Come walk with me

Come walk with me among the stones and trees, away from the distractions and we will reflect on what truly matters. . . .

Sunday, November 30, 2014


How I dread the winter, the darkness, the cold in the bones.

It was not always thus. I loved the gray days, the nights of wood stoves, the intimacy. Winter was safe. The smoke curled to the ground and the world was small.

Fear changes things.

The sharp edge of fear slices through the day and into the veil, a veil we do not wish to see beyond, the dark we do not wish to know exists. Once we know that fear, we are never the same.

I struggle to remind myself that God is bigger than the fear.

Love, trust, betrayal, fear -- love must be bigger. It must be. Surely it must be.

Photo by Denise Coalson taken from Ivy Green Church, Surry County, North Carolina

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Dying Young

King Tut
Boy King
Gilded Sepulcher
Silver Sarcophagus
Slender Corpse
Wrapped in White
Mask of Gold
Golden Grief
Grief so Old
Precious, precious, grief
carved into walls
Stone walls
Walls and walls and walls
Vaulted ceilings of grief
Not enough.
They are not enough
Not thick enough, strong enough,
high enough--to hold so much
to confine
such a hungry god

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Guide Us

I want to believe in something beautiful tonight. I want to believe that love lasts. Forever. Forever and ever. I just want to believe it exists, that it is possible to be selfless. I want to believe that God really does hold the whole world in His hands. I want to believe that life can be beautiful and just. I want to believe in grace, the abundance of grace. Faith. Silver. Hope. Gold. Charity. White robes. Incense. Frankincense. Royal beauty.

Moor and mountain. Moonlight on the moor. Morning on the mountain. Morning. I want to believe in the morning star.

I want to believe in the better angels, our better angels. Angels we have heard on high. Angels among us. With us, with us.

But bitter perfume fills the air. Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying.

But, please, no more myrrh. Not now. Not tonight.

Prayer and praising, all men raising. Raise us. Let us rise. Let us see the light. Overlook the blindness, hide our blindness, blind us so that all we see is light.

Guide us to the perfect light.

Every Fall

The brittle leave are clacking, clattering, chattering, speaking to one another of snow. They speak quickly, urged by the north wind, scurrying to finish their chores. Their conversation ebbs and flows, rising on the wind gusts.
Their words are the same as last year.They are the same every year. From gold-green to gold to the color of earth, until finally they become the earth, sleeping through the winter.

* * * * * *

The earth is damp and fragrant, soft and forgiving. The color of the fallen leaves blends into a mosaic on the ground. Yes, the very ground is as if Monet had chosen each piece, posed each leaf in a grand masterpiece.

 * * * * * *

It is good.

Photo by Sue Ann Seel

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Widow's Walk

My friend is a widow.

The word is so timeless.

Widow. Widowed. Widow's Walk.

Her husband loved her unconditionally, as she loved him without reservation or limit. She misses him without reservation or limit. More than without limits. She misses him like the astronaut misses earth, no, no, more than that. . . . She misses him like Sunday morning coming down.

Another friend walks toward widowhood. She awakens each morning to the anticipation of not knowing. Her husband has been fighting to live for so long, and he has lived. They have made trips, had company, had arguments, had quiet moments that curled into sleep. She fears for him, fears for herself. Will I be okay? she asks because she is not okay now.

I know that both my friends will be okay, are okay, even through their uncertainty. I know their core. I know they are practical beyond philosophy and loss. They understand the sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, the need to make breakfast, the need to change the oil in the car. They will emerge from the Valley of the Shadow, and they will be changed, forever changed.

In a twinkling, all is changed.

From the widow's walk, you cannot see forever, but you can see the horizon, and there is always something beyond.

Painting, "Widow's Walk," by Rob Gonsalves

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sipping Coffee

The world had shifted on its axis and it had become fall. All was falling; the leaves, the sky, our spirits. We went to the truck stop for chicken and gravy, biscuits and companionship. It was a Sunday tradition.

The windows were steamy. The giant percolators pumped like a stainless steel heart. The world outside had become gray and cold, forbidding. Inside, the warmth was palpable. It filled our stomachs, fed our souls. We were content.

I swiped my sleeve on the window and peered into the drizzle. About forty yards away, a soldier was walking beside the highway. The trees behind him were gray, their branches one continuous motion, as if children holding hands and swaying on the playground. The asphalt was gray, fading into the gray ground. He was gray, almost indistinguishable from the landscape except for his walk. Quickly, evenly, he strode, as if with purpose, as if he had a destination in mind, as if the rain did not hinder him. The warm room disappeared. It was as if my spirit joined  him, as if I had left the white coffee mug with my hands wrapped around it.  I felt his legs, strong and tired; I felt the rain, soft and cold on his face.

He was quiet, solidly, determinedly quiet. He was so quiet it would have taken a drill sergeant's order to make him find words. It was a quiet from the core of the earth, from time itself, from all time. There was a rhythm to his loneliness.  He marched to a far-off cadence.  There were days, I thought I heard it, in the distance, just barely audible -- the command to rise, to march, to rise, to march.

I sipped my coffee slowly, looked around. No one else had seen the soldier. The windows were still steamed over and even the portal I had wiped dry was once more obscured. It was as if this soldier never existed. But I know he did. I felt his longing in every cell of my being. I have spent a lifetime following this soldier, sending up prayers for him, listening for the cadence, sipping coffee.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Koln Dome

Heaven is love without longing.

The nature of Heaven is much-debated. Pearly gates. Golden streets. Harps. Choirs. A pillowy vacation. Light. Pure light. 

Daddy dreamed of Heaven at least once. It was a cornfield, so richly green that it was nearly black. The sun touched the tassels on the bursting ears of corn so that the entire picture was one of bounty. A split-rail fence surrounded the field and the mountains rose behind it. Daddy's brother, Hoover, was with him as they approached the fence. They could not enter at the same time, I remember Daddy's saying that. It was a beautiful dream. It comforted Daddy greatly.

My sister Denise dreamed of Heaven, too. She saw her people, our people. They were waiting -- generations, upon generations, begotten, begotten, begotten. She knew them, each one of them, and they knew her.

I have never seen Heaven but I have seen the Cathedral at Cologne.

It was my first trip to Germany. No picture in a text book, no Travel Channel documentary could have prepared me for the Koln Dome:

Cologne Cathedral is a building of superlatives that is the centre and hallmark of this city on the Rhine. The cornerstone of this Gothic cathedral was laid on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on 15 August 1248. The previous building was apparently no longer deemed impressive enough to house the remains of the Three Wise Men, which Archbishop Rainald von Dassel had brought to Cologne from Milan after the latter city was conquered in 1164. Because of these relics, the cathedral became one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe. Its two massive towers have dominated the city’s skyline since their completion in 1880. At 157.38 metres, the northern tower is 7cm taller than the southern one.

Today the cathedral is Cologne’s second-tallest structure, surpassed only by the telecommunications tower. The cathedral covers almost 8,000 square metres of floor space and can hold more than 20,000 people. Due to the building’s impressive Gothic architecture, the shrine of the Three Wise Men, the outstanding stained-glass windows and the many other important works of art, UNESCO declared Cologne Cathedral a World Heritage Site in 1996.

* * * * * * * * 

The Primitive Baptist churches of the Appalachian Mountains are distinctive in their plainness. There are no steeples, no crosses, just plain little boxes for people to gather. There is no piano, no organ, just the voices of God's people.

God comes to these meetings. He has been attending as long as the little churches have been there, I think. He pours down like gold into the preacher and it flows over the little congregation. Here, for a moment, there is wholeness, but it is fleeting. The longing returns, the headstones on the hillside just outside the window remind us of the portal, the pearly gate, the gap in the fence, through which we must pass, through which our loved ones have already gone.

Entering the Koln Dome was like walking into the House Made for God. Truly, He lives here, in the faces of the saints, in the tiles on the floor, in the stained glass, the vaulted ceilings, the spires, the towers, the dark spaces underneath. God lives here.

I stood in the back while the Germans gathered for mass. A junior priest, I guess, came over to me and told me in German that I should join the congregants, but I remained on this side of the split rail fence. He was my age if not a little older. Very German -- fair, blonde, ruddy complexion, blue eyes, but there was warmth in his blue eyes. They were not steely blue, but the warm faded blue of worn denim. I shook my head, told him in English that I am not Catholic, that it wouldn't be right. He insisted, in German. I refused, in English. He was perplexed. He did not know exactly what to do with me because he knew I was supposed to be there. He knew he was supposed to be with me.

The organ, the voices, Latin and German -- all rose, pressed against the vaulted ceiling, embraced the saints, unfurled as a Christian banner to touch every stone, every heart of stone. 

I wept. I could not hold the melting, and it poured down my face. My priest stood by me, knowing he was appointed to watch over me. He simply stood, his hands clasped in front of him, watching me weep, knowing it was all he could do, knowing it was all he was supposed to do.

I wept over the bones of the Magi, over the haunted souls who sought comfort here for decades, eons, ages. I wept for myself. I wept in gratitude, a gratitude for which I had no words then and have none now.

My priest remembers me, I am sure. I feel his presence. He thinks of the dark-haired American who stood by him and wept and he wonders if I am okay. I want to tell him, yes, yes, yes.

I long to see him again. Perhaps in Heaven.