Face Collector







I don’t keep things. I clear them.  But I fill up my body, like a pitcher to the brim, with words and faces and whispers and eyes.  Memories of people I’ve touched with my fingertips and in arm-length embraced, and I’ve looked into their soulness and listened to the words roll from their creased lips like water as they burn into my shoulder blades.  Do you know this, that people can burn into you, even your kidneys, your blood?  Pennies and keys and lint from their pockets, the way each person’s nailbeds are unique unto themselves and their teeth form in curves, the sound of their walking stride…they seep.







My Jesus, he healed by touch, by knowing acutely and seeing.  The woman who grasped his cloak, he turned to her.  

He turned to her.  This catches me in my lungs.

Then I sift. Words are shifting and ground down under my fingernails, and some of them I backspace or right-click cut and delete and begin again pouring, pouring words.

Well no, I pour faces.  And I always have since childhood. I inhale faces and then write words.

Words that harbor colors, and faces, and emotion with their accented tone and vibration, a resonant stroke.  One tiny word, a blip, that holds hundreds of attachments. So I select them, clip them like singular lavender stalks, and hold their delicate buds in the folds of my upturned skirt grasped in my small palms against my knees, inhaling their speech and poetry. Words sing to me.

Jesus went to every town and village and spoke of His Father’s kingdom, healing their sickness. 

I know your face, I have words for it–

I know your hands, your voice, and your eyes.  I have words for those, too–

When I was young, teenage, I sifted through words in my journal scribbled fat in pencil lead.  Intrepidly, in hushed tones and shy eyes, I whispered to those who were near me those delicate years, long ago back then. Were you there? Because you built me.  And now I grow, folding outward toward sun-speak, noisily and distinct in testimony, this floating boat that sails through wind and storm to stand robust, in banner for the kingdom she was ransomed to in birth. My dear soul-sister teacher once told me to write, and write, and write furiously and with distinction, crystallizing and exact, to name the people who’ve touched me in every recessive pore, and to not be afraid.  I’ve never looked backward for a second.

Thank you, Myrna Jean.

I told my students this week that it is mystery, wonderful, beautiful that God speaks in language to us.  This dialect, this vernacular tongue, that sifts my muscle fiber like a  charge. When I say this to them I use my hands in erupted gesture the way my husband has taught to me, and I whisper the word mystery as I smile, and they sit so quietly hanging on to the next narrative I exhale, this breath from God blown out.  Inhale these paragraphs of gospel mixed with crunchy leaves, recorded history with starry beams of light across vaulted sky.

Even more, I see faces of colleagues who teach me….life in speckled inhalation of Gods image and breath breathed out and I gulp their experience and story and am blessed.  Why am I so profoundly sanctified and resurrected by their testimony of our Savior? Because we breach the barrier and connect, even when we want to hide.  Well, that’s why.

Run through that river, child. 

At the gas pump a still, small voice tells me to go, so I grasp hands with a man who introduces himself as Wesley.  They say they are just passing through and have run out of gas, squatting near their van, and I choose to believe them because giving or holding on is more about my character than theirs.  I look into Wesley’s face and there are deep wrinkles, his hair is long, his smile is kind, and I am thankful for the verse that reminds me of entertaining angels.  What if they are?  I have words for him—leathered, coarse and unwashed, eyes like pools and courteous.  He holds my palms and dips his head in genuflection before meeting my face. Another image of my own God that walks this Shadowland of darkness pierced with heaven-light.  His skin feels rough with creases, a story that touches my own fingertips, as I look at him and wish him well.

Jesus touched the blind man’s eyelids with his own hands. 

These faces like journal pages that I flip through, connected to truth substantial and unfeigned, and if I’ve known you ever or only even recently, you are there, too.  I keep them, these loose-leaf, rolling through my mind’s eye, praying for faces that explode into dreams late at night and when music or scent pull me back to memories, or phrases and stories bring me to recollect.  Do  you know an old dear friend sent me a video of speech memories and you parents, you grandparents, you cousins and family, you friends of my dear youth and also of my age, you teachers of mine, you colleagues…well.  We are the collect of those who have come before us and against us and weave their lives into us side by side.

To pray- beseech, appeal on behalf of, invoke, petition, supplicate…..cry for.   Yes, I cry for you, dear friends.

God spoke and created in His image and then came down in flesh and touched his disciples’ bare feet and then He whisper-asked me to follow Him, my Lord who prayed to the Father, hallowed be His name. 

And so I, the prodigal, am forgiven and redeemed without reason or of my own accord, to be set down low and implore in my humility, lying prostrate to the concrete.  A friend tells me, “I believe God raises up and lays low” and how I resonate, my life surrounded by push and pull, lesson and mercy, depth of despair and rise of joy.  My tears come quickly these days, those eruptions that tell me I feel.  When I was young my face would redden to scarlet when another felt embarrassment or humiliation, embodying, mirroring their emotion before I even knew what it was.  When another tells me of their grief, tears slip over my freckled face without pause.  Your face is collected and I pray, your emotion is felt, dear.

They came, imploring, touching his cloak, and he healed them with with words and a touch, compassion. 

I am merely an impoverished woman with everything starting in my skin, with everything woven through my muscle that tenses and spasms, with all these thoughts of faces and my Christ sitting in my throat.  And the Devil screams at me that I am reckless and I come on too strong, that I destroy, but then my God comes with his words living in me, silently, Kingly, enveloping these lonely places and livening them to full and complete.

He healed and then sent them on a mission to touch others and give words to those who needed hope.

“And it feels like the church isn’t anything more
Than the second coming of the Pharisees
Scrubbing each other ’til their tombs are white
They chisel epitaphs of piety

Oh, there’s a burning down inside of me
‘Cause the battle seems so lost
And it’s raging on so silently
We forget it’s being fought

So, Amen
Come, Lord Jesus
Oh, Amen
Come, Lord Jesus

-Andrew Petersen





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