Playing to an Empty House

 

photo by Joel DeWaarda Mt. Baker photo by Joel DeWaard

 

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The Old Testament book of Micah answers the question of why we are here with another: 
“What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, 
and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

We are here to abet creation and to witness it, 
to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. 
Together we notice not only each mountain shadow 
and each stone on the beach 
but we notice each other’s beautiful face 
and complex nature 
so that creation need not play to an empty house.
~Annie Dillard from Life Magazine’s “The Meaning of Life”

 

 

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I started out a noticer,
a child who crawled on the ground
to follow winding ant trails from their hills,
then watched nests bloom with birds,
and sat still as a lizard sunning himself on a rock.

Next I was a student researcher of great apes,
following wild chimpanzees deep into an exotic forest
to observe their life in a community so much like our own.

Then came a profession and parenting and daughtering,
with mounting responsibilities and worries and cares,
and I stopped noticing any more,
too much inside the drama
to witness it from outside.

Creation played to an empty house
and the empty house was me.

Slowly now,
I’ve returned to noticing again~
buying my ticket, finding my seat,
smiling and nodding
applauding
hooting and hollering
begging for an encore.

It’s a non-stop show of the miraculous
where I’m less a player of parts
transformed to an appreciative audience
preparing to write a great review.

 

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The Cathedral to Memory

 

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appledylan

 

I planted an apple tree in memory
of my mother, who is not gone,
 
but whose memory has become
so transparent that she remembers
 
slicing apples with her grandmother
(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than
 
the fruit that I hand her today. Still,
she polishes the surface with her thumb,
 
holds it to the light and says with no
hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .

they’re so fragile, you can almost see
to the core. She no longer remembers how
 
to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but
her desire is clear—it is pie that she wants.
 
And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core—
to that little cathedral to memory—where
 
the seeds remember everything they need
to know to become yellow and transparent.
~Catherine Essinger “Summer Apples”  from What I Know About Innocence

 

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A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. 
~Welsh Proverb

 

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It is at late summer and harvest time when I most clearly remember my mother – she is standing for hours at the kitchen sink peeling yellow transparent apples, readying them for sauce, and always a pie.

The apples were only part of her daily work:  she canned quarts and quarts of green beans, peeled the peaches and pears for canning, sauced the plums, pickled the cucumbers, jammed the strawberries and raspberries, syruped the blackberries, froze the blueberries, cut the kernels off the corn cobs, baked up the zucchini into breads and cakes, dried the filberts, dug and stored the potatoes,  dehydrated the tomatoes.

Over the years I’ve stood by the sink and the stove and have done what my mother used to do, usually not as well but with the same mission of preserving what I can for another day.  We have been fed from our summer labors.

I know well these trees and vines from which the fruit grows.  I plant the seeds which somehow know to produce when tended and nurtured.  I stand and peel and wash and boil and stir as this is what generations of my family’s women did before me.

May it ever be.

 

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Spread Your Wings and Fly

View More: http://karenmullen.pass.us/gibson-order

 

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
~ Frederick Buechner

 

View More: http://karenmullen.pass.us/gibson-order

 

We have now said good-bye to our children who came together for a time back on the farm this summer and have all returned to their lives elsewhere.  It was bliss to raise our voices together in harmony before our meals, as we always have done, and now our table is set for two as we entrust them yet again to God’s care and keeping.

Their wings are strong and sure, carrying them miles away from this place of origin.

I began writing regularly 16 years ago to consider more deeply my time left on this earth and what my family meant to me, here and now, and for eternity. Family is carried inside the words I write without my often writing about them directly.  They inspire and challenge me, they love and stretch me, and as our children have now gone out into the world, two returning with beloved wives, and one with their first child,  I am assured they are sustained by what they have carried away from this home.

Life is not just about living in the world but what world you carry deep inside, blessed by faith and obedience to God.  We can never really be lonely; our hearts will never be empty when our voices are always raised in praise together.

We have each other forever, even miles and miles and lifetimes apart.
For you’re always near to me, in my joy and sorrow
For you ever care for me, lifting my spirits to the sky (see song below by Libera)

I sustain myself with the love of family.
― Maya Angelou

 

View More: http://karenmullen.pass.us/gibson-order

all family photos by Karen Mullen Photography (thanks once again, Karen!)

 

Angel take your wings and fly, watching over me
See me through my night time and be my leading light
Angel you have found the way, never fear to tread
You’ll be a friend to me, angel spread your wings and fly.

Voces angelorum gloria! Dona eis pacem!
(O voices of angels (give) glory! Grant them peace!)

For you’re always near to me, in my joy and my sorrow
For you ever care for me, lifting my spirits to the sky.
Where a million angels sing, in amazing harmony
And the words of love they bring
To the never ending story
A million voices sing
To the wonder of the light
So I hide beneath your wing
You are my guardian, angel of mine.

Cantate caeli chorus angelorum!
Venite adoramus in aeternum!
Psallite saecula et saeculorum!
Laudate Deo in gloria!
(Sing, Heaven’s choir of angels!
Come, let us evermore adore!
Sing forever and ever!
Praise God in glory!)

Can you be my angel now watching over me
Comfort and inspire me to see our journey through
Can I be your friend indeed, from all cares set free,
The clouds would pass away, then I’d be an angel too

Voces angelorum gloria, dona eis pacem!
(O voices of angels (give) glory! Grant them peace!)

For you’re always near to me, in my joy and my sorrow
For you ever care for me, lifting my spirits to the sky.
Where a million angels sing, in amazing harmony
And the words of love they bring
To the never ending story
A million voices sing
To the wonder of the light
So I hide beneath your wing
You are my guardian, angel of mine
Angel of mine

 

Removing the Splinter

 

 

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
~Li-Young Lee, “The Gift” from Rose

 

 

I did, without ever wanting to, remove my child’s splinter, lance a boil, immobilize a broken arm, pull together sliced skin, clean many dirty wounds. It felt like I crossed the line between mommy and doctor.  But someone had to do it, and a four hour wait in the emergency room didn’t seem warranted.

My own child learned to cope with hurt made worse by someone they trusted to be comforter.
I dealt with inflicting pain, temporary though it may be, to flesh that arose from my flesh.  It hurt as much as if it were my own wound needing cleansing, not theirs.

Our wounds are His – He is constantly feeling our pain as He performs healing surgeries in our lives, not because He wants to but because He must, to save us from our own destruction.
Too often we yell and kick and protest in our distress, making it all that much more difficult for both of us.

If only we can come to acknowledge His intervention is our salvage:
our tears to flow in relief, not anguish,
we cling to His protection rather than pushing Him away,
we kiss Him in gratitude as we are restored again and yet again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Set A-Tremble

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“No man is an island,” John Donne wrote, “intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Or to use another metaphor, humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…

As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt.

Our lives are linked together. No man is an island.
~Frederick Buechner from The Hungering Dark

 

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As we say “till we meet again” to our son and family who return today to their mission work in the island nation of Japan, I sense the strength and tenacity of the web that continually connects us to them. As they serve people thousands of miles away, the love and support of family and friends who touched them during their stay here is “set a-tremble” and extends far beyond our patch of soil here.

It helps to know we are linked, no matter how separated.  It helps to know what happens there will reach here with a tiny tremble, if I stay tuned for the smallest vibrations.  It helps to know that despite long history of conflict, our nations are connected again.

Fare well, dear hearts.  Until we meet again, we remain connected, trembling.

 

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That Pivoting Ear

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Near dusk, near a path, near a brook,
we stopped, I in disquiet and dismay
for the suffering of someone I loved,
the doe in her always incipient alarm.

All that moved was her pivoting ear
the reddening sun was shining through
transformed to a color I’d only seen
in a photo of a new child in a womb.

Nothing else stirred, not a leaf,
not the air, but she startled and bolted
away from me into the crackling brush.

The part of my pain which sometimes
releases me from it fled with her, the rest,
in the rake of the late light, stayed.
~C. K. Williams  “The Doe”

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Oh little one
to have been born this week in June
thirty four years ago~
so wanted
so anticipated
but lost too soon
gone as swiftly in a clot of red
as a doe disappearing in a thicket:
a memory that makes me question
if you were real,
but you were
and you are
and someday
I’ll know you when I see you
and curious about who I am,
you won’t flee,
but stay to find out.

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Yesterday’s Unwashed Dishes

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She rarely made us do it—
we’d clear the table instead—so my sister and I teased
that some day we’d train our children right
and not end up like her, after every meal stuck
with red knuckles, a bleached rag to wipe and wring.
The one chore she spared us: gummy plates
in water greasy and swirling with sloughed peas,
globs of egg and gravy.
 
                                Or did she guard her place
at the window? Not wanting to give up the gloss
of the magnolia, the school traffic humming.
Sunset, finches at the feeder. First sightings
of the mail truck at the curb, just after noon,
delivering a note, a card, the least bit of news.
~Susan Meyers “Mother, Washing Dishes”
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My thoughts went round and round and it occurred to me that if I ever wrote a novel it would be of the ‘stream of consciousness’ type and deal with an hour in the life of a woman at the sink.

….I had to admit that nobody had compelled me to wash these dishes or to tidy this kitchen. It was the fussy spinster in me, the Martha who could not comfortably sit and make conversation when she knew that yesterday’s unwashed dishes were still in the sink.
~Barbara Pym from Excellent Women
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I trace the faltering American family to the invention of the automatic dishwasher.

What ever has happened to the human dishwasher with two hands full of wash cloth and scrubber, alongside a dish dryer armed with a towel?

Where is the list on the refrigerator of whose turn is next, and the accountability if a family member somehow shirks their washing/drying responsibility and leaves the dishes to the next day?

No longer do family members have to cooperate to scrub clean glasses, dishes and utensils, put them in the dish rack, dry them one by one and place them in the cupboard where they belong. If the washer isn’t doing a proper job, the dryer immediately takes note and recycles the dirty dish right back to the sink. Instant accountability. I always preferred to be the dryer. If I washed, and my sister dried, we’d never get done. She would keep recycling the dishes back for another going-over. My messy nature exposed.

The family conversations started over a meal often continue over the clean-up process while concentrating on whether a smudge is permanent or not. I learned some important facts of life while washing and drying dishes that I might not have learned otherwise. Sensitive topics tend to be easier to discuss when elbow deep in soap suds. Spelling and vocabulary and math fact drills are more effective when the penalty for a missed word is a snap on the butt with a dish towel.

Modern society is missing the best opportunity for three times a day family-together time. Forget family “game” night, or parental “date” night, or even vacations. Dish washing and drying at the sink takes care of all those times when families need to be communicating and cooperating.

It is time to treat the automatic dishwasher as simply another storage cupboard and instead pull out the brillo pads, the white cotton dishtowels and the plastic dishrack.

Let’s start tonight.

And I think it is your turn first…

 

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