Monday, May 02, 2016

The Paschal Matins
















As midnight approaches the entire church goes dark.  All sources of light are extinguished and the people stand in complete blackness.  It is a moment of pregnant silence surrounded by those you can feel but not see.  Then, somewhere in the altar, a single light appears and moves ghost-like to the royal doors.  They open and the priest appears with his lit candle chanting "Come receive the Light from the Unwaining Light and glorify Christ who is risen from the dead."  He is soon surrounded by eager hands holding unlit candles that catch his fire and the flame quickly spreads from the front of the church to the back, person to person.  It is a beautiful part of the Paschal service and a powerful metaphor for the mystery of the Resurrection.


***

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Christos Anesti!



Tonight I will be attending the Orthodox service of Pascha which is known as "Easter" in the Western church.  It is a service that starts at 11:30pm and finishes around 2:30am after which there is a huge feast full of joy in celebration of the miracle of the Resurrection (or maybe the miracle is that God died in the first place!).  It's all very hard to get the head and heart around.

Sometimes the feasting stretches into the wee hours of Sunday morning because no one wants to go home, and when you do, the air is still and you can hear the occasional bird chirp as the sky begins to glow in the East.  It is the culmination of an entire year of fasts and feasts that sanctifies time and leads to this moment of experiencing time outside of time.

There is nothing else in my life that is quite like it and the thought that comes to mind today while waiting patiently for the evening to come is that it is something like those cathartic moments in a really good movie, book, play, or musical.  In those moments there are things that swell and things that contract, but mostly there is a deep down sense that what is most real is infinitely deeper than what we can know or fully perceive.


***

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Only the Heart



As time passes
and memories fade
only the heart 
will forever keep
what is most precious
in this short life.


***

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Carpenter Bees



Carpenter bees roam 
the dandelions and 
purple-flowered weeds 
of my backyard, startled 
from their perch by 
the wheels of my mower.
They hover and flit, 
sometimes intertwined 
with others of their kind,
unable to stay aloft,
falling to the grass in pairs.
My five year old daughter 
sees that I am unafraid 
and walks into this spectacle 
of fuzzy helicopters and 
exclaims "they are so big!"
I remember them hovering 
near my father's barn
when I was a child, 
frozen in the air for a moment 
before moving on.  
It gave my little brain
the idea to get a  
handsaw to use like a bat.  
When they paused in flight 
to challenge my approach
I would swing the saw and 
hear the ping of their bodies 
meeting the flat side 
of the metal blade.  
I would track them down 
lying stunned in the grass, 
unable to fly or escape.  
I felt I was doing someone a service 
by smooshing them under my shoe, 
having outsmarted them with
my crude but effective weapon, 
for a moment feeling not-so-small,
releasing my rage, stinger-like.


***




Friday, April 22, 2016

The Rookie




I'm one of the parents who tends to come to my son's baseball practices and games to help out where I can without having to carry the designation of "coach" or even "assistant coach."  Because I own a catcher's mitt I've taken on the informal role of warming up the kids who will be pitching the next inning.

Last night the coach let one of the fourth graders in our 4th-5th grade mixed team start the game as pitcher.  I could tell he was nervous when I took him to the side to warm up.  He had never pitched before and he kept up a kind of nervous banter to talk himself through it.

When he went to make his first pitch his body was perpendicular to mine and he raised up his front leg as pitchers are known to do.  But instead of one fluid motion he just froze there for a few seconds with his leg pulled up looking like a navy blue flamingo.  He then stepped forward and threw a pretty decent pitch.

After watching him flamingo a few more times I suggested he continue to lift that leg like he was doing but make it more of a continuous motion without stopping. He tried it and the ball flew over my head by about four feet.  The coach called over for him to rejoin the team and I quickly told him, "Just do what feels comfortable."

He ended up doing remarkably well and I learned that sometimes a kid just has to go with what he knows.


***

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bedtime Routine



Night has fallen and the darkness
draws close looking for entrance
into our home through crack or crevice.

The kids are in bed and I am the last
left awake to wander the halls and
stand watch for their souls and bodies.

Their small heads on indented pillows
look serenely into the world of dreams,
safe in the knowledge of my presence.

My son's lips are slightly parted, an escape
route for his soul if God so chooses,
my finger on the light switch, hesitating.

Darkness claims his room and I move on
to the soft pink glow of my daughter's room,
her bright brown eyes shuttered for the night.

As I lie in my own bed, the darkness is
complete and I whisper the ending prayer
that is proper for such a time, the "little death"

Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my
soul and body.  Do Thou Thyself bless me,
have mercy upon me, and grant me life eternal.

Amen


***

Thursday, April 07, 2016

"Peace"




In February of '91 I was flown down to Ft. Benning, Georgia to start Basic Training at twenty two years of age after talking to a recruiter and dropping out of my senior year of college.  I arrived at Reception Battalion on Sand Hill with long wavy hair and rounded John Lennon glasses.  The dreaded hair cuts/head shavings were on day two or three and during those first few days I picked up the nickname "Peace" from the other soon-to-be basic trainees.  We were a strange mix of shorn and unshorn young men caught between worlds of civilian and soldier.

Because I had three years of college I was given the rank of E-3 or Private First Class.  They put me in charge of nine other young men and expected me to get them to formations and march them to the various appointments necessary to begin Basic Training.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I left-faced them when it should have been right.  I gave commands while in the parade rest position, not knowing I needed to be in the position of attention before doing so.  I had to make up the fire watch list that involved one hour shifts throughout the night of someone walking between the bunks with a flashlight.

It was a very dark time for me and something I had not anticipated.  I'd naively thought I would show up at Ft. Benning and be immediately immersed in yelling Drill Sergeants and crawling through mud.  This in-between place was lonely and interminable.  To make matters worse, the cohort of ten men I was a part of was an anomaly.  Everyone else was in a group of thirty or more and rotated through every 3-4 days.  Because my group was so small, they had a hard time getting us out to one of the Basic Training units and as a result we were there for ten of the longest days of my life.

At least a few of the nine men in my group were what I'd consider to be of the criminal element.  Whenever I'd screw something up they would make vile threats and demean me with the crudest of language.  Unlike Basic Training, there was no close oversight by a noncommissioned officer and it felt like a sequel to the Lord of the Flies.  In our culture of growing sexualization, these guys were the shock troops.  Every moment of downtime was spent talking of sexual exploits, both real and imagined.  To hear tell it, every female existed simply to fulfill a male's sexual fantasies and no perversion was too far out there to be the object of discussion.  My reluctance to participate further isolated me, though there were a few who later showed me a begrudging respect for not going with the flow.

At some point I found time to send out a distress call to my older sister from a pay phone.  I don't know why I chose to call her over my parents, but when I heard her voice I immediately broke into tears that quickly grew to sobs as I tried to speak.  Growing up our relationship had been adversarial to say the least, but that moment was the beginning of a change that continues to benefit me and my family.  It made that momentary experience of a perceived endless hell bearable and sowed seeds of healing in our relationship as brother and sister.  Those troubled young men had unwittingly acted as a catalyst for me to see her in a new light and for that, I remember them fondly.


***