Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Morning Thanks--exotic dancers

Glory be to God for changes. For bulbs
breaking the darkness with their green beaks.
For moles and moths and velvet green moss
waiting to fill the driveway cracks. For the way
the sun pierces the window minutes earlier each day.
For earthquakes and tectonic plates--earth's bump
and grind--and new mountains pushing up
like teeth in a one-year-old. For melodrama—
lightning on the sky stage, and the burst of applause
that follows. Praise him for day and night, and light
switches by the door. For seasons, for cycles
and bicycles, for whales and waterspouts,
for watersheds and waterfalls and waking
and the letter W, for the waxing and waning
of weather so that we never get complacent. For all
the world, and for the way it twirls on its axis
like an exotic dancer. For the north pole and the
south pole and the equator and everything between.
That's Luci Shaw, a poet, a woman I'm blessedly proud to call my friend. I'm not at all sure when these lines from "Psalm for the January Thaw" were written, but they could have been composed any time in the last fifty years. Her career, which is to say her calling as a poet, has stretched on that long, for which we're greatly thankful.

I'm sure she'd be happy to tell you how she's changed as a poet. I'm sure she could point at poems she wrote in the late Sixties and tell you that she'd likely never write anything quite like that anymore, wouldn't say things in this style or that. If some scholar were to undertake a study of the Luci's oeuvre, he or she could create a Shaw taxonomy, I'm sure.

What hasn't changed, however, is the sheer awe she's always felt for a world that belongs to a magnificently omnipresent God. She may well play more excitedly with "cycles and bicycles" than she used to, or step farther into the darkness than she once dared; she risks more these days, at least I'm sure there are more exotic dancers in her poems (see that pole dancer above?), more "bump and grind"; but her reverence for the immensity of God's love hasn't changed. It may have widened, but it hasn't changed.

Because she has talked so openly about it, I know that just recently she experienced something she says she's never felt before, something that opened her to God's love in such a palpable way that it took her breath away. Suddenly and perceptibly whatever outlines still somehow framed her abiding faith fell away and a broader vision swept in, a blessing in its simple immensity. She felt, quite frankly, freed.

Now that's almost hard to believe from someone well into her eighth decade in this vale of tears, someone whose profession has been praise, someone who could write the lines above. But this brand new sense of the presence of God was there, in spades, she might have said. What she described and how she described it was what we Christians call "a testimony."

I'm sure it was real, this testimony and the experience that composed it. But it reminds me once again of something it's taken me a lifetime to learn--that our use of the word "Christian" as a modifier, as an adjective, will be questionable as long as we live. Is Luci a Christian now and not when she wrote "Psalm for the January Thaw?" Of course not. Is she a "better" Christian now than when she wrote those lines? I don't know, and who am I to judge? Is she different than she was? Sure. But Luci Shaw is the only one capable of making those judgments. Not me. Not you. 

I don't know that we can put the word Christian away, but I don't think it hurts one bit to put it under a bushel more often than we do. Who is and who isn't, or who was and is no more or never was or never will be--those judgments aren't mine. 

"By your fruits you shall know them," the Bible says; but also, "judge not lest you be also judged." As is so often the case with biblical wisdom, somewhere between those two moral goalposts we are left to work and play. 

At 86 years old, Luci Shaw, herself something of an exotic dancer, says she's overjoyed that within her soul she's felt a complete and blessed renewal. I'm happy for her, and I'm glad to hear the news because it allows that change is never really behind us, that the very change she so sweetly celebrates and wonderfully documents in "January Thaw" still happens. This cold February morning, that's a good reason and subject for morning thanks. 

"Glory be to God for changes." That line is itself a prayer.

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