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Reaching Out

Web_Galactic

 

 

 

 

 

Hmm. We seem to have an agitated spirit here. Or maybe a map. This is pastel and ink on paper that was stressed (crumpled up in a ball), then spread out and pasted on birch panel. I like the way the wrinkles created a totally random pattern that was randomized again when I pressed the paper on the panel. I worked within this randomess as carefully as I could. Such is life. Yes? No?

Ashes

656 baba ashes small file

 

 

 

 

This week, I’ve been thinking of ashes. What they represent. Here’s something I wrote in memory of my father-in-law after helping to scatter his ashes off the coast of Seattle.

Ashes

John Lacher, 1928-2010

 

Heavier than you’d think

if you think of ashes,

a man’s worth

tucked in a box now

passed from one

relation to the next

as we scatter what remains

on Puget Sound, though

“scatter” is too light

a word. These ashes

plunge, I say

plunge into the cold,

clear water, bone chips

and bits that even the straight

blast of the furnace couldn’t finish.

If you had known this man,

even from a distance,

you would have felt

how hard he burned

himself with blindness

and sturdy rage,

with the diligent weight

he carried in love for others.

And if you had loved him,

even from a distance, you

weren’t surprised how the dust

behaved like stars,

the million particles trailing

clouds of milky smoke

like galaxies, as beautiful

and constant as anything else

burning in the sky.

 

 

 

 

Christmas Stories

Our favorite Christmas stories often revolve around death, unhappiness, and the possibility of a painful, even tragic, loss. This is odd since we also think of Christmas as “merry,” a season of bright lights and jolly good cheer. But in their darkness, these stories tell us something important about Christmas and how we can prepare, through Advent, for the coming of Our Lord.

Christmas tales can be, in fact, pretty grim. In Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge sees his life as three different kinds of death—past, present, and a possible future, complete with his own funeral, horribly cold and lonely. In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey literally stands on the brink of suicide, on a snowy bridge in December, staring down at the black waters where he once saved his brother from drowning. In “Miracle on 34th Street,” little Natalie Wood loses her faith in Santa Claus. In “White Christmas,” the warmhearted General Waverly is in full danger of losing his country inn and all his life savings to boot.

The theme of loss is found in children’s books as well, with a Grinch who steals Christmas, with “Christmas Lost & Christmas Found,” and with a little boy in “The Polar Express” who is heartbroken when he loses the reindeer bell that Santa gave him, the “first gift of Christmas.”

None of these stories end in tragedy. They take us into the darkness and sometimes to the very brink, but they always bring us back. They have a double movement, turning and then returning. Both darkness and light are necessary for the plot, and we cannot understand the season without passing through a quiet darkness—including the darkness inside us—that leads to Christmas.

This is why Advent makes all the sense in the world. Advent helps us to slow down and ease into the darkness. Like Lent and Good Friday, Advent reminds us that Christianity teaches the deep wisdom of Lost and Found, that as human beings, we cannot appreciate, in fact, cannot even understand any gift that we have not lost or been in danger of losing.

How many Christmases have gone past us without understanding? How many times have we ignored or given slight notice to the quiet darkness of Advent? It’s a good thing that Christmas comes every year. Like Scrooge and George Bailey, we, too, get another chance. But our Christmas stories also remind us that there’s always a catch—we have to believe. And with this belief comes understanding that Christmas is a brilliant miracle, a gift from God, even at the darkest time of the year.

“Opening Prayer”

I’m happy to announce that I’ve finished my third book of poetry, “Opening Prayer” (formerly known as “A Brief History of Prayer.”) The book represents work from the late 90s until now. I let it rest for a long while as I wrote a memoir, built up my commercial writing business and generally let life get in the way. About two years ago, I returned to the manuscript, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time on it this year, especially over the summer.

The first section was written before conversion; the last three sections reflect more the Catholic perspective I have today.

Drop me a line if you’d like to see samples.

The Beauty of a Strip Mall

I’m working on a new book of poetry called (so far) “A Brief History of Prayer.” The book is partially based on my business career, including six years as the communications guy in four software startups. But most of the work is the result of a religious conversion that I talk about in “I Have Wonderful News,” the memoir mentioned in this blog. The themes of work, faith, prayer, spirituality and art are intertwined to reflect what I think of as a sacramental view of the world where the physical can’t be separated from the divine, where objects burn from within, and where God is everywhere and always unexpected.

The first poem in the book, The Beauty of a Strip Mall, appears in Ruminate, a very fine magazine devoted to “chewing on life, faith and art.”