Advent 2017: the Maji, Journeys and Hope

Somehow this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “Wise Men” or “Magi” and their own short story. I’m not sure why – because it’s about a journey and movement and I’m not going anywhere right now.

Much of my life has been about movement, change, forward motion.  Now I’ve lived in Baltimore almost 9 years (!) and sometimes I don’t feel like I’m moving very much. But I guess even staying can be a type of journey.

So maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about this and the Wise Men’s journeys. I like that there’s this ‘something’ that compels them – together – who knows how many there were – following a star to something that perhaps they weren’t even fully sure of. But they knew it was something special – something good.

So – keeping it simple this year – because honestly – for me it’s too easy to fall into last year’s hopelessness. Outwardly, I’m a happy person. I love life and people and going out. But in my writing and self-reflection, I tend to tip into despair and pessimism and questions. At heart, I’m a cynic – though I strive to be an idealist.

On reflecting on this over this last month, two things (as I see it) coincide with this Maji-Christmas story that keep me going – that (I think) kept them going.

In all journeys, we face deserts and darkness and setbacks. But it’s our companions that help us overcome them. Sure, I’m grateful for the journey and that which makes me stronger (blah blah blah :), but without those that travel with me, I’m not sure I’d keep moving at times. You know who you are.

And I’d love to stop here with that sweet and touching line, but let’s be honest once again. Who among us hasn’t felt completely alone on that road? There have been times that I’ve said “there’s no one there”. (And I know that I’ve also been one to miss a lonely person sitting there beside me.) But an important lesson I’ve had to learn as an adult (and re-learn again and again) that at this age – in our busy lives – it’s okay to say “I need a day”, “I need help”, “I’m struggling” – Because I think we believe no one else is and we have to look and strive the exact same way.

Then there’s that something – that drew the Maji on the journey, what kept them going – that great Hope, following that star – even if at times, it was only the belief that there was still a star hidden behind the clouds.

I love the part of the ‘wise men’ studying the stars (astrology anyone?) and suddenly realizing that God was born as child. And they follow this star to a place –  All this without a voice, without a visitation, without a dream. All because of a star and a belief.

So much trust. And so much certainty to travel that far.

It makes me ask: Are there times like that in my life that needed so much trust and certainty to propel me forward? Big decisions. Or moves really. My move to Baltimore. My continual stay here. Certainly my faith.

This story of the Maji reflects my own story and reminds me to look Beside me and look Up. It’s a story of a journey together with fellow travelers – propelled with a greater purpose and a belief in something beyond ourselves. Maybe even (maybe often) following something that sometimes we’re not always sure what it is, but certain the end will prove the journey.

For me, that’s hope. Not super deep but sometimes, that’s what keeps me from falling off the ledge :).

And just to end here are a few of my pieces of hope this year: a place I now call ‘home’, seeing my little nephew after a long summer, old friends that re-surface in my life, new friends that I didn’t think I had anything in common with, sisters who I know will drop anything if I called them, a church that cares about the plight of refugees, immigrants and its own community, colleagues and a job that are more than that, a Thanksgiving that refreshed my soul, fellow travelers that always do, a family that draws me home each Christmas and the reason I celebrate every December.

And you. Taking the time to read this.

Seen.

Once, I traveled to India
through all the over-sensory whirl
of sounds and smells and colors
out to hot fields and small houses
where I met my friend’s mother
who
calmly presided over her
home
(in a language I did not understand).
But I saw that
her eyes spoke compassion;
her laughter, delight;
her wrinkles, strength.
And then_
she turned and
looked at me.

to live

Here
Forgiveness for us
who did the very thing.
Love for us
who hate.
Refuge for us
who wander, who flee, who are lost.
Mercy Compassion Joy Rest Healing Strength
Presence Welcome Trust Friendship
Healing Peace Reach
Life
all the things
breaking through
the stone
“Now go and tell and do
likewise”
Here in the darkness,
dawn
Him
We to live
this HOPE

My Galaxy

The imaginary lines
I threw out – foolishly,
impulsively – must be reeled back in
Some filament I spun
to create a cloud
hiding the real
picture from view
– unhooked –
by your words of clarity.

I float off into space

looking for another meteorite, planet, satellite, any object … until …
I’ll realize … eventually, finally … the truth
dives in

I’m Venus,
the North Star
I don’t need cobwebs or lifelines
dust motes of broken dreams
I am the Milky Way I can let
you float through
unseen
(uncared)
by me.

thoughts on advent. 2016

I’ve put this annual reflection off, and now it’s Jan 1, 2017. I haven’t wanted to write it because I don’t like to do things for the sake of doing them. I don’t like saying rote things that could be counted as trite, like I haven’t thought about it. Especially to those who are going through pain. I’ve been the recipient of that, and it sucks.

And I’m weary. A lot of people have said that. They have said they are excited to get rid of 2016. But even that makes me weary. I don’t have a lot of hope for 2017.

There’s been quite a few I know who have just been through it. Like you wouldn’t believe. Family members sick, broken relationships, internal turmoil, death … And others  who have been waiting – waiting for jobs, for a change, for health…

And I work for an int’l development agency, and we’re inundated with news of Syria and millions of refugees fleeing. We hear of children trying to cross the border into Texas because of the violence in Central America. And our country is incredibly divided, not to mention our own families at times. And it’s exhausting.

So I want to be careful about saying just words.

As I began this advent, I thought – I’d like to reflect on PEACE. We need peace in us, in our world, all that…isn’t the Christmas story full of peace?

But then I couldn’t find it. Do you know how many times ‘peace’ is mentioned in the Christmas story? Once.

You can’t force a meditation. And truth be told, there wasn’t much peace. Israel was occupied, under another regime.  There’s a lot of waiting. And in that waiting, so much anxiety. So much fear and doubt.

And when I read the part about Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. It hit home. How tired they must have been. Finally getting there and hearing, ‘no room’. Mary had to have thought (well I personally would have thought) ‘of course, this is just about how I’d expect everything to go based on this year…”

How exhausting it must have been for Mary, both physically and mentally. Was she full of doubts? Doubts that others had certainly placed in her. Fears she herself couldn’t help but have.

And when they did arrive to where they expected to: “No room”, landing in a stable, placing this baby – whom they had been told is the Messiah – in a feeding trough, Joseph must have felt incredibly inadequate as a husband and a father at this moment.

I’m sure the shepherds couldn’t have come at a better time, bursting in shouting ‘where’s the Messiah we’ve heard about?”.

I see both waiting (Simeon, Anna, Israel) and journeys taken (Mary, Joseph, the wise men) in the Christmas story. But the process is the same. The emotions are the same. The inner turmoil and questions still exist whether you are stagnant or wandering.

Were the wise men disappointed to find a baby in the end? How many times did Simeon and Anna ask God, “How long, Oh Lord? How much longer?”

And then Mary and Joseph again having to get up and flee for their child’s life – really holding the destiny of mankind in their hands – leaving a weeping town behind them… because of them.

So often, I tend to get into myself, and my path feels tired, full of doubt, unrelatable. And just when I think I’ve arrived where I wanted to go, it wasn’t what I expected or it’s even scarier than I imagine.
Or I never move.
At all.
And everyone else does.
It can feel incredibly lonely sometimes. And very far from peaceful. And the people I thought I could trust – well, they disappointed me.

So what’s left? What small piece can I take with me as I enter into a new year?

I’d like to be like those shepherds. I’d like to be able and willing to show up in the right moment because I took the opportunity – without hesitation, confirming to a fellow wanderer that they are on the right path. So much of the violence, pain and hatred of 2016 may not have been directed specifically at me or happened to me, but if I can come around and just be some one who says, “I’m here with you”; then I want to be that person.

I’d like to continue on waiting (or moving) despite my fears and doubts. So I have to ask, how could all these people do that? How does anyone? Really there has to be a very deep motivation for either one – greater than all our unmet expectations, disappointments and feelings of inadequacies and loneliness.

The wise men, Shepherds, Joseph, Mary – all had a deep pull, that only a very deep calling could keep them going.  Something – that in the midst of the oppression, fears, doubts, weariness, murderous threats, fleeing, loneliness, trouble – something greater gave them a reason to continue. And continue in what may have seemed to some a bold or scary choice. I want this courage and this passion. This I want to remember and hold on to.

Theirs was a deep hope in the belief that Mary carried the Savior of the world, and that he was called the Prince of Peace.
There. Peace.
Let me again repeat this line from that old Christmas carol: “the hope and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight …”

Life

torn limbs
too wrecked to reach
the little chance for life
in a bombed out womb of rubble
covered in shrapnel
dripping in suffering
[let the images explode your heart]
bleeding
broken into pieces
(remember these?
BELITTLED
into a RIDDLE:
a 140-spaced tweet
compared to a candy)
now a dust-bowl of skin and bones
almost nothing left (of Aleppo’s
last hospital)
but wounds and a loud cry
suffocated by our own
life pulses and throbbing fears of the unknown
“If I had a bowl of skittles”

The Purge

Through the mask
of the screen, device, closed eyes,
you are not a face
I have to care about
or know.

Only words that have offended
my beliefs. My values (character!) questioned,
as I stand scrolling on the bus
or lie in bed

you could be next to me
but your vitriol only
clashes mid-air with mine
fist first – like two villains –
as I hide
behind my rock
cheering (not knowing if you are too –
or if you’re weeping)
I’m right
I’m right
I’m right
I’m right
I’m right

If

If this heart is cracked
I apologize
It’s seen and trusted
and broken

If these eyes
look away
I apologize
They have forgotten a steady gaze
of love. that holds it
locked

If these lips are closed
I apologize
they’ve allowed unmentionables
and revealed deep secrets. and lost all access.

If these feet walk away,
That’s all they’ve ever known.
That’s all they’ve ever known.

The other

across cracked stone
the river runs
pouring
prideful
rubble red and
cold the sky
a broken reflection across
words in flames and placards

the people stand against the banks
in ranks
a rising stench
the sticks and stones that conquered bones
have built with rhetoric
a fear
begun years and thousands ago
summers of sweat
and placing bets

my hand – I win –
just because I was born
here and now and with this
not yours, not you

I am not
at ease with my own evolution
through no fault of your own
but some one rolled the dice
and I came up
able to breathe out of the river
un-drownable.

American.
Straight.
White.

others
maybe not

birth order and color and status and passport
all seem to make a difference
perception and expectation puts a powdered wig
on truth
a spiraling simplification

by them. by us.
by ‘we the people’
and I have the choice to care
or not care

wall

The Euphony of Baltimore

Inspired by Pastor Chris Dreisbach’s sermon at Old St. Paul Episcopal and a good man on Eutaw Street:

A step over cracks and chicken bones on
Eutaw street
I pass the flock of Raven-decked men in
deliberation:
“You don’t know what…”
but I never find out as I keep walking
and “Loose ones!” drowns out
all else
in my ear

A wide U-turn by an MTA bus spurs an angry honk
by a yellow taxi cab
The doors breathe open
letting out umbrellas, tired faces, a hope that today,
Tuesday, may be a little sunnier, a little
better, bring a little more money, maybe that
check will come in today, maybe one day…
…there will be less maybes

I can’t ignore the silent man sifting
through the layered cardboard
packed tightly in Tito’s Vodka and
stereotypes
and an aroma of sour loss
And I can’t ignore that just last week
Lexington street taped in yellow warnings and
flashing lights frightened mid-western visitors
from crab cakes in Mrs. Faidley’s.

But one,
one grizzly bearded small man
steps back up the curb toward me,
looks up from under his purple hat
nods and casually says
“Good morning, Dear Heart, good morning.”

makes me smile, simple as that
and I can’t help but think
Baltimore is beautiful
Baltimore is beautiful

lexington market