We say grace before we start to eat good things together, as if our thin voices could somehow divine it. We call it table grace, as if it were the elegance of furniture. We say a woman has it in the way she moves. We equate it with luck sometimes, modify it with sheer as if we could shave it to size.
Our gesture is not the real thing, we know that, that’s wholly Your deal. This is mere posture— or should we say sheer posture— a way to halt moving limbs, to cease together here, to allow a tilt toward gratitude
After so much darkness, the field’s excess of light, the day floating on itself as in a dream. But it isn’t a dream, the small wound songs of the house finch, the sun hammering the grasses’ bronze tips. We had gathered about your bed
like a boat we tried to push off stony ground. We wanted to help: we believed in the buoyancy of that water. You held onto the ruins instead of our hands. What did we know of how it is to look back at one’s life?
A bee swings from the nightshade. Ants carry their burden up the post of the shed unmoved by song.The grasses bend under the weight of so much light. And the balm of the wind: from the woods the singing of leaves. Or is it the sound of water flowing?
See, it’s not sweet youth that touts a wildness, but crazy old age. Beauty shifts. Plump pink petals fall away, or stay, curling every which way, like stiff, unruly hair, dried to a deep blood-red.
The once-upright congregation- in-a-vase flops over, losing their heads, but that’s all right. They find another life in unconventional gesture, extravagant dance: this still troupe, ecstatic, with nothing left to lose.
All winter the fish lounge at the bottom of the pond squinting up now and then toward the cloudy light beyond the ice, but mostly skulking behind cold wet shadows like teenage guys down in the basement hanging out, waiting for life to happen dreaming elongated nursery rhymes feeling the submerged sluggish vibrations of the earth a faint quiver of the moon’s pull on the tides.
After Easter, though, they dopily drift toward the surface where I am waiting patiently with something like civilization in mind. Sooner or later they’ll make the connection: they get their daily bread from me. And in return I get a glimpse of their elusive grace, their perfect freedom organized into evening ritual.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 churches. The numbers reflect migration from rural to urban areas and the fewer number of people who identify with a faith community. The decline in churches is having a direct effect on the social fabric of the state. According to research at Iowa State University, nine out of ten rural people said they rely less on their neighbors than they once did. Surviving churches have gone back to older patterns to find leadership, engaging itinerant pastors or lay leaders. Some are surviving through cooperation with other denominations or with ethnic Christian groups (Pacific Standard, January 20).