Categories
Poetry

Vows to the Mystery

Think back to the very beginning of something you were excited about. Maybe you’d just gotten a great new job, or started dating someone you were really interested in. Or maybe it was a new artistic practice, or a new identity you were stepping into.

Whatever it was, you probably felt a sort of electric joy going into it. But if you were aware enough I’ll bet yet felt fear, too.

Because any time you commit to something, you invite uncertainty into your life. No matter how optimistic you are, you actually have no idea what this new thing will entail—losses that blindside you, rewards you didn’t expect, paths opening and closing in places you never would have thought to look.

When Elizabeth and I were planning our wedding ceremony, we wanted to acknowledge the uncertainty we were courting—the unknowable decades ahead, the mysterious ways we’d both change, the inevitable seasons of exile and loss right alongside those of connection and joy.

So we decided to say a second set of vows. We called them our Vows to the Mystery.

We used the cardinal directions—with their symbolic connection to the four seasons—to help us imagine what might lay ahead. I wrote a short poem for each, and after each one we were asked if we promised to meet that season “as best we can.”

I hope these vows help you embrace the mysteries in your life, too, as best you can.

South

Turn with us to the South,
where the sun climbs
to the sky’s peak
and floods the world
with light and warmth,
inviting the hidden sweetness
of all things
to grow full and heavy
on the branches of the world.

You will know
the Summers of life,
when the sun and the shade,
the heat and the breeze,
the berries softening along the trail
all seem to conspire
for your satisfaction,
when the world’s gifts overflow
the basket of your needs,
and your deep practice
is to rest in this abundance
with gratitude—even knowing
that the season will pass.

West

Turn with us to the West,
where the sun falls
into the horizon’s open arms
and the rising tide
of cold and dark
sends the shiver of change
through every living thing.

You will know
the Autumns of life,
when cherished pieces
of your world and yourselves
start to wilt and wither,
when what has sustained you
is slipping away,
and only your faith—
that renewal
is the dancing partner of loss—
helps you trust
that the seeds of your
future wholeness
have already been planted.

North

Turn with us to the North,
where silence fills
the dark globe of the night,
and the cold wind
racing unchecked
through skeleton trees
sends all the plants and creatures
to seek shelter
in each other and the earth.

You will know
the Winters of life,
when the dark nights of loss
stretch endlessly around you
and even the days are cold enough
to test the resilience
of your heart,
when the work of survival
takes all you have to give,
and you need the warmth
of each other’s bodies
to make it through the night.

East

Turn with us to the East,
where the light grows
like a promise
behind the mountains,
drawing up from the earth
the delicate hopes
of new leaves,
new flowers opening,
new eyes alive to the world
for the first time.

You will know
the Springs of life,
when the hidden seeds
of your deep longing
finally push their first shoots
into the light of your days,
and your sacred responsibility
is to nurture
this fragile growth
even as it carves and moulds you
in frightening, wondrous ways.

Categories
Poetry

The Space Between Us

Illustration by Elizabeth Moreno

This is the poem I wrote for my wedding. I spent months on it. And on Saturday I finally got to see it do its work in the world when we used it to open our wedding ceremony.

Elizabeth and I both wanted to stay away from talk of “becoming one” in our ceremony, with its implications of giving up individual selfhood. Instead we saw our relationship as creating a sacred space between our two selves—a space where we can meet each other, support each other, and cheer each other on as we each explore, learn, and grow deeper into ourselves.

Those themes, together with our love of river valleys and mountains—and the beautiful venue nestled at the base of the North Cascades—helped shape the final poem. And Elizabeth designed the lovely image you see above to carry those same themes visually.

The poem is called The Space Between Us:

Don’t try to give me
all of yourself—
as if you would, as if
the wilderness that bears your name
is yours to give.

Instead let’s live
like mountains: two worlds
rooted together but each
cutting our own shape
into the changing sky.

I’ll be the one to see you
radiant in the morning light,
and to watch as evening’s last glow
anoints your head.

I’ll be your companion
as the seasons paint you
green and gold and white
and green again.

And as the snows melt
and the rains fall,
carving ever deeper
the beautiful grooves of your being,
let them flow down into

the sacred space between us—
this quiet valley
our bodies make, where
deep waters
and the dark earth

take everything we’ve lost
and everything we’ve given
and make new life
for all who call this place
home.

Categories
Poetry

The First Promise

This is a poem of permission. A lot of people wish they could push pause for a little while, but they’re afraid to show any uncertainty about the life they’ve constructed for themselves. They’re afraid it would mean they’ve failed. That they’ll be forgotten. That they’ll disappear.

But if you don’t step back sometimes, chances are you’re neglecting some deeper, unheard part of you. And so what you’re giving to the world lacks the fullness that we need from you.

The truth is that hiding from the world is one of the central competencies of being alive. Every animal knows how. Every plant can bury its aliveness in the earth. You knew, at some point.

This poem is permission to remember, and to discover what might be waiting for you there. It’s called:

The First Promise

Sometimes you need to hide
from everything
you’ve promised to become,
so you can find the first promise—
the one you and the soft world
sang to each other

down beneath the tall bushes
along the old streambed,
when nobody knew
exactly where you were,
back before the person
everyone needed you to be
learned to find you even there.

Those bushes are gone now
but the sanctuary still waits—
in the quiet places under trees,
in the spacious darkness
of a solitary night—
and if you learn again
how to hide, even from

the expectations you’ve
mistaken for your own,
you’ll find that the world still knows
your secret harmony,
and that some brave and
brokenhearted voice in you
never stopped singing.

Categories
Poetry

Permission to Lose Interest

Looking up through the windshield at
dark wings and a white head
crossing high above I-5. “Just a seagull,”

I hear myself say—permission to
lose interest, permission to close down
the aqueducts of wonder. How quickly

I abandon my enchantment, like it’s
a grenade about to bloom or a great eye
opening. Because really I know

that the shape of those wings
cutting against a blue sky
is a beauty sharp enough to cut me, too.

Photo from Eli Pastor on Unsplash
Categories
Poetry

It’s in Everything

It’s in everything, this dancing
of something that’s more than just life.
Look at the trees near the shore,
how they shimmy and wave over
the bright face of the Salish Sea.

Meanwhile the waters rush in—
mad for the moon—and swirl around
the outstretched hand of the point,
kissing the forehead of the beach
before they rush back out again.

I have it on good authority
that the whole world spins and spins
as it falls toward the warm center of its love
and then swings back out again
to sing of it to the stars.

Stand still here among the trees
and the wind and the warm sun.
What dance stirs in the bones of you to join?
Let the music of the world find you.


Categories
Essay

I will live in this world

I will live in this world.
I will live in this world where the growing freedom of many provokes the hateful violence of a few.
I will live in this world where bigotry must raise up demagogues for protection.
I will live in this world where the road to love is besieged by bandits of ignorance.
I will live in this world where the brightening light of humanity casts a darkening shadow.
I will live in this world even though sometimes it shrinks me to a fragile mouse of fear, sometimes it fills me with the hot oil of rage, sometimes it smothers me with the heavy cloth of grief.
I will live in this world because I am of this world, and this world is of me, and the fight-dance of light and shadow is our common language.
I will live in this world because we need each other to find our way.