God and Dragonflies

Morning dew on a dragonfly wing

 

Last year I was in a painting class taught by a retiring professor. He was a refreshing soul who always insisted that his students stretch their Faith as much as they do their Art. I’d paint trees upside down and he’d go on about universalism. I learned a lot of life lessons from this man, but maybe the most significant came on a somber day in May; One of his last days of teaching. We sat in chairs around him, ready to soak in whatever wisdom he had left. Looking around the room, he said he’d be reading a poem today. One that spoke to the deepest longing in his heart.

 

It was copied down on a folded and crinkled paper, a condition that suggested he carried it around like a small companion. He flattened it out with his palms and sighed deeply at the sight of it.

 

It’s called “God’s Justice” by Anne Carson.

In the beginning there were days set aside for various tasks.
On the day He was to create justice
God got involved in making a dragonfly

and lost track of time.
It was about two inches long
with turquoise dots all down its back like Lauren Bacall.

God watched it bend its tiny wire elbows
as it set about cleaning the transparent case of its head.
The eye globes mounted on the case

rotated this way and that
as it polished every angle.
Inside the case

which was glassy black like the windows of a downtown bank
God could see the machinery humming
and He watched the hum

travel all the way down turquoise dots to the end of the tail
and breathe off as light.
Its black wings vibrated in and out.

He wept buckets the whole way through. Warmth and sobriety wafted through us watching him break into pieces. His glassy eyes were of a true artist. His restless heart was one grasping for gorgeous grace. Soon enough, everyone broke and we became basket cases together. He looked up, speaking in a voice that whimpered before such beauty.

 

“Don’t you hope that’s true? That He loses track of time? Even on the small things? That beauty stops God in his boots?”

 

During that hour, my professor captured something that could’ve gone lost on me. I don’t know if it was the tremble in his voice or his tears or the power of the poem, but I was overwhelmed by the comeliness of it all. I wanted to travel wherever he had gone. I needed to hear the God that whistles and sings.

The God getting lost in the little things.

The little girl humming with glee by the magic in her fingertips.

The artist sitting cross-legged on a grassy knoll, playfully blending colors and discovering new shapes and patterns. Staying until it is exactly what it is. What it’s suppose to be. Something beautiful that belongs to him.

The Creator that lets winter have its moment, with all of its dark and twisted glory. The God letting the trees and the tulips sleep awhile longer. The God that keeps us on our toes at the first sight of green and the first calls of loons coming home. Who fastens a new appreciation in us. And instills us with empathy for when we too go dormant.

The Father that brings us into bloom when we’re raring to go.

I forget the cold. I forget the tyrant on the throne, barking orders, picking and choosing who among us means more to him. The omni-everything so obsessed with power and so bankrupt on bliss. The king tied and bound down to theology and politics and manners. The High Priest slapping the back of my head every time I chew gum in Church.

 

I lose myself in a daydream of a child building dragonflies, glassy eyed and enchanted by the hues of blue and the boldness of red and the life in the green. The one bending into shape those wiry elbows. God getting carried away with making those eyes, the windows into the soul, perfect…

 

That’s enough to crack the ice off my soul. It blows out the cobwebs and reminds me that I am another creation after the dragonfly. I am formed and fawned over and caressed and molded by the sincerest of hands.

 

The artist that made the Pacific so cerulean and the Redwood forest so majestic and Everest reach higher than our breath will allow, is the same one that stretched the wings of the dragonfly and made me from scratch.

 

Calling it all “good”

RR

 

Sparks Flying Upward

ww12-06 Sparks

“All of them – Hattie and Willie and Evelyn and even ruined, crazy Walter – were little lights; sparks flying upward in dark places, trying to stay light though they were compelled toward ash. They were nearly extinguished one moment, then orange and luminous the next.” -Ayana Mathis, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

If I have to pick a favorite line from this novel, it’s this. Our existence like sparks.

 

We shoot out like sparks into the deep yawning of this world. Piercing through the pangs of loss and the bitterness leaving blisters on our toes. We buck and we break and come with two fists swinging. Running recklessly from the assumptions and safety and familiarity. Desperately looking for something divine but different.

Even though we are all compelled towards ash. Even though we know, we’re all going to burn out eventually.

We defy it all anyway.

We are restless in our wild goose chase of who we are and why we are here and why now. To all those curiosities bursting through our short lives as sparks.

Sparks save…

Don’t flee the wind that burns you brighter. Even if it takes you a million miles deep into the inky darkness.

Never fear that fight. Usually, the kicking and swinging and drowning will lead you to the firm ground your faith can truly grow in… For perhaps the first time.

RR

Why I Won’t Just Write About My Sexuality

Boy holding paper plane on Jinshanling Great Wall

Most of the top hits on my blog have packed the punch of emotional and cringeworthy stories, the ones etched in the far walls of my spirit. They are significant and, I believe, life-giving to those fellow marchers feeling the aches of chained ankles dragging dark memories and frightening futures. For however many of you that follow here, I hope these have helped you somehow.

 

But I gotta tell ya. I can’t keep writing only about sexuality.

 

It’s not that any of you have pressured me to, but I have taken the responses I have received and played them like broken records every single time I type. I am no martyr, but I feel like somehow I want to keep taking care of you. Especially my LGBT listeners. Beyond being gay, there are plenty of other passions and dreams that drive me forward. Stories of preventable genocide and teenage parents and God’s grace and my beloved literature continue to color my conscience. My journal is chalk full of stories that actually have little relation to being gay in Church. I think they can be encouraging and I want you to hear them.

 

I have so much to say, but sometimes feel stifled because I want the audience to get what the audience wants to hear. I want to keep getting emails about how this story and that story refreshed someone in their journey, but at times, I feel like I am writing with that end in sight. My real memories get muddled with what I want them to sound like and its stressful.

 

The experiences I have had with the church and their arrow flung messages are important for the body to know about. I won’t slow down on that. Our Church is a whore, but she is our mother, so I want to help her be better. Bind up the wounded others like me.

 

Additionally, I can’t linger in my thoughts too long. The more ruckus I make in my mind’s attic, the more unbalanced those emotions get and then the ghosts from closeted past rush back to haunt me. There are times to visit those vestibules and times to let the dust settle in on them. The other day I actually started writing a non-fiction novel (which is hard!) but I did it because I needed to get out of my own head for awhile. So much so that I started making up someone else’s story.

 

Every now and then I hear that tip-toeing of temptation to make up spiritual awakenings. Moments that opened my eyes to something- just so I can post about it. I’ve flirted with that ethical line before, but have yet to cross it. I am scared of a day that I am so dry on the divine that I cannot describe Him anymore. I need to relieve myself of the pressure of writing about sounds unheard and sights unseen. Some weeks there may be twenty + pieces, others, there may just be two. Whatever warps into my world that week.

 

This space has been so sacred for me, and I want to keep it that way. But I have to have my whole heart in it.

 

I have to take my eyes off the stats so I can see God better. Throughout all of this, I will keep you posted and I won’t hesitate to rant a little. But I think somewhere along the way I lost sight of what this page was born into. How it helped me to mature into something better than before. It allowed me to shed old skins for new ones. I need to recapture that good seed again. And make these gravel stones fertile.

 

Love you all,

RR

A Spiritual Hibernation

Frozen-Street-winter-513888_430_288

 

I’ve never warmed to winter. Up here in Minnesota, that makes me a whiner. Around these parts there’s this pride in our thickened skin and pond hockey and snow tires, that I’ve never really understood. Nordic folk like to fancy themselves eskimos, for a third of the year anyway.

Last week, the day the elements turned arctic (-30F), I was working at the school when a late student came sauntering through the door wearing a hoodie- half zipped over a t-shirt, two thin breathable threads. No hat, no gloves and clearly no sanity. Almost distraught, I implored her,

Are you loco? Feeling hypothermic maybe?

She cackled and declared,

I’m a Minnesotan, bitch.


Maybe I am just being a *B*, but I swear this season is trying to kill me. It puts me on cliff’s edge. I’m not naive anymore to go gazing underneath the calculating icicle, just waiting to stick me like a sitting duck. I avoid driving on the black ice roads, which always feel like a walk on the plank. Even on milder mornings I still load on the layers because its all a ruse luring me into a late afternoon death march. I don’t even trust the weatherman anymore- he may be in on it.

The chill puts me on the defensive and makes me more of a recluse. I am uptight and less inviting. Winter always saps whatever reserves of stamina and good graces I have left. I find myself meandering aimlessly through radiated rooms.

It’s not seasonal depression, thank God, but it carries the scent of a spiritual hibernation.

Part of me is to blame. The spring, summer and fall have always been integral to those ethereal hours. My room, or any indoors for that matter, aren’t suitable for prayer because it brings back memories of me as a young boy laying in bed listening to my words rebound off the walls.

I like the earthiness of the outdoors, the openness and in the carved out corners, the privacy.

I have hideouts where I go when God feels gone. Little sanctuaries littered across the map of our town, by the lake and in the woods and beside the fields. But they’re all dead or asleep now. I can’t nuzzle near their branches and hum with the birds, because this season has stolen them away. The sun can’t seduce them back.

All I want is to just sit in my spot by the lake where the rays dance and spin off the lily pads, diving down shallow depths, revealing the rhythm in their shimmers off the rocks and the fish. There, it doesn’t matter if I am holding the Bible or Brennan Manning, the rhythm is invitation enough. Prayer is an encounter with His wild imagination. The trees bend beneath the cool breeze, sending cotton and leaves spiraling down all around.

I just miss the Creator courting me.

It could be that this longing is nothing more than an excuse for my bankrupt prayer life. Maybe I just need the aesthetics too much. It’s possible that what I really want is an emotional release that imitates spirituality, like the music behind the closing prayer at church.

Perhaps this climate reminds me too much of those bleak and abandoned stretches of my soul. The spaces that have gone untilled for too long. Where my pocketbook turns a deaf ear to my conscience and my time goes to die with waste. Those places that none of us really care to visit, because they don’t belong in who we know ourselves to be.

But it all seems to boil down to the same thing- a calling for the Divine from the desolate. Holding out for my dove with its leafy twig. Recalling those warm days when my faith had muscle. Letting hope and nostalgia enter into time and space to nourish my starving spirit.

For now, I’ll be Noah, drifting through a world stripped of life, dragging relics of things that once were. Missing those days of color and growth. Feeling far out in the center of the of Siberia. Just waiting on those first steps of spring.

And living as if they will come tomorrow,

RR

The Head and the Heart

 

There are times when the relationship with my redeemer feels like a long-distance one. While on occasion, this can be nothing more than a feeling of being stale in the faith, for most phases it comes during a season of busyness. Or at least, perceived busyness. I try to work hard, fill in time to write a short blog, catch up on emails, meet my social quota with friends and then go to bed at a reasonable hour. But rarely do I allow the schedule to dissolve and reveal the eternal reality before me. And when I get here- where I am today, I notice a couple things that have changed within me.

 

First- the Bible bores me terribly. It appears unattractive and complicated, and at the end of a chapter I will feel unmoved, even though I know I should be.

 

Second- I make the Bible into textbook. Feeling like a victim runs the risk of allowing yourself to dwarf the holiness of the words and convince you that it is only in academic study you satisfy your soul.

 

Over the course of the past several days I have tried to reconnect the dots of my faith. Burying my nose in the gospel didn’t give me a turn, so I listened to Christian music, for five minutes, then played T-Swifts new song. In the middle of the madness, I returned to the writer who has done more for my faith then any pastor ever has or could. That author is Brennan Manning.

 

Brennan has touched the lives of millions through his gorgeous works on God’s love and grace. I like to think of him, and many others like him, as a liaison between the spiritual wanderers and the father that loves them. I trust this man because of his honesty and his story of a life lived under grace. He has awoken my conscience on several occasions and consistently reminds me why I love this God so dearly.

 

One of his favorite passages of scripture-, which has become MY favorite passage of scripture- gives a glimpse into why oh why we love Him.

 

“My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,


11 for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.


12 The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing[a] has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.


13 The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.


Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.”

                        -Song of Songs 2:10-13, ESVUK (emphasis mine)

 

See, what I so often forget, when I reduce the Bible to a book report, is the intensity of our father’s affection towards us. This passage is so beautiful because of its imagery and its assurance of our belonging to him. The creator of the heavens and earth fell so deeply in love with us that he seeks to woo us, to court us, to make sure we know that he is mad with love for us.

 

There is a risk that I have found in dropping our brains at the door of the Church. But I have also found that there is a risk of our intellect overshadowing our hearts. We need both to work in conjunction.

 

Whenever I separate myself from that understanding of God as love, letting it slip into the recesses of my mind, I lose the sacredness of my search. Like the jackass student who I found out was homeless, I cannot understand God’s words without seeing the context of our relationship. I can’t look at the Bible in an attempt to reconnect with God without first understanding that this Guy is head over heels, weak at the knees, nails in the hands, in love with me. It’s a give and take. And obviously it’s a different type of relationship than ones of conversations over coffee.

 

But at the same time it is so much more reliable.

 

I look at this passage and I am reminded of why He means the world to me. It washes me in warmth over that inexpressible feeling of affection. Of being loved. Of perfect, uncensored, nails in the hand, kind of love that has the ability to bring a man back to life.

 

As Brennan wonderfully says:

“Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair;” –Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (emphasis mine)

 

 

I hope this Sunday you’ll sit with this scripture, and allow that affection to overwhelm.

RR