Vivid Ash

Canyon de Chelly was my mother’s favorite place. I don’t know why I’m thinking of her this morning, except that an enormous change has reached its culmination in my life recently. My mother’s name was Doris Ann and she was born in 1926 and died in 2003— 15 years ago. She was the most remarkable person I’ve ever known, and the wisest.  I was looking for inspiration for my blog post because the Lectionary readings turned out to be pretty inert for me today. The only thing that struck me in the readings were these verses from Proverbs about Wisdom. I realized that they reminded me of my mother.

30 “I was with him as someone he could trust. For me, every day was pure delight,

as I played in his presence all the time, 31 playing everywhere on his earth,

and delighting to be with humankind.”

Anyway, I went looking for other sources of inspiration, and ended up reflecting on endings.  My sister and I were with Mom when she died, and even at the time I felt it as a great grace and blessing. Now, all these years later, I am certain that it was, and what’s more, the experience of being with her at her death has given me a kind of aptitude for endings. This poem I’m sharing with you reminded me of her so strongly that it seemed almost as if the poet had written it about her.

When it comes to my own endings, in particular the one now present in my life, I was suddenly illuminated this morning by the understanding that I’m leaning into the memory of my mother because of the way that she showed me, with grace and infinite aptitude, how to go about dying. It’s because of her that I understand how to navigate endings, and recognize what Wiman meant when he wrote:

“And praise to the light that is not yet, the dawn in which one bird believes, crying not as if there had been no night but as if there were no night in which it had not been.”

One Time

  1. Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

Then I looked down into the lovely cut

of a missing river, something under

dusk’s upflooding shadows

claiming for itself a clarity

of which my eyes were not yet capable:

fissures could be footpaths, ancient homes

random erosions; pictographs depicting fealties

of who knows what hearts, to who knows what gods.

To believe is to believe you have been torn

from the abyss, yet stand waveringly on its rim.

I come back to the world. I come back

to the world and would speak of it plainly,

with only so much artifice as words

themselves require, only so much distance

as my own eyes impose

on the slickrock whorls of the real

canyon, the yucca’s stricken

clench, and, on the other side,

the dozen buzzards swirled and buoyed

above some terrible and intangible fire

that must scald the very heart

of matter to cast up such vivid ash.

  1. 2047 Grace Street

But the world is more often refuge

than evidence, comfort and covert

for the flinching will, rather than the sharp

particulate instants through which God’s being


into ours. I say God and mean more

than the bright abyss that opens in that word.

I say world and mean less

than the abstract oblivion of atoms

out of which every intact thing emerges,

into which every intact thing finally goes.

I do not know how to come closer to God

except by standing where a world is ending

for one man. It is still dark,

and for an hour I have listened

to the breathing of the woman I love beyond

my ability to love. Praise to the pain

scalding us toward each other, the grief

beyond which, please God, she will live

and thrive. And praise to the light that is not

yet, the dawn in which one bird believes,

crying not as if there had been no night

but as if there were no night in which it had not


                       Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing: Poems


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