Noah Lying on His Blanket
June 15, 2018
I listened to a song while you were lying
On a blanket in the floor this morning—
A song we sang at church that left me crying
Because it said (a punch without a warning)
That God would never let me down. And I
Was pretty sure He’d done exactly that—
Because although I knew that He would dry
The tears He bottled up for me and pat
My forehead like my mama did, I had
To stop believing He would fill my heart
In that place where I longed to be called “Dad”—
Like saints that Paul said only saw the start.
“But if not,”—I would quote the three young men—
While God was brooding like a mother hen.
There’s been a lot of talk of recovery and the need thereof in my immediate circle lately.
The word rehabilitation has been playing around my mind this morning, and I was thinking about the etymology. Latin re–again, habitare–to make fit. To make fit again presupposes that something was fit before.
I don’t think that’s the case when it comes to things that we treat with what we call rehab, that something was actually fit before–and all it needs is to be restored to its former glory. No, I believe we come to the place where we need rehab because we were fundamentally broken from the get go.
Rohr posits that we are all addicts. It’s just that for most of us, our addiction isn’t to a substance that will kill us, so our dependencies play like background software undetected for most of our lives.
My personal list would be topped by the triumvirate of Approval, Being Liked, and Pleasing Others followed closely by nighttime cereal eating.
I trace back through my years and I watch how my own legion addictions (activities or practices that promise a controlled, pleasurable experience, however fleeting or empty) have shat on my life, relationships, and sanity like a kit of Port Authority pigeons.
I also look back and see where the gentle, masterful Hand of God (where I finally let Him) turned pigeon dookie into manure that grew a really beautiful garden.
It’s grace. Charis undeserved and freely given. God sent the perfect people into my life at the perfect times to tell me in all love and tenderness, “This is a cluster.”
My experience has not been that of tidying up a messy room. There had/continues to be a razing of the whole structure, a re-digging of the foundation, and setting the Cornerstone in place that I had rejected. If the building blocks of our bodies are cells, I have been changed on a building-block level.
This was not self-help, self-improvement, nor will power.
It was Step One: “(I) admitted (I was) powerless over (my addictions)—that (my life) had become unmanageable.” It was the prayer of the despised tax collector in the temple that Jesus taught about: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
It was the end of my perceived self and resources. Accompanied by a ninja spiritual director, a cadre of truth-telling friends, and then the sweetest miracle wife, I walked and walk through re-pentance. Re-thinking. Metanoia.
The gospel says that Jesus died and rose from the dead, and because He did, we do too. It’s that crazy.
I believe the whole thing. And I see the resurrection in my life, how God has raised dead things to glowing brilliance.
I vividly remember a dream I had when I was on tour in 2002. Pretty sure we were in Oklahoma City.
I was at an artist’s studio, a ramshackle wooden shed painted white. It was outside on the greenest of green lawns, one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.
There were mosaics, mirrors, pinwheels spinning in the breeze, chimes ringing. The artist was there, but he was invisible. He said every creation in the studio had been fashioned from discarded things.
And in my life since then, I have seen so much trash turned to treasure. The list would create an unread-ably long post. I’ll have to piece them out for later. (What a stoopit-blessed thing to be able to say.)
Recently I got to work with this practically. I wanted to build a mini raised garden for our back patio.
After a fruitless trip to Lowe’s fretting over which lumber to buy (it was a sight to behold involving aisle-pacing, tape-measuring, and much scratch-paper draftery), I came across some discarded fence wood someone had put out for garbage collection in our neighborhood.
A few nails, loosely-measured hand-sawings, and cuss words later, we got ourselves a little herb garden.
I love looking at it and knowing what was headed for the landfill is now full of herbs and ‘maters.
Aaaand, life lesson link, go.
Happy summer, y’all.
I tell my students all the time that they have to understand singing through their messy, creative, childy, story-mind before they can understand it with their empirical, ordered, Erlenmeyer flask brain. It’s true in the act of creating that we are using an intelligence that has been devalued by the post-enlightenment culture we live in.
We are praised, win awards, and get good grades for memorizing things, synthesizing the information into theses and supporting paragraphs, and demonstrating our mastery of formulas and facts. That = wickett smaht.
But I’m beginning to trust this/these other type(s) of smart that are not so encouraged when we’re doing the school thing: the hunches, the automatic knowing of something–not sure how it arrived, but just knowing it’s authentic. The land of story and image and symbol.
The symbol of brain himself, Albert Einstein, said those famous words:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Imagination. Image, from Latin imago. Then verb-ified to imaginari, “to form a mental picture to oneself.” Old French has it as imaginer, which is “to sculpt, carve, paint, or embellish,” actually bringing the image into the physical realm.
Genesis reads that we are made in the image of God. Tomes have been written on that one sentence, of course. But I believe the ability to image-ine is a connective aspect of that image-gifting that touches everything we are.
Even the pedestrian words we say in everyday conversation are born out of imagination; they create our environment. Think back to a moment when you saw an angry altercation between strangers on the street. For me in such situations, the atmosphere changed to stingy, metallic caustic-ness.
Our words are power packets delivered out of our imaging gift. Any object we see in the world lived there first: a building, chair, car, corkscrew–all imaginari before they could be imaginer.
Imagination is a technology. It is good. I originally thought neutral, but no, I believe it is good. But the good then gets twisted. The human imagination that is capable of creating the Sisters of Charity is also capable of creating Auschwitz.
A great power that can find its expression in goodness and beauty or in a twisted, terrible distortion.
One of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle:
“It is … through the world of the imagination which takes us beyond the restrictions of provable fact, that we touch the hem of truth.”
I want to trust this gift more and let it flow through, to be a creator every day, and choose to use the imagination God gave me to charge the atmosphere around me with joy, creativity, inspiration, beauty, and redemption.
With God’s help, I will.
My Great Uncle Joe Bill Jessup went to heaven two days ago.
Married 63 years to Aunt Ruth, father, Korea veteran, joy-filled, live-wire, caring man who loved God.
Ever since Melissa and I moved to North Carolina, I have been thinking, “Melissa has to meet Joe Bill.” And I never made the time.
It turned out to be timely that I wrote a poem about my fore-farmers on Tuesday because Joe Bill is a major part of that legacy.
I heard so many hilarious front-porch stories of him and my Papa, Basil Jessup, growing up on the farm together in Westfield, NC, along with their brother J.T. and sister Mary Ellen.
I could tell you a lot about him, but you just have to see him to know.
Here he is from a video my brother Joel captured during a visit we had with him nearly two years ago, telling us how every day for him was like Sunday on the farm.
There is a really nice obit in the Mt. Airy News here.
We love you, Joe Bill.
or a Lenten Meditation on Being Soft
I’d find it hard to name a better smell
Than biscuits baking. Take that back. Add
Some bacon in a cast iron skillet, well,
If that don’t turn the goodest vegan bad…
My mama gave my wife and me a dough
Bowl turned from wormy chestnut that belonged
To her great-grandma. Must have been, I know,
A lost-count number of biscuits kneaded, sing-songed
From wood-burn stove to table, farmers fed
Enough to strengthen them for hours more
Of bone-tired fieldwork. Grandma often said
“Y’all don’t know real work like we did before.”
My great-grandfarmers plowed the field ahead.
I reap their sowing, eat their daily bread.
Last week I took a different route to school because of the snow.
I came to a stoplight at Martin Luther King Drive and the end of Highway 29 and saw a man standing in the cold wearing old army surplus fatigues and holding one of the too-many cardboard signs I see here in Greensboro. He was about six feet, black, bearded, probably in his fifties. He had smiling eyes.
I don’t remember exactly what the sign said, but I remember “anything helps,” and a big GOD BLESS.
I had no cash or food in the car, but when he looked at me, I waved. Then I rolled down the window, and he walked over.
I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash or food on me, but I’ll pray for you.”
He smiled and said, “Thank you.”
I asked him his name, and he said, “Leroy.”
I asked if he had a place to stay that night. He was trying to get thirty-five dollars for a motel room, but if he couldn’t he had a friend with a tent. Last week in Greensboro it dipped to single digits at night.
The light changed, and we said goodbye. In my rear-view mirror, I saw a nice woman in a Saturn giving Leroy some cash.
As I drove down Interstate 40 toward Elon, I was thinking about Leroy and praying for him. I thought about my split-second hesitation to roll down my window and talk, the discomfort and guilt/powerlessness I feel when I see someone standing on the road asking for money.
I thought about his name, Leroy. It means “the King.” Le Roi.
And I remembered something C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, that “(t)here are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
When Leroy goes to heaven, he will have a mansion built just for him and probably several crowns custom-designed by his Father. I’m citing Jesus’s words about many mansions in the gospel of John, (Ch 14) and I’m making an imaginative leap based on his account (I believe it was the same John) of the words of the living creatures and twenty-four elders around the throne of God (Revelation Ch 5).
There standing with his shabby cardboard sign, someone we in our heated cars pretend not to see, was a man who, to use Lewis’s words again “may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
There on my commute to school in my cozy used Honda, the seed of an idea was planted in my heart, and it made me cry. In fact, it’s been sneak-attacking me the last several days and bringing up the water works.
I have no idea what this seed will grow to become, but the little thing sprouted into a question mark: What is your response to Leroy?
My answer then: “I don’t know.”
But I did get a little download as I drove. There has to be something simple we can all do. Many hands/light work.
Then I started seeing all kinds of crazy-impossible-exciting things happening here in this city that my mind readily dismissed as impossible. But I shifted these images to the dream safety vault before my reasoning could bee-bee more little holes in them.
So for now, what is my response?
I am going to find organizations here in Greensboro who are already addressing this need, have been for years, and see where I can help. I’ll add one pair of hands to the many-er and many-er and be a learner.
I’ll keep you posted.
I bet Leroy knows what his name means.
When I was a little boy my mom and dad would sing this song at Woodville Baptist Church (near Westfield NC).
“Sweet Beulah Land” by Squire Parsons.
I remember the woman who often babysat me on Sunday afternoons and was my trusted source for Hubba Bubba, Hazel Norman (who also carried me into the church for the first time after I was born), would request it all the time.
A dear friend of ours, Anna Smith, recently asked me if I knew the song. She wanted to play it for her mother, Frances. My mom’s name is also Anna, and my grandma’s name is Frances, too. We were meant to be family.
So I found the chords and gave it a shot. Playing through it the first few times brought a tear or seven. Amazing how indelible these early memories are. “Precious memories,” as another hymn says. Grateful to be from these North Carolina hills and hollers.
Here you go, Anna Smith. Love you.