Thursday, March 27, 2014

Writing Words

I am struggling with a couple of writerly things in this rough draft. One of them involves major word-cuts. I went to church with my soul churning, not sure how I would decide what to cut and what to keep. 

I sat down on a sofa and pulled out my kindle. I was reading Atchison Blue by Judith Valente and had come to a chapter where she visits the monastery's small vineyard. One of the sisters is telling her about trimming the vines.

  • When cutting a branch, consider past, present, and future. 
  • Understand something of your whole plan. 
  • Keep the roots healthy. 
  • Vines live a long time, but they only have energy enough to sustain, feed and nourish a few shoots well. 
  • Be sure there is enough balance.

Well, hello best advice on revision I have ever received. And the sister wasn't even talking about writing. I'm sure these words also offer wisdom for life in general, but - for me - they were writing words. And I am so grateful God sent them.

Then, I came to this part. It's going to be my motto while finishing this book:

When the student is ready, the teacher appears, right?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

You Are In Israel

There is so much to say about our time in Israel.

How do I tell you what I experienced there?

No words will express the feeling one gets when riding on a bus, away from an airport, hearing the driver say, "To your right are the hills of Samaria."

Your heart beats harder.
Your mind tries to take it in.
The windows are dark, and those hills are mostly invisible, but they are there.
The hills of Samaria are just there, just outside, on the horizon.

When you woke up last, the view from your window was your own plot of grass. You could see the half fence surrounding the yard that used to hold pit bulls. You could see the trash can you'd need to roll back from the road before leaving. You could see the streetlight that signals your children home on summer evenings.

And now you are looking out a bus window, watching cars fly by beneath you. Their license tags are long and narrow. They are mostly yellow.

The bumper stickers are in Hebrew.

Your bus driver speaks Arabic.

You are sleepy after three doses of Dramamine, a very delayed flight, a run through the Newark airport, and ten hours of watching a small screen show your progress across the ocean. You barely dozed on the plane. Someone fainted in the back. There was rapid shouting in a language you didn't understand, then, in English, "We need a doctor!"

Some people heard the yelling and got scared.

9/11 is never far from our minds, whether we are people who hold an entire religion responsible or people who know better.

You weren't scared though.

Maybe it was the Dramamine slowing your system. Maybe it was your love for the language being yelled. Maybe it's because you have that American sense that nothing bad can happen to you.

You are immune.

Who knows.

Now you are on a bus, and you are tired, but you are also more awake than you have been in weeks. Your whole body is buzzing, alive. You want to see every dimly outlined hill in the distance. You want to hear every word of description the driver can offer.

You don't care what time it is in America, or whether or not the bus wi-fi is reliable, or how many hours it will take to get home at the end of your journey.

The only thing that matters is this:

You are in Israel.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday Poem: When They Spit on You

When you carry your cross
through the crowded streets
of Jerusalem,
you will be so close to those
along the road, that they
can reach out and touch
When they spit
on you
the phlegm will hit
like a bullet and saliva
will drip
from your brow.

When you are called to carry
a cross
you are not only required
to suffer,
you are volunteering to suffer
in full view,
to let the world
look down on you.

You cannot endure a cross
with pride and dignity.
A cross is carried
through crowded dirty
narrow streets.
A cross
is meant
to break you.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

What's Not Here

I shared earlier about my experience at Calvary, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I wanted to write the rest of the experience, but the blog post was growing long, and I know people don't keep reading after a certain point. We live in a world of brevity. This is a good time for poetry, a time when just a few words can say everything.

When I made it down the stairs, I found myself among people. Our bishop was there, examining a mural on the wall. Someone was telling about the bones of Adam, the theory that Christ was crucified over the burial place of Adam. That's an image that would normally appeal to my poet's mind, but I was distraught. My body felt both loose and tight. I wanted to cry but I was also finished crying. I wanted to run away, but I didn't want to close off the experience.

I am prone to treating the mystical side of Christ like a book. I want to read for a bit and then close the cover.

In this case, I followed other pilgrims to the stone slab said to be the place Jesus would have been laid when removed from the cross. I knelt beside it, kissed the cold rock, and then stood back up. My brain was desperately trying to process what had happened upstairs. I simply could not also process the feel of death on my lips, the cold breath of ghosts, the perfume left behind by oils and incense and human hands for centuries.

Corey guided me through the church to the place where the tomb was kept. Over the years, it has been chipped away by those who did not want it to exist and by those who wanted a piece of the miracle for themselves. A room has been built around what's left of this rock cave.

We circled it, a breathing mass of people, all languages buzzing around me, another man from our group sobbing nearby. I wanted to tell him, "I know. Me too," but I had no words. I watched someone else go to him. I turned and looked ahead.

I know Corey must have talked to me.
I know other people talked around and over me.
I know my feet moved a few inches at a time.

I found myself on the other side of the tomb, nearing the front, like I was in the world's slowest whirlpool, being sucked into the epicenter.

Again, my brain rebelled.
How do you comprehend the tomb when you're only an hour past the cross?

No wonder Jesus stayed dead three days.

Mourning had to happen.

If there is no mourning, how can joy come?

Without mourning, what is morning?

I reached for the book in my purse. Throughout our journey, I read from a collection of Rumi, The Glance, translated by Coleman Barks. The Middle East seemed the perfect place to read Rumi, and the slim volume slid so perfectly into my travel bag.

I opened the book to where I'd left off.

I did not flip through to find the perfect poem, and I had not read ahead to know what came next.

I simply
the book.

The poem was titled, "What's Not Here."

My knees went weak.
I looked at the tomb.
I looked at my husband.
I found out I still had tears to cry.

To Corey, I read the first line:

I start out on this road, call it Love or emptiness, I only know what's not here:

I wanted to show everyone there.
I wanted to shout it.


And that… that emptiness,
or call it love,
that's what matters.
That's all that matters.




Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Skeptic Visits Calvary

I was raised by two very different parents. My mother is a woman of great faith. My father is a man of great intelligence. I don't mean to say those two can never mix, because my mother is also very intelligent and my father does have faith, just not in the things of religion. If nothing else, he has faith in my sister and myself. However, in their lives, it is clear that my mother's priority is faith and my father's is intelligence. These dual treasures are the tributaries that feed into me. My life is spent trying to balance the two.

I have told you before, I am a skeptic.

I have also told you how, in Israel, I was often bothered by churches built in holy places we were visiting. My entire experience at the Church of the Nativity was wrecked by a combination of my skepticism and my empath-tendencies (people all around me were tired and frustrated and that fed my own confusion). So, as we paused for lunch, just past the fourth station on the Via Dolorosa, I started trying to process the end of the journey.

We were making our way to Calvary.

I knew, from reading my little pamphlet and from all of our previous stops, I was going to find myself inside another church. There would be no tall hill overlooking Jerusalem where I could stand and see Mary sobbing and Jesus dying. The pictures in my head would not be realized in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Impossible. It has been 2000 years. No sooner had Jesus ascended than his followers were probably marking holy sites and worshiping at them. Humans have not changed that much in 2000 years, even if the landscape has.

Could the place I was heading be the actual hill on which Jesus died?

Yes, it could.

"Could" is nice and all, but IS IT THE PLACE?

Archaeologists are 95% certain this is the place. That's what our teacher told us. It was the most certainty I was going to get, and I wasn't sure it was enough.

What if I was making my way to a random rock on a random hillside now covered by a ridiculously overblown church?

I could tell my husband was growing frustrated with me, as he had when we left Nativity. He wanted me to relax, to take this as a time to remember, to not think so hard. But I am my father's daughter and I think. It's what I do. I wanted to have this thing all thought out before I arrived, because I didn't want to be rushed past unknowing, as I was in Nativity.

I wanted to understand.

By the time we arrived at Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I had made peace with the idea that I was, again, inside a church instead of standing in nature. I didn't really think I was approaching Calvary. Instead, I set my mind on the Western Wall, where we would be going when we completed the Via Dolorosa. THAT I knew about for sure. The Western Wall is the Western Wall. It's a manmade structure and it always WAS a manmade structure.

So there I was, climbing steep steps that informed me, yes, this is a hill top. I am climbing a hill, just as Jesus climbed a hill. I looked back, worried about Catherine, who is 83 and was already struggling to make this journey through Jerusalem. Was someone helping her up the steps? I couldn't find her in the crowd. I plunged forward, landing in a room covered in tiny tiles. The tiles formed intricate images from the Bible. I tried to make a joke about our new bathroom tile. Could I have that Adam and Eve scene by the tub?

But the joke fell flat in my mouth. I felt heavy. I strained to see the front of the line, where there was a low altar of sorts. This I expected. Many sites required you to kneel under an altar to see the spot marked as holy.

The heavy feeling grew.

We inched closer to the front of the room.

My heart pounded.

Tears sprang to my eyes and I wiped them away. They returned.

I could see Jesus in my mind, his feet near my eye level, nailed to wood.
I could see blood and I could hear Mary crying.

Or was that me?

The closer we got, the heavier my shoulders felt.

When my turn came, I knelt under the altar. There was a round hole, rimmed by metal. I put my hand into the hole, leaned so my arm went in, and felt my fingers splayed across cold granite.

My heart broke.

Quickly, I pulled back and stood up. I left the room, not waiting for Corey to follow. I made it as far as the doorway. I think there was art on the wall, someone looking at something.

I fell.

I have only felt like that one other time in my life, though that is another blog. Suffice it to say, this was no normal sorrow. My forehead was on the floor. My body was shaking. I could not think anything but this...

"I'm so sorry."

For a moment, I think I held the hammer. I think I placed the nails.

That was around two weeks ago and, if I am honest, I'm not sure I ever got up off that floor. Anytime the world goes quiet and I am alone with myself, I feel the heaviness again, and I think, "I am never leaving Calvary."

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