childhood

I Used To Pray For Dreams

In those moments before sleep slipped
me into its hypnotist’s
trance and silence,
I’d ask God to tell me stories.
I’d wish for them like presents wrapped in paper,
surreal surprises,
joys too big for boxes.

My head upon my pillow,
I used to call up a kind of catalogue,
a running list I’d keep
of what I’d like to meet
once I’d lost count of sheep.

Before slumber
took me under it’s spell
I’d recall in
my mind’s eye a heavy volume
of black and white drawings—
crocodiles, 
ventriloquists, 
trapeze, 
bows and arrows, 
and thingamajig contraptions—
carefully selecting one or two things
before asking God to weave them into my dreams,
into impossible adventures.

I'd listen to classical music, 
staticky and tinny
from my tiny
powder-blue alarm-clock-radio, 
and imagine ballets and battles,
initiating the weaving of the webs
I wished my dreams would finish.

I'd squeeze my eyes shut tight
until whole galaxies of stars
of blue and yellow and pink
would spin and sparkle
and I’d fly out among them
and beg to be flown further
while I was under.

Then somewhere along the way I stopped. 

Maybe they became profane or vain
or all too real, 
no longer revealing places I longed to go. 
I don't know.

Perhaps
I dismissed all of this
as fantasy
and naiveté— 
the unsophisticatedness
of childhood bliss.
But I wish
only this:
to dream again!

Sleep & Resist

Oh little ones,
dozing is done,
and dreams have come
to carry you away.

Is this when games are devised
and songs improvised—
made up and stored
in the closets and beneath floorboards
or lined up on the secret shelves
of your unmeddled mind?

Or is this when you devise your disobedience,
plot your willful resistance
to authority and maturity?

By all means, resist!
May these dreams consist
of playful joys
for a day will foist
upon you the burdens of adulthood
in time.

Resist! My son and my daughters,
close fists
against the coming of logic and reason, 
giving reasons for disparaging these seasons
of dreams
in the day and not just night.

If growing up
is growing out
of daydreams
and made-up-things
then rebel!
Fume and marshall fury
against the onslaught of worries
that we hurry toward when we grow old.

So, little ones,
sleep and resist
and dream.

Hearing Voices

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I remember being young, maybe seven. I remember standing in the center of a group of the neighborhood kids. They were circled around me, running and skipping. Pointing and taunting.

"Nicky-picky. Nicky-picky."

I don't remember how it started. I don't remember if I'd provoked it somehow. I don't remember why those particular words hurt as much as they did.

I do remember hot anger and shame burning my face. I remember violence screaming in my limbs. But all I could do was run away. Run away as fast as my legs would carry me.

And I vowed that no one would know. No one would know that words hurt worse than any stick I'd ever been hit with or any stone I'd ever tripped over.

I ran in the door of my childhood home, suddenly safe inside its orange brick walls. My mother came around the corner, and she asked, "Nick, are you okay?"

The dam burst. Suddenly, I was sadness and sobbing.

I don't know what it is about the voice of one who loves you like that, the voice of family, but hearing the concern and empathy in the voice of my mother or of my father has always prompted this same response. Still does.

This has been a difficult week.

It's been a week filled with disappointment, with raw moments and long silences. Once again, I vowed that no one would know. That's where I was when I walked in the doors of my church the other night, preparing for the first of our weekend services. Before arriving I'd been sure to stuff it all down, deep as I could, making sure the cork was as tight as it could be.

I hadn't been there more than a minute before two good friends looked me in the eye and asked, "How are you?"

And suddenly, it was as if I were seven years old again. I crumbled as reality erupted with indomitable force. I was shocked by the suddenness of it, and I was shocked by how familiar it felt.

At first I was embarrassed. Not until later did I realize just how significant that moment was. It had been like hearing the voice of my parents, hearing the voice of those who love me, the voice of family.

I have always believed that the church should be family, but I don't think I ever expected the simile to so tangibly approximate reality. This is what the Church should be. It should be the place where difficult weeks can air themselves out. It should be the place where we are most loved and where reality erupts with regularity. It should be, and it can be. I've seen it.

The Magic Hour

I remember summers as a kid growing up in Ohio. The days were hot and muggy. And long.

Darkness didn’t usually set in until almost 10 pm, and that meant a lot of time was spent outside in the sunshine. There were a band of six of us boys, all close in age, who whiled away those daylight hours together. We built forts in the woods, swung from vines, played with fire and generally acted like we were living in the early chapters of Lord of the Flies.

I remember running and shouting and hitting things with sticks. I don’t remember many moments of stillness, of quiet. But there were a few.

At the edge of the woods we often played in there was a field full of weeds and wildflowers and sweet-smelling clover. I remember one day picking wild raspberries in the woods and crossing that field on our way home. As we stepped into the clearing the sun seemed to hang just above the tops of the trees on the far edge of the field, and our shadows fell long on the grass.

And suddenly everything was brilliant with golden glow.

Every blade of grass seemed to stand out in sharp relief. The trees that bordered the field turned a vibrant green as if they themselves were emitting a neon glow. The wildflowers became like jewels dotting the landscape. In the air, every speck of dust and every flying insect sparkled as they caught the light, filling the air with diamond dust.

We stopped. We were quiet and still.

The world seemed reborn, alive in a way I’d never known. What had seemed ordinary and commonplace when we had passed through it an hour ago was suddenly enchanting and new. Every rock demanded our attention. Every weed deserved mention.

Our pause must have been momentary, but in our boyhood rhythms it was the equivalent of an hour. A magic hour.

That’s what cinematographers and photographers call it. The Magic Hour. Or sometimes The Golden Hour. It’s the day’s last hour of sunlight, and it makes the ordinary extraordinary. I must have seen it before that day, but that was the first time I’d really taken it in.

Even now, there’s nothing like a windows-down drive during the last vestiges of daylight; that kind of magic on a daily basis is good for the soul.

I feel as though, right now I am living in a creative magic hour, so to speak. Everything has come alive for me. Everything I see inspires me or sparks me. I’m moved and motivated. The world seems reborn, alive.

I don’t know how it began. I don’t know when it will end. I don’t know if it’s just a moment, or a season, or a new reality. But I’m going to take it, and revel in it, and thank God for it.