A spiritual jolt of lopsided proportions

All the so-familiar-they-are-like-wallpaper features of my morning neighborhood scene were, I thought at the time, about to appear as expected:

-the neighborhood coffee shop was on the left…yes.

-the two clothing stores on the right…yes.

-that little jewelry place up a few meters past the coffee shop…there.

-tons of honking northbound traffic on the east side….yes, honks abound.

It’s all there.

Then I turn the corner, and there stand twogigantic twenty-foot reindeer made out of metallic twigs. 

The artistic splash; that zing of larger than life magic; the towering delight of height all gurgled up in an instant. In my belly there swirled a freshly carved capacity to be energized by surprise!

The sight evoked such a special air of odd and twiggy beauty. And my internal radar went from the normal moderating hum to what felt like pure spiritual aliveness. What an awesome inner charge. Then an existential question did a mental jumping jack:

Why after this encounter does my heart somehow feel more open to God and strangely…feel more awake and in the moment?

A theory:  the huge-a-mongo proportions of the reindeer themselves really struck a cord. I think that’s a key factor to what felt like a distinct inner clearing in which God seemed to say: “Hi!” The visual contrast of simply seeing wee little humans engulfed by soaring mythic reindeer was super stimulating. But that proportional thrill stimulated something else. It emerged a form of inner sensitivity (alertness?) to expecting what was not previously visible to appear — and not only appear but expect it to be knowable. This inner sensitivity lasted for a good few minutes.

This all brings to mind a time when I spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually did not expect God to exist. I held no conscious expectation that a relationship with God was viable or knowable. It just wasn’t apart of understood possibilities in my heart or mind.

But then different experiences and conversations and “what ifs” shaped a new spiritual curiosity. Eventually a changed inner life made way for a capacity to not only expect God, but relate to God. Even as my intellectual cues still expressed doubt …my transformed spiritual terrain had already opened up to fellowship with a higher power. It was so proportionally different than previous reality. The heft of which remains so beautiful and strange. Even with persisting doubt, this new reality could not be ignored.

Thanks to the creators of these towering reindeer! …and this chance to encounter fruits of lopsided proportions for things visible and unseen.

“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.”

Edgar Allan Poe

How a coffee place soothes the rough edge of a storytelling dream

Creamy caffeine magic joins the day’s new sunshine and me most mornings. It’s a liquorless frothy coffee drink that smoothly glides in a glass as if it was beer on tap; but it’s simply swirled coffee, espresso, and milk combined: the Black & Tan drink.

I used to think coffee was coffee was coffee whether it came from Bucks n Stars or grounds or whole bean or Grandma’s cupboard of microwave instant. But a place near home in DC’s Chinatown has inspired a ton of gratefulness for a particular coffee experience, hospitality, & education.

Tackling bucket lists & craving comfort 

So here sits early days of November, and National Novel Writing Month is in full throttle. You may know of NaNoWriMo already, as an inspiring nonprofit that years ago designated this month to everyone and anyone across the world who sought to write a novel — at least 50,000 words — in the month of November.  The group offers an online community, write-ins, and tons of resources to enable any eager-writing brain to commit to and write a novel in 30 days.

It’s been a holy-cow-love-that-concept entry on my bucket list for years.

It’s happening now.

Got 4,400 words on paper with about 46k to go ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

It’s good & intimidating & thrilling.

….and grueling in the self-discipline, try-not-to-suffocate-this-creative-opportunity type of way.

In light of this goal, my inner self craves comfort these days. Writing that out loud sounds a little indulgent. When creative risk though intersects with a deadline and sense of vulnerability – a fragile (fun too!) inner collision can unfold right? …is anyone  else thinking “right…?!”

Somehow this neighborhood coffee place, La Colombe, eases the push to Get. It. All. On. Paper. by 11:59pm 11/30th. It does this with that delicious Black & Tan and other creative caffeine things. It does this by offering friendly, confident hospitality, education.

The crossroads of these factors create an inviting sense of welcome for those seeking good coffee or some mental reprieve & a little architectural beauty too (with that alluring internal red brick they have).

Each factor engages with the others to shape a reliable experience of caffeinated comfort that this brain is grateful for (…while seizing  arty hopes and word counts this month!).

Ongoing gratefulness to this place and team for being such a neighborly, spiritually rejuvenating (& so tasty) destination.

Austin – an entrepreneur, podcaster, and possessor of great energy. He was the first associate to offer welcome when my husband and I moved to the area this summer.  I’m grateful.

Patrick – opened this particular coffee store & taught me unique elements and tastes within coffee crops.

Hope – Sharp wit, great hair, hearts the cats

Troy – kind introvert with gifted humor

….observed Troy once dancing with coffee in one hand and pondering aloud how good it would be if Siri could engage spiritual questions like: “What would Jesus do?”

Kelsey – Wonderful hospitality & headed to Peace Corps next year.

Chelsea – Extends reliable kindness no matter how crazy busy the shop is.

…Here’s to inspired caffeine and manifested dreams on (and off) the page for all of us!

P.S. Do you have a favorite place that inspires your creative wanderings, and helps you surmount your version of storytelling angst?

Hospitality teachings from two neighbors

Conversations with two different neighbors unfolded within a few days of each other. They keep floating in my head for further reflection. During a front hospitality shift at church (my workplace too back then), I met both of these guests as their initial point of welcome to the church’s campus.

The first encounter was with a younger gentleman in his twenties. He was spirited and articulated his words with a little punch….not with a disrespectful tone at all, but with an audible beat of precision.

He proceeded to offer his thanks for the church helping him replace his birth certificate a while ago, which was neat to hear! It was motivating to meet him and receive his sentiment on behalf of the team.

His speech pattern then began to accelerate.

He said: “They erased my memory because they inject serum in my eyeballs each night up in Baltimore.”

I wasn’t sure what to say beyond some quiet eye contact.

His speaking rate continued to accelerate then slow back down, then speed back up as he described his memory loss and eye ball injections. It was clear he deserved compassion, and sincere regard. The guest repeated expressions of appreciation for the church’s volunteer team again that had helped him secure his birth certificate. He mentally bounced in between the contexts of injections, memory loss, & gratefulness.

Bewilderment
He seemed to want his gratefulness for the church community to be honored in a certain way but I wasn’t sure what to do. It was a sense in my gut that I was trying to interpret. Then mental fatigue really kicked in. I just wanted the exchange to end but wanted to offer some sort of resourcefulness. I asked if he’d like a mini directory about the church and nearby health providers too; I offered my own thanks to him for visiting while directing him to the door.

I’m still analyzing this guest engagement from a hospitality perspective. Sometimes providing attentiveness while ignoring some inner bewilderment is apart of extending hospitality.

I’m grateful to him for that learning. Something else about the exchange though made an impact that I did not realize until later.

The next week

A local neighbor arrived at the church asking for a clean pair of jeans. He was in his 40s, had lived on the street a while, conversational (and I recall very warm too). As he shared about his clothing needs, the inner bewilderment from the recent guest last week cropped up. That instantly provoked internal fatigue that in that moment with this new guest, I just didn’t want to feel again.

So I interrupted the guest in mid-sentence with the hope to end the conversation.

I instantly felt guilt & regret sprout up inside. It was an impatient move to interrupt (and inhospitable to say the least). The man went silent.

He then replied with beautiful self-control & dignity: “Ma’am I’m poor and am preparing for the colder season. I don’t mean to take up unnecessary time. But when you’re poor you need to see asking for help as an asset. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

I felt like such an ass.

I apologized, thanking him for his forgiving patience and clarity of mind. After we found some suitable clothes that fit, we had a strong, brief discussion about his entry to living on the street in multiple states. His wisdom opened my mind on many levels. For starters – he brought to a more conscious level how being homeless does not mean your self-knowledge or capacity for wisdom is less than other neighbors who are perceived as ‘more integrated or relevant in society.’

Conversation with him revealed how I’d held this social bias yet was not conscious of it.

Our exchange underscored how delivering hospitality does not simply demand empathetic communications but also unconditional patience even when inner resources may be stretched.

Afterthought

It occurred to me later that me being a wee bit mindful of self-care would be goooooooood & prudent.

These encounters bring to mind now a devotional excerpt from Sarah Young’s enriching book Jesus Calling.

She wrote from her October 31 entry:

Learn to listen to (God) even while you are listening to other people. As they open their souls to your scrutiny, you are on holy ground.

Photo:  husband patiently “listening” to the kitten.

Grayer thickets

Sean Jill Us

our eyes once bordered with auburn-oak whiskers and tresses now speak through grayer thickets.

the smiles express from more than they did 131,400 hours before now.

it’s not that your younger grin inspired less or mine felt less.

it’s that our inner rungs have wrestled a lot since – a healthy stretching of emotive taffy.

 

so now intrinsic muscles flex these grins

upward with fuller comprehension.

 

understanding is a strange tenet of companionship.

because half the time it’s an exercise lassoed to self-realization:

do i see him as he is? or do i see him as projected interpretation?

(please, please have me see his uniqueness as it really lives

…the massive integrity of which deserves a cheering stadium of response).

 

in this particular hour, we join as we individuate

as love keeps renovating relational space.

while i search the trinity, and you the reach of euclid,

we diverge a little

expand a little

 

and through daily moments, we commune in progressive depth.

Near Boston’s Old North Church… remembering

image

What’s identified here?
Shadows of force once deployed to desert lands now cascade as metal art.
A memorial reveals soldiered policing and rigor.
Rows of valor dip in sunlight and commitment; each extends the other in endless sway of clinks.
They breathe in subtle chimes despite breathless sacrifice.

A father’s eyes consume the swooping chains of identity, gazing from dot to dot to dot.
Up a little his lids climb each strand
then they skate back down the dots of shimmer,
then back up, down (pause) down more,
as if scrutinized knots and swoops can
make every tagged price more comprehendible.

Can you hear it?
A breeze floats up with symphonic consequence. Ripples of tinny, coordinated sound express memories of risk.
Loyalty, well-tested, flows like sandy heated air in an unseen flute of mourning.

 

Photo:  memorial at Boston’s Old North Church gardens honoring American soldiers lost in Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

What happens in between the presidential votes we cast?

imageA friend asserted today that “Adulthood means to vote.”

Other people in the conversation said political candidates were a turn-off and “…why can’t they get better people to run for office?”

Needless to say, our discussion pivoted around this year’s campaign season. The whole combative carnival that is this presidential race does not make for an obvious segue to greater spiritual understanding.  But the above passionate assertions brought to mind a thought that’s not quite finessed in my brain, yet it’s led to some unanticipated views to spiritual commitment and community.

Starting with this:

The average citizen, myself included, passes the buck on achieving answers & real change in our country.

Maybe I’ve been online too much lately grappling with political and racial turmoil; but this election more so than others has triggered my theory that average voters don’t want to be inconvenienced in regularly exercising their voice and regularly working to improve the ills of community or the nation as a whole.

So when the presidential elections come around — all that dormant, unused activism explodes into a frustrated, screaming citizenry who wants immediate action, for things to change “ASAP” and for the “revolution” to get “someone out there to listen.”

Who do we really really want to own the poop storm we are in right now as a democracy? Who is the proverbial they (referenced in above exchange) that should drum up presumably better candidates on which voters should pass judgment?

….a galant knight?

….or progressive-conservative-libertarian-poor-but-self-sufficient-multi-racial candidate miracle worker?

It’s not the (always fictional) knight’s responsibility.

It’s not the (always fictional) perfect candidate’s responsibility, no matter who we elect.

Absolutely I have political preference on how this election pans out, and believe in the value of our vote. But that act of empowered adulthood in no way replaces the daily empowerment of investing ourselves, even to the point of it being inconvenient, to improve this nation one community at a time.

I believe each voter’s sense of ownership (me too)  needs to step into the proverbial arena of commitment like these candidates have. Trump’s ethos scares the hooey out of me but dang he got into one of the most inconvenient marathons in the world i.e. putting his hat in the presidential ring. I admire that courage – in Clinton even more so – even if they are immersed in imperfection themselves.

What’s the spiritual relevance of community and political contenders? There’s a ton of nuance but right now, Jesus comes to mind. He fully committed to his community and his city as his life. As Henry Drummond wrote:  “He (Jesus) looked at the city. Then He wept over it. Then He died for it.”

Jesus asserted the inconvenient habit of commitment. It seems a timely decision to reflect upon when investing efforts in between the presidential votes we cast.

Resource on Christ and community:

The City Without a Church by Henry Drummond   (as referenced on Facebook by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli of Foundry UMC in July, 2016).

Picture playtime: what could live in this photo?

 

image

little ant woke up, his antennae leery of the cascading dusty cliffs

antie ant strolled near, skating on dirty turfs of pecan and vanilla

“how fast you glide, how smooth you hasten!” younger ant wispily admired

antie ant felt her cold blood glow, warming from an inside shine

then off they both veered

eager for their next stage:  a maple flower shaded in caramel gray sky

 

what do you see or imagine?

Racial justice and white ego

imageA friend’s heartfelt expression today on Facebook about “ugly racism” stays on my mind. She emphasized a more conscious return to love and taking each day “one day at a time….and to take care of our own porch and neighbors” among other insights.

I shared below in response:

Your comments have triggered a thought about love: It is the answer.

At the same time, I invite an overt understanding of how love can be easily misconstrued in society as a decision void of discomfort – especially to the white privileged in our country.

I’m not an expert on the perfection of love; but the enacting of it exceeds the proverbial porch of our own comfort or sense of ease.

We as whites need to fully look and listen to how structural racism has strangled opportunity for Black people, strangled their right to decency, and their basic sovereignty to live out a loving life due to entrenched racist structures. The violence we have seen these weeks is nothing to the immoral hegemony that our white race has created in this country.

Consequences of this play out in less violent but demonstrative ways. Like I heard a white mom friend get angry that a Black student, as example, won the scholarship instead of her white son. Why? Was racist judgement at the root of her frustration?  Or was she stressed at facing hefty tuition and I took her expression of disappointment in the wrong light? In that moment it felt uncomfortable to not question her. And it felt as uncomfortable to challenge a friend with such directness.

But in the moment, I believe to return to love as you mention is to also pursue truth and uplift it.  So I inquired about her meaning; she was surprised yet forthcoming. I said her comments sounded racist. It was awkward but damn we talked about it. Hopefully a little greater consciousness was achieved for two white people.

Or here’s another scenario:

I’ve seen white people question the authority of a Black leader in front of a crowd; yet they remain silent when a white leader of same capacity asserts the same authority in the same dynamic. Love means divining the courage to call that out….which frankly I failed to do.

These are just mere slivers of the non-violent racist attitudes and structures that rage, along with the obvious blood.

What is the loving response?

It goes beyond taking care of your own porch. The first black family in my mom’s home town moved in, then a week later their water heater blew up in flames so they left. An actionable love surely means to wake up at the discomfort of how our decisions and perceptions can dehumanize people, limit them, and inspire horrendous fear.

It goes beyond the immediate localness of our porch and into the murky unease of learning that being white does not equate to an entitled sense of ease at the expense of minorities especially Black people.

Surely to God love means not only taking it one step and one day at a time. But it must include taking the consequences of white supremacy and dismantling them one consequence at a time. We must achieve awareness and that takes rigorous adjusting (and deflating) of white ego.

For blocks & blocks, she kept chanting “No!”

image

What is it about the pitch of a person’s voice that can convey a message, as much or more so than their spoken words?

A woman last week was walking much of 17th Street, the main street in our neighborhood. She walked a measured pace and yelled one word repeatedly as if creating a one-person protest; a few blocks away from intersecting her on the sidewalk – her screams of one word rang out in fierce volume penetrating us nearby with what felt like surround sound:

No!

No!

No!

With every other step, she yelled “no” over and over in fever pitch.

The tenor in her voice held a mix of fierceness and anger. But it is unclear in my mind now how much of that fierceness was actually meant from her (or was instead being projected from the rants in my own head):

No! more polar political rages

No! more starving for food

No! more racist sexist binges

No! more denied grasps over boundaries as a fleeing people collapse on barbed wire

She kept screaming her “no” and I became concerned that I’d over indulge my own frustrations of this world, caving to a self-righteous pity party.

Then as the woman passed by and echoed onward, a memory of a good friend and colleague floated up about the relationship between justice and  persevering. She once said:

“No,  NO, NO ….I can’t sit still with the world this way.”

Yes, with some mercy and discipline (and an avalanche of love), forward let us go.