Saturday, January 4, 2014

What of a face?

I've been looking at faces. It was a Monday night about a month ago, someone was talking, telling a story, interesting no doubt, but all I could focus on were the lines that creased her forehead, the way she looked into her lap when she laughed, self-conscious, eyebrows rising toward her hair, the nervous way a small dimple kept appearing above her lip.

What of a face? I can't help but think of those words from Gilead, that we can know one another, but there might still be nothing between us but "loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension." Mutual incomprehension. It's those words that get me, that I think of every time I get the chance to really look at someone. There are oceans between us, disparate and complex interior lives, we are separated by physical space and the limitations of individual consciousness. But with that, what of a face? Surely something can be gained here, a hazy comprehension at best. It is not without reason that we face outward, that we are creased and lined by experience and time, that our stories are written not only on the underside of our skin, in the hidden chambers, but also in the curve of our mouth, the weight and steadiness of our gaze.

We are angles and planes, curves and plinths, hewn from stone, from dust, desire is written into the tangle of our limbs, the vast spaces between atoms that make up our tenuous being. If we really looked at each other, what would we find? Could we break down some of that mutual incomprehension? I can't attempt it too often, because of the weight of it. I am too affected maybe, weak. I want to catch all the pain, all the joy, everything in between that breathes and glides, the moments that give rondure to our linear lives.

Jesus sees, reads our lines, sculpted this shape. His sight is deeper than vision, of course, pierces to where sinew meets bone, the root of the root. How deep can he go? What story does my face tell? Yours? Maybe it is only the poets among us who can read them. And I am at Keats now, "the poetry of earth is never dead." The poetry of our faces, it breathes, it glides. I watch my daughter while she sleeps, and even then, I see it.

We prepare a face, to meet the faces that we meet. I prepare a face, to meet the faces that I meet. Do I dare, and do I dare? This is our story, isn't it? The consequence of a perfect world torn asunder, veiling and unveiling in turn. I am good at it, perhaps not a master, but I pass through this world, seen and unseen.

Then there's this hymn. We sang it on this same Monday night. What you've just read, I started writing it while I sang, bent low over the notebook on my knees.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his beautiful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace

I wish I could have looked into his real, actual face. It is one of the deepest desires I know. To see him here, on our splintered earth, mending, redeeming, laughing, weeping. What lines creased his brow? The shape of his nose, the height of his cheekbones, the childhood scars that marked him. Why, I have often wondered, did the Gospel writers not tell us what he looked like? It would have been so easy. Could there have been a line drawing penciled in the margins of those ancient scrolls, but it did not make it into the sacred book. Too trivial, for the doubting among us, who want to see with our eyes and know with our senses.

So I'm sitting here, wondering how I can turn my eyes upon a face I have never seen. And I know it's not so literal as that, that this relationship goes deeper than sense, that I turn my eyes upon his whole person, more than a face. His face, I can imagine; his character, I know.  But a glimpse, a glimpse of something seen. The longing rings out like a sustained note, like a strangled sigh, a knot at the base of my throat, a bell at my ribcage.

God Incarnate. What in the world did you look like?

The mutual incomprehension, I have never fully breached it with anyone else, but with him, I wonder if it would have disappeared. His face, the question and the answer, unveiled and unveiling, seen and seeing. Would I have lived to tell the tale, or burned right up, soot and cinder, ashes and poetry? It's a valid question, I think.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It is Good

"Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence."

Sometimes a sentence is laid down letter by letter. It is an arrow, pointed, sharp, stretching toward utility. Sometimes a life is laid down letter by letter. It is an arrow, pointed, sharp, stretching toward reverence.

A sentence can bend at the break, and so can a life. Words can submit and fall, do the bidding of the hand that crafts them. A life too, can tremble and quake, submit and fall, in joy or in desperation and grasping.

I love sentences, words like filament, and I love this life. I bend them at the transition; I bend at the waist, the knee. I work with the tools of my trade, I have ink on my fingertips, beneath my nails. The evidence of my faults is written in my creases, the toothed grains that have collected in all of my edges. They broke off from someplace.

When it comes down to it, I wonder if I do not know how to live, do not want to live. I know the things that spark, that propel me toward the water to cool my burning skin, my flaming eyes. Yet I run. I play cat and mouse. I am a child striking sticks when the burning bush is flaming at my feet. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. As if it is all a show.

Only glance out the windows. I spend most of my day trapped inside, so for me, the windows are the thing. The natural world is practiced in extravagance, in heaping wild civility upon wild civility, in the great giving. I hold on to this, take it up in both arms, let it take root and expand. Maybe trees will grow from the palms of my hands, I can carry them with me and never forget that goodness is real, abundance is promised, that God is near.

I close my eyes in church, the music a pressure and a release; I see his hands, and universes are spiraling from his fingertips. Wouldn't it be good if I got to know this place where my feet have been planted? This far-flung planet of ours, whirling around an invisible axis at over a thousand miles an hour. It is a wonder we haven't flown right off. I've heard the rumors—turn it up a few notches and we're all goners. Is this love then, that we are arcing through space at impossible speeds, yet are held fast, roots twining down to the very center, he will not let go. I too, should become practiced in this kind of extravagance, this great and ebullient giving.

Thoreau set out alone to live deliberately, to learn what this brined and thorned world had to teach. Living is so dear, he said. Living is so dear. Should I say it again? To myself, to you? There is no other life, only this one unraveling before us, a clockwork of days, unpracticed, elusive, ephemeral. We are gone in an instant, carried across the threshold into eternity, I don't think we get a second chance at this. It is good to be alive, I have whispered in my daughter's ear as she sleeps. It is good, it is good, it is good. I have clung to the thread of hopelessness, been on the wrong side of a loosed anchor. And still I can say it is good, it is good to be alive. She stirs beneath my whispering. I pray that she hears me.

I will lay out this life, letter by letter. My arrow is small, I might need a microscope to see it. But it is sharp, stretching upward toward reverence, speeding toward the things that flame. And the man behind the curtain? Pay attention to him. He is real, he is good, he is just, he upholds and restores. And if it is just a show, preposterous entertainment for the masses, well, he sure can tell one hell of a story. And I love a good story.