Sunday, June 9, 2013


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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sermon for Brokenness

Oscar Wilde famously said, "I drink to separate my body from my soul."  He would not be the only one to try such a futile endeavor, to think she might unshackle her soul from the body's cage with magical key-shaped elixirs, to think, erroneously, that the cage and the prisoner are two different things.

It's one thing to believe in mind-body-spirit connectedness when you possess a healthy, young body.  

But imagine you have a body that really feels like a cage--a body with a horrible or chronic disease like ALS or Cystic Fibrosis, or a body that doesn't suit the norms of beauty, or an infertile body.  Then, you'd like nothing more than to cleave your soul from its fickle sinew.  Your body feels like a betrayal, a jailhouse instead of a home.  It can make you angry.

For example, if you can't translate the following sentence into standard English without help, then I don't want to talk to you about my body and I don't want your illiterate platitudes:

The AVG DPO for a BFP is 12.6 and symptoms leading up to a BFP may include increased CM and moodiness, although these symptoms also mimic those of AF, so your DH may have to remain sensitive during the TTW, and you may get a false BFN because your HCG levels haven't reached a high enough level for even a FRER. 

But if you're trying to have a baby, like me, you're fluent in the language of neurosis and can play translator without batting an eyelid:

The average day past ovulation for a Big Fat Positive is 12.6 and symptoms leading up to a Big Fat Positive may include increased cervical mucus and moodiness, although these symptoms also mimic those of Aunt Flow, so your Dear Hubby may have to remain sensitive during the Two Week Wait, and you may get a false Big Fat Negative because your human chorionic gonadotropin levels haven't reached a high enough level for even a First Response Early Response pregnancy test. 

And still, you may have the words and not the meaning.  You may not know there exists an entire culture of women who speak this language to each other, that use acronyms both as a form of intimacy and a form of shame and silence.  You may not know that the preoccupation with a body that's not working the way you want it to work, and its relentless chatter in the form of aches and pains and ghost symptoms, can be one of the most soul-killing experiences a human might endure.

Sometimes I want to unzip my spirit from its skin, like a dirty dress that I've worn to too many events in the same week.  More often, though, I have the opposite and counter-intuitive reaction: I want to keep wearing that dress until the stench and lint and sweat stains mirror what they clothe.

What's this got to do with God?  Well, don't worry--I'm not going to talk about those Old Testament matriarchs who suffered so mightily from infertility they offered their aged husbands Egyptian concubines only to have God grant them a baby in their 90s or something absurd like that.  Those myths have their magic, but they irritate you when you want a baby yourself because science shows I don't have until my 90s, God or IVF nonwithstanding. The only thing I like about any of the stories is the moment Sarah laughs at the prophets who foresee Isaac.  I like to imagine she scoffs more than giggles.  Like, "Yeah, right, Yahweh."

No, I'm going to talk about poets, specifically Christian Wiman and Mark Doty.  The former suffered from bone cancer, the latter the death of his partner from AIDS.  The body is familiar if painful territory for both men.

And then I'll talk about the incarnate word, spirit made flesh in the form of Jesus.

The title poem to Wiman's most recent book of poetry speaks to the broken body, or, rather, the brokenness of all things earthly.  I admire most its form, how well it responds to the poem's content--the repeated line, broken in various ways until its last utterance when it is no longer riven but whole, without the fractures and sprains of commas or dashes:

Every Riven Thing
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into the stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
Christian Wiman, from Every Riven Thing (2010).
And I'm thinking of the prologue to Mark Doty's memoir, Heaven's Coast, where he re-positions a childhood memory into the most breathtaking metaphor:

In the museums we used to visit on family vacations when I was a kid, I used to love those rooms which displayed collections of minerals in a kind of closet or chamber which would, at the push of a button, darken. Then ultraviolet lights would begin to glow and the minerals would seem to come alive, new colors, new possibilities and architectures revealed. Plain stones became fantastic, "futuristic"--a strange word which suggests, accurately, that these colors had something of the world to come about them. Of course there wasn't any black light in the center of the earth, in the caves where they were quarried; how strange that these stones should have to be brought here, bathed with this unnatural light in order for their transcendent characters to emerge. Irradiation revealed a secret aspect of the world.

Imagine illness as that light: demanding, torturous, punitive, it nonetheless reveals more of what things are. A certain glow of being appears. I think this is what is meant when we speculate that death is what makes love possible. Not that things need to be able to die in order for us to love them, but that things need to die in order for us to know what they are. Could we really know anything that wasn't transient, not becoming more itself in the strange, unearthly light of dying? The button pushed, the stones shine, all mystery and beauty, implacable, fierce, austere.

Imagine illness as that light.

Imagine our bodies, healthy or sick or momentarily struggling, as the light of God.

Imagine we might need affliction to illuminate our souls.  (know, in this imagining, the unfairness of such a reality on some, truly sick people)

Imagine we could not have a soul without a body.

Imagine the necessity of Jesus' human body.

Then the body cannot be a shade of shame or a thing to denounce.  Then the body cannot be a cage, and drinking, dear Oscar Wilde, might be more for marrying our bodies to our souls than separating them.  Then the body has no use for a language of signs and signals and acronyms.

The flesh is the word, the word is the flesh.

Even, and especially, when the flesh is broken.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sermon Against the Resounding Gong

My first yoga teacher had a serious savior complex.  He was gifted at teaching the basic foundations of yoga poses, and is, in large part, why I practice yoga safely and intelligently.  But he was so messy—getting overly involved with his students personal lives, making the class about his humor and his experience more than the students’.   One time I heard him say to a young—attractive—woman:  You should be prepared to start crying in pigeon pose because women carry a lot of sexual trauma in their hips.  Don’t hold back if you need to cry.  That kind of crap sets my blood boiling—it abuses the power of suggestion and potentially keeps clients from getting real help for real problems.  At best, yoga can provide the physical counterpart to other healing processes, but it cannot cure cancer or quell mental illness, nor was it ever designed for such miracles.  Of course, that girl in class did start to cry in pigeon pose.   What other option did she have, really, if she wanted to stroke her teacher’s ego as he so clearly needed her to?

The yoga studio is fertile ground for such characters, because given the historical connection of yoga to religious practice, people often arrive to class with more than their physical well-being in mind.  They want their bodies and their souls healed.  Or, they want a bastardized version of yoga that gives them six-packs and defined deltoids, but compromises their bodies.  They want the Dalai Lama or David Koresh, and not a simple person trained to offer a student the tools to develop her own strength, heal her own body.    Nothing more, nothing less. 

Spoiler Alert: I’m not really a preacher.  Or a priest.  Or a deacon.  Or ordained in anything at all except, perhaps, my own experience if we think of our births as conferring holy orders on us.  

If you’re reading this blog, you know I’m living in a precarious space between tongue-in-cheek and sincere, between my instinct to poke and prod and provoke and my genuine desire to write about my own spiritual experience.  I’m often uncomfortable with myself here in the Cyberworld: on the one hand, I write from the persona I create, a persona that protects me; on the other hand, I expose myself dangerously to strangers.  I’ve longed believed that this straddling between performance and confession lends blogging, as a form, its tender credibility, its vibrancy in the hands of a decent writer, and its disproportionate draw for women writers.   Also, the ephemeral nature of the Internet—a place where one’s writing both remains and disappears into the void created by thousands of other users mimics, for me, the slippery way divinity works in my life.

I’m glad you’re willing to follow me into this shadowy territory.  I’m also appalled, the same way I’m appalled when my students turn on their peers because they’ve adopted a position I posited in class, when they’ve taken something I said while playing devil’s advocate and digested it as God’s own truth, usually because they want my approval more than they believe what they’re arguing.   If you’re reading my blog, you’re reading in part because of the personality my blog implies that I have.  You hear a voice and imbue the person you imagine behind that voice with an authority and respect I haven’t exactly earned. 

That puts me in disquietingly close proximity to that yoga teacher and those church leaders who assume a pulpit with very little education or formation, the ones that scare me silly.

As someone who grew up in the Catholic Church, I feel suspicious of informality and a lack of credentials.  I’m a snob that way.  I don’t care.  I want my priests and pastors, my professors, and my politicians to be smarter than me, more educated than me.  I do not want George W. Bush’s nicknames, for example, and I don’t want to call my reverend Billy or Ed or Mitch.  I prefer something more titular….like….I don’t know….Mr. or Mrs. President, Sister Bernice, or even Reverend King.   These titles protect us from the person while respecting her expertise.  Rather than create false authority, when used correctly titles promote healthy personal space and appropriate boundaries.  I do not have my students call me Casey, for example.  But nor would I have them call me Dr. Fleming if I haven’t earned a doctorate. 

I disapprove of any Cult of Personality.  I distrust leadership based on charisma and reputation, leadership that promotes a kind of hero worship that impedes true learning and undermines mentorship, informalizes and mythologizes the relationship between student and teacher, and makes the humble sailing vessel into the majestic sea upon whose depths it can only rest.

The high school classroom is equally fertile ground for such misguided heroism.  Teenagers are aquiver.  They vibrate.  They’re like exposed nerves, susceptible to even the slightest breeze’s burn.  They’re also hormonal and given to high drama, ripe for hero worship and indoctrination.  It’s no coincidence most religions have their youngest members confirmed or Bat Mitzvah-ed during the teenage years.   But in my opinion, students at that age need to be directed toward the big questions and then empowered to find their own answers rather than being baptized into certainty.

On this blog, I’m twisting the form, using the idea of a sermon to structure my writing for a while.  I have some things to say, and have ordained myself to say them.  But do not anoint me with an authority I have not earned except through voice and style.  You’ll be disappointed, because you’ll be the spectator of my spiritual journey instead of the protagonist in your own. 

We do not save our followers—in the church, on the page, in the studio, or in the classroom.  They do that.  And when we start to think we can be our students’ saviors, we’re playing God.  When we rely on our reputations or personalities rather than our knowledge and experience to keep our students afloat we’re really sinking their ships.  We’re also taking more love than we’re giving, since love is always active, not passive.  We’re acting out of need more than power.  We’re keeping them from finding other, equally important teachers by tethering them to our influence.  And we’re acting in direct opposition to St. Paul’s advice in Corinthians 13:1-3:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Last, but certainly not least, many people who end up leading cults of personality didn't start out superficial or twisted, the popularity turned them that way.  Hero worship is detrimental for followers, certainly, but it's also a painful spiritual death for the leader.  

Beware and Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sermon for Big Girl Shoes

Sometimes when I'm trying to get dressed to go out I have mental breakdowns.  I wish I could say that statement was hyperbolic, but I can't.  The first time I broke down I had just finished my 7th grade year and had to pick out a cocktail dress to wear to the Bat Mitzvah of a boy I secretly loved; the most recent time was last night, in my 36th year of life.

I have a little social anxiety, an anxiety exacerbated by certain situations: when I'm the oldest of the group, or the weirdest of the group, or the most liberal of the group, or the heaviest of the group, or the only woman without children of the group, etc.  Sometimes I cry in my closet while trying on skinny jeans or sundresses.  Sometimes I just go silent in the car on the way to wherever I'm expected.  Sometimes a lump forms in my throat when I'm asked to shake hands with a stranger.  I'm not the only woman for whom the modern world feels difficult in these ways.

I always make it through--I credit my parents for "toughening me up," and, more importantly, for teaching me I'm not the center of a room and, therefore, not exempt from social etiquette or manners.  I fake it until I make it much of the time.

Anyway, last night I was beside myself for whatever reason.  Part of the problem stemmed from my dog, Max, who in the last few weeks has chewed to bits two pairs of my summer shoes, so I don't have much to choose from.  Another part of the problem is the end of the semester.  I haven't worked out in weeks, and my school's cafeteria keeps offering fried foods I love and my students keep asking for their stupid grade point averages.  So I dug through some old plastic bins of shoes until I found a pair that worked.  Michael Kors.  On major discount at a second-hand store.  High heeled clogs with metal studs in the black leather bands that bridge my feet.  So, so sexy.

I bought those shoes 7 years ago.  One night while I was living in New York City and dating a model who I liked more than he liked me, I wore the shoes to a local concert and then out afterward.  The heels made me so wobbly that while throwing a dart at a target in the dimmest of dive bars in the East Village, I tripped and fell flat on my face in front of everyone, including the male model.  My cousin pulled me aside and asked if I had other shoes I could put on before I tried to bike the ten blocks home to my rental in Greenwich Village. Luckily, I had flip flops.  Classy.  I like to think plastic flip-flops were urban chic at the time, ironic objects of the underground fashion scene in the Big Apple, but in reality they were just what a clueless, blister-worn Texan might have in her oversize purse.  Ugh.

But something was different with those shoes last night.  It was like I had opened an old journal and read back my own wise words to myself years after I'd written them down.  The heels I once had trouble balancing in felt better on my feet. I walk more slowly now--I saunter more than flit--so I can step heel to toe, heel to toe, and still appear poised.  I've grown up.

Then this morning my dog tried to chew my "big girl" shoes too.  I screamed at him: No!  Stop!  Give me those!  Those shoes matter to me.  They are a symbol of something and the something is this: at 28 years old I bought a pair of shoes that I could envision some version of myself wearing although I wasn't ready to wear them yet.

There's something magical in the idea that we might foresee our own bright future and reach for it even when we're far, far away from deserving it or being prepared for it.  I was like my own fairy godmother buying myself a glass slipper I knew I'd fit into someday, somehow, but not that night, not that night.

And, on a metaphorical level, if you're going to wear big girl shoes, you best be prepared for big girl consequences.  That's true in my social life as well as my writing life.  I mean, I might fall flat on my face.  I often do.  The readers of my blog or my published writing might prefer I wear practical, reassuring Mary Janes in some shade of beige or gray or even a respectable red.  I should be a good Christian girl if I want to write about God.  I really should.  There's just this small snafu.  I want to show up with spurs or spikes.  I want to be something people have to rub up against, something that scratches their skin.  I want them to feel...alive, even if bothered.  But that means I have to be ready for push-back.  I might upset people.  I might be turned away for a dress code violation.  They might not like me.

I think of Kim Addonizio's red dress: "I'll wear it like bones or skin/It'll be the goddamn dress they bury me in." Or I think of Stephen Dunn: "Insufficient the merely decent man."  Or I think of Elie Weisel: "The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.  We must always take sides."

I'm not here to make you comfortable, although the sweet, Southern girl in me would really like you to feel comfortable.  I wish iced tea and endearments could really heal the world.

They can't.  I can't always be nice and decent--not when God is the question at hand.  But I can walk down this street in a damn fine pair of high heeled shoes.

And I probably won't fall.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Sermon Against Any One True God (Or, Sermon for Imagination)

Here's an expression I abhor: one true God.  Do you believe in the one true God?  One true God: a shibboleth of the evangelical converted, and, for me, my first clue to run like hell for heathen territory where at least the wine runs thick and the sins taste sweet.  

It's the certainty of the phrase that turns me off as well as its thinly veiled neurosis--it's not enough to say "one God" or "true God?"  We need two adjectives for good measure?

Hold on.  Rewind.  Let me start over and turn down the snark level a bit.  Let me start with a story.

This morning when I opened up my laptop I found a bright yellow "Stickie Note" on the desktop screen.  I never use "Stickie Notes," so I knew my husband had jotted down something he wanted to remember.  I'm a Gen X kid.  He's a Millenial baby.  Apparently, somewhere in the narrow space between our two generations, the younguns moved from real Sticky Notes to their technological offspring the "Stickie Note."  I didn't even know my computer possessed such a program.  His typed note read: God is an opening, not a closing, to the mystery.

"What is that? Who said that?" I asked later.

"You did," he said.  "I didn't want you to forget."

I forgot.  God is an opening, not a closing, to the mystery.  

Then I remembered.  Last week my husband and I sat talking about my discomfort with Protestant evangelicalism.  I kept reworking my words, trying to articulate what I feel viscerally first and intellectually second.  I just, I stumbled, I can't...why do they need to be so SURE?  To say they know what God is, what God wants, what the Bible means.  It lacks.....humility.  It lacks....imagination.  

I was thinking of the neuroscientist, David Eagleman, telling my students to "dethrone thyselves." Or I was thinking of Ferdinand de Saussure, "Nearly all institutions, it might be said, are based on signs, but these signs do not directly evoke things."

I don't feel anything when someone says one true God except suspicious.  Nothing is evoked for me at all, no image, no song.  I feel closest to believing in God when God eludes me, when God lives one step beyond my comprehension, or God cracks open a timeworn window and I must squint my eyes against even the thinnest sliver of unbounded light.

An opening.  A crack.  Quicksilver slant of light.  I buy Christian Wiman's collection of essays, "My Bright Abyss."  Even the juxtaposition in the title of the book seems to speak to my conundrum: how can we know God except to know God less and less?  Wiman writes

--so too is faith folded into change, is the mutable and messy process of our lives rather than any fixed, mental product.  Those who cling to the latter are inevitably left with nothing to hold on to, or left holding on to some nothing into which they have poured the best parts of themselves.  Omnipotent, eternal, omniscient--what in the world do these rotten words mean?

Even more rotten words: one true God.  Because if we can say "one true God" we can say "one true marriage" or "one true race" or "one true government" or "one true gender" or on, and on, and on like that forever.

Today I asked my students, "What is the purpose of a seminar discussion?"  Today was their last of the semester.  They answered quickly, and I cringed to hear my voice inside theirs: to leave the classroom with more questions than answers.

That's how I want my discussions and dialogues to always go--more questions, more questions, more.  That's how I want my students to live.  And I guess that's how I want my God too.   I want the comfort of incertitude, the solace of knowing I may, at the end of my life, disappear into mystery, into a voice that softly chastens you were wrong, that I may disappear into my own failures and errors, those shadowy places where my soul tried to point me during my earthly heartaches, petty and profound alike, that these darknesses in my life were like the underbelly of the sun, that I might need a divine imagination to turn the world completely over in order to see the bright backside.

Or in Wiman's words, Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God's means of manifesting himself to us.  It follows that any notion of God that is static is--since it asserts singular knowledge of God and seeks to limit his being to that knowledge --blasphemous.  

Tell me you don't know and I'll follow you anywhere.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sermon for Barney

"I was talking to Barney the other day," I said to my students one Tuesday morning.

"Who's Barney?" they asked.

"Barney the Homeless Guy who lives in my neighborhood."

One of my students--an eternally nerve-ridden young man, an eager hand-raiser with noticeably pronated feet--opened his mouth a little.

"Um," he said.

I waited.

"You know the homeless guy's name?  Why?"

Why indeed.  Why do I know Barney's name?  I wish I could say I had the manners to ask him his name since I see him at least twice a week, but no, I can't take credit for any such appreciation for his dignity.  My friend and former roommate, a woman with more moral fortitude than me when it comes to strangers, befriended Barney a few years ago when she worked at the local coffee shop.

Barney scares people.  He usually works the corner where our neighborhood dead ends into the Interstate.  Unlike other homeless people, he doesn't sit with a cardboard sign or come at your windshield with a spray bottle and rag.  Barney storms right up to your driver-side window, his drug-pocked and sun-scraped face inches from the glass, and then turns his hands up in the air and squints his eyes as if he's saying, "Come on, man.  What's your f-cking problem?"  When the driver doesn't acknowledge his begging, he often throws down his arms and walks away shaking his head; he looks seriously pissed off.  Plus, he's got this shock of reddish hair that, unwashed, lifts up from his scalp like a Troll Doll.  If you didn't know him, you'd be terrified.  I've seen people roll into the U-turn lane at the last second to avoid dealing with him.

But at his core, Barney is harmless.  The last time I saw him, my husband rolled down the window to apologize that we didn't have any change on us, and Barney smiled and said, "No problem.  Have a nice day."  He really likes our dog.  He really likes dogs, period.  Dogs are more generous with their affection than humans, after all.

My student's question--You know his name?--has festered inside me this week,  my student's horror that I might be intimately acquainted with a person of ill-repute, even if said person's reputation comes from his housing status and not any really criminal behavior.

That student sits next to another student, a girl, who once argued in class that we should give homeless people Bible verses instead of money because, for one thing, they need Jesus more than money, and for another thing, they would use the money for untoward purposes anyway.  She didn't use the word untoward; she used the words "crack or something."

Let me offer a quick qualifier: my students are 13 or 14 years old and I'm not sure they need to ask people who scare them for their names.  I'm sure their parents have warned them about dangerous adults.  And, they're of the uber-privileged variety, my kiddos.  They can't and don't want to imagine that good people might fall on bad times.  They can't imagine about the homeless man, for example, who told a social worker I know that his wife died and he "just crawled inside a bottle and never came out."

Mostly, though, my students and many of their adult counterparts in neighborhoods all over this country have not suffered enough yet to know the cruelty of handing a hungry man a Bible verse instead of food or money, the sadistic condescension in thinking that they know what the homeless person will spend his money on or that they should have any opinion on the matter at all.

Kindness requires empathy, and empathy blooms out of the dark earth of suffering.  I'm thinking in particular of a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, "Kindness":

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

You must see how this could be you.  Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.

Barney is scary, but he's our scary.  I mean, my neighborhood belongs to him as much as it belongs to me.  In fact, he arrived before I did.  I should know his name.  I should take care of him.  I should enact those Bible verses I carry inside me rather than handing them out as counterfeit grace.

I worry less about those afternoons when I recognize Barney under the highway's long shadow than about the day I stop seeing him there.  And I should.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sermon for Blues

I have a thing for blues. 

Long before I ever read Maggie Nelson’s incomparable book, Bluets, I was sure if someone could unlock my soul and paint its portrait, the outcome would be something like the middle panel of Rothko’s No. 61 Brown Blue Brown. 

Nelson writes that standing in front of an Yves Klein painting, she thought, “Too much.”  Despite her deep love affair with blue, ultramarine was too much, a kind of blinding that comes from seeing your own image reflected back at you with so much force. 

Not me.  I like ultramarine.  I love its delicious, cold-cock shock, like when the sun ricochets off reflective glass.   

And today, in Houston, I sit inside a circle of blue trees with their spinal cords painted electric blue.   You’d think paint might ruin the trees natural beauty, but instead, it’s like the painter saw them as they actually are instead of how them seem to be.  Touched by blue this way they look more like themselves. 

If I listed all the things I love that are blue—the North Atlantic sea, bluebonnets, veins, Byzantine frescoes, bruises, the skies above football stadiums, my brother’s birthstone, the eyes of the first boys I wanted, the earth from space, Linda Rondstadt’s voice singing Blue Bayou, my country’s coasts, the people I love most, iolite and lapis, and now this chapel of crepe myrtles in the middle of my city—I would never stop.

I’ve tried several times to write about a moment I experienced with blue.  It was seven years ago.  I was in the Natural Science museum in New York with my brother, in the butterfly room.  At the time, I was a little lost, heartsick and angsty, a woman without her skin.  I heard him gasp, my brother.

“Wait, Casey” he said and grabbed the back of my shirt.   “Wait.  Just watch.”

He pointed at a butterfly that perched atop a branch, it’s wings folded, closed.  Their tissue paper skin a dull, soupy brown.  He reached out his finger after a moment and lightly ran it down the butterfly’s underbelly.  It opened its wings, and I gasped too.

A quick one-two of blue, blue like nothing I’d seen before.  That color a whisper in our ear: where did you think you’d find me? 

Brown. Blue. Brown.

These are the moments that save us.  That a God might have my brother, a swimmer, who in water used to move through the blue with inhuman grace, like a creature with its heart aflutter, that a God might have my brother unlock it for me.  The Blue Morpho.  A sea of trees.    

A resting butterfly’s wings resemble nothing if not two palms pressed together in prayer.  And when they open—that flash of blue—if it’s not God then it’s at least a hint at why we created one.   They say you can tell a lot about a culture by the Gods its people invent.  And perhaps Voltaire was right.   Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer.   

Spirit-flutter, soul-burst blue.  I want to live and die inside you.