Fractals, breath, and Yahwew

I am thinking about birth, and death, and resurrection.

Their is the turning of the seasons, and the cycle of the day into night, and then the morning.  Their is having children, dying, and kids growing up.  There is the innocence we are born into, the complexity and darkness we grow into, and the choice to embrace a new innocence.

And a garden we were created for, exiled from, and return to.  And a God-man come to Earth, murdered, and then returned anyway.

And…  And there is the inhalation, a time of emptiness, and the exhalation.  I have this sense that the time between breathing in and breathing out is a terrible time of emptiness that we grow immune to because we experience it nearly every second of our lives.  It seems to me that it is one of those deep-time experiences, one of those moments where eternity is an endless extension of our normal, human seconds, but that the time between exhaling and inhaling is one of these moments where eternity is reached because time stretches out sideways forever.

If you have ever suffered an asthma attack, if you have ever had the wind knocked out of you, you know the abject terror of gasping and yet not being able to breathe.  Some part of our brain knows that we will breathe again, that this is a temporary state of affairs that we just need to wait out.  But the rest of us has this terror.

I love this idea that the Hebrew name for God, the word we often translate as Yahwew mimicks the breath itself.  There is this wonderful idea that with every breath we say God’s name.  If the inhale, the emptiness, and the exhale are some sort-of microcosm for the cycle of life itself; if it is a fractal of birth, death, and rebirth…  Then this suggests that God’s name itself also encapsulates these things:

People mourn the cheapness of our translations of that Hebrew word, Yahwew.  We settle on approximations like, “I was, and I am, and I am to Come.”  This seems like an echo of the idea I am dancing with here.   I think maybe “I was, and I am, and I am to come.”  Is quite a bit like the idea of all things are born, all things die, and all things are reborn.

It is crazy to me that this is captured in every breath.  And crazier still that not even the author of the universe is immune to this cycle of things, this birth, death, and resurrection.

A Wind.

There will be a beginning-time.

An eruption into existence,

A birth into fullness,

nearly to bursting.


The baby is born!

Adam walks in the garden, naked with Eve.

My lips purse and the air just begins to find its way out.


There is the time of the outpouring.

A time to share, a moving outward.  Onward.  Upward.

The building of something great.

very nearly perfect.


The young man ventures out into the world.

The wanderer in the desert knows that he has finally found home.

I feel the last of the exhale.


The terrible time of dying.

Time stretched, terribly sideways, this infinity-in-a-moment.

The mouth in the ground stretches itself wide and waits.

A heart beat fades: little, less, nothing.


A career that means nothing, this conquering means nothing.  Despair amidst the excess.

He is naked and alone up on the cross and he breathes his last.

There is an endless moment, when I push the last of the breath out and I am so empty.


And then

this rythmn

finds itself again.


The man sold everything to buy wisdom.

The stone was rolled away.

It was the Winter.  Now, the Spring.


Those lungs fill.

The promise fufilled.


God’s name

they say.

God’s name is in the breath.


And also in the fall and the rise of man.

And birth, death, and life.

God: birth and death and life.



Coming To Terms With Her Wild Geese

You do not have to be good

She told me this.  And

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.


I did not tell her that I was unsettled by this.

I nodded sagely.  Because that is what I do when I read Mary Oliver.

Even if I am alone in a room.


The way that she speaks, as if only to me,

I felt as though I could, in theory, have told her that I was unsettled by this.

But in truth, I nodded sagely, alone in a room.  Unsettled.


You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

I was not ready to yet begin to chew on these words,

the others were dry in my mouth, still.


I do not want to be bad.  Ms. Oliver.  I do not want to be bad.

Do not permit me  amorality.  Because this is what it is.

I have to be good.



There was a breath outside the garden.

There was God in me before  exile.


What if I didn’t have to be good.

Because I already was.

The soft animal of my body.

Already was.






Green.  Brown.

They danced this desert into existence.

They made love and gave birth to these rusted reds.


This morning a line cuts true across these rolling hills.

It cleaves the shadows backward,

This Mother sun’s embrace.


And even so, the moon is reluctant to set.

It watches over that hawk, almost-floating

in a n0-cloud sky.


And the warble-trill

is followed by an owl-hoot

and the rustling of a thin river, and tree-leaves.


Mother sun’s widening embrace

is so soon loving every sentry-like cactus,

thistle, thorn, red ant.


It is too much.

Like God’s love.

The salt from the sweat gathers at my temple.


And this!

Open-ess.  Open-ness.

Awesome, vast, and also somehow terrible.







and and and and and and and and

This morning, right as I was waking up, I was texting someone.

I actually only typed maybe 5 letters or so.  The word prediction did the rest.  Sort-of.

I was only half awake.  What I wanted to say wasn’t very sophisticated.  And tapping the screen at the bottom, where my phone’s best guess about what I wanted to say pops up…  that is awfully easy.

I suspect the text I sent was less unique than it would have been, if I had typed out all the words.  How could it be anything but  beige, boring, homogenized?  All the technology can possibly do is look at the things that I have said before, and formulate a guess that this sort-of combination will serve me well today.

There is an easy experiment that can be done.  Maybe you’ll want to do this with me.  If you begin a text, and rely on nothing but word prediction, you end up with some telling results.  (Tapping the central suggestion is useful for the way many of these programs are made.)

Here’s what my phone says, “I am going to be a good day to you and your family and and and and and and and and and and…”

Presumably, the ‘ands’ would continue on.

I have been learning this stuff about the spiritual power of living in the moment.   There is something in me that is like this word prediction software in my phone.  There is something that responds automatically.  It refuses to take account of the reality of when and where I am.  It basis responses on what has happened before.

And when I live in this way, my life is beige, boring and homogenized.  There are these formulaic television shows that I have wasted precious hours of my life on.  It is bad enough that I would watch them first time through.  But I have watched reruns of them, too.  And sometimes life feels this way: A safe and comfortable fufilling of a format that a seven year old could figure out.

Living this way is as easy as sending a text formulated entirely by the word prediction software.  On the surface, it makes sense in the begininng.  But absurdity soon pops up, (I am pretty sure I am not ever going to be a good day.)  and soon after, it spirals into nothingness.  (and and and and and and…)

So…  how do we do this?  What are some ways to stay in the here and now?  Leave a comment below, would you?




Race, The Third Way, and Blueberry Pancakes

There are some things that we mix together until all the differences are resolved.  We might swirl together black paint with white until it is mixed just right, to get the shade of grey we are shooting for.  We keep mixing the sugar into the coffee until it is fully absorbed.  The results, in these cases, end up swallowing up the sources: Neither color can be found; once-bitter coffee is transformed.

When I was younger, this was my way of carrying truth.  It is a consistent thing to do.  It leaves you with a way of expressing your views of the world that are coherent.

But if the painter always mixed all her colors and just slathered them on the canvas, visual art wouldn’t be much different than painting a wall.  If a cook mixed everything into a homogenous mess, then we would not have awesome melty chocolate morsels just hanging out in biscuit-y cookies… blueberries would have to be thrown into the blender with the rest of the mix, and we would lose something.

As I grow older, I realize that sometimes the truth does not resolve, it does not average itself out.  Sometimes, it is not helpful to find some sort of compromise between conflicting claims.  Sometimes, I think, the right thing to do, is to carry them both: explore the boundaries between them, ponder the differences, wrestle with ways that we can do better than just find some middle ground but maybe find a way to incorporate the strengths of both positions.

A few weeks ago, my awesome church featured this great message about the third way.  In this context, the third way is this attempt at including people who come down on a different side of the issue.  Today, in place of a message, we had this great follow up to last week.  We are exploring issues around race, discrimination, and privilige.

A few weeks ago, we thought about ways to include people we don’t agree with.  Today, some wise people spoke in an impassioned way about how unreasonable it is to expect somebody who is opressed to patiently and emotionlessly express themselves:  There is a burden on those in positions of power to work things out for themselves.

When I was younger, I would have wanted to jump right to a simple resolution.  That would have been a bit like pureeing blueberries and mixing them fully into pancake batter.  In the end, maybe that will work.  But then again, maybe it is going to be best to just hold both of these things, attentively, carefully.

At least for now, I am going to sit with this apparent conflict.  I wonder if you’ve got some thoughts on working this all out.  There are all kinds of ways this plays out, but maybe one of the main questions is this: How do we balance being open to dialogue with others with not enabling abusers to continue in their destructive ways?




I am here.

Those words?  Perhaps the most powerful words in the English language.

I am here.

They are more powerful, I am learning, than “I love you.”  They may just be more fundamental to who we are than ideas of home, or even of mother, and father.  I suspect it is written into our deepest history.

I think that this is what the story of Adam and Eve is about.  We began with this connection to our maker, to each other, and to ourselves.  At that time, we could truthfully and fully say, “I am here.”  We were naked and unashamed.  We entered into the created world in this attempt to name things, to understand it.  It was all good.

There is something different about the interaction at the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  I suspect that the knowledge offered by this tree is something inferior to the learning that was happening elsewhere in the garden.  Suddenly there is this hair-splitting and debate, going on.  They are no longer in that moment, present.  In their imagination they are comparing a future where they have eaten the fruit with a future where they have not eaten the fruit.  To do this, in their memories, they are thinking about what the past has been like.

There are so many ways to not be here.  There are so many forms of absence.  So many ways to fail to be present.


I think ‘being here’ must mean a lot of things.  I just barely have words for some of them.  At the minimum,  being here means stepping back into the present.  There is so much of me that lives in the past, and this part of me projects that past into my future.  I am so rarely experiencing what is happening now with fresh eyes.  I am so often putting happenings in these little boxes, “This is how it happened before, this must be how it will happen again.”


This is my goal today.  To experience some of those brief little moments, that stretch out on their sides into eternity.  I think they are echoes of the life we lived before we ate the fruit.