I don’t live like a child anymore. I don’t live graciously and with a sense of humour either. I become waspish and grasping. I can point out so many injustices against myself that it’s truly astonishing what a pitiable creature I am-hello!I better stand up for my rights or I’ll be dead by nightfall! I live like a cave man on the edge of fight or flight. That slight word, “I”,  makes a broad appearance in my journal and speech. “I” seems extremely precious and fragile; probably on the verge of extinction. And poor “I” is miserable. When is the last time I’ve whistled, for goodness sake?!

So, why indeed don’t I spend more time laughing and trusting and dancing. Is it naivety to choose to be happy when it doesn’t even take a genius to realize that there might be at least a little something to this global warming thing, that people are being stabbed to death, probably right now, and that even more people’s actual lives are being sacrificed for the sake of power?

Why don’t I pick more bouquets and less brains? Why don’t I “laugh the laugh of faith,” like Amy Carmichael so beautifully put into words. Why don’t I believe God when He says “open thy mouth wide,and I will fill it,” – Psalms 81:10, KJV. Why don’t I just fly out of that doorless hole or down through that floorless bottom and sail out over the big fat world and see how pinched and wrinkled my own has become?

Because I’d rather hoard my own fistful of rancid crumbs in the corner, than sit at the gift of a wide banquet table with the saints. Why don’t I trust more? Because I become afraid and  think I can control life…..I’m realizing more and more just how much I let life and fear control me.

In “Perelandra”, C.S. Lewis’s second book in his Space Trilogy, he takes his main character to a planet that consists of water with many rippling floating islands. The little moving islands have trees that bear lovely fruits. Here, he discovers that if you try to hoard up more than you can eat for one day, the fruit inevitably goes bad. Also, there is one piece of land called the “Fixed Land” that Maledil (God) has told the King and the Lady of the island that they must not live on after dark. They may visit it at any time of the day but they must not be on it to stay. So far they have had no desire to break His wishes and they live freely and utterly happy in His will, roaming the lovely planet, riding the fish, and communing with Maledil. Eventually, the “devil’ arrives for the first time and starts to tempt the woman, using all kinds of mind games, trying to get her to defy Maledil’s command that no one should sleep for a night on the island. He tells her that wisdom can enter this world through her if she but has the courage to disobey. Ransom, the main character, who is listening in on the many twisted conversations, becomes very worried that sin will enter this beautiful, foreign planet just like it did back on his home planet, earth.

Spoiler alert!!!! Ultimately, the Evil One is defeated and the Lady does not defy the command of Maledil and with new comprehension she says these beautiful lines. ” The reason for not yet living on the Fixed Land is now so plain. How could I wish to live there except because it was Fixed? And why should I desire the Fixed except to make sure – to be able on one day to command where I should be next and what should happen to me? It was to reject the wave – to draw my hands out of Maledil’s… to put in our own power what times should roll toward us…as if you gathered fruits together to-day for tomorrow’s eating instead of taking what came. That would have been cold love and feeble trust. And how we ever have climbed back into love and trust again?”

What beautiful trust. Just the kind of trust I want to climb back into.

“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 am not afraid

when you walk at my side.

You’re 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;

My cup brims with blessing.

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 Bible

I want to tear down whatever it takes to be “back home in the house of God,” not that creepy little fearcage.

Living by the Law

Soaring chains of gold

In the “innocent” thickening air

Of suffocating thoughts thought

A million times before.

Like a noose around new life

Voice answers voice,

Haunting and beautiful,

Soaring ever higher;

A choir of voices,

Toward the hypnotizing eyes of saints

In their gilted heavy frames

Glaring on the masses as they dip and mumble,

Dip and mumble,

Genuflecting candles in their hands.

Taunting, laughing, winking lights.

So many souls at work with inappropriate waxy tools.

So many dead souls, turned to dust, but beautifully entombed

As if reverence keeps them on the edge of life.

Draped with our sins,

We rake ourselves over the cross

(When it’s already done!)

In desperate hope of someday being happy:

Not yanked around by our own, and other’s, steep demands.

Instead, we are trapped  by our stern god

Who demands his rites.

That ever thickening incense

Those black robes that never fit us right.

Climb the 374 steps of labored good intentions:

The self-scouring steps to what is surely more enlightenment?

But the vibrating, body-splitting of the bell tolls that

We are all undone.

Guilty guilty guilty

Failed failed failed

Have we have mistaken candles for the sun?

Have we worshiped death and forgotten the tomb?

Have we have flung ourselves into the doom?

Have we mistaken love for fear so soon?

I wrote the bones for this poem back in 2019 while I was visiting the “Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery” in Kyiv, Ukraine, but I wasn’t able to return to take the photos until 2021. The Lavra is a large complex with a cathedral, a 316 foot tall bell tower and an underground series of catacombs and cells for monks. The whole experience of being in such an old and storied place was extraordinary, but creepy. The awe and heaviness of it all created in me a feeling I still haven’t been able to shake.

As I have since carried around the uneasy feeling that the Lavra gave me, it has begun to sort itself out…at least sort of. When I wrote this poem, at the time I didn’t really know what it was that I was writing about, I just tried to capture the mood while hoping I would grow into its meaning someday.

Guilt…? Shame…? Trying to prove that I’m good enough. Sometimes I carry these feelings around without even noticing, until I become so heavy with the need to earn love that I fall down under it. This poem was a little about that struggle.                   

Bringing Life

Is it “being responsible” to bring a wee babe into a world where an adult in a suit and tie can snatch at countries like any old kindergarten bully hugging all the balls to himself; where evil men work with nonchalance to bring down innocence; where the vulnerable are being raped of their homes, their routines, their virginity; where children cry from hunger and fear or for the pain of leaving their papas at the border. Where men think they are doing the right thing while panting after the wrong thing and in doing so, have become manipulators and propagandists of their side of the story,of their insights, their dream, their ideal, their rights, their legacy.

Love gets so screwed up that it becomes near to impossible to unscrew it. Sin parades coolly on corner after corner, gaudy and laughing, and, when it’s not being blatant, it just as easily sneaks in as virtue’s shadow posing as ” for the ultimate good” or “for the rights of the people”,for “a better society”, or, for all the world,what I thought was humility and selflessness. Horror of horrors!-it’s even in me.

So tell me: can an infant babble back the darkness?

The news blinks out monstrous stories, and real life isn’t really better. It’s not just out there, happening to someone else, or ” over the big pond”, in some commune, or just to the politicians. Since Cain murdered his brother, it continues to be in our towns, in our beds, next door to us, in our families, on our own bloody hands. Things like bills and troubles seem to be boiling out somewhere in the distance but sweeping in mighty fast; loneliness, misunderstanding, disease.

And it all, always,-even if there is some Braveheart,or a prophet, holding back the flood for a few seconds on the timeline of the world’s events- ends in death. It’s enough to make one reel back, and fling up his hands in utter despair. What chance do we have against death?

Who has wisdom enough to say: is planting a seed in the path of destruction responsible or not?

The sun shining through stabs of new grass, and forsythia like laughing torches, sheep exalting in the sun, orchestras, cream-filled croissants, unexpected acts of kindness, cappuccinos, the glitter of exploring a new city after dark, funny wishes ( A datschund! A yellow raincoat! Crazy socks!) and mended hearts; houses longing to be loved, with windows made for red geraniums; gem-colored scarves wrapped ’round chocolate hair; long rich skirts, foreign rugs and the comfort of a simple lambskin. Parishioners carrying branches home from morning church. Mischievous eyes and dirty children, ancient castles and new thick slabs of bread; walks through well-laid parks making design-loving hearts rejoice, books that have you chortle straight out in the calm of your husband’s Sunday nap. Stone-walls and old trestle bridges and grey-green orchards planted on pastoral hillsides; horses with red plumes on either side of their magnificent heads; pie and pj’s and mugs of hot tea, pottery, verses of poetry and magic in the wind. To know the pleasure of rain on the windows when you’re tucked up inside. Craftsmen, leather bags and a good roll in some newly-washed bedding, the howl of a train, the perfect words for the occasion, funny knitted hats, elegant glassware, eyelashes moving sleepily, the thumping and scraping of tiny legs in utero: can we possibly be responsible enough  to hold back a child from entering this miraculous world?

There’s the laughter after something has gone wrong and all you can really do is chuckle. The grins people stuff back when a curious child wanders in a service. The disbelief when a plant sprouts up in an unlikely place. And what means the absurdity of God coming like a lamb?

Here’s what I’d like to know: can a little bit of life trump a magnitude of death?

Bad Dream

Someone I loved very much

Died in the stillness last night

My heart, my joy, and all my cells

Were dimmed of any light.

A kaleidoscope of sorrow,

Odd-mosaic of ill-sized pain,

A trek through a hunched mean forest

Where the body had been lain.

Confusion; moving stillness

The fog held such a loss,

I couldn’t understand the pain;

How to gold-cover this hard cross?

Wouldn’t meet our child.

Couldn’t touch his face.

Couldn’t go soul to soul again……

I WOKE,

AND LIFE WAS GRACE.

Like the breaking of a window

I woke to gasps of light

Sucked in the chance to love again

Sleep-fought the guardian of the night.

Someday this burden will be real

It’s humans’ pain, I know.

This time, the angel of death

Took him up-but let him go.

Love! I will love and love,

I will be greedy of this chance.

Why do sweetness and sorrow

Sway together when they dance?

I must stop the inward mumbling

Of when things don’t seem all right

I will reach for joy and laughter

But I won’t forget the night.

Written Jan 17, 2022 after a nightmare.

Leaves Us

The neighbors right beside us

Have a stained glass tree

And you can look through shards of glass

Free and easily.

And now our yard is piled

With yellow greens and gold

Where wind has knocked them out their leads

Because they’re getting old.

They’re flying off their spires,

Minerets and walls.

The  Son who gave them life, He

Breathes music through their falls.

For in their deaths , so dazzling!,

The light shines through their pane;

The mighty warriors of this life,

Fall ’round us like the rain.

Leads and glass

7ish Month Book List

READING:

Island Of The World -Micheal D O’Brien        This book is painfully beautiful;if you’re like me, you won’t be able to shake it even six months later. Superbly written.

Born a Crime -Noah Trevor  

Twenty Thousand Leages Under The Sea- Jules Verne      Old sci-fi: this author is so methodically brilliant.The main character is kind of annoying, but it’s an interesting read if you can plow through all the facts.

M Train- Patti Smith        Rather melancholy and neither here nor there for me.Probably not worth the time reading;I don’t think I even finished it.

Miss Rumphius- Barbara Cooney        The exact kind of children’s book I love: detailed illustrations, good story line, and a gentle “moral”.

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon- Patti Lovel      A jolly fun children’s book.

At Home in The World- Tsh Oxeinrider           I don’t enjoy her theology, but I do appreciate her wisdom, adventurosity (this should be a word) and honesty.

Little Lord Fauntleroy -Francis Hodgson Burnett

Charlie Brown “All Tied Up” -Charles M. Schulz

Four Corners Of The Sky -Micheal Malone      I had to google this one to remember anything about it.No great tragedy if you miss it.

The Mockingbird Next Door – Marja Mills       I enjoyed this book quite a lot; written by a journalist from the Chicago Tribune, living next door to the Lee sisters in Monroeville, Alabama. I loved getting to the know the author of  “To Kill a Mockingbird” a little better.Her sister,Alice, was a treat to read about as well.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely- Brigid Kemmerer    A VERY  light read. I like YA books but this one struck me as being pretty empty.

Father Elijah-An Apocolypse  -Micheal D. Obrien      Again,superbly written. Although I didn’t like this one as well as “Island Of The World”;it has that same ability to stop me in my tracks. It was an odd and interesting read: odd, because it is an apocolyptic novel, and interesting, because it is an apocolyptic novel written by a very Catholic author.

Excellent Women -Barbara Pym  I don’t recommend it,but then again,I never finished it, so….

Dracula- Bram Stoker         Victorian creepiness!!!I wanted to read it because it is partially set in the Carpathians and I thought it would be a good cultural read, plus it’s a classic,right?! Well,I’m intrigued by the spirit world but this got in a little deeper than I was comfortable with and spooked me pretty badly so I grudgingly put it aside.

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk- Ben Montgomery

Adorning The Dark -Andrew Peterson        I like the beautiful color art.Although I haven’t read this book from cover to cover, I keep this book around to randomly pick up and read bits and pieces. It’s a warm, kind book on song-writing in particular and creativity in general.In my notes on this book, I have written, “Its like sipping on fine wine” ….why I thought that, I don’t know,because I sure haven’t sipped on much wine.

Certain Women -Madeliene L’Engle         King David is one of my favorite characters in the Bible, so this book was interesting to me.It’s not exactly about King David but it includes King David quite a bit. For me, it was an unsettling book, in a good way, because it made me ponder the truth of how human the people we love are, and how to reconcile that fact with truth and compassion.

The Mind of The Maker- Dorothy Sayers           I’m embarrassed to say it, but this book was too deep for me. I bogged down and ended up not finishing it. Hopefully someday?

New Collected Poems – Wendell Berry      Just skimmed this book but I found some lovely treasures.

Four Seasons In Rome -Anthony Doerr    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. It’s the same kind of inspiring as looking at detailed ancient architecture or gazing at rich art pieces in a museum.

Station Eleven – Emily St John        I think the plot is interesting and the author is talented but I was disappointed that it didn’t go any deeper .It had a potential that it didn’t reach, but I’d still recommend it.

Holy The Firm – Annie Dillard

At Home In Mitford – Jan Karon          Heard of comfort food?Well, this is comfort reading.

Call The Nurse: True stories of a Country Nurse On a Scottish Island -Mary J. Macleod

Spiritual Formation -Henri Nouwen        I quit. Although I like this author and have enjoyed his books for a while now I am discovering that I do need to be quite careful with his writings. I think it’s okay to read books in which you don’t agree with everything, but this book was taking me places I thought were unhealthy, and muddying waters in ways that seemed dangerous to me right now.When I become a stronger Christian  and more able to sift the bad from the good, perhaps I can try again.

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory -Roald Dahl     😀😀

The Flying Stars And Other Stories -G.K. Chesterton

LISTENED  TO ON AUDIO:

Call The Midwife: A True Story Of The East End In the 1950s -Jennifer Worth           A memoir.

Call The Midwife:Farewell To The East End -Jennifer Worth                                     More of the same memoirish stuff. For me, these were especially good books to listen to as I did house work. Each chapter is a story unto itself, so it makes it easier to stop and start,stop and start.

Women In Sunlight -Frances Mayes   Although I have really enjoyed her books about moving to Italy and living in the Tuscany countryside this book was of a different genre and had too much trash in it for me, so I didn’t finish it. Many of her other books are lovely, though;true celebrations of life and taste and smell and texture.

The Secrets We Kept -Lara Prescott          Neither did I finish this one;again ,too much trash.Books that contain too much infidelity do not intrigue me.But…..it did make me curious about one of the main characters……which lead me on to discovering a book that I am currently reading, and liking, “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak.We shall see if I continue to like it. So far it’s been a great and interesting cultural read.                                        

Into The Wild -Jon Krakauer

Anna Karenina -Leo Tolstoy

Garlic and Sapphires -Ruth Reichl        So let me just say this:I am no gourmet cook,not even remotely.But this woman’s books make me want to run to the kitchen and cook up a luxurious feast, or even just sit down and enjoy a simple dish with all my senses standing at attention. I am beginning to look at common ingredients more joyfully and keenly because of this woman’s writings. In this book she talks about being a New York Times food critic and the disguises she wore to go into restaurants. Who knew that clothing had so much power over  your self-identity?Or that food and its presentation could be so enthralling?This woman not only eats well, but she also builds word structures that are so descriptive that all I can do is stand back and gape. You do not have to be a cook to enjoy this book!

When Breath Becomes Air -Paul Kalanithi                 Just read it.

The Rainbow Comes And Goes -Andrew Cooper

Eleanor Oliphant Is Competely Fine -Gail Honeyman      Very clever book.A work of genius.I am in awe.

The Art Of Asking – Amanda Palmer     Probably don’t listen to it;maybe read it.I didn’t finish it, partially because the language was so bad I was worried that someone would drop in unexpectedly and it would embarrass us both. So maybe that’s a good sign this book is not for me?

Reflections On The Psalms – C.S Lewis

Joan of Arc – Kathryn Harrison      It could have been a good book if the author had not taken such a sceptic approach.That kind of killed the book for me and I’m not sure if I even finished it.

The Girl On The Boat – G.P. Wodehouse

Ruth In Exile -G.P. Wodehouse

The Woman Who Smashed Codes -Jason Fagone

Troubling A Star – Madeleine L’Engle  One sad thing about my life is that I didn’t read Madeleine L’Engle’s YA books  until after I was a very young adult;but that has not stopped me from heartily enjoying them now! I have both read and listened to this book.It’s probably my favourite in the “Meet The Austins” series, although “A Ring Of Endless Light” is basically on the same level. Something about her writing makes me feel safe and warm and wise, and like there is much evil around us, but there is even more goodness.

Sourdough -Robin Sloan         A hilarious, dopey book that I really loved.What a rollick!

For The Love -Jen Hatmaker

Just Tell The Truth -Jenmaker

Walden -Henry David Thoreau

The Story Of King Arthur And His Knights -Howard Pye

Remembering -Wendell Berry        So far, my favourite Wendell Berry book.It’s a pretty heavy book, but there is a redemption. He gets gritty; he’s got a knack for understatedly, and perhaps dryly, putting “real-life” into words.He’s a great observer of the complexity of being human, and best of all, he believes in his readers’ intelligence.

Gulp -Mary Roach         I like hearing odd trivia so this book was right down my line. Some of it is rather gross, so that’s really interesting.

Nathan Coulter -Wendell Berry

The Moment Of Tenderness -Madeleine L’Engle

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO:

The Odessey -Homer

Wise Blood -Flannery O’Connor      Not sure about this one…..

About Grace -Anthony Doerr

The Last Year Of The War -Susan Meissner

Hamlet -William Shakespeare     Dramatized version ….”Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. What a thrilling sentence!

Song Of Alisa

Chapter 1  

Recognition                                                                                      

V. 1. Lord Of The Spring, You have mounted my heart in a setting of apple blossoms and quieted my thirst with flagons of beauty: that is, draughts of this warm wind blowing through my garden with such sweet intoxications. I would that I were a bee, able to plunge into the center of all and come out bearing the sweetness.

V. 2 I desire to be some small flower or noisome bird or wriggling worm, working in the laughter of Thy love. To bend and bow and hold Thy Light: to stand on tiptoe, and to offer it back to Thee. To be a tulip in  your garden  among the spices of Thy Presence. To be a tree designing fruit to hold Your Light.

Chapter 2

Longing

V. 1. I need You as a child longs for milk. I desire to be held in the tent of Your arms. My heart cries after You, “Hide Yourself no more!” You are as a tower of ivory to me and I run with pleasure into Your safety. You draw me in and cloth me with miraculous acceptance. You place a feast before me, but how can I eat, while I am looking on at You? You are bread and meat to me and I will have no other. Lock my heart,Oh Lord! Seal me unto Thee. I will not sleep among the lilies when I am to be awake unto You.

V. 2.  I search for You among the tulips and find You, finally, in the  violent redness of their stained glass cups. I see You in the  cadmium flowers set in the emerald grasses and in the rain of quiet falling flowers.I find You in the evening light shattering into golden fairness the forest tops, and leaping in amongst the rocks, turning ordinary places  into dazzling holiness. I hear You calling, calling, calling through the windows- drawing me to You.

V. 3. My Beloved, my fire is burning toward You as the desire of a bride who awaits the groom.You, the Prince, and I, Your happy maiden. You are altogether beautiful to me; there is no spot on Thee. You are the Jewel of great price and I would have Thee. As the mother that cannot be contained from her child, as a scribe whose fingers burn without a paper, as a tired man who shakes for rest, as a fish who writhes for water:so I bend with longing  for You.

Chapter 3

A going forth

V. 1. As an army charging down into the valley,I am charging after Thee.Though you slay me, I will follow hard.

V. 2. Oh people! Rise with me! Let us go toward the mountain of our God. 

( Inspired by, and patterned after the Biblical book, “Song of Solomon” . Also, other quotations from The Bible are alluded to throughout the text. )

Perspective Change

When the world is dark and 

the sun pushes up half-heartedly;

the sinews of the dark and cold and fear come muscling in around the latches and the sashes,

the keyholes and the doorjams, and in the bodies of masked strangers knocking past.

Everything is unpredictable; the breathing wind changing directions daily.

Which way should we face?  Within or without?                       

What are the answers to the never-ending nag of questions?

The usual laughing, lilting lute has gone daft and shrilling.

And then, is when,

I go crawling to the arms of my very patient husband;

as I crawl into the arms of my ever-loving Abba,

and we rock the storms away.

Mashed Potato Poem

One wave of golden-white, turned to twenty little wavelets, like the fractal in a nautilus of cream and softened butter, and little peaks of salt.

     With the whirl of the beaters and the flick and flack, forth and back, of the wrist and arm, a plain and gentle tuber drops and rises into a queenly crown, aswhirl beneath my hands.

In my kitchen
Ordinariness
In the stairwell
Earthy colors
Laundry washed in light
Hand pies
Simmering the sauce
Light and shadow
Cheese shavings
Stars in his eyes