Monday, February 02, 2015

Diagram in the Dust

St. Augustine confessed, "Scarce
understanding came even with many learned masters not merely lecturing,
but making many diagrams in the dust."

Only four hundred years after Christ,
this drawing diagrams in the dust must
have been custom:
if modeling, mashals, exhortations, lessons
did not sink in, did not convert overtly,
then the master kneeling
in a last resort to draw a picture, meaning
that truly the truth had escaped,
bounced off
a blindness, an ignorance too rooted to be easily uprooted.

What diagrammed drawing
the stones
the Pharisees fade in shame?

For the Jews, words were signs, multi-leveled,
not these banalized, horizontal, shallow things
floating in unreal space, lighter and more meaningless
than clouds shaping and re-shaping with the wind;
the word
could have been both word
and diagram,
a perfect Euclidean sphere-word
bearing eternal perfection,
a real child of the

The One in the flesh leapt
the supplement-stages of signs:
He made a diagram in the dust;
perhaps something so simple,
that all not united with it faded into mere chaos, the
chaos of the part that sets itself up as judge of the whole and of another
that mystery of another's soul
whose being is also from God.

Being Himself in the flesh drawing a diagram
for a bit of marred flesh
whose being is nevertheless His,
and His alone to judge,
as only the artist can know the painting before the paint,
as only the writer knows
the character before the story was written.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Wedding Story...or Don't Judge a Book by It's Cover

On December 27, 1964, 50 years ago, it was snowing heavy and 40 degrees below zero in Spokane; the Winter Festival Queen of Whitworth College and the poor boy from Olympia, WA, were getting married in Spokane. It was the worst winter in decades, and not many could get out, or in; it would be a wedding in the bleak midwinter, indeed, but immediate family got there.

The groom, unbeknownst to the bride, suddenly came down with the flu the day of the ceremony, the ultimate trick provided by his best man. Making his way through everyone wrapped in silk and tulle, he willed himself to the front of the church to wait for his Snow Queen.

She came, a lovely, petite woman in a simple, heavy satin gown. She wondered why he wasn't looking at her, and then realized he was "as white as a sheet." The college roommates in the back of the church thought in scorn, "He's awfully emotional."

The bride's father was the minister, and when he realized that the groom wasn't well, immediately got them to kneel down and the ceremony continued. The minister then realized that kneeling wasn't going to stop what was just going to happen, and held out his shoe so the groom could throw up in it. The guys in the back thought, "Okay. That's out of bounds...he's way too emotional."

Meanwhile, the groom's brother, standing on the steps leading to the altar, suddenly went white and fell like a tree, hitting his head with a sound like a cannon going off; happily, a non-fatal, glancing blow. The mother of these two young men stood up and started screaming, the ambulance came, and the bride quietly asked her father, "Should we just do this another time?"

"No, no," said the intrepid father, "let's just get through this."

No one in the audience knew the extent of the groom's damage until the new couple, "Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Wrye" was announced and the couple turned around. Then, a collective gasp.

The reception was full of gentle pity and quiet exits, and the honeymoon was spent playing Yahtzee  with the groom's new in-laws.

How has the marriage been spent?

1. A move to Afghanistan to serve as missionaries three years later, with a child on the way. Courage or rashness? Answer: Both.

2. Another move to Afghanistan after a long furlough, with two daughters. Adventure or madness? Both.

3. A move to Greece in 1974 (smart).

4. Back to California.

5. A doctorate.

6. Another move to Russia, during the fall of the Soviet Union. Exciting.

7. Denmark. Cute.

8. United Nations International School NYC, for 11 years. Cool.

9. Retirement. Doing it well.

What's in between the lines? Their marriage ceremony was, in a way, the cover to a very different book, one of adventure and of mostly blessed health; but in a deeper way, it is emblematic of the values and virtues they have passed on, most effectively, by modeling, by living.

My father has always seen my mother as a queen, and my mother has always believed enough in my father to continue walking down the aisle, through sickness and health, for better and for worse.

Their health was spent in simple and sincere service, all over the world; they helped, together, re-order and put onto good foundations, a number of schools, my father a fair, just, humble leader and my mother a strict but inspiring teacher to countless elementary students. They used each gift they had to the greatest extent they felt prudent and charitable.

Their times of sickness showed their deep love for each other. When my mother had a brain tumor removed, I had to take my father in charge and make him eat, and stop him from buying her a Steinway (a bribe to stay with him?). I held him as he wept at the thought of her death. My mother told me once, "We have a commitment to commitment, because we know this honors God. This gets us through the bleak times." This is the foundation from which a great love was built.

Their adventures have been many: they have seen so much in a life together--coups in Afghanistan, the beauties of Greece, the struggle of politics, the crash and deep beauties of Russia, and 9-11 in New York, when dust-covered parents ran straight from the Financial District, forty blocks, to the school to be with their children, my father out front to comfort them and quell the panic.

But the real adventures have been, I think, the small hours in the darkness, when the sorrows and stresses were too deep to speak about, the regrets, when they had to watch each other be crucified in the way it happens through out life; they have tried to face failures and sorrow together, as a team, and never turn on each other in suffering, standing below each other's crosses faithfully. They pick each other up and consult with each other on the way of God, the way of Christ, of charity, of Christ's Mother, as best they can with their imperfections.

They get sick, have baggage, drive each other crazy sometimes. Their fights are long, silent, symbolic, gentle, almost courteous battles that usually end up as jokes, like the time in Denmark when the husband wanted the kitchen shade up, and the wife wanted it down. One knew when one or the other was home based on the position of the shade. The husband wanted the light, and the wife didn't want to see the guy across the courtyard taking a shower behind a full-length window. Sometimes I just wanted a good old Italian fight, instead of English reserve, but mostly I appreciated not being put in the middle, ever.

I've learned lots of things from them about which I said to myself, "I think I'll do that differently." It is also the privilege of my children to learn valuable lessons in the negative from me, and yet still try to love me. As my parents have got older together, they've become more open, more honest with themselves.

They love to laugh and they love to help. If one could pick one word for them, it is 'service.' I have learned about this, about humility, about honoring the good, and loving yet what is not perfect from them; mostly, though, I have learned about perseverance.

They are not famous and many dreams, expectations of theirs have been truncated by life.  But the dream, the accomplishment of a successful marriage has been theirs, through 'commitment to commitment and honoring God.' They know that the dream wedding is one in which two people intent on virtue unite in love and friendship, not one which meets the outside expectations, one which reflects what Cicero says in De Amici, paraphrased: "Only two people intent upon virtue can be friends or have true unity."

Thus, they have loved each other through disappointment (beginning on the wedding day), danger, adventure, sickness, unexpected joy, which they have received as gifts and not as rights. Their love has been made deeper and more precious because they have not tried to grasp 'happy' but instead gained it through the practice of virtue. They have not hunted for beauty, but have become beautiful through humility, the humility that comes from trusting God in the humiliations of life. I have often thought that God has taken especial care to send them the trials that would answer their real dreams, the dream of the soul that wants to please Our Lord, that values truth and honesty above success.

I, their second daughter, know that I am watching them slow down, almost imperceptibly, like a slowing snowstorm, and become more and more restful and quiet. Because the loss of either or both of them will be like the roof is gone from my world (how will I be virtuous, constant, without them? How will I reach their standard for my own children?) I am beginning to give them back to God now, in the small goodbyes after summers at Orcas and Christmases in Lander; I make sure I remember to thank Him from Whom they came, and from Whom came I, through them.

I know now, as I didn't when my grandparents had their 50th, what a glorious accomplishment this is and I cannot do it justice. I was a young, rash, mostly unvirtuous thing then, and am now much more humbled and beat up, with wrinkles of my own that I appreciate, and able now to appreciate their accomplishment, an accomplishment not worldly, but more akin to Christ's own example of simplicity, holy obedience, humility.

One cannot do justice in words, or anything simply worldly, to the gift of parents who were able, through their desire to serve God, stay married and do it with grace.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


One day, in the deepening dark and cold of the year,
I stood stiff, like a deer alert, in the wind and the twirling leaves,
bits of death and change that battered me and settled on my back, unwanted.

One day, in the deepening dark and cold of the year,
I stood broken, and soft, like a bird, in the wind and the twirling leaves,
bits of death and change dancing in a pattern, settling on me in a mosaic, providence.

photo credit: Marylynne Wrye

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Like a leaf still green
falling to the ground unseen,
you, my sweet, unfinished,

Like water, fresh and sweet
rising away, lost in the heat,
you, my child, never held,

Like a note full and mellow
swept from the strings of a cello,
you, my Ellie, untouched,
live on.

Monday, August 18, 2014


I sit with you, alone, in a dark, mercilessly exact-angled room.
There are no windows, no doors; I know,
because I have felt every square inch with fevered swipes.
I know all the pock-marks in the walls and the undulations of the floor.
I sit now, cross-legged; I have remembered to stop
searching for that tempting hole,
the one that is, in truth, only big enough for a rat to squeeze through
and would require me to shrink.

You, Lord, are Other, and I feel no comfort.
But because You are sitting, I feel you have invited me
to sit.
So, I have stopped running in circles and the silence
of the room, Your silence, fills me up.
You don't tell me what is the purpose of this entrapment,
this prison of pain,
but You are here, too, You have been there
and this has to be enough.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Mary’s eyes were open.
She saw not as a shopkeeper sees his wares or customers;
she saw the shining reflection under created things: 
the stones she swept were jewels uncovered,
the dust particles whirling in the gentle air
were tiny birds with luminous wings.

Her life was a coming together of polarities.
Silence and sound,
the sounds of life, of birth and death, she did not avoid:
she heard the converging of silence and sound
which did not make a static and sterile prayer,
but rather a transcendent song.

She sang a song
that drew the light.
In the recess of her soul,
Being sang to her,
and her heart sang back.

In her silence
on the swaying of the donkey, covered by the glinting dust,
under the winter sun, she saw the shining silver reeds--
but she still awaited Light
as the edges of the world began to curl toward Bethlehem.

paintings 1) Le divin apprenti 2) Alma mater, by Virginie Demont-Breton

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dido in Hades

Dido, once me, believed 
love-vows could be witnessed by the storm:
Breaking surf, unbroken, whipping wind
raising a rain shower—
the will of the gods an encircling wave
bringing the torch that the bridegroom gave.

Steeled Aeneas countered 
gods live both in men and in the storm:
Burning Cupid doused by Neptune swell
balancing blood's fervor—
his clear-cut piety the force to fire,
reflect, and drown my funeral pyre.

I, shade, then existed
so weather had nothing to do with me:
Waning sliver-moon, airless, dead night
cloaking a soul inured—
but what heat grows here now, this flaming turn,
straining my flint-will twixt bend or burn?