Tag Archives: Kris Delmhorst

Do you know that you’re holy?

PW and I have been attending graduation ceremonies in even-numbered years since 2000. Tonight, GForce graduates from high school. It’s the ninth graduation we’ve attended since 2000. That a lot of crossing overs!

Those of us who are able, thanks to good health or availability or both, are gathering to celebrate this crossing of a threshold. Stories spill out of us. We can’t even contain them.

I have never been one of those parents who wanted to freeze my child at a particular age, or to stop time, or to wish I could turn back the clock. However, I will admit to a fleeting moment of what I can only describe as anticipatory nostalgia.

When GForce was a baby, she had an infectious smile. I suspect most, if not all, parents feels this way. A baby’s smile is like a laser that cuts through the fog of parental sleep-deprivation and confusion. For me, the smile is an infant’s first crossing over from the blob of need phase to becoming a relatable human being.

gums and toes

I was besotted by GForce’s toothless grin. I’d stare at it, and when she wasn’t smiling I’d stare at this photo of her. And my recurring thought was, “Man, teeth are going to RUIN that smile.”

Yes, I actually thought that. One day, I said it out loud, to no one at all. But the act of hearing the words hanging in the air, as opposed to inside my head, was like a bucket of cold water. I could finally hear how ridiculous it was to want her to remain a tiny toothless infant.

I’ve never thought of GForce as “my baby.” I don’t know why. Maybe by the time I’d given birth in my late 30s, I’d had Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version of the Gibran poem, “On Children” embedded in my brain.

I have always felt like GForce chose me to bring her into the world. This notion has gotten me through some long nights where I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. It’s felt like a buoy and a first place blue ribbon and an honorary degree, all at the same time.

As this day approached, one of my favorite singer/songwriters released a new album. I couldn’t have hoped for better. Thank you, Kris Delmhorst, for giving me the perfect song to accompany this ninth graduation in the past 15 years.2013-08-05 06.11.01

Every time I have listened to Delmhorst’s song “Homeless” over the past month, I have gotten that catch in my throat, in my heart, when she sings the question, “Do you know that you’re holy?”

The first time I heard it, I was making dinner. I wasn’t following along with the lyrics; they were floating out over the stove. I never saw it coming, this question, “Do you know that you’re holy?” It nearly buckled my knees. Tears fell into the clam sauce I was stirring.

My goal as a parent is for each of my daughters to be able to hear that question and to be able to sing back some kind of “Yes.” Or even a “Maybe.” Or “I want to.” And when they can’t answer that question, I hope they have communities of people they can call on to remind them. And if not, they can always call home. Or look up.

by Kris Delmhorst

The silence & the sea
Who you’re supposed to be
When the faces on the page and the faces in the mirror look the same
The cradle & the crutch
It’s supposed to hurt this much
When the highways turn to roads into streets into alleys
Then at last into paths you can’t get through

Do you know that you’re homeless
Do you know that you’re lonely
Do you know that you’re only passing through?

Years roll along
Sorrow turns to song
And your tears flow like rain into streams into rivers
That at last find their path to the sea

Do you know that we’re homeless
Do you know that we’re lonely
Do you know that we’re only passing through?

Do you know that you’re holy
Do you know that I love you
Do you know that above you is blue?
Do you?


I’m for this

[Update: New video added at the bottom. Thanks, Bruce, for the reminder of how much I love Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Ashes and Roses” album.]

This is the third year in a row I’ve posted this song for Valentine’s Day. I guess that makes it a tradition, or at least a thing. I look for other songs, but I always come back to this one.

For something more recent, there’s this. What’s not to love about a love song with the lyric “I ain’t no monkey but I know what I like”?:

Thanks to prompting from my friend Bruce’s comment, I found this video of the song that he mentioned, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Jericho.” Now we have a complete trifecta of beauty.

I voted for the future

On Sunday, I drove to church with a parishioner who struggles with paranoid schizophrenia. After I picked her up, I told her I was really glad that she wanted to come to church. She fixed me with a concerned look: “There’s so much fear about the election. I knew that church was the safest place I could be today.”

This particular parishioner is completely dependent on the universal health care we have here in Massachusetts. Among the many things that frighten her is Mitt Romney’s promise to do away with the national version of the same universal health care he signed into law when he was our “severely conservative governor.”

So when I stepped into the voting booth this morning, I voted for my mentally ill friend and everyone else who feels consumed by fear. I also voted for my marriage to PW. And I voted for a future full of elbow room for my three daughters, and any daughters or sons they may have, and any marriage commitments they may one day want to make. These are some, but not all, of the visions I voted for this morning—a future where:

  • Insuring a woman’s reproductive freedom is as important as insuring a man’s ability to maintain an erection for up to four hours.
  • Two people who want to make a lifelong and lovelong commitment to each other can enjoy the legal protections and responsibilities of marriage, regardless of their sexual orientation.
  • We join other countries as diverse as Mexico, Canada, Rwanda, Mongolia, Israel, India, and Bhutan in providing universal healthcare, and we compete with countries such as Germany and Singapore in making significant investments in scientific and medical research.
  • We heed the warnings that abound in our environment and begin working with other nations on the difficult task of ending global warming.
  • Any redistribution of income flows in the direction of abundance to scarcity, and not the opposite, which has been the norm for the better part of the past 12 years.
  • We make sacrifices on behalf and in honor of the people who put their lives in harm’s way to ensure our safety and security. In short, never again should we go to war without increasing taxes to pay for it.
  • Taxes are understood to be an investment that ensures the strength of our social fabric, and are not an evil to be avoided and eliminated.
  • Our elected representatives level with us rather than lie to us.
  • Our representation at all levels of government reflects our extraordinary national diversity.
  • We leave no one behind, regardless of their demographic descriptors.
  • We guard the right to vote with more fervor than we guard the right to buy weapons, and exercise it with reason and critical thinking.
  • Being smart and well-educated is something we want for every person, and seek in our elected representatives.
  • Everything is music.
[spotify http://open.spotify.com/track/23Bb7XkXXoDojT64AIsw7V]

P.S. Thanks to my friend Jason McStoots for the graphic at the top of the page.

Lent To Us

Several weeks ago, PW invited me to preach at the noon Ash Wednesday service at Emmanuel. My first thought, which I kept to myself, was, “Yikes! There’s no way I can be ponderous enough to write and then give an Ash Wednesday sermon.” So, of course, what I said out loud was, “Okay!”

Every time I worked on my remarks, in the days leading up to today, I kept hearing the voice of a man I interviewed recently for a letter I wrote for work. So here’s what I ended up with.

Well, here we are, perched at the beginning of the 40-day journey of Lent. You know, legend has it that explorers used to write “There Be Dragons,” or they’d draw dragons onto areas of maps to represent uncharted territory. I’ll confess that the view of Lent from Ash Wednesday often feels to me like looking at a map where an X marks “You Are Here” and I’m looking down a road that is dotted with signs that say “There Be Dragons.”

Oh sure, the festive welcome of Easter awaits us at the end of Lent, with all its flowers and Alleluias and new beginnings. But it seems so far away, and February lasts so   dang    long for the shortest month of the year, and There Be Dragons! And We Are Here.

Each of us has our reasons for coming through the door today, and if you’re anything like me, you’re struggling to unload a freight car’s worth of baggage you have accumulated with regard to Lent. Maybe the stuff you might give up for Lent has been tumbling around in your head, like lottery ping pong balls in their little see-through chamber. Chocolate? Facebook? Swearing? Maybe you’re debating whether to get the ashes, whether to rub them off before you leave the building, or whether to disregard Jesus’ strongly worded admonition and wear them all day, as a visible sign of your spiritual commitment. But, if you do that, then you risk having them misunderstood or judged… Aaauugh!

See if you can put all that down for a bit, and since We Are Here (and There Be Dragons!), let’s be travelling companions through Lent. I know this is likely the only time this peculiar and unique group of friends and strangers will be together. But, as we’ve already heard, and we’ll be repeatedly reminded, we all share a common beginning and ending: dust. So, really, we’re family!

I know that for our purposes today “Lent” refers to the time of fasting and reflection that precedes Easter. But, I love word play, and I love to tango with heresy, so I want to point out another meaning of Lent: it’s the past tense Lend — the act of giving something away that must be returned, eventually. Specifically, I’m thinking about life, about how our lives are Lent to us. None of us can keep what the poet Mary Oliver calls “your one wild and precious life.” Sooner or later, we all have to slide through that Return slot.

Later on, when we get to the Ash part of Ash Wednesday, listen for Pam’s voice repeating, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” as she marks people’s foreheads with ashes. If you don’t get the ashes, that’s fine, but, please, listen for the words. Let them be a chant or a mantra for Lent; let them remind you of your borrowed time. This life of yours, the body you’re in, it’s all fleeting.

At the beginning of our Lent journey, You Are Here, I Am Here, We Are Here, and surely There Will Be Dragons! With our borrowed lives, in our Lent bodies, with our unknown Return dates, consider: What is it you need over the next 40 days to break out of patterns that have become prisons? What do you need in order to arrive at Easter feeling more alive than ever, with a feeling that your life has marked some Xs where once there were dragons?

I interviewed a 65-year-old man recently named Richard. Ten years ago he went into the hospital with a kidney stone, acquired sepsis, and to save his life, doctors had to amputate his arms below the elbows and his legs below the knees. Richard’s one of these guys who is always tinkering – you know the type. And he has made a very full life for himself. He continuously tweaks his prostheses so they work better, so he can do more things on his own. He figured out how to paint and play guitar and even shovel snow.

Richard sometimes visits new amputees in the hospital. He’ll walk into their rooms and jump up and down on his prosthetic legs, to show them that their lives aren’t over just because their legs are gone. He made videos to demonstrate how quickly he could attach his arms and legs, without help, to show others new ways to be independent.

Richard told me, “I have a great life! I am the kind of man, when I see a door open, I go through it. I know that my family will support me. I have a great family, and I know not everybody has that. So when a door opens, I go through it, for myself, for my family, and for the people who can’t go through, for whatever reason. Maybe they don’t have the support, or they’re too scared. Whatever. I go through for them, too.” Richard’s one of those guys who matter-of-factly ventures out into the “There Be Dragons” part of the map and marks it with a new X: Now, We Are Here.

A couple of years ago, Richard’s wife Carole saw a TV news story about a local hospital’s new hand transplant program. Carole called the hospital to see if Richard might be a candidate. Last April, after more than a year of tests and screenings, Richard was put on the list of potential hand transplant recipients.

Last October, a local man about 20 years younger than Richard suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. Like Richard, Steven was a tinkerer, one of those guys who fixed his friends’ cars and did all his own home repairs. Still, when doctors asked Steven’s wife Jodi about organ transplants, and asked if she’d also be willing to donate his arms and hands, she was startled. But she took a night to think about it and concluded, “Steven’s talents were in his hands. Why let them go to waste?” Jodi went to a There Be Dragons place and marked an X. And now, We Are Here.

More than 40 medical personnel worked for 12 hours to give Steven’s arms (below the elbow) to Richard. It will be at least a year before Richard has full sensation in his arms, before he’ll have full use of them. He won’t be shoveling any snow this winter, so it’s just as well that we haven’t had much. But he’s started to playing some piano and he can’t wait to feel his grandsons’ faces, to feel his wife’s hand in his. When Richard met Steven’s widow, Jodi, he told her it was okay if she wanted touch his new hands. She hesitated. She hadn’t been sure if she even wanted to look at them. She was afraid she might not recognize them.

While they sat and held hands and cried together, Richard said, “I told her how sorry I was about her husband and I just kept thanking her. I said we gotta keep going forward. I’m a living example that there’s always a way to go through the next door, even after you lose someone you love.” So now, We Are Here.

Today I want to suggest that our guideposts for the next 40 days can be the noun forms of the traditional Lent activities of giving alms, praying, and fasting. Specifically, they’re what I’ll call the three Cs of Lent: compassion, connection, and clarity.

Jodi, Steven, Richard, and their families are ordinary and stunning examples of compassion, connection, and clarity. They are also profound reminders of the message of Easter: when death meets love, love always wins. EVERY TIME. Love. Always. Wins. One of my favorite modern prophets the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Every little deed counts, every word has power…[E]veryone [can] do our share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and all the frustrations and all disappointments.”

My hope for you, for all the members of our Dust Family, is that we spend the rest of the lives we’ve been Lent finding ways to go forward, through whatever unlikely doors might open, even, and maybe especially, when There Be Dragons. My prayer for you, for all of us, is that we launch ourselves off the X that marks wherever we are now, and fill the next 40 days with so much compassion, connection, and clarity, that it will become a habit with us. Compassion. Connection. Clarity. Yeah, ‘cause THAT’s how the Dust Family rolls!

And when we return to the dust from whence we came, the world will be more redeemed, the map will have lots fewer dragons on it, and it will be spangled with X marks we have left behind: We Are Here.

Update: On 2/23/18, I changed the video that goes with this post. Because six years after writing the post, We Are in a Different Here, and I liked the way this song fits.

On balancing peaches and grief

My dad and I enjoyed our customary hilarity by phone Monday night. Mom was hosting a bunch of women for a Dining for Women event, so my introverted, non-female dad retreated to the lower level of their house, where he takes up his usual historian manly-man things, like working on manuscripts and building shelves by the gazillions with loud power tools. When I suggested that he marshal some other husbands of the women and launch a panty raid on the gathering, he chortled and put on his best macho bluster, “Aw, to heck with those guys! I don’t need any help!”

During our conversation, Mom came down to bring Dad some dessert, and he warned her of the panty raid plan. She retorted that it was too late, everyone was gone except some people who were staying behind to play cards.

Believe me, I know how lucky I am to have both my parents still alive and as vital and funny as ever. Every time I talk with them, I hear about a funeral they have been to, or the funeral they’re planning (they’re both retired ministers, as much as any minister is ever retired), or the time they’ve spent with a friend of theirs who is in the twilight of life, having struggled for x number of years with some horrific disease.

Monday night was no exception. The conversation shifted as Dad talked about having visited on Sunday night a “young” friend of theirs who has been battling multiple myeloma for 10 years or so. Dad talked softly about the feeling of powerlessness, of being able to offer only the simple gift of showing up, holding the woman’s hand, and sitting with her and her family.

I opened Facebook Tuesday morning to find several posts from friends of my parents saying goodbye to the woman, who died shortly after midnight on Tuesday morning. All day long there was a steady beat of remembrances and tributes to her on Facebook, from people of all ages.

Fun fact: the peach blossom is the Delaware state flower.

Fun fact: the peach blossom is the Delaware state flower.

This unfolded in the wake of the recent death of my friend E, who was a big fan of my dog Lucy. And it unfolded on a day when my office building shook and swayed during a 5.9 earthquake in Virginia that was felt by people from Toronto to New England to Ohio to South Carolina. And it unfolded on my first day back at work after our annual week-long pilgrimage to sit by the ocean on the Delaware shore. It has all combined to remind me yet again that the world teems with both life and death, all at once. Grief is always there, like the tide. Coming in, going out. Ebbing and flowing. Dragging stuff up onto the shore, and pulling it back under.

So here’s a poem for my many friends and family who are grieving, for whatever reason. At my 30th college reunion this past June, one of my classmates read this so evocatively and tenderly, all you could hear was the intense suspended animation of a couple hundred people not breathing.

From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

The exercise of balancing the grief of losing someone we love with the gratitude at having known that person at all is a little like trying to keep “From Blossoms” in your mind while feeling like this song from Kris Delmhorst’s masterful “Strange Conversation” album. Delmhorst added her own plaintive, simple melody to lyrics she adapted from James Weldon Johnson’s, “Sence You Went Away.”

I hope you find ways to enjoy the waning summer. Hold on to your life’s peaches as long as you can. Admire them. Savor them. Drink in their textures and smells. Above all, eat them, in all their round jubilance.

Psalm/Psong for April 5 – “Ships” by Redbird

The musical collaborative Redbird released a live album in January this year. And this psong is on it. However, it was also on their debut release back in 2004, so maybe I’m cheating. Redbird is Jeffrey Foucault, Kris Delmhorst, and Peter Mulvey. Didn’t I just say that Foucault (and Delmhorst) should be more widely heard? Why yes, I believe I did. In this video, Redbird covers a psong by a songwriter’s songwriter, Greg Brown.

Lyrics to “Ships”:

Mariyln Monroe was so tired,
she was so tired, she was so tired
City girl lost in a field of rye
and see what she has done

Now she’s out on a boat on the ocean
turning around and around
Sail for a dress and her hand on her breast
out on the rolling sea
out on the rolling sea

John Wayne was so sick
he was so thick, he was up a crick
Cowboy lost in a long steel hall
and see what he has done

Now he’s out on a boat on the ocean
turning around and around
Lashed to the mast and free at last
out on the rolling sea
out on the rolling sea

Elvis Presley was so fat
they gave him all that, just to stand pat
Jaguar lost in a living room
and you see what he has done

Now he’s out on a boat on the ocean
turning around and around
The dolphins gather to hear him moan
out on the rolling sea
out on the rolling sea

And will you rock the boat, Mr. Presley?
Will you let us see it, Miss Monroe?
Will you save us, Mr. Wayne, sir?
We come so far to go back alone
We come so far

All the long ships are sailing away
with one little candle to light the way
’til they come to a place where the sun goes down
and they all start turning around
and they all start turning around
they all start turning around

Psalm/Psong for April 4 – “4 & 20 Blues” by Jeffrey Foucault

Jeffrey Foucault has a new album coming out in a few weeks. Late last year, though, he collaborated with the poet Lisa Olstein on a record called “Cold Satellite.” His album before that was a collection of John Prine covers. Like Sexsmith, Foucault should be more widely heard than he is.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of “Cold Satellite,” and I didn’t have time to scour the Internet for videos of psongs from it. So, here’s a juicy psong he wrote a while back, “4 & 20 Blues.” I particularly love the line “I got one taste of the apple/And I wanted the whole damn tree.” The bonus of this video is hearing and watching him sing with his wife Kris Delmhorst, who is one of my favorite singers/songwriters of all time. I’m not just saying that because she and I went to the same college (albeit 10 years apart). Later this year Delmhorst is releasing an album of covers of songs by the band “The Cars.” THAT should be a blast.

Lyrics for “4 & 20 Blues”:

Four and twenty blackbirds sitting on a fence
Four and twenty years and I been trying to make some sense
But it don’t look too good mama
Don’t look too good for me
I was wading in the water but I only got washed out to sea

Four and twenty blackbirds flying through the sky
Four and twenty years and still I’m barely getting by
But it don’t look too good mama
Don’t look too good for me
I was toiling in the fields
But the whirlwind is all I did see

Four and twenty blackbirds crowing up above
Four and twenty years and I been in and out of love
But it don’t look too good mama
Don’t look too good for me
Well my cup runneth over
But it never seems to satisfy me

It’s four and twenty thunder
Four and twenty rain
I just walking on the rails
I just keep grinning at the train
But it don’t look too good mama
Don’t look too good for me
Oh my cup runneth over
But it never seems to satisfy me

Four and twenty blackbirds crowing on a wire
Four and twenty years that I been caught up in desire
But it don’t look too good mama
Don’t look too good for me
I got one taste of the apple
And I wanted the whole damn tree