The Gaze of a Lion | Words of Wednesday

From “Serengeti” by Mary Oliver:

Can anyone doubt that the lion of Serengeti
is part of the idea of God?

. . .

the bone-breaker,
and the agent of transformation?
No doubt, in the beginning,
he rose out of the grass

like a fire–
as now he rises out of the grass,
like a fire,
gleaming and unapproachable,

and notices me,
and fixes me with his large,
almost fatherly eyes,
and flexes his shoulders.

I don’t know
anything so beautiful as the sunlight
in his rough hair.
I don’t know

where I have seen such power before–
except perhaps in the chapel
where Michelangelo’s God,
tawny and muscular,

tears the land from the firmament
and places the sun in the sky
so that we may live
on the earth,

among the amazements,
and the lion
runs softly through the dust,
and his eyes, under the thick, animal lashes,

are almost tender,
and I don’t know where I have been
so frightened,
or so happy.

A Couple of Lions


Today, I miss Africa.

Excerpted from Mary Oliver’s poem “Serengeti” in her collection House of Light (1990).

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A Father’s Day Poem

The Gardener
for my father

I have loved roses
since the earliest days,
when they spilled
like flames over our garden
walls, and you’d bring
them, fresh cut,
into the house,
where they’d dwell like
living embers singly
or together
and fill our mornings
with the perfume
of their song.

I have loved them
as you tended
the slowly growing
vine that twined
itself around the spirals
of our Jordanian
windows — an act
of faith, coaxing flowers
from the desert,
their color proclaiming
God’s faithfulness
as surely as any
burning bush
or shrub.

And I love them still,
seven thousand miles
from where you
spend your evenings
watering jasmine and
daisies, your garden a riot
of color and song,
as I tend my own
small miracle of green —
not quite eight inches
high, she grows
without knowledge
of her diminutive
size (as I gently check
each leaf for mites),
a single, unfurling
bud waving at the sky.

–Karith Amel © 2019

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Have I Lived Enough? | Words of Wednesday

The Gardener

Have I lived enough?
Have I loved enough?
Have I considered Right Action enough, have I come to any conclusions?
Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?

I say this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it.
Actually, I probably think too much.

Then I step out into the garden,
where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man,
is tending his children, the roses.

Mary Oliver


From Mary Oliver’s 2012 collection, A Thousand Mornings.

The year (my year) is drawing to a close, and I find myself wrestling (as always) with questions of what it means to live well, to live fully. Have I shown up enough? Have I been present enough? Have I done enough? Have I been enough?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But I do know that I got up every weekday morning, drank matcha, and talked to, fed, played with, cuddled, and generally spent time with my nephew. 

And, somehow, none of the rest of it seems to matter quite as much.

Magnus and Aunty Kar laughing on the couch

Feet towards the Sunrise | Words of Wednesday

There is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome. –Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday


You probably know that Rachel Held Evans died last weekend — a fact that I’m still trying to process (while avoiding the articles and discussions, however sympathetic, that wrangle over her faith, her legacy, and her life). I didn’t know Rachel personally. And, unlike many of my friends, I came to her work only recently, so she played no part in my discovery of feminism, my early journey with questions, or my wrestling with issues surrounding the LGBTQ community. Yet despite her absence from my life for most of my formative years, I found her Searching for Sunday to be revelatory — precisely because I found so many of my thoughts and longings spilled across its pages. It was the experience of connection, of encounter, of knowing oneself not alone that C.S. Lewis has declared to be the purpose of reading and writing. And in the midst of an ongoing search for female writers — women of faith — to sojourn with, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit.

Rachel is — Rachel was — only five years my senior. So I anticipated years and years of her presence, her wisdom, her compassion and insight, as companions on my journey. And, I suppose, I can still have those years, because, while Rachel isn’t here any longer, her work still is.

Yet I feel the ache nonetheless. An ache that doesn’t begin to compare with the loss her family is experiencing — the loss they’ll wake up with and go to sleep with and live with for the rest of their lives. Yet I grieve for the rest of us too. For we lost the voice, the leadership, the insight of a fierce, wise, articulate, Christ-loving woman just as she was coming into her own. And we are all of us poorer for it.

All of us, that is, but Rachel. She’s probably doing just fine.

The above quote is probably my favorite single statement from Searching, mostly because I think it sums up, so powerfully, what it looks like to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Rachel was someone involved in Kingdom work — shaking strongholds, speaking truth, and showing up with ointment for the wounds of both church and world.

May her example cause all of us to grow deeper in courage, in integrity, in compassion, and in wholehearted devotion. May we have the faith to ask questions, to wrestle, to show up, to love, and to not be afraid. May we follow Christ into the bruised places of the world. And may we be buried with our feet towards the sunrise.

Why Write | Words of Wednesday

Writing, regardless of the end result — whether good or bad, published or not, well reviewed or slammed — means celebrating beauty in an often ugly world.

_______________________________________

Anybody struggling to make something — no matter how they succeed or don’t in terms of the marketplace — has entered into conversation with giants. We’re all in the same arena, and our efforts differ “in degree only, and not in kind.”

_______________________________________

To bring one’s self to others makes the whole planet less lonely.

_______________________________________

None of us can ever know the value of our lives, or how our separate and silent scribbling may add to the amenity of the world, if only by how radically it changes us, one and by one.

–Mary Karr, excerpts from “Against Vanity: In Praise of Revision” in The Art of Memoir


Note: I listened to this book in audio format, so I’m relying on a combination of my own and others’ transcriptions (thank you, internet) without the ability to double check punctuation against the original text. I apologize for any errors in accuracy.

From All the Possible Shapes | Words of Wednesday

For it feels as if I was made — from all the possible shapes a human might take — not to prove myself worthy but to refine the worth I’m formed from, acknowledge it, own it, spend it on others. –Mary Karr, Lit


Sorry for disappearing for a while. I’ve been traveling (cheering on my dad as he ran the Boston marathon and visiting my younger brother in Redding, California), which is part of my excuse, but probably the greater truth is that writing is on a bit of a back-burner at the moment. After months of stretching my pennies and desperately trying to hustle up work (and figure out how to hustle up work), I’ve actually had more on my plate these last few weeks than I really know what to do with (which doesn’t mean I’ve moved beyond the penny-pinching phase, just that I finally have leads, and lots of catch-up to play as I figure out how to balance my exacting perfectionism against realistic time constraints — in case you didn’t know, The Chicago Manual of Style is large, y’all). And given that I’ll be moving on from Santa Cruz come June, getting that part of my life (the income generating part) locked in, and under control, has become a rather pressing priority.

Nevertheless, I’m rather bummed that I let two weeks go by without a Words of Wednesday post — I mean, how hard can it be to post a quote, after all? But the truth is I never want to just post a quote. I want to talk about it. Want to ramble about what I’ve been reading and thinking — why I care and why I think you should care. So posting a Words of Wednesday without any accompanying commentary feels like its own kind of defeat. (You probably don’t need to be my therapist to realize that I have a problem with an all or nothing mentality.) 

But I’m trying to combat that way of thinking. Trying to remember that something is better than nothing. That done is better than perfect. And that even when I haven’t had a chance to process, mull-over, write, and revise to my heart’s content . . . maybe, even then, I still have something worth saying. Even half-formed, in-process, uncertain . . . maybe there’s value to words even then. Maybe there’s value to me even then. 

Mary Karr’s Lit is a rather meandering memoir, starting, as it does, pre-college, and ending with Karr as a woman in middle age — a divorcee, a sober alcoholic, a writer, a mother, and a Catholic. The text hardly lends itself to clear threads or easy themes, yet the impression it left on me was one of becoming. This is a text about a woman growing up — not a coming of age story about the experiments of adolescence (perhaps Karr’s Cherry, which I have not yet read, covers that ground), but a story about the slow, meandering road to healing and acceptance. To the kind of maturity and adulthood that John Cacioppo references

Karr may have been a published poet fairly early in her life, yet she manages to make her road “home” feel as winding, confused, frustrated, fear-filled, and grace-touched as most of our roads seem — in truth — to be (perhaps even more so). As someone who lives with a constant sense of time running, slipping, lunging past me — of all that I haven’t yet done, and probably never will do — I found Karr’s book a powerful celebration of process. (Can I call it a “celebration” when so much of this book felt so bleak to me? I think, somehow, I can.) A reminder that even those of us who go slow cannot go too slow for grace.

There is deep magic at work here. A holiness to existence. Even in our brokenness and imperfections — even now, at this moment — all things are being made new. Aware, or not, we are in the hands of God. And God is growing us up, one step, one moment, at a time.

Note: I listened to this book in audio format, so I’m relying on a combination of my own and others’ transcriptions (thank you, internet) without the ability to double check punctuation against the original text. I apologize for any errors in accuracy.

Adulting | Words of Wednesday

To grow to adulthood as a social species, including humans, is not to become autonomous and solitary, it’s to become the one on whom others can depend.
–John Cacioppo

Walking with the Nephew


My favorite definition of adulthood.

Quoted in Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown.

Note: I listened to this book in audio format, so I’m relying on a combination of my own and others’ transcriptions (thank you, internet) without the ability to double check punctuation against the original text. I apologize for any errors in accuracy.

The Art of Restraint | Words of Wednesday

The myth says all the author wants it to say and (equally important) it doesn’t say anything else. –C.S. Lewis, The Art of Writing and the Gifts of Writers


From C.S. Lewis’s essay “George Orwell” in The Art of Writing and the Gifts of Writers. 

I’m deeply enjoying listening to some of Lewis’s thoughts on writing (which inevitably means, to some extent, C.S. Lewis’s thoughts on fantasy/fairy tales) — many (most?) reprinted (and reread) from one of my favorite collections of his work, Of This and Other Worlds

This particular essay is, by no means, the highlight of the collection (which includes many of Lewis’s various defenses of children’s literature, fairy tales, and fantasy, along with such treasures as Lewis’s glorious review of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, his reflection on “The Novels of Charles Williams,” and his “On Stories” — which, along with Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories” and Chesterton’s “The Ethics of Elfland,”1 remains essential reading for anyone who believes that stories somehow matter), but, like so much of Lewis’s work, it is sane and insightful — thrilling with the magic of recognition: oh yes, exactly!

Lewis is ever capable, it seems, in putting the most complex of thoughts into the most straightforward of words. 

Reading the last of Stephen King’s Dark Tower books (a series I’ve been engaged in since the fall), I can’t help finding the quote above particularly pertinent. 

Knowing what to include, and what not to include, seems one of the hardest skills to get right as a writer. The Dark Tower series is — ironically — both an example of a writer excelling in this regard (The Gunslinger getting it so, so right) and utterly failing (Wolves of the Calla getting it so, so wrong).

And there is a world of difference between getting it right, and getting it wrong. 

Note: I listened to this book in audio format, so I’m relying on a combination of my own and others’ transcriptions (thank you, internet) without the ability to double check punctuation against the original text. I apologize for any errors in accuracy.

Footnotes:

 1. A chapter in G.K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy.

The Only Life You Can Save | Words of Wednesday

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

–Mary Oliver


This poem is not unproblematic. Especially in the deeply individualistic world we inhabit. And yet, there’s something here all the same. Something dangerous and sacred and true. At the end of all things, the soul stands alone before God. (At least on some level, at least in some sense.)

Did you do the only thing you could do? Did you save the only life you could save?

Quoted in Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living.  

Encountering the Other | Words of Wednesday

Imagination is the best, maybe the only way we have to know anything about each other’s minds and hearts. —Ursula K. Le Guin, Words Are My Matter


From Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Making Up Stories” in Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books 2000-2016 (a collection of essays, book reviews, author notes, and introductions).