October 29, 2009

I Search for God [teddi]

I search for God.
In rainy days with books,
debates and prayers
dirty looks
and condescending stares.
In the heart of intellect,
the corners of the mind,
all thoughts
and words defined.
I search for God.
In the heartbeat or
hymn or chant
or the embrace or tear.
Aching to find God
what great fear;
if found nowhere.
I search for God.
Wag my finger at the sky
“Make yourself real!”
The heaven’s sigh
at my
unwillingness to believe.
I search for God.
In my church,
in my bookcase,
in my home,
in my head,
in what was just said.
but the truth is,
I want to touch.
I want to touch so much.
I search for God.
He is not seen (in body, nor bones, nor skin.)
So there faith comes in.
Skepticism rapes the mind,
logic strengthens.
Is God left behind?
I recall,
I’m searching for an answer,
I am not meant to find.
I search for God.
Close my mind,
open my heart
to do my part.
Trusting He’s right over there-
over the hill, over the sea,
in my footstep, in my plea,
in my cells, in my very simple
very feeble attempt
at trying to believe.

...continue reading...

October 27, 2009

Hope Deferred: A Lament [vanessa]

Hope deferred makes the heart sick...

Life is a constant succession of transitions. As I look back and ponder my life, there have been five pivotal points of transition –
high school graduation;
the summer after my freshman year of college;
the semester I lived in France;
graduate school;
AND moving to Lebanon.

Each transition carried with it a certain amount of joy, anticipation, and excitement. Yet, at each of these points of change I found myself filled with an overwhelming sense of dread. Dread can manifest itself in many forms. Mine often creates a gut-wrenching feeling of anxiety that neither flees with distraction nor is calmed with busyness. It is a lingering stalker in the pit of my soul that never truly leaves, but simply chooses to hide in the shadows until another transition arises.

I am, yet again, at one of these pivotal points of transition. Once again I am at the place where I long to experience joy and excitement, but am visited by my bittersweet friendship with dread. In the past I have linked my relationship to dread with grief. Transition carries with it a necessary grieving process. I enter grief readily and do not fear the feelings of death and sorrow that accompany it. I have learned to receive sorrow as the baseline to the song that is life. Yet, despite the truth in this, this answer simply doesn't go deep enough. Not this time. My heart is a cavernous well that is desperately longing to have its seemingly insatiable thirst...satisfied.

As I see it right now, I have five options:
1. Ignore My Thirst
2. Quench My Thirst
3. Drink Contaminated Water
4. Deny That I Am Thirsty
5. Dive Into the Caverns and See Just How Deep They Are

Throughout my life, I have chosen options one through four [repeatedly] and while my thirst was temporarily relieved, it was never satisfied. I was, and am, desperately thirsty. Like the rich man in Luke 16...a single droplet of water would soothe the anguish in my soul. Even a moment's worth of Living Water must be sweeter and more satisfying than options one through four.

It is tempting to continue to cycle through doors one through four, but really those aren't options any more. They only serve as counterfeit fulfillments for the deepest desire of my heart. It is time not to desire less, but more.

The denial that I am slowly beginning to walk out of is now allowing me to see that my dread is acutely linked to my desires – most especially those that are deferred. One of my favorite quotes states that “our desires are not too strong, but too weak.” I've spent my time seeking satisfaction and fulfillment through work, relationships, education, sex, image...the list could go on. Yet I deny the deepest desire of my wayward heart – the thirst for Living Water. Desire is not inherently wrong, it is what it is. But the way in which I manipulate my life in order to ensure the fulfillment of my desires actually keeps me from being fulfilled and leads me into a carousel of vain imaginations.

So, then what does it mean to dive into the depth of desire? Not to explore it less, but to explore it more? What is this ultimate desire that my heart is so deeply crying out for? My soul is hungry and thirsty. I've have been to many lavish banquets and have feasted upon the finest food, only to be left feeling ill and malnourished. All that I have desired I have sought after was, in the end, disappointing. I am quite certain that even the lingering desires that roam about in the caverns of my heart will prove disappointing. In all of my searching I have found that there is truly only one desire that will not disappoint – Hope.

The Living Water, my Hope – our Hope – is the deepest desire of my heart. It is for him that I hunger and thirst and long for. All other desires are simply passing shadows of the Hope that has come, is here and is coming again. Without Hope, dread reigns. Yet, Hope never ceases to extend this invitation:

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.”

It would be easy to assume that if we could only drink a glass of this water or eat a plate of this food that my thirst and hunger would cease. Yet this is not the promise. The promise is that we will never need to look for another banquet to attend. We can be eternally assured that we know where the well is with the best water that never runs dry and the table that will never lack second (or fiftieth) helpings. Come...leave behind your table scraps and sour wine. Feast with me at the King's table. There's always room for one more.

...A desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

...continue reading...

Choosing Love in the Moment [tony]

Sitting here, trying to pull something out of my heart,
Wondering why it’s so hard to just write
Because me and you both know that’s where I am
I don’t want to make some unrealistic statement that sounds good
So my words are accepted by my audience
Because when my eyes open,
I come to find myself
Up on an empty stage with the spotlight in my eyes, blinding me
And only a couple pieces of scrap paper in my hands with barely anything on them
Because what’s on them is what I feel and that’s not what they want to hear
Finally realizing that I’m not some rapper trying to make it big
Because my stage is in my head,
And You are my only audience that I have
And You really don’t care if I stumble over some word because You are with me
I’m not driven by the fame and fortune
I just want my words to be heard for what they are
But when I write something down,
Does it have feeling?
Does it have soul, love, a point, a reason?
Or is it just to show something off, to make myself sound good?
When am I going to stop trying to use my head to write what I feel
When I really know what I feel when listening to my heart?

...continue reading...

October 22, 2009

Dandelion Wishes [guest]

Look across the street from my home and you’ll see what made me want to write tonight: a little black girl and a little white boy face one another on the steeply slanting front lawn of a Pittsburgh home. She holds a dandelion, makes a wish: "I wish I had a dog". She blows on the tufts of white seed, and passes it on to the boy.

Pan out just a little to the sidewalk with the Asian, Caucasian, African American walkers, friendly joggers, and post office customers, the residential slopes of Greenfield, the black hats and long skirts of Squirrel Hill. Make the steep descent into Hazelwood or across to Homestead and the banks of the Monongahela with its history of Pinkerton strife and the long-gone thick red dust of Furnaces 6 & 7 whose tall black frames still scrape the sky. Or roll down to Beechwood Boulevard or straight to Forward and fly westward on the spirit of 376 past buildings and trees, trees, trees all the way from East Liberty up and coming to the Hill District down and out of the city at Brady, out, out damn spot where the cars pile up under the bridge abutments, and sometimes I think I'll die down there when the night falls and traffic subsides and all that's left is graffiti and concrete. Overhead the road I love to travel opens with a panoramic view of Uptown cares and Downtown moves pushing school, government, peace & social justice, Steelers, Penguins, Steelers, Penguins, and then the heart of the city, the Golden Triangle lights up all twinkling at night with the thousand starry light bulbs and bridges of Pittsburgh, the most livable Pittsburgh. I am home. Born here. Returning here.

Thanks for the dandelion; I'll make a wish for you.

Rachel Luckenbill has recently relocated from Lebanon, PA to Pittsburgh, the city of bridges and steel and the city where she was born. She likes heights, Penguins ice hockey, and meeting new people, so the new living arrangements are working out quite well. She spends 70% of her time reading and writing while studying for an English PhD at Duquesne. In the other 30% she’s exploring, conversing, sleeping, and eating.

...continue reading...

Snoring [jenna]

Some years ago, I heard a tale of a letter to Dear Abby--or some other such advice columnist--that came from a woman wondering rather desperately how to stop her husband snoring. It provoked several months of dialogue between readers and the columnist, until one woman wrote in with the following abrupt statement: "Snoring is the sweetest sound in the world. Ask any widow."

I heard that story long, long ago--before I married, before I met my husband, perhaps even in my childhood. I don't remember when. It stuck with me, however, as such stories will. It added a line to the list of things I do not wish to wait for widowhood to find out.

Some time after our wedding, some all-absorbing novel had convinced me to stay up half the night making sure the characters got to live and be happy. Both my husband and I have become used to falling asleep in the lamplight as the other reads, and he had done so. Despite the draw of the novel, I kept looking over at him as he lay sleeping, shoulders rising and falling gently--my husband, so perfect, so beloved, so admirable.

Then he started to snore.

Snoring is the sweetest sound in the world. The novel lost my attention for a few minutes as I thought that over. Snoring is such an awkward noise, so startlingly loud, a sound no human is proud of making (I should probably point out that my husband doesn't snore that often and rarely keeps me awake with it). It is particularly irritating to the ears and mind. Part of me wanted to reach over and shake him awake enough to stop the snoring, but the rest of me found it so endearing that I wanted to drop the book, snuggle into him, and go to sleep with an arm around him. Not wanting to wake him--and really wanting to know what happened next in the story--I let him snore.

Since then, I find a little joy and gratitude every time he snores, even if I am actually trying to sleep. Whether that is primarily owing to the old story, whether a woman who had to wait till age thirty to marry has an appreciation somewhat comparable to that of the widow, or whether snoring just doesn't affect me as negatively as it would a lighter sleeper, I do not know. Probably all three. I do know that the moment I hear that sound next to me and think of that tale, the arrhythmic rasp becomes something like a lullaby. For his presence, even in its occasionally irksome moments, is always to me a matter of rest.

The snoring moments, the times when his sudden conversation disrupts my ever-important thought processes, and the other however-rare occasions when he somehow manages to come between me and immediate comfort mean so little in comparison with the simple benefit of his life so close to mine, even without reference to the myriad ways he comforts and supports me every day. I know what it means to be alone at night, and in the day too. I dare not forget. The pleasure of his company is too much a great and unmerited and unpossessable gift to be taken for granted.

...continue reading...

October 20, 2009

I Woke a Strange Place [joshua]

I woke a strange place,
my father was gone,
he must have wandered somewhere.
Mounted brown bass
Solid bodied;
Careens from wall to balsam lure
Sooted with dust.
Stacks of important work,
Cabinets of stuff
And the smell of coffee
he must have wandered somewhere.
He cancelled the news
Along with our talks
And the Canadian vacation that went to pieces.
The year of the big storm
When growing up burned down.
At Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

...continue reading...

Part II: The Problem Requiring a Solution [barry]

Do you know what this is?" he asked one day, handing me a dead piece of wood no longer than my hand but twice the length of his, wide at one end and sharply, but evenly, tapered at the other.

"A stick?" I offered.

"No, Daddy, it's a gun – and this is the bullet," he corrected obviously, pointing next to a tiny speck of wood about the size and shape of a grain of instant rice.

"Can we cut a hole in the gun for the bullet to fit in, and then paint it to look like a real gun, Daddy?" he then asked, supplementing his inquiry with his trademark, inimitable gesturing.

"Of course we can," I laughed. [But we have not yet done so.]

My son is a sweet little boy. He is sensitive and kind. Even when he's bossing his sister, it is obvious that he loves her – because his love and his gentleness are never far from his disposition. He is the easiest person in the world to hurt, and the quickest person in the world to offer his unflinching, unreserved forgiveness and love. Although he is not unique (indeed, every boy will create a gun if he cannot have one), there is more to him. His mom says that he is just like his Daddy. His daddy is a warrior.

The warrior scene depicted in countless movies begins with wavering soldiers – perhaps just peasants – holding tentatively to the meager weapons that they have brought to the field. They are cajoled (perhaps inspired?) to charge to the awaiting enemy and engage in fierce, brutal, terrifying combat with armored strangers heaving vast, sharp (and also blunt) instruments of mutilation. No man who has ever watched a scene like this can do so and not ask the timeless questions of Crane's Youth, "What would I do in this situation? Could I actually make the charge? Would I be brave, or would I run?"

I no longer have to ask these timeless questions. I know what I would do, for I have been there (in the modern version of the scene, wherein the swords and axes and arrows have been replaced by bullets and grenades and hidden bombs). I am no hero under any possible interpretation of the word, but I take great pride in knowing the answer to these questions. But this pride and knowledge have become my identity, and thus have become the problem giving rise to my painful suicidal cliché. This identity is what I must, but do not want to, kill.

How do I kill my design? My nature, my creation, is and always has been to be a soldier. I have know this for as long as I have known anything – indeed from the time that I was fashioning my own pistols and rifles out of dead sticks and charging unnamed beaches and unknown hills. I read The Red Badge of Courage when he was seven, and again at eight, nine, ten, eleven . . . not because I had to, but because I wanted to. For as long as I can remember, I have imagined myself on a field like the one in the ubiquitous scene, or similar field in a later time and place, preparing for imminent battle. From my first visit to Gettysburg at age eight, and on every drive through any country landscape since, I have rarely seen the poetic beauty and majesty of rolling fields and prosperous farmlands. Rather, I see, and have always seen, advancing armies and tactical topography: things I know now by names such as "avenues of approach," "fields of fire," "cover and concealment," and "key terrain." It is, to me, a special brand of poetry. The times and places where I have felt most alive – where life has been most real – have either been in battle or in leading soldiers to prepare for battle. This is how my mind works – in any and every situation. I am wholly comfortable with this knowledge, in this skin, in this being – for I know that this is who I am. In this way, at my very core, I am just like my Daddy.

But Daddy is more than just a soldier. He is a King, and a rancher, and so much more; and Daddy says that no soldier ever gets involved in civilian affairs. My mind swims in the paradox that, in the course of being the soldier that I was designed to be, I have been deeply entangled in civilian affairs – however much they appear to be warlike. It seems that the "reality" of war that I know and cling to is nothing but a ruse de guerre from the Shadowlands, distracting me from the war that my Daddy really wants me to fight. I don't fully understand this – as Daddy's allegories for war still seem to me to just be allegories, but I trust Him, and I trust that His reality is greater than mine.

My devotion to my identity as a soldier has now become an obstacle to being the warrior that Daddy created. My pride and my identity are killing – or at least (but no less horribly) preventing the full life of – my marriage to my Savior, my marriage to my wife, my fathering of my children, and the caring of my Daddy's flock. I cannot serve two masters, nor can I fight the battles over my family, and for my church, and for the Kingdom whose citizenship I truly possess, while fighting the earthly battles of my temporal country. And thus, my reality is neatly turned on its head, and the paradoxical choice of identity suicide almost makes sense.

I fear the battle that lies ahead. What will I do? Can I actually make this charge? Will I be brave, or will I run? I guess it's time to find out, once more. It's time to go to war. It's time to stop being a wavering peasant in soldiers' clothing and fly with reckless abandon at the enemy. It's time to teach my son what it means to be a kind, loving, forgiving warrior. It's time to get out the knives and paint, like Daddy did for me.

...continue reading...

October 15, 2009

Coins [nean]

They weigh nearly nothing
but they carry the world:
just five pennies,
one dime --
the extravagance of his love.
"It's just one more gift;
you can buy something nice,
for yourself...
or maybe someone special"
His intense eyes search
for the worth of my soul
as they beg my approval
"I know it's not quite
what you wanted,
but it's all I could find."
I wonder at the simplicity
of these small bits of copper
revealing treasures far greater
then mere value in change

...continue reading...

October 13, 2009

The Truth Follows [liz]

Truth jumps from my six story window
I am left to discern
Where did it go?
Naked to my eye
I scan the ground and find its affect
In a bite of fruit and a smile

The watchman knows when they come and when they go
But the wealth behind his eyes goes unnoticed
Believing he is just the guy behind the gate

Children dark and dirty run and
Laugh to forget what was lost
When the coal burned their lungs
But kept them warm

Three wheels and a cart touch the ground
At each push of the pedal
Truth follows the man who carries all he owns
Blessed with hunger and desperation

...continue reading...

October 8, 2009

Autumn Fog [judd]

Yesterday I was
Almost done with an ode to David
Marble giant marvel of
Michelangelo. The most beautiful
Man-made object I will ever see
(Not hyperbole)

But then there I was
An hour later
Driving a back road by a
Foggy autumn bog
Under a full moon
A white christening gown
Shrouding a painted marsh
Leaves in vibrant array
Awaiting last rites
Even as they are baptized
By the fog

An October morning
Will fade in November
And deserves
My words
Insufficient but all I have
To preserve the temporary

Tributes to David
Will rest another day
Because he is always there
Has been for 500 years

One moral
Go see David because
There is life in that stone
But along the way
Notice the fleeting
Autumn fog

...continue reading...

October 6, 2009

Rabbit vs. Snake [jessi]

Nat exited the train and stood blinking on the platform, dazed and disoriented. Her current state of shock lasted for sixteen trains which arrived and left again before she began to move toward the turnstiles that would lead her to the marble staircase, the glass corridor, and the cold January sun. She carried a battered cardboard box in her arms and had a bandage on her hand. The heels of her shoes click-clicked down the cement walkway and reminded her that she was a grown-up with grown-up places to go, and grown-up things to do.

As she walked through the station, she pondered the box in her arms, and the chubby brown rabbit within. Hazel, had he been given his own way, would have been perfectly content to be smuggled onto a train. He would have munched his lettuce at ease, disregarding the swaying and tilting of the InterStar as it wooshed through the countryside at twice the speed of a normal train.

In retrospect Nat could see that she should have paid the extra fair to stow him in the pet compartment. It wasn’t as if the rabbit needed his box to be cuddled on her lap in a crowded car. And, of course, had she followed the InterStar’s posted rules of travel, she would have had a legitimate complaint against the other passenger who had also been unwilling to entrust her non-human companion to a train attendant. It was unlucky that they and their cardboard boxes had found themselves in such close proximity to one another—one chance in thirty to have ended up in the same car, and the odds were much less that they should find themselves in seats facing each other.

Two nervous women, each breaking protocol and liable to be dismissed from the vehicle at the next stop: one was carrying a rabbit in a box, the other possessed a large rat snake—a constrictor that had not feasted on rodent in several days.

It did seem unfair to be the one who was turned off the train, since her animal had not been the aggressor in the incident. But Nat did not have the cash to pay her fine, and she had the additional charge of causing an allergic reaction in the distressed elderly woman who had been seated next to her. Nat thought that the woman’s sudden breathing trouble was perhaps not the result of free-flying pet dander as Hazel the bunny attempted to flee his pursuant. She thought it more likely that it came from the shock of seeing the snake’s blunt nose burst through the weathered corner of its box.

They had been sitting in tense silence, listening to the snake as it roiled and scrambled in the box, smelling the bunny’s smell and becoming increasingly agitated. When it finally made its escape, it had frightened them all. The creature’s owner lunged after it over the fold-down table that separated their seats. Table, snake and owner all collapsed on Nat’s lap, and as they crashed toward her she threw her own box to the side not through any conscious desire to protect the rabbit, but from purely from instinct; she needed her hands free.

The woman caught the snake by its midsection and it writhed in her grip. Nat reached for its head and the frenzied animal struck, catching her hand in the fleshy spot between her thumb and forefinger. From that point it was all over rather quickly. With its head firmly in Nat’s grasp (Nat laughed later when she realized it was she who had been firmly in his) the other woman regained control of her pet as two train attendants converged on the scene. Nat was guided to the First-Aid station three cars down, and the other woman was escorted to the pet-carrier car to deposit her snake in a stronger container.

It wasn’t until the woman was paying her fine that she thought to question what triggered the snake’s unusual behavior. Hazel was no longer in his box, but he left a trail of evidence behind him and the investigating attendant had only to follow his little bunny trail of bunny things in order to find his sanctuary. He was lodged in a men’s size 12 wingtip that had disassociated itself from the side pocket of a duffle bag. Its owner had debarked some time ago, and was at this very moment in his hotel room debating whether to attend his board meeting bare-foot or in sneakers.

Nat was also weighing her options. The cascading tiles on the wall announcing the arriving and departing trains was mesmerizing—changing moment by moment, and delivering new possibilities with each new destination. The train from which Nat had just been dismissed was the last one stopping in Elgin that day, but many more were in proximity to it, and she had only to route herself by train, bus or taxi to reach her destination. Or she could hole up in a hostel by the station, or camp out in the station itself for one night and catch the same line the next afternoon.

It was only a minor holdup—she could proceed forward. But then the thought occurred that perhaps she had been given a sign. Perhaps God in the form of a reptile had arrested her journey in order to give her a change of direction, and perhaps instead of the security of the known, she should throw caution to the wind. Exchange the immovability of the mountains for the changeability of the seaside. Trade the job offer for a transitory existence. Let the apartment be rented out while she occupied a train compartment, or the back bench of a bus. If there were one life form she were certain God would not cloak himself in, it was a snake, and yet…and yet…

The departures board continued its change, flipping tiles to reveal new track numbers, and new ports of call. Nat smiled. Ultimately she didn’t believe in signs, but she did believe in the knot in her stomach when it released and gave her that sense of calm that she hadn’t felt in years.

“Come on, bunny” she said, heading toward the ticket booth. “Let’s visit the sea.”

...continue reading...

October 2, 2009

Two Hours [guest]

Two hours
seems an interminable length
to the husband, father
who stares into the eyes
of his tiny daughter.
Newly thrust into
a darkened room
in this darkened world.
And wonders
if he will have to go about
this enormous task
without her.

Two hours
seems so long
to the mommy, the wife
whisked upstairs
to stare into the bright hooded lights
of a sterile room.
And wonders
if it is her day
to see the face of Jesus.
And pleads with God
to let her stay
to hold him
and raise her baby.

Two hours
seemed like forever
to the mother of mommy
the mother of daddy
when they got the word
“Baby is here.
But the mommy, we don’t know.”
And as they waited
and begged for God’s mercy.

Two hours
ticks by slowly
between one and three
in the morning.
As the wide eyes
and hungry mouth
of a little baby
refuse to conform
to the regimented schedule
of three meals
eaten in the company of the sun.
And the parents yawn,
and gaze
longingly at their bed
occupied by only one.

Two hours
fly by
when she tucks her head
beneath my chin.
Her pudgy embrace.
Her beautiful face.
This precious daughter, miracle
Gift of God.
When she smiles
coos, talks in tongues unknown
the language of tiny angels.

These hours
treasured up in my heart
not chosen, but freely given.
Gladly taken.
Each one a unique and glorious verse
of a new song
an eternal life.
sung by
God The Father.

Beth Linder is currently learning about wife and mommyhood in the Pacific Northwest Autumn. While she usually expresses herself verbally (sometimes quite noisily), she sometimes can find no suitable outlet other than in .doc form.

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