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November 17, 2004
From Tennessee to Arkansas, with but the briefest of airport sojourns in Cincinnati to separate the two. My arrival in Little Rock was more crowded than it would be at another time: President Clinton's library is finished, and will be dedicated tomorrow, and the airport swarmed with dignitaries and cops.

But here in the mountains overlooking the majestic river, so wide at this point that it seems to be a lake instead of a river, it is quiet and beautiful. The windows in my room go from floor to ceiling, and I have watched the sun come up: the eastern sky has gone from pink to golden, and is now beginning to silver the water as the sun clears the horizon. The birds have begun to fly across my view-- I am so high up that they are at eye level in their soaring.

I slept well, but dreamed florid dreams: Ezekiel dreams, in which strange things happen and I do strange things. In real life, I have spent the last two days and will spend the next two talking about fidelity in prayer and preaching and in service, about reclaiming the love of vocation when vocation is difficult, about healing and redemption from one's own failure. Many public moments of speaking and dialogue with others who do what I do for a living, people who know all about its truths and all about its lies.

In the dream, I am with a couple of the sisters of the religious order of which I am an associate -- particularly beloved ones. It seems that I am in hospital, and they are caring for me: one of them rubs my back gently, and the other sits beside the bed. But the sweet, safe healing of the moment is broken by a loud gong: everyone must leave the hospital, we must all flee. And we do. Outside, I see that the street signs are half in flame, that we are in Lower Manhattan and that this time it is the Federal Building just a few blocks up from the World Trade Center that lies in ruins. Was it bombed? I ask a man as he runs by. He turns his face to me and I see that his head is on fire. But he nods an answer, and keeps right on running.

Then we are in a large room, an auditorium of some kind. My husband has found me and we can leave, try to get home somehow. But another man wants to take me home: he is small, and talks like Mayor LaGuardia. And then there is another little man who wants to take me home: the two of them tussle over getting my coat and settling it over my shoulders. One of them introduces himself icily to the other: I'd appreciate it is if you called me by my full name, he says, certain that he has won, and the other one glares. And I'm Richard, my husband says quietly as he watches to see what I will do.

I give him a despairing glance -- what can I do? The little man who talks like LaGuardia has already procured a conveyance for me, and we are off: we are riding on a garbage truck, and soon we are leaving the crowd, he eager to talk and fall in love, I suddenly aware that my mouth is full of something terrible - I didn't know you could taste in dreams. Not wishing to be observed, I spit it surreptitiously into a hankie: it is horrid, half-rotted garbage. How did it get into my mouth? What am I doing here? How can I get back to Q?

It was a dream about vocation: be faithful. Fidelity will carry you through disaster, but if you abandon your fidelity in the midst of chaos you will have nothing to which to cling. The invitations to cross the boundaries your fidelity imposes on you will be many, and it is you who must protect them. Not everyone who wants you can have you: be fully present in the places in which it is possible to do so, and do not hanker after the places in which it is not. Nothing that you do or say will work for you, or for anyone else, if you do not contain the gifts you seek to give the world in a reasonable way, and you must protect them yourself. Otherwise, the words of your mouth will be garbage.

I am not the first writer to use the image of marital infidelity to describe the wandering of the spirit away from God and from vocation. Hosea did. Isaiah did. Many have. What stands out in my prophetic dream, though, was the passivity of my falling away: I did not run away, like Hosea's out-of-control wife -- I simply allowed myself to be taken. I was too polite to say no. I did not stand up for what I knew to be my true marriage. My inner rot began with no force greater than simple moral default.

Ah. We say "no" to some things when we say "yes" to others. We must choose our yesses very carefully, and then we must stand by them. Nothing that comes from us will sweeten the small portion of the world committed to our care if we will not be faithful. And it is a matter of willing, a daily decision to be vigilant in our own protection and the protection of our words, even if it feels selfish and rude sometimes. There is no other way to protect the sweetness of what we really do have to give.
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