Wednesday, July 25, 2007

fragile citadels of love

My dog has been a monster today, but now he is curled up by my legs with his head resting by my knee. I am tired and trying to remember if there was anything I had to say.

I don't mean to keep going back to Wexford, but there was a man there that I noticed standing out on the footpath by the street on the first day I was in town. By his clothes and general appearance I guessed he was probably North African. I thought he was waiting for a bus, but later I have realized that there wasn't really a bus system in Wexford. I don't know what he was doing. I saw him probably every other day after that. One day, while walking from our housing estate to another, I passed him and his wife on the road... she was wearing a veil that covered all but her eyes with bright pink flowers on it. They were just standing together, again looking like they needed a bus. Like they were waiting for something, or someone.

They've been coming up in my mind ever since, so that I want to write about them, write a poem like I wrote about Natasha last spring. But sometimes poems are closure for me. While I was working in (a really rough public housing estate outside my city) last summer every night after I had caught my bus back to the city and had my hot dinner and slipped into my bed I would think about what it would be like to live there, I would be haunted at the thought of climbing those manky stairwells everyday, the thought of living in a place that smelled like feces, coming home in the evenings to a cramped living space with seven brothers and sisters and no dad and unemployment and addiction and the darkness that is everywhere. After my week was up I would still think about Natasha here and there, and try to pray for her.

But writing about her helped. Trying to capture her essence through a snapshot, creating a picture that could take on a life of its own and exist independantly of Natasha for whoever had never seen her or those manky stairwells, listening to my class full of first-year poetry students discuss her and all I had done to recreate her-- that brought some closure. I still think about her and pray for her sometimes, but I feel less of an urgency surrounding her.

I don't want closure on that man and that woman. I don't want to stop thinking about them, because they looked so... lost, so lonely, and I can't imagine what it would be like to be Muslim, North African, old, and an immigrant to Wexford.

There is hope for them, whether they know it or not. If I was still there I would lead them to my house and make them tea and whatever they wanted, maybe a four-layer chocolate cake. I would listen to anything they wanted to tell me, I would ask all about where they were coming from and where they are wanting to go and I would arrange to meet them soon and help them around their house and I would send them home with the rest of the chocolate cake.

Maybe there is hope for me, too, that I will do this sort of thing in the future. Faith without deeds is dead, so James is telling me at the moment. My heart is expanding to hold these people and others-- my home must, too. And by must I mean will. My heart doesn't expand beyond myself easily, so when it does it must be for a reason.

"...Still, I think I know
what it is like to live
in an alien and gigantic universe, a stranger,
building fragile citadels of love
on the edge of danger."

(James L. Rosenberg, from "Wasp's Nest")

Sunday, July 15, 2007

woke me up

Last Sunday at the church where I was working a woman got up to introduce the service. She mentioned how hard it was to get up in front of everyone. I was getting ready to do the kid's spot for the service, so I thought "I feel you sister" as I checked to make sure the construction paper vine was under my chair to help me illustrate John 15:5. Deirdre said that's what she wanted to talk about-- the fact that it is hard to get up in front of people at church and talk. She said while she was planning her talk she tried to think why it was so hard, when she realized--

"My sin. My sin is why I get self conscious. I feel unworthy of being up here. But the truth is that I can be, because God forgives me." She became choked up and had to sit down to read the scripture.

And then a lot of things melted away very very quickly. I was nervous about getting up because I didn't want to stumble over my words and feel silly, I didn't want to suddenly get self concious while addressing the church and then start talking in an unnatural voice. I didn't want to look stupid. I wasn't concerned with my sins. In fact, while I was even planning to talk about my sins and how God can grow fruit out of them, my sin was in fact the fartherest thing from my mind or cares.

Sometimes it takes someone with a really soft heart to show me how hard and proud and self focused mine is. And then I see what it really means to be part of a body. When I hear that passage, (the one about being a body) or when I hear it preached on, I usually think of one person doing maintainance for the church, one making the traybakes for after the service, one preaching, one praying, one looking after the money.

Maybe that is a small part of it, but I think it is only a small part. I don't think the eye vacuums the church and the nose sits at the guestbook. I think the eye shows humility and brokenness on a regular sunday morning and as a result the nose sits and repents.

Roughly related--- so I've had a sore throat and although I am feeling much better now, it was really painful to swallow for a while. I've been in a lot of discussions recently about women preaching and being elders and deaconesses and stuff like that. So the other night I dreamt that I was going to a church that was "really progressive in its views on women and what they are allowed to do" and as I result I was given a very important job--to do all the swallowing for everyone in the church. I profusely thanked the leadership, knowing it was an honor to be given such a job as a woman, but I tensed up my body to get through the first swallow. Which woke me up.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

the back of my hand

I have been listening to Over the Rhine the past couple of days, particularly the song "Ohio"

I know Ohio/like the back of my hand

and it struck me that I don't know anywhere like the back of my hand, and I probably won't ever in the future, either. This is not just due to a migratory lifestyle: the fact that I was born without any inner map or sense of direction doesn't help much. But I would like to know the layout of a place so well, and I am a little sad that I won't.

I made samboosak tonight for dinner. Cooking samboosak gives me a sense of satisfaction-- I feel like I have made something when I see the cresents piled on a platter with the skins bubbly and golden.

I also found out this evening that I am maybe (probably?) lactose intolerant, which doesn't really matter that much because I don't drink milk anyhow. It just explains why I feel ill after drinking hot chocolate or taking milk in my tea. Ice cream is worth a tummyache any way.


So Encounter was good, really good. It was needed and I grew, I was stretched. But I think I knew from near the beginning this summer that my time for Encounters was running out. That feels right but sad, also.

and it's strange to see your story end

(To get back to Ohio, by Over the Rhine. And funnily enough I got an e-mail just now telling me they are playing Armagh of all places in late August. But that is how things go-- I miss Anna while she is in America and then again when she is in Dublin. I miss a very important wedding between two very important people in late September. Such is life when you live between two places.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

This city must belong to someone...

I began this and then went away from Dublin for four weeks, the first two of which I had way too much to process and the second two of which I don't have internet. I'm paying way too much for internet as I type.

I am in the South East of Ireland at the moment, working for a small church doing youth work and supporting the body in whatever way I can.

Today was a day off and I went power walking which turned into a run and then I accidentally ran into Wexford town. I was wanting to pray and process on my run and was a little disappointed to end up in the city where I would have to slow down physically and mentally. (Although once I was here I was able to get internet.)

And then I thought, "can I find God in the city?" and I know the answer is yes, but I think I find different things about Him.

I used to hate cities because they intimidated me. The first big city I ever went to was Boston. I was eleven and I counted down the hours until we left.

But I remember running on the beach during spring break this year and seeing how beautiful the sea was and thinking, "I love the sea, why don't I write poetry about the sea?"

Then I realized that the best poems I had written all semester were from city scenes. God is surprising. I always loved the country best and yet my muse is the city.

I don't have enough money with me to write more.

But Nick, I will answer your question here once I think about it more.

(Title: Tift Merrit, I think)