Half Way to Entirely

C.S. Lewis described the human condition as a process of always becoming more of what we already are. These are cautionary words for me at this point in middle age, particularly as I consider the possibilities. In Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the Teacher speaks regretfully of a seemingly harmless woman who has come to the end of her life, not as a “grumbler,” but as “only a grumble.”

It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. . . You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine. (74, 75)

Thanks be to God, it seems that this tendency can work in positive ways as well, and the poet Hayden Carruth bears witness to this, declaring in his “Testament”: “Now I am almost entirely love.” Whatever sifting and sandpapering process brought him to that state, his words inspired Jennifer Wallace as she collected an offering of her own poems.

In Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry) the reader is treated to the process of a woman becoming. As one who is “predisposed by nature to question everything,” (17) Wallace reconciles her doubts with the presence of a God who is well able to take in hand her persistent wondering. In the process, God shows up in both surprising and ordinary ways within the pauses:

  • In the foreordained turning of the head to view a crow in flight or a “squirrel passage, or a person with whom I share an ever-present reaching toward.” (20)
  • In a poignant pondering of “life’s second half”:

“Tell me, someone:
with the spade of days remaining,
how to turn the soil
and where.” (34)

Finding Joy in the Cup of Shadow

Far-from-glib reflections excavate grief and plumb the depths of disappointment with God, borrowing  words from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed to lament that faith can sometimes feel like “the rope that holds until we need it.” Wallace riffs on Psalm 23 when her “cup of shadow” (24) overflows, and she asks for grace to unbolt the door and walk into a season we’re so tempted to deny.

For most of us, by the time we reach middle age, the jarring truth has been well-established that “the world won’t behave, not even for me.” (39) We are ruefully accustomed to the phone call that describes the disappointing diagnosis of a parent, a friend, a spouse. These are the days when we awaken to an early dawn and begin to take attendance:

“Whose time will come next?
Storm taken.
War taken.
A tiny fracture in a cell.”

Even now, there is grace to find joy in a dusty yellow warbler who hops “in the autumn dogwood near the gate . . . on its way to Venezuela” (49) and to rejoice in the memory of a beautiful, normal day (77).

In every season of life, we dwell in the conflicted joy of The Two Pockets:

“In one is the message, ‘I am dust and ashes,’ and in the other, ‘for me the universe was made.'” Receiving the second in light of the first is the course of health and wholeness. This is enough. A simultaneous comprehension of these two truths will set us on a path that is almost entirely hope.Many thanks to Paraclete Press (here in beautiful New England!) for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry), simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you for joining me today on the path of hope,

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Welcome a New Season of Peaceful Change

Welcome the peaceful signs of this new season by
Beating your swords into plowshares.

Then go till up a garden!

Beat those blades back into swords again
And do battle against an ensnaring sin.

Don’t be anxious about
What is coming or
What might come.

Pick a bouquet just for today’s table.

Turn regret on its squeaky hinges
And resolve to make a change.

 

Blessings to you as we welcome the wonderful signs of spring!

michele signature[1]


If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Easter Anthology

Pilate and Peter (and me)

The truth: Clean hands will not suffice

“What shall I do with Him called Christ?”
The truth:  clean hands will not suffice.
Your acts of treachery which rise
From disillusionment; your cries
Of protest which reveal your fear
Add to your guilt. Easter draws near.
Be still and let the rain of pure
Truth fall on you and make you sure.

The Body

Raise up the Body of Your Son and gain in us another one!
Incorporeal You are. Eyes
cannot see the face of God; prize
clues that tip Your holy hand;
We see what Your salvation planned.
Raise up the body of Your Son
and gain in us another one!


We know it!
Or at least, we profess to know it:  the truth of resurrection is foundational and credal. Even so, we hold fear and embrace darkness with steps weighted down. My prayer for us this Easter is that our steps and our hearts would be lightened by a new awareness of the truth of an empty tomb that spreads a layer of clear abundance across the sky of our lives throughout the year.

With Fear and Great Joy (Matthew 28:8)Run! Let's live in power going forward in that sacred knowing.

In the shadow of a lie, we
Know the truth:  The tomb was empty,
Yet we join the women at dawn
Knowing joy, but holding fear on
Hearts that know of resurrection,
But embrace death’s dark direction.
Run! Let’s live in power, going
Forward in that sacred knowing.


Poetry was meant to be heard, particularly rhymed poetry. The eye stops at the ends of lines and misses the scope of a sentence, but reading poetry aloud offers  the gift of a complete thought, rather than a series of bouncy phrases.

I confess to a certain prejudice against rhymed poetry.
When it’s good, it’s very good, but “Christian poetry” so often has settled for rollicking rhythm and cheap rhymes over content that I’ve hesitated even to experiment with it.

However, a few years ago I began playing with a very strict, metered form of rhymed couplets in iambic pentameter with eight syllables per line. (Can you find the line where I “cheated” on syllables?) This kind of verse is really more effective if it’s read aloud, so if you are in a place where you are able to, and if you have time, I encourage you to read this collection of poetry out loud to yourself.

Poet and theologian Rowan Williams observed that “poetry piles the pressure on theology–through imagery, sound, form, and figures of speech–to release wonder from the familiar.”

My hope is that you will enjoy that release of wonder somehow in the coming days, either through poetry or music or a fresh reading of Scripture that will enable you to penetrate the truth of Easter more deeply and to embrace it more passionately.

Jesus is Risen!
He is risen, indeed!

Going forward in that sacred knowing,

 


If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Musings: February 2018

On a day when snow was sticky and ankle deep, I took kitchen shears and lopped branches off a bush that grows in disarray outside the dining room window. The rush of school and schedules had bowed to the will of February vacation, and suddenly there was time for hope. Three fourths of the way through a winter season feels like just the right time to remind myself that naked branches can sprout vivid yellow blossoms, internally luminescent and unlikely as warmth in winter.

Bare twigs await spring.
Where only memory gives hope,
Faith sees greening leaves.

February Reads

In February, I reviewed four books that run in four very different veins.

First, Carol Kent’s real life story is heartbreaking, but in He Holds My Hand: Experiencing God’s Presence and Protection, she shares the truth that carried her through her son’s arrest and imprisonment for murder.

For anyone who has struggled with fitting into Christian culture or embracing their role in a church family, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community offers an understanding ear coupled with a firm push to set aside our petty preferences and to remember that worship is about God and not about us.

Alan Jacobs challenges believers to a life of cognitive courage in How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. He’s a C.S. Lewis scholar and a skilled thinker himself, so I appreciated his words on what it means to think well in a world where the informational fire hose is on full blast.

The life of Walter Wangerin, Jr. has been populated by memorable characters, and he has skillfully woven together a collection of stories to demonstrate the truth that there is always grace shining behind our darkness.  Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace is a glance into the rear view mirror in which theology and biblical narrative lie just beneath the surface.

February Discussion of Orthodoxy

There were some great February conversations at Living Our Days, probably the liveliest centering around the monthly post on G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. 

Parenting After the FallChesterton is laugh-out-loud creative and stop-you-in-your-tracks sobering on the topic of original sin. He maintains that it’s “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,” and I’ve certainly done my part in providing evidence for humanity’s fallen condition. As a parent who is in the middle of preparing (with fear and trembling) to teach a parenting workshop here in Maine, I was thankful to spend some time pondering the plight of sinners parenting sinners.

February Hospitality

It’s always a stretch and a great grace to be invited into the writing space of on-line friends. This month, I offered a compilation of two book reviews on racial reconciliation to the readers of The Redbud Post. If you’re not already a subscriber to this monthly collection, I encourage you to take advantage of this regular infusion of good writing and thinking from The Redbud Writer’s Guild.

Diversity and the Church: A Culture with No Excuse

Decoding the Beauty in the Universe

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perennial Gen is a gathering of readers and writers “of a certain age” so I wanted to introduce them to one of my “book mentors,” Luci Shaw through her wisdom found in  Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace. Well into her eighties, Luci is a poet who writes with skill about a life of decoding the rich presence of purpose, design, and beauty in the universe.

On Vacation!

Cinnamon rollsTo be honest, there’s nothing relaxing about vacation here on this country hill. This recap will be shorter than usual because this morning, the most important writing task is to scribble white glaze across the top of cinnamon rolls.

The week has been full and fun:

  • A day of tiny cars and thick tempera paint with the adorable grand boy;
  • A great visit with our second son and his wife, which included the bonus of a long listen, both coming and going, to the audio book To Kill a Mockingbird;
  • Extra time to soak in Jeremiah’s warnings against false messages from voices who claim to speak truth for God;
  • The great satisfaction of finishing the purging, cleaning, and organizing of bookcases!

Michele Morin Living Our Days

We’re still a month away from the calendar’s demarcation of the season of greening leaves. While the official beginning of spring is an empty promise here in the northeast U.S., it’s a reminder that the snow won’t last forever. Thank you for your eyes here and for the encouragement of your reading, commenting, sharing, and inspiring contributions to the discussion.

Blessings and love to you,


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase any of the books mentioned in this post,simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you:

He Holds My Hand: Experiencing God’s Presence and Protection,

Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community,

 How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds

Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace 

Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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The Familiar Glories

Glory is everywhere in these short days of summer.  A walk to the mailbox overloads the senses with unusual bird sightings, progress in the garden, and the frenzied buzzing of bee scouts filling their saddle bags with the makings for a flourishing life.

Clyde Kilby* laments:

“One of the greatest tragedies of the fall is that we get tired of familiar glories.”

YES to this, so in these fleeting days — of summer and of life — I’m putting on the brakes and lingering in a few moments that have already flown by.

Poetry is glue that repairs the split seconds.

Counting syllables; choosing one word and rejecting another; spinning a spider web netting that will capture and hold a memory; I’m pausing for a languid look at the longer realities that live behind the images.

Let’s agree together that we will never lose sight of those “familiar glories.”

The Familiar Glories

He runs from the house, his face aglow.

Expectation shines from every pore

As a gushing stream of welcome runs

Over the rocky bed of toddler-ese.

 

 

E & KWhite lace enhances youthful beauty.

Love and joy collide in radiance,

For without words, bride and groom clasp hands,

And every promise shimmers in their eyes.

Capture

Fragment of bird-life hangs suspended,

Sipping in mid-air her floral fuel

From color and fragrance that drew her

And hold her savoring; slake her wanting.

 

birch tree

White birch; emerald leaves on blue sky:

Were the greens this glorious last year?

The familiar glories press themselves

Against the day insisting, “Wake up.  See.”

 

//

Photo credit for lovely picture of the bride and groom:  Carrie Mae Photography 

*Clyde Kilby was a noted C.S. Lewis scholar and professor of English at Wheaton College.  I found this quote in John Piper’s new book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally (Crossway, 2017) Kindle Location 574

//

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Each Day By Name

After holding babies close,
Holding hands on the walk to the mailbox,
Holding feet to the fire,
Holding loosely to the ones who have left the nest
(Say it and say it until you believe it:
“roots and wings,”
“roots and wings”),
My hands and heart are learning the contours of a new holding:
An upholding,
A gift of words that will not be written down,
But only offered up.

Standing quietly in the sure center of an ever-increasing circumference,
I watch as my family grows.
While 7 in Scripture is the number of perfection
Six — for me —  was always the number of completion —
The number of plates on my table when everyone came home for dinner.

When six swells to nine,
And the highchair is back in the dining room,
And the daughters-in-love help clear,
There’s a thankfulness that bubbles quiet.
Since they are all priceless to me,
My deepest desire is for their greatest good:
Wise decisions
Satisfying relationships
Holiness and helpfulness.

Time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best?
Even with all my good intentions,
My jars of green beans and homemade granola,
My warm thoughts and my heartfelt hopes
Will add nothing to the faithfulness of their following
For this is something that only God can do.

God in heaven,
God of Hannah who prayed for a son,
God of Esther who prayed and influenced a nation,
God of Anna who spent a lifetime serving through prayer,
Will you give me grace to pray by name each day for those closest to my heart?
Will you help me to float their names like an offering,
Giving them back to you anew with every prayer?

Just as there’s a fine line between privilege and responsibility
(I want to see this as a privilege),
There’s also a hair’s breadth between conviction and superstition
(Especially when it comes to prayer).
Jesus says, “Go into your room and shut the door,” and
I go into my room and shout from the rooftop via Facebook.
Jesus says, “Where two or more are gathered in my name . . .”
And when I interpret that to mean that if two is good, then twenty is great,
And two hundred is pretty much a sure thing,
How lightly I have reduced this privilege of moving the hand of God to a referendum —
Or even an entitlement.

In my reading, I see that Paul lifted names in almost every letter.
I wonder . . .
Did the names spring readily to his pen because they had been on his lips in prayer?

“Euodia and Syntyche at loggerheads again”
Prayer like sandpaper to smooth away the relational splinters.

“Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, fellow servant”
Prayer like a spotlight on the beautiful image-bearer and words of thanksgiving for that sweet life.

When my prayers become prescriptive
(“Lord do this thing that I have planned for us . . .”),
As if You were on my staff;

When, with cobbled-together omniscience,
I presume to second guess Your sovereignty;

Set Your cross-shaped correction upon my words
And bring me back to the simple grace,
The lavish mercy,
That comes with unclenched prayer.
Let my words be few
And my listening be large around each whispered name,
With the offering up of my hopes and a commitment to Your will.
For prayer is the hardest work of all
Since it is not my work at all
But Yours
When I cooperate with You
And agree
That You know what is best as,
One by one,
I bring each one
To You
Each day
By name.

 

Photo credit

//

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Why Read the Lists?

“I’m glad you’re the one reading this,” said the patient husband.

He was referring to the tongue-twisting list of names in I Chronicles 5 with all their adjacent vowels and unexpected consonant blends.

I could see his point, but, to be honest, I was enjoying the effort of decoding the names and then saying them, one by one, out loud to the air inside our min-van.

As we waded through the names in I Chronicles, I couldn’t ignore the repeated evidence that God keeps records of the names of His people.  When we look at an old year book or at the many pictures that scroll their way through our social media minutes, it’s human nature to look for the faces and names of those we recognize and love.  God needs no news feed to keep track of His beloved, and every face, every name has significance to Him.  This truth is prevalent throughout the Old Testament:   remember Moses begging God to wipe his own name out of the book rather than giving up on his people?  And the lists go on throughout the books of history right into Nehemiah and the years of exile.

In the New Testament,  Jesus told The Seventy (when they returned from their short-term missions trip), “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  His message to them was that God’s cherishing and recording of their name is more reason for them to rejoice than their ability to “trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy,” (Luke 10:17-20).

Just as God sees all time at once, exists outside of time, and yet is available to you in your moment, so He also sees all of humanity at once — and yet He cherishes uniqueness.  He knows you by name.

Multi-syllabic,
Mostly unpronounceable,
They march across the pages.

Trailing their fathers,
Embedded in community,
Their names inscribe the ages.

There are no nameless —
There are no faceless
Followers of God Most High.
Although we read them
With hearts too numb to marvel
At the grace that’s between the lines;

For these are the people promised to Abraham,
The ones for whom God split the sea,
Who sold themselves cheaply
And squandered their chosen-ness —

Just like me.

Seventy servants
Returned from a mission
With tales of demons falling.

Sharing their conquests,
‘Til Jesus gave perspective:
“Your joy is not your calling,

“But you have names
And you have faces
You’re followers of God Most High.
And so your names,
‘Enrolled among the righteous,’
Are written in My Book of Life.”

For they are the people promised to Abraham,
Outnumbering the stars they can see.
When the Lamb’s Book is opened
They’ll hold their breaths, listening.
On their faces, they’ll be listening —

Just like me.

//

Photo credit

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers