Of Paradox and Pleasure

I am fascinated by the paradox of time, how an event can simultaneously seem to have happened just yesterday and yet in what must have been a previous century. Things like a visit to some exotic destination or a child’s first day of school. Somehow we think “Didn’t this just happen?” and “Wasn’t that ages ago?”

Perhaps it’s the vividness of the event that makes it seem so recent and that we’ve gone through so many other things since then that makes it seem lost in some distant history. Whatever the perspectives, perplexions and possible explanations, I experienced it again this week.

It’s been just over two years since I first met Tristan and Katie’s first son. Ty was only a few days old when I visited them, held his tiny form and reveled in their delight as well as my own. The wonder of first birth on the faces of the parents is as joyous to me as is the baby. Their marvel at the gifting of this blended new life is like the grip of tiny fingers or the blinking of infant eyes.

Just over two years yet some days it seems like two decades that must have happened last week. Ty has grown so much, Katie has spent a year in a new job she loves and Tristan has built a new deck and most recently finished up a new bathroom and bedroom in what used to be their garage. And just over two weeks ago, Katie birthed a second son.

I held Parker for a while Tuesday evening, an event apparently of greater pleasure for me than for him. He squirmed a bit and started crying. My whistling seemed to surprise him. He quietened and focused on my face for a moment or two. I kept him cradled in my hands and kept whistling softly. I knew this quietness wouldn’t last long but also knew Katie would rescue me when the squirming and crying started up again.

It’s been fourteen years since I met Tristan at Highland Community College, three years since I joined him and Katie together in holy matrimony underneath a tree in a back yard on a summer day. Life’s ways are deep and mysterious, profound and powerful. Our celebrations of its great moments accent its best bonds but those bonds are truly strengthened in those paradoxes when something as mundane as a two-year-old spilling Gatorade on the couch joins with introducing a newborn to an old friend.

H. Arnett

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Driving Through the Red

Around the time the first tornado was skirting the edge of Ark City last night, I was driving up to Wichita for Cowley College’s baseball team’s championship game. Moderately heavy rain and the occasional loud clunk on the roof of the car were the only apparent effects on my particular route. I was just east of Oxford when the alarm sounded on my cell phone. I checked the weather service information for storm location. It verified what the sky seemed to suggest already: the severe weather was located south and east of me at Geuda Springs. I was headed north and west. I kept going.

Somewhere about the top of the fifth or sixth inning, the game was delayed by lightning in the vicinity. After taking a look at the weather radar, I took a look off to the south. Although I didn’t see any vivid spikes, it was a virtual light show. Constant flashes and flickerings lit up the dark clouds from west to east. This was the north edge of a long line of intense activity, a band of green-fringed red on the weather map. Squarely between me and home.

As I drove south on I-35, I was relieved that the rain was lighter than I expected. Just out of Haysville, that relief ended. For the next twenty miles, I drove through the most sustained and intense rain I’ve ever encountered. At times, all I could see were the taillights of the tanker truck in front of me. At times, even those blurred and were briefly blanked out by the vertical river. A line of trucks driven by saner folks turned into the service center at Belle Plaine. Just past that, in the most intense part of the downpour, a few cars had pulled over onto the shoulder.

I was concerned, among other things, that I would not be able to see the exit sign for my turn. About four or five miles south of that service center, the rain let up a bit. Just in time for me to see the sign “Wellington, 1 mile.” In the lightening rain, the tanker driver pushed back up toward the speed limit and I watched his lights fade into the night.

I turned toward Winfield, grateful for the blessing of safe travel and improved visibility. Just fifteen minutes from home, I heard another alarm sounding on my cell phone. Another tornado warning for Cowley County. This one was just over twenty miles east of Ark City, south of Dexter.

In the season of storms, we hope for safety, that we and our property are spared. Driving through the red zones, we think of home and pray that it will be still be there, that those we love are safe within its walls. And that we will soon be with them once again.

H. Arnett

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Beyond Common

We walk for years in the calm common of our lives,
day to day to day
unrolling in the same way,
predictable as paper towels
or toilet paper
and then one day you tug out one more Kleenex
from a half-full box
but the next one drops its duty,
stays inside, failing to follow the chain
that is supposed to bring
one after one after one

and you wonder who it was
that had one thing to do
at The Facial Tissue Factory
and just couldn’t quite get that one thing done
in such a way as to keep you
from having to dip down through the plastic orifice
knowing that you couldn’t pinch just a single one
but would bring up a whole wad
and then have that to deal with
on top of everything else.

Or maybe it was a car wreck,
or surgery,
or cancer,
or sepsis,
or an aneurysm,
or a stroke,
or a neighbor’s trash setting fire to the whole county—
including your house—
or losing your job,
or your child,
or whatever else it was

That made you realize all at once
that your loved ones are more precious than you ever imagined,
that nothing about life is common no matter how repetitive,
that friendship is sacred,
that the faintest scar
is proof of healing
and that even a half-cup of re-heated coffee
may be God’s own comfort.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Death & Dying, Family, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warning: Contents Under Pressure

I reckon some folks have a daily habit of counting their blessings. At a moment’s notice they can rattle off thirty or forty fine things about their life and all the reasons they just feel so blessed. Other folks seem satisfied with the occasional quick estimate. “Yeah, I guess I am pretty lucky. Nothing’s on fire right now and I haven’t missed a meal in quite a while.” Still other folks keep a different sort of list, an expansive accounting of all the stuff that isn’t what it should be, isn’t what they want and quite frankly isn’t at all what they deserve. Without hesitation, they can spew out a historical listing of groans and grievances, misfortunes and abuses, injustices and indecencies, disappointments and disillusions.

In a moment of chemically induced disclosure, or just a wildly random moment of unpredicted honesty, I’d have to admit that although I’ve been in each one of those groups, there’s one that keeps pulling me in. Regrettably, it seems more natural to me to complain than to appreciate. Even as an occasional ringleader, I can tell you that being in or around that last group is no fun at all.

And yet there is something compulsive about self-pity and complaining. It’s not mesmerizing like a fire or tornado, you know, one of those things that are awful and entrancing at the same time. It’s more like when you know a jug of milk is past the expiration date but you have to unscrew the lid and take a whiff anyway.

Misery loves company because somewhere at its core, misery is both sadistic and masochistic. It’s like a leper colony that is always recruiting other members. And although leprosy is a lot slower, the end result is pretty similar.

On those days when I know I’m coming in with an attitude of something other than gratitude, I should walk down the hall calling out “Unclean! Unclean!” Then my colleagues could just lock their doors until the danger has passed.

H. Arnett

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A Reminder of Mystery

Even in the midst of darkness and pain
there are still gains to be made.
Hope is distilled in the presence of fear
and the nearness of loss sometimes leads
to treasures that cannot be measured.

The strongest bonds are somehow strengthened
and love that already seemed beyond comprehension
grows even greater.
Humble hearts span craters of darkness,
held by unseen light holding through the longest night
and drawing sustenance that cannot be explained.

Whether weary from walking the same daily path
or forced to face some unwelcome testing,
we look to the best of friends for unending prayers,
that lifting to the Light that invites a greater perfecting,
the shaping of human into the Divine,
creatures of earth and ash made into something everlasting,

Something shaped by the hand of God,
held by invisible power and given in that hour
what is needed for the moment—
though it may be grace when we desired mercy,
and strength when we would have preferred deliverance.

It is the power of presence that sustains us,
the perfecting of weakness that illuminates his glory
even in the midst of our collapsing,
a falling into faith when we believed
we had stepped out gasping into thin air—
yet found ourselves standing on more solid ground
than anything we had ever found in the realm of grasping.

And knew—at least for a moment—that what is unseen
is more real than what is seen.

H. Arnett

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A Change of Seasons

A surge of spring that actually feels a bit like summer has given this strange season a kick into green. In the aftermath of a bit of rain and with temperatures in the upper eighties, it seems like an almost overnight change in local terrain. Fields of wheat are suddenly thick and green with heads of grain forming. Fields of corn have sprouted up with tender stalks standing eight inches tall. Last week, the fields were nothing but dirt with miles of parallel tracks showing the trail of planting. Huge stands of cottonwood lift solid plumes of leaves above the river bottoms. And in town, there are closer reminders.

Trees, bushes, vines and stems have sprouted blooms. Dormant lawns suddenly need mowing. There is a little patch of bamboo that stands behind the bronze tiger at the entrance to Cowley College’s administration building. Grounds crewmen sheared it to the ground a few weeks ago. In the frustrating chill of this year’s “can’t quite make it to spring yet,” the green sprouts endured a month-long phase of suspended animation. In the past ten days, they’ve leapt up to two feet high or taller, growing inches a day now.

Perhaps you’ve known that sort of sudden growth in your own life. Perhaps experienced those seasons of incredible green, been flush with faith and seen hidden seeds spring up or dormant buds suddenly erupt into abundant thriving.

Perhaps you’ve also known those other times, the long seasons of drought and unending winters of cold and sullen barrenness. Looked deep inside and wondered how you could feel so parched and withered. Perhaps wondered how you’d make it through.

For the seasons of abundant growth and vigorous renewal, let us yet be humble and grateful. Let us be mindful of others and attentive to service, assuring that the abundance with which we are blessed yields blessing for others. In the fallow seasons, let us be patient, endure with hope and be unafraid to ask others for the intervention of caring prayers. Remember previous seasons of trial and testing and God’s mysterious ways of providing what we needed.

Even when we walk in the dust and chill, let us remember that the earth will have its seasons and we will reap a harvest. If we do not give up.

H. Arnett

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Monday’s Prayer

I pray that today
the Lord may grant you wisdom
for all that surrounds you
and all that confounds you:
to speak
peace in the place of contention,
harmony in the midst of strife,
mercy in the presence of judgment,
kindness instead of condemnation,
faith instead of despair,
hope in the face of opposition,
unity in the threat of dissension,
submission instead of pride or rebellion.

And in all things, love.

And may you know in every moment of this good day,
the presence of his power within you,
power to do good and not evil,
power to endure all that must be endured,
power to love those who are not easy to love,
power to forgive those who do not deserve forgiveness,
power to bless those who curse you
and to pray for those who despitefully use you,
power to return good for evil,
power to believe that he is at work in all things
for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose

and power to know that you are indeed,
one of those.

H. Arnett

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