Friday, July 29, 2016

"Close to the Ground"—Read me! Read me!

The shout, “Read me! Read me!” is not just about this blog post. It’s encouraging you to buy, read and, hopefully, enjoy my new poetry collection, Close to the Ground. The presentation of the book brightened my experience of this year’s yearly meeting sessions (NWYM).
      You’ll notice that the cover photo portrays decayed leaves on the ground. A thank you to my dear friend, photographer Donovan Aylard. Of the nine photos he offered to Barclay Press, the one the press chose was initially my least favorite. But I now love it as the cover photo. Look closely in the upper left hand corner. Tiny green shoots break the surface. New life is springing up. Both the dry leaves and the barely perceptible greenness represent the contents. 
     Read me! Read me! (Please.)

If we are separated....

Travelling Together
by W.S. Merwin

If we are separated I will
try to wait for you
on your side of things

your side of the wall and the water
and of the light moving at its own speed
even on leaves that we have seen
I will wait on one side

while a side is there

We’ve made it through another annual session of Northwest Yearly Meeting, and we’re still together. We were unable to come to consensus on last year’s decision by the yearly meeting elders (among whom I serve) on releasing West Hills Friends Church from membership in the yearly meeting. I rejoice that this meeting is still with us, although the process—Lord, have mercy—is ongoing. Our deliberations were gracious and peaceful on the surface. (We behaved with civility). Yet the underlying tensions were obvious.
So our unity feels tenuous to me, and all the more precious because of that.
Early this morning, W.S. Merwin’s little poem spoke to my condition and seemed like a love song I could sing to Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends.

And so I offer this to you, whoever you are. Wherever you are. Friend, friend, or both.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Frederick Buechner on worship

    "Phrases like Worship Service or Service of Worship are tautologies. To worship God means to serve him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for him that he needs to have done--run errands for him, carry messages for him, fight on his side, feed his lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things for him that you need to do--sing songs for him, create beautiful things for him, give things up for him, tell him what's on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in him and make a fool of yourself for him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.
    "A Quaker Meeting, a Pontifical High Mass, the Family Service at First Presbyterian, a Holy Roller Happening--unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better spent doing something useful."

From Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (HarperSanFrancisco, 1973)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Eye contact

My eight-year-old grandson, Peter, has autism. He is bright, creative, quirky and full of surprises. He attended second grade in a public school this year, and he proudly tells people he is now in the third grade.
The end of the year assignment in his second grade class was a public speech. Each student was to introduce him or herself in three minutes. They could use a manuscript.
Peter is one of those chosen children who actually love to write. He wants to be a writer when he grows up and has already written and illustrated over 20 “books.” So producing the manuscript for the speech offered no problem.
The difficulty came with the other guidelines, chief among which was eye contact. Peter was supposed to look around at people as he spoke. He was instructed to make contact with his audience of second grade peers. He would be graded on this.
Eye contact has been problematic for Peter since infancy; it’s part of autism. He’s actually done quite well and has learned to occasionally look people in the eye as he speaks with them. He’s gotten used to us saying, “Peter, look at me.” But it’s never become quite natural.
And he doesn’t multitask. Give him a job to do, with clear instructions, and he can pour himself into it with passion. Thus, the more than 20 “books,” and the boxes of art work. But giving a speech and making eye contact with an audience are two separate tasks for him, and one task too many for it to be easy or natural.
But Peter determined to get it right, so he and his mom came up with a plan. Kristin, my daughter, penciled dots in his manuscript, one after each two sentences. The dot was a clue for Peter to lower his manuscript and look at someone in the audience. They decided on 5 seconds as a good amount of time for the look. Then they practiced. And Kristin videoed the practices on her phone so they could learn from them.
That seems like a lot of work for the second grade.
Peter is also visually impaired, so he had to hold the manuscript close, right in front of his face. Although he had the speech memorized, he wanted to do it this way. After all, the teacher said to use the manuscript.
So, face well hidden, he stood and began to loudly, clearly read the introduction. Then, briskly he lowered his arms and stared straight ahead, in this case at Kristin. When Peter stares, it’s serious. It’s fierce, concentrated and without the blink of an eye. As I watched the video, I could imagine him mentally counting to five. Then up went the manuscript and he loudly read the next two sentences. He reminded me of a robot as he again lowered the manuscript, shifted his head to stare at another person for five fierce seconds. Then up again for the next part. Repeat, repeat, repeat, right to the end. Kristin admirably harnessed her temptation to laugh.
As I said, he was determined to get it right.
And he must have done so, because he passed into the third grade.
Maybe the end product wasn’t quite natural, but I admire his determination and perseverance. I pray that life, mainly other people, will be kind to Peter--whether he avoids eye contact with them, or stares with ferocity. And I pray they listen to what he has to say.

In the early morning hours, I try to make eye contact with God. I confess that it is neither natural nor easy. Sometimes I use guidelines developed by others who’ve learned to do it well. Under their instructions, I may practice a certain number of seconds of concentrated gazing at the light. Then down again for a quick dip in the Scriptures. Up again to gaze (or meditate, if that’s the right word). Repeat, repeat.
I wonder if I look to God a bit like Peter. I wonder if I have some form of spiritual autism.
At any rate, I sense great patience and kindness coming to me from God’s heart.
And, yes, an occasional chuckle.