Tag Archives: faith

Now What? We Die. Then We Rise.

www.livingviriditas.orgNow what?

We got walloped. Many of us are grieving. Many of us are worried and afraid. Many of us are angry. Most of us are all three. Some of us can barely function.

Friends, we’re being invited into the holy cycle of death and rebirth. Dying and rising again is written in our DNA and embedded in the structure of our world. Dying and rising again is the Way of the Cross.

These times are inviting us to grow up and become stronger, luminous, loving beings we can’t presently imagine.

But only if we do the work.

We are resilient. We can do this. We can die and we can rise.

This is what faith looks like. This is what Jesus did.

I think dying and rising again will look like this, for me. If this roadmap is helpful for you, I’m glad.

1. Be terribly sad. Be heartbroken. Be angry. Feel the feelings, but don’t get too attached to them. Take the time you need, but don’t wallow.

Fear is different than sadness or anger. Please don’t give in to the fear. Fear of the future is useless and disempowering. Recognize fear, and then bring your attention back to the reality of this present moment. Avoid spinning in fear and worry. Have compassion for people stuck in fear and worry, going down that rabbit hole. Help them if you can, and then get out. Sit down, focus on your body and your breath, and let your heart tell you what comes next.

2. When it’s time to rise, rise up. When it’s time, as Mary Oliver says, “Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also, like the diligent leaves.” You don’t have to get over yourself, and you’re not overreacting or being a bad loser. Take the time you need to heal. Do what you need to do to feel stronger. When you feel like you can, please get back in the arena. When it’s time to rise up, rise up.

3. Choose positive goals and words. We can only achieve positive things. We can’t accomplish a negative, because there’s nothing there. Stop, close your eyes, and say these phrases: “No hate.” “Be kind.” Which one feels more peaceful and powerful? I’m betting it was “Be kind.” Be clear on what you want. Let go of what you don’t want. Dream big. Dream outrageously.

4. Pick one area of focus. “Be a meaningful specific rather than a wandering generality,” to quote Seth Godin. Let your passion be your guide. If we all do this, we’ll cover the bases. I’m picking the environment, specifically climate issues and public lands. Be clear on both your line in the sand, and what you want to accomplish. I’ll chain myself to a tree if I have to. I’ll go to jail if necessary, to keep Oregon’s public lands protected.

5. Be part of supportive communities. As Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” Now, more than ever. Your community might be church. It might be wisdom circles, or neighborhood potlucks, or running groups.

6. Practice excellent self-care. Stay connected to your Source. Pray, meditate, take long walks, cherish your body, make music, whatever it is for you that keeps your spirit strong.

My friends, we are love warriors.

We can do this thing.

Lectio Divina and Lectio Terrestris

Lectio Divina on the trail

Downed Tree on the Horse Lake Trail

What is Lectio Divina?

Lectio divina, literally “divine reading,” is a traditional method of contemplative prayer which commonly uses a sacred text as a starting point. Lectio divina springs from Jewish haggadah, a process of heart-centered interaction with scripture.  The 4th and 5th century Desert Mothers and Fathers seem to be the earliest practitioners of Christian lectio. The method was further refined by later monastic writers, primarily Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century and the 12th century Carthusian monk Guido II. In modern times, Lectio divina has made its way out of the cloister into the more public prayer lives of lay men and women.

Lectio divina is a simple method, composed of four “movements”: reading (lectio), reflection (meditatio), listening (oratio), and contemplation (contemplatio). Lectio is a process of moving from the surface meaning of the words, slowly going deeper and deeper into one’s own heart and the heart of God, which are one and the same, it seems.

Entire books have been written on lectio. (see, for example, Christine Valters Paintner’s Lectio Divina.) I’ve been using lectio by myself and with groups for some time now – not always with scripture. In fact, hardly ever with scripture. We use stories, poetry, memories, and natural objects such as sprigs of sage and pieces of our local volcanic rock. Birds are especially good lectio fodder, for me.

Lectio Terrestris

It’s this use of the natural world as a sacred text that I’m finding most profound these days. Belden Lane in his Backpacking with the Saints calls this sacred reading of the landscape “lectio terrestris.” The process is the same: simply noticing what’s around me (lectio), reflecting on what I notice and narrowing my focus (meditatio), listening to what the object of my reflection may be saying to me (oratio), and finally sitting with what I heard (contemplatio), which never fails to surprise.

A Personal Example of Lectio Terrestris

Here’s an example of my latest lectio terrestris experience. My husband and I were hiking into the Cascades last week, to one of our favorite high mountain lakes. We’d been anticipating the trip for months, looking forward to when the snow had melted enough for us to go back. However, before we were more than a mile up the trail, two things became apparent. The mosquitos were hellacious. And the winter’s heavy snow had brought down lots of trees. We were climbing over and crawling under logs every hundred yards, it seemed, for five miles, all the while swatting mosquitos and cursing. When we finally got to our lake, mercifully breezy and exposed enough that the mosquitos abated, I stuck my feet in the water, pulled out my journal, and proceeded to lectio. This is sort of what happened, in four movements.

  1. Lectio: What I notice is lots of downed logs, many mosquitoes, high wispy clouds in a blue blue sky, warm sun on this rock, and my feet in the cool water.
  2. Meditatio: I’m going to focus on the logs, because that feels right. I feel a tug there.
  3. Oratio: I hear the downed trees saying that dead things fall on the path and create obstacles. They’ll slow me down and divert me. They don’t need to stop me. Being stopped by something that used to be alive but is now dead and in my way isn’t necessarily a given. I can choose if I’m going to be stopped. I can figure out a way around the obstacle.
  4. Contemplatio: So… what are the dead things that I’m letting stop me? Old armor, needing to be right, wanting to be perfect and always adept, either/or binary thinking, self-criticism, fear, and my stories about my personal history…. I can choose differently.

I saw those downed trees differently on the way back.

Lectio always surprises me. Always.

Horse Lake

Horse Lake in the Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon

 

Groundhogs and Goddesses: Reclaiming Lent

Groundhog!

Groundhog!

Groundhog Day

Celebrate this unlikely oracle,     this ball of fat and fur,              whom we so mysteriously endow with the power to predict spring.                                        Let’s hear it for the improbable heroes who,                      frightened at their own shadows,  nonetheless unwittingly work miracles.

Why shouldn’t we believe
this peculiar rodent holds power
over sun and seasons in his stubby paw?
Who says that God is all grandeur and glory?

Unnoticed in the earth, worms
are busily, brainlessly, tilling the soil.
Field mice, all unthinking, have scattered
seeds that will take root and grow.
Grape hyacinths, against all reason,
have been holding up green shoots beneath the snow.
How do you think spring arrives?
There is nothing quieter, nothing
more secret, miraculous, mundane.
Do you want to play your part
in bringing it to birth? Nothing simpler.
Find a spot not too far from the ground
and wait.

~Lynn Ungar

Happy Groundhog Day! Today is also the Feast of the Presentation and Candlemas. Yesterday was both Imbolc and Brigid’s Day. February 1st and 2nd are thin places in the year’s cycle, rich with ancient energy. The Celtic Goddess Brigid comes together with a pesty rodent, Jesus’s presentation in the temple, and candle blessings at a party that celebrates lambing and other signs of Spring. Rock on!

Imbolc is one of the Celtic “cross-quarter days.” Cross-quarter days occur halfway between the sun’s solstices and equinoxes, and Imbolc is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The ancient festival’s name probably comes from the Old Irish for “in the belly.” Imbolc celebrates lambing time, so it’s a party focused on gestation and birth, on literal and figurative new life.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 10th this year. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for Spring and shares a root with “lengthen.”

Many of us who grew up in a Christian tradition, if we celebrated Lent at all, focused on it as a time for giving something up. “What are you giving up for Lent?” was the question heard on the playground and in the lunchrooms of my childhood. If we were told why we gave something up for Lent, the reason was usually tied to our sinful nature. Lent was a time to try to rein in our sinfulness before Easter, to prove ourselves worthy of God’s gift of salvation in Jesus.

(This idea of human sin is an outgrowth of a troubling and pervasive idea about Jesus called “penal substitutionary atonement” or “sacrificial atonement” that’s become the primary way we’ve understood Jesus and God for the last few centuries. The short form of this idea is that God sent Jesus to die for my sins on the cross, and if I believe in Him I get to go to Heaven instead of Hell. Ugh. There are other valid and more helpful, healthy ways to understand God and Jesus.)

What if we approached Lent through the door of Imbolc and Groundhog Day?

What if we asked, “What’s in my belly?”

“What’s asking to be born?”

“How can I nurture whatever this is and prepare for its birth during the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter?”

We don’t have to be churchy or penitential to find value in the ancient practices of a holy Lent. We have bodies and we live in them on an Earth that cycles, under a moon and stars that cycle. That means we naturally cycle – we have times of ebb and flow, times of rest and activity, times of retreat and going forth, times of dying and rising again.

We can reclaim the wisdom of earlier times that celebrated discernible lengthening of days, returning fecundity of Earth, softening and burgeoning forth of bodies and dreams.

We can ask ourselves what wants to be born, and then act to nurture emerging new life.

We can reclaim Lent.

Next week: a mini-retreat for going deeper into these questions.

The Camino One Year Later

Seattle Airport May 1, 2014

Seattle Airport May 1, 2014

One year ago today I was sitting in the Seattle airport on my way to Spain, where Jed and I walked the Camino de Santiago. Camino conventional wisdom says it generally takes six months to integrate the journey.

I’m nowhere near done processing.

In this space, for the next seven weeks, I will be intentionally remembering my Camino. I don’t have a real clear idea of what that will look like. I’m planning to post short daily blogs starting on May 6th, the first anniversary of the day we stepped out from our French hotel into the dawn and headed over the Pyrenees. You may see poetry, art, photographs, journal excerpts, or maybe something else I don’t have any idea of at this moment.

That’s how the Camino worked. That’s how I think God works. What I thought would happen is not what happened.  What I thought I needed is not what I got. I took the next step. And the next.

And it was all deeply good.

Journal entry from May 1, 2014 in Sea-Tac:

Oprah quote on Starbucks sleeve:

“Live from the heart of yourself. Seek to be whole, not perfect.”

(An aside: Evidently not everyone liked Oprah on their Starbucks sleeves. I wish someone else had said this, someone that was universally admired, but there it is.)

Today: Living from the heart of myself takes trust. I’m working on trusting my heart, God, and other people. I’m learning to trust myself. One way I’m learning to trust my heart is through drawing mandalas. (I was inspired by an Abbey of the Arts Easter discipline, and I watched How to Grow a Mandala.) Here’s what my heart creates when I listen and follow directions. I honestly don’t know where that came from – my heart told my hand what to do. I trusted. And this happened. I’m learning!

"Wild" Mandala

“Wild” Mandala

Relationship is Fundamental

Armenian Genocide Vigil

Armenian Genocide Vigil, Trinity Church, Boston, April 23 2015
Photo Credit: Tricia Harvey

We’re commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  African refugees are drowning by the hundreds in the Mediterranean. Closer to home, Nancy, a much-beloved member of our church and dear friend to many, is actively dying. Her family and friends are at her bedside, feeling her light and witnessing its waning. Jerry’s cancer has metastasized to his bones and he has just weeks to live. Bill is in his last days and he’s terrified. Even beloved cats are dying. I sometimes feel like I’m immersed in suffering and death.

I wonder: What’s one White middle-aged Oregonian gonna do about all of this? What’s my job here?

 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. – John Donne

 

 

Modern cosmology is proving the truth of Donne’s poetic statement. As Judy Cannato puts it in Radical Amazement, “All creation has come about through a single cosmic event, often called the Big Bang. Creation is not a static fixed event, but a cosmogenesis, an ongoing act of creation and creativity. Because all life is part of this single cosmic event, all life is connected at its most basic level.

 

“The theory of holons suggests that everything is a whole/part, that nothing is separate and distinct. Life consists of nested holons of increasing complexity. Relationship is fundamental.

 

A friend posted the photo of the Armenian Genocide memorial service in Boston last night. This is what we can do for them: light candles and remember them. Remember that this thing happened, and that things like it continue to happen. Know that as this thing happened to them, because we are all connected, it has happened, is happening, to us.

There’s where I find hope in our connection. I don’t know how to help African refugees except to make peace where I am, to live as peacefully and compassionately as I know how, which includes giving to organizations with boots on the ground. What I can do for the dying is be present with them and with those who mourn, with my whole witnessing heart. And because we are all connected, as I live intentionally, knowing that how I live makes a difference, the world will change. Thanks be to  God.

Unraveling

Baby held in big hands, Anne GeddesWe’re moving to Bend, Oregon. It’s been nine years since Jed and I moved from a suburb of Chicago to the mountain-nestled cultural and recreational mecca of Ashland, Oregon. I love Ashland. And we’re only moving to Bend. Bend is just four hours away and similar to Ashland in many respects. But, we’re still moving.

Because I know about linguistic epistemology, I understand that the words and metaphors I choose will largely determine my experience. So I suspected that labeling moving as a “long tunnel of chaos” was a bad idea. Other options were “tearing down a house” and the commonly used “uprooting.” Both of those felt too violent. I’ve settled on “unraveling” as a metaphor for this move. I’ve knitted a life here that I like in many ways. I feel more connected to the Rogue Valley than any place I’ve lived since marrying a minister who moves. Unraveling feels peaceful, so I’m going with that.

Unraveling also meshes well with the concept of the “Change Cycle,” a foundational life-coaching concept articulated by life coach Martha Beck. Martha uses the metaphor of a butterfly undergoing metamorphosis to teach the four-phase Change Cycle. Square One requires death and dissolving and letting go of life as we currently know it. Squares Two, Three, and Four are phases of reconstituting and rebirth. We get thrown into Square One, usually kicking and screaming, by life events such as marriages, births, illnesses, deaths, divorces, graduations, promotions or demotions, and moves. Even if we chose them.

Obviously, I am squarely in Square One.

I have historically been lousy at Square One. I much prefer the dreaming and scheming of Square Two and the planning and follow-through of Square Three. I have little experience of Square Four, “The Promised Land,” where Square Two dreams and Square Three plans have evolved into smoothly functioning systems. (Until another inevitable Square One event comes along aaaaannnddd Here We Go AGAIN!) The only way to achieve healthy, vibrant, “all systems go” rebirth is to completely die. (See this blog post for more on this topic.) Like most of us, I tend to frantically grasp at anything that promises to avoid the dismantling that Square One requires. I short circuit the dying part. This time, I won’t let that happen.

Here’s why this time will be different: I’ve learned some really helpful stuff I didn’t know nine years ago. Life coach training, grad school, and the Camino have taught me a few things. I know that my thoughts create my perceptions, feelings, and experiences. I know how to catch thoughts, then question and change them. I know how to let feelings move through me without attaching to them. I know about the importance of commitment. I know how to keep moving through the messy middle muddles, between the exciting clarity of beginning and the satisfaction of completion.

The most important thing that I know now that I didn’t know last time through Square One: I am deeply held and loved by Being/Source/God. That knowledge makes letting go possible. When I envision unraveling, underneath the fear and anxiety I feel peaceful and trusting. At the heart of the pile of yarn that is my life, I am cradled in Love’s hands. And all is well.

photo credit: anne geddes

“Whatever he tells you, do it”: Jesus vs. Christian Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey Cover Art“Whatever he tells you, do it,” says Mary the mother of Jesus to the servants at a wedding in Cana. “Whatever I tell you, do it,” says Christian Grey to Anastasia Steele, the heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey.

True confession: I read – well, skimmed – Fifty Shades of Grey this week. If you’re living under a rock, the book, dubbed “Mommy porn” by some, is a sado-masochistic romance (not my words) that has been selling really really well, mostly as an ebook. I had studiously (and snootily) avoided it until a life coach I respect and admire, a rape survivor, shared her excitement about the just-released movie trailer. She also said she was reading her way through other “soft erotica” after finishing the Fifty Shades series. Huh. Perhaps I have prejudged wrongly, so I got it from the library. (Thank you, Jackson County taxpayers!) Fifty Shades of Grey was slightly better written than I expected, and for sure it’s erotic. I was also highly troubled by its content.

Yesterday’s daily lectionary reading from John’s gospel has Jesus at the wedding in Cana telling his mom to butt out. He’s not ready yet for the consequences of being Jesus. He’s not ready to turn water to wine. Just a little more time, he asks. But no, it’s not to be. Mary marches to the servants and tells them “Whatever he tells you, do it.” And Jesus steps up. Water becomes wine.

I’ve often felt completely fed up with the trappings of religion, the rules and rituals and – I’m just gonna say it here – crap that cover Jesus up. These trappings include patriarchal language and imagery, the liturgy’s emphasis on sin, and some church folks’ preoccupation with sexuality and genital morality rather than poverty and violence and inhumanity. I’ve occasionally taken breaks from church attendance because I felt that my presence implied consent. Here’s the thing, though — Jesus is totally fine with me not going to church. He wants me to think and act freely. And I have always known that underneath the trappings that piss me off is the pure, entirely trustworthy heart of Jesus, completely peaceful and loving.

I trust Jesus. I will continue to practice disciplines that help me hear what he’s telling me to do. I do not trust Christian Grey, and I think Ana’s crazy to cede control of her body to a man who enjoys inflicting pain. Underneath Christian’s trappings – his wealth and physical beauty and manly smell and sexual acumen – is rottenness. I believe no amount of ecstasy, no fantasy of rescue by a good woman, is worth choosing to cede freedom to such a man. So I will not be reading the sequels. But I won’t judge you if you do!

Extreme Cavers and Desire

Cave

Bill Stone is an extreme caver. To say caving is his passion is to vastly understate his dedication. Bill Stone spends weeks at a time in the bowels of the Earth following twists and turns in complete darkness, exploring the world’s deepest caves. (See the April 21, 2014 New Yorker for more.)

I do not understand Bill Stone’s passion for caves, and his level of commitment and clarity stuns me.

Like many of us, I learned to look outside myself for direction, and to largely ignore my wants and desires unless they happened to align with those of the authority figures in my life. If we learn as children that following our hearts will lead to conflict with those we love and look up to, stuffing our desires seems like the better choice. And that deeply-ingrained habit remains into adulthood.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), our heart’s desires don’t just quietly slink away and leave us in peace. Suppressed desires inevitably bubble up as painful feelings and destructive behaviors like depression, addiction, meanness, illness, judgments, and envy.

Because denial of desires leads to such suffering, life coaching focuses on identifying and owning what we want.

There is also a growing consensus among progressive Christian writers such as Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk and contemplative teacher, that desires are a gift of God and a call from God, and that they come pre-installed.

Our vocation is to make our dreams come true. Our desires and passions and dreams and visions are God calling us to grow up, to evolve, to trust and explore.

I struggle to believe this. My mistrust of my desires runs very deep. And I’m slowly finding the courage to be honest and reverent about what I want, and to take steps to get it.

Maybe you know what you want and you’re dedicated to getting it. Yay you! I am happy for you (and maybe a teensy bit envious), and invite you to share your successes!

(However, if you, like me, could use a little guidance, I’m hosting a “Desires, Visions, and Goals” workshop in Medford on Thursday, April 24. Here’s a taste of what we’ll do:)

Identify desires by asking questions such as “What things and experiences do I truly want? How do I imagine I will feel when I get this thing or experience?

Identify what Martha Beck calls Wildly Improbable Goals. WIGs are really big creations or experiences that excite and scare us equally. (I prefer WAG: Wild Audacious Goal.)

Begin taking action to fulfill desires and Wild Audacious Goals by getting clear on what we want and what we have already, and identifying steps to bridge the gap.

The New Yorker article about Stone’s latest expedition says “[h]e has an engineer’s methodical mind and an explorer’s heroic self-image. He’s pragmatic about details and romantic about goals.”

Stone harnesses the power of both sides of his brain: the left-brain linear planner and the right-brain visionary seeker. We can learn to do the same. We must be about the business of creating in the world what we see in our minds and yearn for in our hearts if we are to truly be who we are created to be.

The world needs us.

I’ll give Richard Rohr the last word:

Your destiny and God’s desire are already written in your genes, your upbringing, and your natural gifts. It is probably the most courageous thing you will ever do to accept that you are just yourself. Only the original manufacturer can declare what the product—you—should be. Nobody else. “Even every hair of your head has been counted,” as Jesus puts it (Matthew 10:30). God chooses us into existence, and continues that choice of us every successive moment, or we would fall into non-being. We are interrelated with Essential Being, participating in the very life of God, while living out one little part of that life in our own exquisite form.

 

PDFs of workshop materials are here: Desires, Visions, Goals handouts_filled in

 

Acorns and Easter

Acorns

“How do we become that tree?”

Ash Wednesday was seven long weeks ago. Lent is almost over. Western Christians are teetering on the cusp of the Triduum (pronounced trih-joo-um), a fancy church word for The Three Days. The events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter are at the crux of our faith: Jesus dies and rises again.

I don’t know how this works. I don’t understand it at all. I doubt Jesus did either. But somehow “the human embodiment of the boundary-bursting, limit-shattering, death-defying power of God”* dies and is reborn. Jesus loves to the point of death, and beyond. And the power of his love somehow mysteriously continues to live in me.

Cynthia Borgeault’s The Wisdom Way of Knowing includes this story:

Once upon a time, in a not-so-faraway land, there was a kingdom of acorns, nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree. Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, fully Westernized acorns, they went about their business with purposeful energy; and since they were mid-life baby boomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses. There were seminars called “Getting All You Can out of Your Shell.” There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their fall from the tree. There were spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.

One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotty little stranger, apparently dropped “out of the blue” by a passing bird. He was capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns. And crouched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out a wild tale. Pointing upward at the tree, he said, “We … are … that!”

Delusional thinking, obviously, the other acorns concluded, but one of them continued to engage him in conversation: “So tell us, how would we become that tree?” “Well,” said he, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground … and cracking open the shell.” “Insane,” they responded. “Totally morbid! Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore.”

Jesus tells us over and over we must be buried. We must be broken open to become more fully who we are. The grain of wheat must die in order to yield a rich harvest. The caterpillar must completely dissolve to become a butterfly. The patterns are all around us, especially in springtime.

Unlike caterpillars, grains of wheat, and real acorns, we have a choice. We can resist the necessary dying and dissolving that is a prerequisite for new life. I don’t think I’m very good at this dying and dissolving. I resist. I cling to the old, the known, the static.

I want to stop resisting and clinging. I want to follow Jesus through these three holy days. I want to trust his promise that Love and I won’t die — that after each dying I will be reborn as a fuller truer embodiment of the real me who finds her Self in God.

I don’t understand Good Friday. I really don’t understand Easter. I don’t believe understanding matters at all. Jesus doesn’t say we must understand. He only asks us to follow — to walk our way with faith and love and kindness, dying and dissolving and being reborn on a regular basis.

*From a sermon by the Rev. Tom Murphy preached on April 6. Link here.

Poem for September 11th

Sky for September 11thBrian Doyle’s “Leap”:

A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them falling, hand in hand.

Many people jumped. Perhaps hundreds. No one knows. They struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air.

The mayor reported the mist.

A kindergarten boy who saw people falling in flames told his teacher that the birds were on fire. She ran with him on her shoulders out of the ashes.

Tiffany Keeling saw fireballs falling that she later realized were people. Jennifer Griffin saw people falling and wept as she told the story. Niko Winstral saw people free-falling backwards with their hands out, like they were parachuting. Joe Duncan on his roof on Duane Street looked up and saw people jumping. Henry Weintraub saw people “leaping as they flew out.” John Carson saw six people fall, “falling over themselves, falling, they were somersaulting.” Steve Miller saw people jumping from a thousand feet in the air. Kirk Kjeldsen saw people flailing on the way down, people lining up and jumping, “too many people falling.” Jane Tedder saw people leaping and the sight haunts her at night. Steve Tamas counted fourteen people jumping and then he stopped counting. Stuart DeHann saw one woman’s dress billowing as she fell, and he saw a shirtless man falling end over end, and he too saw the couple leaping hand in hand.

Several pedestrians were killed by people falling from the sky. A fireman was killed by a body falling from the sky.

But he reached for her hand and she reached for his hand and they leaped out the window holding hands.

I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.

Their hands reaching and joining are the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It is everything that we are capable of against horror and loss and death. It is what makes me believe that we are not craven fools and charlatans to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them like seeds that open only under great fires, to believe that some unimaginable essence of who we are persists past the dissolution of what we were, to believe against such evil hourly evidence that love is why we are here.

No one knows who they were: husband and wife, lovers, dear friends, colleagues, strangers thrown together at the window there at the lip of hell. Maybe they didn’t even reach for each other consciously, maybe it was instinctive, a reflex, as they both decided at the same time to take two running steps and jump out the shattered window, but they did reach for each other, and they held on tight, and leaped, and fell endlessly into the smoking canyon, at two hundred miles an hour, falling so far and so fast that they would have blacked out before they hit the pavement near Liberty Street so hard that there was a pink mist in the air.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them holding hands, and Stuart DeHann saw them holding hands, and I hold onto that.

 

Link to the poem here: Brian Doyle’s “Leap”

Photo credit: Morguefile, by dave