Welcome to the fifth guest post in a new-and-improved version of the the Practice Resurrection series!
I’ve invited several friends and acquaintances to share a snapshot of their lives during the weeks of Eastertide (between now and Pentecost Sunday, June 9th). As in other series of guest posts, I pray about who to invite and for this series I was contemplating the ways these women and men consistently invite us through their social media presence to regularly consider restoration, beauty, and goodness even, and maybe especially, in the face of difficulty. I’ve asked each guest to share snapshots of their present daily life inspired by Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”.
I was first introduced to today’s guest through her utterly delightful presence on Instagram. Jen’s daily stories, conversations, and posts remind me to pay attention to the beauty of even the tiniest moments of my day while not taking myself too seriously. Since then I’ve wisely responded to every invitation Jen’s offered through her blog and newsletter, offering spiritual stories and tools for folks who are more donkey than saint. (I still giggle every time I read this invitation!) I’ve also bookmarked several of the handmade tools for prayer and contemplation in her Etsy shop, Cobbleworks.
May your perspective of resurrection be enlarged as you read Jennifer Willhoite’s humble and piercing insight in today’s post.
First, take a moment to listen to Jen read the poem.
(don’t) Want more of everything ready-made
I only know my dad’s dad through stories. He died years ago on another continent when my dad was yet a man. I’ve heard enough about the way he darned socks on a train not caring about the questioning stares and about his quiet and tenacious demeanor towards social justice to feel like I know some of him. So I talk to him in my prayers and in my everyday routines asking him where I might look for hope in my life’s holes and disrepair. I know he was brave. I know things charged at him and he held his ground. I know he got knocked down and got back up out of love, not out of spite so he knew about resilience and resurrection, but I need first his spirit of repair when I feel torn. He mended clothes, homes, relationships, fishing lines and more. I show him my missing pieces while picking up a needle and scrap yarn and I ask, “Do you think the biggest holes in me, the ones stretching themselves into life-sized questions will ever be patched? Will I ever have answers to how I can deal with regret or missed opportunity or wasted time?” And although I have no memory of his real voice, I can hear something in my heart and I think it’s him and he says this: “Patch the small ones, mend and repair with gratitude for new life. And as for the big ones, the big gaps of misunderstanding and confusion, just let them become as large as the ocean. Don’t worry about walking on the water, just let the current carry you while you float on your back.” So I fix the small almost every day and surrender to the larger current as I can for I cannot undo all of my mistakes nor can I fix all of my tears, but I can put myself in the place of transformation: flat on my back, staring at the sun and being carried by a Love greater than me.
I’d rather the old thing that shows all of the ways it’s been touched and gouged and repaired and gotten a face-lift and rejected it than the new thing I do not yet know and has no history. I can be too cautious. For someone who’s terrified of ghosts, I have a lot of things that must harbor them, but when I see these things, I’m never scared, I’m always curious. Whose hands opened these drawers first? Who crafted them? Who decided they weren’t needed anymore and who reclaimed them? And have they always held items that someone was going to definitely use very soon if they could only find the time or am I the only one? And did everyone else who had these on their shelves at work or at home walk by them and think, “Simple wooden drawers, you may well outlive me. Will a part of me be stuck within you when I’m gone?” Maybe when my body is underground and my soul is running off with God there will be some ghost of me lingering with these old things in someone else’s house and my legacy will be to invite them to ask questions and hold onto dreams they want to make time for.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
These books should have been mailed to my dad a week ago. I’ll get to them and to the letter I need to write to accompany them. These flowers were trimmed when I first brought them in. The crystal vase was filled with water and each stem was artistically arranged. People came into the house and said it smelled fresh and said, “My! Isn’t that a beautiful bouquet! Your home feels so welcoming” and I felt calm, centered and proud because everything had it’s place and it was a mutually agreed upon place. But now, just a few days later, the bouquet has been disassembled and trimmed again to squeeze a little more life out of each flower. The browning blooms have been put in common jars and I leave the dead ones on the table. The to-do’s like mailing packages and writing the letters pile around the make shift vases. People walk in and wonder what the weird smell of rotting stems and dust is and I feel embarrassed and frustrated: “Why can’t I just maintain a nice routine that ensures everything stays neat and tidy? Why do I have to be so lazy and careless?” I try to remember that every time I say, “I’ll get to that really soon” what I’m really saying is, “I’m running from something” or “I’m throwing myself into something”. Either way, the flowers will have to rot because there is no polite routine that makes space for fears and joys that big. People will have to endure the smell I’m afraid.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Humility is apparently rooted in the earth, in humus and in remembering that from dust we all come and to dust we all return and that in between we are free and encouraged, to be nourished by this beautiful creation of soil, water and air. I’m often on the verge of a bigger sickness, but these earthy teas and the fruit and vegetables of the garden keep me vibrant. I’m ashamed to admit that when I know better, I don’t always do better. I turn away from this humble medicine. I want to insist that I can do whatever my shallow appetites demand without any consequence. When I do, I get sick and hurt and mad at myself for not being obedient and good, for running off like a selfish prodigal. But God has a compassion greater than my rulebook for clean living. God says that even the seeds of the plants that make up this tea are part prodigal. God says even the strawberry is scattered and runs off with wild types like birds and cold winds. God says, “It’s not how many times you run away, but how many times you hear me calling you home that matters most” and so that becomes my real medicine: homecoming.
to what is nighest your thoughts.
More mending as I can’t stop thinking about scarcity and not having enough, not being enough. And yet I’m also too big and too much and must get smaller and de-clutter, not just myself, but my belongings and my thoughts as well. My mind cannot out-think this. It has run out of ideas. And my heart and soul are tired. They have felt these feelings for so long that they need a rest from them. What is left are my hands so I will take this stained sweater and cover the marks with a big patch of first aid and lots of little crosses, little pluses. The routine of stitching them is convincing me there is an abundance in the Holy I can trust if only I could put my hands on it and feel it for myself. Hand held resurrection and hope is what should have been printed on the spool of thread and the box of needles. I plan on ordering a dozen of each.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
Not weirdly for me, I started carving a block about my craving and wanting with questions on how to tame it or make peace with it and not weirdly, what came from this was a silly strawberry monster, something childlike and honest. It made me laugh out loud when everyone else in the class was quietly thinking and working. I don’t care about this kind of embarrassment anymore. I am so grateful that I can play with the Holy—that it hears my deep aches and sometimes cracks a joke—not at my expense, but right next to me. I’m grateful Love can nudge me in the middle of a serious life lecture, lean over to me and whisper, “Hey look at this” and then start chuckling heartily. I don’t need to go to my mind’s “guidance counselor’s office” every day and hear about how I need to take things more seriously or get my head out of the clouds or that I also think too much and need to de-stress. I just need a sacred friend who can say, “let’s go” and then runs ahead, leaving its hand out for me to grab while we leap and plunge into the river of life together. I need that Sacred Rebel. Am I fool? Probably. Will I be successful? Who knows. Is time running out to jump into the deep end? Maybe. Yeah. So I’m leaping. God says the water’s warm.
Jennifer Willhoite is an author, illustrator and spiritual teacher who helps folks forge and heal their relationships to themselves and the Sacred through illustrated stories and tools. She teaches on the Ignatian Examen which helps her celebrate the sacred in the ordinary and saved her from a life of functional despair. She is illustrating and writing her first book. She studied theology at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA for two years and completed coursework in contemplation at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA and Ignatius House in Atlanta, GA. You can find her illustrated stories and tools on Instagram @cobbleworks and join her monthly newsletter by emailing her at, email@example.com
(You can see all the Practice Resurrection 2019 guest posts here.)