Flint

I feel no connection
no presence
Like a man trying
to start a fire
with flint and steel
I see sparks
vanishing quickly
leaving no trace
of their existence
I strike the pieces
together again
desiring flame
but seeing only
darkness.

Binge Eating Disorder and Poetic Wisdom

I have a Binge Eating Disorder.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “Binge eating disorder is a severe, life-threatening and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

I cannot recall a time when I was not desperately affected by food. I was thin as a child. My mom would say that even slim-fit jeans would fall from my waist, though I do not remember those days. I look back at school pictures and sometime in the middle grades, I began to fill out. By my sophomore year of high school, I reached 220 pounds and started my first diet. As an all-or-nothing person (I suspect many folks with eating disorders tend in that direction), I quickly lost 40 pounds. Yet it was not to last. I would like to tell you that the thirty years since then have been a piece of cake, but more often than not, it was the whole cake.

I wish that last sentence was tongue in cheek. It isn’t. I have eaten a whole cake at one time. A whole Baker’s Square French Silk pie in a hotel room alone. Pounds of M&Ms behind my closed office door. Dozens of cookies in my car driving home. Not over a lifetime, mind you, but at one sitting. Those who binge eat all have their war stories, but the number of episodes we forget far outnumber those we remember. During a binge, the brain’s executive center seems to go offline, allowing baser desires to take over.  Eating becomes an automatic behavior that nullifies appreciation of food and flavor.

By the grace of God, I have not had an episode of binge eating in over a year, though I’ve lived enough life to know that it is unwise to say that I have beaten it.

Enter the Poets

Perhaps you were intrigued enough by the title to read this far. I hope so. Over the past several weeks, I have had a dawning realization that poets are granting me insight into my binge eating. How so? The best poets bid us to pay attention. In my limited experience, Mary Oliver succeeds at this better than most. I am currently reading Devotions, a remarkable anthology of her poetry. On each page, she invites her readers to see extraordinariness in the ordinariness of creation. Her Instructions for Living a Life capture her invitation well: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” When one binges, the capacity for attention is short-circuited. I am discovering that for me, poets re-awaken those circuits.

In addition, to improving our ability to pay attention, poets whisper, “Slow down. Breathe. Not so fast.” Many writing genres encourage rapid consumption. How many readers have found themselves repeatedly saying, “Just one more chapter”? Not so with the poets. Just this morning, I found myself beginning to rush ahead. I was not listening. I imagined Oliver telling me, “Jason, set the book down. Savor what you have read today. I will still be here tomorrow.”

In our brokenness, it seems that our primary, and often only, response is to seek answers in what the scientists tell us. Often, they can and do offer benefit. But what if, in addition to listening to the doctors and scientists, we also begin to pay attention to the poets and painters and musicians? Or to the farmers and housewives and World War II veterans? Perhaps our deepest healing occurs in a community where diverse gifts and experiences contribute to the deepest wisdom.

Winter Kavod

The blizzard’s heaviness
omnipresent
branches genuflect
ancient trees
sigh beneath the weight
thoroughfares erased
houses too
subsumed beneath
opalescent quilt
the world’s cacophony
dulled
silence prevails for a time

How quick we are
to push back
resisting
the weight of glory
preferring disenchanted convenience
to the purity and power
of winter’s kavod.

*kavod is a Hebrew word meaning heaviness, usually translated “glory” in the Old Testament scriptures.

The Sword of Damocles

Damocles’ sword
dangles precariously
threatening separation
of head from shoulders.

Do not fail
lest God bring His gleaming blade down
upon your neck.

Is this grace?
Is this where we find the peace of Christ?

Or is it true that
there is now, therefore, no condemnation
for those who are in Christ?
That those he justifies
he will also glorify?
That he who began a good work
will bring it to completion?

Rest, child. Rest.

Mirrored

Still waters reflect heaven’s glory
mirrored cosmos, creation’s story.
It is when the world’s at rest
that the image shows the best.
The slightest breeze upon the lake
makes the picture begin to quake.
When tempests blow, the reflection’s gone
whitecapped waves replace the sun,
yet Christ himself whispers “peace”
and all these stirrings begin to cease.
He leads me back to a crystal lake
restores my soul, for his name’s sake.

-a reflection on Psalm 23:2-3

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