Chesed / cinquain

081709.Tod PolsonChesed:
Primordial love.
Trinity’s rescue plan—
Gloriously scandalizing—

photo: Tod Polson


Bootless cries

I cried out to God this morning and was surprised to hear not a thunderous response, nor a stern rebuke, nor a gentle cooing, but rather a velvet hush.  No, “hush” is too soothing, and “velvet” is too luxuriant.  It was more like a Mona-Lisa-smile of a sound.  No judgment, one way or the other.  Ambivalent.  Not uncertain but, rather, indiscernible.  Known by the other, hidden from the viewer.  Or perhaps it was like the sound of a kindly older relative, tapping her finger on the armrest of an oak rocking chair.  Not clearly directed at her audience, perhaps in response to some other thought, or memory, or hope, she happens to be considering at that same moment.  Not negligent in the strict sense.  Just otherwise engaged.


This made me quite angry.


I kept praying, waiting for something…anything.  I was in pain and I thought I had come to my Father in heaven and would get…comfort? ease?  lightness of spirit?  peace?  Yes, peace.  Peace is what I see promised all over Scripture.  And I also read about how if we come near to God, he will come near to us.  And how Jesus stands at the door knocking and if we answer he will come in and dine with us.  Sit down at the table and feast, convivially, joyfully.


But here I experienced none of that.


Rather, I completed my time, pried away from where I sat by the clock and not sated by any consummation, feeling like the writer of the 88th psalm, in which the closing line reads “…and darkness is my closest friend.”  This is actually one of my favorite psalms if not my favorite, since it aptly describes these times best, when after all my pleading and crying and begging, I face only…that ambivalent stare, that finger-tapping, from heaven.  It also reminds me that I’m not completely crazy.  Someone else – yes, even if it’s only one other human in history, who happened to have pen and paper – experienced what I am experiencing.


Shakespeare once lamented that he would “trouble deaf heaven with [his] bootless cries.”  I don’t claim heaven – or God – is deaf.  No, but on days like today it becomes even more painful to know that God hears – God hears, knows, sees everything; of that I have no doubt – and does not answer me clearly.  How dare he.  He owes me something.  Anything.  He owes me, his child, an answer.  Or so this mad rage reasons in my mind.


Usually the tears themselves are cleansing.


But this morning, they were just the precursor to the tapping, the stare.  I wept and wept for a few minutes, feeling like my tears themselves would melt his heart, that certainly now I would have some answer that eluded me moments before.  After all, didn’t my own sons get results when they turned on the waterworks and asked for dessert?…another two minutes at video games?…to stay up five minutes longer before lights out?  (And the truth is, to my shame, they too often do get results this way.)


I wanted a word…anything.  A simple word.


And there, in the tapping, I didn’t get a word but rather a reminder.  The writer of Psalm 88 acknowledges at the beginning that the Lord is the “God who saves” him.


The psalmist gave me the vine that was draped over the edge of the cliff I felt I was hanging from.  There was no doubt in there being a cliff, or that I was hanging, or that if I let go, I would fall.  But the vine was rooted in something I could trust.  The vine would hold, whether I believed it would or not.  So long as I held on to it, it would hold me up.


This God, who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it…this God who was silent before me, by his own choosing, expressed his Being-ness to me.  His certainty.  His absolute reality.


This was the great “I AM” who held me up.  Here was the greatest of all realities, who created all the realities I trusted implicitly around me – air, carpet, coffee and pajamas – and who was pointing to his presence as enough for me.  And by no means was it a ponderous wave of knowledge that came over me.  It was more like a stubborn fact.


In that moment and the moments following, even to the moment now as I write, he did not give me a word but rather gave me himself to rely on.  The faith he was calling me to have as I wiped useless tears from my cheeks was to believe in him as enough, his reality as true, his completeness and his goodness and his ultimate control, as sufficient to carry me through.  No word about me or for me, no gentle breeze blowing in my ear with a reminder about some verse or doctrine, no vague sense of peace and well-being.  Only a pointer to himself.  A picture of One who is.  One who is, regardless of my belief or doubt in his Is-ness.


There is much more to say about him – what he gave up because of his love for me and others – but that’s not what’s in question here.  His love is not in question, his love is not on trial.


I was looking for an answer, a response, a sign, a signal, a knowing look, a comforting…feeling.  What I received was:  I AM.


It was enough for today.



photo:  Myles Smith; Clickr Clickr

Thin, like a vegetarian

“You’re thinking too much with your rational mind,” he said, very mellow and uncritical, as if we were sitting together over a cup of espresso at The Grey Dog on University Place in the Village.


I had come in to get a consultation on the tattoo, which is scheduled for Tuesday, and had explained that I wanted the Hebrew word “chesed” on my right bicep, a ring of thorns to encircle above it around my arm, and the seghol vowels of the word, which look like inverted triangular clusters of grapes, to be not circles but rather tear-drops.


Lalo, or Lahlo, for that was his name, was an attractive 20- or 30-something white guy who had the ageless quality of an artist.  He could have been a Benetton model at one time.  He wore a cocoa brown ribbed tank-top, baggy army pants, and his brown hair was in dreads.  He was thin, like a vegetarian.


“You need to think about…” and he went on to explain why I needed to consider this artwork in graphic and aesthetic terms, rather than just its meaning to me, in an engaging monologue that, for some reason, I am not able to re-create in linear words here.  Perhaps what he said created more of a mood and a picture and not a complete paragraph of thought.  In other words, he said, don’t just think about what it means.  Get something that looks cool.


Lahlo convinced me – while assuring me all along that it was my decision – that it would look better if I integrated the two elements, thorns and word.  I was the one who used the word “integrate” at the time.  He did not use such a precise word.  I am sure he used ten or more.  (When I arrived home and described to the Lovely K what we had decided, she sighed with relief and said that it would have been awful if we had stuck with my original design, of which she was unaware.)


After agreeing on the look, Lahlo left our sketch in the folder of the artist I had chosen, Matt, for him to see when he got in the next day.  I went to the front and left a deposit with a kind, blonde woman whose mathematics skill and receipting prowess showed me that she was less of an artist – though heavily inked – and, thankfully, someone who could be counted on to make sure administrative matters were well in hand.


The shop is clean, well-lit, and decorated in a way that reminded me of a funky coffeehouse I once visited on Smith Street in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.  Assorted couches of crushed velvet material, earth tones, 60s-throwback end tables of chartreuse laminate, exposed building elements (heating/cooling vents, beams, plumbing), and wide pine wood flooring.



photo:  berka