What I miss

“Do you miss England?”
you ask, or
“Does Canada feel like home?”
and my tongue and heart twist
in attempted response,
always convoluted, shifting,
the story I try to tell
torn
first between people,
and also between where I am planted
(through house, work, purpose, community)
and the land of my roots.

It’s past midnight
when we return from seven weeks of travel
to our silent, musty house.
Everything is as we left it
but slightly strange.
The kitchen’s low-beamed ceiling
bears down on me
as I walk to the sink.
I reach easily, unconsciously,
for a water glass
but then am surprised
by the selection of shapes and sizes.
For a moment in time I am
not quite at home
in my own home,
experiencing the paradoxical nature of familiarity,
which can be both created
and disrupted
by daily repetition.

My home country
is similarly familiar yet alien to me
when I return after years away.
There are things I’ve forgotten
through absence of repetition,
and so much that has changed
in over a decade
– new towns, new roads,
and the old roads crammed
with more cars than is reasonable.
But as we slow down one day
(another traffic jam
on another winding country lane)
I am captivated
by the burgeoning hedgerow we are passing,
which seems to sweetly summon recognition
from deep within my bones.
I see hawthorn and fragrant honeysuckle
tangled through
with bramble and ivy
and the radiant white heads of bindweed,
crowned with bolting beech, elder,
and the surprise of delicate hazel,
feathered below with bracken, cow parsley and
– I strain to name the ragged, pink flowers –
is it campion?

There is a quiet delight
in knowing these plants,
like a long-awaited family reunion,
or as if, in naming them,
I prove I still belong here.
It’s true that our home’s blazing
orange daylilies
and towering maple trees
greet me like old friends
after a long separation,
but so much of Canada’s wildlife
remains unknown or exotic to me
(there is a different pleasure
in that foreign wildness)
and I wonder,
am I also unknown to it,
can I ever fully belong?

I know that belonging,
like familiarity,
is formed largely by time and choice,
but if you ask what I miss,
I think I can tell you now.
I miss the green, wayside witnesses
to my childhood,
the plants my parents helped me
to notice and name;
and I am sad not to have passed on
this generational knowledge to my own daughter.
Grateful for the wide, wild land
where I am now planted and nourished,
my roots still reach back
to the soil in which they first grew,
interlaced with the roots of bramble, beech and bracken,
hungry for the deeper sense of continuity
and belonging that grows there too.
So my answer to your question
may be strange or incomplete,
but it is the only answer that I have:
I miss the hedgerows.

All our winters

How did these woods I’m walking survive such a winter?
How can they ever hope to be resurrected
from six months in the stranglehold of ice and snow,
roots frozen solid in frost-bound earth,
brittle branches bare of bud and bird?

And how will we survive
the terrible winters of our souls?
For don’t we know such raging, howling winters –
winters that lay us bare with grief and despair,
snatching our breath and our bearings,
leaving us blinded, ragged?
And what of the interminable winters
that are nothing but a long, grey, loneliness,
slowly burying us alive
with our bright hope and our golden dreams?
How, I wonder, can we ever survive?

Then I look around at this forest
newly emerging from its winter death,
the ground still sodden, heavy,
and already the moss that for cold, covered months has clung
in desperation to roots and trunks
is vibrant velvet,
and though many trees still stand asleep, bleakly waiting,
others are ever wakeful, ever green.

So maybe we too will emerge –
not unharmed, not untouched, but still standing.
Perhaps buried parts of us that have clung to life
will be unveiled vibrant.
Perhaps we will come to recognize
a hidden resilience that has been growing in us all along.
It could even be that the winter has killed what needed to die,
offered rest to what could not go on,
and now new growth can finally rise unfettered.
It could be.

I do know that as I leave the quiet forest,
still wondering if we will make it –
you, me, the trees, the unseen creatures –
I am greeted by the ocean, endless and beautiful,
and I remember it has faithfully caressed these changing shores
since the world began,
not subject to the ceaseless seasons and
deaths and resurrections that we all undergo.
And somehow this thought, in this moment,
in one salty surge of waves and tears,
breaks my heart and mends it.
We live and we die and we hope to survive.
and the ocean endures.

Confessions iii

To be clear, God,
When I say “I am yours”
What I really mean is this:

“I am as much yours as I am able to be.
And there’s something, yes, something in me
That wants to be wholly yours.”

For these three words spring up in me unbidden
As aspiration, as expression of a longing
Too deep and too complex to understand or deny.

***

Yet I am holding back.
I say the words beneath my breath,
Awkward, tentative (“I am… yours?”)

What do they even mean?
Do I tell the truth with them?
Where are they leading?

I used to think their meaning was clear
And their destination unquestionably desirable
(By nature yours, I choose to be yours)

***

But there was darkness hidden in their light
Subtle self-loathing in their love
And in the appearance of choice there was no choice at all.

For if your only dream for me was to be “yours”
Because to want to be myself was both selfish and dangerous
Then my life as an empty vessel was all destiny no decision.

But that was many years and many tears ago
And I was wrong, so wrong
About me and about you.

***

You gave me my freedom
When I didn’t know it was mine to have or desire
And when I begged to be shown your will, you asked me

“What is it that you want?”
So that step by slow and painful step
I came into my own.

And now I find that in seeking to be like you
I have turned out to be myself
And that this was your dream all along.

***

Now I find (irony of ironies)
That opening to my uncertainty about your existence
Also opens inside me a fresh wellspring of desire to surrender

Because – though it makes no rational sense –
A God who is so wholly unfazed by my doubt and by my reticence
(Since you desire my freedom and flourishing more than I)

This is a God to whom I want to say yes:
You who say yes and yes and yes over me and all my noes,
You who willingly wait till I am happy that my yes is whole.

***

So I know you will lean close to catch these whispered words
As they catch in my throat:
“I am yours.”

I know you hear and treasure the hidden truth
Resonating through them as an unfolding story:
“It is because I am becoming mine that I can freely choose to be yours.”

And I imagine I hear an echo of your whispered response:
“Beloved, if you choose to be freely and fully mine
Let it be because I delight to be freely and fully yours.”

This One Rose [from the archives]

And so gratitude grows up like a rose among the thorns.

This is all there is.
This one rose.

This one sunlit window seat.
This one painted mug filled with steaming coffee.
This one warm moment to savour.

Look around and all is barbed and spiny.
The light does not reach, the heat does not penetrate.
The coffee grows cold.
The pottery is brittle and will one day break.
This one rose, this one moment, is not enough.

But turn back, and this is all there is.
This one precious moment is all
there
is.

This one fragrant rose still grows up,
Beautiful among thorns.

[February 2012, first posted here]

Gathered

Gather me, Spirit.
Gather me into this moment
an hour of quiet and solitude
an hour to set aside my phone
and the addictive scrolling search for
connection or meaning or distraction.
Here I am.

Gather me, Spirit.
Gather me from my worries,
from the lists and loose ends
that are waiting for me when I wake
and from my need for them
to make me feel important and worthwhile.
What good is it
if a woman gains the whole world
but loses her soul?
Here I am.

Gather me, Spirit,
as I choose to be gathered
and to gather myself –
from the far-flung corners
where I am wandering, lost,
having given myself away
too much, too soon,
to busy battles
that are not mine to fight.
Here I am.

Kind Spirit,
gather me kindly.
Speak softly to my fear
that nothing holds together;
disaster waits darkly in the wings
and if I stop spinning for one moment
everything will finally fall apart.
Speak softly to my fear
that if for once I stop wandering
and quietly come home
I will find nothing
but a hollow, empty shell.

Wise Spirit,
gather me wisely,
you who know me
better than I know myself.

I do what I can:
I come, I sit, I turn off the screens.
I give my time, my attention,
as much of my heart, mind, soul
as I know, as I can.
I dare to believe in my substance and yours.
I dare to be found.

Please do what I cannot:
Gather me into the shape
that has always been mine
and the shape I can become.
Gather me to you,
the centre that holds.
I am here.
I am yours.