contemplative life, domestic arts, everyday parables

a room in the kingdom

There’s a room in the kingdom where your sisters are weaving.

No one’s speaking now, not after days of late-night talks and early-morning laughter, of sermons and studies and gathered meals. Instead, some read, some write, and others tend their little looms, weaving bands with colors like a winter sky. Someone at the piano recalls the song we sang last night, when the lights went out under roaring wind and thunder.  This morning, as sunshine dyes the hour gold, they hum along, “…all I have needed, Thy hands have provided…” And their hands pray with thread and rag, drawing the weft like hours and days and years, ordinary moments given form and glory by the upright cords of the warp: covenants that neither bend nor break.

***

There’s a room in the kingdom where your friends are feasting.

The tables are heavy with brisket and chicken salad, fajitas and rice, lemonade and Dr. Pepper. The family could have circled close, hiding their grief in seemly privacy. But they know their father better: beloved host, he would open the doors, tell his children to bring their friends home, too. After all, who else will eat this food? And so they laugh even as they weep, telling stories, explaining the intricate display of cotton bolls, the feed-sack, the photograph, the family legend and dear history.

They eat well, affirming the resurrection with second helpings, until, as they house empties, they turn to you and say, “Tell us.” And even here, even in their grief, they listen to the hard choice. Offering no easy answers, betraying no awkward impatience, they listen deep and wide, wide with the love of those who grieved, deep with the hope of those who believe.

And so, having feasted at their father’s table, you find yourself outside, four friends holding one another against the cold. They pray for you beneath the blazing stars, upbank from the river that can bless and flood. Four friends against the cold, and then — a fifth draws near.

***

There’s a room in the kingdom where strangers are meeting.

You can hear the drums before you leave the house, and the firelight tells you where to find them. Circled already: neighbors, friends, and strangers linked by firelight and rhythm. They would burst the seams of your little house, but here around the fire there is room: room to beat a drum with jubilation or shy intensity, room to slip out for a cigarette or a dance, room to join or wait.

Bring your banjo and tambourine, your bucket or pot, your tingling bells or child’s drum. Bring your clapping hands and timid feet, surrender to something beyond your power, something beyond your right to start or end, manage or maintain.

***

“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying,

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

(Matthew 4:17 ESV)

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Alabama, beloved

According to the calendar, you were my briefest home. Three years, June to June. When people asked, “Will you stay,” I made no vows, but I planted orange trees. I made no promises, but I set my table and said, “Come, rest” to the ones I loved. Trace the sun’s course across my heart, and see that my time with you was deep, though it was not long: you were the first place I thought I would stay for good.

For good. I could have stayed for the good of my students, generation after generation of kids from small churches, surprising poets and powerful singers, men and women with gentle spirits and strong loves. I could have stayed for the good my friends, my dear and laughing people, wise parents and clear-eyed neighbors. I could have stayed for the good of my parents, who are tired, and deserve the haven they would have had in that azalea city, on that backward and beautiful little street.

***

In the story of my life, I do not yet know what to call you: were you my rightful rest after noble labor? were you another future God would have honored? Or were you my isle of the lotos-eaters, my surprising testing ground?

How many rain showers did I enjoy and endure along your temperate coast? Perhaps that’s why I cried so much on the long road from there to here: a tear for each summer shower, each February deluge, each late-spring wash, each autumn tempest.

Oh, Alabama, beloved, I will miss your men in seersucker suits, your deep-south drawls, your thundering Baptist preachers and grand archbishops. I will miss walking to church on Sunday mornings, hearing the Methodist bells play hymns each afternoon.

I will miss a city of ancient trees and old money, where the talk after Christmas turns to society balls and parades. I will miss a city where some new flower — shocking winter camellias, shy violets and snowdrops, brief-but-bold azaleas and wisteria, honeysuckle and magnolias — blooms with each new moon.

I will miss little girls from down the street knocking on my kitchen door, hands full of gardenia blossoms they picked just for me. I will miss little boys and old men stopping me to say, “That’s a good clean hound you got there.” I will miss neighbors who presume and interfere and protect.

I will miss your bayous and bays, your legends of pirate treasure and your sad history of slaver ships. I will miss a history so dark and bright that it cannot be summarized, reconciled, explained away. Perhaps most of all, I will miss feeling myself at the end of all roads. I will mourn the peace of tracing highways, streets, and footpaths to the sea, where the tide washes them away with all other pretensions.

Neither my road nor my history ended with you, despite my Satsuma trees, despite those long and hopeful suppers. Joy has carried me away, but I will miss you, my sweet home.

Farewell, Alabama, beloved.

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everyday parables

A Not-So-Lonely Road

The kingdom of heaven is like a girl who has heard rumors about a narrow road that leads you home. She packs her bags and prepares for a long, lonely journey, but before she can begin, she hears a mighty pounding on her door. Opening it cautiously, she finds three friends on the threshold. “Don’t be afraid,” they say. “We’re coming with you.”

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prayer

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Beautiful Savior,
let us rest today in the symmetry of grace:
teach us to trust before we see the fruit,
to celebrate the ever-promised harvest,
but also, Lord, to notice what has come:
the heavy branch, the sweet windfall,
the lover’s voice, the reconciled friend.

And as we come, your wistful people,
fill our works and words with grace:
the beauty of a mother with her child,
the strength of a father’s laugh,
the bustle of a crowded table,
the wisdom of an athlete in his race,
the skill of a spider with her web,
the trust in the eyes of a loyal hound,
the ache in the hands that have done good work.

Clumsy and fretting, we stumble into you.
O God of our Thanksgiving, give us grace.

Amen.

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