Hearts and Ashes

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, love’s arduous and jubilant walk to the cross, to the center of all things, where the horizontal line of what we experience as time and narrative is pierced by the vertical line of Truth. The horizontal line stretching backward and forward farther than the eye can see. The vertical line generated like lightning. The crossing of these lines we call Now. 

The vocabulary of sacrifice can’t help but show up on such a day. We have to look at what slaughter has to do with offering. How can taking the life of another be an offering of my own? It can’t. That precious lamb or bull or child or virgin represents those things we worship more than anything: Security, a future, innocence, power. “Here,” we say, “I’ll give you my prize as proof of how much I fear you. To prove I love you. What’s that you say? You only want me? No. No. No. I’ll have to think about that.” And we walk it all back. How did we get so mixed up?  

I think of my sister’s final Now.  

Cindy woke up, peed, showered, had coffee. She walked the dogs, ate breakfast, dressed, did her hair, put together her lunch, stepped into shoes. The December day was bright and warm. The key went into the ignition. Music played. She put her elbow on the slight ledge where car door meets window, and tipped her head into her hand while waiting for a light to change. She arrived at work, said good morning. At her desk, she thought about what she needed to do to get ready for a trip to Sally’s cabin. And then, with an internal blow near her right temple, her light went out. In the shock, her heart arrested, but was too strong – from walks and gardening and time in the mountains – to stop. 

The EMTs couldn’t let her go. That decision came down to us, her family. 

So here we are. Here I am, braiding and unbraiding the threads of story and loss – a far cry from and resonant echo of letting go – and all tangled up with the language of sacrifice. 

Cindy’s life ended. The wave fell back into the ocean. This did not happen for a reason. She was not taken, stolen, smote, executed, or sacrificed. This is not to say her life had no meaning. And who knows if she offered anything up or what she offered, if she did. So much that isn’t ours to know. 

Here, only, today’s Now. No life is ever completed, and yet everyone is complete in the Mystery.

 

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Abiding

night sky 17

the Mary in me

bows to the Mary in you

giving birth to God

 

you think only she

alone in the world chosen

worthy so are you

 

dark and holy night

unknowing breathing waiting

mystery becomes

 

 

the Joseph in me

bows to the Joseph in you

accepting God’s son

 

humble carpenter

he won’t inherit your tools

no one prepared you

 

raise him anyway

the Mystery in real life

reaching for your hand

11 November

That wind came barreling down from the Northwest, over the hill into Grand Marais, and out to Lake Superior. At the uphill edge of town, a gust takes your breath. You walk three steps in place against it and turn away, staggering, to blink at the place where steel gray water meets paler sky. Beyond the horizon that wind piles water into mountains and overwhelms the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Grand Marais is a town with its face to a vast drinkable sea, cold enough to kill you almost any day of the year. The ghosts of colossal sturgeon claim its depths and wait, wait for the next of us to fall into torpor on the metallic surface and join them.

It’s a town with its back to a dark forest, too quiet to hide in.

In the worst of winter, cold steals into a cabin, snapping minds like twigs. A rifle repeats 5 times, and the wife, the kids, the head of household, lose their heat in dark pools, while outside, dogs whimper on heavy chains, waiting to be fed.

Should you survive, you’ll come out from under winter’s weight just in time for the descent of biting flies.

Why would anyone want to live here?

Perhaps because in the violent indifference of the place you also find beauty, and you sense the holy necessity of everything, down to the wriggling white grub, the bacteria digesting the fir needle, the chickadee’s insistent cheerfulness, the half-blind hulk of moose, even the mosquito’s whine.

And you want to know it, every part. You want to disappear into the heart of it.

This wanting can go several ways. It can die into hardness, the lack of gratitude for your own existence, and the need to battle against the suchness of the place. It can turn you into an expert on mushrooms. It can sing in your DNA, so that when you’re striding down an unpaved road, you’re blasted with an inkling of who you are. It can call you out, over and over, to the edge in the middle of hypothermia, where you let go, let everything go.

Like the inconsolable dawn, leaking into the coldest hour of night, a knowing seeps into your dark horizon. You are seen, embraced, loved. Every cell. Every clumsy thought. The place knows you.

It’s then that you realize: every day of your life will be spent in prayer. Every crunching footstep. Every stone tossed into the breathing water. Every sigh turning to frost in your hair.

For Barb L.