Watching for the Morning: an autumn lament


Psalm 130, selected verses

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

Watching for the morning

in the drab of weakened

hours stretching endless

through my days;

watching for the morning

in the muck and grime

of ugly accusations, gutter

politics, that lurch us

towards an un-triumphant day

of choice and reckoning;

watching for the morning

in the rubble of Aleppo,

bombs raining grief

upon a people drenched

in sorrows of a past

and future lost;

watching for the morning

in the wake of hurricanes

that rip apart foundations,

obliterate whole families, and scar the

earth with puddles of despair;

watching, watching, watching,

hands reaching out to hold

each other up, to touch the

palms nail-spikѐd on that

crossbeam of so long ago,

those fingers reaching out

to grasp our tattered hands

and draw us to a near, if distant,

morning, light perpetual.

Tiny Red Autumn Berry


(I discovered this tiny berry growing in the hedges surrounding our deck)

How many pigments crushed to

paint this bright red berry almost

swallowed whole by all the spiky

needles preening in their glossy green?

How long to shape this perfect

roundness, stroke to satin smooth

this tiny lucent skin?  And why such care for

one so small, unseen by almost

all the world?  This berry spells a

mystery, a wonderment of all things

small—my tiny life, and yours, and

tiny lives that shine around the

world in quiet dignity, blotted out

almost amidst the greens of overblown

celebrities or by the browns of sweat and

toil or by the harsh and sooted hands that,

seeking gain and theirs alone, so careless

smudge the careful-crafted images of One who

joys in every berry small, in every little life, in every

speck of the divine encased in fragile dust.


Black Beauty


So noiselessly he came,

this blue-black swallowtail, to sip

lantana on my deck, his stillness

echoing for me the tender silence

of eternity amidst the noise of inner

fears, against the din of ugly tweets,

of cries to build a wall, to slam our doors

against the tide of people orphaned

from their homes, their loved ones, tossed

into the chaos of a coarse and raucous world.


His soundless beauty whispers me

a blue-black grace that flutters silent

in the anxious corners of my mind;

his quiet presence reassures;

grace wings its way into our lives,

at times so unexpectedly.

Who Am I? And Who Are You?


my sofa nook

          Who am I?  And who are you?  As I sit or lie in my sofa nook with a chronic illness which limits my activities and cuts me off from a busy world, I often ponder what it’s all about.  What is the meaning, the purpose of a life such as mine?  In a busy world that judges us all by what we achieve, that counts the number of trophies we can place on the shelves of our minds at the end of each day, my sense of self-identity can so easily slip away.

          It’s very tempting for those of us with chronic health issues to compare our lives with the healthy lives of those around us.  Unfortunately, when we do this, we all too often come away with the feeling that we are “lessened,” that our stories are curtailed, incomplete, deficient.  With so little to show for our lives, it’s easy to wonder who we really are.  

          After his resurrection, Jesus warns his disciple Peter that a time will come when he will no longer be in control of his life. Peter’s response is immediate.  He points to another disciple and asks, “and what about him?”  Jesus tells him rather sharply that that is really none of his business.  Don’t compare your life and your destiny with his, Jesus tells him.  Just “follow me.”  Just live out your own story, and let him live out his.  A challenging directive.  To Peter…to me…and to all of us. 

          Henri Nouwen in his little book Discernment tells of a friend who discovered in his 50’s that he had cancer.  He had been a very active man, and he had always defined himself by all the good things that he was able to accomplish.  Who was he now with his body crippled with cancer and exhausted from all the treatments?  Nouwen and his cancer-ridden friend puzzled together over this. 

          As we might expect from Nouwen, he offered his friend some profound insights.  He suggested that he should see that his vocation as a human was to be fulfilled not in his activities and accomplishments but rather in his ACCEPTANCE of his situation.  In his WAITING to discover what God was about in his life.  In his deep AWARENESS that God, not his activity, was the center of his life, and that God is always the one at work to define our lives and to help us determine just who we are.

          To live out such a vocation is truly a challenge.  I would so much rather define myself by what I accomplish.  I want my activities to be the center and focus of my tiny universe.  I want to control my possibilities.  I want to see who I am in the row of daily trophies sitting on my mind’s shelf.  

          A character in Anthony Doerr’s short story “Mkondo” tells a lost soul who’s searching for his life, “the only way to find something is to lose it first.”  Along with countless others who live with a chronic illness, I have lost many of the trimmings that I once relied upon to define my life.  But I do believe that in my losing I have also been finding.  It’s a slow finding, to be sure, and it’s a finding filled with many questions and many doubts.  But it’s a finding, nonetheless.  The finding of a growing stillness within.  The finding of a deepened attentiveness to the layers of life around me and within me.  The finding more of God’s life burning within my own, even in those moments when I feel so unsure of who I am.

          A challenge, yes.  But when all is said and done, perhaps this is the challenge not just for those of us who live with “chronic.”  Perhaps this is the challenge for the healthy as well as the not-so-healthy.  To let go of old self-definitions.  To learn the way of acceptance, the way of waiting, the way of awareness.

          Who am I?  And who are you?  And what’s it really all about?  We’ll probably never, in this lifetime, know the full answer to all the mysteries of our lives, but perhaps we may come closer to knowing who we really are as we lose more of our “trophy” selves and find ways to live into patterns of a quiet openness to our innermost selves and to the God who lives and breathes through all our doings.  Through all our not-doings as well.


A Craggy-faced Christ


          A craggy-faced Christ.  Not exactly the image of Christ with which I grew up.  The Christ of my Sunday School pictures and church wall hangings had quite a different face, a gentle face, a kindly face.  Granted that face was very much a handsome Caucasian face, and not a first-century Jewish face, but there was a certain sweetness, a certain tenderness about that Christ. 

          This craggy-faced Christ is so very different.  This Christ stepped right out of Isaiah 53:3.  He is truly a Christ “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (KJV).  He knows about life.  About its hardships.  About its pain. 

          This Christ is part of a beautiful wood-carving of the Last Supper that our daughter gave to us, a gift from her trip to Croatia a few years ago.

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          In this carving, this very craggy-faced Christ sits in the midst of his disciples.  And as this Christ holds out his two burly arms, his hands are clenched around two chunks of bread.  “My body,” he says, knowing full well that his body was soon to be broken for them.   

          And for us.  There’s certainly a place for a smiling, gentle Christ on the picture-walls of our minds.  I like to imagine such a Christ laughing and playfully joining with us in all the fun adventures of our lives.  Like to imagine him dancing through our joyful days.  Like to imagine him sipping a cup of tea with me from time to time. 

          But there are times, many times, when I need and when I can relate more easily to this craggy-faced Christ from the Croatian wood-carving.  This is a Christ who speaks the language of loneliness.  A Christ who knows my deepest sorrows.  Who knows the sorrows of our broken world.  Who knows the pain and fear of refugees.  A Christ who weeps for the chaos and loss when guns tear lives apart in our country and in countries around the world.  Who aches with children and women and men whose lives are curtailed by illness, by hunger, by poverty, by war, by discrimination. 

          This craggy-faced Christ will never offer trite platitudes to ease the pain that so often intrudes into our lives and into our world.  Instead, this Christ offers us the bread of his body broken for us.  Broken on what seemed at the time a God-forsaken cross.  Broken in his descent to hell before God raised him to new life from the darkness of the tomb. 

          This bread is a precious gift.  It’s bread that offers us a measure of peace.  Bread that gives us hope.  Bread that strengthens us.  Bread that keeps us ever in God’s grace.


Requiem for Two Oak Trees

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stumps of two oak trees beside our yard


Earth to earth and dust to dust; I bless them for

their carpeting of summer skies; bless them for their solemn

sighing through our lives; bless them for their quiet

presence, gentle strength.


Ancient of years, rings circling round

and round, whispered tales of winter’s

ice, of lonely hearts that sometimes leaned

against their strength; rock-hard solid,

tough and sure, even as terror, wars and hi-tech

revolutions rocked our world, churning

and spinning our lives this way and that;

the oaks ever unmoved.  Unmoved until

a growing weakness in the agѐd marrow

of their bones; until the trumpeting of stormy

winds threatened a fall like that of Jericho;

so branch, alas, by leafy branch, saws

whirring in the summer heat, they now

are shriveled to mere stumps.

Farewell, dear friends.


Life will move on, I know, new circles rise,

as acorns burrow deep to rough it out beneath

the stars, the sleet, the wind; life renewing,

life insistent, life relentlessly determined

always to begin again; but you forever gone;

your stumps a portrait of the mystery of life.