Angel on a Summer Day

There’s a special kind of heat that July brings to the city. Sun blistering the surface of asphalt parking lots. Breeze blocked by tall buildings. Miles of concrete, brick and stone. South facing walls of brick turned into seven story, solar-fired heat batteries. Afternoons so hot that you’d swear even the sidewalks are sagging.

On such a day a week or two ago, Todd Ray and some of his maintenance team were tearing out partition walls at Cowley College’s downtown Wichita center. In between cutting out sections and lugging them out to the dumpster, they took a break on the north side of the building. There’s not much shade on any side at one-thirty in the afternoon but north is definitely better than south at that time of day.

As they stood there, sipping drinks from large Styrofoam cups, they saw a thirty-something-year-old guy come out of the convenience store a couple hundred feet away. Slender and of medium height, everything about the man spoke of anger: stiff, exaggerated motions with his arms, feet stomping against the pavement. His words provided further evidence of his state of mind, even for the hearing impaired. A blue hot stream of profanity fired through the already sweltering air as he made his way across the parking lot. One of the workers asked Todd, “You think we should call the police?”

“No, he’s not hurting anything or anybody; let’s just wait and see what happens next.”

As they watched, they saw him became so animated and his angry expressions so exaggerated that he stumbled and fell to the ground. Rising in exasperation, he looked around, saw Todd and the other guys standing near the door which was propped open. He headed toward them.

Knowing that the other employees would become alarmed if the guy came inside the building in that state of mind, Todd moved over to block the doorway. “He wasn’t a big guy,” Todd notes, “So I just stood there.” At six-two and two hundred and twenty, Todd can certainly make you stop and think about what it might take to get to whatever he’s standing in front of.

As the man approached, Todd noted the baggy long sleeve shirt and the jeans that were way too big for him. Even his backpack seemed the wrong size. His body still tense with anger, he paused a few feet from Todd.

“Hey, man, what’s going on?”

The man sagged to his knees right in front of Todd, lifted his open hands out to the side and as he shook them to emphasize his words, he groaned, “I just wanted a glass of water. I just wanted a glass of water and they wouldn’t give it to me.”

Todd looked down, saw the soul-weary frustration and the sweat streaming across the man’s shaved head. He felt the heat drifting into the shade and the cooler air seeping out of the open door. As the man’s hands fell then to his side, Todd told him, “I will get you some water. I don’t have a glass but I’ll wash out this cup and I’ll fill it up with water and I’ll bring it back to you. Just wait right here.”

The guy waited and Todd went inside. The other two workers traded looks with each other and may have wondered what they’d do if the guy decided he wasn’t going to wait. They didn’t have to find out.

Todd came back with the cup, filled with fresh water and gave it to the man. “I’ve never seen anyone drink that much water that fast,” he told me, shaking his head from side to side. “He just turned it up and drained it. Drank that whole thing, thirty-two ounces of water, almost in one gulp.”

Finishing the water, he handed the cup back to Todd, wiped his mouth and rose back up to his feet. He adjusted his backpack, thanked Todd again and then walked on across the parking lot. Todd and the other guys watched him turn and disappear around the corner. Immediately they turned to one another, “Did that just happen?” “What was that?”

There are such things in this life when we think back on them later we realize the experience was larger than we realized at the time. Then, there are those rare times when we know right away. Such things of incredible poignancy, so touching that we know immediately we have experienced something so profound it goes beyond superficial understanding and explanation.

We wonder if we have just seen an angel when in fact we have looked into the very eyes of Jesus.

H. Arnett
7/24/20

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, College, Higher Education, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wichita Summer

July brings a particular kind of heat
that sweats the streets and buckles your feet
against the concrete edges of sintering sidewalks
set way below the ledges of tall brick and stone buildings
that block the breeze and bring the city to its knees
praying for some sort of relief.

The sun seethes the surface of asphalt parking lots:
black, blistering blotches snatching at pressing tires
and still simmering in the settling dusk
as the sun slips into the western husk of the prairied earth.

It rises on mornings so heavy with humidity
that it feels like ninety at seven in the morning.
Dew settles so thick on every blade and bush
that shoes and britches soak through in two minutes
of walking through pasture.

By mid-morning, moving from shade
into the shaved fields of wheat
or just-baled acres of hay
flushes the whole body with rising heat
as if you’d just walked into an un-domed kiln.

Some nights, you can see lightning flashing
from eighty miles away
and know that somewhere—
way off to the north by northeast,
probably up between Council Grove and Topeka,
they’re getting rain and maybe high winds and hail

and you pray for only the rain part
and hope that the unfailing grace of God
will soften the sod
and bring both peace and rain
into the heat-splintered heart of the city.

And your own, as well.

H. Arnett
7/21/20

Posted in Christian Devotions, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Prayer, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prayer on a Summer’s Dawning

Thank you, Lord,
for the quiet stillness of this good morning,
for the softness of grass
in the dim shapes of pre-dawn’s forming,
for the beauty of flowers
in pastel shades
before the fullness of light.

Cleanse my heart, O lord,
and take from my mind
anything that finds pleasure in darkness.
Remove from my heart
anything that seeks ill for others.
Purge from my lips
any word that wounds
or causes pain.

Bless this day,
I pray, O God,
the work of my hands,
the sweat of my brow,
the bread that I eat.

Help me this day,
my Lord and Savior,
to walk in the light,
to seek what is right,
to love as I have been loved,
to show the grace that I seek,
to treat others as I desire to be treated,
to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before you.

H. Arnett
7/1/20

Posted in Christian Devotions, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Prayer, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , ,

The Pursuit of Harmony

Randa and I have been singing together for over thirty years now and it’s still one of my favorite things to do. I’ve enjoyed singing ever since I was a small child. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’ve enjoyed singing for longer than I can remember. Mom and Dad both sang well, loved singing, and made singing part of being in our family.

I guess a key part in the pleasure Randa and I find in it is that we have pretty similar tastes in music. Not complete overlap, mind you, but enough that it never takes very long for us to find songs we both like to sing. It’s the harmony that brings me the most satisfaction.

Vocal harmony creates something that is truly more than the sum of the parts. The sound of harmony, the resonation of notes that supplement rather than duplicate, produces a special musical experience. I enjoyed hearing harmony in the a cappella fellowship I grew up in. I enjoyed hearing it on the bluegrass records my brother Paul played on his stereo. I enjoy hearing it in multiple professional groups and events. I love hearing harmony singing but as a participant, I find it transcendent.

By singing together, Randa and I do something neither of us can do alone. Neither of us believes that we have amazing voices, but by blending our voices with each carrying a different part, we create a richer sound. A sound that is more robust, fuller and that has a quality that goes beyond what we can do alone. Even there are solos that we each can do that aren’t too shabby, we both find singing together more fun, more rewarding, and more fulfilling.

Even though it’s highly unlikely we’re going to find fame, fortune or glory in our singing, we have found something good and worthwhile. Personal pleasure, the appreciation of others, and the creation of something together that sounds better than either of us does alone. And I will tell you flat out, no doubt, no room for argument, not even the slightest room for debate, that our most transcendent moments in sharing that expression, are when it is devoted to worship.

I think that our love of singing together has something to do with unity, with the seeking of harmony in action and expression, with the pursuit of connection that reaches outward and upward. Something that is in a very small yet meaningful way, a reflection of the person and nature of God.

H. Arnett
6/29/20

Posted in Christian Devotions, Music, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , ,

Worry, Segregation and the Thousand Year Reign

About forty-five years ago I preached at Smith Street Church of Christ in South Fulton, Tennessee. Back then, seemed like just about every Protestant group had church at ten o’clock on Sunday morning. Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Christian Church, AME, Episcopalian, Assembly of God, Church of God, and, of course, Church of Christ.

In fact, that particular meeting hour was so predominant at that time, I remember hearing someone say, “Ten o’clock on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. During the week we work with other races, we go to school with other races, we go to ball games with other races, we go to movies with other races. But on Sunday morning, all that ends.”

When I learned that the black congregation in South Fulton was starting a gospel meeting series, I decided to see if I could do something positive. Even though it would be during the evening and not affect the ten o-clock on a Sunday morning phenomenon, I thought it might be a start. So, during my sermon in that most segregated hour, I encouraged the other members of our congregation to join me in attending services at the black congregation. A few families took me up on it and we showed up the next night.

Their minister welcomed us and said, “We’ve never had white folks attend our meetings before.” The evangelist acknowledged our presence, thanked us for being there and spoke honestly.

“It’s good to see you white folks here with us tonight. We aren’t used to that but we appreciate it. Now I’m going to be honest with you folks tonight. You white folks have got some problems we don’t have. We have some problems you don’t have.

“White folks have got teenagers lined up in parking lots on Saturday nights, sitting on the hoods of their cars, up to no good. We don’t have that problem; our kids can’t afford cars.

“We have a problem with motivation. We have a problem with some of our people not wanting to work. We have a problem with young black men fathering babies that they have no intention of helping to raise.

“You white folks have some problems we don’t have. You get all concerned and upset over millennialism. ‘Premillennialism,’ ‘post-millennialism,’ ‘Will it be a literal thousand years?’ and so on… We don’t have that problem.

“White folks, white Christians, fighting with each other over just which one and which way it’s gonna be. We black folks are not worried about that. You see, we don’t care whether it’s a thousand years before, a thousand years during, or a thousand years after. And the reason why we ain’t worried about that is that we know no matter which way it is, we are going to be with Jesus and that’s all that we need to know.

“That’s all that matters: are you going to be with Jesus? If you are, then everything else is going to be okay and we ain’t gonna worry about it.”

H. Arnett
6/26/20

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Empathy and the Golden Rule

I remember being aggravated with my father over his loss of hearing. His constant “Huh’s,” “What was that?” and asking people to repeat things got on my nerves. By the time he was seventy, it had become annoying. By the time he was eighty, it was no longer funny to hear him say, “I used to tell people I was getting hard of hearing. Now, I’m just plain deaf.” By the time he was ninety, conversation with him was sometimes not worth the trouble.

During one conversation on the phone, I repeated the same thing, in successively louder tones three times. There was a long pause, and then he said quietly. “I just can’t figure out what you’re saying; I’m going to give the phone to your mother.” In spite of my frustration, I could hear a heavy sadness in his voice.

Until I experienced my own significant degree of hearing loss well before I was sixty years old, I never thought about what he had gone through. Until I myself experienced the isolation, social separation, and some degree of the loss of communication ability, I simply didn’t think about what he had experienced. I didn’t think about it from his perspective because I just didn’t choose to do that. Now that it’s at least eleven years too late to do him any good, I have a much better notion of what Dad’s older years were like.

Empathy is not coincidental. It is true that we sometimes have epiphanies that give us wonderful insight into the experiences and situations of others. But ultimately, seeing things from someone else’s perspective is a matter of choice. And I believe that the more frequently we make that choice, the more likely we are to treat others as we would be treated.

H. Arnett
6/25/20

Posted in Aging, Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Family, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , ,

Morning Meditation in a Season Seeking Justice

Five days before
the longest day of the year,
I step out into the still, clear air of morning.

I long for the forming of dew,
for the calm refreshing
of these few moments

spent on the steps
of this small, plain porch
under the overhanging rafters.

Elm and oak line the silent street.
A slight breeze from the east
bends the spray of the sprinkler.

I sit and watch the constant back and forth
of thin streams drifting their white and gray
into the earliest parts of this day,

darkening the earth, at first in clear lines
but soon losing their defining edge
and merging into a mat of moisture.

Soaking into the soil,
spilling their sustaining fill into the dirt,
moving beneath the sod,

blending into earth and element on this good day.
Loosening N and P and K,
a readying for the roots

of tenacious grass
and the long shoots sent below
for the growing of the things that show

yet are so dependent
for their thriving green
upon the things that are not seen

and yet are fiercely known.

H. Arnett
6/16/20

Posted in Metaphysical Reflection, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry | Tagged , , , ,

Another Sad Sod Story

For an undetermined number of years, our yard was a visual manifestation of indiscriminate vegetation and an object lesson in natural regression. In early spring, a domination of henbit or chickweed and a few other very un-lawnlike natural protrusions produced a mottled conglomeration of blooms and foilage. In mid spring, crabgrass began to emerge, intermingled with fescue and whatever else was in the “sun or shade” mix I bought from Wal-Mart, Lowes, Menards or Uncle Sid’s Seasonal Market & Sundries.

Then, as the temperature rose each year and transitioned from spring to summer, Bermuda grass sprouted in the midst of dying chickweed or henbit and began to earnestly work its way into the flower beds and garden plots. Depending on rainfall, water grass would take over in other spots, presumably determined by the interactions of natural drainage and a random plot generator.

It took me three years of persistent efforts to secure a twenty-by-forty strip of greenish, sod-like surface under two of the big Chinese elm trees. That involved at least four separate seedings, each followed by weeks of daily watering. The rest of the yard continued its seasonal fluctuations and irritations.

My latest efforts in this fool’s errand of actually having a lawn involved renting a de-thatcher and then raking up about five thousand square feet of plant detritus and dislodged debris. By hand, quite literally, I spread several pounds of fescue, bluegrass and perennial ryegrass seed, mixed with fertilizer and “soil conditioner” and guaranteed to give me a thicker, richer, greener lawn. Provided, of course, that I dedicate the next six months of my life to twice daily marinations from a garden hose.

About three days after I sowed that fifty-by-one-hundred-foot strip, summer slammed into south central Kansas. Admitting the limitations of middle-aged memory and an overly human tendency to exaggerate, I think our daily highs here have been over ninety degrees for at least twelve of the last fifteen days. It hasn’t rained in about three weeks. My water bill will probably be in the neighborhood of a hundred-and-fifty dollars next month.

Less than half of the seed I sowed has sprouted. Let’s say the conditions haven’t been ideal for lawn starting. Sometimes it’s just not the best time for attempting what it is we want to accomplish. Sometimes, no amount of effort can overcome the reality of the situation. We can bash our heads or dash our heels against the hard crust of drought and heat. We can either wait for better conditions or pay the water bill and keep hoping for the best.

On the up side, the Bermuda grass is looking much better… sometimes the thing that wasn’t really our goal turns out to be a better alternative.

H. Arnett
6/15/20

Posted in Christian Living, Gardening, Humor, Metaphysical Reflection, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,

Walking Through the Night

Walking east along Radio Lane,
a hundred yards past the last house on the left,
we pass by a bunch of honeysuckle in the fence row.

Massed against the woven wire strung between the posts,
a host of yellow blooms droop the ends
of tangling vines.

That sacred scent moves my mind back into the past,
nights of driving slow along gravel roads
after the end of summer days in West Kentucky.

Heading home from a long day of hauling hay,
or going home from church on a Wednesday night,
I’d turn right beside Kelton Rogers’ house and head toward Browns Grove.

Other times, just out driving my baby blue ’67 Opel with the hand-painted rally stripes,
tires crunching along the backroads with Three Dog Night
or Steppenwolf howling on the eight-track.

Trying to fill the gaps
between who I wanted to be and who I wanted to be with,
I drove alone through the closing darkness.

In places where vines grew so thick you couldn’t even see the fence,
mounds of blooms lifted that heady perfume
into humid dreams of June.

I knew nothing, really, of Old Testament incense,
but it seemed to me—and still does—
that a fragrance this soft and sweet

though not quite the same
as the praise or prayers of the saints,
must lay its offering at the very feet of Jesus.

H. Arnett
6/2/20

Posted in Christian Devotions, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,

Last Week of May, 2020

A week of splintered thoughts and fractured feelings,
the country reeling from disease and disorder—
over a hundred thousand dead from COVID-19,
and incredible scenes of reactionary riots
spreading across the country
after the killing of an unarmed man
at the hands of the police in Minneapolis.

Buildings burned, stores looted, a president’s threat of shooting.
Stones and bricks thrown at police, patrol cars set ablaze.
News crews fired at with rubber bullets and pepper balls,
reporters and photographers bruised, bleeding, some arrested.
Instigators and agitators behind masks of a different purpose,
demonstrators linking arms to protect law enforcement,
others with no intent other than theft and destruction,
vigilantes in camo and Kevlar patrolling streets and rooftops.

Still others filled with the frustration of years, decades,
and centuries of injustice,
their voices ignored but their hearts determined
to make the change they want to be,
marching in the streets but refusing to destroy.

In one or two places, police kneeled before the crowds,
confessed aloud, asked for forgiveness.
They prayed with those who had come in hostility,
all deeply touched by this unexpected humility.
Men and women weeping together,
soft streams of tears without color.

In Wichita on the last Sunday in May,
on the First Day of a new week,
another demonstration of a better sort—
by negotiated agreement
police and activists met in a park that afternoon,
grilled burgers, ate together and talked.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called ‘the sons of God.'”

H. Arnett
6/1/20

Posted in Poetic Contemplations, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,