Wednesday, August 31, 2016

just a little bit ghengis

What do you want me to do for you?
Interrupt the sky with skyscrapers
Cast tall shadows over the sidewalks,
hide the clouds behind steel towers.
The sky is too open and free.
Haunting in its expanse.

Paint my lips in red,
brighten them to match my shoes,
small pops of subway couture
and Lower East Side stench
on August nights.

Make my words mean something,
change something,
move something
the way words are meant to do--

May they touch your heart
as deeply as
a touch.
May they speak as eloquently
as silence.
May they become true
as they are spoken.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

something not like suburbs

We're tired of the fig trees
and the Smyrnan downtown scene,
we're longing for some beauty,
and a word we've never seen.

We're sick of shoeing camels,
we're tired of The Man.
Hitchhike with us to Cali
our Mediterranean.

We left behind the subways,
and the streetlight witching hour,
for a destiny less humdrum
and a yoke of easy labor.

We left behind the breezes
of sweet Harlem's summer nights,
casting our nets starboard,
fishing for loose starlight

Sing us songs of Kerouac,
Didion, and Steinbeck
We're hungry for a
something lacking
                              in the suburbs

Inked upon our skin is the memory of Smyrna,
of fathers' shops and
mothers' work thrust upon us.
But we pine for open highways!
for sunset in the desert.
We'll drink peyote, smoke moonshine,
drunk on our new wineskins

tomorrow may not come
"tonight," our lives demand of us
our sleep may turn eternal,
but now just take
the next left.

What could have been a ladder
transformed into a labyrinth.

Monday, August 29, 2016

earth's crammed with heaven, yo

An invisible template
of Manhattan's grid
covers the sidewalks here,
measuring my walks
on pristine quads
in dusty city blocks

a boy--an elegant boy,
whose face is like a man's--
sits on a shaded bench
by Hayes-Healy
and puffs swirls of nicotine
into tree-leaf sunlight

smoky trails of drugged air
an urban incense,
get caught in my hair,
and nose
and memory

green saplings quiver in humid wind
eloquent in their design,
economic in their grandeur,
but their presence signs
a usurpation:
of sapling over ancient oak
of ignorance over memory
of knee replacements

their very life just a sign
that they are doomed to die

Gravestones shine
jubilantly in the careless sun,
who nourishes even as she rots
the palpable presence of a corpse
beating beneath my feet
answering my pulsing heart
with unnatural stillness
and a silence

who is it you look for?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

they will not be tiny

Incurable is your wound,
grievous your bruise;
There is none to plead your cause,
no remedy for your running sore,
no healing for you.
--Jeremiah 30:1-2

Oh you of little faith, Christ gently rebukes Peter in today's Gospel, why did you doubt?

I, like Peter, spend most of my life dipping one toe into the water, and demanding: is that you, Lord? Is that you I see? If so, command me to take the plunge. Only then, when I am absolutely sure that it is the Lord calling me, do I attempt the walk across the lake.

I wait until success is assured, because I do not want to fail. I want to approach each situation equipped with the right answer, I want to encounter each person knowing exactly what it is they need me to say, I want to Get All the Answers Right. I want to rest assured in my own power to discern truth and enact it in every situation. I want to have a grasp on reality. To know what to expect from the world, and respond accordingly.

That is, unfortunately, not how life works. Anytime that I am certain that something offers me The Solution, I ought to be wary of it. There is no perfect political candidate. There is no perfect fix for poverty or way to respond to each person in poverty I meet around me. There is no perfect fix to relationships, to uncertainty, to the problems--tiny and large--that plague our world. My search for perfection is ultimately not a search for God.

Ultimately, my search for perfection is simply a search for myself. It is not a search for the wide, deep, uncomfortable vastness of reality. It is not an attempt to find the tantalizing dawn of Truth in the otherness of the world around me, it is simply an attempt to find all of the answers inside of me. It is, fundamentally, simply a deeper pursuit of self. And not the kind of pursuit of self that leads to growing more deeply into who we authentically are, but the kind of pursuit of self that limits us. Ironically, we grow more deeply into our authentic personhood when we pursue someone besides self.

Holiness is not perfection, it is completion. And one of the a priori truths of the search for completion is that I am not complete. I am not perfect. The search for completion acknowledges that I am--praise God--lacking. All the answers in the universe are not contained inside of myself. If I find myself weak, if I find myself a failure, if I find myself falling, then my response should not be surprise or discouragement, but Joy. For my weaknesses show me just how deeply I am lacking, and how much more I need to reach for God.

When you feel humiliated and foolish because some undertaking in which you did your honest best has turned out disastrously–then it may be, to your astonishment, someone will tell you that you helped most, did your most fruitful work.  When our ego is humbled and not obstructing, God’s creative Spirit can often have freer play.  Like the bare trees, it may be that we allow the glory to shine through at these times more purely than in our summer prosperity. --Maria Boulding

Maria Boulding, in her beautiful meditation on failure, Gateway to Hope, writes that there must be nothing between ourselves and God. God will not rest until we rely on nothing but God alone. We cannot cling to the life-preserver of even our own ego.

Lord, save me! I cry along with Peter, and find that the Hand of God is already reaching for me, lifting me out of the stormy water. It is not that we cannot keep trying to swim. It is that, in the darkest moments, in the stormiest moments, perhaps it is only the hand of God that is the solution to our floundering. Our dog paddling is insufficient to get us to where we want to go. Because where we want to go is not just a destination we can steer our way towards stubbornly. It is a relationship. It requires us to give, to take, to listen. It demands generosity on our part, and we must allow God to be generous to us in return. We must accept the saving hand that He offers to us.

Perhaps that is part of the mystery of accepting the salvation of God. It is a very real surrender. A surrender of our striving for perfection, and accepting instead His completeness. There is no sure-fire path to completion, there is no formula we can rely on—there is only grace and life in God, because life in God is the ultimate end of all our striving.

Monday, August 1, 2016

ruled me; schooled me

. . . in a ragged blanket curled,
I've watched the gulf of Heaven foam with stars;
I've walked with eyes wide open to the wonder of the world,
I've seen God's flood of glory burst its bars.
I've seen the gold a-blinding in the riffles of the sky
--The Wanderlust, Robert W. Service

Sitting behind the wheel of a car felt odd. It felt uncomfortable to be in charge of a throbbing metal machine instead of civilly sitting in a subway car, of which I have no control over, thank you very much, and can "read a book" on my commute (which usually translates into catching up on texting, people-watching, or smelling the neck hairs of the commuter I've been slammed next to by the Lexington Avenue line rush hour commuter crowd).

But when I lift my eyes up from the road (a practice whose safety is debatable), instead of seeing the dark, graffiti-ed tunnels of the MTA, I see the wild blue sky of the midwest. I see the herds of clouds migrating with the wind, the marbled turquoise aqua of the atmosphere, not a single skyscraper scarring the view.

The sky is a constant reminder to me of a broader view of reality: the sky, and music by the likes of Lauridsen, Rutter, and Stanford. In the Gospel today, the disciples only see the objective reality: (I am hijacking this observation from the muy bueno homily of the priest at mass this morning.) that reality being that there are twelve loaves and two fishes and JESUS HELLO THAT'S NOT ENOUGH TO FEED ALL THESE PEOPLE WHO NUMBER APPROXIMATELY FIVE THOUSAND MILLION.* (exaggeration added by me for effect)
*not including women and children." (I can't tell if this is ridiculously exclusive language or subversively inclusive.)

Just do the math, Jesus. That math is telling us there is not enough food.

The math is not wrong. Math is beautiful, in her own way. Math is elegant, as truth is elegant. Truth is full of simplicity and complexity, that, mixed together with reason, create elegance.

But math only computes objective realities, like most sciences. This, of course, is useful. It is useful to clearly perceive objective reality. But reality is not a zero sum game. There is not just the reality that meets our eyes, or our ears, or our memories.

Reality has another dimension. It is the dimension of sacrament. It is the dimension of liturgy and worship. It is a reality that takes a leap of faith to believe in. But, just like oxygen, whether or not you believe in it, you are living in it.

If you believe in this sacramental reality, and you live your life to conform to this version of reality, not just the objective reality that life presents to you, then your life will sometimes make no sense. You are operating on a different form of logic. And, to those that are not operating by that same logic, your choices will look, by turn: stupid, illogical, prudish, old-fashioned, too liberal, too conservative, crazy, uncomfortable, unreasoned, impractical.

Operating on that logic, you will do stupid shit like feed five thousand men with twelve loaves and two fishes.

Viewing the world purely from this objective reality can lead to discouragement and pessimism. How can our country survive this election? How can our world overcome this violence? How can we feed all these people? There simply isn't enough.

But, if we cast aside our doubts, if we embrace a wider view of reality, even what seems barren can bear fruit.

As a human being in relationship with others, I so desperately want them to always understand my actions. Sometimes, I have to accept that what I do and who I am will make no sense, reasoned from just this purely objective reality. The reality that drives my life is not an objective, but sacramental, and, perhaps, outside of that logic, it cannot by understood.

Sometimes, all we can do is simply feed the five thousand, and let our actions stand as reasons for our hope.