As I was away on my personal retreat, a line from a poem savagely grabbed hold of me with a strength and tenacity that shook me to the core. I came across it as I read through a poem by Dana Gioia entitled, “Night Watch.” I think the line had been lying in wait for me since I began making my way through the book, hatching a scheme to catch me unaware. As I began the poem, I noticed nothing out of the ordinary; as a former police officer I still find myself scanning areas I am about to venture into, attentive to anything that seems out of place, does not look quite right. As I glanced down the page there was nothing that attracted my attention, nothing that appeared odd or foreboding. The line had masterfully blended in among the other lines of the poem, not tipping its hand in the least. It gave no indication of what was to come, what lay in store for me as I continued down the page.
The line had cleverly situated itself at the beginning of the 6th stanza, line 26 of the poem, the second to last line, at the very bottom of the page. When I arrived at line 26 nothing happened. I made it easily past the line, or so I thought. Initially the line just laid there and I naively continued on, reading the next line and even beginning to turn the page to finish the poem – then it happened. The line leaped from the page and was on me before I could even react, violently knocking me to the ground, its claws firmly attached to my back – I was not getting away but maybe I could survive. I curled in a ball and laid there motionless. I recalled this was the go-to move if a bear ever attacked you – I could only hope it would also work on a line from a poem. The line was relentless, digging its sharp claws ever deeper into my skin. It was not letting go. I continued to just lie there, no other options came to mind – pain was pulsating through my entire body—and then as quickly as it started it was over.
The line released its grip and returned to its place at the bottom of page 5. I just laid there for a few moments, deeply shaken, probably in shock. I eventually treated the deep wounds on my back the best I could and began to settle down, wanting to be free from the thoughts and feelings that the attack had stirred within me. I decided to check Facebook. As I clicked on the icon searing pain surged through my body – it was if that line had once again leaped from the page and attacked me. Fortunately that was not the case. I decided to put down my phone and head out on a prayer walk.
Later I returned to the cabin, ate some food, and grabbed my iPad to play a little Sudoku, just to unwind, get my mind off the events that had transpired earlier in the day: again I experienced searing pain. I put down the iPad and began to journal before going to bed. Over the next couple days the thoughts of that line haunted me and even seemed to exert a mysterious power over me. I wasn’t looking at my phone, checking Facebook, playing Sudoku on my iPad. I was more intentional with the use of my time.
And then my retreat time came to an end. As I headed down the mountain in my car and I reached out to switch on the radio, once again I experienced pain but this time the pain was not as intense. When I arrived home and started to unload the car I wondered if there would be any lasting effects from the line’s attack on me or with the passage of time I would forget all about that line, all about what happened – the thought of forgetting what had happened frightened me.
You are probably wondering what the line was that did so much damage. Well here it is: “There are so many ways to waste a life.”
May these words undo you, as they have undone me and may they continue to undo us all. Christ have mercy.
Suggestion for the month
Spend some time sitting with this sentence – “There are so many ways to waste a life.” These are good words, needed words for me to hear. What about you? What might be the invitation/challenge of God in these words for you?
Ask God to remind you that life is short and that not all things are profitable, and to give you wisdom and guidance regarding things in your life that though lawful, are not helpful in your living more and more into and out of who God has created you to be. Please remember that this is not about condemnation but freedom, freedom to be and become the masterpiece God has created you to be.
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