Friday, June 28, 2013

Parenting by faith, and not by sight

So I finally (finally!) finished Ann Voskamp's spiritual memoir One Thousand Gifts. This one took me a while; it's one of those books that changes you in the reading of it, and so I couldn't really read it faster than my soul was capable of changing.

Which... is... s.l.o.w.l.y.

But anyway, I finished it, and it's a wonderful celebration of the sovereignty of God; doxological Calvinism, like Piper at his finest. The prose is stunning in some places, tough slogging in others, but the whole book is well worth the effort.

Voskamp burrows deep into the concept of gratitude, finding it to be a way of looking at just about everything about the gospel and the Christian life. Her claims about gratitude seem a little over-the-top, but I keep looking for parts of the Bible that aren't about gratitude in some way or other, and I'm having a surprisingly difficult time of it. She's right; it's everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, I'm most deeply moved and convicted by the parts where she talks about parenting. I keep coming back to the scene where her boys are squabbling and being all-around little sinners to one another, and she chooses to practice the "hard eucharisteo" of giving thanks to God for them, right there in the middle of it. And God transformed the situation into something beautiful.

It's hard to work up the courage to try this at home. Frankly, it's terrifying, and completely unpredictable, because thanking God for my children as they are means loosening my white-knuckled grip on the beautiful little golden image of what they're supposed to be.

Thanking God  for my children means trusting God with them. It also means loving them aright. Augustine tells us to enjoy God alone, merely using everything else as a means through which to enjoy God. I never quite understood what he was getting at until now, but I'm convinced that this is what he meant, and that he's right. It's only when I'm thanking God for my children that I'm truly loving them; the rest of the time I'm only really loving what they can do for me. Perhaps all our loves really boil down into either a love of self or a love of God.

When I thank God for my children, I am loving God through them. And when I love God through them, I am loving them more deeply and truly and fully than I ever can when I think I'm thinking only about them. And Jesus takes this love and breaks it and multiplies it, and this is when the the miracles happen.

It's terrifying, because none of it adds up, none of it's anything I can make happen, and none of it's anything I can take any credit for. This thanksgiving before the miracle is a leap of faith, but beyond the dying of the mustard seed, there is shade for rest, and birds sing overhead. From the golden blossoms there grow new seeds, and I gather them up with the memory of mountains moved. As little as I know about tomorrow, it will certainly require yet more faith.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


No poems today, please.
Just the bare, prosaic fact
of a leaking faucet.

Ignore the rhythms if you can.

If you must, commit them to the leaves,
but be sure and bind them up,
to save them for tomorrow.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Crossing the Sea

After the five barley loaves and the two little fish, broken and scattered and gathered like manna from heaven, the crowds wanted to take him and force him and make him be their king.

But Jesus went up on the mountain alone, and while he was still gone, his disciples got into a boat and tried to cross the sea.

Darkness was over the face of the deep, and a great wind rose, stirring the waters. The waters were rough and they were right in the middle of them, three or four miles from either shore, when they saw Jesus walking, nearer and nearer, and they were terrified.

"I'm the one. Don't be afraid."

They wanted to take him into their boat, but already they were at the land they sought.

When the crowds back on the other side woke up, they knew that there had only been one little boat, and Jesus had not gone in with his disciples. But as soon as they figured out that he was really gone, they got into the next boats that came along, to chase him down and try to make him give them more bread. But his body is the true bread from heaven, broken for the life of the world, and he will not get into our boats. These are hard sayings, who can accept them, but there is nowhere else to go. He alone has the words of eternal life, and for all that we try to save him, he saves us instead.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

To Odysseus, With Love

I trace your footsteps in my mind
every night you linger
weaving and unweaving improbable tales
picturing always impossible poscards:
the feast flows forever
wish you were here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: Pity the Beautiful

luscious, silky words
glide sweetly over my tongue
leave me poem-tipsy

For my birthday, my dear friend Sharon gave me two slim volumes containing some of the loveliest poetry recently published; Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite, and Pity the Beautiful by Dana Gioia. I had every intention of savoring them, enjoying them just a few poems at a time, and with Guite's sonnets, that's exactly what I've been doing. His imagery is good, and very wise; worthy of much slow contemplation. But with Gioia... well, I got a little carried away.

I sat down in my rocking chair with baby in one arm, book in the other, intending to read a poem while I nursed. But one poem turned into two, and two poems turned into three, and I ended up sitting in that rocking chair long after the baby had passed out in my arms, long after I ought to have gotten up to fold some laundry. As a matter of fact, I didn't get up until I'd finished the entire book, and I was a little bit dizzy the rest of the afternoon.

These poems are very nearly perfect. Deeply rooted both in tradition and in his own place and time, the formal poems are effortlessly fluid and the free verse is measured and balanced. In poem after poem, the flow of words evokes exactly the right feeling for the subject matter. The verbal craftsmanship alone makes this collection a joy to read.

The content matches the form in loveliness. With a tender immediacy, he explores our shared experience of mortality, and in so doing reveals the sacredness embedded in the mundane rythms of modern experience. Here, too, we are human; this life also is the stuff of myth. It just takes a bard to make us see it.

Like a good friend, these poems offer deep companionship and a fresh perspective. And like a good bottle of champagne, they go down easily, but do be careful. They will probably make your head swim afterward.