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  • Lisa McMinn

Holding Between

Updated: Mar 3

Hai•ku (noun) /ˈhīˌko͞o/

A Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.

I'm at the beach, just now, during a gale wind warning. Said winds are rattling the windows and buffeting the small cabin where I sit to prayer and journal and read and write. I wonder that the spruce, pine and hemlock trees don't come tumbling down around me.


Yet we (Oliver and I) made it down to the beach twice, and while he is a little "under the weather" he became a swirly mop of wind-blown happiness. The wind knocks him off-kilter when he stands sideways and blows back all his hair so that he looks rather rat-like when he faces into it. He chases with abandon strands of kelp and whatnot the wind sends scattering before her fury.


I am a bit disappointed in the weather. Oliver, seemingly, is not. He is witnessing the immensity of the ocean for the first time and does not find his smallness problematic. Seagulls holding steady in the winds above us allure him. I find his curiosity and theirs unsettling. Neither seem dismayed by these gusty gale-force winds.


Oliver is recovering. He is between health and unhealth just now. That he can embrace the distracting joy of the beach undoes me. This moment is glorious, he yells with eyes that beg me to race with him into the wind. I'm watching the sand roil and roll north, like gritty clouds chased across a stormy sky. He blinks and yells, what's a little sand in the eye when there is so much to smell and chase? I barely hear him because of the wind's deafening roar.

Krista Tippett interviewed John Paul Lederach for On Being, who speaks of Haiku as a contemplative practice. He says it captures the human experience of both joy and suffering in the most simple of terms. By holding joy and patience when sitting with suffering we can hold steady in the between--the space occupied between biopsy and diagnosis, a separation and potential divorce, a bill and the means to pay it, conflict that will return in the next moment but does not exist in this one. To live expecting joy while sitting with suffering prepares us to be touched by the always present beauty above us, at our feet, in the trees and flowers. It is consistently nearby, but not always seen or heard or smelled or touched. When you see the world as it is in all its brokenness, but also suddenly see the world in its beauty--how it stretches toward life, hope, love--that turn, Lederach says, is the haiku moment. As we practice looking for the turns we find unexpected joy-filled nourishment for the journey.


Lederach has learned to listen to the world in Haiku, and I'm challenged to spend some time practicing that. I don't hope to become a Haiku writer, but to better sit with discomfort when I have no answer to an important question, no solution to a dire problem, no way, just now or maybe ever, to help or fix a thing.


In The Naked Now, Richard Rohr talks of being present in dark places--being in the Presence of God in ways that sometimes means staying in the unknown spaces between rather than running away. It requires holding the hidden hard side of things in tension and in tandem with the attractive, comforting, and knowable side. It requires appreciating the goodness and value of a marriage, financial hardship, health, work environment even as we recognize their/our limitations and failures. Perhaps most difficult of all, Rohr says it requires forgiving the reality for being what it is. Forgiving the reality in our bodies, our failed attempts to love selflessly, in the failures of political, economic, and ecological systems that we are complicit in sustaining.


We serve ourselves and others better when we accept the tension of holding inconsistencies together. Indeed, might we love ourselves and others better? We can practice relinquishing our need for and expectation that life's troubles always resolve. Rohr calls this opening and holding pattern "faith." Lederarch calls the capacity to see joy co-existing with suffering as a haiku moment.


And so I lean into faith and try my hand at the contemplative practice of Haiku that I might learn to hold the between.


The Art of Holding Steady


Gale wind rankling day

Lambasted gulls catch flow, flux

a rapturous ride

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© 2019 Lisa Graham McMinn

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