Dust

Genesis 1 is one of my favorite passages in the whole of scripture, telling us so much about who God is and about who we are and about who we are meant to be.

It reads like poetry, but that doesn’t stop me from finding new ways to state the truth I find there, and that causes me to read it anew and receive it as if for the first time.

This is the most recent project that sprung from the very dramatic opening to this very dramatic story called life.

An unabridged version of the poem I wrote can be read below.

Before everything was nothing.

Then breath passed past the lips of God;
words rocketed into the dark.
And the nothing blinked and burst into bright, trembling being.

When the dust finally settled
from all the commotion
of making mountains and oceans
and all the rest,
this dust was blown about with ease by the breeze,
an endless parcel of unremarkable particles.

Then, into this dust—
this crust of the earth—
came the very hand of God.

From dust he brought about beauty
until from the dirt he’d hewn the
human form,
perfect and priceless.

But breathless, lifeless, far less
than what he had in mind
for humankind.
For his kindness
has always had more in store for us.

So he leaned in quite close.
And thus, into this dust
he breathed life.

And what am I to do with this breathing in and out
but to lift my voice in Worship?
That is breath’s very purpose.
The thing that’s of worth is this
raising of praise!

But can this mouth speak your name
when marked by the shame
of the things I’ve said?
All the unwholesome talk that comes out of it,
that spouts from it?

These lips are not worthy
to give worth to Thee.
So I will say a prayer like Isaiah
for I am a creature of unclean lips.
Touch the hot coal of your grace to this
mouth so I can cry holy.
For only
from you
can I come to
form the words due you
in praise.

For your words brought all things
into the persistence of existence
and my words come at the insistence
of your breath in my lungs,
of a work in me that’s been done
and is still doing
the work of reworking
this dust into finer stuff.

So these knees sink down to the dust
as they must
in adoration of you.

And though praise may fall from my lips ceaselessly
they will fail to be
enough to give due to
the wonder of you who
gave me breath.

Yet until the day when you lay this body to rest
in the blessed
dust where it began…
from this dust will rise the cries
of praise!

A New Normal

We recently had another baby.

Recently? She’s three and a half months old. I’m not sure that’s recent, exactly.

I’ve been reeling ever since. I knew that it would be an adjustment, that my life would have to expand to include another life, but I feel as though I’ve been thrust back to the very beginning of parenthood. I keep telling myself, We’ve done this twice before. We should have this down by now.

We do not. I do not.

Having the first child was like being schooled in my own selfishness. You know that feeling of reading a really good book, and then someone walks into the room, oblivious to the fact that you’re reading (a really good book) and asks you a question? You try a short answer and get back to the paragraph you were reading. But there’s the inevitable follow-up question. Then back to the book. Another question, usually something along the lines of Are you even listening to me? And now you’re not even sure where you are on the page, so with a passive-aggressive sigh you mark your page and reluctantly engage in the conversation.

Having the first kid was like that. Moment by moment I was confronted with the decision: Will I tend to the needs of this little defenseless boy, to the needs of my tireless wife, to the needs of having us all fed and mostly clothed and presentable in public, or will I continue doing the things I’ve always done? More often than not, I think, I made the right choice, but I was conscious of the decision every time. Some days I just craved the chance to do whatever it was I wanted to do, to get back to my book, so to speak. Denying myself and choosing generosity—of time, attention, rest, agenda—never came naturally because the things that come naturally are usually quite a bit less holy than what I’ve been called to be.

Then, after a few months or years or something, I began to get back a little of what I wanted, a little bit of the rhythms and rituals I was used to. I was able to sneak in a chapter here and there before I had to press the bookmark between the pages again.

Then along came baby number two.

Chaos. Although this time, in less time than the first time, I felt like I was able to recover. Life was different, but I found an equilibrium a little faster.

Now though, since the arrival of baby number three, it’s as if the book has been placed on some high unreachable shelf in the corner of some room I haven’t set foot in for three and a half months. When people ask us how we’re doing our answer is often, Oh, we’re just trying to find our new normal. But what sort of makes my eyes go wide is the very real possibility that we’ve already found it. Our new normal (at least for now) is that there just isn’t a lot of (read: any) me time because loving these kids is full time. And I’m trying to embrace it, learn from it, and revel in it because my kids are making me a better me, and together we’re a better us.

So the book will sit awhile longer, and that’s okay because I’ve been told that once I finally come back to it in a few years I’ll probably find myself disappointed that the story written there is a lot less fierce, and funny, and frightening, and full of wonder than the one I’ve had the chance to live.

Sundays Are For Dancing

Processed with VSCOcam with x1 presetThere has to be a day for dancing. Everyone needs a day for letting go and letting down, for getting up to get down.

A few months ago I wrote about traditions, how they can be hard to form and to keep, how they interfere with convenience and normalcy, and how they’re absolutely essential. I mostly meant traditions around holidays, but I’ve been seeing the need for traditions around other things lately.

I need a tradition around sabbath, for one.

After I returned from my first trip to Israel (I’m sorry I can’t stop talking/writing about it), I had a renewed respect for the beauty and necessity of the sabbath. Our family very easily falls into the variable routines of errands, projects, and binge-watching Netflix throughout the weekend without taking the care to cultivate a sense of indispensability toward true and meaningful rest, the kind of rest that’s so much more than time not beholden to the job that pays the bills. What I saw in Israel was that rest takes work. I saw the table set with care and precision, guests welcomed with hospitality and joy, and liturgy kept with faithfulness, and I recognized the considerable intentionality behind every nuance.

They were resting on purpose.

Karen and I began trying to reclaim our sabbath. We picked a day (Sundays seemed to work best for us) and developed some ideas. We would not work on any projects around the house or run any errands on Sundays, and at the end of the day our whole family would share a special kind of meal, keeping the kids up a little later and making the time count. None of these ideas became hard and fast rules, and that may be why we enjoyed our new routine for two glorious weeks before it dissolved away.

But God kept whispering, and my resolve has returned.

I was on a plane the other day, and there wasn’t a plug for any of my electronics, all of which were down to their last 5 percent. I was belted in for a few hours with no distractions except SkyMall. I had to sit still, something which Leonard Bernstein would tell me is not a bad idea now and then:

Stillness is our most intense mode of action. It is in our moments of deep quiet that is born every idea, emotion, and drive which we eventually honor with the name of action. We reach highest in meditation, and farthest in prayer. In stillness every human being is great.

In all that stillness I got to thinking about what I would want a perfect Sabbath to look like. Instead of starting with particulars I started with the feelings, the themes, the values that I hoped would characterize the day: Laughter. Fun. Peace. Holy space. Play. Listening. Noticing. Wondering. Decreased speed. Increased attention. These were a few of my words.

Then I started adding the things: Breakfasts of omelettes, coffee or tea, and a little something sweet. Reading. Adventures and explorations. Long bouts of daydreaming. Writing. Music and quiet. Lunch in the sunshine. Naps. Games. Prayer. Picking out produce. Meal-making. Wine. Dinner by candlelight. Campfires. Ignored bedtimes. And, of course, dance parties; our kids love dance parties. These things became a menu of sorts, a choose-your-own-rest of all those things I wish I’d done every time I click off the TV at the end of an evening. These are things that feed my soul and feed a sense of connectedness with the people who are my tribe.

With these themes and things in mind we’ve begun endeavoring to reinvigorate the sabbath around here. God knows we need it.