Love on the Edge

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Thrashing around, their little bodies twist and turn. Couch cushions lay on a heap in the floor – collateral damage from brothers wrestling. I’m in the thick of it, tickling belies and shielding my face from injury. It is raucous and joy-filled. It is a moment of brothers let loose to be brothers… living this life together that is messy and dangerous and beautiful.

It is love on the edge.

Inevitably, my tolerance for the risk grows low and I call it off. I do by best to re-direct and stand my ground, with millisecond time-outs for the youngest and threats of no Octonatus for the oldest.

Lord, I would run for you, loving the miles for your sake.
I would climb the highest tree
to be that much closer.

Lord, I will learn also to kneel down
into the world of the invisible,
the inscrutable and the everlasting.
Then I will move no more than the leaves of a tree
on a day of no wind,
bathed in light,
like the wanderer who has come home at last
and kneels in peace, done with all unnecessary things;
every motion; even words.
– Mary Oliver, Coming to God: First Days 

My quiet mornings have been filled with Mary Oliver lately. I read her in the silence of a house still sleeping and I gaze out into a snowy backyard. I take the time to observe the landscape below and its clear peace.

As the first door opens and the youngest squeals, I know that the silence is ending. It is always too short. I wonder what poem Mary Oliver would write if she had two little boys in her house. I wonder what poem I will write with these two little boys in my house. It will be one about how even though I run and chase them the hardest I can, the most at-peace I can find myself is when I learn to kneel down into the world of the invisible, not just in the silence but in the midst of the noise as well.

It is when I pause long enough to love this life, even on the edge between silence and chaos.

I prepare tonight to celebrate the birthday of a friend who passed years ago… a reminder of the pain that comes from loving those close to us deeply. The flowers I got for tonight are bright and yellow. On the one hand, they seem so wrong. They seem unable to bear love’s pains. However, they shine bright and still speak life… they tell of a love on the edge between life and death. A love that still remains even after all these years.

All things of dust to dust return on earth and in the sky.
The hottest, brightest suns that burn in time grow dim and die.
The fish that leap, the birds that soar, the newborn young that play,
the leaves that fill the forest floor revert to dust and clay.

Lord, mark with dust and ash my brow so I may comprehend
that every moment here and now links me to that same end
I share with all that breathe and burn, that flare and fade and tire
yet by their waning light discern your own undying fire.

Lord, make upon my brow this sign: a stark and barren cross
reminding me that though divine you know my pain and loss,
and at the touch of dust and ash awake my heart to view
how death itself is but a flash that dies away in you.

– Thomas Troeger

This past week, winter weather crippled our city and cancelled Ash Wednesday. Staff meeting didn’t happen until Wednesday afternoon. Once we were done meeting, we gathered in the empty sanctuary and pulled out the unused orders of worship. We read the lines of the hymn and then we took turns imparting ashes on one another. Turn by turn, one by one, we spoke the truth – “Dust you are, to the dust you will return.” The tears brimmed and flowed, we crept closer to each other, as if we needed to be close so that this love didn’t knock us off the edge.

Lent is the time when the blindfold comes off and we realize that we’re always on the edge… of darkness, of being consumed by selfishness, of our lack of control, of life’s final end. Perhaps most beautifully, Lent is the story of how Love on the edge – in the form of the crucified and resurrected Christ – allows us to live life to the full… loving on the edge and yet not falling over it.

I know a lot of fancy words.
I tear them from my heart and my tongue.
Then I pray.
– Mary Oliver, Six Recognitions of the Lord

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