Daily Devotional: Praying From the Pit

spiritual practice journalHoly One

You are my shepherd,

I shall not want;

You make me lie down

In green pastures.

You lead me

Beside still waters;

You restore my soul.

You lead me in paths of righteousness

For your name’s sake.

Even though I walk through

The valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil;

For you are with me;

Your rod and your staff,

They comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

In the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil,

My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I shall dwell in your house forever.

 

Psalm 23, taken from The United Church of Christ Book of Worship

Whenever you are reading this, I wrote this on October 24th. My wife died katyesterday. Regular readers beware, as this is my spiritual journal aimed at working through my own spiritual life, I am likely going to talk a lot about my grief in the days ahead.

My wife died yesterday. I walked into see her on the bed, not moving. She had been in horrible pain, with numerous health problems that most people don’t know about. Though she moved near exclusively with a wheelchair after her Arnold Chiari malformation caused an event similar to a stroke, she never viewed her wheelchair (or her crutches before them) as her health problem. It was her pain. Very few people knew the amount of pain she always was in.   She was in constant pain. Some days it was bearable, when she could push into the background. Some days it was blinding, debilitating beyond words.   In her own amazing way, she never let it hold her back. She might take a moment, an hour, to sit with it. But she always found a way to smile, to laugh, to be loving, to embrace every moment to its fullest. She never let her pain stop her from fully engaging life.

The night before she died she had been in severe pain all week, and when she was in bad pain I would sleep on the couch so my tossing and turning didn’t make her aches and pains worse. When I didn’t hear her stirring after the time she normally would have woken up, I wanted to make sure she was doing OK. I’d had some mornings she was so disoriented from her Chiari she needed help to get up.

When I walked in, she was not moving. I got down beside her on the bed. I whispered to her. Nothing. I held her. Nothing. I gave her a kiss. Nothing. I went through everything I could do to wake her. Nothing. My heart sank. Since her event like a stroke from her Chiari 2 years previously, this had been my recurring nightmare: waking to find her gone, without warning. Not wanting to believe that she had passed while I slept I called the paramedics. I had to do chest compressions until they arrived. I waited thirty minutes as they tirelessly tried to revive her, trembling and in tears the whole time. I had heard the words they were saying many a time as a chaplain in the hospital, which echoed through the doorway as everything went quiet: “Does everyone agree? Time?” I knew before they told me what they would say, “We’ve done all we can here. She’s gone”.

jesus child abuseI want to wail like a child, to scream and let tears fall like the pummeling rain of a summer storm as I write about this.   My life is in a blur, and I have trouble making sense of anything.

Her death comes as an unimaginable shock. There was no sign this was anything more than a severe pain week, although the headaches her Chiari caused had been worse than usual all week.   Her day had been a great day, despite her pain.   She had been working to organize a woman’s preaching festival in Durham, and had spent all day into the night there. When I picked her up at 9 pm, she was on top of the world. She was smiling and laughing. She was talking about the amazing women she met, about the classes she had attended, and about the hopes she had for the future.   We had both been so busy, me with my work and her with her school & various projects we had barely had time for each other. But I took some extra time to sit, to talk, to listen that morning and connect. We really spoke and connected in a deep way on the way home from her conference, though she was exhausted.   I treasure those last moments.

So when I pray Psalm 23 today, I pray in a blur. The words wash over me like water and I feel as if I am moving through motions, motions I learned long ago. This is the value of such ancient prayers of the church and of the people of God in all their iterations. These prayers give us an anchor, a foothold, when the world is crashing down around us.

good shepherd 3As I pray I am struck by the image of God as a shepherd guiding me. People have been guiding me all day yesterday. The 911 operator talking me through doing chest compressions on my beloved wife. The paramedics. My brother and dad. Someone asked me “have you eaten?” as I checked facebook before bed and my answer was “Yes. I remember my brother putting a bowl in front of me of something at what must have been lunch and a bowl at what must have been dinner. I remember chewing, swallowing. I remember looking down to empty bowls. I cannot for the life of me say what I ate”.   I am lost in alternately a haze of numbness and of unquenchable grief.

I am reminded that I am being guided. I don’t know if I can feel or see God guiding me, but I feel this Psalm invites me to embrace my shock and confusion. It is ok I do not know which way is up or down. It is ok I do not know what I feel or want.   I can let others guide me. I can let others care for me. I can trust that in their loving care the loving care of the Good mother with baby in lead sunsetShepherd, the mother and father of our souls, is present.

I am thankful for that hope. I cling to it like a sinking man in the waves.

Broken-heartedly,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Grief – Los Angeles Love Story (Song of the South)

As mentioned, my daily reflections come from my journal, which with the death of my wife October 23, 2015, has turned toward a focus on grief.  What I share now is different than what some of you are used to, but I hope especially for those of you facing grief, loss, & trauma, it is helpful.

This poem so expresses my relationship with my wife, who I lost recently.  It was written when I was working in Chapel Hill as a chaplain, while she was still pastoring an hour and a half away.  We would see each other only on weekends, when I commuted back to Fayetteville where she was a pastor.

For me the poignancy of the poem is strengthened by the fact that what changed this scenario was her stroke connected with her Arnold Chiari malformation, the connection that later took her life.

Micah

 

Los Angeles Love Story

I remember the first time

I heard the crunch of your feet

stepping on autumn leaves

that crumbled beneath you at the click of your crutches.

I could always hear you coming behind me,

your laughter like a robin’s cry

cheerful and life-giving.

That was the moment

and still is

when the sun shines

on my soul

and every silvery cloud

slides away

like the Metro heading off full-tilt.

 

I remember too our late night talks

the fire-pit we built

the wind in our hair.

Rain-drenched walks

to do our work together

in downtown Inglewood

where love blossomed

sweet as Hyancith in spring time.

 

I remember too the night I knew

you were mine

and I was yours.

The feel of your fingers

entangling mine.

Hearing “If this isn’t love why” with you

and thinking, it surely is.

 

I remember the taste of your lips

on our first kiss.

Seeing you standing

radiant and amazing

atop a California mountain

that became and remains

the top of my world.

 

I remember too

being filled with curiosity

and wonder that first night.

And every night –

or morning – like them, since.

 

I remember each moment

and know

together we have woven a life,

we have knit a new beginning together

with cords that cannot be broken.

 

I know too even as I sit here,

cool with the autumn air of Orange county

chilling my skin

that is still warm

from a hard day’s work

and you sit

surrounded by the screech and honk

of Fayetteville streets,

and the surrounding voices

of the people you serve in your parish,

this is just the beginning for us.

Daily Devotional: What Have I Ever Lost by Dying?

letter writingSo today I begin fresh content on my blog.

My daily readings I post have always been written for me, then cleaned up for others.   I write what I am getting spiritually out my meditations so that it might help others grow.

I am doing that now, but I know that what I’m about to share is not for everyone.

For right now I am in the pit of grief.  At times I see light over the horizon.  But at times it is only darkness and shadows.   For those who don’t know, on October 23, 2015, I walked in to find my beloved wife of 12 years not breathing.  Despite all I or the paramedics did, she has not breathed since.

This has been heart-wrenching and traumatic.  So now my spiritual journal is a journey through grief.

I invite you to join me in it, but I understand that it is not for all of you.  When you have been touched by grief, you can find solace in other’s journeys.  But at those points in my life in which such agony had not touched my soul, I pulled back from the site of it.

I am calling this series of posts, however long they run – and they will run until I feel I am done – “What Have I ever lost from dying?”

This  one of my favorite poems of Rumi, written after the unexpected rumi quote 2death of his soul-mate and dear friend (if not lover) Shams.   It is one that may not be helpful for anyone, but since I encountered it shortly before Kat’s death it created a frame for Kat’s death that is helpful to me.  I like to imagine Kat “soaring past the angels” now when I can as Rumi describes the one who dies. I have let these words give me courage as I face into the many daily deaths of life in grief, life lived in the midst of the emptiness her passing leaves me. Yet its question “What have I ever lost from dying?” is what I feel I confront in my grief. Unlike Rumi in this poem, I find I have lost much in this death of grief, when my dear love has gone.   But I do find I am learning, gaining, becoming new through this journey. So I can understand its hope that in my dying God may open up to new life.   I pray that my sharing my journey with some of you will help you find new life along your pilgrimage of grief, trauma, loss, and new beginning.

Here is Rumi’s beautiful words:

galaxies“I spent millions of years in the world of inorganic things as a star, as a rock…

Then I died and became a plant–

Forgetting my former existence because of its otherness

Then I died and became an animal–

Forgetting my life as a plant except for inclinations in the season of spring and sweet herbs–

like the inclination of babes toward their mother’s breast

mother with baby in lead sunsetThen I died and became a human

My intelligence ripened, awakening from greed and self-seeking to become wise and knowing

I behold a hundred thousand intelligences most marvelous and remember my former states and inclinations

AngelAnd when I die again I will soar past the angels to places I cannot imagine

Now, what have I ever lost by dying?”

May you find new life in all of your dyings.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: (repost) The Heart of Faith

This is an old post I re-share as I slowly get back into writing, following the death of my wife.

— Micah

 

Romans 2:25-3:18

This Scripture reminds us it is not the outward trappings of religion – circumcision, baptism, hijab – that matter to God.  These each are intended to remind us of the need for inner transformation, to have a heart open and cooperative with God’s lead.   Those outward trappings too often are what we judge each other concerning, when God cares not for which outward symbols we use or what name we put to our religion.  God cares – does it lead us to do justice in our daily lives?  To exercise mercy and compassion to the suffering?  To walk with humility, openness, and willingness to learn?  These are the qualities of one walking with God.   There are people of all interfaith imagefaiths who proudly wear the symbols of their faith as badges of respectability who fail to live these principles out.   And there are people of every faith and culture, and of no faith at all, who practice these.  Those are the ones guided by the Spirit, whatever name they call themselves.  They are the ones who answer to the name “My beloveds” when God calls.

Daily Devotional: (repost) Weaving Our Lives with the Weaver Woman God

I’m reposting old posts as I grieve the loss of my wife, to give me a chance to get on my feet again with writing.  I hope these words bless you.

Micah

 

Psalm 78:1-39 recounts the power of telling your story, the holy history that birthed and strengthened your own faith to another generation, including those stories that were passed onto you by others.

I remember my grandmother, a devout Baptist, walking hand in hand with me as a little boy, speaking to me of the history of her life and the values that guided her.

I remember daddy walking beside me at the fishing hole talking to me of God as the One who made the splendor and beauty around us, and telling me at other times of his journey to find the God of his understanding.

great cloud of saints behind preacherI can think of the stories of dear men and women who surrounded me in my childhood and the countless tales they told me of their journeys of faith, and witnessing their struggles and hope.

I too remember experiences in which aspects of the faith of my childhood were proven to be untrue in ways that felt like a ship wrecking on the seashore, while all along I felt the overwhelming presence of Jesus standing and walking with me, guiding me by the hand into a faith freer and more vibrant that I had known.

All of these stories form who I am.   Some time ago I wrote a poem about this process of being shaped by others’ stories and shaping others through our own:

= = = = =

koinonia farms qA tattered web woven of gold and dust

Warms my soul

Threaded with grandpa’s sweat

Summer sun on his back

Toiling tobacco fields

Crying out for rain

Defying drought with the same words

Praying for safety while dodging

The Kaiser’s bullets and bombs

That golden thread intertwined with grandma’s cry at night

That paw paw come home alive

Her prayers of praise on his return

Her many late nights praying for her students

At the little school room in rural Carolina

In which her work whittled away at time

seamstressThat gold thread was woven

In their long night prayers to have a child

And their surprise at God’s answer

For a little girl born of another’s body

In need of love

Yet woven in its midst is the dust

Of a man returned from war

Whose promises, broken as deep as his spirit,

Left their little girl to be and her mama without home and hope

So she might need to turn to them

The dust of a time in our dear south land

When such a mother was filled with shame

Treated as a disgrace

Rather than embraced for the strength she showed

The dust of a time that painted but one family picture

Wiping out the glorious complexity

Of loves as truly lived

gold threadWoven too in this gold is the red dust of Carolina clay

That left my little fingers as a boy

As red as Lady Macbeth’s

Who never could wipe off the blood

A dust woven into my spirit

By the land these good hearted ones

Could farm and rear

Only because their great great grands

Stole it from those whom they called ‘Red as that clay

The fruit of which even in my and pa’s times of prayer

Was kept by force

From those of darker hue

Woven in this web of soul

Is the gold thread of daddy’s faith

Born in preaching like an earthquake

Under Georgia tents

The roar of wind and rain

Causing bulbs to burst in sync with the thunder

A faith he instilled in me

On fishing trips and bike rides

The thread of mama’s faith that there is more than this

Which led her to speak against

Dust upon the gold

Of male chauvinism in the name of God

And the heartache it brought in women’s hearts

Never naming her own pain

And to push against it to return to school

Putting her gifts to the healing

Of children as forgotten and broken as she once must have felt

I am warmed by this rich blanket

Of shining thread

I too must take needle in hand

Knitting thread anew

What dust shall I shake out?

What golden threads weave in?

What mire of my own become part of the pattern

seamstress 2Weaver Woman God

Who knits us in our mother’s wombs

And weaves with us the patterns of our lives

Help me make my pattern

Stronger, warmer, and more alive with light

That those you send in answers to our late night prayers

May be warm through life’s winters

And find the springs of soul with you

= = = =

May you be enriched by retelling the stories of God’s presence in your life and history to others, remembering your connection to those God has used to weave beauty into your life. May you add your own thread of life and liberation. And may you also find which threads to “let go”.

In a dream…

This was really touching to me, as I grieve the loss of my wife. Thanksgiving 13 years ago was when I first started to fall for her. This beautiful image by Rev. Craig so speaks to my heart.
Micah

Carrie's Bench

IMG_0084

For the dead, still close. And for the living… (thank you, Brian Cole)

A Meeting In A Part – by Wendell Berry

In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: “How you been?”
He grins and looks at me.
“I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees.”

I had such a dream this week. She met me in a doorway, filling the space like a picture frame. Her presence took my breath, her gentle hold gathered me in comfort.

As if it were yesterday- she was the same in image and presence. For a moment I was filled with the familiar – deep love and possibility. Only too…

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Songs of the South: The Secret Passage

“There’s a secret passageway in grandma’s old room,”

said my same older sister

who once whispered to us tales of ancestors

who came not from the poor pig farmers

on daddy’s family tree

but instead born of a long forgotten prince

who gave up his rich palace for love

leading him to settle on Carolina shores.

 

Like those quickly disproved fairy tales she weaved

my heart leaped with wonder on this story

imagining my own private wardrobe door

with which I could transport to a world of magic wonder,

my own personal Narnia.

I searched under bed, in closet, and by every wall crease

for light from this secret pathway

until, frustrated with my efforts,

daddy showed us the door which lay

high atop the closet’s ceiling

popping our shimmering bubble of childlike dreaminess

with his ever brooding realism

“There ain’t nothing up there but insulation.

It leads nowhere but the attic”.

 

It took years to realize,

though her facts were off,

my sister’s promise was true:

all along I carried such a door with me,

my own personal transport to new worlds.

I found it on that day my world split open

when tumbling I like Dorothy fell through the rabbit hole

my eyesight gazing deep within.

The well to wonder that opened

to places bigger on the inside

and more full of light

was the shape of the spiderweb of cracks

which had spread

across the shattered glass of a broken heart.

 

Truly broken places

birthed the light of beauty

beckoning me within

where I discover daily

vistas of glory unimaginable.