Thursday, October 23, 2008

Disappearing Act

I have been thinking about something that happened long ago. Maybe it was that little white spider we found a few nights ago, near the orange juice machine at work. Maybe it is just that, after years of raising kids instead of flowers, I have finally decided that it is time to garden again. So I have been thinking about the gardens I have had in the past.

Whatever the reason that brought it to mind, it was 17 years ago. I was a different person, living a different life. I was a technical writer in Silicon Valley California, writing manuals for IBM. I was an agnostic: thoroughly practical, level-headed--nary a spiritual bone in my body. I was never a crystal twiddler, navel contemplator, Ouija board operator. If God or angels… or spirits or fairies… or ghosts or demons… existed, they certainly had nothing to do with me.

I owned a little suburban house on a tiny piece of ground that I lived in with my first husband.

And I had a garden. In California, the lavender will grow four feet high and as wide around. The buddleia will grow to nearly 8 feet high, with a hundred panicles of purple flowers drooping over your head and releasing the scent of cooking cherries for 60 feet around (at least it, smelled of cooking cherries to me). It mixed with the clove smell of the ankle-high dianthus, from their bright ragged flowers…. There were red climbing roses on the West fence--so dignified!--and sweet alyssum growing at their feet. And I had bright California poppies everywhere, cheerful fluttering orange flags, every spring.

It was the kind of garden that made a friend say, the first time she had lunch with me on the patio, “Oh, this is too Disney…. Talk about Disney moments!” (I think it was the flutter of house finches at the birdbath that clinched it for her.) It was the kind of garden that made little children exclaim to their mothers, as they walked by on the sidewalk… “Look, Mommy! Flowers!” And unnecessarily delay the walk, as the child knelt over each orange and pink and white and purple blossom, showing Mama the prettiness…. “Yes, dear. They’re lovely. Come along, dear. No, come along. Yes, sweetheart… come along…”

As far as I was concerned, there was no better way to spend a weekend, than puttering about in my little garden, among the flowers.

But I have been thinking about one particular day. I was working in the garden. On the east side of the house, was a little narrow strip of backyard between the house and the boundary fence (a tall privacy fence). It dead-ended in a fence that separated the front from the back yard. Mostly I just stored pots and extra bricks and tiles and such back there, although there were some jumbly low-lying plants that liked the shade back there, and there was a nice honeysuckle vine on the part of the fence that separated the front and back yard. It was in bloom. I was puttering about back there with some tools… I don’t remember exactly what project I was working on.

I glanced at the honeysuckle vine, and I happened to notice a spider, sitting in the middle of a web. It was an ordinary spider, and an ordinary web… which is to say, they were quite lovely. They caught my eye, and I looked at them a little closer. Then my eyes focused in closer, and this sort of telescoping thing happened, and pretty soon the spider and the web were filling the whole of my vision. Then something very difficult to explain happened, because for some period of time… I do not know how long… there was Nothing. It is very hard to describe Nothing… but there it Was. I wish I could find some way to explain what I mean. There was no fence and no house and no honeysuckle and no spider. There may have been a Me, but even that is uncertain. There was no body of Me, no eyes, no hands, no breath, no feet…. Nothing. Then my eyes were again looking at the spider and the web, and they were just ordinary lovely. I teetered for a moment, between wanting to try to plunge back into that Nothing and wanting to pull away…. But finally I said to myself, “Well, I can’t waste any more time staring at spiders….” And I went back to my gardening.

However, when I went into the house to get something, my then-husband pitched a fit. “Where have you been?! I’ve been looking all over for you!” I was in the back yard, working in the garden. “Why didn’t you answer when I called? I’ve been hollering all over!” I didn’t hear you. “What do you mean, you didn’t hear me?!” I was just in the side yard; I don’t know why I didn’t hear you. “I looked in the side yard! You weren’t there! Oh, fer Pete’s sake…”

But I was in the side yard. Wasn’t I? For years, I assumed that he hadn’t really bothered to look in the side yard; I would have been clearly visible if he had even casually glanced around the corner of the house. And people don’t just disappear. If a person is in a corner of the yard, That is where a person is…. Isn’t she?

But since then, I have met God. He has spoken to me. And I have seen angels. Not with crystal-clarity the way some have, but I have seen the waters stirred, that showed their presence. And I have seen the world *shimmer* like the surface of a pond, as God showed me that Reality was more than I had ever dreamed of in my philosophy.

So, I have slowly and recently come to the tentative conclusion that I may not have been in my back yard for at least a little while, anyway. Long enough for someone to discover he couldn’t find me.

But, if I wasn’t where I Was, where was I?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Power of Prayer (Part Two)

Recently, I have had the privilege of walking a while with an old soldier, who has fallen in love with our Peace Testimony. I don’t know exactly how much blood is on his hands, and I’m not sure I want to find out. But he loves the Peace Testimony with a passion and a faithfulness that is only possible from creatures who know that they have been terribly lost, and are found at last. To him, the Peace Testimony is more than a witness against war. She is Shalom. Wholeness, reconciliation, healing, love, caring, life, joy, abundance.

He sees in her the shining face of God’s abiding, overarching, impossible, mad love for us and for the world. He sees in the Peace Testimony an affirmation of life, an affirmation of God’s love for all of us. He sees in her the hope of living beyond despair, of living in “the covenant of peace which was before wars and strife were.” (Fox) And he has determined never to leave her.

So I paid attention when, one day during our walk, he said to me with some anguish, “She’s broken. She’s hurt.”

He stretched out his hand, and nestled in it was a bright thing with feathers, iridescent and brilliant and bejeweled. Her eyes were bright. When I touched her, I could feel the strong beat of her heart, measuredpatientwildgreen. She’s a beautiful thing, Peace is. She looks so delicate, but she is strong. As I looked closer at her, I saw what the old soldier was trying to say: her wings were crumpled, stuck and sticky, coated in the crippling adhesive of the compromises of the Spirit of the World. How long had it been since she’d really flown and soared? She is so beautiful, it is easy not to notice how broken she is. She was singing a song beyond words, of wholeness and joy and love and reconciliation. But how long had it been since she’d been able to soar?

The old soldier looked at me, and I could see it in his eyes: What can be done? Oh, Lord. How could I tell this man that That was the best we Quakers could do… that there was nothing to be done to help her soar, that our Peace Testimony was forever doomed to compromise and failure? With the song of Peace ringing through my brain, how could I tell this lost-and-found child of God that there was nothing to be done to help her, and that he would have to settle for good enough?

Well, I couldn’t tell him.

Shalom speaks against war and violence, and for generosity and gentleness. Shalom speaks against abortion, and for life for the powerless. Shalom speaks against euthanasia, and for care for the helpless and despairing. Shalom speaks against the death penalty and for mercy.

Shalom speaks against expedience and “logic” and “pragmatism.”
Shalom speaks against anger and hatred and fear and despair.
Shalom speaks against Death.

Shalom sings:
Let justice and mercy kiss.
Choose life, o child of God.
Choose life in all your paths.

Shalom sings:
Love one another.
Love thy neighbor.
Love thy enemy.
Love the poor and the lame and the sick.
Love the little ones and the littlest ones—even those yet unseen.

And still my old soldier looks at me with grave eyes (O found prodigal, brother mine—I have nothing, no answers, less than a dying thief).

All I have is a prayer:
Lord, open the eyes of our hearts. Heal the brokenness in each of us that makes it hard to follow your path. Help us to live fully in the covenant of peace that was before and is beyond strife. Make us true citizens of your Peaceable Kingdom, true witnesses to Shalom. Make our Testimony to the world Whole and True so that we love and cherish ALL of your children, including those unborn. Help us to choose against Death and the Reasoner, and the entangling snares of the World. O Lord, grant us thy peace. Amen.

The Spirit of Shalom has beautiful wings. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for the whole world to be able to look up into the blue blue sky and see her shining, and glorious and whole… and hear her song roll down like waters…

Wilt thou pray with me?

The Power of Prayer (Part One)

Way back when we lived in California, and my oldest son was 4 and my oldest daughter was 3, we lived in an old bunk house that didn’t have screens on the windows or doors. It also wasn’t air-conditioned, so we left the windows and doors open during the summer. At night, we would lie in bed, and watch one of the local bats swooping about, catching bugs in the room where we slept. It was kind of homey, in a weird sort of way.

One morning, as we were getting ready to eat breakfast, my daughter looked up at the fly paper hanging over the kitchen table. “What’s that?” she asked. Kevin and I looked… and there was something lumpy attached to the fly paper… like a tightly crumpled piece of paper that would fit in the palm of my hand. We looked closer. And we realized it was our poor bat.

It had gotten caught in the fly paper overnight, and as it had struggled to get loose, it had only succeeded in spreading the glue over its wings, and its body. Now it was so sticky, that it couldn’t spread its wings at all, and it lay glued to itself in tight crumples and creases.

Kevin gently pulled the bat off the fly paper, and we put it in a box. And we went back to our meal. We bowed our heads and did Grace, and were thankful for our meal. Then, my little son, with his head bowed and his hands clasped, said something like this, “And, God, please help the bat get better so it can fly again and be happy.” And my little daughter, with her head bowed and her hands clasped, opened her eyes wide and looked adoringly at her brother, and nodded in agreement.

Oh, Lord. Kevin and I had silently been discussing whether it would be better to let the bat die quietly on its own, or put it down. There was no Way that bat could survive, with its crumpled sticky horrible wings. Oh, Lord. How could I tell the children that there was no way that God could save the bat?

Well, I couldn’t tell them.

“What are you going to do?” Kevin whispered, when he kissed me good-bye on his way to work. “I guess I’m going to try to save a bat,” I said. Dang it. It was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I had enough to do, with three little ones in the house, and another due in a few months. But when a little child prays, it’s mighty hard not to try to help that prayer come true. “Good luck,” sez my husband….

“A bat in the fly paper?” said the animal rescue lady. “I’ve had people save hummingbirds who got stuck on fly paper… but a bat? Hmmmm….” I had called the local wild animal rehabilitation center, in the hopes that someone would know what to do. No, they didn’t have any experience with bats on fly paper per se, but the lady encouraged me. Between us, we came up with a plan to use Kevin’s Go-Jo waterless hand cleaner as a solvent to get rid of the fly paper glue. “Good luck,” she said. “It’s awfully nice of you to try to save a bat. Most folks wouldn’t do it.” Most folks don’t have a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old following their every move with big eyes (and now the one-year-old was getting interested too).

Well, the bat and I had a long day getting to know each other. I held it still and wiped Go-Jo over its wings with Q-tips. And a bit at a time I was able to remove the sticky stuff. And slowly the wings unfurled. Slowly, it began to look like a bat, instead of a gray crumpled piece of paper. It took forever. But it was finally done. And then I had a bat in my hands, instead of a dying wad of sticky flesh. A very tired and unhappy, helpless and certainly hungry bat. But a bat, complete with lovely gray papery wings that opened and closed.

The wild animal rehabilitation lady had said that if I managed to get the bat unstuck, I should tie a dishtowel to a tree trunk as high as I could reach, and then allow the bat to crawl under the towel. She said it would shelter there until nightfall, resting. So we did, and the little thing crawled under the towel, and we waited. And night came, and we went to sleep, in a house that had had all the fly paper carefully removed.

In the morning, we all went out to the tree and looked under the towel. No bat. And the children clapped their hands, and laughed and looked all around up into the blue sky. Spinning, looking into the sky, hands clasped in glee, eyes shining…. And Kevin and I looked all around on the ground at the base of the tree, all over the ground in that part of the yard… until we finally looked up at each other…. “Maybe it’s OK,” he said quietly. “Maybe a cat got it,” I murmured. “Maybe,” he said. “We’ll never know.” And the children spinning, and grinning, and saying, “God did it! The bat’s OK!” Well, maybe the bat is. Maybe it lived. There was a bat flying in our bedroom, a few nights later, catching bugs.

That’s the power of prayer for you. Things you never thought were possible, become possible, just as a matter of course.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Under Construction

Bear with me... I'm trying to find a template that allows for a a wider text area. Oh, ouch! It's an ugly blog right now... Gimme a little while to straighten things out. This may take longer than I thought.....