February 22, 2013


Two weeks ago, I did something terrifying.

I read poetry in front of people.

Scary poetry. Honest poetry. Lament poetry.

Lament is one of my new favorite words. Merriam-Webster (almost the best dictionary ever, after the OED), defines it as an intransitive verb, meaning to mourn aloud. 

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Mourn. Aloud.

I love my church. It's my family. But over the last year especially, I've been realizing that the larger church--or at least many people in it--has little space in its theology for the bad things that happen. I'm not talking about little struggles, bumps in the road. Those are a natural part of every human's life. I'm talking about the bad things--the things for which there is no sense. Eight-year-old girls who get leukemia. Forty-five-year-old fathers who die of cancer. Classes of kindergarteners shot down by sick, deranged gunmen.

Volumes and volumes of Christian theology are devoted to understanding these things. Logical treatises, high-caliber philosophical explanations are offered. Yes, in moments of quiet, those explanations can help us understand a world that shakes us to the core. Yes, there is a place for understanding. But it's not in the middle of the suffering.

It's natural to want to skip past the pain to the victory; to tell thesis-driven, neatly packaged stories of conflict, climax, and resolution. We minimize the dark, torn-up moments of life because we don't know what to do with them--instead we fast-forward straight to the overcoming, the lesson learned, the transformation accomplished. All those are good things to see and give thanks for, in 20/20 hindsight. But sometimes, when you're in the midst of the story, you have no idea what the resolution's going to look like. And when your feet are bloody from the road, you may not even be sure you'll ever reach the destination.

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My pastor has started a sermon series on laments in the Bible, and it brings me joy because it means our church is talking about these things. The most helpful thing, when all the walls of your world are caving in and you have no pain tolerance left, is to mourn. To acknowledge the pain. The frustration. The fear. The confusion. The anger. The abandonment. These are real feelings. If you haven't bled on the sharp point of these feelings yourself, others' cries of lament may sound grotesque, depressing, even melodramatic. But listen anyway. Mourning sucks the venom from the snakebite. It keeps the sorrow from drowning you when you can't yet see the shore. And to listen to someone else's mourning, to be a safe sound room where their raw pain can be released, is to help them heal. 

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So here are a few laments. Though my lament two weeks ago was in poem form because I love the power of poetry to express raw emotion, laments can also be expressed through songs, stories, paintingsarticles, novels, and maybe even forms I haven't discovered yet.

Here's one of my favorite laments, a poem called Bereft by Robert Frost: 

Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?
Summer was past and day was past.
Sombre clouds in the west were massed.
Out in the porch’s sagging floor,
Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.

And a piece of a lament from Psalm 13 (The Message):

Long enough, God
    you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
    long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
    lived with a stomach full of pain.

And one from me: 

I am not a poet
I am just a
kid broken by the thunder of
brimming with words that
have noplace else
to go.

Though laments are scary to share in all their raw honesty, the sharing is worth it if it frees even one other person to mourn aloud. Or maybe if it teaches someone how to listen. 

Have you ever tried writing a lament? Tried sharing it with others? 

February 8, 2013


Ever popped popcorn in a hot air popper? It's pretty fun. In fact, I maybe do it more for the entertainment than for the popcorn.

You have to position the implements carefully, though, or you can end up with a popcorn explosion on your hands. You start with so little--just a handful of hard kernels--that if you hadn't seen it happen before, you'd never expect what happens to them. 

They whirl around in the popper, getting blasted with hot air and doing mostly nothing for a long time. Then--just when you're about to lose interest and determine that you've got a dud batch of kernels on your hands--something happens.

One at a time, a few kernels start to inflate like parachutes, turning from hard pellets to fluffy, cloud-like pillows. 

Then a few rapidly turns into a lot...

...until your popper is so full that it looks like it's going to explode. If that bowl in the picture weren't squeezed right under the chute, there would be popcorn all over the kitchen floor. (Sometimes a few rogue kernels still get away.) 

I look back at my posts of the last few months, and I kind of see my life going through the popcorn popper, too. A few months ago--a very few--I was writing empty posts, hard posts: how to speak to the suffering, grieving through song lyricsthe confusion of being a twentysomething. But my life today is so full that it threatens to overflow all over the floor. While I still ask unanswered questions and find a constant need for direction, I am also brimming over with gratitude. In just a few months, I've gone from a career stalemate, consuming loneliness, and paralysis about future decisions, to career doors opening, an assembly of breathtakingly wonderful people in my life, and hope for the future ahead. Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). 

Joy that overflows like popcorn.

What are you thankful for in your life today? How have you seen fullness grow out of emptiness? 

February 1, 2013

The Spark

In a season of leafless trees and wet skies, here's a change of pace on this blog: some winter poetry.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and Kadha
The Spark

Raindrops like
flowers of glass
clinging to twig latticework
A net of liquid pearls
against the opaque sky.
slipping down like
strings and strands of diamonds.
One lets go,
falling freely
spinning into space—

—a spark—
concentrating the
dull grey morning un-dark
to a single, fiery
an upside-down
that catches a glimpse of
reimagining the world in
one glass raindrop,
a vision in freefall.