The Day I Cleaned the Front of My Fridge & Found the Heart of Advent

The arrival of Advent marks the beginning of the church year, anchored  on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In the year of our Lord 2020, the date is November 29th.

The word ‘advent’ is from the Latin word ‘veni’–adventus–coming. The cornerstone of the Advent season is the idea of making room for God to come.  It is a time of waiting, as Mary did, with the impossible promise that a Saviour would be born, the miracle of light coming to a dark world.

What does that have to do with refrigerators? Let me share.

Several Novembers ago we ordered new kitchen appliances. Everything started when the microwave died. This led to a conversation about the refrigerator which had been humming its way loudly to a definite motor-y end. We dug out the paperwork and discovered it was 17 years old.

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Here’s a photo of our kitchen on Thanksgiving 2000, one year after we got it, all brand spanking new. That’s my daughter Leah the chef basting the turkey. (And no, I will not talk about the psychedelic flooring.)

After a thorough appliance reconnoiter, husband and I decided to join the Black Friday crowds and head to Home Depot to shop the sales. Four hours later, we had ordered for the first time in our 35 plus years of being married, a matching fridge, dishwasher, microwave and range.  In stainless steel. We are so de rigueur.

Maybe my dear readers are already aware of what such a purchase entails, but I don’t think we considered exactly how arduous ‘out with the old, in with the new’ would be under such circumstances.   The ensuing chores involved five hours of cleaning of stove and frig–outsides only–and cleaning of the floors underneath. I was appalled at the debris and gunk on the sides of our range. I blame 16 years of coffee prep. And under the frig? I will also not talk about that.

I had been notified via my daughter in our Thanksgiving conversations a few nights’ previous that magnets do not stick to stainless steel. Oh. I did not know that.  Well, there go the grandkids’ photos and artwork. There go my magnets from Laguna Beach and Yosemite, my favorite of Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory, Scripture cards, quotes I liked.  A veritable bulletin board available 24/7, reminding me constantly of All the Things.

People, places, Bible verses, photographs. Football schedules, equivalent baking measures, an encyclopedia of input and information.  It would all have to go.

So, empty box in hand, I swept the surface clean and windexed it to its glorious, brand-new, former self.

My words are a paltry representation of the change that came over me after that clean sweep. Every time I walked into the kitchen I literally breathed a peaceful sigh. Husband and I remarked many times throughout the next day at how pleased we were with the empty space, that it seemed quieter in the kitchen because all the noise on the fridge was gone.

“Hearts on Pilgrimage-Poems & Prayers-My Upcoming Book

Dearest Readers, thank you so very much for your blessed response to  launching my new book into the world. January will be here before we know it; until then, we will walk out all the days God gives us one at a time. They are truly in His hands. Below you will find the Preface to give you an idea what’s in store in the pages of Hearts on Pilgrimage. If you’d like to join the Launch Team, the application is HERE.** 

The Path

When I said my initial yes to Jesus over 40 years ago, I found poet Luci Shaw’s first book, Listen to the Green and was overcome with the perhapses and possibilities of being a poet. I am adept at saying way more than is needed to communicate a point. What would happen, I wondered, if I intentionally pared down my words to say more with less? Listen to the Green was the inspiration and beginning of my journey into poetry.

I managed to scribble random lines, gathering thoughts in the margins of my days between chasing children and teaching school. Most of it was very bad “poetry,” but it was a start. As I chose to grow and learn, I invested in an informal education, “the school of 3,000 books,” as poet Barbara Crooker would say. The volume you now hold in your hands is the fruit of that learning, a culmination of inspiration and encouragement from poets I’ve had the pleasure of reading and learning from along the way– Laurie Klein, Scott Cairns, Malcolm Guite, Luci Shaw and many others.

The Process

When I began the draft of Hearts on Pilgrimage it was early Spring 2020.  I had been approached by a friend about placing my poems in her care for their possible publication. After a time of waiting and listening, the work landed back in my lap while our collective lives were put on permanent pause by the entry of a disruptive and devastating virus. Life in the time of corona has wreaked havoc on life as we know it. Knew it. But if we are listening, there are lessons still to learn about what we have lost.

I will never look at Spring the same way again, but I am hopeful. And that is the purpose of Spring–God’s eternal message that new life will come from what seems lifeless and gone. Winter’s barrenness provides a Creation backdrop that speaks to God’s presence in the middle of life when everything has been stripped away, and no year illustrates that more than this one.

I’m Writing Another Book! Help Me Tell the World?

First of all, hello to new subscribers and welcome! I’m glad you’re here.

By now you all know I write a bit of poetry…. much of it has been published here on my website but I have had the honor of seeing my work in print and in other places here on the web over the years I’ve been writing.

Have you ever noticed when you have a conversation about poetry, the usual response is, “I just don’t get poetry,” as if there was some secret, codified way that words arranged themselves and only an initiated, select group of people can really understand it. Hence, not many folks read poetry.

I’m here to change that with my new book, “Hearts on Pilgrimage.”

In the beginning of this year I started gathering poems into a manuscript with the goal of self-publishing them. After I had my first draft ready, I sent the collection off to an Editor. Many, many months later….thanks to covid-19 delays and whatnot, I am now on to second edits and will be sending her back my revisions soon. The Preface is practically perfect, I’ve chosen a cover from a lovely watercolor by Laura Winslow(above) and the next step is to reach out to a book designer and write The Acknowledgments.

A Little About the Poems (from The Preface)

The title “Hearts on Pilgrimage” came from a poem by George Herbert  and this passage, which had been rolling around in my head for many years. The poems sort of organized themselves around the theme of a journey through the seasons of the year, much like our lives. I was thrilled to see there was a guiding framework that echoed throughout the work. Beginning with Winter and moving through Spring into Summer and Fall, the book reflects the circle of seasons in the church calendar as well.

The poems are mostly pastoral in nature and I write a good deal about nature, birds, my garden, the way light lands on my kitchen counter or the quiet mornings of coffee in the kitchen. I also deal with the difficulties of death and loss through the lens of God’s faithfulness and presence. It’s important to pay attention to beauty, notice the sky and birds and the trees, the reflection in a puddle, the sound of water–all the ways that God speaks to us without words.

As to form, most of the poems in “Hearts on Pilgrimage” are free verse, but I also play with rhyme and meter a bit, which was a delight to try. George MacDonald’s offerings in Diary of an Old Soul provide inspiration for the cycle of five seven-line poems included. There are also a few sonnets, written in a very loose form, patterning my attempts after others whose work I admire. Initially intimidated by the constraints of the pattern, I was surprised at the freedom provided in writing within prescribed boundaries.

Readers can peruse the work through the year as it is written, or match it to the season they find themselves in currently (literal or figurative.) My prayer for the book is not only that people learn to fall in love with poetry for the first time, but also that they would find an echo of our Creator’s voice as they journey on their own path.

Publishing a book of poetry in this current decade, noticing life around us and pointing out the good, true and beautiful seems a fruitless endeavor in the midst of challenges and heartache. But we will always have trouble and sorrow with us. While we live in a fallen world, we live with a risen Savior; the invisible Kingdom of God is there for the seeing. All we need be aware of is His presence and the beauty around us in every season.

Susan Cowger-Slender Warble, Poetry

_The major problem with letting others define you is that it borders on idolatry. Your concern to please others dampens your desire to please Me, your Creator._ -Jesus Calling Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Cowger confesses she was the ‘black sheep’ in the family, not quite fitting into the mold of family vocations–nurses, pharmacists, sensible people. Instead, her first language was art, a calling that led to a BA in Fine Art (1977) from Montana State University and subsequent MFA in Poetry with a secondary emphasis in Art from Eastern Washington University in 1997.

Susan is a sculptor, visual artist (oils and watercolor) and a writer. What made her take the leap from two dimensional and three-dimensional work to words?

“Art is often abstract. I wanted to help people enter into the art, so I started writing little poems. It seemed to help,” she said.

Susan later founded Rock and Sling Press and Journal in 2004, a well-received publication in the world of faith writing. Editor and fellow poet Laurie Klein joined the masthead for many years and partnered with Susan in its mission. Rock and Sling’s operations were passed to Whitworth University in Spokane WA in 2010.

Susan has continued her creative expressions in the paths of writing, sculpting and painting and recently published Slender Warble, a collection of poems from Wipf & Stock’s Poeima Series.

The book’s back cover blurb explains the title.

“Within the bewildering paradox of suffering and beauty, we often miss the Invisible One. Never quite what you’d imagine, the nudge of his Presence can be mind-bending. More often, the Almighty gives no more than a slender warble. This collection is about finding the presence of God in spite of and because of the trappings that make us most human.”

The trajectory of the work covers four parts of Cowger’s own faith journey, beautifully summed up in the opening poem here. The arc of her writing includes sections in the book: In the Tunnel has poems that show how one begins to listen for God. Sections Between Two Hands, Is That You? and A Voice Clears, record the way one comes to faith, not in an instant but in a lifetime of awakenings.

Each section of the book begins with a “Weather Report” as she calls it, including the date and time of day, whether it’s early morning or dusk. They also set the tone for each section and frame the poems.

The theme of water weaves through the poems, looming as a powerful, pummeling force in a piece about nearly drowning.  Drink and thirst, floating and sinking, as well as the ocean feature frequently; water appears also as “silent drops of dew.”

Cowger’s signature style is punctuation-less, a remarkable feat for an editor and writer. When I asked her about the odd line breaks and spaces instead of periods or commas, she remarked, “It was intentional. I hope to redeem the current ways of communicating. We speak too fast, write in abbreviations, listen only half-heartedly.”

“My poems force the reader to slow down, read with care, pause at the end of each line and breathe. One must pay attention.”

“Light in the Woods” Susan Cowger

Cowger continues to pay attention in her studio in Eastern Washington and shares her art work and poetry online via her beautiful, new website. The tagline? “Art and Poetry are mirrors to see what you love.”

I hope you’ll take a moment to visit, view her work and more importantly, open the door to the possibility of poetry and listen for God’s “slender warble” in your life.

You can find Susan’s book HERE.

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To read more of my poetry book reviews and interviews, click HERE

For the First Time in Forever {{#lifeinthetimeofcorona}}

Image may contain: 11 people, including Leah Johnson and Courtney Collins, people sitting, child, outdoor and nature

L to R, standing: Me, grandson Peter (14), Birthday Boy Bill (75), DIL Courtney Collins, Oldest (and tallest!!) grandson Hanan, 17, our son Aaron Collins, seated in front, L to R, Paul Silas (10. I think), Abigail (almost 13), our daughter Leah Johnson holding newest (very overwhelmed) grandgirl Mary Becca, almost 1 and lastly, Mr. Luke Ezra the Minion, age 8— at Point Defiance Park Tacoma WA

I wrote last week in this space about our first time back at church in like forever. Actually, it had only been three months since our last in-person gathering, but it seemed much longer.

It was wonderful. And weird.

Superlatives have lost their punch lately, if you know what I mean. #lifeinthetimeofcorona has added a shade or hue of excess, infiltrating daily vocabulary and leaving me somewhat immune to the power of words, especially Unprecedented and Never-Before-Seen. 

But sometimes the words fit.

There  is one First Time in Forever that is actually, factually true. My daughter Leah’s first child–Mary Rebecca Elizabeth–will be a year old next month. After pregnancy challenges over a five year period, Mary Becca’s birth still seems like a miracle, especially since my daughter was 40 years old when she was born.

Birthdays–whether you’re 75 like my husband or a year old like Mary Becca–are cause for rejoicing. But like all celebrations in this season of social distancing and quarantine, birthdays and family gatherings have had to morph into something new.

After quarantining and social distancing from March until May, our family was finally able to all get together in one place for a picnic and party to celebrate my husband’s birthday. But the celebration marked something more auspicious, in my humble opinion.

My son and his family of seven (yes, I already have 5 grands….), my daughter and her husband and newest grandgirl Mary, AND my husband and I were all able to get together last week FOR THE FIRST TIME. Our visits in the past have been with my son and his family, or with my daughter and her family, like a Venn diagram with my husband and I in the middle.

But this time we were all in the middle. ((Well, except for my son in law William who TOOK the photo. He was busy setting up the shot.))Image may contain: William E. G. Johnson, plant, outdoor and nature

Maybe because life is draining and difficult in so many ways lately, the simplest joys mean the most. I pray that will be lesson I take away from this time, no matter how long it lasts.

How about you? What lessons have you learned? (Or maybe you’re still in the process….). Let me know in the comments.