Friday’s Poem: Bring Out the Light

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

It may be that you have all a man could want

but now the day is closing doors

as you stand on its long blurred edge,

time careening on without permission

in how or where it leads you. To loneliness.

You have always sought the jewel inside stone,

flowers under frail leaves, peace hidden in the fray

and yet there seems a dearth of light as

life balances on a tremulous hope, and slips.

You could be told otherwise.

That there will be more abundance,

that arms will entwine with yours and joy will gather

and spill like bright water from the well of night.

But this evening as dusk skims the waves

and your thoughts are a web of longing

you remember how she turned a last time,

your name an incantation on her tongue-

as if meant to root itself within the cosmos,

glowing syllables like song as her breath

brought it to a meaning not known before.

But even affections of such import can pass,

evanescent as the misty veil of sea.

So wait now. Rest your heart, empty thoughts.

Bring forward your vestigial light to sunset

as it prepares for twilight blessing.

Let it make a home there and

in your dreaming, and your blood and sinew.

She did not have to search and find it for you.

It was already there, if forgotten, but you

can stand within its prescient power-

you are made for this time, this life and more, much more.

Friday’s Pick/Poem: September Segue into Courage


This is for all the times
we have not done enough
of what we might have done;
for moments when
language dangles between us
as heroic swinging bridges,
devised but distrusted;
for nights and days when
the ominous and sacred
are neither well discerned or heeded.

We can still seek luminosity within
pockets of space and thought,
recruit hope from the morning’s song.
And act as if truth lives here,

our efforts reverting soul’s unease,

filling needs for mercy multiplied.

I write this for you when you think nothing else can be offered, slumbering in a cave of defeat.
It is for when plenty seems paucity
and we have forgotten there is always
a greater sum than failed or shrieking parts.

You ask, I ask, what can save us?
Is not the value in our moments of courage,
readying for receipt of what may come? It may be better; our raggedness knows nothing.

What unspools next may morph with creativity, cause our cells to dance eternal, counsel us to believe. In kindness. To help each other gather up, move to the warmth in the dark, closer.

So lift your eyes before you curse every broken thing imperiling or wounding your feet.
Look up, praise the greatness of your God

without end.

Do you think we strive, fail, dream, mourn alone?
This universe does not quit, it labors, it redesigns and recovers, it offers evidence of this such

blazing love

aflame for us.


Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: Gathering Here, There

May your quite simple or elegant repast

serve you well, shared at tables of hope

and warming cheer, of peace and forgiveness.

And may your soul’s good ease capture

a gift of delight, and voices free music, and your

hands hold gently all hands in widening circles.

And even if not so fine a thing as all this,

do not turn back, the longing falling away.

May you not regret each trying, and not

dismiss balm and beauty of care we are meant for,

but keep asking for power of Love to bless and

fill you long, long after candles burn down.

When you leave the table, you are not truly alone.

Remember this: that eternal flame glows for you.

Merry Christmas.

Green Stamps for the Soul


Lately the concept of redemption has been a recurring visitor, a cue that tells me I should look into this further. Thus far, I haven’t come up with anything in particular that has triggered this but it won’t let go. It’s not so unusual. But I’ve decided I will sort it out here. First, I have to acknowledge some of how such “guest words” come to  be.

Words knocking on a door of the language cathedral (sorry, language is that important to me) within the brain’s acreage might be generated by cultural/sub-cultural info that targets us randomly. Or maybe it’s a condensed version of phrases I seize upon within various books. It can be a convoluted paragraph that flashes into the mind’s magnifier before awakening. Only to leave me with vague recollections as feet hit the floor, depositing an orphan word, a tiny hint of an idea into my morning. Such has it been with “redemption”–it’s trailed me, more like a misty, never relinquished cape. Perhaps because I read and write a great deal, words–people’s entire names (I usually don’t know them), prayers or places–simply come forward and pressure me for attention and a decent response. Sometimes it’s a word I don’t quite recognize so have to look it up. Occasionally there is no such word in my dictionaries. Not too sure about this; I’m uni-lingual for the most part. And words come sung to me. I know. But it’s how it is.

But I try to give these assertive nouns (or other parts of speech) their due–as least as I can see my way through it. I’m less inclined to spend hours researching, more interested in discovering where a word has traversed my own life as well as how it can be applied in a broader sense. Shared. So this is what happened with the word of “redemption” and its other forms (inflections or conjugations of the root word). The following comes forward now.

I recall two meanings of the root word “redeem” from my early years. First off, S and H Green Stamps were happily redeemable. We got them (given as a promotional ploy) at supermarkets and gas stations. After being gathered, were saved, pasted into booklets, and turned in for a multitude of coveted, useless or helpful items from the company’s catalog. I don’t recall the items gotten–doll clothing and games, tea towels, a watch, implements of various kinds–as clearly as the experience of getting, saving and using Green Stamps. It seemed as if my mother only shopped at places that gave out the mint green stamps that were then licked and pasted into each blank page. She was a great coupon clipper and user; anything that could augment income seemed invaluable. I thought those stamps were magical: buy food or gas, get bonus stamps that could deposit a toy in my hands.

I was often talked into pasting in the strips of stamps that clogged the kitchen junk drawer. I whined about it but I can tell you I enjoyed doing this. I liked the way a blank page, sectioned into small rectangular spaces corresponding to the stamps, would soon be neatly covered. To make the gummed backs stick I used a small bottle of water (we otherwise had to lick all stamps ourselves) that had a rounded yellow sponge top. By the time a booklet was filled the pages were wavy from dampness and fat with stamps. I nearly recall the scent of damp, cheap newsprint with plastered, lined up green rectangles. I placed a finished booklet on the growing pile and when done, Mom put them in a box on top of the frig. Eventually, the stamped pages led to something handy or fun. I thought of the items as gifts. But that was how it worked: your mother or father got stamps and they were complied to be redeemed, or traded, for good stuff.

The second way I understood the words redeem/redeemable/redemption was through church attendance and the Bible. The idea was to be rescued from things I did or thought that tripped me up, could tear me down and also cause others harm.  It meant being saved from going under in a vast pool of treacherous sin–all that stuff that wasn’t good for a person, stirred up more by misguided choices–through Jesus Christ’s love for humankind and his subsequent sacrifice. I saw that it meant being set free, ultimately, from tough consequences of my human tendency to make errors– like telling a fib or sassing the parents or smacking my sister back, I guessed. I might get in trouble at home but Jesus saw through to my hopefully better intentions and, if not entirely overlooked the rotten ones, then forgave them and we basically called it good for the time being.

I wasn’t always sure what I might have done wrong. But as I sat on the cushioned pew in the high-ceilinged Methodist sanctuary with a koi-filled water feature right outside to look at, I just knew God loved me. Jesus had already paid for basic human weakness that led us astray, and even future wrongdoings if I forgot how to do the right thing. Such love was clearer to me than shimmering water of the pool with blue sky bits in it, and it went way past civilized behavior like good manners or small or big mistakes of human judgment. I could count on that.

And that made me want to do better. It was a reciprocal thing: being loved by God, then passing it on while loving God back. Even then I hoped to show my appreciation, be in sync with what I thought of as Divine Spirit, a perfect harmony that sang to me, vibrated in nature. It gave me deep satisfaction and if I could have found the right words, a sense of transcendence. And it felt better to live in accordance with “First love God deeply and fully; love your neighbor as yourself” (to paraphrase the two greatest commandments Jesus noted and insisted all learn and live). My parents insisted, as well, of course. The instructions stayed with me as the eternal light that guides me. It was a serious business, redemption, but as a child I wore it lightly, as if an ordinary thing to know and accept.

It would take unspeakable tragedies, sudden losses and repeated failures; long periods of anguish over my selfishness, badly made choices and lapses of faith before I could begin to know the greater meanings and how hard it could be to hold onto the truths it embodied. It’s unfashionable to speak of guilt or remorse but they have their places in the human grab bag of feelings–and in the guide of our conscience. By trading in selfish disregard, despair and even self-loathing–costs of a life gone awry–for mercy and compassion, I found it possible to give the latter more generously to others. When you have nothing, not even hope of life, and are given one more breath as well as the means to go on, it is easy to feel humility and thankfulness. And that becomes a redemption process.

But it is still, after all these years, hard to act in accordance with an old legacy of soul-stirring rescue and renewal. It asks a lot of people to exchange their unwise whims and ravenous appetites– as well as prejudices and a tendency toward small cruelties. That we can do worse, much worse, in the name of “right and might” we know from bloodied annals of history. But do we really act as if we know we can do far better?

Since I believe we come from God, God remains within us when on earth and we return to God in an unbroken circle, I have wondered: what shatters that primary, even mystical connection? We are each birthed into the world, and we don’t usually come with beatific smiles on our faces but crying out. But we arrive equipped with intelligence, fantastic systems of locomotion and for learning, a capacity for feeling a spectrum of emotions. We arrive with impressive free will fully installed, unlike creatures who are motivated by instinct–as witnessed by even a crawling baby’s refusal to do as caregivers desire, even demand.

We think we know so much from the very start. And we do, in some unspoken way…and then smudge it up here and there because we can. And just want to. And then is there still workable knowledge? That which can make things add up to our benefit while acting in good regard for others? Is our will expansive and benevolent or spurious and undermining? It’s our choice, after all.

The word redemption comes to me again and again because it’s powerful. And we each seek it in various ways at certain times. I worry about the fate of this place, our planet Earth. We all do. We lie very still in the breath of night and maybe go to the window and try to count the inexhaustible stars and wonder how that ravishing universe can seem so rarefied yet far from our pettiness and misery, our terrible designs with their misappropriated energies and labors. We fill our lives with distractions to quell the contagious anxiety rippling around the world. How far have we come from our best beginnings? How much have we forgotten of the mysterious congruence of a universe that goes on despite our misguided, our flagging efforts here?

How lost can a species of creatures become? Are we not primal enough? Or not open enough to wisdom greater than our limited, perhaps one might think lazy, speculations?

We are naturally inclined to be explorers. And we have good clues in maps right here. They are in our natural bodies: the pumps and one way doors, a myriad of interdependent chemicals, connectors and transmitters: the blood-rich, nerve-conducting wisdom. Our bodies mirror much outside of the flesh. We have extreme mapping in our brains, those vast reservoirs full of information and imaginative juices. We enjoy our barrier busting leaps of thought. Are we irretrievably lost? Think again, only let higher functions of mind and soul open more effective routes, bolder solutions, itineraries that can take us to answers and make things work for the many– not only the few. What is below is as above; the universe and this planet are part of an infinite, barely grasped whole. Entire unto itself, we guess– yet we are within it.

So much that we can discern about us reflects the rest in endless configurations. If you love nature, you can see that: whorls of a tree’s inner trunk and planetary paths and spreading circles a single drop of water falls into a pond. So much more. We are here to immerse ourselves in such wonders and utilize our capabilities.  To pass on love as the treasure it is. We are given all this in exchange of stewardship of a planet and the tending of our human lives so that all may flourish.

And yet here we are. These times of catastrophes, power mongering, failures to communicate. It is all so not new, but nonetheless disturbing.

How, then, can we participate in the redemption of our better natures? We must not once forget the inestimable value of human beings even as we struggle with blindness or confusion. Life can be redeemed little by little, moment by moment, one more sound act of reason upheld by care. And then another and another. There is never too much kindness; we do not run out of it, not if we keep it at the ready, put it in motion. But we are not the only vital characters coming and going as the story turns. Perhaps one challenge is to know our place and yet to find it essential and beloved.

We can count on God knowing we are floundering–we, I believe, share Spirit and Mind. We are earthly specks yet celestial beings, made for greater things though we strain to understand. Still we can take action, bring to the fore our finer and braver impulses. Let the clear heart of redemption move us to trade scattered, weakened intentions for something more sound. More sacred. Practical matters and visionary potential are not mutually exclusive. We can trade for the consequences of a quiet (create/enact the work of hope; smile often, gently) or boisterous (bring on the music, speak up for change) life but do it with the transformative intentions of love.

The time we are given and endeavors we choose, I learned, are worth infinitely more than Green Stamps stuck into piles of flimsy books. It is my responsibility to daily renew commitment to an uncertain life on earth, to make sacrifices as needed and ultimately to live with deep and abiding charity. This is perhaps the means and ends of the miracle of redemption’s power.

A Better Way Through Hardships


The breaking news of my day included the younger of my two brothers–the one not in the Northwest– being in the hospital with serious heart symptoms. Again. This was not long after a surgical procedure that was to fix significant electrical anomalies deep in a heart chamber’s tissue. The gist of it is that he has dealt with a difficult situation for awhile–far more so than my own heart issues of late. And resolution is yet being sought.

We are a family rich in figurative heart, I think, being  musicians, writers, artists; makers of things and seekers of knowledge. It isn’t so simple or easy being in this family–all that temperament  get deeper and more tiring than one might desire, myself included. And we are a family with literal heart problems, ones that can take us down. It seems to be one or the other of us during each year, sometimes two or three of us as during this year. And we lost our oldest sister  two years ago to congestive heart failure/heart attack at just 78. I am dearly hoping to keep my other three siblings around much longer.

I called him when he was able to talk. His equanimity and good nature were holding steady. He explained the problem, his organized, logical nature routed past the acreage of feelings (of which he owns large amounts in addition to a fine intellect). I understood the medical issues. It was his mellifluous voice I needed to hear. His presence I wanted to access. It was, in truth, reassurance I sought, and it was enough for now. And “now” is exactly what there is at any given moment.

But after I got the first messages I tried to simply prepare for the day. Soon I found myself singing “The Lord’s Prayer”, a fine song based on the prayer that I cannot recall singing in years, as I am a singer who no longer sings much. Gratitude bloomed within me. The energy that arose from the very act of singing of faith as well as my human need rendered me still within. And also readied me. I felt able to pray deeply for my brother’s well-being and felt imbued with a sense of God’s awareness of us here on earth. (Both the making a mess of it and making things better.) It may sound strange, but it is what it is–I just do feel God (assuredly, many do). I texted friends and family who might not have received the news, asked for offerings of healing energy, a few words of prayer, their generous caring. I believe he’s getting this from people all the way to the other side of the country.

He is somewhat better by now. He has had ongoing confidence that there will be a way to amend the problems. He has faith in good medicine, yes, but he has an abiding hope in his beliefs and great zest for life, as well. He has been through many ordeals, the Viet Nam war and more. I know he is in the right place with his steadfast wife and a competent staff. He is certainly not alone.

I think of how often life has brought scathing, disastrous, alarming or grievous times. We all have them. We every one of us toss and turn through wretched nights and cast about for peace as we endure. How do we manage to make do in the worst of it? How do we determine a path to a cohesive balance? The options may include escape, sharing the burden with another or sinking into solitary perseveration. We can become outraged or self-pitying or go numb. We also can try to change what we can and learn how to accept life on life’s terms as, for example Twelve Step programs state. We are not the only ones who gain such coping skills; its been going on for thousands of years. It has got to be in our DNA by now: humans typically do not give up that easily. We are willful–and resilient.

I am pensive tonight. About my brother’s well-being, yes, but also about the order (or lack) of various matters in my life. Plans gone awry. This shouldn’t be a surprise since nothing is for certain except change. But the past few months leading up to Christmas have been different this year. My husband, Marc’s, health has plunged into crisis twice. My chronic issues have given me a some hard days though I manage quite well, overall. Then M. traveled on business for longer than expected. Christmas preparations were partly delayed. There are activities we always get excited about that we have thus far been unable to do. What happened to our big annual, handmade holiday calendar in bright markers that shows all we plan to enjoy? It never even got made. We missed two special concerts, as well–the weather interfered, then my own faulty heart.

Yet I am nearly ready, accept for cookie making which will have to be shared, happily, with my first-arriving daughter. And oh, yes–every single gift for twelve people still needs to be wrapped. But I just take it a step at a time since there is no other choice. I get done what can be done, work faster, but I know much is overlooked by my family and forgiven with good humor.

In a few short hours, my East coast daughter will be arriving. And a few days later another one will be flying in from another state. And when I think about them, everything finds its place inside my teeming mind. Because they are so brave, I can at least be present, accountable and entirely ready to offer hugs. I did as much when I worked (well, actual hugs were infrequent, sadly) in mental health and addictions treatment for decades–it comes more readily with the kids.

The first daughter was born two and a half months early, weighing only two and a half pounds. In the 1970s, there should have been no way she would survive. They understood preemies very little then, and interventions were few and often little help. She barely fit in a nurse’s hand; her skin was so ivory-translucent that the map of her veins was visible. She wore a heart and respiratory monitor that went off with terrifying regularity as I lay aching, way down the hall, craving just one touch of her. She did not come home for over well two months; I did not get to hold her, to nurse her during hospital time. The one time I was allowed near her, she turned blue as I tried to bottle feed her. Allergic to almost all formulas, she was allergic to many other things, too. Her father and I pressed our hands against the nursery window, gazed at her in the cage-like Isolette. My spirit felt like it jumped out to find her, hovered near her, longing for her, sad but full of a new and complex tenderness. Her tiny fingers were tapered, artistic, I thought; I wondered who she would become. I did not think she would not be able go on; she had come to us, she was breathing.

Each additional day she lived, she began to thrive. Her presence altered everything, changed what mattered in ways I never imagined. She was fortunate to not have any intellectual deficits or physical problems. Later labelled a talented and gifted child, she was so shy she barely looked at people or spoke for years but she paid strict attention, mind percolating a brew of ideas. She sat silently with a pile of blocks and built, then rebuilt structures for hours by the time she was two. She began to make things out of odds and ends that were unusually complex. She later became dedicated to opening up her life and fulfilling her dreams. Has pushed forward to become an artist; has shared kindness, made tremendous friends as she’s traveled the world. The child who hid behind my legs is, it turns out, fiercely independent. A quicksilver mind allows for lively discussions and intrigues people, including us. She keeps going forward, creating sculptures, teaching, finding more adventures, all 100 pounds of her.

The other daughter coming was born with serious hypopituitarism, in layman’s terms severe growth hormone deficiency, a rare congenital condition that became apparent at about six months old when she nearly stopped growing, then barely inched along the next months. She was overflowing with energy and laughter. But very small. Testing of endless sorts began in earnest within a few months, some very painful for her, frightening for us, but after a couple of years the culprit was exposed. When treatment of daily injections of DNA-recombinant biosynthetic growth hormone were administered at age four and a half, she began to grow better, more steadily. More evaluations at medical research centers, blood drawn, dosages altered, statistics charted. Growth hormone cost two thousand dollars a month. Soon she was entered into University of Michigan Medical Center’s free research study protocol for just 200 other GHD children across the U.S. The idea was to try a new kind of growth hormone, in other words, for her to become a study subject. It was scary decision to make–a child depends on parents doing the right thing.

After awhile her skin became less baby-soft, voice slowly gained a richer timbre, her very face changed before us–she finally looked older. Everything is affected by growth hormone if one does not have it in proper supply. Think how everything in our bodies replicates, our very cells. Without proper hormones, things fail to act correctly. She became used to the shots. Still, in kindergarten she was yet the size of a toddler. When anyone said mean things, she wiped her tears and carried on. We so wanted to protect her but what good would come of it? She was to add good to the world and explore its variety, not be afraid of it. And she was thrilled with learning, loved chatty socializing.

It took years of injections she learned to give herself; additional hormone replacements needed, it turned out; of trial and error in treatments. She was nonetheless a child who celebrated life, gabby, given to spontaneous songs and dances. She endured the rest, accepted the frequent medical visits, shots, routines. Strangers were drawn to her when we went to the store, the library. It was her size, yes, but also her easy smile and bright eyes. My child smiled at everyone, just started up conversations so I had to keep an eye on her. This daughter wanted to pull life to her in a full-on embrace.

Eventually, slowly, she grew enough so by 16 she came to be considered just a rather short person at 4 feet 10 inches or so. Her medical treatment did not end because she got taller. Severe GHD is a complicated medical condition that requires lifelong monitoring and treatment with several hormones. The shots continue daily. She often doesn’t feel well; her immune system is less defended. She quickly can overheat in the sun. Her muscles tire more easily than many her age and her joints ache. More easy breakage of bones is a risk. Yet she was a roller derby skater and enjoyed every minute–until she hurt her knee. But she is indefatigable in her arts career goals and is moving ahead. Her leisure time is spirited; her marriage, a good one. And unpaid work embraces the disenfranchised, undervalued and forgotten.

The point is not that my daughters are spectacular, even if I love them profoundly and thus suspect they may be. All of our daughters everywhere are extraordinary, unique–and also our sons. (I have also written of my son, who survived a ruinous, near-fatal motorcycle accident in his early twenties, then went on to success as a pro skater.) No matter who they are or where they live in the world, they each must learn life’s twisty lessons, meet untold challenges, be inventive enough to nurture contentment and what can seem like elusive joy. But my children taught me more than they’ll likely ever know. They are beacons for me, all five of our now-adult kids. I only want to share a fraction of what these two have faced, gotten through, plus a  view of what we, as parents, have had to learn about adaptation, unerring hope and tenacity. We have been on a journey that has been hard–not as hard as for many, that is certain, but what we each experience first is our own particular sort of pain, and our smaller and larger triumphs. We can come through more than we think we can and be the better for it.

As I finish writing I hear that my persevering, optimistic brother now better rests. A new heart medication is working to bring down weeks-long, dangerously high heart rate to a workable 75 beats per minute. I am hoping for even better news tomorrow.

How we address life’s hardships and trials, how we manage to live through it: this is much more the issue, not the difficulties themselves. And then not only through it all but beyond it to the next step, and next and next. What choices can we still make if and when faced with powerlessness and hardship?

I yet choose–my family chooses–to believe in the transforming power of an intricate, numinous design of life in this realm and beyond. I cannot imagine managing the deep ruts and landslides of life without wonder or hope, without manifestations of love. These give breath to breathe, light to shine upon winding paths.

Ready or not, Christmas will happen in my home. This is not the case for everyone who desires to celebrate it–or other religious occasions or holidays. We are well aware, are we not, that there is heartbreaking suffering going on in this often-sabotaging, murderous world. Our own country is approaching a perilous time of change. So much more reason then to trust the impulse to reach out and aid one another, to connect our lives with generosity of Spirit. To endure what may come with even a small dignity. To tend a creative faith in something finer, something brighter than what we think we can see. There is a sort of heaven we can encourage on this small, spinning earth. We can make it happen one moment at a time. Here, now. Trust the possibilities of living this life with expansive charity and a wellspring of hope. Take hold, hang on, share whatever good you can. Welcome Divine Spirit into your dreaming and doing. You will make such a needed difference.


Off to pick up our oldest daughter. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May the blessings of healing love and strong peace take root and grow well in your lives.

(Note: I will write my usual shortest post on Friday, then will not be posting until January 2017.)