Thursday, April 21, 2016

when you are in a dark place

When you are in a dark place, do not fear.

The child in her mother’s womb
knows only darkness,
yet light and love surround her precious life
though she does not know it.

She makes her home in darkness;
she even grows there,
though she does not know how she grows.
Yet, being loved, she grows.

Her hope is small
compared to her mother’s hope.
Yes, she grows in hope.
Borrowed hope is strong enough in the dark place.

It seems to her that this darkness
is all there is
or will ever be.
She feels as though she sprang from darkness
and will live out her days there entirely.

she can hear and feel
there is something more.

Where is it? It seems to be here but not here.
Is it outside? Could there be an outside?
Is life there? What is it like?

She cannot name what she hears
out there in here
but that does not change what she hears:
namely, the Voice
the voices of love
out there in here—
she hears laughing and music.
They are getting ready for something special,
but she does not know they are getting ready;
to her, all that is good has been prepared already
before her arrival.

She is not ready for what is to come.
It is too much to understand right now.
It all seems so close
yet so far away.

Then, one day, when the tremors quicken
and the pain is at its worst,
the darkness will end and she will be born.

The new life is so startling
she will scream and cry—
but only for certain times, in fits and starts.
With each cry there will be countless consolations,
greater than the sum of her tears.
Every true hunger will be filled
and every deep wound will be healed.

When you are in a dark place, do not fear.
When days begin at night
they end in light.

when you are in a dark place
by troy cady

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

chagall's bar mitzvah

“This past year, when the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross coincided with Yom Kippur (the last time was 1899, the year of Chagall’s bar mitzvah, when, he tells us, he discovered he was an artist), Chagall’s work acquired for me an added resonance.”   -David Lyle Jeffrey*

Strange, this coming of
age. This no-man’s
place is at once pneuma and nomina and neither,
a space

when I am both and neither
boy and man, created or creator,
hopeful Jew nor suffering Christian—
or is it the other way around
and both ways around?

What does it mean?
That is what I ask
every now—

and again I wonder
if laughter is disguised pain,
the mended coat of the mendicant—
the joyful Slain
whose unstitched side
opens wide
to hold those who are
at home in a wilderness of wounds.

This coincidence, this coming of age,
this polarity
only comes along
every now

(and again)
in the form of troubled still water
or the storm’s calm
nor both.

I feel as if I am made of questions
that both shake or make me,
questions like:  

“How do I befriend this tension,
by tradition or creation?
Neither or both?
Do you grasp by clutching or opening up?
What will I do,
who will I be,
and who will mediate
my past and future:
me or He
who is Not Me?
Neither or both or

Chagall’s bar mitzvah
by Troy Cady

*Jeffrey, David Lyle. “The Christ of Marc Chagall”, First Things. April 2014.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

eating Cheerios with Dvorak

We are stepping over puddles on the pavement in the nature center until we reach the pathway, the packed dirt of which is softened from the recent snow alternating with rain. My slip-on loafers sink down about a quarter of an inch into the light brown mud and I try to press lightly so as not to soil the sides of my shoes. As I lift each foot I feel as though the ground is paste; the sole of my shoe sticks to the earth for a portion of a second then breaks free of the ground’s suction. I weave on the path from side to side, avoiding pools of water; my son is behind and beside me following and leading at turns.

The building just ahead looks like a home but no residents live there.  It houses a number of programs open to the public. Just behind us there is a large building with apartments for the elderly; Heather says this would be a wonderful place to live and I agree. You would hardly know you are in the city here; it is quiet and wild, though just minutes from our one-lane, one-way small urban street. 

Before we go inside the small building ahead, I do my best to keep my eyes on the path while stealing glances at the world’s natural and man-made beauty. It is early April and winter’s thaw here in the Midwest seems like a sloppy adolescent kiss, as long and slobbery as it is passionate.  Everything is both crushed and poised, emerging budded from a long March muck, forest mulch and leafless trees. To the left are two large rough wood compost bins, and a picnic table dark and damp from a season under logs that have been built into a canopy with foot-long gaps in the roof.

The tall grass appears flattened in places as if deer had lain down there recently; life leaves her imprint even when she is gone, as much in the bowing as in the standing tall. Her rising holds no meaning apart from her resting. Whether growing or grown, the contrast is both our tether and our freedom.

Some tree branches have fallen, slowly decaying, while other tree limbs curve and curl like arms of dancers warming up. To the right is a bird feeder; a squirrel directly underneath devises robbery while finches, chickadees, and robins light momentarily on the swinging perch.  The vibrancy of bird chatter and flight catches my voice. I laugh briefly in delight and am aware Heather and Nic may think I’m strange for chuckling at nothing in particular. I explain, “Oh, it’s those birds!”

As we get ready to step inside the building, I take one last look at the sky, a late morning blue, brilliant with the sun’s light. It’s the perfect day for music. That is why we have come—to hear strings from the Civic Orchestra.

This concert is number three out of four they have been scheduled to play at the nature center this year.  Each concert features a different small group of musicians from the larger orchestra. Next month there will be a small brass chamber ensemble but this month we are treated to strings.

The musicians are each from different places: Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Switzerland and, well…all over. Three women and two men, they are from diverse racial backgrounds, but they are all young. The Civic is a training opportunity, a stepping stone to those who aspire to join a professional orchestra. For up to two years, young people can experience the thrill of performing with a professional-grade outfit while receiving mentoring and continuing to work on the craft of music performance. Because the program is structured mainly as an educational opportunity the Civic often offers concerts free of charge to the public in venues all over Chicago.

That is why the ensemble is here today at the nature center. Because the music is so wonderfully performed, that is why Heather, Nic and I have come. We make our way into the back room of the center. Coming in through the double doors, we see an alcove filled with plants of at least a dozen varieties. There is a thin cactus, ten feet tall, as proud as he is prickly. The ferns are full, flush with life. Palm plants are waving their hands and long fingers every which way, as if perpetually praising. The ficus tree is delicate and gentle. Violets, agave, and aloe grace the space. The dracaena tree has spiked hair, strong and certain he’s unique.

There are two long thin sections of chairs, arranged length-wise in a bank of four on the right and six on the left in the long rectangular room. The space cannot seat more than ninety I would think but when we enter it is still slightly shy of half full.    

We take three of the four seats in the second row on the right and no one sits in front of us.  Five music stands, four chairs and a stool are arranged for the musicians about eight feet from where I am seated. The charts are prepared and I can see that one of the sheets simply says “Quintet” at the top with the artistry of notes filling the page underneath.

A Civic staff person enters the room and makes some announcements. There will be another free concert at the nature center next month and he draws our attention to more concerts in other locations in the city. The musicians enter to applause. They bow and introduce themselves then take their seat to perform a work of Mozart in a rare four-movement structure.

I am struck by the strength of their sound. Sitting this close I can hear every nuance clearly, the ebb and flow of each musical phrase. When they crescendo it is not as a voice shouting, demanding to be heard. The music is mature, humbly sure of herself. Each movement is like a season, unique and growing. The second movement feels older, slower and even more confident. Beauty is her own adornment; there is no need to fill it with frills. The third movement is a dancing pair; strike that, a group of pairs. And the fourth…the music, now at the height of maturity, sounds like it has learned the art of calling out each individual voice yet they are still one. They know how to pass the torch to each other, spreading the light. They do not clench tightly to their own part; they know how to share.

We applaud and people move to get ready for the second piece. The first violin and the second violin trade places. Now she will take the lead and he will play the harmony. The viola and cello remain seated and an upright bass is added to complete the quintet. They will play Dvorak.

This piece, they explain, was written about one hundred years after Mozart’s piece. Originally, Dvorak wrote the piece in five movements, but he felt it was too long so he cut it to four. Today’s ensemble will perform three of those four movements. With a deep bass line added to the mix, they invite us to listen closely to the difference in the cello; she serves a different purpose in a quintet than in a quartet.

Just before the music starts up again, some latecomers take their seats.  Directly across the small aisle just a few chairs away, a mother and her three-year old daughter take a single seat. The girl is on her mother’s lap.  The girl’s eyes are bright and she is lively in red.

The music begins. The first movement is grounded in a theme that repeats at regular intervals to create a sense of security. It is as if Dvorak wants to be our friend; he simplifies his musical choices so we can get to know him. Yet, between the familiarity of repetition there is enough variety to hold interest. Like a good companion, Dvorak is dependable but he improvises to remind you he won’t be chained.

During the second movement, out of the side of my left eye I can see the little girl sitting on her mom’s lap. She is enrapt by the music. As the movement ends, she applauds. As she prepares for the final part, she reaches for a small baggy of Cheerios and munches on them quietly, one at a time.

Into the final movement, the first violin passes the melody to the second. The viola picks up where the second leaves off and the cello adds her rich voice to complete the circle. As the different instruments take turns playing the lead, the bass endures as the foundation and the other strings fill the atmosphere with supporting harmonies and rhythms. Each instrument sounds with a pocket of plucking in staccato snaps while the others hold their voices elongated. They are each distinct yet one in spirit.

And the girl’s eyes follow the musical conversation. She is watching them seated but she sees them as dancing. She is smiling and her gaze is fixed in delight. Her hand reaches into the small bag and takes another Cheerio. Dvorak is her grandfather, stately yet gentle and friendly. At once, he puts her at ease and nurtures glee. This is joy.  There is wonder, a kind of playful reverence here.

And I wonder. I wonder if this could be what the kingdom of heaven is like. I wonder if this could be a parable. I wonder, here in this messy world with sunshine above and mud below, if God lives in the contradictions. I wonder, here in this place with empty chairs to make space for more full souls, here with a man who died but lives in his music, here with the next generation ablaze like fire, if narrow paths lead to wide open spaces. I wonder if there isn’t something of God in the skin colors, in the man and woman, in the young and old, in the distinct parts of the players and the unity of the ensemble, playfully passing the lead in one spirit. This is what I imagine the kingdom of heaven is like: a little girl eating Cheerios with Dvorak in a world at once confident and changing.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

mary's Rose

The vine on the lattice twisted,
the thorns circled
the flower,
opened like
flayed flesh,
deep crimson fissures.

Behold, the rose,
grown from a tender shoot,
close to the end
but larger in death
than in budding adolescence.

The wind blew
and the petals fell
to the ground
like drops of blood
to sate the thirsty earth
and live beyond death.

Somehow these petals
lift the ground’s curse
even as fresh flowers
flourish on the same lattice-work.

mary’s Rose
by troy cady

Sunday, March 20, 2016

children. palm sunday. campaign.

My camera was acting up today. I need to get it serviced. It was being stupid. When people were sitting still, the picture was fine. But if anyone was moving, the picture was disproportionately blurry compared to the amount of movement.

We were trying to take pictures of the children at church coming down the center aisle. They were wearing makeshift costumes, waving palm branches, laying a path for Jesus with cloaks and more palm branches. As slowly as they moved, not one picture turned out clearly.

Still, everyone smiled and laughed.

Because this year our donkey’s name was Jahliyah Garcia who lives just up the street. She had on fake fur and tie-around ears. The fake fur was grey and puffy and the ears were more like a sheep, but she still did a good job pretending to be a donkey.

Little Lily was scheduled to be Jesus this year but when the time came she would not get on the donkey without her little sister. Lily kept hugging and hugging her until finally little sister Soleil became Jesus.

Yes, Jesus this year was a girl. And two. Not white. She had a pretty dress on underneath her costume.

I think that is why we were all smiling. There is something right about it.

I think the pictures of the children turned out blurry because that is how it would have happened in Jesus’ day, if they had had cameras. Everyone craning to get a picture of their new King, but the kids running around, defying capture by the shutter. The kids appear as blurs to everyone and no one notices their presence the same way no one notices their new king riding on a donkey instead of a horse and the same way Jesus blesses the pesky kids who keep getting little blessings spoken on them when the rabbi has more serious things to do like rout the Romans and create a platform for change.  Select a slate of governors, enlist an army and address the nation. Attend the debate, schmooze the lobbyists, stump before the primaries, garner the nomination, and meet with the ghost writer.

Play your cards right, Jesus. No time for missteps.

And certainly no time for children.

Yes, yes we know Passover is a time for family but let’s get real, there’s no time for that for you this year, Jesus. None of these silly games, hiding the afikomen. Besides, we’ve no money to spare when the child finds the hidden bread and returns it for redemption.

We must get on with business. 

That is why I think the children are blurry in the pictures.

Nevertheless, they are clear enough—and present—so you can still see their happiness, powerless as they are.

I wonder: are we happy to be powerless? In an election year?

Pray it would be so.

Yesterday I had the privilege of officiating a baby dedication ceremony. Little Frankie had just turned one on Thursday. What a precious family! I’ve known the Mom and Dad since 2003 and I had the joy of dedicating Frankie’s older sister Evelyn a little over two years ago, too.

At Frankie’s ceremony, I told a story to him and the other children there. It is a story about life, how it is rough sometimes but happy other times. The story has objects that go with it: a two-textured bag with burlap on the outside and soft silk on the inside; there are six odd wood shapes inside the bag, purple on one side and white on the other side. When the odd shapes are put together, they make another odd shape: a cross.

The story says that in life the sad and the happy come together—but that is good because that is what makes joy. You can’t ever pull the two sides apart but that is good because that is what makes joy.

The story, I told the children, is an old story. It’s older than Mom and Dad, older than their mom and dad, which is saying a lot. In fact, it is so old, we often forget when it was first told.

Never mind: because it’s old, we need to be soft and gentle with it. And the kids knew to be gentle with this story about life. They get it.

I am struck now that I told that story yesterday and today is Palm Sunday in a season that has been dominated by stories of political posturing that is anything but soft, gentle and humble…anything but the way of Jesus. But the kids get it.

I do pray our leaders see that--even as they talk about our children in their campaigning, I pray they learn from the way of children and the way of Jesus with children.  

This morning, I received this message from Frankie’s Mom.

Good morning, friends!

Here is a conversation I just had with Evelyn. She was in the living room with Ari & I was in the bedroom with Frankie.

Me: Evy, do you want to come say good morning to Frankie?

E: In a minute, I'm doing something.

M: what are you doing?

E: i’m being very soft because because it's very, very old.

M: are you putting together the puzzle?

E: yes. It's joy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

the race

the race
by troy cady

It is as if
we said,
“Can we join
you for your jog
in the cemetery?
Let us run with you
in circles on the narrow paths.
We will obey the small stop signs,
bright and new. Lead us.”

And when we wanted to leave
we found the gates chained
and the walls too high to scale.

And now it is as if
we have no one but ourselves here
with nothing to drink
but acid rain
collected in old cones
containing rotted flowers
and nothing to eat
but the corpses
of the souls we killed
in our fervor
running the race.

Let us rest in peace.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

the body politic

Why did you stand there
on the other side of the old kitchen
(loose tiles between us)
by the flickering sink light, sickly
passive—or worse, actively unmoved—
while I poured the boiled kettle
so confidently past the cup
onto our child’s hand?

As I was saying.
I am angry because
I am certain
I am right.
Tomorrow’s youth
will thank me
for sticking to my guns.

So how can you ask,
“If you are certain,
why are you angry?”

No. You don’t understand.
Listen. Listen for once:
we hold these truths to be self-evident
and I won’t stop until everyone sees that.
I don’t care who it hurts.

the body politic
by troy cady