A Prayer of Petition: Above Our Chaos

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Oh Spirit of God,

In the beginning you hovered above the waters of chaos and from it you brought life. And not just life, oh God, but life that is so peculiar and mysterious we cannot articulate it’s wonder: kangaroos, glaciers, tulips in the spring, the intricacies of a snowflake and (strangest of all!) humans.

So God we ask that you continue to bring life out of the chaos that often becomes our lives. At times we generate this chaos; at times is happens to us. But when the waves of chaos toss us to and fro, we pray that we might find refuge and peace in the safety of your ark. We do not earn your protection, oh Lord. But from under your umbrella and from within your lifeboat of grace, we pray that you use the times of chaos- the times of confusion, hurt, turbulence- to bring life into and from our lives.

Amen.

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The Edge of the Universe

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In 1965, two scientists by the name of Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were attempting to set up a large communications antenna in Holmdel, New Jersey. But their efforts produced an annoying background noise, a “steady, steamy hiss that made any experimental work impossible.” They did everything they could to make it stop: re-wiring circuits, fidgeting with knobs, unplugging plugs; their efforts culminated when they climbed into the dish itself and scrubbed it clean of all dust and- get this- copious amounts of bird poop. Still, the buzz continued.

As it turns out, Penzias and Wilson had inadvertently discovered microwaves from the edge of the known universe, 90 billion trillion miles away. These two men had succeeded in “looking” deep enough into space so as to find cosmic, background radiation left over from the origin of the universe itself.

“Oh, so it wasn’t bird poop?”

I’m having my (annual) mid-life crisis. It started while I was waiting for a friend to pick me up from my apartment; we’d arranged to go biking together. He was late so I idled around the parking lot, glancing at my phone, nodding to people walking by and tried desperately not to look like a prom date that’s being stood up.

Even though it was just a few minutes, I felt as if I might go insane without something demanding my immediate attention. My mind raced to corners of contemplation that scared the bejesus out of me: what a perfect day- how many of these do we get in a lifetime? And what is a lifetime really? What’s the purpose of it? Of this? Of conscience existence? Of everything?!

And I thought of those scientists, a half-century ago in New Jersey, who were scraping off bird poop, inadvertently ridding themselves of discovering the edge of the universe.

We humans like to attach time to things: obligations, appointments, jobs, events, calendars, all of a linear nature, all to help us comprehend our own niche in eternity. I’m no different. I wake up and I go to the office; I come home, work out, make dinner, read a book, watch some TV, balance the checkbook, brush my teeth, swap pillows while my wife’s in the bathroom (we both have a favorite pillow but if I swipe it before she’s in bed she really doesn’t notice) and I go to sleep.

This is life, my life. And I love it. And if you gave me the chance I wouldn’t change anything (except perhaps my pillow). Just the notion that I could feels like da Vinci asking me what alterations to make on the Mona Lisa. But then I find myself in a moment of stillness and I realize how little of this life I conscientiously live.

My wife and I picked strawberries this afternoon. She was smiling, it was sunny, and our fingers were pink with juice from the ones that were a bit too ripe. She held up our crate of berries and I took a picture, for posterity, social media and the hope of setting glaze on this particular moment in our time together. And I thought that perhaps, someday, the sun might shine like this forever.

These are the moments of peace and stillness, moments of conscientious existence that comfort and terrify me, moments when thoughts ricochet in my head, making a sound that mystifies and terrifies at the same time.

So this is the part where I get preachy and talk about how I resolved to be more present in every moment and we walked hand-in-hand to a lifetime of carpe diem-ness. But I didn’t and we’ve not; if you must know, when we got back in the car we began quarreling about the air conditioning.

Life is a journey- a linear one, because that’s all we know how to live. We’re born, scrape our knees, lose our teeth, earn degrees, fall in love, write poetry, get promotions, take medicine, build homes and swing-sets and pass on the best of our wisdom and lottery of our genes to another generation. Then we retire (to Florida, God help us) and things come to an end. We move always forward, aching for the immortality to step into the universe beyond our own.

So, at the end of it all, maybe I’ll find myself sitting around in a body that barely works anymore. And I’ll feel like all of the time in the world is behind me, pushing me towards the edge everything I know. And, if I can, I’ll hold for a moment and stop to look back.

But there’ll be nothing to see, because it’s all beyond and here now, around me and with me. And it will be something beautiful, something which, before now, was completely unknown.

And all this time we thought it was bird poop.

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Inchworms & Moving Boxes

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I ran into a (former) seminary classmate yesterday. He was walking into our campus apartment building with his arms full of cardboard boxes; he and his wife were getting ready to move south, onto their next chapter. I held the door for him.

“You all packed up?”

“Almost,” he said, and smiled the way a captain of ship might as it passes another in the night.

I continued on my way but then had a thought and called after him. “Hey- if I don’t see you again, well…then…” Actually, I wasn’t sure what to say.

He looked back at me, still smiling. “God bless you,” he said. And he turned with a nod as I did too.

They left sometime last night. I wasn’t around to see them off.

I keep returning from my runs with inchworms all over my shirt. How they ended up on my person was a mystery to me. So I slowed to a walk during one jog a couple days ago. And I observed an inchworm dangling in the middle of the trail, just below my eye level, attached by an invisible thread to some tree branch up above, waiting for someone, something, to come by.

I had a nightmare the other night in which my wife died. I woke up and reached for her in the dark. She was there, but was she breathing? I sat up and leaned over, my hand reaching to check her pulse.

“Wha- what…babe? What are you doing?” Ah. There’s that pulse.

“Uh, nothing…go back to sleep.”

She gave me a look, like I was up to no good, like I was ten years old and she was my brother and myself and Stephen Banich were sneaking into his room in the middle of the night to paint his fingernails bright pink before the morning of his first football practice. But her eyelids were heavy and she was soon back asleep.

Which was convenient. Because how on earth could I possibly explain? I thought I’d lost you; my heart was about to explode inside my chest?

We were on a walk this evening, and I couldn’t help but notice that the parking lot outside our apartment looks somewhat ominous: there’s moving trucks parked where minivans used to be, storage containers occupying our neighbor’s parking spot.

And I felt a little bit like an inchworm.

All day and all night these little creatures dangle and flail about, waiting for something to come by, waiting for the wind to blow, waiting to find something solid, something steady, something secure to which they can hang on. And when they (finally) find something, when they think the world has stopped spinning madly beneath their feet, they find it pulled from under them again.

It makes me feel a little heartless at how quickly I just flick them off, onto the concrete or pavement. But they had a good go of it, I tell myself. This is the way of things.

And then I pass someone in the hallway. And I think about the classes we had together, the time we were in the same group for a project, and the couple of movies and dinners shared in his apartment. We weren’t incredibly close- but a small corner of my world is attached to his. And he’s getting ready to pack it into boxes.

We shed as we pick up, Tom Stoppard once said, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms. Perhaps I should have offered to help carry a box.

What a world it is that God has made. A world that spins, evolves, moves from season to season, arrives and departs, from dust to dust. Life is a short and fevered rehearsal, A.W. Tozer once said, for a concert we cannot stay to give.

As we walked into our building I took my wife’s hand. This world may scare. But there’s something to be said for the hope that, wherever we land, whatever we latch onto for however long a period of time, it’s just a shadow of where we’ll one day stand.

Which should be of comfort, I suppose. Comfort as we cling to shadows that then slip away, into the night of today. Because the sunrise is coming, and it will shine like a million candles in the darkness. And every shadow we’ve held, every love we’ve lost, every corner of our world we’d seen packed into boxes and whisked away, it’ll be there, waiting again for us to hug, cherish, admire, have and hold.

It sounds like a distant dream. But the inchworms, panicked love, and move-out dates of the world fan the flames of its desire.

It may be all we have. But there’s much to be said of it, I’m sure.

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