Thursday, December 4, 2014

For taste and for smell

In the beginning, God was getting down with the extravagance of His creation
And one of the stodgier angels muttered something about too much color
And God laughed and the laugh smelled like pomegranates and glittered like birdshine
This world does not need to break my heart with its loveliness, but it does every day--
And it pleased God--pleases God, if you like--that it, this earth, should possess redolence and verve
For taste and for smell, to please the eye and to gladden the heart
To enliven the soul. These are His words.
So raspberries break like laden clouds of grace on my tongue.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

It Was Mom

"Climbing Mother" by Brian Kershisnik

Here’s a tribute to my mother: Santa Teresa La Tranquila. I wish I could remember sitting in her sacred lap, sucking my finger as she showed me the magic of books, of words, of stories. I wish I could hear again the songs she sang into my sleeping spirit. My mother is one of the gentle ones. Santa Teresa de la Exquisita Caridad.

She taught me that charity never fails. True love overcomes all things and is everything. It is the it of it all. Love is the real deal. She loves people, all people. You see it in her dancing brown eyes when you meet her and she takes your name into her mouth and tastes the essence of it and never forgets it. Names are sacred for her, not as a source of power, but as a source of connection, of affection. She used to have every phone number in our neighborhood memorized, so she could call out her kindness at the hint of a whisper of need.

One day when I had grown into a lanky, surly teenager, I tried to throw my father down the stairs. It was not a good day, you could say. When I was getting ready for bed that night, mom came and leaned in the doorway. This is what she said: “What happened to the little boy who used to sit on my lap and read with me? I miss my Robbie-do.” Still makes me cry to think of it. What is it like to watch life drift away from its source, to become something so foreign and so strange? To become a teenager?

She used to say things when I was young that baffled me. “I am only one person; I can only do one thing at a time.” Now, as my own flock of sacred sparrows surrounds me and my wife, fluttering and flitting and squawking their raucous cacophony of urgent demands, I understand. She was the vine. We needed her. She was the nourisher. Oh, there were days she told us she needed to walk outside. I found her one day outside sitting on the corner of the sidewalk a block from our house, just drinking in the silence and the dark of the starlight sky.

“I have figured out the true never-ending story, and it has nothing to do whatever with a dog-dragon. It is the story of laundry. This is the story that never ends.” Motherhood is relentless, like the spin of the earth, like the tides. Mom clothed us, protected us, fed us. Watched us run through the orchard across the street, throwing apples and climbing trees. She emptied herself for us. We came from her and became the her of her, in a way. Her reason for being.

“Have fun. Be good. If you can’t do both, be good.” This she said almost every time I left the house. I have since learned that there is outrageous fun in goodness, extravagant, wild joy in it; but she was speaking to a mind lacking a frontal cortex. Always keep this in mind.

I named my daughter after her. Gatherer. Teresa of the light. Tessa of the radiance. Harvester of haloed glistening luminosity. At her naming and blessing, Tessa lay still and engaged as a nun as a powerful circle of men enfolded her. I watched her eyes during the prayer. They were intent on my face. She was draped in a flowing white dress cut from the cloth of my mother’s temple sealing dress, a dress my mom made herself because she is modest and simple and lovely. Because she is unadorned beauty and she knows what matters. May the life of this little gatherer of light be cut from the same cloth as her grandmother’s.

On my mother’s birthday this year, we drove to Salt Lake together to listen to my older brother’s band play. On the car ride up mom told stories about her childhood. But the notable thing was mom’s relative absence from so many of her own stories. The stories were always about others, like her life has been. Her kind hero big sister Kris, the Dave Silva Fan Club, the people at the warehouse where she used to go to church in Southern California. You should have seen the way mom watched as God might as her oldest son played quirky music on the bass and keyboard and theremin accompanied by quirky, holy men, one of whom played a singing saw (I imagined the love God must feel for every person in that small indie record shop that evening, divine love nestling into their pockets like coins, just to be close to them; this is the love of a parent). I thought about the small boy I used to watch perched atop the piano bench with perfect posture, magic fingers moving, and knew mom was thinking of that same boy, now grown grand, but still her sacred sparrow, twig-legged and open-beaked. She smiled like transfiguration there.

My mom suffers long, and is kind, and envies not, and is not anywhere close to puffed up, has never sought her own (perhaps has lost any claim of ownership whatsoever), is not easily provoked (trust me, I would know), thinks no evil, and rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. My mom is the pure love of Christ, and she endures forever.

Well, who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong? Who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop? Who put the dip in the dip da dip da dip? It was mom. And, boy, am I glad she did.

Friday, May 9, 2014


I want to be a bird
just for one day
to briefly flit around you in
the flickering light of evening
before alighting fluttering onto your
outstretched palm
full of song so sweet
that you can't help
believing in miracles

Thursday, March 6, 2014


My love and prayers go out to the God-haunted, to the wrestlers with angels.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Natural History of the Chicken

"They're Just Doing This" by Brian Kershisnik

I liked the film all right, for the most part. It had a lady in it who resuscitated a frozen chicken. That was a heroic and a lovely thing. And she called her hens “girls,” just like the kind Long Islander who runs the little bed and breakfast in Salt Lake and makes exquisite morning food. And the movie had that gentle bearded man with the intelligent eyes who likes to know where his food is coming from and so he raises chickens and sends his small children out into the slanting early sun to gather the eggs of the free-range birds from the long grasses of his backyard—like Easter every day.

But sometimes the film almost seemed to smirk a little, you know? And that sort of bothered me. Look at how idiosyncratic some people are, it seemed to say, elbowing me in the ribs, urging me to join in with a conspiratorial smile, I mean, this lady puts underwear on her rooster and drives him around in her car.

Well, people are idiosyncratic. That’s a lovely thing. Quirky, sacred human beings living out their eccentric, holy lives all over this peculiar, blessed planet.

Here’s Hopkins:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                  Praise him.

That’s what was missing from the movie—a sense of reverence for the strangeness in others, for the otherness of others. Idiosyncrasy is to be met with honor, I believe, with great affection. I have long appreciated something Joseph Wirthlin, that quiet-voiced apostle, once said: “The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”

The novel Gilead begins and ends with a similar affirmation. Old Reverend Ames tells his young son, “You might have a very different life from mine . . . and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life.” And this from the final pages: “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.” And thousands of thousands of people living this life, every one of them cherished and sufficient and worthy of reverence.

Which makes me think, for some reason, of that baffling response Spencer Kimball once gave when someone asked him what he does when he finds himself in a boring sacrament meeting: “I don’t know,” he said, “I’ve never been in one.” That anecdote is usually told in the church with a little bit of a chuckle, because heaven knows some meetings are tedious. But a large part of communal worship may be the privilege of experiencing the holiness in others, of attending to someone’s utter otherness. This may be a large part of why I go to church—to learn to love and to briefly inhabit the foreign countries and strange planets of other people’s souls. Neal Maxwell once commented that “God is never bored . . . because of His perfect love for His children.” Boredom, then, is a failure of love, and also, I think, a failure of imagination. Every unusual human being, every ostensibly wearisome speaker, every oddity and every quirk I encounter is an invitation to see God’s image in the countenance of the other, is a summons to reverence.

Friday, February 28, 2014

There may have never

There may have never been a lovelier morning in the long, radiant history of this planet than the one that greeted today. Sometime in the five o’clock hour Ellie woke, making small animal noises in her crib. When I went to retrieve her so she didn't wake her siblings, she leaped into my arms and curled tightly into my neck and and shoulder, the shirt of her pajamas lifting a little to expose her cool back against my warm palm. I thought to snuggle her back to sleep, but she was awake, her little mind whirring like a small, sacred machine. “Des wat, daddy.” “What?” I’d whisper. “Ho ho,” she would say, and then chuckle, a learned, feigned burble of laughter. And five seconds later: Guess what? Julie woke to sing to her as the boys clambered into our bed. The body longed for sleep, but the feel of children was a blessing.

And then the sunrise. Clouds blue and gray and rimmed in glory slowly crawled toward orange and red across the tops of mountains, backlit by the song of God. A low, loose cloud like a fog gathered around the base of the entire mountain range: the valley’s fringes, the healing kanaph.

I do love this world. And I want to be a good man.

Friday, February 14, 2014


"Halo Repair" by Brian Kershisnik

My exquisite hazel-eyed wife has no sense of style. Absolutely no feel for fashion. She asks me, a reformed punk rocker and an ignorant boy, if her clothing matches, if her outfit “goes.” She did not know that brand names existed until she was in high school. I think I could count on one hand the number of clothing articles she has bought for herself since we got married almost ten years ago. She almost never wears makeup and happily lets our children go out in public wearing things that somehow got sucked from the 80s into some mysterious hidden river of time, eddying the edge of eternity before surfacing in my children’s closets. Of course, I mean this as highest praise. How does a person come to be so unattached to the things of the world, so unconcerned, so secure in robes of light? “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. . . . Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.” My wife is poetry. She startles wonder. She elevates me from my common ways of approaching reality, awakening me to the potential of being. She offers a new way to see the world, to be in the world. She transfigures existence.

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life . . . nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat and the body than raiment? . . . And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field . . .  even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Who care about clothes? Jesus and my wife ask. Let’s all be small Saints Francis, walking away from the world, buck naked and confident in God. This must be where my toddling daughter obtained her aversion to clothing. Her mother was a little nudist as a child, too. There is another covering, more resplendent and lovely: “And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace” (D&C 88:125). Jesus said that God would clothe us as He does the grass of the field if we seek first the kingdom. Julie pointed out to me the other day that God keeps His word. Bags of hand-me-downs appear on our doorstep like handkerchiefs from magician’s hats. Because my wife trusts God and loves beautifully.

“What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they? . . . These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”

She draws joy from her unfashionable pockets, light is her gift. God be thanked for my unadorned, unabashedly gorgeous helpmeet.