For Behold

As light as a feather, free as a bird.

“Fear not, for behold: I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” I’ve listened to these words, sung them, shouted them from a church basement, and read them hundreds of times. They are the great refrain of Christmas. This year they strike me differently, though, because this year I am afraid.

I’m afraid because my mother’s no longer here, which is just sad on most days but then sometimes feels like the ground under me has heaved and is no longer trustworthy. I’m afraid because, walking to work last week in below-zero temperatures, I passed through a happy flock of robins—the climate is changing, what used to be predictable is no longer, and we’ve elected a government that will likely aggravate the problem. (more…)

Entering Shadowland

pokahoesunset16-04Cancer does this: Shake you out of the status quo and drop you into a different realm, one where your everyday priorities are rearranged and suddenly small talk, the cleanliness of the house, even your job ambitions seem ridiculous. Instead you give yourself over to what really matters: Being present to one another. Doing everything possible to tend to health and well-being. Emily and I call this place of intensity Cancerland. Life-threatening illness does a marvelous job of helping you reprioritize.

But so do other things, like the death of a loved one or losing a home or experiencing trauma. The last time our country did a collective gasp and had to reprioritize was 9/11. The recent election shocked some of us into a new way of seeing the world. Our national shadows—the parts of us that fear the Other, that wants to eradicate whatever seems to threaten our wellbeing—are now out in the open. They’ve been there all along, as people of color and immigrants and trans folks have been trying to tell us. But now we’re all plunged into a new reality: Shadowland, a country where democratic processes are scorned and fear has taken the reigns. (more…)

Liberating Stories

bknecklaceFirst thing in the morning I make my tea, sit in the red chair, and read the early Christian mystics. Then Gwyn wakes, curls in my lap, and we read Greek myths. I bustle off to work where I write stories, read emerging writers’ stories, review published stories, and teach others how to create effective stories. I return home to Gwyn listening to an audio book. I read magazines on the toilet. I listen to Gwyn read her homework. I tell her a bedtime story. Finally, exhausted, I curl up with a good novel.

I’m steeped in stories.

When I take the stuff of my life and make it into a story, I feel myself and my world transformed. I come alive. I participate in ongoing creation. One of my greatest delights is that I get to support others in this work. When I teach writing, I help others know the “aliveness” that, as Ann Belford Ulanov says, “springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us.”

Is it any wonder, then, that my most intimate name for God is Story? (more…)

Just the Pond

swimmyWhen I was in my early twenties, flying back and forth between home in New York and college in Minnesota, the moment on the plane that terrified me most had nothing to do with take-off or rising to forty-thousand feet or landing. No, what gave me anxiety was that broad view of New York City, eight million people packed into three hundred square miles, that proved to me just how small I was. In the vast world I was a speck. An “insignificant number,” my chemistry teacher taught us, was like the weight of ashes in an airplane ash tray (back in the days when there was such a thing) compared to the weight of an airplane. I was an insignificant number, and it shook my foundation. (more…)

Merton’s Adam

IMG_1786God makes Adam and Eve, places them in the garden, and tells them not to eat from the tree of knowledge. They screw up. God kicks them out to spend their lives toiling the fields and suffering in childbirth. To this day we bear Adam’s curse—our inclination toward evil.

Or at least that’s the story most of us know, and rebel against accordingly. At the Re-Imagining, the feminist theological revival that happened in the nineties, women proudly chomped on apples as a symbol of their willful embrace of knowledge. Liberal Christians reject the doctrine of original sin, replacing it with Matthew Fox’s “original blessing.” All of us Christians struggle to overcome millennia of unnecessary shame about human nakedness. There’s even a movement to reinstate the good reputation of snakes. (more…)