A few months ago, my then-almost-two-year-old, Oliver, had a peculiar tendency to associate every thing with the person to whom the thing belongs or with the person who gave the thing to him. We’d ask, “Are you drinking a sippy?” expecting to hear his crisp little “Yeah.” But instead he’d say, “Daddy” or “Mommy,” depending on who filled it. “Is that a toy car?” “Emy.” I loved it. Things were not things to him but manifestations of people he loves and people who love him. (I often ask him who loves him, just to hear him say, “You love me. An mommy love me.”) So I’ve been thinking about the way that kind of associative labeling would play out with an eternal perspective. Is that a comfortable bed? “God.” Do you love your family? “God.” What a beautiful sunset (this would have been last night as Julie and I drove home from the temple; the sky was on fire)! “God.” Everywhere we look is God. Everything we eat is God. He is the source. And He is the owner. The music, the mountains, the memories, my wife. God. God. God. God. I love Him.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Paul insisted that we see through a glass darkly. I recently saw a picture of an old Roman mirror. It looked like a frying pan. Almost no reflection, no gleam. But one day something like scales will fall from our eyes and we will see as we are seen and know as we are known. That’s a promise, and one fraught with vivid hope for me. Communion can seem fairly elusive in a world in which every person is a mystery. Sometimes it feels like we love and interact and hardly even know each other, barely brushing spirit shoulders with these luminous beings which surround us on every side.
Certainly, I believe that communion is possible; I have experienced it from time to time—that sort of mutual understanding that surpasses words. On a bench in the temple just before my wife and I were married. When laughing with another person at some shared humor. In moments of joint gratitude. Or singing hymns; I have looked around on more than one occasion with a sort of shock to realize that all these people with all these different lives are singing the same words and (roughly) the same melody, our breath and prayers intermingling, weaving themselves into a sort of mystical brilliance that lingers for a moment in the air above our heads.
But I live so often in the world of my own thoughts that I have been startled on more than one occasion to look over at a passing car on the freeway to find someone looking back at me. Our eyes meet for an instant, and I realize, “I don’t know you. I probably will never know you. But you woke up today inside your mind, and your life matters to you as desperately as mine matters to me.” And then we will speed off to our various destinations; within minutes I am consumed by whatever is occupying my mind, the center of my own universe.
I have often longed to know a person better. My own children are mysteries to me. I sometimes go into their rooms to watch them sleep, wondering, “Who are you?”
My grandmother passed away early yesterday morning. I had a hard time sleeping the night before, knowing it was coming. She was one of the sweetest, gentlest, most patient, longsuffering humans I ever met. And I loved her, admired her, named my daughter after her. They say that when you get old and sick your façade crumbles and you are left with the real you, the essential, core soul of you. Often people become irritable or discourteous when they lose their filters. But my grandma became more serene, more pleasant. She had strokes for years and years and gently endured it with a quiet smile. As my cousin and I talked at the poolside where our kids splashed and screamed yesterday afternoon, it hit me that I didn’t really know my grandma. I spent a good deal of time at her house and remember her giving me cinnamon flavored chewing gum as a child. I have distinct, colorful memories of her home and of her lemon tree and her backyard. But she was always just a presence, my grandma, kind and generous and soft. I didn’t have the wisdom as a child see her as a person, with real feelings and a life of her own, dreams and adventures and failures and heartbreak. She was Lutheran until she met my grandfather. She thought he’d make a good Lutheran. She made a great Mormon. She was a hostess, a social hub in her southern California ward. She loved the outdoors. And, I don’t really know what else. I am sort of excited to go to her funeral to hear the old stories from those who knew her best, but even so I imagine she’ll sit smiling on the other side of the veil, listening and realizing that no one really knew her.
But one day I will walk through that veil. The veil will be rent, just as it was when Jesus died. And something will give. Mysteries will be revealed. I will know. I will know people. In some ways, I can’t wait. In others, I am glad to delight for the time being in the holy mysteriousness of my wife and children, of my grandfather (whom I would like to get to know better), of all these walking enigmas whom I love but may never really know in life.
(The picture is "Woman With Infant Flying" by Brian Kershisnik)
Thursday, June 21, 2012
The scriptures speak of “the solemnities of eternity,” and I have felt that. There is a holiness that is solemn, quiet, restrained—and I love that. But I have also discovered that sometimes we dance before the ark in a sort of wild, manic holiness. Perhaps I have learned this best from family life. Certainly, eternity is made up of more than solemnities. At church on Sunday, I partook of the sacrament, thanking God the Father that he allowed his Son to die for my four children, that their mistakes might be atoned. Then my two-year-old made a mad dash for the front of the chapel, laughing wildly. I chased him calmly, wearing my new hand-drawn father’s day tie. I felt happy but received a glaring look of reproof from an older member of the congregation—a real stink eye. I began to worry that I have not taught my children reverence for holy places. I felt ashamed and frustrated. Then Oliver took off running again toward the glarer, and I said to his older brother, age four, “Quick! Go catch him!” Emerson took off running down the aisle and accosted his brother, pulling him back to our family by one arm while Oliver dragged along the floor. It was a slow, painful-looking procession, with the two-year-old struggling with all his might and the four-year-old gravely, determinedly marching his way back to us. My wife and I looked at each other and began laughing, out loud and with unrestrained glee. And I felt the Spirit of God in that moment—as much as I had during the sacrament. Oh, how I love my wild, holy children, and I believe some of that wildness and joy and laughter might well last into the next world. Eternity is made up of more than solemnities.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Mary Oliver asks in a poem, “Where does the temple begin? Where does it end?” It seems an apt question. There is so much that is sacred in existence and in human interactions. One day I came from receiving ordinances in the temple—where my heart burned with real joy—to my home, where that morning I had spent some time in my young sleepless son's bed and where I was honored to tuck that same four-year-old son, Emerson, into bed. That is a sacred ritual of story and song and communion, and my heart burned with the same light. I wrote this poem. It’s called “Friday at the Temple.” Hineni is what Abraham answered when God called him, and Samuel, and Jesus.
Friday at the Temple
I have known angels,
have seen them in all shapes and sizes—
sometimes silhouetted in the distant streaking sun,
flitting lithely as swallows in spring.
But more often I have known them up close,
slender, stern, portly, pleasant.
They have laid hands on my head—
sometimes hands heavy with the weight of glory,
sometimes a touch so light and brief it could have been a passing fly,
stopping for an instant in benediction on my skull.
Either way, it has been a blessing to be ministered to
in that way: washed with light,
anointed with luminescence,
clothed in brilliant radiance.
This morning as I snuggled my young son in bed,
I fell asleep, awakened to the sound of his voice:
“Dad, did you say Hey Em?”
No. “I thought I heard someone say that.”
Maybe it was an angel, I told him.
He got quiet for a minute, and I lay back down.
When he next spoke, his face was close to mine,
his bright eyes shining. “Maybe it was Jesus,” he said.Maybe it was. I should have told him to answer, Hineni.
Here I am.
(The picture is called "Untitled (Angels)" by Brian Kershisnik)
God speaks to me in nature. A couple of weeks ago I stood at the top of a mountain, looking down the canyon at the sweep and flow of trees clapping and shouting for joy. And a wind picked up to touch me, almost to lift me. The Hebrew word for wind, ruach, is also the word for spirit, often specifically the Spirit of God. It’s no wonder to me that wind has often been seen as holy, a manifestation of the invisible yet tangible. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (Interestingly, the Greek word pneuma is used for both wind and Spirit in this verse.) We live in a world in which the invisible is as real, I think, as the visible.
But what I see with my natural eyes often teaches me of what I do not. So I try to perceive with other eyes. “Earth’s crammed with heaven,” wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “And every common bush afire with God; / But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.” Last summer we had rains and water like I’d never seen. And a waterfall taught me of God. I made this little essay-on-video:
(If the video doesn't work, here's a link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ui4odDwMfns )
Moses hit a rock and water gushed forth. Refreshment from a stone: an astonishing moment. But it was the liberality of the act that delights and teaches me. “And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly.” Or this from the Psalms: “He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers. . . . the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed.” God’s grace is sometimes sufficient: the Israelites were given manna from day to day. And that would be enough. And yet, sometimes, God is prodigal in his tender mercies and lovingkindnesses. Annie Dillard notes, “If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor.” Quail up to the elbows as far as the eye can see.
Muhammad said that God is beautiful and loves beauty. The beauty of this world shows me the face of God. Dillard again: “Beauty itself is the fruit of the creator’s exuberance that grew such a tangle . . . . This, then, is the extravagant landscape of the world, given, given with pizzazz, given in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” Praise him.
Friday, June 15, 2012
“Never lose a holy curiosity,” urged Albert Einstein. I like that thought and the posture of humility and awe it inspires in the face of existence. I sat today in the back seat of a car with a budding astrophysicist talking about string theory and dark energy and dark matter—these potential hiding places of the divine in the expanding universe, the location where God and his holy angels may well conceal all their mass for all we know or can observe. I smiled, thinking of Annie Dillard’s statement that since Heisenberg, many physicists now are “a bunch of wild-eyed, raving mystics.” A holy curiosity: an affirmation that life is mysterious, and that the mystery is wonderful and the quest of questioning is fruitful even if answers are not found.
One question that has rolled around my soul for years and which brings me pleasure to wonder at came to me one Memorial Day in a cemetery in Provo. My wife was pregnant with our first child, and I was full of eager anticipation. We were there to visit her grandfather who had fairly recently passed away. We watched a young girl in the distance running with flowers. There’s something about a young girl running. A series of fragmented thoughts came to me: “Do they mingle—the spirit worlds? I can’t wait to have a daughter running through a graveyard toward a grandfather she never knew in this life. But knew. And will.” I wondered if my yet-unborn daughter knew my wife’s grandfather—if Bri was tenderly tutoring Lydia about the beauty of mortality. I knew—or sensed, at least—that she knew me and was somehow aware of my life, that that veil was somewhat thin. She had visited me in a dream when I was fifteen and charged me with a sense of expectation of the loveliness of a future fatherhood. And I knew what Brigham taught about the postmortal spirit world being right here, on earth, with those who have passed on possessing a knowledge of us and our hopes and concerns and fears. But do the worlds of spirits have communion one with the other? Do the premortal hosts have access to the postmortal ghosts? Do the as-yet-unembodied dance with the disembodied? Do they speak? Is there any embrace or a common space?
I think I’ve wondered about this in part because my own grandfather died just a few weeks before I was born. I always wished I knew him. I dreamed of him and Jesus when I was a toddler. My father was in his early twenties—a young father with one young son and a young pregnant wife—when his dad died. He still had younger siblings living at home. My mother says the grief of that loss shook my father to the core of his being. I interviewed him about it as part of a college class assignment when I was in my early twenties. It hit me then that my dad was just a boy when his father walked across the veil into a light unknown to us on this side. And that my father was human and could hurt. We wept together, and he told me that my birth was a source of healing in the wake of his father’s passing—that my existence came like a sort of phoenix rising from the ashes left by the brightness of a well-lived life. My dad told me I have my grandfather’s laugh and his sense of humor. They gave me his name as my middle name. Did I speak with him in those days between his exit from this green planet and my entrance? Is there something his in me? I like to think so. But I don’t know. We certainly knew each other when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy. Before it all began. We were together then, brothers. And again we will be. In the meantime, there’s room for holy curiosity.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
I have been meaning for a long while to create a blog in which I might affirm that existence is holy, that humanity--with all of our flaws and brokenness and heartache and capacity for wonder and goodness--is sacred, and that quietness and love are desirable and lovely. Well, here it is. With Hopkins (who might well be the patron poet of this blog), I want to stand in awe and ask, "What is all this juice and all this joy?" I don't know why my life should be as luminous as it is, but I am grateful. Likely, many posts (if many there ever are) will be celebrations of the mundane--the poetry of the prosaic. I live in a world of light. And, truly the light is sweet.