Home, by Heidi Hackman

The day was cold but flashed with light. The Olympian Rings hung in the sky as usual, bands of glowing iridescent dust and ice. Persephone knelt and tugged at the base of a thick stem. Golden-white blossoms sprang loose, ready to be gathered. Their nectar would be made into ambrosia and help gods boost their powers, according to Demeter.

A grassy rustle hooked Persephone’s attention, and she spun to her feet, dropping the flowers. A young man stood there, falsely innocent. Brown skin, a mane of long braids. His fingers hooked around a blood-red sash tied around his waist, and a vest of glittering gold mesh exposed the ink sprawling across his arms.

“Hades.” Her voice was wary.

“I’m not scared of your mother.”

Persephone glowered. “You should be. I need to give her these flowers. Go away.”

Hades pulled something from his pocket, a winking silver-white Stone. He tossed it into the air, and it morphed into a white cloak. Its fabric shifted to shades of green and brown as he flipped the hood up, blending into the forest. “Better?”

Persephone sighed and began picking up her flowers. This was dangerous. “She’ll banish you before anything happens to me.”

“I noticed that about her. That she doesn’t let anything happen to you.” Hades threw back his hood and shimmered back into visibility.

“There’s more to the world of Olympus than this forest.”
Persephone raised her eyebrows in a knowing expression. “Like the Underworld?”

Hades held her gaze steadily. “It’s not far. I can show you around.”
Persephone felt her heart rate pick up. Wild, foolish hope. She covered it up with a weak smile. “I wouldn’t belong there.” She didn’t even belong to herself.

“You don’t owe this place anything. It’s your birthplace, not your home.” Hades whistled. A pure black horse, dressed in riding gear, ambled to his side. “Demeter can take care of herself. When are you going to do the same?”

Persephone’s thoughts felt loud yet silent. This was her chance. She grinned at him. Hades stretched out his hand. Persephone paused, trying to read the flowing script on his forearm, and accepted it. He mounted gracefully and helped her clamber up. Persephone clung on as they galloped, Hades’ hands guiding the reins.

The forest grew deeper and darker as they drew further away from Demeter, forcing the horse to trot even with the light. Finally the horse snorted to a stop, stomping its feet. Persephone tensed.
“Relax. She just wants a break.” Hades slid off, leaving Persephone to clutch the saddle horn, and stroked the horse’s neck, talking quietly.
Persephone dropped to the mud-soft ground on the opposite side. The faintest of light revealed a white ring around the horse’s eye, but it was still a brilliant black. “What’s her name?”

“Poetry In Motion. Poetry for short.”

“Poetry,” Persephone echoed warmly, rubbing the horse’s neck. This was the steed leading her to freedom. “Thank you, Poetry.”

“You’re welcome,” Hades muttered. He pointed straight ahead, at the faintest glimmer of liquid light. “That’s the River Styx. The Underworld’s at the bottom of the river. We need light.”

Persephone reached into her pocket and opened her hand slowly. Her green Stone morphed into a torch, ready to light at a mere thought from her. It flared to life then shrank and faded.
“What’s wrong with your torch?”

Persephone felt her chest clutch. She owed him some honesty, since he had risked her mother’s wrath to help her. “I haven’t had ambrosia for a month.”

Hades’ face was hidden in shadow. Persephone busied herself, winding a strip of cloth around the torch and borrowing his flint to spark natural flames into being. “Let’s go.” She fought the tremble from her voice. Hades didn’t react, just mounted, grasped her hand, and carefully nudged Poetry forward.

“So. Are you going to tell me what happened?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“With me, you always have a choice.”

Persephone gazed at him through the darkness. “My mother limited my amount of ambrosia. She didn’t want me to become too strong. She is the goddess of spring, I have the power of fire . . . . You understand.”

Hades turned his head toward her. Firelight bounced around in his eyes like sound in an echo chamber. A thousand shades of amber and warm brown sparkled, only a little lighter than her own eyes. “You’re lucky to have her. Demeter is strong.”

“Strength doesn’t fear strength,” Persephone growled. “It disagrees and even clashes, but always respects.”

“Is your running away an act of fear, then?”

“An act of anger.”

“Are you sure?” Hades’ expression was flat.

Persephone glared at his shoulders. “I hate her! I accidentally burned down her garden, and she struck me. Hit me across the face. What kind of woman does that to a child!”

Hades’ features were pale, stricken. One blurred glimpse of his face was enough. Persephone stared away, thoughts swirling. He would judge her, pity her. Maybe she should ignore him and pretend nothing happened. Maybe she should just leave.

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Persephone.”
She drew deeper into his embrace. The words stuck in her throat at first, heavy as stones. “I just want to be free,” she whispered.
“And I want to be your friend.”

You already are.

Persephone swam through the Styx toward the surface. A regally tall figure was approaching the entrance to the Underworld.
Demeter.

Persephone’s head burst into the air just as the thought occurred. Round blue eyes met lidded brown eyes. Two years of lost history passed between them in a shiver of time. Persephone brandished the torch. It burst into flame, shining green with magical energy, and Demeter fled.

Wide-eyed. The clumsiness of desperation. A trapped and frightened animal.

Persephone closed her eyes, trying to steady herself before she could start to sway. She expected triumph. But she had just scared off a weak woman. Where was the triumph in that?
Had her mother even recognized her?

Enough. Persephone ducked back underwater. This was her life now. Brimming with ambrosia, hardened with muscle, confident in her power of fire.

Hades was waiting for her in the glass sphere protecting the Underworld from flooding, colored green and blue by the light shining through the water. His eyes glowed with pride. For her. The bridge had finally burned. Persephone felt her feet practically take flight. She kissed him eagerly, her hair messy between them. “Sorry.”
Hades only replied with an affectionate shake of his head.

Her mother would never leave her, deep down. But she was home.

Heidi Hackman is a student at Christopher Dock Mennonite Academy, Lansdale, Pennsylvania. As part of an internship assignment, she shadowed Cascadia Publishing House activities, which included this fresh take on the story of Persephone, Hades, and Demeter as a Kingsview & Co guest blog post.

Godspeed, Renee Gehman Miller, DreamSeeker Magazine columnist and editor

In her widely read “Water Spouts and More” Kingsview & Co post on her journey with cancer (from which the “guest post” image is drawn), Renee Gehman Miller tells of her panic when young son Jonas says, “Tell me the truth, Mommy.” He was asking about the water spout; she feared he had harder truths in mind. On Thursday, January 11, 2018, the harder truth that Renee was gone arrived, and now so many mourn Renee’s absence while also remembering the treasures of her life.

Among those treasures were not only her 2015 blog post but also her many contributions to DreamSeeker Magazine, the predecessor of Kingsview & Co. She was DSM assistant editor for over six years, starting with the Autumn 2004 issue when she was a junior at Gordon College and extending to Winter 2011, when she had become an ESL teacher and was preparing to launch her new life with soon-to-be-husband Anthony and eventually Jonas. She was also “Ink Aria” columnist  from Winter 2005 on “Seeing Salt in a Different Light” to Winter 2011 on “News to Me.”

This was Renee’s very first “Ink Aria” paragraph:

If you count knowing “This Little Light of Mine” by heart, the Christian calling to be salt and light had been in my head since I was a three-year-old girl singing her favorite song on her rocking horse. After the rocking horse, flannelgraphed Sunday school lessons, church sermons, and going to private Christian school thoroughly exposed me to the metaphors of Jesus, I thought I had it all down.

And this was her final one:

Right now (and this may change) I’m feeling at peace with a smaller scale of news—news from the kids at my school who qualify for free lunches or who don’t know English very well, or who go home to babysitters every night because moms or dads work the night shift, or who have easy, happy-go-lucky lives. Crisscross-applesauce on the rug in a circle. That is news to me.

Then cancer came and after years of not writing regularly for publication, Renee’s new “publication” venue became CaringBridge, with her eloquent updates followed by many. One update became the foundation for “Water Spouts and More.” We agreed that she’d occasionally offer new blog posts, but it turned out that CaringBridge was all her energy allowed for.

Thank you, Renee, for offering us so much. How we’ll miss you. Godspeed.

Michael A. King is publisher and president, Cascadia Publishing House LLC, editor of Kingsview & Co, and former colleague of Renee Gehman Miller.

Along the Shining Sea and other poems, by Clarissa Jakobsons

 

 

 

 

Along the Shining Sea

Cumulus pockets of abandon hover

over waves. High tide churns seaweed tufts

close to my chair and feet. I sit on stones

b

listen to the ocean breathe, watching a seal

drift past. Low flying, double-breasted

cormorants head toward the dilapidated

b

pier where several posts remain.

My Canadian friends left this morning, packed

their van by 8 am, kids strapped to back seats

b

with stuffed sharks and 120 plastic critters in a box.

Four-cormorants drift, open mouths anticipating

a free meal. I miss my new little friends,

b

6-year-old Clare and 8-year-old Eliza.

Last night, free hugs and kisses filled old bodies

with warmth. Clare called me the pretty one,

b

Grandma watched, thankful for her first embrace.

Live well, my lovelies. Catch the sails and check-out

the horseshoe crabs on shore. Sleep safe

b

tucked in clouds. Listen to the waves at your feet.

You don’t have to touch bottom when you swim,

just kick,

kick, and kick.

b

Listen to the Great Emptiness

Can you hear the tide turn its head at Sippewissett

Two ocean sunsets lost

forever chased by Hurricane Earl.

The geese are not crying.

b

Falmouth shoppers scurry shopping carts

instead of the sea. I flee Buzzards Bay, Bourne.

Along Route 86 and 17, the Southern Tier Expressway

past Albany, Binghamton, Corning, New York.

b

In a far field, cows and horses cast shade

and Angus nestle like crows.

Evening Primrose opens a window,

a promise. Water

b

lilies tighten under darkening sky

cold rains dampen feet.

Curled hay, bundled and tied,

full streams ahead.

b

Suddenly, Lake Erie appears

as an ocean cradling its own light.

My fingers loosen grip, a seashell falls—

Home.

Originally published in The Tower Magazine, UK

b

Somewhere Between Heaven and the Heron 

The call of the running tide is clear,
a wild call that cannot be denied
—John Mansfield

There’s something to be said

about the wind waving in the ocean

rinsing shells that nag the traveler

upset by cell phones wailing,

sea gulls screeching, or men

shearing leaves at dawn.

b

Quartz sand blows across his face,

the slight sting reminds of breath

where sea salt drips to nourish sand,

black-eyed Susans, sea oats,

and a few Palmetto palms.

b

Somewhere between heaven

and the heron there is a song.

b

Eternity Meets the World’s Beginning

He departs as swift as his arrival, our minutes a fond memory. A gift. Return tomorrow, egret, I’ll serve a fresh plate of beef Wellington next to the shells. We’ll speak of the past, herald desires to the sky and wink with a smile.

Like a poem, his plumage flows in wind, spiral tufts crowning head. Toes stretch into still-wings. I wrestle the urge to stroke his down, hunted years past almost to extinction for feathery hats. Today, we share this space, this air. This pure-white charmer preens like a tightrope walker balancing on a toothpick. Bright yellow-basket feet, one tucks suspended from sight. His head nestles into the soft pillow of his back, ever-present, watching every move.

I sneak Mother-May-I steps into hotel room for a Canon camera. He inches toward the door concentric eyes zoom onto a plate of empty shells cleansed of salt drying in never-fading brilliance. Quickly, I close the door and snap 100 snowy egret photos.

Within a wink the white moon perches on the rail overlooking beach gulf sand where eternity meets the world’s beginning.

I am.

The Gulf Between Us

His plumage wades through black seas:
tufted crown still wings, toothpick legs
glaze mordant red. His beak stabs my gut.

I turn off the news.

Creatures great and small
covered in the doom and sludge
of sleep. He swallows
tar balls thinking food.

—Clarissa Jakobsons, Aurora, Ohio, teaches art and writing courses at a local community college. Her art has been exhibited widely. Recently she enjoyed a Fine Arts Work Center artist residency and is working on a book of poems. Visiting Cape Cod during her college years instilled in Jakobsons a love for the ocean though without her quite knowing why it felt like home. When her daughters visited Lithuania of her childhood and sent photos of the Baltic dunes, she immediately understood the connection—the sea harbors a special place in her DNA; it is why she curls toes in the sand.

18.6 Gallons

When it hits, I fear it may be a stroke such as traumatized an uncle. I break the airport security I’ve just cleared enroute to working from the road with my wife Joan, who is on assignment in Montana.

On to doctor, who looks in eyes and ears, manipulates body, then cheerfully pronounces just BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo), see lots as people get older, inner-ear crystals and whatnot, just need medicine and vertigo exercises.

“Well, I was headed to Montana. Can I fly?”

“Sure, people may think you’re having a stroke, they may think you’re going to vomit, you might even actually vomit, but you won’t be having a stroke.”

So I fly though forced to look only at the floor when walking.

As Joan picks me up in Bozeman, the vertigo fades. After her next work day I’m happy to drive us to her Kalispell assignment. But as interstate speed limits rise crazily by Eastern standards, we hit curvy mountains. Vertigo returns.

So my poor exhausted wife is driving. GPS says shorter this way. We’d stopped for a snack while I was driving and agreed gas later. Joan obeys GPS. But it doesn’t occur to either of us that GPS will take us through wilderness for oh, 2,822 miles. We have nice chats in between my covering my eyes.

Suddenly Joan stops talking. No matter what I say she just drives. What? Marriage over? What? Ah, she can’t handle my aging process now that she sees how it’s going to go. Okay, Joan: Why aren’t you saying anything?

“I was hoping not to have to tell you before I fixed it.”

“What? What?”

“We’re running out of gas.”

“WHAT? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?! Why didn’t we (YOU) get gas? Where are we?”

“I don’t know.”

“How far to civilization?”

“I don’t know.”

I ask Joan’s phone (mine has no signal) where gas is. It won’t say. Because now her phone has no signal.

“How far down is the gas?”

“It’s been in the red a long time,” reports Joan, not quite her usual inspirational self.

“Joan, we’re in big trouble.”

“I know. I know I know.

We get to a sign promising gas/lodging that way. We go that way. Nothing.

A man in a dusty pickup comes toward us. I open my door, I wave wave wave. He looks at the lunatic. Hard look. But he stops. He lowers his window.

I stagger over and cling to his truck. “Sorry to bother you but we’re those crazy Easterners who come to Montana and then run out of gas. Do you know where we can get some?”

“How much do you have left?”

“Almost none.”

“Can you make it 15 miles?”

“Maybe. Not sure. Maybe.”

“Okay, if you keep going that way you’ll get to this intersection with a Sinclair.”

Okay. Ipod off. Can’t stand it. No talking. Except a strangled occasional query from Joan: How many more miles? 12, says GPS. 11.9. 6.25. At times Joan’s speed drops. Why? Gas gone? No, slowing down from 80.

5.7. Get us at least within 3. Then we can walk or stagger. 2.5 miles. 1.5. Green and red glimmer. Oasis! Heaven! Nirvana! The Meaning of Life in Car Crazy America! Who cares about climate change and fossil fuels and the collapse of civilization. The SINCLAIR!

I pull out the rental car manual. Gas tank capacity: 18.75.

“How much did you put in?”

“18.6. I was praying,” she said.

“People pray and bad things still happen,” I said.

“But we made it.”

“You’re right.”

I don’t know how to theologize about this. But I am grateful.

—Michael A. King is publisher and president, Cascadia Publishing House LLC. He writes the column “Unseen Hands” for Mennonite World Review, which first published this post.

Weaving the New

When our commencement speaker falls ill, we two deans at Eastern Mennonite Seminary become co-presenters. I prepare based on what I notice enroute to commencement:

Prisoners in Israel-Palestine go on hunger strike to protest prison conditions. Opponents hold a barbecue outside to blow in meat smells. So minor. Yet so cruel an example of ways we’re slicing each other’s souls.

After historic drought come record rainy-season California downpours. Sacramento rivers tear out tents and underbrush, ripping even that home from the homeless while mansion dwellers pursue trillion-dollar tax cuts.

Celebrating her husband Jason in the New York Times, Anne Krause Rosenthal concludes,

I want more time with Jason. . . . with my children. . . . at the Green Mill Jazz Club. . . . But . . . . I probably have only . . . days left. . . . So why I am doing this?

I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.

Days later, Anne dies.

Barbecuing as torture. Climate change, wars, oppressions razing homes of millions, including the flying and swimming and crawling creatures God pronounced good. Death stalking as it always has, the Annes forced to release loved ones, the Jasons required to rebuild.

As sometimes it seemed all things must be made new, I remembered years ago teasingly comparing a seminary student to a biblical character whose name she shares. That stung, she courageously reported: she faced a void which in the biblical story is miraculously filled.

Recently, as she gave permission to share, Sarah Payne completed an EMS capstone on that very void. I told her of being sensitized to it when she confronted my teasing and of now being touched because a loved one feared the same void. She gave me prayer beads to pass on. Without meeting, student and loved one prayed, with tears, for each other.

Another student. A painter. Linking seminary studies and art, gospel and today’s realities. Meanwhile I spend over a year discerning: continue at EMS or try new adventures? After choosing the new, I receive a gift during my final EMS chapel: a painting by that student, Rebekah Nolt. The blacks and grays, whites and purples remind me of hair-rising thunderstorm and beautiful day merging.

Rebekah Nolt painting, “Spill Paint, Not Blood”

The artist note says the painting is from a series reacting to “the many tragedies or injustices of 2016,” each “just that, a reaction of emotional energy, without purpose, without vision.” As Rebekah hurled paint, she “realized how glad I was it was just paint . . . and not angry words or stones, because I was really not happy how this was turning out.” The paint wasn’t fully dry so she “got to work, not certain . . . I could even make something out of the mess. . . .” Yet what she made is a cherished memento.

Teasing linking to a void to prayer beads to a Holy Spirit throbbing through all. Anger yielding a mess transformed. Or this: My father dies. A student tells me of having been in jail. My dad, prison chaplain, had inspired him to enroll at EMS.

As so much unravels, many turn to novels of dystopia more for guidance than escape. And so many, collaborating with unseen hands, weave the new.

Michael A. King is dean, seminary and graduate programs, Eastern Mennonite University. This is posted on his last day in that role as he transitions to running Cascadia Publishing House LLC and to other activities as writer, speaker, and consultant in communications, administration, and pastoral leadership. King writes the column “Unseen Hands” for Mennonite World Review, which first published this post.

Wishing for a Treaty

In distress, my daughter who loves the music of Leonard Cohen phoned us parents just after the November U.S. elections. Cohen, she said, was dead. I was reminded of the prior Sunday when Cohen’s just-released “Treaty” came on the radio and we heard it, rapt, for the first time.

Now Cohen is dead at 82. An election has been held. A presidential transition has been completed. Shock and awe is underway. We yearn for safe passage across unmapped terrain. I wonder if in “Treaty” Cohen gives clues. In lyrics that, as so often with Cohen, echo the Bible, he evokes turning water into wine, Jubilee, the snake baffled by sin. Wishing “there was a treaty we could sign,” Cohen sings of being angry and tired and not caring “who takes this bloody hill.” He wishes for a treaty “Between your love and mine.”

“Treaty” also reminds me of Will Campbell’s journey during dynamics so different yet so connected with today’s. A Baptist minister who sharply challenged his own denomination’s racism, Campbell was a fiery civil rights fighter in the 1960s. In Brother to a Dragonfly (Continuum, 1977, pp. 245-247), a heartrending memoir of brokenness and justice and grace, Campbell tells of putting his life on the line for civil rights—while gradually realizing that even the “enemy,” the KKK, deserved some understanding.

Campbell tells of President Johnson’s nationally televised warning to the Klan, in which Johnson says, “Get out of the Klan, and back into decent society while there is still time.” Then he says this:

The closing five words must certainly have been heard by those in the Klan as a threat from an impending police state. And the President did not tell them just how they could get into the decent society of which he spoke, how they could break out of the cycle of milltown squalor, generations of poverty, a racist society presided over, not by a pitiful and powerless few people marching around a burning cross in a Carolina cow pasture, not by a Georgia farmer who didn’t know his left hand from his right, but by those in the “decent society” to which the President referred, the mammas and the daddies of the young radicals who would soon go home to run the mills, the factories, the courthouses and legislative halls, the universities and churches and prisons they were then threatening to burn to the ground.

Campbell is not interested in justifying the Klan. But he is realizing that the Klan is not only a fount of evil, though it is that, but also a product of the “same social forces” that have produced national structures of violence and violation, including the then-raging Vietnam War.

As he grapples with tragedies of race and class and cruelty shredding 1960s America, Campbell remains a fierce prophet. Listening to leaders like Stokely Carmichael, Campbell also concludes that “to do something in race relations maybe we should go work with our own people“ and that in relation to the Klan he was “learner more than I was teacher.”

Offering a striking echo in The New York Times, Trevor Noah insists that “We can be unwavering in our commitment to racial equality while still breaking bread with the same racist people who’ve oppressed us.”

Presidents, governors, politicians scorn opponents. Executive edicts are issued and political “nuclear options” are launched. The wheel of power turns; the flamethrowers rotate; the prior regime’s goals burst into flame. The next regime, somehow always sure its era will forever endure, happily starts piling the tinder for its (and maybe our) own demise.

There are stunningly problematic trends strengthening in the U.S. as brothers and sisters belonging to vulnerable populations are reviled or barred, scriptural commands to take special care of the strangers and sojourners are violated,  money talks louder than ever, a fragile earth is trampled. Prophetic naming of travesties is called for. Yet if we can do no better than vilify, will the turning of the wheel ever stop?

Writing of her quest to participate in a women’s march in a spirit of “Solidarity Without Enmity,” Lindsey Paris-Lopez says that

the spirit of solidarity that infused Saturday’s marches worldwide was hopeful and invigorating. But solidarity can be channeled over and against enemies, or it can be channeled toward a vision of ever-widening inclusivity that rejects the concept of enmity altogether. Such a vision is fueled by fierce love that doesn’t let injustice stand, but honors the truth that even perpetrators of injustice can be redeemed. It acknowledges that we have come and are coming together through reconciliation and mercy, and it offers to extend the same mercy and reconciliation to the people behind the oppressive systems that must be torn down. May such a fierce love guide the movement birthed in these women’s marches around the nation and around the world.

“I wish . . .” sings Leonard Cohen, as his life fades toward its end while a country divides, “I wish there was a treaty / Between your love and mine.”

—Michael A. King is dean of Eastern Mennonite University’s seminary and graduate programs. The Campbell section is indebted to King’s book Fractured Dance (Pandora Press U.S., 2001, pp. 174-176). He writes the column “Unseen Hands” for Mennonite World Review, which published an earlier version of this post.

Apocalypse and the Stuffed Giraffe

During a long, often frightening 2016 whose results only intensify the dynamics, a nation argues over whether to name its presidential candidates crooks, fascists, or worse.

At a lunch with a denomination’s representatives, talk turns to ways the polities of two denominations to which many seminary students belong are shifting. Just in pondering almost idly the effects, we find the conversation eddying across the many seminaries we personally know to be in crisis.

Terror strikes. Walls are breached or threatened. Police shoot away lives that matter and sometimes are shot. Temperatures hit constant global records while floods ravage Louisiana, fires burn across California’s Interstate 15, and Zillow.com projects nearly a trillion dollars worth of real estate possibly under coastal waters in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.

Fear stalks the land. Will we survive? I believe yes; here we are after millennia of catastrophes. But will our lives, communities, institutions, structures, countries, planet be recognizable?

Amid such questions my mother-in-law Mildred died of surgery complications after breaking a femur. The intensities, sorrows, and sometimes grace-filled moments of her final days unfolded as four family units scattered across the country had been scheduled to arrive for vacation in Maine by plane and car. Instead we kept vigil as she died. Now to get from her funeral in western New York to our remaining time in Maine we added a rented SUV to family cars.

After lunch that three-car, three-generational caravan of lacerated souls headed across 600 miles through hauntingly pastoral New York and New England landscapes as the sun faded hour by hour into the west and into late-afternoon sweet light. At a chaotic, crowded truck stop a rumpled man pestered us. So many disrupted days and nights and feelings had left us all shot. We didn’t want to talk. He wouldn’t stop.

Finally out of no sense of mission but hoping he’d then shut up, I engaged him. He launched into his story. He was a trucker from Las Vegas—where his wife with stage-4 cancer might, he’d just learned, be in her final hours. From the truck stop he’d try to drive straight to Vegas without pausing except for catnaps. Soon he left.

Then, enroute to his truck, he was back: with gifts of stuffed animals and candy for the children in our caravan. Weeks later came a photo of one reading books with her new giraffe snuggled beside her.

Across the under-maintained infrastructure of interstates, across an America at risk of apocalypse if we define it as the unraveling of stabilities and communal compassions as we’ve known them, an ordinary man, even a wearisomely intrusive man, races to say good-bye to his dying wife.

But in that liminal space between earth and Beyond, souls reach for each other. And amid all the anguishes of the era, as 2016 turns toward 2017, the images leap from the photo: A girl sitting on a rocker has swaddled a stuffed giraffe then tucked it in beside her. She sits with her picture books. The pages she’s focused on include an apple, a sippy cup, sneakers, a tractor, a boy on a toy car, an orange, a teddy bear, and much more. Her gaze shows that she is learning—even in these times—about the magic of the world she has been both cursed and blessed to be born into.

—Michael A. King is dean of Eastern Mennonite University seminary (where he drew on some of the materials in this column in a presentation) and graduate programs. He writes the column “Unseen Hands” for Mennonite World Review which first published this post.

Body Fading, Essence Soaring, by Miriam Blank

KCGuestPostMiriamBlank300x300x72This morning, kneeling beside my mother on the deck, I was gripped by the fleeting treasure of her fragile resilient life.  The process of dying, I believe, is a holy space, just as is birth.

This morning, like every morning, I went over to ask her how her night was. Dad had her out on the deck surrounded by bird song and five flowering baskets from mother’s day.

She sat quietly, a little queen in her corner. I asked her how she slept and she got a mischievous smile. She had a dream, she said, that she was pregnant. She was a little worried that people might think, “Crazy old lady, what is she doing pregnant?”

But in her dream she was happy to be pregnant.  She said, “It was my baby.”

I thought of the days my mother was young. There is a photo of Mom at about 31, holding my oldest brother Nelson while pregnant with her next child.  No one can doubt how full of new life she is, standing quietly holding it all.

MaryLouBlank
Mary Lou Blank, mother of author Miriam, holding her first child and pregnant with her fourth in this photo taken during the Blank family’s missionary years in Mexico. Mary Lou went on to bear six children over nine years.

I told her, “Maybe it is a sign that even in this season of things breaking down, you are full of new life.”

We talked about how she is experiencing great joy, peace and love each day. She said she liked my interpretation of her dream; that it fit. Mom is more expressive of her love for everyone than she has ever been. She seems at relative peace with her losses in this season of endings. “Everyone has to die,” she has said, with a little smile.  She laughs often.  Her body so frail is spilling over with beauty.

I know others might not see it as I do, and I don’t always see it this way either. But I am bending over her being each day and am taking in each moment with new eyes, knowing more than ever that each day with her is a gift. Like parents who can’t stop talking about their little child, and can’t get over the miracle growing in their arms, I can’t get over her growing beauty.

Mary Lou, Lester, and Miriam Blank
Mary Lou and Lester Blank with author Miriam Blank

Others may see her listing to one side of the wheelchair, stuttering over a word, drooling, or looking distantly across the room and wonder at my delight in this season.  I don’t deny the sadness.  It is there, and I take my turn with tears. Her tiny body seems to be shriveling up and disappearing. She is so small now in her recliner; it seems to fold in and hide her away. She sleeps more, eats less, forgets more, and words are harder to say.

But as her body fades and fails, her essence soars. Her spirit flames. She shakes with the fullness of her life and the rich stories of love layered within.  She can’t get over the flowers and the blue sky. To her they are a new wonder every morning. She is full of new life. She is quietly holding it all.

–Miriam Blank, Gap, Pennsylvania, is a professional counselor, spiritual director, and certified life coach.  In the past Miriam worked 15 years as a registered nurse and certified nurse-midwife.

Madison, Max, and Angels Unaware

MadisonKCPost-MAK300x300x72dpiThis is the story of how Cockatiel Max and Shih Tzu Madison enhanced the well-being of the church. My oversight caused it, but I later wondered if a larger Oversight was also in play.

For months Manuel, as I’ll call him, and I had been trying to coordinate  our schedules. Finally calendars said hallelujah, try this. When I told my wife Joan she thought great, but what about the animals?

Oh my goodness, I’d forgotten. The animals and I live an interesting life. For various reasons, including where Joan’s mother is and because Joan travels constantly providing behavioral health consulting wherever she’s called to, we actually live in two states. Also in the mix are Max and Madison. Six years ago we decided to test whether they’d flourish as commuter animals.

They did. So now they know the routines and are eager to hit the road whenever it’s time to shift states. I’d scheduled the meeting with Manuel. But I’d forgotten Commuter Cockatiel and Shih Tzu. At first all looked fine–weather supposed to be cloudy and cool during the key period; they’d be okay in the car. Then the forecast shifted–sunny and 80s; death trap.

What to do? I wouldn’t return for weeks; trying for a petsitter made no sense. I e-mailed Manuel. Any picnic areas nearby? Could he stand a picnic with my animals if I brought food? He was flexible and understanding and gracious indeed. Absolutely!

At the appointed hour, Manuel told me where to park. There it was, a welcoming picnic table. I placed Max’s cage by the edge of the picnic area and tied Madison’s leash to a table leg.

Manuel broke into a wide grin. “I believe this is historic!”

Our broader context was also historic amid daily shifts in how individuals, congregations, conferences, and organizations linked to it are relating to our denomination.

Our agenda was simple: What might we learn from each other’s journeys? It was a good meeting. Sometimes heartrending as we learned of so much pain in so many places. Sometimes inspiring, as we pondered initiatives for hearing the Spirit within or beyond what is unraveling.

But this isn’t finally about that. It’s about how different it felt to sit in the sun and breezes with Max busily eating food in his cage and Madison exploring or dozing beside us. It didn’t feel like one more heavy meeting, heavy though the topics often were. It felt like a skylight had appeared in the ceiling of the sky and let in the universe. It felt like extra light and sweetness were shining on our picnic.

Time to go. Manuel networked a bit with Max and Madison before returning to his office and whatever cares awaited there. I put Max in his back seat spot and Madison in her dog bed beside me. We headed out this route and that one and finally on to the interstate with sunroof open, light streaming, wind ruffling.

Max and Alphonsa
Commuter Max back in the days he was joined by Alphonsa. Commuting beside them as they mostly ignored each other also used to be our cat Lily. Sadly, not only have Alphonsa and Lily been gone for years, but Max joined them in the great Beyond a few weeks ago.

Max preened before sticking his head under a wing and blissfully napping. Madison turned around and around to smooth out her bed for the six-thousandth time then with nose on paws fell into what seemed an unusually relaxed sleep. This thought arose: Max and Madison must have liked their picnic with Manuel and maybe being angels we entertained unaware.

Bless the Lord and the Wild Things

KCGuestPostDanHertzler300x300x72The writer of Psalm 104 had an appreciation for wild things. I have a somewhat limited appreciation for wild things. If they threaten my garden, as do woodchucks and raccoons, I go after them. If they are only passing through as wild turkeys, I enjoy them.

As our environment unravels and the wild things are threatened, Psalm 104 catches my attention. The psalm is one of what William P Brown calls “the seven pillars of creation.” The other six are Genesis 1 and 2, Job 38-40, Wisdom in Proverbs 8, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah 55. Verses 24-35 of Psalm 104 provide the essence and deserve reflection.

The second creation account in Genesis tells of a man and a woman in a garden. They had what they needed but were expected to take care of it. The story tells us that they blew it. The history of humankind follows this pattern.

Whenever people get organized they seem to do one or both of two things: 1) beat up on somebody or 2) trash the environment and the wild things. The psalm writer observes that the wild things look to God “to give them their food in due season.” But evidently the food they needed was not always available.

At the end the writer puts his finger on the human problem and hopes “that sinners be consumed from the earth and that the wicked be no more.” That’s too much to hope for. Somehow we need to acknowledge our own sinfulness and recognize that having “the wicked be no more” is too broad a prayer request.

But more than the psalmist could recognize, we know we depend on the environment and that we may be in the process of destroying it. Indeed it could happen that not only the wicked but everyone and all creatures could be no more if present trends continue.

Our psalmist lived in the time of the Fertile Crescent. There was power at each end of the crescent—Egypt at one end and Babylon at the other end. Palestine was said to be a land of milk and honey. It was also to be a land of political instability because the power people would go through it to get at each other. They would go through the crescent since they could not cross the desert.

But the psalmist is not concerned with politics. It is the wild things that get his attention. The earth is full of them and they are sustained by the hand of God. It is amazing to see what niches some of the wild things have found.

Take the monarch butterflies. These butterflies overwinter in Mexico or California. When Mary and I were in California in 1980 we saw a cluster of them wintering in California. In the spring these butterflies start north. They take three generations going north. They lay eggs and soon die. The next generation hatches, grows up, and continues the journey. These larvae feed on milkweed. Milkweed is poisonous, but the monarchs can handle it, which is good because then birds hesitate to eat them.

The fourth generation makes the trip south in one generation. I saw several monarchs on my flowers one year. I suppose they were on their way south. But now monarchs have a problem. They feed on milkweed and farmers especially in the Midwest use Roundup to kill the weeds. Then monarch larvae have nothing to eat. I noticed three milkweed plants along the edge of my lot last summer and left them there. Whether or not any monarch larvae had fed on them I don’t know, but I left them there.

As I say, a typical human tendency is to cut and slash But once in a while we find an example of someone who works at restoration. I used to get a magazine called Westsylvania. In autumn 2004, it carried an article on how the wild turkeys were brought back. According to the article, wild turkeys had just about died out through overhunting, but in the 1950s a program was devised to try to bring them back.

There were still some remnants in the Bedford County mountains and the program devised was to clip the wings of some turkey hens and put them in an eight-foot-high fence. Wild gobblers came in and mated with them, the eggs were collected, and then the hens were put in the pens again. “The breeding program proved so successful that it ended in 1955. By then, even the game-farm raised turkeys—who by then carried just one-sixteenth tame genes—had become too uncontrollable.” By 1968, Pennsylvania began the spring gobbler hunting season.

Recently I saw a flock of 20 turkeys in the field across the road. The best thing about turkeys is that I can’t see that they cause problems in my garden.

We have gotten caught in what is coming to be an environmental disaster. After Edwin Drake drilled an oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, oil became plentiful and as time went on more and more uses were found for it. Especially in transportation. Today we are trapped in our cars.

In his book Terra Nova, Eric W Sanderson says that we will need to get away from oil, cars, and suburbs. He says we need to live more closely together and go back to trolley cars and trains along with walking and bicycles.

When Mary and I built a house three miles from town we didn’t think about the implications of all the driving we would do. Also, Scottdale was a marketing center with grocery stores, clothing stores, and a good shoe store. Today with Walmartization all of those have gone away and Scottdale is basically a bedroom community of the big box stores at its edges. Yet those who live in town are less dependent on oil than we in the country. I have noticed that all of my grandchildren live in town.

Whether the changes can be made in time to save the environment from disaster remains to be seen. In his fantasy, Sanderson sees basic transportation changes as early as 2028. That does strike me as fantasy. However, I was interested to see in the September 29, 2015, issue of the Connellsville Daily Courier that a “Transportation alliance” is forming to represent all of our local counties. What this means I’m not clear.

In the meantime it is possible to do something about the problem of electricity generated by fossil fuel. I have signed up with a company called Ethical Electric which uses environmentally friendly generation. I noticed that the first bill based on this new system cost two cents more per kilowatt hour. I think I can handle that.

As an old farmer, I still like a place in the country, but I see that without recognizing it I have become dependent on a system that needs to be changed. I do not look forward to giving up my place in the country. But to maintain it I have an automobile, a pickup truck, a tractor, a garden tiller, and two lawn mowers. If I were to move to town I would need only the car and maybe a lawn mower.

DanielHertzlerTree
Daniel Hertzler and a spruce tree he had photographed by Maynard Brubacher as part of an effort to sell it. But so far there has been no market for it. Dan reports that “Mary planted the tree about 1960 and it keeps growing. What can be done with it remains to be seen.”

The writer of Psalm 104 had no idea what would come to pass in the era of oil, suburbs, and automobile transportation. I can only believe he would support efforts to save the earth for the wild things as well as for our descendants.

Daniel Hertzler, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, is an editor, writer, book reviewer and occasional preacher. He retired in 2015 as an instructor for the correspondence course, Pastoral Studies Distance Education. He is author of the memoir On My Way: The View from the Ninth Decade.

Extending DreamSeeker Magazine through posts from Michael A. King and guests