The woman with her head shorn and worn bare like a polished pearl, she sits at the window.
At the window at the back of the house by the trees, where the light found her through the willing leaves, and she sits and lets the needles in her hands, hour after hour, knit right into the expanse of God.
You could see her cracked lips murmuring with every stitch.
Gentle Jesus, hold the earth…
Gentle Jesus, hold the burning places and the bleeding places and the busted places
Gentle Jesus, tell us we have not fallen off Your cosmic radar…
knit, pearl, knit, knot string, untangle the earth.
She calls them prayer socks. 19,200 stitches in each sock. That’s a pair of 38,400 prayers. It’s what I pull on like they might get me to put one foot in front of the other for all this mess we’re walking through, through everything that will come.
Some prayers are silent. You just walk in them.
In a loud and howling world, it’s in the silence of a broken heart that the chambers of you can hear the sound of God speaking. It’s in the emptiness that happens in the wake of a broken heart, that God fills you with Himself.
Soundlessly, relentlessly praying through your spaces of brokenness makes the heart bigger, until you hold the gift of God alone.
Elizabeth defiantly knits through the cold of chemo treatments. She breaks herself into bits, a trail, of creative work, because when she makes, she loses all track of time.
Like she might actually lose time, like in making, she can shake time, make time lose her trail and let her go and she could escape free from age and an expiration date here, and I think this is an act of God. Whenever we create, we’re in a space beyond time. Ask God.
Elizabeth tells me once that when her hands work on yarn, her heart can unwind into prayer. I make a cerebral sticky note for my tubing grey matter: Peeling potatoes. Squash. Matching socks. Combing her hair, all her long hair. Every time your hands toil, rest your soul into a rhythm of prayer. Your work can lull you into the rest of God.
Elizabeth’s fingers fly with a line of yarn, tying something of earth to the willingness of heaven.
I could listen all day to to the working of her needles — as if they could vaccinate us both against the suffering. As if her needles could inject a healing filling along all the fractures.
The side of Elizabeth’s neck is swollen. Somedays you can see the cancer swelling out of her. She says it hurts to touch, that if you touch the side of her neck, you can feel the cancer right under your fingers, strangling her one esophagus, right there under your impotent hands.
You’ve heard it said by the brave in a moment of courage, “What if I am running out of time?”
What if you are running out of time on a bald mountain in northern Iraq, what if you are running out of time to find a just and righteous peace in a curfewed town in southern USA, what if we are all running out of time to be the peacemakers to make a world that our kids can live in a peace that speaks of the Kingdom of God, what if you are running out of time to love before it’s too late, before people are absconded, up and gone?
When I wear a pair of Elizabeth’s socks out to the Farmer in the field, her 38,400 prayers on my feet, there’s a pearled moon hanging high out over the fields, like the whole night sky had dug up the field, found the buried thing, then sold off all the stars to buy that singular pearl of great price.
I just came to bring sausage wrapped in romaine lettuce leaf to the Farmer and one of our lanky boys out here ripping up the earth.
The Farmer’s laying down about 30,000 thousand seeds of oats in every acre of dirt under this moon. I got more prayers on my feet. How long does it take to count 30,000 seeds … 38,400 stitches?
How many seconds do you get to breathe in a day?
How many do you get before your lungs just stop?
How many more moments do we get to make enough peace that we all get to live before we die?
How are you going to solve the problem of how to spend this one odd and staggering life you’ve been issued?
I memorize the white of the moon. Freeze frame the Farmer grinning in the white light of it there on the tractor seat, the peak of his feed cap pulled low over his face. We get to inhale. We get to live every day like it might be our last —- because one of these days, we’re guaranteed to be right.
We get to surrender to the glory, to the weight of it coming through the thinning sky, and there’s nothing in this world that’s normal — there’s only growing blind to the glory. There’s only growing blind to the injustice, to the blood on our own hands, to the love we could make, to the One who says, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name…. —- that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11) to the truth that we all belong to one another. It’s the cynics who wear armour to shield the heart from all this beauty that wounds.
It’s the cynics who say it’s hopeless, the cynics who write everyone off without listening, it’s the cynics who don’t look for resurrection coming, it’s the cynics don armour because they are the aching, the weary who steel themselves against these wounds of glory. Itch the scab of any cynic and what you’ll find is a wounded idealist.
It can seem easier to reject the world before the world hurts you again. The cynics, they can only speak of the dark, of the obvious, and this is not hard. For all it’s supposed sophistication, it’s cynicism that’s simplistic. In a fallen world, how profound is it to see what’s broken? It’s the brilliant who always keep looking for the light. It’s always the brilliant who keep looking for the light.
Under a rounding harvest and planting moon, I’m standing in a pair of prayer socks and a Farmer winks at me from a tractor seat, a freckled boy works in the lengthening shadow of his giving father and what’s the loveliness that hurts here under stars, under the sky, under the shadows of men bending and praying for the earth to stop haemorrhaging? What is so beautiful about breathing late summer air into the lung?
Why do we hurt as much for the joy as for the pain? The last moan of the mourning dove as it roosts in the rafters at nightfall, the last of summer’s warming breath, the nape of his bare neck bent under moonlight, twilight, starlight — I ache for how life inebriates.
There comes a time when your world gets quiet enough that all you can hear is the beating and the breaking of your one heart.
You’d better still long enough to learn the sound of it and let it teach you. Or you won’t know the rhythm of your only life.
That pearl, planting moon echoes Elizabeth’s fleeting balding glory and the Farmer eats the meal I’ve brought, swallowing it down with the moonlight that borrows the gleam of the sun’s relentless grace, and all I can feel it in the pit of me, in the beat of me:
You are perishable here.
Taste the moments accordingly.
Taste the space between every breath like it is bread, the space between the stars where you and he are just for now, the space between you and faces you love and being here no more, the spaces between the pain, between you and streets of grief, between you and injustice and war and mothers cradling their babies in fear, andlearn to love before it’s too late. I need to etch that into me.
You are perishable here, Taste the moments accordingly —
You get to decide whether you are going to taste it, all of it and know that God is good and enjoy Him and make your life about others tasting His goodness too.
You get to decide whether you’re going to spend your one life trying to make an impression and look good — or make a difference and do good.
If you get the call this week that you are terminally ill — and, go ahead, look at the headlines, we’re all terminally ill on this ride-– all that will matter is that you tasted the goodness of God, that you embraced the salvation of God, that you loved the family of God, and that you helped the poor loved of God.
You don’t have to buy a ticket to go overseas to change the world — you just have to take the time to go across the street, across the house, across the room, across the aisle.
but if none of us give up on just giving a glass of cold water in His name, we give hope.
It seems too small to make a big difference —- to make your life into bread and that be enough.
To make a meal, to touch a shoulder, listen longer, bring a handful of wild flowers, to be present in this moment and stretch out your hand and let someone taste the grace of you… these are things that change more than the world — they literally change worlds. Yours and theirs and all of ours.
Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God with a table and bread and wine and an invitation and maybe we usher it in today by stirring a pot and setting the table and petting the dog and asking someone who feels forgotten to come.
You don’t get long here before you get to be a memory — so make your life about getting thirsty people glasses of water.
It’s simple today: You are perishable here, Taste the moments accordingly — and get thirsty people glasses of water.
Because the Good News is about One who loved everyone to death, the good news begins again everywhere we love others in service and not ourselves in selfishness, the good news begins wherever we make ourselves into His Good News.
There is a sort of miracle that happens in times like these, all of us saying: I am grateful with my small place because here I can give a Great God great glory.
There is a sort of miracle that happens when you realize you could sort of have two lives. And that the second one miraculously starts the minute you realize you really only have one.
The Farmer gives me back the thermos I’ve brought him —- it just all be about getting thirsty people glasses of water.
Our hands brush in the dark.
That balding moon radiates like Elizabeth, Elizabeth looking at the clock, at the time left here.
Her hands flying and untangling and tying and warming a cold world with bits of her given self.