Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When purpose is a verb

During college, I spent several holidays at a friend’s family farm on the Musselshell in Montana. On my first Thanksgiving there, Abby gave me the full tour. On the property stood an abandoned yellow farmhouse—the remains of a township that had tried to survive on the vast plains. She climbed the stoop and reached for the door knob, turning to me with a smile. “Would you like pillows?”

I followed her inside to find a house filled with goose feathers. With each of our steps, the topmost feathers lifted in welcome. Some wafted and shivered as if remembering wings. We began filling bags with the cloudy masses of white.

That afternoon, Abby made me a set of pillows on her mother’s sewing machine. That night, I slept on memories of flight. I’d like to think I had marvelous, sky-filled dreams on those pillows, but I can’t remember.


A feather’s purpose is to aid flight. All by themselves, feathers are useful bedding, ink pens, or headdresses. They need the wings to fly.

I think I’ve spent a fair amount of my life focused on the equivalent of feathers.

Of late, I hear people saying, “We purpose to . . .” and “I purpose to . . . .” Unlike some nouns-turned-verbs, this one doesn’t annoy me. I kind of like the combination of decide/choose/envision that “purpose” the verb condenses into one. To purpose you must have a purpose, a vision. And without vision—it was wisely written—we die.

Once, I wrote a poem that started: Yesterday the angel came, featherless. It’s one thing to know the difference between fluff and substance. It’s another to continually remind myself.

And so: I purpose to remember my vision. How’s that for multitasking?

Friday, October 2, 2009



I once bicycled to an underground party held in the wee hours of the morning at a squat behind a German train station. Everyone was packed into a graffiti’d cellar dancing to a DJ who could make the very stones in the walls shake. All was dim except for a small disco ball that hung above us.

At one point while dancing, when the bass was bone-deep, I looked up at the sparkling ball. I had the oddest thought: God is watching.

That wasn’t what I wanted to be thinking, so I decided not to.

I decided not to during the two years I lived in Germany—during parties crafted by world-renowned DJs and VJs, dates with electro-acoustic composers, sushi dinners that turned into wig-wearing bowling games with very wobbly aim. During the day, I wrote poetry at a large, new-media arts center, and at night I looked for things to write about. It was all great fun, quite glossy, and largely empty of content. Which, interestingly, was a current issue with many of the art philosophers. Here you had technology that could “turn” the pages of a non-existent book or allowed you interact with words “raining” down walls when you cast your shadow across them. But in this technological/informational pipeline, what exactly was passing through?

During my second year there, the arts center hosted one of its many international festivals. One of the exhibits was, basically, about dust. When you walked into the large media theater, you saw several huge screens onto which were projected slow-motion video clips—a vacuum cleaner rolling over shag carpet, a woman shaking out a blanket, dust motes dancing in front of a window. Dust, dust, dust. In the middle of the room sat a man playing the banjo. He was singing an ode to dust.

I’m sure this was tongue-in-cheek—an acknowledgement of some of the ridiculousness occurring. Or at least, I hoped so. It won best of show. Dust won.


Ten years, several countries, and countless lessons later, I find myself in Redding, California at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.

The first day of class, I sat in a seat near the back. Behind me, two young guys who looked like they had a garage band were making video game sounds. Beep, beep. BOING. Dit, dit-dit-dit DOINK. People walking past them were falling down, drunk in the Holy Spirit. One of them gave her testimony after break, saying her neck had been healed when she walked by.

I had the most rational thought: this is weird. I’ve seen and encountered plenty of weird. But this kind was resulting in healings and joy.

When I taught literature to high school students on the Micronesian island of Saipan, I began the year with the Anglo-Saxon text of Beowulf. (That juxtaposition was a bit weird all by itself.) I explained to my seniors that the word “weird” stems from an Anglo-Saxon verb meaning “to become.” As a noun: wyrd. Unlike our contemporary version, which is slightly negative, wyrd was positive. It was linked to one’s destiny and meant “supernatural.” Wyrd is an ongoing, continual happening—“that which happens.”

So I didn’t leave the School of the Supernatural. In fact, on the third day, I knew I was meant to stay. During worship music, I looked out at over eight hundred people, most of them dancing . . . in a church. The Spirit presence lay so strong in the room, your limbs tingled with it. God was not only watching, He was there.

I remembered the cellar party, the dust exhibit. Anymore, I’d rather dance in the direction of love and hope. I’d rather find gold dust on my hands during praise. It’s happening.

I am becoming. Wyrd, indeed.