Empty House

Maggie waiting to play

Maggie waiting to play

Maggie and Sebastian romping in the snow

Maggie and Sebastian romping in the snow

Today the house is empty for the first time in 14+ years. I keep listening for the sounds that are no longer here, the footsteps and voices of Maggie (14+ yr. old Westie) and Sebastian (13+ yr. old Shih Tzu -Bichon-Frise).

The day after Sebastian died on Saturday, Maggie’s tumor broke through the skin. She’s always been a brave trooper. The vet said that Westies are the toughest in bearing pain. But she was not herself. She was in pain. She couldn’t walk. She was grieving. She was bleeding. There was no way back. No way to make it better. There was no joy. I loved this dog so much. Maggie’s been my companion for all these years. They say Westies are the most human of dogs. It was true of her. She was all love and all play. I wept like a baby yesterday, as I had on Saturday, when we “put her down,” as they say.

The house is empty of Maggie and Sebastian. But it is not empty of love. Kay, who is more in touch with her feelings than I, expressed them well this morning in an email to her friend Mary.

Empty…..that’s exactly it. Empty….rattling around in a cage that used to have a wheel for multiple animals, moving, squeaking, flying high, deliriously fun and noisy noisy noisy…… And now dead silence, nothing. They left the cage for whatever eternal freedom awaits us all…..there had better be an assemblance of a heaven full of love and resurrection of all the bodies of those we love or I won’t go.

It was the right time, completely worn out caring for two pups that needed carrying everywhere all day and even “up” to get a drink in the night, or outside to pee in the dark of 2:00 am…..we’re too old for this…..but we had no need for NOTHING, no lovely, characterized soft dazzlingly sweet creatures, instead.

We went to bed last night, finally getting to hold each other without the crowding of legs and the sooo familiar and comforting creaturely bodies nestled together…but we were left without a “pack” and we had no “fam”……something that filled every crevice of our lives so completely. We cried together and held each other, but there was no real consolation, since right now it is ALL LOSS. This place will be filled in with new energy or new peace, we will get to be tranquil…..but we have less spunk and personality and affection, oh so much less of everything precious.

I hold the “rubber band of my ambivalence” in high tension. Here it is 4:45 am and I am having a quiet time by the fire with my morning coffee…..a week ago I would have to hope and pray that one or both (not simultaneously) would not have to be brought down to pee……so I would break into my warmth serenity to put on shoes, coat, ear band, get a little sack, a leash, different shoes, go out in the cold, wait endlessly for them to find just the right smell, or the right place that hadn’t been used before, and they never wanted to come in, because frozen smells from other dogs were infinitely more wonderful than house smells….so I would have to practically drag them inside again….then feed them, and put them on the couch on the soft blanket across from my chair, get them all settled…go back to my chair, get settled, my coffee, my ipad……and, you know what would happen next…..they both would come off the couch and want to sit with me on my chair (half the size). They were always undeniable, however much I tried, I would say no, ignore, plead, but if a Westie wants something, there is no denying her, however much you try to command that breed, why would I ever even try, after 15 years, I should know….so up goes the coffee cup to the table, the ipad to the table…..I reach down to scoop her up (and sometimes him too, all 3 of us on this little chair)…. I am scrunched sideways, contorted to get them to settle down so they will sleep again….and, again grab my coffee, my ipad, start reading or writing (which presented an even more contorted arrangement above their lounging bodies because I would have no lap then)……… And then….and then…..they eventually, 3 minutes, 5 minutes……they would want down again.

The sadness I hold in my heart – the desire, the physical ache for their return – is a study in ambivalence. I am nuts with sorrow for something I have been waited for for a long long time.

Love conquers all, I tell you. Even high maintenance love. Their 13-14+ years of collective memories will permeate my soul with sadness that will eventually lift to the highest level of sweet sweet melancholy……….but you and I will know the bottom line. The tension is now resolved, and with grave sadness I walk forward into my freedom unencumbered.

Thanks for hearing my 5:00 am confession, my soiled sadness. I know you understand. You spent years in the same condition with many of your dogs before they died. You would have similar tales to tell. I guess dog people are just special souls.

“Lord, help me be half the man/woman my dog thinks I am.”

A grief expressed

How does one give expression to the depth of horror that follows the death of a son or daughter, as in the case of David’s lament for Absalom? (See sermon “Holy Tears: David, Absalom…and Us” posted here yesterday.)  Percy Bysshe Shelley expresses it in poetry.

O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!

Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight:
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more -Oh, never more!

But music, the language of the soul, best expresses the cry from the depths, the prayer from the abyss for help for the helpless. In such moments of loss – and in the spiritual discipline of Good Friday reflection – I listen to “Libera Me” from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. So soulful. So honest. Real. Vulnerable. Pleading. A primal but lovely cry, given voice from the depths by a great composer.

News: 24/7

Author C.S. Lewis as a child before his mother's death.

Author C.S. Lewis as a child before his mother's death

“NEWS: 24/7” 

a poem by



April 20, 2012

The writer, C.S. Lewis, said he never read the newspapers or owned a TV.  “If any-

thing important happens, someone will always say,”

he claimed. His house was filled with books. The life he led

began each day with prayer, with pen and a notebook,

food, teaching, more writing, then meeting friends for beer

and talk and laughter. 50 books of his appear

in 65 years on this earth. “Just take a look,”

he said, “I’m the last dinosaur you’ll ever see!”

His day of death was not reported on TV:

November 22, 1963.

JFK (R) with big brother Joe Kennedy

JFK with big brother Joe Kennedy

C.S. Lewis’s books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The Chronicles of Narnia are the most popular. having been popularized on stage, TV, radio and film. His book A Grief Observed, an exceptionally honest reflection following the death of the love of his life, Joy Davidman, meant a great deal to me in dealing with my own raw grief. The film Shadowlands was based on A Grief Observed. Lewis was no stranger to the grief that shocked the world in Dallas November 22, 1963, the day he died without the notice he deserved.

 “…God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“Easter Morning”

Steve Shoemaker

It’s Monday of Holy Week. I’m walking with Jesus as best I can toward the cross and  toward the celebration of Easter. This year I’m walking with members of the congregation who are  suffering, in great pain, sick, dying people, trying the best I can to be with them fully in ways that, by the grace of God, might help. This is not head stuff. It’s heart stuff. I get tangled in my head too often. I open the morning email. There’s this double acrostic poem from my old friend Steve Shoemaker, the 6’8″ and shrinking Ph.D. kite-flyer theologian and poet. Thank you, Steve.EASTER MORNING

Either Jesus really did rise or

All his followers made up the worst

Series of lies in history…  Poor

Thomas certainly was right to doubt

Even after hearing tales:  what four

Reached the tomb (or five?)  Who saw him first?


Matthew says two women, Mark says three;

Or was it just one, as said by John?

Reports of what eye-witnesses can see

Never can be trusted.  Luke said one

In the road joined two who could not see–

Not until he broke the bread…  No one

Got the story straight! Conspiracy?


Even grade school kids could do as well.

And Luke throws in Peter saw him too–

Somewhere unreported…  Who could tell

That this jumble of accounts could do

Enough to give faith and hope to all.

Resurrection?  Who could think it true?


Maybe just the simple:  those whose eyes

Open to the light through grief, through tears…

Reminded of love, of truth, of grace…

Needing to be fed, hands out for bread…

Inspired by the scriptures, in whose head

Grow visions:  life can come from the dead.

I’m adding this visual: “Disciples John and Peter on their way to the tomb”:

Disciples John and Peter Run to the Tomb

Burnand, Eugène, 1850-1921. Disciples John and Peter on their way to the tomb on Easter morning, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55038 [retrieved April 2, 2012].

Steve and I would love to hear your reflections and responses to Steve’s poem or Burnand’s painting. Thanks for coming by.

What You Cannot Have (A List)

What You Cannot Have (A List). This insightful piece, by the same poet who wrote “The List” (posted here several days ago, was in my email inbox this morning. I quickly posted a comment on Bluebird’s blog. This writer is REALLY good. After last night, I needed this more than my morning coffee. As I said on the blog, “A bluebird just flew by my window(s program).” Whoever you are, Bluebird, thanks for flying by, and…thanks for this delicious cookie.

Opening a Vein- a reflection on grief

Keep Me in the Light

Gordon C. Stewart  –  Tuesday, 15 March 2011 21:28
This piece grew out of the experience of grief – the loss of step-daughter Katherine following a four year courageous battle with cancer.   was down, way down. I had to preach the following Sunday. I had nothing to say…only a swamp of feelings. I had connected the grief over Katie’s death with the sense of homelessness I had walking the streets iof Minneapolis. I decided to sit down and write. 

What does a preacher or writer do when the well runs dry? For well over a month my well has been dry as a bone. I have nothing to say.

I watch the news. I listen. I am lonely and confused, like a street person hearing the garbled voices of the public address system blaring over the loudspeaker and the thunderous cheers and jeers from the sports stadium blocks away from where I live under the bridge.

When the well runs dry, you sit down at your typewriter “staring at a blank sheet of paper,” said journalist Gene Fowler, “until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Fowler, like famed sportswriter Red Smith, knew that “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Opening a vein is hard when what’s in the vein is grief. It’s even harder when you’re alone and silent on the street, bombarded by all the noise from the stadium.
Only as I begin to write again do I realize the grief. I don’t recognize the world in which I live. I live under the bridge with a cheap bottle of wine. I hear the shouts from the stadium and recognize the passion in their voices, like fans from Green Bay and Minnesota rooting for the Packers and the Vikings: loud cheers and boos from the spectators, shouting the old platitudes, participating vicariously in what’s really happening between the two professional teams down on the playing field.
I don’t know this world. All the rules that favor the middle class and the poor are up for grabs. I’m not sure I want to learn this new game.

I am a man of faith informed by the Hebrew prophets, Jesus of Nazareth and the faith and labor movements of the 20th century that ended child labor; stopped employers from working their employees 12 hours a day, seven days a week; closed the sweat shops that were taking advantage of immigrants from Italy, Poland and Ireland; bridled the horses of runaway greed—the banks, the robber barons and corporations— that profiteered at public expense; won the right of collective bargaining; demanded basic financial security for retirees (Social Security); established a woman’s right to vote; enacted the Civil Rights Act; ended the war in Vietnam; and called for ecological sense, the protection of our natural habitat, the air and the water on which life on the planet depends. I grieve that Jesus’ and the prophets’ vision of turning the upside down world right-side up is gasping for air.

Like Gene Flower, the journalist who described writing with drops of blood forming on his forehead, I’m losing it the way he did when a stranger who claimed to be a healer suddenly appeared at the hospital room of his dear friend John Barrymore. “Just give me three minutes with Mr. Barrymore,” said the charlatan, and I will cure him!” Fowler grabbed him by the collar and threw him down the stairs, calling after him, “Physician, heal thyself!”

I want to throw the impostor healers who have suddenly appeared outside the national hospital room down the stairs, which is not a good thing for one who claims to follow Jesus and the prophets. I’m mildly comforted that Jesus lost it when he threw over the money-changing tables of the financial establishment of his time. But then, I’m not Jesus.

Opening a vein may not change the world. I’m still walking the street three blocks from the stadium. But as I think about where I come from and wipe the beads of blood that are forming on my forehead, a hymn that was ripped from the Presbyterian hymnal rises from deep wells of childhood memory:

God of the prophets, bless the prophets’ heirs; Elijah’s mantle o’er Elisha cast; Each age its solemn task may claim but once; Make each one nobler, stronger, than the last.
Anoint them prophets! Make their ears attent To Thy divinest speech; their hearts awake To human need; their lips make eloquent To gird the right and every evil break. I am strangely consoled.

The vision and the call are still alive and well in my soul. I pass the homeless shelter near the bridge and hear the faint sound of other street people singing another old familiar hymn.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art – Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

I’m bleeding. But warm blood is a sign of life. Lord, keep me in the light.