Monthly Archives: January 2015

the Garment

I did not ask for a poem this time, or at least not until it had already started and I didn’t quite know what to do with it. I was sitting on the floor in the dark, beginning my night prayer when its words began.

When the words persisted, I turned on the light and jotted them down in the little notebook by my bedside. I knew that whatever was being said was not yet finished but I was simply too tired to continue.

Not surprisingly, more came the next night – but this time I was ready. But I knew there was more to come. I just didn’t know what. This afternoon, it was finished.

Now, if only I can learn to live its message…


reaching for the garment

on my closet floor

i think aloud,

“why should i hold on to

this tattered old self?

what is it to me?

once i thought it something grand,

 to be worn with pride,

but now all i see are tears

and holes and frayed edges.”

can i let it go, so familiar

and comfortable it’s become?

can i toss it aside for the new self

that awaits me?


a Word speaks to me

in my nakedness,

“wrap yourself in a mantle of justice.

do not be afraid to be among

the white-robed army of martyrs

and be ever ready for

the wedding feast.”


the Word continues,

“but even that is not enough.

you must ‘clothe yourself

in Christ Jesus’ –

yes, wrap yourself in Me –

until My Self is your self

and yours is Mine.”


for a time, i am silent.

what can i say

as i shiver in the dark,

clinging to my tattered self?

i finger each threadbare memory

 as though a treasure

i cannot bear to part with.


the Word speaks again,

“put on, my beloved,

‘heartfelt compassion, kindness,

humility, gentleness and patience’.

here, here is My tunic

for which they cast lots.

let it be your garment now.

I gave it up for you.”


i have no choice

yet no moment has ever been freer

as i let go of everything

 i once thought was me.

i let go, dropping the tattered self

and it falls uselessly to the floor.

but i no longer see it.

before me there is nothing

but the Light – o glorious Light –

my Love, my Christ,

my Love.


(to Him be glory)


Not a Rorschach

alcohol inks on 6x6 tile
(alcohol inks on 6″ x 6″ tile)

Last night, after a session of meditative painting, I declared the above painting finished. Not because I thought it a great work of art but to save myself from fussing with it further. All week, I had been working on it, a little here, a little there. “It needs just a bit more orange here,” I’d think, and the next thing I knew it was again past my bedtime.

When I finally let go, I asked myself: why did you paint this image? And I discovered that I really didn’t know. Like most creative works, it evolved in the process of its birthing – yet there had been some conception of it in my mind long before I actually began the labor. Why?

In my puzzlement, I timidly asked God for a poem. It is only recently that I have dared to ask God for poems and I do so with a shy humility. I do not doubt that God has given me many poems in the past, but it is quite a different thing to ask for one.

Indeed, I have taken to asking God when I feel l might like to write a post or paint as well. “I would like to write for You (or paint for You), if You would like to give me something…” the prayer begins, accepting that God may have something else in mind and that all good gifts come from Him.

Before the poem came, I had thought I might simply post the image and invite readers to tell me if they saw any meaning in the painting. Why did this image push so hard to be born?

And so, I invite you, if you are inclined, to reflect. But it is not a Rorschach 🙂 and I know that the message to the painter may be unique and different than it is for each reader of the image. Whenever you are ready, the poem is below.


so ancient the tree

standing timeless, eternal –

yet lush and youthful it is,

alive in the mystery

of each leaf’s unfolding.


deepening into summer,

yet bursting with spring,

unchanging it changes,

with hints of autumn gold.

all in one tree. all in one time.


its roots plunge down deeper,

unafraid of earth’s darkness.

its limbs extend skyward,

embracing high heaven.

it is strong. it is unshakable. it is victorious.


it is Christ, the Savior.


(p.s. the butterfly, of course, is me.

i must be near Him.)


 If, dear reader, you found yourself shocked by the line, “it is Christ”, know that I was shocked even more. I know, of course, that I could never paint our glorious Lord.

And yet in the painting and the poem, in the process of their being born and now being shared, God has given me something for which I must thank Him.

To Him be glory always.


(Note: my Orthodox friends celebrated Theophany on January 6, whereas my Catholic friends and I celebrated Epiphany on January 4 and celebrate the Baptism of Christ tomorrow, January 11. May God manifest Himself in all of our hearts.)

This past week was an especially migrainous one for me. It began last Saturday when I was unable to wake up, my brain lost in a fog of compulsory somnolence. Because I was scheduled to work that morning, I struggled to pull out of the mental haze, first with cold water to the face, then with the usual morning prayer while sitting on the floor.

I knew I had lost the battle when I felt unable to remain upright on the floor. I called my patient to cancel, took some medication and allowed sleep to enfold me. A few hours later, I forced myself to get up. My head no longer hurt but, not having much energy or focus, I slogged through the rest of the day. And the next day. And the next.

As I started coming back to my self, I felt a bit of euphoria. How good life is! However, that night, stabbing pains assaulted my left leg, my brain wouldn’t stay asleep and the next day, yes, another migraine emerged. (With this alternate type of migraine, my brain decides that it cannot stay asleep for several consecutive nights.)

I am not writing all of this to complain. Not at all. I have been blessed far beyond anything I could possibly deserve and this little affliction is nothing compared to the burdens that others bear. Rather, I am writing to describe what almost seemed a plot to keep my spirit down during this most beautiful week of spiritual feast.

One of things that happens during migraine attacks is that my sensibilities are dulled, often from deep fatigue but sometimes just because. Hence, I can pray and I am just repeating words. I am dull before the Lord, if I even remember to bring myself before Him. I go through motions, wishing there was more but there isn’t.

One thing that I have learned in the process, though it has taken me some time to absorb the reality of it, is that how I feel at any given moment is of little or no significance.

And so, Theophany, Epiphany and related words have been with me throughout the week, even if my mind and heart seem as grey and cloudy as a Cleveland winter sky.

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that it took my computer’s search engine to bring me to a deeper understanding – but it is true. I had not fully understood before why the baptism of Jesus was celebrated at the end of the Christmas season and how it might be associated with the Magi searching for the Christ Child.

Manifestation. It began with the Magi, travelers from foreign lands somehow knowing that there was a great King born. Something was revealed – but only hinted at. At the baptism, however, God reveals Himself as Triune: the Father’s voice is heard, proclaiming Jesus as the Son, and the Spirit is seen descending upon Him.

Divinity shines forth into our world at that moment in a way that it never has before. The waters of the Jordan do not make the Christ holy in baptism. Rather, He makes holy the water as this Truth is gratuitously poured out on humanity. “The Great Blessing of Water” in Orthodox tradition is a beautiful celebration that delivers this holiness to the homes of believers.

Often when I am in one of these periods of muddled mind, I become hyper-focused on a project that does not need to be done, keeping me distracted from both my discomforts and the responsibilities that feel like too much. During one such period this week, I recorded a Theophany story as related by St. Porphyrios in the book, Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios.

The love the shines forth in this story is a deep reminder that the One who has come into our world has come for every one of us, regardless of our state. There is no darkness too profound for His light, no plot that can block Him from the heart that calls to Him with even the tiniest of whispers.

Listen. And then, with me, whisper to Him your own prayer…




(In hopes that the copyright police will be lenient with me for using such a long quote, please consider this a brief book review. Wounded by Love is probably the best spiritual book I have ever read. It is full of warm humanity and interesting stories but most of all a deep love of Christ that is so profound and yet so humble that one cannot help but want to read the book over and over in hopes of absorbing even of fraction of the author’s holiness.)


Entertaining the hope

Forgive me, dear reader, for imparting Scripture to you once again when I am sure you are quite capable of reading it on your own.

However, this passage from 1 John moved me in many directions at once as I read it aloud to myself this evening, hearing the words more fully than I would have had I read them silently. I needed to share it with someone.

I have always loved the writings of St. John, especially his Gospel and his first letter. In describing himself in his gospel as “the one whom Jesus loved”, John clearly felt very close to Him. I have often thought that everyone who encountered the Christ must have felt that he or she was “the one whom Jesus loved” – but perhaps only John had the courage to write of this experience so boldly.

As I read his letters, I imagine John as an old man, still longing to be sure that others understand the depth of this great love he has encountered, that his joy might be full in the sharing. He speaks as father (or grandfather) might to his children, with loving instruction and firm but gentle admonition.

What is so captivating about this passage is the rather poetic and enigmatic manner in which John tells us of God’s lavish love that has already made us His children, while at the same time informing us that anyone who sins has never seen or known God.

In the first movement, John has me rejoicing as child of the Father; in the second, I am panicking for I am a sinner who has never known Him.

John writes simultaneously of a hope that has not yet been revealed and of a hope fulfilled, of sin being abolished by Christ and of the need to purify ourselves. How can this be?

I am certainly not wise enough to explain it.* But it is true. As I live my life in history, I can only really conceptualize experience as what was before, what is now and what will be. I live in linear time.

John, the human being, was walking in linear time too when he wrote his letter. But he had also been given a glimpse into the eternal Now where all is accomplished, though appearing to the human eye to be unfinished.

Many when they hear of this notion imagine a pre-determined existence in which God is simply watching and waiting for the movie to play itself out until the end. Not so.

God doesn’t wait. In Christ, He entered time but became its Alpha and Omega, already its beginning and its end. As John wrote, “we shall see him as He really is” because God already is. None of His reality needs to move through time, to wait, to become.

His truth is always full and complete. His love is always full and complete.

Unchanging, He is. He has made us His children. He does not need to “wait” to see whether I will sin or make myself pure before He “decides”. His love is forever now and it is lavishly poured out upon us.

How could I not want to purify myself, “to try to be as pure as Christ”, in order to see the God who in my sinfulness I cannot yet see?

I do indeed “entertain this hope”. And so, once again, I take up the struggle, trusting all the while that I am His beloved child.


Fr. Stephen Freeman writes with much greater knowledge about this language of eschatology in a recent article on his blog, glory2godforallthings

The word that chose me

In the last several years, a new tradition has developed in my life that has been profoundly meaningful.

I cannot really say that I began the tradition as much as that I was drawn into it and now it carries me in unplanned directions, much like a river winding its way unpredictably through the countryside.

I first learned of this practice, among many others, from Christine Valters Paintner, a Benedictine oblate at As each New Year approaches, she invites her readers to choose a word (or allow a word to choose them) to ponder and “wrestle with” for spiritual growth in the coming year. This is intended to be similar to how people in the past, fleeing to the desert to seek God, would ask a spiritual Father (or Mother) for a word or phrase to guide them.

The first year I considered doing this, the word “yes” leapt out at me immediately, even though I wasn’t altogether sure what I was saying yes to. I knew, initially, that it was “yes” to a commitment to give of my self at a point when I felt I had nothing more to give. But I also sensed that there was much more to this “yes” – and, of course, there was.

The following year, the word “obedience” chose me. There is no way I was choosing that one for myself. But it clung to me until I assented – and I am so glad it did. This past year, 2014, “humility” naturally fell into place as a continuation of the theme and I obeyed with a bit less struggle.

One of the many interesting things about this process is that I have found that none of the words ever seem to let go at the end of their year – because, of course, I can never be finished with them. One deepens into the other, pulling me further and further into a process of transformation. I am not designing the transformation nor am I in control of it. I simply find myself continuing to say “yes”.

As 2014 started drawing to a close, I began to ponder what my next word might be. Several worthy candidates came to mind and I had almost chosen one – when a totally different word chose me.

It is hard to explain the experience of having a word “choose” you if you have not undergone this, but indeed it does happen. Though it might sound rather grand if I say that the word came to me in a dream, its appearance was more like a burr that gets stuck in your sock and keeps prickling until you pay attention to it.

In the dream, I was overhearing a brief conversation between two people and one of them said that he was “chastened” by Christ. That word has not left me alone since. And that is how I know it has chosen me, even though I certainly might have preferred one of the ones of my own consideration.

I seldom if ever encounter the word “chasten” in either my spiritual or secular circles. It has a bit of an antiquated sound to it, with some Biblical translations now rendering the word as “discipline” in its most famous passage (Hebrews 12:6):

“…for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” (New American Bible Revise Edition)


“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” (King James Version)

In any event, whatever the translation, the meaning is disturbingly clear. I am to be chastened, disciplined. I must be.

Despite the Scriptural reassurance that it is done out of love, I must admit that I find the idea a bit frightening. And most likely it scares me because I still have considerable work to do with regard to obedience and humility. (The obedient and humble do not fear correction.)

How I love C.S. Lewis at moments like this! The Chronicles of Narnia are replete with images of a Lion who growled at minor infractions, had a long conversation with Edmund that he never forgot and painfully de-dragoned Eustace Scrubbs. These “chastenings” were never portrayed as comfortable in the least but who could have turned them down, coming as they did from Aslan?

Certainly not I.

Thus, I can only continue to say “yes” to the loving Father who wants to correct and discipline me, who wants to free me from all of my sin and brokenness, that I might be fully His.

And so, with the rest of the created world, my word and I stand at the threshold of 2015, pondering the year ahead with hope and trust.


   Squirrel pondering in my back yard this morning.