From One Thousand Gifts
Every time you feel in God’s creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but, passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: “O my God, if thy creations are so full of beauty, delight, and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight, and joy art thou thyself, creator of all! (Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain)
“You will want to see this.”
He takes my shoulders in his hands, large and field-worn, and draws me close. I fight the urge to writhe.
It’s not him. Not his hands holding me, the whisper of his voice, his eyes inviting me now. It’s just that I’m feeling time’s strangling grip, struggling to make a cathedral of the moment, to hallow it with the holy all here. It’s late and I’ve got an even later dinner to dish onto eight empty plates. A half dozen children noisily, happily, ring the table with their hardly washed hands and silly jokes replete with snorts and grunts and dirty feet still needing bathing. And I haven’t served the diner yet, haven’t slice up the loaf of bread yet, haven’t put away the basil, oregano, parsley, the peelings of carrots, the skins of onions, the jars of tomatoes. Still have to grate the cheese into circles in the soup bowls. Still have to wash the dishes, sweep the floors, wash up kids, turn down beds, kneel for the prayers weary and long and needy. My gratitude journal is buried under a mess of papers over the sink’s sill with yesterday’s snippets of the list that never ends:
Book pages turning
Child sobs ebbing
Boys humming hymns
Click of a seat belt
Fender rattling with stones of gravel roads
Wind rushing through open truck window
Horse hooves clopping down a side road
Squeak of old swing swaying
– but nothing counted today. And I know my camera is lying facedown in a cupboard and my windows are finger smudged and my head is right spun and when I carry the water pitcher to the table it leaves drops of clear on the counter, round rim of a circle, one large in the center, and it looks like an eye.
For a moment, I notice.
I stare back.
Then wipe it away.
The aping racket rises and I feel it mount and I almost yield to its vise, almost acquiesce, almost desecrate the space with words that snap. “Can’t I just see whatever it is later?”
But he’s holding on to me gentle. He’s smiling broadly. He’s leaning his face into all my knotted angst, and his hands slide down my arms, bold, blind love, and his thick fingers twine mine. “Come.”
“Right now?” Can’t he see the kids, hear the kids, feel the crush of all these kids?
He’s grinning silly, man-boy with a secret he can hardly contain.
He leads me the impossible distance of a whole two steps to the windowsill. I’m transfixed. Wonder gapes the mouth open and spirits the words away.
His whisper brushes the curl of my ear, “When I saw it, I knew you’d want it too.”
Want it? Who can breathe? I am moon-eyed and moonstruck. I turn to find his eyes to find words. “Serve dinner? So I can….” So I can what? What is it exactly that I want to do?
“… So I can run out there?”
He’s laughing at me all wide-eyes, but I don’t care and he’s used to it, he who made vows to a woman seeker and hunter and chaser. No – he didn’t actually make vows to that woman. But this is the woman I am becoming. That eucharisteo is making me – fulfilling thanks vows to God. I am starved and the feast makes me wild. Because really, who gets to touch the moon? Tonight, she’s close. I might.
He grins, nods go, and I breathe relief and I remember to grab the camera off the shelf but forget to close the cupboard and I am gone, out the back door, across the back lawn, apron still on.
I take flight. I feel foolish, like a woman taking photographs of cheese, but I feel four again, the spring after we buried Aimee, and my younger-by-only-twelve-months-and-thirteen-days brother John, he and I ran whole lengths of fields at twilight to touch the sun, an ember burning up the horizon. I remember how the swallows had swooped, the flame light thick with bugs for their bills. My mama had sat at field’s edge rocking my only five-month-old sister and watched us chase and she smiled, understanding the hoping. We ran and ran. My dad drove a tractor down the field, tilling up the earth.
I am old now. Why am I after the moon tonight? I have known all these years since that you can never run all the way to the end and lay your hand up against awe. I have grieved this. Are the staid Mennonite neighbors peering out their kitchen windows to see the farmer’s wife flapping across the wheat stubble? I do have shoes on. Are my own children nose-pressed to the window watching my race?
The moon rounds immense, incandescent globe grazing ours. Her gravity pulls, pearl filling deepening sky, stringing me unto the universe.
If I race to field’s edge, Earth’s rim, can I stroke her lustrous curve, drink her lily-white skin?
I laugh. I am still a child.
She is a harvest moon aching, swaying over the golden fields, womb swelling round with glory, and she’s rising away. I gather my apron close, run faster through the wheat stubble. Who am I to see glory with unveiled face? Is that what the child seeks?
Is that why I escape motherhood at the dinner hour, because I can’t see the glory there, here, right in the moment? Still? And me slowing for the hunt, looking for even one thousand more gifts, sanctuaries in moments, seeking the fullest life that births out of the darkest emptiness, all the miracle of eucharisteo. Yes – maybe that woman-child. The one who lives her life in circles, discovering, entering into, forgetting and losing, finding her way round again, living her life in layers – deeper, round, further in. I know eucharisteo and the miracle. But I am not a woman who ever lives the full knowing. I am a wandering Israelite who sees the flame in the sky above, the pillar, the smoke from the mountain, the earth open up and give way, and still I forget. I am beset by chronic soul amnesia. I empty of truth and need the refilling. I need come again every day – bend, clutch, and remember – for who can gather the manna but once, hoarding, and store away sustenance in the mind for all of the living?
An arrow of geese catch the moon before I do, black silhouettes shooting her through. I run harder. The flock lifts her higher into night coming down, lonely cries heralding the coming autumn. They pierce me through. There at our fence line where our wheat field gives way to foreign land, I gasp to inhale, crumple to earth. The moon on the geese wings climbs.
I am of terra; they are of heavens. I’ve only come to witness.
Is this why I’ve come?
The weight of all this stark beauty crushes lungs. Mine burn.
I had written it down after I had read it, that I might hope to remember it: the Hebrew word used throughout scripture to describe God’s glory, kabod, is described from the root word meaning “heaviness.”
Dusk and all the arching dome and the field and the great-bellied moon, it all heaves, heavy with the glory. I heave to breathe: The whole Earth is full of his glory. Sky, land, and sea, heavy and saturated with God – why do I always forget? Yeah, I’m no different than Jacob, Jacob waking from sleep before full moon rising. “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!’ But he was also afraid and said, ‘What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to Heaven!'” This moment, this place, is none other than a gate into Heaven. God’s glory rains down, weighs down Earth’s tented heights, and grace tears through, ripping sky canvas and me clear open. Everywhere windows and gates, and I did not know it. No. I have known it and I have forgotten it and I remember it again.
The weight of God’s glory, not illusory or ephemeral, but daily and everywhere, punctures Earth’s lid and Heaven falls through the holes. I kneel in wheat, moonstruck.
Bowed at the edge of the world, Jesus asks me spun in circles, me coming to, only to lapse and to forget again. He asks soft of me, who is yet again lost what he asked of the man born blind: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Why have I run?
A mama with children, a wife with full house, a Father’s child living eucharisteo and even the hard – his eye is on me under the moon, penetrating my own shroud. His breath falls warm. He knows what I want, need. Has he called me because he wants me to do my own plumbing of the soul? What do you want?
Isn’t that the sole question we all need to circle back to, over and again? And who knows the answer?
I feel in it my chest first, before any answer or layer of answer finds shape in image, words. (For all real answers, don’t they come in strata, gradations of understanding?) My body knows it, the way tension drains from shoulders and a heart unknots. I loosen, breathe long. I slow. Moonlight cascades and a smile spreads in its wake. What do you want? Why have I run? A summer of traveling to the city with Levi for follow-up visits with the surgeon. A summer of physiotherapist appointments with daily bending exercises, trying to work his gnarled joint, stretch through the scar tissue stiff. Yes, the whole of life, these exercises to break down the knotting scar tissue from the fall. A summer of pain. Always the running. A summer of grace. Always the revelation. Pain is everywhere, and wherever the pain there can be everywhere grace, and yes, Jesus, I am struggling and I get turned around but I think I know, at least in part, what I want. If I had never run, if I had never fallen, and here, I am not sure I would have known with blazing clarity. I may not know all that it means, but this is what I want.
This kingdom laden with glory, this, the pearl of great price, the field I’d sell everything to possess. This is the pearl that crams me with a happiness that throbs, serrated edge, pit open wide for more of his glory.
The only place we have to come before we die is the place of seeing God.
This is what I’m famished for: more of the God-glory.
I whisper with the blind beggar, “Lord, I want to see.”
That’s my moaning pulse: “See. See.”