How these things are forgotten

In “The Bowl of Roses” (full text below), the poet Rilke spends eight lines painting an ugly picture. And then:

But now you know how these things are forgotten:
for here before you stands a bowl full of roses…

Thus begin sixty-four exquisite lines of instruction on how these things are forgotten.

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Boot of +10 Depression

Painting of yellow boot, © Katarina Stenstedt

Early this year I had a short episode of almost-but-not-quite depression, and it arrived along with an image of what happens for me during the worst of those times, which hasn’t happened for almost 20 years: A giant boot descends and plants itself on my chest, and I’m unable to move or negotiate. It’s enormous, it’s simply there, and it’s heavy enough to crush even the cheeriest and most optimistic of mortals. For me depression isn’t really about sadness. If sadness is warranted, I can sit with the sadness and even welcome it, but the boot is different. The boot can’t be sat with, snapped out of, or “moved through.” The boot stops life from being lived. In May I painted the boot, and it turned out to be an image of my own ongoing change, learning, and redemption. I’m warding off the boot, and its color is way more […]

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Bless These Hands

O maker of the garden, hold these handsGive them the patience that they needto press the tiny seeds into the dirtand wait … wait … for new life to show God, you turn a burial into a seed’s new chance at lifeYou draw us from the darkness to the light O life within the garden, help these handsgive them the tenderness they needto feel the velvet petals of a roseand love … love … the new life that shows God, you turn a burial into a seed’s new chance at lifeYou draw us from the darkness to the light Hands that pray, hands that love, hands that serveHold these hands, help these hands, bless these hands. I wrote this song for the DASD class of 2004.More album notes, plus purchasing information. © 2004 Katarina Stenstedt

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If I repair a little of myself

“…Those wounds stay with you, and you turn them into a language and a purpose.” Gesturing toward the band onstage, he said, “We’re repairmen—repairmen with a toolbox. If I repair a little of myself, I’ll repair a little of you. That’s the job.” —Bruce Springsteen, as quoted in The New Yorker.* When my aunt Marjorie was dying of lung cancer in January 2006, there was one message I wanted to give her: Go in peace. I wrote my message into a song that I sang with my sister, cousin, and niece at Marjorie’s memorial service. Creating and offering the song helped me move through my own sadness at losing my loving, funny, irreverent aunt. It gave me something to do with my sadness, someplace to put it. I repaired a little of myself: Go in peace. Late in 2006, I recast the song so it wouldn’t refer specifically to the […]

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The snare

Ps. 124:7b …the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. I imagine that when snared animals are set free, if their wounds are not mortal, they bolt into the forest as fast as they can go. Hurt, but free. Once in a while these injured creatures (the ones inside of me, anyway) come shyly out of the forest, hoping to be tended and helped. More food, more light and air, more clean water. Snare wounds heal with time. Then the creatures bolt away again. Every time I see them, they are more whole, more joyful. But part of the healing is the experience of old feelings that never had a chance to be felt. Each visit hurts. And when they go, they always leave a day or two of sadness behind them, like a wake. It helps to know that the next time I see them, they will be […]

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Ex nihilo

Psalm 18:16-19 But me he caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved! In Addiction & Grace, Gerald May writes about how we often substitute one addiction for another. We are compelled to fill our life’s emptiness: the void. When people are delivered from addiction, he writes, it’s because grace enables them to tolerate spaciousness, at least to some degree. Grace transforms the void in which we were dying, and we find ourselves in a wide-open field. A void and a wide-open field are both spacious, but in a very different sense. The void that meant loneliness is transformed into space that means freedom. […]

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The painful bright

Romans 13:11 The hour has come for you to wake up. It is the first Sunday of Advent. We begin our vigil, waiting for the light. Sometimes I feel ambivalent about the coming of the light. When the light comes, justice will come; when justice comes, I might be found on the wrong side of the equation. In what ways do I oppress others with hardly a conscious thought? In what ways do I need to wake up to my own subtle ways of using and injuring others? Today I have a new thought about the coming of the light and another reason to feel ambivalent: Not all of us want to be in the light at all, and it’s not because we purchase clothes made in sweat shops, or whatever else I was alluding to in the paragraph above. Much closer to home, in our emotional lives and our […]

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Waves of sand

Luke 13:10–17 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. I had a dream a few weeks ago that has already served me a few times as a touchstone. In the dream, a young man is in a desert, and waves of sand are sweeping over him as if they were water. He has to stay upright and pay attention so he won’t be smothered. What are my waves? …. the thought of an overwhelming problem in the world or in the life of someone I love …. an impulsive idea that seems to need my immediate attention …. a tangled situation that I don’t know how to solve ….. In her sermon yesterday, our vicar pointed out that the bent-over woman doesn’t ask […]

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My cupboard is bare

Luke 11:1–13 … Teach us to pray. Hmm. …one of [Jesus’] disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray…” …Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and she goes to that friend at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give her the bread because she is his friend, yet because of the woman’s boldness he will get up and give her as much as she needs. I heard this, went home, and sat in my chair to reflect. Here’s what hit […]

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In my right mind

Luke 8:26–39 Jesus cast a squadron of demons out of a crazy guy. And then… …they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. At the 8 a.m. contemplative mass at St. Cuthbert’s, a twenty-minute silence follows the reading of the gospel. I listened to the story about the lonely, unclothed, crazy man who had broken his own chains again and again, but still wasn’t free, and how it was only Jesus who could clean up the nasty mess of his life. And then I sat there for twenty minutes at Jesus’ feet thinking and feeling this: I am in my right mind. I haven’t always been and might not always be, but for now, I am in my right mind. And I am grateful. At 9 I headed off to visit a place […]

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