finding the church of emptiness

I spent some time this morning drinking tea and watching this lavender plant.

Yep, just watching. I had no phone, no computer, no work, no notebook, no book, just me and a plant. And the sun. And the bees. So many beautiful bees. You can’t tell from that first picture, but the plant is constantly covered in bees, with butterflies fluttering in and out among them.

I got a couple bees to sit for their portrait (I had to be quick!), but the butterflies were a little less cooperative.

 

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(Yes, I did go get my phone to do this.)

I love watching the butterfly dances amidst the busy bees; their winged intersections of flight. They chase each other, or go off to one blossom and then another, they encounter each other in the air and play for a few seconds – 2 or 3 together, or sometimes even 4 of them at a time, then they all go off looking for flowers again.


Earlier in the morning I had felt stirred up, so much bubbling inside me, and then bubbling over from the last few months of my own work and play, encounters and emotions. I had a moment while making breakfast where I just had to stop and feel it all.


I’ve been working on a project about the Enneagram (which I would love to talk about more – contact me if interested!), and one of the things I have learned is that my particular way of being in the world has been shaped by an instinct to *think* about my feelings rather than to actually feel them. This was a surprising realization for someone who, well… thinks (ahem) of herself as a feeling person.

And I do feel. Deeply. Which, to be frank, sometimes scares the hell out of me.

So, like most (all?) of us, I’ve learned some coping mechanisms to get through the hard parts of life. Sometimes they have been incredibly useful and sometimes they get in my way.

One of those things has been to keep doing instead of feeling; action makes me – well – feel better. And if that doesn’t work, thinking is way easier than sifting through the complicated messiness of things like grief, joy, pain, desire, fear, tenderness, vulnerability, hope, or love.

Through the first part of this year, I’ve been working on some really wonderful projects, and they’ve demanded every part of me to be engaged – my mind, my body, my intellect, my heart, my soul, and yes, my feelings.

When I’m not working, I’ve been engaged with people – listening, sharing stories, taking in events, laughing, discussing topics I care deeply about.

In other words, I’ve been busy.


Today, this morning, for the first time in a while, I found myself alone for a bit. And I let myself feel some feelings. (Ugh.)

There were a lot, but one that surprised me as I sifted through them all was… emptiness.

At first I resisted that feeling and tried to look for another one. But then I wondered, “What is so scary about this? What if I let myself feel empty for a moment, and let that be okay?”

As I did that, I felt a bit of relief. I sat for a moment, and it was, indeed, okay.


That’s when I found myself wandering over to the lavender bush with my tea.

I sat down, and I watched the bees, and I listened to that part of me that felt empty.

A good kind of empty.

An emptiness that began to transform.

An emptiness that could take in those bees, and feel gratitude that they are doing their work, individually and together, and providing beauty in the world along the way.

An emptiness that seemed to draw butterflies to me, almost landing on me, flitting by and saying hello.

An emptiness that let me look up and around, hearing the various calls of birds I hadn’t noticed; an emptiness that let me feel the breeze on my skin, and smell lavender on my fingers.

An emptiness that led me to walk barefoot in the grass, looking and listening and smelling and touching.

An emptiness that let me remember the fullness in our world — an emptiness in me that made space for some of the world I walk through everyday to come in a little closer, and mingle with the inner world I carry around with me everyday.

 


Last night I had a wonderful conversation with some women a little older than me about things I rarely talk about – God, theology, community, and the many places we find church.

We had slightly differing experiences and opinions, and we also connected on a lot of things. One thing we all agreed on was that church and God can be found in the in-between… in between people, and the natural world, … in between the places of touch and not touch… in between the things we know and don’t know…

For there to be a place of in-between, there needs to be a space for that in-between to happen.

Maybe the in-between is a space of uncertainty, and also of possibility.

Maybe the in-between is a pause from our actions and thoughts, outside of to-do lists and habits and continuing work that is, yes, important, but can be set down for a moment. A pause so we can be where we are.

Maybe the in-between is in the ambiguity and complications of feelings.

Maybe the in-between is a moment to breathe.

Maybe the in-between is what I’ve sometimes called emptiness.

Maybe, in fact, emptiness is holy.

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expensive lessons

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Last week I made an expensive mistake.

But let me back up.

Coming out of several months of going from one intense project to the next in multiple states, driving 1400 miles at the end of October, moving residences four times in November – with all the gear I thought I might need when I packed my travel capsule in July (knowing I would have three months in Portland and a trip to Arizona, unsure of exact timing, not aware that I would also fly back to Indiana twice for business) – I found myself in Tucson “filing clothes” and other items in preparation for more travels:

These I’ll need for the 30-degree weather in Indiana so I need to take them with me; these I might need if I stay in Arizona until April when it’s warmer, so I’ll hang on to them; these I definitely need in January when I come back, so I need them to be easily accessible… these bills need to be paid, these need to be filed away… Food can stay in the car so mice can’t get to it, where’s that bottle of wine I had…?

I had just wrapped up a 10-day whirlwind production schedule for a show that I love, with people I adore, that had also been incredibly grueling – daily set-up of the stage, running 1-2 shows per day, tearing it all down and storing it so we could find it the next morning when we began it all again (a process mirrored between my work and home lives, this constant storing and unpacking, arranging and rearranging).

I had the flu for two days in the middle of all that and kept going anyway.

I was exhausted. 

Once the show closed, I had about a day and a half to get ready to leave.

Both my long-term suitcase and long-term backpack had been falling apart for months, with no time to replace them. So finally, in delirium, standing in a department store at about 10:30pm the night before I was to fly out, I chose potentially the wrong suitcase and backpack – because at some point you have to choose something so you can go home to actually pack – which I did, finishing around 2am. 

I got up early the next morning to drop off some things for a friend to store at his house while I’m away for a few weeks, cleaned my room and bathroom for the next guests, cleared out my food from cabinets, gathered my new suitcase and backpack, and got ready to call the Lyft to take me to the airport with minutes to spare.

And… My phone wasn’t in my pocket. Or in my backpack. Or on the ledge by the door next to my suitcase.

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edges

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The edge is the difference between leaping and landing, between solid ground and not quite knowing what’s beyond the leap.

Suspension.

The edge is where things change.

The edge might be a cliff.

Then again, sometimes the edge feels like a cliff, but is actually a tiny line we only have to step over in order to arrive in a new land.

The edge is a place where things meet: an opportunity for exchange.

An opportunity for change.

The edge is a question: will we shake hands, will you walk away, will one of us hurt the other?

The edge is a question. How will you answer?

The edge can make us stop, take stock. Choose to leap or choose to recede.

The edge is a moment when things could go either way.

The edge leaves me breathless.

The edge draws me to it like another country, like the ocean, like your smile.

Recognition.

At the border, towns rely on each other. They need the other side to survive.

At the edges of my heart, I need all sides to survive (inside, outside, inside-out).

At the coast, sand transforms into water.

At the edge of my heart, transformation (mine, yours, ours) has a chance.

Sand into water. One town into the next. Skin into skin. A touch, a look.

Life intersects. Lives intersect.

The edge is a pause between the inhale and exhale. We don’t stop breathing entirely —  just long enough to rise and release, like the tide.

Or just long enough to allow a moment before the next breath, moving through the exchange, the change, passing over the line, or through the gate, or over the cliff to new ground —

like the wind, like waves, like a hand reaching out, like a kiss, like a leap,
then swimming forward,
ready or not.

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a moment

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This moment is just a moment.

One of many strung together.

Sometimes we look too far into the future, sometimes we hang on too hard to the past.

Sometimes we are too good at being present. 

This present moment is a bead on a string, it is not the entire string.

There will be another bead, and another. There will be another dream, another disappointment; another love, another heartbreak. And then another love and another dream, again.

Moments we don’t see coming, that shake us up, wake us up, the next beads on the string.

There will be another deep well of joy. There will be another missed opportunity, and then another opportunity. The best we can do is to not miss that one.

Or this one.

This moment might hold fear, but there is ground beneath our feet.

This moment might hold the ache of loss, but it is not the end.

Even death is not the end, not for everyone.

This moment holds hope, because it is a moment.

There are losses and fears and hopes and loves, each a bead on the string, and we will go on (or not), and the string will be beaded one bead at a time (until it’s done), and if we can keep breathing we can find the next bead.

This moment is just a moment.

And this one…

And this one…

 

the moment the gate closes

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The moment the gate closes, the silent slam reverberates.

The seeds stop moving, stuck in their half-grown state.

The pronghorn are confused, trying to find their way to their new home, spring home, winter home, what season are we in if the gate is closed?

The jaguar can’t roam. Lonely, he climbs a hill. Does he curl into a cave? Does he race back and forth by the fence, like a house-cat watching birds through a window?

The owls can’t fly over, the frogs can’t jump through. They bang against the fence – thump! Thump, thump, like my head.

How do we reach each other?

The moment the gate closes, the distance from me to you is shorter and longer at the same time. 

Shorter because it’s now two halves, both of which are smaller than the whole. 

Longer because I have to go an extra mile to the port of entry, declare myself, then go the extra mile back to find you.

The moment the gate closes, the earth begins to rumble. The posts dig down 6-8 feet deep. Ground squirrels can dig and go around, but anything larger (a car, say, or a truck) needs a deeper tunnel. 

This is for the best, they tell us. The drugs will stop. The violence will stop. The human trafficking will stop. We will catch these things in the net of our iron fence rising to the sky and diving into the desert earth below.

But the drugs, guns, violence, traffickers fling themselves over, landing on the roofs of our neighbors’ houses, squeezing through the checkpoints in tiny bags, parade themselves right through the gate, in trucks covered with bribes and wink-wink-wink.

There’s a lot of money to be made in fences and walls.

Meanwhile, all God’s creatures keep dying in the desert.

The moment the gate closes, the distance from me to you is mirrored back, so I only see me as defender and you as invader. The distance is in opposites – each necessary to define the other.

If there is a wall, you must be invading; I need to defend.
If I need to defend, you must be invading.

The wall—the line—becomes a circle.

The moment the gate closes, animals stop in time, wondering how they will get to their water and food.

The moment the gate closes, humans are startled, and begin solving the new puzzle of how to survive.

If we want to understand the gate, we need to understand fear.

If we want to understand the breaching of the gate, we need to travel beyond the fence, beyond our fear, break out of the circular thinking, and place ourselves on the other side of the mirror.

When you see the gate close, do you breathe a sigh of relief?

When you see the gate close, do you see what we’ve lost?

When you see the gate close, do you wonder how you will visit your ancestors, how you will feed your children?

What does the gate close off from you, from me?

The moment the gate closes, the world changes – in tiny tremors and in lethal floods.

The moment the gate closes, some of us look for ways through, while others of us look to plug the inevitable holes.

The moment the gate closes, papers become important, permission to pass through or not. The moment the gate closes, our hearts begin to rumble. The moment the gate closes, we can look the other way, or we can rise up with renewed commitment. We will survive. We will thrive. We will find a new way through, as heroes always have.

The moment the gate closes, we become adversaries, jailers, guardians, conquerors.
We lose a bit of our story.

The moment the gate closes, migrants become adventurers, saviors, pioneers, pilgrims, trailblazers, champions, defenders, seekers, protagonists of classic novels. 

The moment the gate closes, we are cut off. 

The moment the gate closes, we are smaller – or larger. 

The moment the gate closes, we have a choice.

20180618_130211(photo by Saulo Padilla)

from here to there

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In my dream, John is a road builder. He wants to build a road from here to there.

On an Arizona June afternoon, you can’t do anything from 2 to 5. The best thing to do after lunch is to lie down, let it all go into the heat, let the heat go on and on.

Close your eyes and dream.

If you are in the desert from 2 to 5 in the afternoon, you need gallons of water just to survive sitting in the shade.

There is a wall on the other side of the desert.

There is desert on the other side of the wall.

The heart asks questions like, “But where do they go in the heat with their children, with their mothers? Where do they go with their lovers?”

The body asks questions like, “How much further? How much longer?”

The heart winds from here to there, looking for feelings and holding them close.

The body winds from here to there, looking for food, a moment to rest.

And water, always looking for water.

One night, I float in water, looking at the sky – the big dipper, the half-disk of the moon. I wonder who is walking in the desert tonight and why.

I float in the water, then reach and kick, propelling from one side of the pool to the other. I make it to my destination – a wall on the other side of the water. 

I float in the water’s embrace.

The heart speaks metaphor.

The body speaks survival.

The heart eats hot peppers and drinks mescal to keep it alive.

The body needs water.

The body and the heart are the same.

From 2 to 5 in the afternoon, I dream of long counters, where they feed us tamales and hug us hello, kiss us goodbye. The counters are orange and bare except for what we need. 

We have everything we need.

While we stand at the counter, John builds roads in the desert. He leaves a cross here for a body and a heart; a gallon of water there for a body and a heart.

A body wants to move – to float, to reach, to touch, to dance.

A heart wants these things too.

In my dream, a woman comes in, looks at our orange counters, sees our crumbs on those counters, leaves again.

I wonder if she will travel John’s road.

I wonder if she has enough water.

Version 2

 

ICE

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0-530. Lights on.

They know they’re being watched.
Panopticon. The desert sees.

Eyes down, I’m not staring at you.
Eyes up, I see you.

0-800 hours. Head count.

“What do I like about my work?” the officer repeats our question.
“I have a job. I get paid.”

I hear a man murmur to his neighbor as our lines pass.
Our line is notebooks, pens, tennis shoes, t-shirts.
Their line is loose-fitting lime green, dark hair, eyeing us.

Look up?
Look down?

The man is mocking us. “These here are called prisoners,” he whispers to a neighbor, taking on the role of our guide.

They know they’re being watched.
They’re watching us.

13-hundred hours, meal call.

“I was pretty much American stupid before I got this job,” the officer says. “Now the amount of countries I know – you hear a new one, you think, like, that’s a real country?”

The line moves past us.

Were my eyes on the ground out of shame or respect?
Was I catching their eyes to say I see you, or was their curiosity mirrored in mine?

A man runs in. He’s been summoned by a friend. See the visitors, they seem to say.
We hold our notebooks tight. Our wrists are tight. Our eyes are…

Look up?
Look down?

Panopticon. The desert watches.

They just want to tell their story, they say.

It takes a lot to leave your home.

They know they’re being watched.

Our lines pass, our lives pass.

22-hundred hours. Head count.

Do we see them?

Lights out.

Do they see us?

 

lure

IMG_9590 (1).jpgPoems reveal.

A bit of shoulder here,
an ankle there.

Do you want more?

Poems want your
time.

How much do you have
for the beating heart
and rising blush?

Poems are fire
under water.

Your hand in the sun.
My hand on your knee.

Poems draw a hint of breath.

The mmmm
and the ahhhh —

My mouth,
your ears.

Poems run their fingers along your inseams
and their nose along your neck
and your toes curl or soften
like your ribs
by the waves
and you
mmmm
and you
ahhh —

(like spring)

Do you want more?

 

 

why you didn’t kiss me

In my dream, you were a terrible kisser
which is why you didn’t
kiss me.

You didn’t want me to find out that
you were a terrible kisser.

But then you kissed me anyway,
and I found out.

I kissed you back and
you were a terrible kisser
but I pretended you weren’t.

You kissed with your mouth closed
so I couldn’t smell the smoke
on your breath.

You kissed with your mouth closed,
not really a kiss at all.

You wanted to kiss me
but you didn’t want to feel me
kissing you back.

You pushed me behind a counter and
made me hide from your mother
who loves you so much
and came to make you food.

And you pushed your son down a slide
that landed him in the street
which you discovered by trying the slide
yourself and landing
in the street.

So you understood why the slide was bad,
which was good to understand even though
you don’t have a son.

In my dream you kissed me
and I wanted you to kiss me
but not like that
with your mouth closed,
with your self closed.

(Except for the small moment you
kissed me
on my neck,
that tiny moment,
that was good,
you should do that.)

You hid me from your mother,
but your daughter and son
(your non-existent son,
your invisible son,
you)
followed me from room to room,
wanting something.

So I gave your daughter and son candy
while you were sliding slides and
landing in streets
and didn’t see what
we were doing.

Your kids liked the candy better
than landing in streets.

In my dream you didn’t kiss me,
because you were a terrible kisser.

And then you kissed me anyway
and I understood.

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after dinner

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Herman and Edna are the only ones left in the dining area. Herman leans on his fist, a half-eaten dinner roll in his line of sight – if he were to notice it. Edna sits still, looking out the window in front of her.

They like this time of day, when most residents have returned to their rooms, maybe to watch TV, maybe to begin getting ready for bed. They stay at the table a little longer, sometimes glancing up to see the sun going down, or the staff rolling silverware for breakfast, or a couple in matching track suits whisk by on their evening walk. But mostly, Herman and Edna are enveloped in their own lovely thoughts.

Herman’s are usually related to his memoir – the one he’s been dictating slowly into his old tape recorder in the hopes that one of the grandchildren will offer to type it up for him.

He recently began wondering if he could just change a few details and call it fiction, or if he’d need to take the whole narrative in a different direction. He doesn’t mind if people know about the decision he made in his youth to leave his father’s ad business and ride trains for a while like a hobo. But he might not want everyone knowing that the man who got on the wrong flight, ended up in Omaha when he was headed to St. Louis, and then blamed the flight attendants for his mistake… was him. It’s a good story, but not one he’s quite ready to own, even now, more than 50 years later.

Edna’s always liked math, and sometimes that is what she is doing as she sits in the after-dinner silence – adding up numbers she makes up in her mind, or remembering a good story problem. But she also likes solving other, more pragmatic problems.

For instance: if there was a fire, would the best thing be to head towards the coat closet before exiting so she doesn’t freeze while waiting on the staff or the fire department to take them someplace warm? Or would it be more important to grab the framed photo of her grandkids, which is right by her bed and easy to pick up on the way out – but would reduce the time available for putting on shoes, a jacket, gloves, and a scarf?

Or: what will make her mind last longer – going to the crafting group on Tuesdays, or going to the “relaxercise” class they’ve started down the hall? Is there any way she can do both?

Sometimes Edna suddenly remembers a joke, and begins laughing aloud. At those times, Herman turns to her, takes a moment to put his hearing aid back in, and asks her to tell it.

“A couple of farmhands counted 96 cows in the field,” she’ll say. “But when they rounded them up, they had 100!”

He might get it right away, or she might have to repeat, meaningfully, “when they ROUNDED THEM UP.”

Herman will laugh along with her once he gets it, and then her joke will remind him of a riddle.

“Why didn’t the butterfly go to the dance?” he’ll ask.

She’ll wait, and then he’ll say with a wink, “Because it was a moth ball!”

“Are you flirting with me, all this talk of dancing?” she’ll ask.

“Might be,” he’ll say, taking her hand.

After a moment of silence, fingers entwined, Herman might notice that Edna has gone back to mulling over the best way to make the bathroom door stop squeaking without needing to call the Thursday Handyman who always comes round.

Herman will take his hearing aid out again, and go back to remembering the bike ride he and Edna went on when they first met, when he first fell in love with her.

He will try to find just the right words, so that a reader will see the glint in her eyes, smell the freshly rained-on soil around them that April day, and know-but-not-know (just as he did then) this day is just one day in what will become a series of days, winding into each other, from one moment to the next; their ongoing, present, and ever-changing journey.