I’m writing this to you from the blue chair by the bookcase in my room in Mississippi. I can hear the soft hush of the A/C unit and it’s reminding me to breathe in and breath out. The last time I heard from you, you mentioned that you were having such a hard time sleeping a lot of nights lately. Everybody’s mind is racing right now. I’ve been having anxious dreams at night myself. Sometimes I’m hugging a cliff a mile off the ground, clenching my eyes, hands sweating, trying not to slide off the edge. Other nights, the parking brake on my big van snaps and I roll backwards, helplessly, down a hill into a lake; and I’m racing to scramble out of the window while the whole thing sinks. There are more, but you get the gist. And that’s after I’ve finally gotten to sleep.
I am sorry you’re not sleeping. “In the morning counsels are best, and night changes many thoughts”. That’s something I remember from Tolkien. There is something about nighttime that affects feelings and thoughts. Or maybe it’s just that when we lay down and get still, all that was held back by the day – by our busyness – floods in. It takes a while for the waters to stop swirling. I pray for you. I pray the Spirit of God would hover over that dark whirlpool and smooth out the ripples and wrinkles “like brushing cloth”.
That reminds me, when I was little, my Grandmother used to always have us make the bed when we’d visit. She’d bring out just-cleaned sheets, and whatever bed was mine, we’d make it together. I remember specifically her beautiful, old Grandmother hands carefully and slowly smoothing the wrinkles out of the bedspread. It was so perfect, like still waters.
Even better than all that though, were her back-rubs. Grandmother used to lay her palm flat across our little kid backs and press down and roll-up, then the next palm, and the next – that was an elephant walking across. Then she’d tiptoe little tickly finger-tips all over the place – that was the mice scurrying. I wanted it to never end.
Surely, there can’t be something good in humanity that doesn’t exist in some way in God. Laughter, affection, the kind of warm, silly touch we used to get as little kids at Grandmother’s house. If God is love, then the love Grandmother showed me was made out of God’s love, right down to every little mouse-paw-print on my back at bedtime.
All that to say, I’m praying you can feel the Lord’s affection and calm tonight when you lay in bed, trying to sleep.
Just a little while ago, my brother and I aired up the tires on our bikes and pedalled around the neighborhood. I haven’t left the house in seven or eight days. I stuck my arm out the door to feel the temperature one morning, and I’ve checked the mail a couple of times. One evening I did sit and watch the sun setting while Venus rose, bright and clear a little Southwest.
The trees around the neighborhood are all tipped in bright new green. The white azalea shrubs look like popcorn balls. Someone was just finishing mowing their yard as we glided by; I wanted to endlessly inhale the millions of tiny exhalations from every tender cut blade. Have you ever seen beekeepers harvest honey? When they slice off the wax that seals the honey in the comb and it’s freed to flow? I think that lawnmower did that for that grass, and we sucked up the sweetness as we passed by.
It’s been too wet to mow our lawn. Well, the truth is we kind of prefer it a little wild. It becomes like a meadow covered in tiny white flowers every one about the size of your pinky nail. Each bloom has six white pointed petals and a little gathering of egg-yolk-yellow stamen glittering in the middle. I don’t know what they are. I may have to wait till the Kingdom comes to really know. Do you remember The Dawn Treader? “In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” And Ramandu says, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.” Who knows what these little meadow-stars really are? Actually, Meadow Stars seems like a nice name for them. Let’s call them that, how about it?
Well, dear friend, I’ve moved from the blue chair out to where the meadow stars grow. As I write this letter to you, a big cloud is lumbering by overhead. It’s a dark cloud, but it’s moving on. Behind it, the sky is pale and smooth as Grandmother’s bedspread.
I’m asking the Lord for something good to say to you. Something that’ll help. Do you remember talking about how hard it can be to get what’s inside out into words? I worry about saying the right thing, the best thing, the perfect thing. That’s paralyzing. I end up saying nothing. Maybe it’s worth trying to say something clever. I know it’s worth trying to say something true beautifully.
I think about Jesus coming to live here. He’s something good God wanted to say. A Word that would help us. I know that’s too simple a way to say it. Jesus is a Word that we’ll never get finished hearing. And he’s just what Our Father meant to say; no gap between inside meaning and outside expression into words. “If you’ve seen me, Philip, you have seen the Father.”
I think that’s one of the hardest things about how things are right now. It feels like the words are garbled, or that we’re waiting to hear a word and the mailbox is empty day after day. I miss being able to give you a big hug on Sundays. Singing beside you – your voice mingling with mine and a hundred others. I miss long talks at the coffeeshop without having to worry. I want a cure, some immunity against all this helplessness. I do miss you. And I love you. Don’t forget that this is just as true as it ever was, while we’re apart.
Well, this letter has gotten long and gangly. Thanks for hanging with me. That’s always encouraged me more than any clever thing, just that you’d give me a place with you. A place where I could fiddle around with what I’m thinking and feeling and trying to say to you. Someone said, “The hardest thing to do is say what you mean.” Like I’ve already brought up, I think God is the only one who’s ever managed it, and can you imagine anyone who knows better than Jesus what it’s like to feel that no one understands what you’re trying to say? Communion and communication are very closely related words – each rooted in the other.
The evening is coming on and my bare feet are a little chilly. The music the frogs and crickets make – blissful in their ignorance of the world’s woes – is too sweet to leave too quickly.
Oh, Venus has just peeped out, bright and steady. The brightness is softened by the air in a sort of halo. That planet shines like some faraway, barely audible Word.
I almost feel like I’m on the wrong world – that bright one there is where I belong, everything here is so brittle and crazy. Especially right now. I know you are feeling it, everyone is.
Still, some word is making it through to us, I think. Some mouth is taking shape like a warm halo around words. It’s hard to hear them or understand the language right now. The conversation feels like it might as well be taking place on Venus somedays. But, then again, when I think of you, dear friend, that speech feels like it’s right up against my ear, brushing my cheek. The words have some blood in them – a kind of tenderness that I would have missed if I weren’t leaning in so hard, starved for them.
If you’re reading this at bedtime, God bless you and keep you. I pray his powerful affection will surround whatever is surrounding you right now. That you’d hear him breathe out over those violent waters his Word, “Peace”.
Until I see you again, all my love. M.
The featured image of the Spring Sliver Moon and Venus is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and used with her glad permission for Cultivating, The Cultivating Project, and Matthew Clark, whom she loves dearly.
Matthew Clark is a singer, songwriter, and storyteller from Mississippi where he lives with his brother Sam, a ceramic artist. Each Fall he sets out in his homemade tiny-house-on-wheels named Vandalf the White to play concerts in churches and homes all over the country. Matthew is a lover of words, music, coffee, and conversations. Currently (and slowly) he is studying the interlacing of Theology and the Imagination at Fuller Seminary, while writing new songs for his next recording project. Matthew has several albums available at his website (www.matthewclark.net), including a Bible walk-through sequence called “Bright Came the World from His Mouth”, and a collection of songs celebrating God’s presence in the ordinary called “Beautiful Secret Life”.