Poetry and Various Other Sundries

This weekend, I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, and I had the opportunity to share a few conversations with some of my favorite living poets. I shared breakfast with Scott Cairns (yes, I imposed) and met Jeanne Murray Walker at the airport. I also met a new friend, Phillip Mauer, whose poems you'll not find on the internet just yet. (One day, Phillip.) The conversations we shared were brief (too brief), but I walked away with the firm conviction that the world needs more poets who produce gentle, true poems. Search your heart. You know this is true, don't you?

Today, I'm sharing a poem I scratched out weeks ago for my Patreon community, the community that makes my writing (poetry, short fiction, various sundries) possible. I'm sharing because I generally believe in the power of poetry, and specifically believe in this poem. If you enjoy "The Pain of Waiting Is," consider joining my little Patreon community. I think you'll be glad you did.

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The Pain of Waiting Is

an empty yellow chair, a cup with no coffee, a blank piece of paper,

a simple prayer for company, comfort, a new Genesis. -this is what it means.

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***PATRONAGE FOR POEMS***

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Tuesday Reflections: The Problem With Pain (For Holy Week)

Most Tuesdays, I offer brief reflections, and for the bulk of 2016, I've been exploring the Problem of Pain. In the Church calendar, this week is Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It's a week to look at the darkest hour--the hour humanity murdered God--but it's also a time to explore the promise of pain. (Psst--resurrection is coming.) Come along?

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The Christ rode in on an ass's foal, the people lining the streets, shouting "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" King, King, King, they shouted, murder in their hearts even then. Jesus was a dead man walking; he was welcomed by the praises of the would-be lynch mob. He knew this, even then.

After the parade, Jesus shared a private moment with his disciples. "Truly, truly," he said, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Death and fruit; parent and offspring--this is the way of life.

I'm considering this passage of Scripture today (undoubtedly because it is the scheduled lectionary reading), and it's an unpleasant contemplation. Pain? Death? The truth is, I'd rather like to spend the bulk of my life avoiding pain. The crush of the job, the death of a loved-one, cancer, mental instability, abuse--these are only some of the daggers life has to offer. And aren't we taught to avoid the seedy bars, the biker rallies, the places where daggers might be slid through our ribs?

Life isn't that plain and predictable, though. Life hides behind every bush, jumps from alley shadows and stabs with impunity. Pain--even death--is unavoidable. It is a natural part of the life cycle.

But here come the words of Jesus. Pain, he says, is fertile soil. It is the cracking of the coat, the pushing of new life through splitting seed. It is a path--the path walked by Christ himself. Pain and death bring resurrection if we let it.

Easter is coming. Resurrection, too. They always do.

Reflective Exercise:

1. Identify a present pain point in your life. Write it on a piece of paper.

2. Consider how living into this pain, how accepting it as a gift might allow you to see with new eyes. Consider how it might bring you new life, or at least a new perspective on life.

3. How will you use this pain, and the resurrection from it to help others who might be a step behind you on the road of life? Write your answer to this question and keep it in a safe place. Revisit it from time to time.

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Tuesday Reflections: The Gift of Pain

Over the next couple of months, I’m offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

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"What if pain, what if the thing parents try the hardest to protect their children from, was the thing your child needed most?" ~Good Morning America, July 5, 2012

Ashlyn Blocker came into this world with the pushing pain of her mother, came screaming into this world like any other new life come screaming into this world. She was wide-eyed, sweet, and as she settled into her new digs, her parents noticed her quietness. She was so quiet, in fact, that she didn't cry when she was hungry, didn't scream when diaper rash spread across her bottom. Toddling, she didn't make a peep when she fell and knocked her head against the coffee table.

It came to a head when Ashlyn was eight months old. Her doctors discovered that she had a corneal abrasion, and what should should have turned her into a throbbing, screaming mess, didn't seem to register. That's when they discovered it--Ashlyn couldn't feel pain.

CIP--Congenital Insensitivity to Pain--is a genetic defect so rare, medical professionals aren't sure how many individuals it affects. And though insensitivity to pain might seem like a evolutionary miracle, a blessing of sorts, consider this: CIP patients cannot feel the sear of a burn, the throbbing warning of appendicitis, or the crack of the broken bone. They are often unaware of their injuries, suffer infections, or otherwise succumb to treatable diseases. Their inability to feel pain is dangerous, often life-threatening.

Pain, see, is a gift.

The curse of pain is also its present. The throbbing, searing, stinging, and aching shows the locus of injury; it is indicative of the place weakness and need.

There's an analog here in the emotional and spiritual world. So many of us would rather numb the pain or otherwise not feel it. In Coming Clean, I put it this way:

"When life slides its shiv into the soft spot between two ribs, when the pain shoots through every nerve, common sense dictates that we run to the doctor or therapist. Common sense dictates that we allow them to take it out and bind our wounds. Why, then, do we so often ignore the shivs?" ~November 2

If Congenital Insensitivity to Emotional/Spiritual Pain were a thing, I'd take it, you might say. But [tweetherder text="Without pain, would you know the locus of your weakness?"]without pain, would you know the locus of your weakness?[/tweetherder] Without the emotional or spiritual pain, wouldn't the machinations of your life be robotic, unfeeling? Without sensitivity to these sorts of aches, could you enjoy the pleasures of healing and wholeness brought by a good healing-and-wholeness doctor?

Emotional and spiritual pain show us our need for treatment, show us the need for a greater physician. And it's the tenderness of this great physician that makes life worth living.

At least, that's my take.

Reflective Exercise:

1. This morning, take an inventory of your emotional and spiritual pains. Where do you feel battered, bruised, or cut by those in your life?

2. Sit in the silence and ask God to visit, to bring treatment. Do you sense anything?

3. If the pains run deep--perhaps too deep--consider calling a therapist today. Really. Do it.

4. If you’d like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing. 

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Tuesday Reflections: Obedience to Pain

Over the next couple of months, I'm offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

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This is what it means to face the pain, and if you were to ask me how I feel in the quickening moments, I’d tell you that I feel abandoned, empty, sick.

~Coming Clean (October 16)

This is the fact of life: everybody hurts. It's a universal truth that's traced its way through all of history, through fine art, timeless literature and classic music. Consider Edward Munch's "The Scream." Consider Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Consider R.E.M.'s classic, "Everybody Hurts." (Perhaps it's a stretch to call that last one classic, but throw me a bone here; those boys from Athens know how to write a tune.)

The facts of life are the facts of life, and try as you may to avoid the facts, they are uniform in application. In the same way gravity sucks any weight downward, or energy is neither created nor destroyed in a chemical reaction, pain is a natural, unavoidable rule. Pain affects amoebas, fish, dogs, cats, and humans alike. Pain is the equal opposite of joy; it is one of the many byproducts of life.

If pain is unavoidable, if it affects us all, why does it cause so much shame? Why is it so often a hidden thing?

In the days since Coming Clean hit the shelves, I've fielded story after story of hidden pain. Good folks suffering under some weight--abuse, abandonment, self-doubt, lack of faith--confess to burying their pain, to numbing it down with some anesthetizing agent.  Enter the booze. Enter the pills or porn. Enter the pointer finger down the back of the throat, tickling past the uvula. Enter the all-night benders of the occupational sort. Enter the paramour. Enter whatever, whomever, whichever.

I ain't always too smart a fella; I ain't always the most observant or attendant. But here's what I know: when we're honest with our pain, when we explore it (even while praying for relief from it), we push into the way of Jesus. Scripture puts it this way:

"Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered...." (Heb. 5:7-8)

By confronting our pain we learn obedience to the life of Jesus, and in that obedience cut a path to God. (Isn't this the promise of resurrection?) C.S. Lewis puts it this way: "We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Reflection Exercise:

1. When you feel the pains of life (past or present), how do you cope? Do you make use of numbing mechanisms? List them.

2. Are you ashamed or embarrassed of your pain points? Why?

3. This week, consider calling a friend, priest, teacher, or therapist. Share your points of hidden pain with them.

4. If you’d like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Tuesday Reflections: The Problem of Pain

I'd like to begin the New Year with a series of reflections. I'll post a new reflection every Tuesday for the next two or three months. I hope you'll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

*****

"I am a southern male, and so all of this talk about pain, frayed nerves, poisoned souls, and therapists is somewhat difficult. Acquaintances, especially my more metropolitan ones, tell me there is no reason for embarrassment, but as an over-generalization, we southern gentlemen are a bootstrapping lot. We like to believe we can lick any enemy. Yes, in the event of being snake-bit, we could tie our own tourniquets, use our pocketknives to make the deep incision, and suck the wound and spit to remove the poison." 

~Coming Clean (November 26, 2013)

It the prep-school school of Southern maledom, you learn this: ailments, financial woes, and the death of dogs are not the things gentlemen discuss in public. (The exception being if the dog was an exceptional retriever with wizened eyes.) Fact is--and this is a fact that bears being spoken--these were not subjects for private conversation, either. Neither the ear of the closest confidante nor the bosom of a loyal lover were meant to suffer a man's bellyaching, and by way of bootstrapping avoidance or willful ignorance, most pain was to be stuffed.

The problem with pain, though is simple: it hurts, no matter how much you pretend otherwise. You can try your best to explain away, drink away, or distract away the hurt, but nerves are real things. Once lit, they're as autonomous as bottle rockets. They do what they were created to do. They burn.

Over the christmas holiday, my son concussed himself by flying from a couch and into a sturdy wooden pillar. As the pump-knot rose, and rose, and rose, I said, "shake it off kid; you're fine." (My subconscious still tries to plug my boys full of southern toughness.) The consolation was nothing if not futile, and when the tears wouldn't stop, and his eyes glassed over, I took a different tact, began cracking jokes in hopes that the distraction might calm his nerves. Through his tears, he moaned "stop daddy," to which Amber added, "just let him hurt." Amber was right--don't we want our children to learn to express pain? Shouldn't we teach them how to listen to their own wounds, whether physical, emotional, or otherwise?

I wrote a few thousand words on the topic of pain; I even quoted Rumi--the cure for pain is in the pain. This being so, you'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now. But the truth is, I still employ my own coping mechanisms to avoid pain. And though I don't use the bottle anymore, I still try to shake-it-off, use food, or sleep, or sex, or shopping, or two-bit humor to distract myself.

You can count that last paragraph as a confession.

Don't our raw nerves, our pain points evidence the areas of unhealth? But isn't our natural bent to avoid taking inventory of our raw nerves?

The problem with pain is simple: it hurts. Even in the pain, though, God says this: I will never leave you.

 

Reflection Exercise:

1. This is a heckuva way to begin a reflection series, isn't it? (That's a rhetorical question.) In the stillness, consider the areas of spiritual and emotional pain in your life, even those you might have stuffed for years. List them on a sheet of paper.

2. Invite God into these areas of pain. I can't tell you what it will look like; but sit in the silence and give him space. Record what you felt (if anything).

3. If you'd like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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