Stained Glass & the Sea

“All my life, so far, I have loved more than one thing.” -Mary Oliver


Typing away, then so easily distracted. Distracted by beauty, for always and always. I turn to my left, peering up at the stained glass. An image of Mary and Martha with Jesus placed between, a conduit of peace and token of abiding. There is such history here, and I am so small, and it makes me want to throw my hands in the air (to celebrate? to despair at the passage of time?).


Reading Audre Lorde while my mind is elsewhere, a page turning, an electric shock:

“To Martha: A New Year”

“As you search over this year / with eyes your heart has / sharpened / remember longing. / …places do not change / so much / as what we seek in them / and faith will serve / along the way / to somewhere else / where work begins” (46).


“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'” -Luke 10:40-42 (NIV)


“When the train stops, the woman said, you must get on it. But how will I know, the child asked, it is the right train? It will be the right train, said the woman, because it is the right time.” -Louise Glück, “Utopia”


The air by the sea surrounds me, clinging like a veil. The calm before the storm. I can see lights sparkle across the water in some unknown city. On one of my walks, a little boy screamed, “I can hear the Highlands from here!” And his parents laughed and laughed, “That’s a little too far away, buddy.” “I can hear!” He replied. His adamant belief does not seem so ridiculous in the suspension between twilight and darkness; it all feels tremulously close, close enough to embrace. My mind flits to what Beth said a few nights back, about baptism in the trust sense being immersion. And with each step I think, Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now, as Plath did. This mist is baptism over and over, a cloying grace we are walking in and through.


“I taught myself to live simply and wisely, / to look at the sky and pray to God, / and to wander long before evening / to tire my useless sadness.” -Anna Akhmatova, page 26 of Selected Poems


The child gazes up at me, brimming with misplaced confidence and clenching his toy truck. “Mama!” He cries, not quite shouting but jubilant. I exchange an amused glance with his father and chuckle behind my mask. “No, that’s not your mama,” he says gently as they walk on. I wave at the child, and he looks back, looks back.

Every day, I see friends and acquaintances growing, encompassing worlds. Their faces are radiant, like saints, and I wonder what they know now, what Mary once knew. They have entered somewhere I cannot follow.


“I don’t speak with anyone for a week. / I just sit on a stone by the sea.” -Anna Akhmatova, 50


January: Reading the Psalms when I wake and before I rest, praying for courage, for trust, for solace. Earth has nothing I desire but you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again. Praise be to the Lord, our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.


Juggling my groceries, I am a sight as I march home in the cold, bearing a full tote bag and carrying a bottle of kombucha and a chicken breast. Up the stairs, to the fridge, bag emptied. Then, the buzzer goes off in my flat. The sound of a man, babbling in a thick Scottish accent, and all I can make out is “I saw a girl just now” and “gift” and “church” repeated emphatically. Bewildered, I let him into the hallway. We stand apart, masked, and he leaves a blue bag behind, thanking me again and again. The church was locked. No one there. He could not get in. He lives elsewhere. He is entrusting me as a messenger. Of what? A quick peek inside the bag reveals a cross, swaddled in tissue paper. And a note: To the Church. From Robert.


“I thrived. I lived / not completely alone, alone / but not completely, strangers / surging around me. / That’s what the sea is: / we exist in secret.” -Louise Glück, “Formaggio”


Anna Akhmatova, a prolific Russian poet who lived through the Stalinist terror, wrote that hope sings but remains “endlessly evasive.” But I think that, sometimes, hope finds us.


Lockdown Playlist:

Dreaming of what I can do now
To carry some kindness and love
And reminders that the pain will die down
I walk and I read, I spend time in the sea

-“As Alone,” Florist

She said I care too much these days
About my place in this ball of yarn
There’s not a lot that I can boast
I water plants and make French toast

-“Miss Misanthrope,” Jealous of the Birds

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