My students have filtered into my classroom the past few days, taking to their seats, reciting timelines and catechisms and poetry, curling their cursive penmanship with care, discussing metaphors and analogies, writing narratives and character analyses. I am showing them how to look for the obstacles a character faces in a story and how they overcome or learn from their mistakes, from their circumstances. I teach them how to look for virtue and universal truth.
I had to teach.
I knew I would never play college ball of any kind or be proficient in playing an instrument. I had invested hours, days, weeks, long years into both, but I knew that instead of living my life in a studio, a gym, or an auditorium, I was being pulled into the classroom. I also knew that I could not split my time between all things and do any of them justice. Those experiences of sport and music (along with writing and language and prose), were a trifecta that built this calling in me. From them I learned singular dedication to a vocation. Teaching was not just something I thought I’d be good at, and it most certainly wasn’t for the salary. It was something visceral.
There are two things in my life that I remember very vividly, very clearly, about what I knew I would definitively do when I “grew up”. Despite all the reasons why those two things might not have happened, for there were significant years in my life that I questioned whether they would be realized, they would never leave my insides. The first recognition took place when I was in second grade and I told my desk mate, Marci, that I was going to be a writer. The second was when I was in eleventh grade, and I realized that I had to be a teacher. Each of those callings have latched onto me and then eluded me over years before they began to bloom. They are each often like a ghost, a mystery I’m trying to catch up with. But that is the way of things when you are passionate about them. You must chase it through obstacle and hurdle, because the pain of not pursuing it is worse than the obstructions encountered. Believe me, I’ve tried to give up both in my past and it hurt.
Teaching is a strange profession. It is one that takes all of you, strips you down, and requires all the small and big parts of you. It is more than just a dedication to your profession or craft. You become entirely vulnerable to others, as it isn’t just your fellow colleagues that command changes in your work. Young people unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) hold up a mirror to your weaknesses. Intellect and knowledge must be deep, yes, but your soul is also required as you pour into students to survive, or you won’t last long. Without the desire to inspire a generation, a teacher is merely a container of facts that a student may find on their own from reading a book or googling online. To teach, you must maintain a strong presence of mind and ability to relate to your students while staying a healthy distance from them so they may gain what they need and move on.
It is a profession and parenting wrapped up into one, but for hundreds of youth. And most days you feel as if you are behind or failing, until those pockets, those moments that you aren’t, and you see inspiration and triumph in the face of a student. That is the moment you smile to yourself, and you are thankful for the gift of observing another developing person.
All teachers, every one, can tell you that they became a teacher because of a teacher they had. It’s part of the comradeship of the profession. In college, you share about the teachers that built you, like being assembled or constructed brick by brick by a coach or a priest, a mentor or a parent. It is someone (or a collection of “someones” if you are as lucky as I was) who pour into you and make you realize how blessed you are, how hard you must work, what a gift you’ve been handed to nurture, and how to look outside yourself to those around you and reach out to touch them with it. It involves passing on a mentality.
Teaching is like holding the key to the secret garden or the location of the fountain of youth, and for those that seek it out, you eagerly pass them the key and it multiples. The key and the desire. It is not just about vocabulary or grammar drills, cold facts and dates. These must be learned and drilled, just like practicing scales on piano keys over and over until they are mechanically perfect and second nature. Without the drills and the knowledge, a student doesn’t have the foundation on which to build. But it is the lesson within the drills that composes and forms the structure. All those little things one learns about themselves as they go. A teacher sheds light on that process.
When I was eighteen I scribbled in an entire, fat notebook about the strengths of every girl on my varsity basketball team my senior season. I was the benchwarmer, a proud one at that, because while I was fairly athletic and competitive, it was not a sport that I had dedicated my youth to. I was proud because I could watch these women and our coach, observe them in the locker room, see them frustrated and joyful, selfish and selfless, sweating and crying and commanding the ball, because it was a gift to be given a pass into that inner world.
Since forever, I have loved watching and observing others, trying to glean and see them for who they are, all those little things that no one else pays attention to. Listening and believing the good that was deep down, among the weeds, because we all have weeds that need to be pulled and overcome. There were times I would look only at the weeds initially, in myself and in others, but then I would feel this weight in my insides that told me to stop and look, and wait for the tree to grow up from the tangle, even if that meant that sometimes I had to water the seeds. So, I would observe classmates, coaches, my friends’ parents, my own parents, my aunts and uncles, teammates, professors, my bosses, coworkers, those I sat with in church, my spouse, my children. Eventually, one must also observe themselves honestly as well. Teachers must become masters of slight facial expressions, tone of voice, recognizing tears that have not fallen but are soon to, responses to peers that are laden with an underlying meaning, and the myriad variation in these nonverbal communications in each individual. Then they must become masters at gentle confrontation, versus avoidance. They must become masters at listening, sometimes silently. They must gently or firmly redirect without crushing. They must encourage without being trite. They must admit mistakes while they share dreams. So not only are teachers masters of subject knowledge in their discipline or specialty, they become adept at reading people and displaying the value of deficiencies, setting aside one’s pride with intention, to ultimately become great at what they do.
This is the key to teaching, I believe. The messy, loud, extravagant way that we all learn is by trial and error. Vygotsky wrote about this very thing as he also carefully observed young children, and adults know this to be true, as much as we dislike the process. At some point in adolescence we all become acutely aware of everyone around us, watching us, as we attempt to learn something and instantly want to hide our failures, eliminate and erase any missteps. But in elimination, we sacrifice what we most desire: mastery and a fulfilling joy. It is the teacher who shows a student that failure is the manure of growth. Ironically, it is also the teacher who must try and fail first, many times, and go through that pain of getting up and succeeding before they can honestly model it. This is the vulnerability of a teacher: showing others how to handle defeat or embarrassment with confidence and to later succeed with compassion and humility.
Once we all learn that, the only next step is to embrace what is difficult and unkempt before us and to slowly bring method to madness, order to chaos, because we know that it will set us apart for great things. There is the planting and watering of the seed, the cultivating of an environment, but there are also weeds to be pulled. To teach is to become a master at receiving, and then handing down, inspiration despite the failure.
It was the Pharisees who shouted from beneath their heavy oral tradition at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, for feeding his disciples as they spoke to people. Jesus told them King David also ate from the temple on the Sabbath, and he himself was God, in person, who brought healing to his creation so they no longer had to worry. They still scoffed at him.
For not following their rules.
It was the Pharisee who went to the temple and prayed, “God, thank you that I am not like these sinners; thank you that I fast and pray twice a week”. Thank you, God, I am not like them.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, and the Pharisees demonized them.
It was the Pharisees who questioned the man who was blind from birth but miraculously healed, and his own parents didn’t want to speak on the matter, because they were afraid of what would happen. It was the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin who demanded Jesus’ death, the mockery of their own Messiah, as they disgracefully pronounced themselves blameless. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. Wealthy, but poor. Rich, but empty. The ruling class, and the religious class.
Before Christ was born, during the rise of the Greek and then the Roman empires, the Hasidim sought to separate themselves from the influence of Hellenism, as they were being oppressed by Antiochus Epiphanes, forced to sacrifice to Zeus, being slaughtered by the thousands in Jerusalem for keeping the Torah before the Maccabees fought for their brief freedom. They came from humble beginnings, desiring to stay true to God, but slowly the tactics of the human heart settled in to try and exact control.
These are the ones who gather round in our modern time and pat one another on the back and post pictures to social media to invoke status. Power, prestige, attacks with words, but mostly tearing down their neighbor, the one in their midst. The ones who are crawling to the finish line, the ones who are giving water to the thirsty, those Pharisees kick down and jeer.
They shout to crucify those that don’t vote their way or dress their way. They throw stones and outcast, then pray to the Father “thank you I am not one of them.” Being blind, they do not see their blindness. Being foolish, they do not comprehend their folly.
Shock and hurt morph into anger that bubbles and rises and Jesus says, no, love those who mistreat. Bless those who curse. Don’t defend yourself at all against those who shout and speak profanity, those who accuse and vilify. Jesus stood silent before Pontius Pilate.
Those Pharisees are out there, and I am the misunderstood tax collector, I tell myself.
Or, am I the Pharisee? My heart betrays.
Because every time I read or hear another’s words of truth, or on loving others, or ministering, I think to myself, “Oh yes, I do that” and I click the link to give money and I thank God that I am not like those people on social media who post their traumas, who post their sadness, who post their poverty. Spilling out messy, but honest. Bless them.
Maybe I am the Pharisee and the tax collector, all in one.
It was Dante who lived his life of protection and then was saved after all when he saw his friends in life scrounge the dirt and gnash their teeth in agony among the rings of hell. It was Flannery who wrote about the superstitious zealot who cursed those around him but was ultimately consumed by his own radical condemnation of others, his own generations fighting against what he taught. In these moments I am lost, drowning under the depth and weight of my own, empty sense of justice until I am found by the One who can throw stones at me, but…doesn’t.
I am the Pharisee needing to be washed. I am also the one who needs to see the Pharisee as one who needs to be equally loved and blessed, for they are the whitewashed tomb, poor in spirit. We are all the Prodigal, but we are also all the older brother, the one who is angry that the other is being blessed. We think we are being cheated. The highborn and the low, the wealthy and the poor, we are all naked and empty, and in need of Love and Truth.
When you walk through a forest do you curl your face downward and watch your feet flip into vision on the pathway? Someone I listen to reminded me of that last week, so I forced myself to look up today, and my breath ballooned in my lungs. It is worth looking up.
I walked the wood in the early afternoon with glinting, gushing flashes of sunlight cascading over everything. Tree roots spread under my feet as I passed century-old oaks. Two deer looked me in the eye through the bamboo before they erupted and scattered. I picked up dry, fallen leaves and rubbed them with my fingers before tearing them apart down to the stem. I usually do this, use my hands to feel something tangible while I’m drinking in something with my eyes, because it makes it feel like I’m touching what is untouchable, unspeakable. It was Tolkien who reminded us of the soul of creation, the souls of trees.
Mrs. Uminn, are you a ghost come out of the wood? My students rush me as I emerge.
The Man spit in his hands and mixed it with earth to stroke his fingers over trembling, sightless eyes like I do with dead leaves. Those ghost eyes were the eyes of all of us. Mine blind to the ways in which I willingly harbor sin. Except I can’t make dead, ghostly leaves come back to life the way this Man can.
“Take a harp,
go about the city,
O forgotten prostitute!
Make sweet melody;
Sing many songs,
that you may be remembered.”
And she did prostitute herself, Isaiah says, with all kingdoms of the world, but was bound to the Holy One, the LORD. (Is. 23:16-17).
That is how I feel, frame wasted, prostituted by my own ambition to the world and its comforts and glory, reveling in the adoring crowd, the applause and murmur of the audience, the petting of the ego, and liquid, flattering words to match the riches and wealth pushed at me. My inward sins multiply while my eyes are being washed, all at the same time. But my hope and desire is to walk pure and chaste of heart in heaven after fighting the gauntlet, bound to the Holy One.
It was John Owen who spoke of the death, the mortification of sin, in 1684. When I read his powerful words on the printed page, this human back in time spearing and protecting my soul today, my sin looms large through my arms as if I am holding them in buckets, like guts bleeding out over my arms. I want to fall on my knees to the weight of history, to the weight of the dying earth and its cursed people.
How is it, Owens asks, that a man should incline himself, ready himself to dissolution? To lose and gain himself back in the face of death? Singularly to Christ.
To that Man’s face that wept under the crushing weight, but still gave his body over to be whipped, extinguished, and buried. I must consider him, I must walk close for him to see me, and I must kneel down with my soul exposed and naked; I am Eve in the garden all over again.
My throat catches because there is a wall between me and this Man, Christ. He reaches over the breach to me, but I cannot reach over to Him yet. I cannot touch His hands yet, though He has created mine. But I can walk with Him in the cool of the day, because he has conquered death and become the priest.
He has prayed for me to the Father, and He has bathed me in his blood; He has stamped the devil beneath Him, but I still wait to touch His hands as if I was that dead leaf ripped apart, but brought back to life and grafted to the tree once again.
This bulletproof self I like to assert is melting.
Lay down, soul, lay down
Restless, searching, scratching,
Back to the soil, chest lifted to the sky in one last satisfying breath
The ebony, rich compost covers over–smell it
Alluvium crust hardens as hands spread out in front
bits and pieces falling to your face and scratching underneath your nails
Before your body grows roots and grips the gravebed like knuckles crying out against
dust and ash goes the blemished shell before rising anew
His hands touch your blind eyes and brings you back
That battled sin wasted away, crushed, and no more.
As morning classes came to an end, students flipped their large math volumes shut, notebook paper filled with stick figure drawings and formulas crunched under the page weight. The modular trailer door opened and shut with bangs in succession as students filed in and out, pulling out paper bag lunches, decks of cards, and usually one student dribbled a basketball or tossed a tennis ball on the carpeted floor. The teacher joined in the conversation of the students, taking a seat at the long, rectangular table near the door crowded with chairs, books, papers, mittens, and backpacks. One student reclined in the beat-up leather rocking chair; another charged a dollar for each can of soda out of their locker. Someone pressed play on the boombox near the door, half of the group groaning for someone to change the CD from yesterday.
Icy air curled in through the windows, but many bodies warmed the space, making up for the struggling heater. Boots and shoes were stamped out on the decking before entering, the heavy metal door squeaking open again and again as gloves and hats were donned in the middle of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The trailer was a bustling commotion of life: shouting, laughter, rough-housing, animated discussion. One minute there were ten simultaneous conversations occurring, the next they would all be in sync as spokes around a hub before they would reverberate and split again, seesawing in and out over and over and over. Heavy, weighted thuds could be heard outside every few moments and the creaking of the ceiling overhead. It was the administrator shoveling the wet snow off of the flat roof the second time that morning, crossing back and forth with his snow shovel in passes and calling out to the boys below to watch the ice. His tie flapped in the wind and his glasses were foggy.
The lunch hour was still early. Students converged on the outdoor basketball court next to the parking lot with hockey sticks wrapped in athletic tape. January street hockey in the parking lot found them on a game day–all the basketball boys and the volleyball girls were dressed up–ties and dress pants, skirts and dress shoes, but it didn’t stop them from crashing and shoving their way through to pass the puck and slap the hard plastic sticks for a goal before tumbling back into the classroom with shouts, rosy red faces, drippy noses, and accounts of perfect deliveries or hilarious misses, trips, and falls. Then they read lines from Hamlet before moving on to discussions on iniquity, propitiation, redemption, and justification.
A few hours after lunch they all piled into vehicles together, no matter the blizzard, to the volleyball and basketball games an hour away to the south. Those who were not on the teams would go to be a part of the evening and cheer on their mates. Parents left work and filled the stands. Those who played early would stay for the later games. Teachers were coaches and were also the drivers, so of course, they were there, too. Everyone was there, all the time, supporting one another, drilling during warm-ups, grabbing water bottles, and screaming until throats were hoarse. They piled into the vans again, half of them sleeping, some finishing homework because the English teacher, in the passenger seat, told them to turn it in on time tomorrow, others chattering away the hour home. It would happen all over again in two days at the next game.
In between all this activity, there were students with burdens and hurts, wishes and goals, anxieties and insecurities, frustrations and anger that spilled out messy all around one another.
“We are all one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them (Rom. 12),” Coach would recite to them.
If there was jealousy, strife, anger, it was worked out among pencil scribblings and between classes, through harsh, open tears over a week, or after days of icy silence, or perhaps in an outburst of anger or gossiped whisperings. It was worked out in the locker room and on the court, in the church pew and at evening meals. It was worked out pelting snowballs at one another and then sitting in detention, out driving back roads, swimming the lake together, and summer overnights. If they said that they couldn’t forgive, couldn’t love, couldn’t put away their selfishness even though they wanted to, perhaps they wanted to harbor it just a bit longer, teachers would nod and say gently, but it can be done. Will you do it?
Beauty, it seems, doesn’t just come through perfection, but as a flickering brilliance of hope and desire in the shadows. It breaks forth where Truth lies, like the breathtaking sunrise over the frosty dawn after the cold, deathly night, piercing the heart to awake, Awake! And then there is Goodness, which is the sharing of Truth that illuminates Beauty among friends who hold hands with one another, who pray huddled together, and fight with one another but then alongside one another. All the harsh words and hiding, sadness and exploitation. In these bumps and bruisings, these deep cuts and lashings, strangers and enemies become our friends.
We, these differing parts, members of one another through Christ, have gifts we have been given. Let us use them, let us comfort and embrace, let us share and pray, let us forgive. “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Those long, listless, forever days of sunshine and water are disappearing, lavender fields and hydrangea perfuming the air, playing time with our bare feet pounding over dusty, worn out crosscuts, floating like bubbles that will soon pop.
Those days were warm with heavy rain and deafening thunder that swirled ominous clouds as I gripped the oar handle to throw it to the steel bottom, spread my arms out, and lay back on the canoe as big, fat drops soaked my clothes through and smeared my hair against my forehead, dripped from my darkened skin, pelted my eyelids, and left the scent of
Those purling clouds came again, churning the deep sea waves in and around and over themselves, belching up black seaweed, broken bits of shell, and rotten fish as I roved the beach with my daughters who are as tall as I am, down to the pier at high tide. The storm wind-whipped our shirts up around our waists as we hurried back and the humid, oppressive rain started falling in sheets. We stamped puddles in the elevator and crashed on smooth, white linen beds with the windows thrown open and the ceiling fans whirring as we listen to the pelting summer storm in July.
There was one last swim in September.
It was with my friends on the lake; we were rushing before we faded and the summer dissipated like fog the weekend before the equinox. We hauled up wooden ladders to corrugated plastic slides fitted with garden hoses and took turns flying down them, ricocheting against the lake water before submerging ourselves in the inky depths as we all hooted and cheered and belly laughed at one another. We slipped and rolled through the calm underneath, over and under, coming up slowly for air. We conversed as our arms pushed H2O atoms aside and kicked until we reached the opposite bank of the lake and found bearing with our feet in the sand. I had swum in my clothes and I stood there with my shorts dripping, my shirt plastered, and my hand shielding squinting eyes. The sun shone warm in these dying days of summer. That evening it cooled, and we arched our necks to trace the Milky Way, thousands of stars popping out like 3D against the onyx night sky while my friend pointed at constellations with a laser, giving a lesson to our students about planets and supernovas.
The next morning we woke early and gulped thin coffee in the camp cafeteria as I rubbed sleep from my eyes, pushed my clear plastic frames against my nose, and listened to the sound of my male colleagues talk, missing my dad and my brother. As they shared stories I wrestled my blonde tangles into a messy bun, still sneezing from the water up my nose from the slide run. My right ear was plugged. We have a skit to perform in a couple hours I told myself, but my throat is scratchy and my headache is unyielding. I wouldn’t trade camp life at all.
Those sheltering stars in dotted waves of enveloping galaxy remind me of Sukkot, the feast of tabernacles, as we hunker down into tiny cabins for the night. The feast commemorates safety given in vulnerability. We have all been naked and exposed, but Sukkot reminds us we are covered over, sheltered in the wilderness by the mercy of a God who raises the poor from the suffocating dust, carries the slave out of captivity to give them a place, a home of their very own. In September the Hallel is recited, the psalms that ask why the seas are churned up, swirling, fleeing.
What ails you, O sea? Why do you tremble, looking behind you?
I AM has come.
It is the presence of God that the hurricane waters fear, and they rage. It is the presence and mercy of God that shelters and covers His people in the wilderness, when the dying time comes.
After those joy days, when twilight races in quickly and the evening chill bites through, leaves start to loose their grip on their lifeblood then crinkle and fall to the grave of earth in finality. In this wilderness of the dying time, life is sawed away, and we are reminded of the brevity, the fragility, the joy of life, and our shelter can be the Lord only and not we ourselves.
Those leaves are gathered and burned like carcasses, their smoky substance rising like sacrifice to the hovering stars. Impeding winter comes, but not before we give thanks in rich, blessed fields of harvest that are colored gold and dripping in wealth.
Oh, golden, fragile summer of promise
Settle down into my
organs and marrow
Teach me before you go.
Melt and sink and crash your heat and salt wave into my
bronzed skin and ribcage
Your breezy, brilliant fragrance whipping over my
sunkissed blonde and firmly wash every crevice of my heart.
Meet me there at the edge of that green mountain,
on the precipice of that pearl-ash water,
at the height of the rolling country road,
and I will meet You if You’ll wait for me.
Your fingers grasping my shoulders and my knuckled palms,
Oh, good God,
Your voice whispering loudly but gently into my ear to let go,
Pulsing breath flicking against my amber freckles and armour plating,
Let it all go and You’ll carry it for me.
These wilting, heavy, and deadening utterances in my mind
Decay and heartache
Crippled and disabled
All these expectations I fight against but embrace
Tug of war in the bowels that
Silence and shout.
Love unregretfully and fully and with a rebel heart against that
Love wildly and lavishly with revolutionary generosity
Serve with riotous abandon
Even when walls threaten to shut us in and hold us down
Chase the forever sunset,
Meet the rising mountain,
Drive over those eternal, rolling parkways,
Be folded over in a reverent gospel washing,
Face the fears that imobilize
Saying yes when it is hard to change.
Especially when it is hard to change.
Bury and cover over that which dies so that it can
Emerge and birth life.
And as the seasons turn and the years run and cascade swiftly
Help me to hold it all loosely, with open hands on my knees
and my face
Each goodbye a lightning charge across a blackened, cloudy sky,
Breathing in the drenching rainwater like a damaging
Thunderstorm in the summer evening.
Breathtaking and beautiful, dangerous and formidable all at once.
Linger awhile longer after the sunset
Stay five minutes more to contemplate beauty
Cling to truth that builds the bones
Declare and embrace love when it is present
Say what needs to be said when your heart wants to run
Sit in the questions and the uncomfortable, deafeaning unknown
Have mercy upon us
Have mercy upon us
Have mercy upon us, miserable offenders
As You hover over us in a posture of protection.
Oh, golden, fragile summer of promise
Settle down into my
organs and marrow
Teach me before you go.
Melt and sink and crash your heat and salt wave into my
bronzed skin and ribcage
Your breezy, brilliant fragrance whipping over my
sunkissed blonde and firmly wash every crevice of my heart.
I read Van Auken again.
And I drove to the little brick church on Perrowville from a century before, five minutes from my home, looking for the IHS on the cross in the graveyard at St. Stephen’s where the man and his young wife were scattered in severe mercy. My hand traced over that smooth, white stone surface where the tree line grew. It was twilight, the golden summer sun piercing through the veins of green, translucent leaves against the backdrop of the rolling, blue-ridged horizon. I pulled my husband’s hand with me to that solemn earth. My body lay over that grass as I breathed in tellurion space and my palms held form, trying to hold loosely and to walk under the mercy.
Well, I wrote you a letter, with my words pouring out all over that paper and dripping with loopy pen scrawl.
It’s funny how much my handwriting has changed in twenty years as I sit here and look at it, like going through a time machine.
I did that often, loose-leaf paper and bound to a book because that’s what I always did, always writing to the people around me. And I still write about the same things that I did back then. Joy and comfort, pain and hurt, friendship and love, challenge and courage, death and life.
I am always sharing it, then second guessing it, then wrestling with it, then denying it any existence, then suffocating with words in my chest, then spilling them out on the page all over again. Language is like a deep scar, like a proud battle wound that is also breath and life, mashed and rolled up together, ink scrawled into reality.
Last week I was talking with friends about tattoos, why people get them, that is. Something that someone wants to say, and say it permanently, like a signal or a display—a banner and symbol. My problem is that I have too many signals to display. Too many words to put into the world. I have zero tattoos and never have thought about getting one because my words often change and there are endless words and more paper than skin.
The words are a restless burn, a domino chain that falls interminably.
So I wrote you a letter, breathing out onto the page in exhale and you read it, and then I got you to write back and use your words, and I inhaled. And that letter is still being written, ceaselessly.
We could just sit quietly next to one another and the sunset reached out and touched us.
I’m living my life forward and backward and outside of myself, looking down on it while within it and pulling it through my mind, as if I am zooming out over Google maps and seeing the whole thing from beginning to end in one long arch to find my bearings and head due north. All those words and symbols and banners on hundreds of sheets of paper over the decades.
And here I sit with the sunshine on me, clicking on my keyboard and screen, these little symbols that mean something inside of my head and tug on my heart. This morning I read aloud to my students about the concentration camp, disease and suffering, and hope that is deeper than despair. Black typeset on a clean white page that can horrify, or make eyes tear up and spill. And I’m struck again at the thought of language that can cut deeply but can also heal and soothe.
Today I have more words, more than I did back then. Words that waterfall faster and faster, like melting mountain snow flash-flooding the springs coming in a rush of urgency, little gifts that fall onto me like rain showers in the afternoon sun and form rainbow prisms I can walk through and touch. Have you ever touched words?
Words touched me today, like a stream from one person to another, when a friend told me words that made me sad, like a cup, an object that passes from one person to another, to be held onto or let go. The most bitter and the most joyous words we clutch with tight fists and, at times, release.
We want words to go away sometimes. We want words to water us in others. And I feel both deep in me, the suppression and welcoming of words, just like I did when I wrote you letters all those years ago.
Pulsing through the city with the concentrated horde gathering over him, hailing him with their hearts and fingernails scraping, shoveling him into their dry and dusty throats with shouts and pushing, their flesh in decadent decay.
Lazarus’ rotting lungs expanded and burst with jagged gasps when a clear, strong Voice called him, burning oxygen deep in the cavern of his wasting ribs and his heart clutched and released again full of blood, like in the Beginning except this was the in-between after agony had already erupted in Christ’s boundless chest and He had wept in strangling grief, lamentation mingled in the choking dust because He dearly loved him. And He loved Martha. And He loved Mary.
That Devil calls.
The click and hiss flick tongue.
Jesus rose and discarded His outer garments, descended, and sopped that aggregate dust from their mortal feet with a rag and water, cleansing their hearts in a stroke of tenderness, Voice gentle, eyes lustrous as a mirror, and then told them to love one another.
“Do you know what I have just done?”, and they stare, breathless.
“One of you will betray me.” It was night. “I am going where you cannot come with me, but I am not alone.”
The suffocating dust of the earth, we collective, and I, gulping, swig. The dust of the good, fertile earth tainted. Judas abandoned the heavy room with brazen insolence and accumulated his obscene, contaminated silver, ready to simper with that sinister Devil hiss and kiss Jesus in an embrace of betrayal, dredging the grimy pit for sustenance.
That seductive, elusive, Devil calls.
His ratchet click and piquant hiss flick tongue thrust like riven shards.
He accumulated the soil as He prayed in the garden, His hands thrust to the filth and ash, bathing in it, pulling in sorrow and the anticipation of agony, cradling it to His body, and it sunk into Him. He sucked their pain into His tissue,
like utter anguish.
like foul hopelessness.
Peter retaliated when they came for Him, but Jesus uttered in hushed tone, “no. no, Peter” and healed the man Peter had mangled. He was seized and taken where a man would ask Him what Truth was, but did not listen. First, He was beaten. First, He was tortured for staying silent against no crime other than giving unbelievable promise to the dying.
Blessed are the poor, whose spirits have been crushed and emptied, the mourning, whose lives have been overturned, those who hunger, who have been spat upon and lied about, those who make peace always, the pure in heart who see the coming of heaven when others cannot. Throw sin away, love those who do not deserve. Be that stirring, distant light that touches and strikes close among that bitter, utter, and salty blindness.
The Devil hisses, slithering as he watched the ripping of Jesus’ skin from His soft back by those laughing evil in their bosom, spewing madness that Jesus’ own blood be rained over them in a washing and spilled out upon their children after them, cursing generations with callous darkness. Peter was no longer there.
He dragged in oxygen, rasping, absorbing each one before Him with His mirror eyes. Skin forceably ripped from His ribs; He held tight. These people of dust and despair who had merely touched His garment and mending power flowed out of Him, and into them, to heal their dust. The grit grinding down into His open wounds.
Naked, bleeding, stripped and raw, with His strong arms, hands flexed in grip, His erect back now slunk forward, shuffling the stained beam to the hill where smoldering death rose like incense. This after feeding and healing the desperate, telling a mob of men to step away from a woman they surrounded with stones clenched in their fists, correcting them when they sought to banish children, and invited the most hated and infected to walk beside Him.
That seductive, elusive, arrogant, evil Devil laughs.
Open mouth like a sepulcher, teeth like rounded tombstones, waiting while the Son of Man’s hands and feet, bound to the cross beam, were punctured with nails and driven, and Jesus cried out at the tears that stained horrified faces and disbelief curtained the onlooker’s reason. The cross was lifted and sunk into the shaft that held it fast, with two others on Jesus’ right and left, hell on display as the nails ripped forward.
Forgive them, Father. They do not know.
The clouded darkness spread ominously over them as Divine Man exhaled, with His heartsick mother wailing there and John held her. The Voice cried out, because He was then all alone, rain discharging in a torrent, cooling the hot and dusty hill, the temple curtain ruptured and split, the veil between man and God forever removed while the Devil slithered over Jesus’ expired body in triumph, shadows pouring forth as the Voice hung silent.
The click and hiss flick.
And that despairing dust settled and sunk into the dormant tomb as Jesus’ hand choked and rung that slithering Serpent trolling His body and went to war with the Devil, descending to Hades with a thunderous outcry, wrestling Death with effectual words: finished. And Jesus judged Devil abhorrent, ugly, vanquished. The sun called life back out to grow and the Voice raised Himself.
He appeared to those black sheep He had wandered out for, they touched His wounded hands, and Thomas put his fingers to Jesus’ pierced side, eyes aghast, drinking mystic glory.
“Do you love me? Then go love.”
The Voice drown-thrashed that tawdry, pimping Devil’s call, crushing it with golden sunrise and freedom that drenched the atmosphere with absolute victory.