Abraham’s beard

beard

Abraham started growing a beard just like every other boy turning into a man. His Papa taught him to shave just like his own Papa taught him. Every few days the razor came out of its leather pouch ready to do its job. In winter, when he got older, he let it grow out to keep his face warm in those biting Wisconsin winters. It didn’t matter if he had an outside job that year or not, even ten minutes outside putting groceries in his car was too much cold for him. Abraham, never “Abe”, had thought about moving to warmer climes many times, but that all changed when he became a monk.
His first vow was of stability – to stay right where he was and make the world right around him better instead of traveling to some far-off place where they might not speak his language or even have flush toilets. He figured that the good Lord put him here for a reason, so here was where he’d stay.
His second vow was to not cut any of his hair. Every day he washed and combed and oiled his beard and the hair in his head. This went fine until it all grew so long that he started sitting on it, or it got caught in dresser drawers. Then he started wrapping his hair up in a piece of linen, wound about and about until it was up out of the way. This worked for about a year.
After that, he started tucking his beard into his shirt pocket, just like it was a pocket watch or a handkerchief. A decade later he took to putting it over his shoulder. Sometimes he’d wear an old military jacket with a shoulder strap. It was never anything so fancy as an epaulette, just a plain piece of cloth the same color as the jacket with a button to open and close it. While the button was helpful, it had caused a snag a time or two.
The only odd thing was that Abraham was a monastery of one. Nobody else even knew he was a monk. He never dropped so much as a hint to his friends, who never would’ve suspected and wouldn’t have believed him if he had said anything. The day after his parents died he made his vows and never swerved from them.
His third vow was to not speak about his spirituality unless he was asked. He agreed with the Lord that it was rude to brag about your holy walk, yet he also was careful not to appear as if he was denying the Lord either. It was a tight spot to be in. He figured he could tell people about his faith only if he was asked. That to him was a sign from the Lord. It was only when the traveling photographer asked him about his beard that he told, and he was the first to ask in 20 years.
Sure, people wondered about his long hair and his refusal to travel even to the next town over, but they never asked him about it. They thought that was rude to ask. That didn’t prevent them from talking amongst themselves, however.
The vow of stability was a tough one. Abraham had a bear of a time getting good shoes until the Payless store opened up a franchise just three streets away from his house. His vow to stay in his town was not up for alteration. For nearly eight years he had to wear the same pair of brown Oxfords because there was no place to buy new ones – and he certainly wasn’t going to buy them used. Used shirts and pants, certainly, but shoes? Never. No amount of Lysol could convince him they were clean enough. Even a monk has standards.
The city of Two Creeks, Wisconsin had never seen a traveling photographer until that bitterly cold Thursday in May. Even if it hadn’t been so unusual for a photographer to appear almost overnight like a ring of mushrooms in the lawn, the cold snap would certainly have fixed the date in the minds of most of the nearly 450 people who lived there.
Abraham had walked down Zander road where his house was and turned right along Lakeshore to get to the county park. Even though it wasn’t officially legal to fish there, it wasn’t actually illegal either, and Abraham often took advantage of these gray areas in life. It saved him a lot of money to fish for his supper. He was just preparing his fishing lures when he heard a booming voice behind him. “Hello there, young man! Would you be interested in a free portrait of yourself this fine day?”
Abraham turned around and looked at the man for a full minute before he answered. The photographer thought that maybe he was deaf, so he began his spiel again, but Abraham held up a hand to stop him. He was trying to figure out how to answer. His first problem was being hailed as “young man” since it was as clear as the silvery hairs on his head that he was far from being a spring chicken. Either the man was trying to butter him up or he was crazy. Neither one was good.
“Why would you want to do something like that?” Abraham asked. He liked a deal, same as the next person, but he knew that “free” meant that there was a cost down the line somewhere. Nothing was ever really free, it just meant that you didn’t pay for it. Someone did. That meant you were beholden, and beholden was a string. He was opposed to strings. They ended up being nooses more often than not.
The photographer explained that he worked for a national film developer who wanted to get more customers. Every person got a free 8 x 10 color glossy and eight wallet size portraits. The company figured that once folks saw how good the quality was, they’d order more. Suddenly the photographer stopped, looked at Abraham, and said “I never told anyone that before. That’s the company policy, but I was given a script and trained to recite it word for word as if it were mine. Why ever did I tell you all that? Come to think of it, why am I telling you this right now? Who are you?”
And Abraham told him his story, all of it. Truth for truth, since he asked. Told him how he was a born confessor. People all over, those he knew and those he just met, told him nothing but the truth all the live long day. They felt relieved, all their guilt and shame off their chests.
It started early on, as soon as he entered kindergarten. The other children just knew and came up to him. The teachers did too. It was overwhelming at first but he got used to it – well, as much as you can get used to people telling you all their secrets. Abraham thought this was normal, because it was normal to him. He had nothing to compare it to so he never told his parents about it.
Funny thing was though, it was like a superpower. The fact that people told him all their business meant that he could handle it. It was like God gave him extra strength to be able to carry all those secrets. Maybe he didn’t even carry them. Maybe it was more like he was a telephone booth, and people used him to speak to God. He figured that some people chose to dial direct, praying in their own words on their own, but then there were some who needed a person to be with them when they did it. Something about praying in an empty room made them feel like they were talking to themselves, and that bordered on crazy. Abraham was just the sort of safe person they needed.
After he told his story to the photographer, Abraham moved the very next day and left no forwarding address. It wouldn’t do to let it get out that this is who he was. Soon everybody would be beating a path to his door to unburden themselves. It was enough that people did it anyway, without even knowing that was what they were doing. It seemed honest, even pure, that way. This knowledge would turn that inside out. He might even have to set up office hours, maybe even go so far as to charge. Just the shock of thinking about the mess that would start as soon as word got out decided his mind for him.
So he shaved his beard and his head so nobody could identify him, and he started walking west, taking nothing with him. His neighbors didn’t suspect a thing because he walked all the time and he never caused a fuss. It was a week later that the word of his abilities got to them, and by then his mailbox was full and the grass needed cutting. By then he had found a new life for himself and started to regrow his hair again.

Worthy

“The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.” Brené Brown

Meister Eckhart writes “It is a lie – any talk of God that does not comfort you.”
And “How long will grown men and women in this world keep drawing in their coloring books an image of God that makes them sad?”

So many of us have grown up with an image of God that is more abusive parent than loving Father, one who is more interested in discipline than delight.

For many of us, the mere suggestion of the thought that God loves us and wants us to be happy causes a knee-jerk reaction against it, believing that way leads towards sin. We must remember that Jesus came to give us life in abundance. This doesn’t mean having more things. This means living life fully, completely, with trust and hope and joy.

When did the Good News become the guilt trip? Who first taught you the image of God as angry, as upset, as never satisfied? Jesus paints for us a new picture. This is a picture of forgiveness, of unconditional love, of mercy and grace.

Read the Gospels for yourself. Talk to God yourself. Not only can you, God wants you to. Learn again, or for the first time, the truth that God loves you.

For many of us, developing a new healthy relationship with God is a lot like the work we have to do with reparenting ourselves, because we grew up in unhealthy homes. We were taught by abusive parents or siblings that we were not worthy of love. They most likely thought it was the best way to control us. Sometimes they used the image of God as the ultimate parent, always watching, always unhappy with what we are doing.

This isn’t who God is.

Remember this verse? This is one of the most-quoted verses by Christians. It is John 3:16

16 “For God loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Right after it is this one.

17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

God does not condemn the world. God is love. God loves you – yes you. God made you, and God, being the source of love and goodness, made you good. Hold this tiny spark in your heart. Make it bigger through prayer and reading the Good News. Then share it with others.

I don’t write fiction. I report it.

I don’t write fiction. I report it. This may make no sense. Reporting is something you do with facts, and fiction isn’t real. Right?

I didn’t used to write fiction. It all started with pictures. I found a box of old photographs of people (family photographs from albums, most likely) at an antique mall in Boone, NC. I bought a few because they were intriguing. It is as if they reminded me of something I didn’t know yet. I needed to write about it to understand it. This too makes no sense. Stick with me here.

I’ve heard of other writers creating detailed maps of their stories before they even start to write it. They like to know where they are going before they get there. I’ve heard of others who just write. They start and see where it goes. The first way seemed too difficult, while the second seemed unlikely. I couldn’t see how a story could be constructed and make sense without a plan, but I’d been doing the same with collages and paintings for years, so I decided to try with words.

I am just as surprised as you are by how these stories develop. Writing for me is like reading the slowest book ever. I discover as I go.

I don’t normally write fiction. Essays and Bible study are my thing. They are solid, verifiable. It is like putting together a paper for English class – something I’m very familiar with. Fiction? That is out there. I love reading it, but have never felt that it was something I could do.

What do I mean when I say I am a reporter instead of a writer? I ask the basic questions – who, what, where, why, when. And then it goes from there. When I get to a place where I’m not sure what is next, I ask the questions again. Often I know just one step at a time what happens. It is rare when I know the goal and have to write to catch up with it.

I’ve heard that you should always write things that you’d like to read. If you as the author aren’t interested in it, then your readers won’t be either. I like reading things that surprise me, thus I write things that are surprising even to me. This too makes no sense. I, the author, should know what is happening, what is going to happen, right? Yet it is often sentence by sentence that I discover where the story is going. I don’t make up stories so much as write them down, almost as if I’m taking dictation.

I start by looking at the picture. These days I find unusual pictures of people online, since I don’t have ready access to family photos from strangers. I look very closely because there are often details I’d miss in a brief look. So often our eyes look but don’t see. Details make the difference. There is so little to the image, I need all that I can get out of it.

I’m OK with deviating from the picture if the story calls for it. The picture is a seed, a starting point. It is not a frame that limits, but a doorway that suggests and invites. Once I get inside the story, I can see more.

Could I use photos of people I know? I doubt it. They already have their own stories that I know. I think I’d be limited. I also think they’d get angry at my fabrication of their lives. I often use ideas and events from reality to flesh out my stories, however. People I know might find themselves, for good or not, in my words. You have to write about what you know, even if you are writing fiction. Saying it as fiction helps express it, get it out, in a way that can’t be construed as insulting someone’s character, because their name isn’t mentioned.

Anecdoche

Anecdoche 041516

This speaks to the fakeness of so many people – of those who want to compete in conversations, always talking but never saying anything. Each sentence is like a domino, where they connect their experience next to that of the person who just spoke, and then divert the conversation away from them and to themselves. Nobody is ever heard. It is a game where everyone loses.

Anecdoche
n. a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score, until we all run out of things to say.

(I created the art paper myself using card stock, Distress stains, glazing medium)

Fata Organa

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Fata Organa
n. a flash of real emotion glimpsed in someone sitting across the room, idly locked in the middle of some group conversation, their eyes glinting with vulnerability or quiet anticipation or cosmic boredom—as if you could see backstage through a gap in the curtains, watching stagehands holding their ropes at the ready, actors in costume mouthing their lines, fragments of bizarre sets waiting for some other production.

Fitzcarraldo

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Fitzcarraldo
n. an image that somehow becomes lodged deep in your brain—maybe washed there by a dream, or smuggled inside a book, or planted during a casual conversation—which then grows into a wild and impractical vision that keeps scrambling back and forth in your head like a dog stuck in a car that’s about to arrive home, just itching for a chance to leap headlong into reality.