The Hungry Pelican 

Exploring Creation Through the Lens of Faith and Creative Writing

June 21, 2019

Standing on the stony coast, winter’s fading nip in the air, I was surprised how quickly I no longer heard the water pummeling the rocks. I tinkered with my aperture and shutter speed. Occasionally, I’d glance up to see a wave spray like a geyser. Maybe the Pacific was rowdier than usual, or maybe this was the way it stays: one wave after another, giant water balloons bobbing up and down until they burst against the rocks. I could’ve felt sorry for the ocean. With all of its might, brooding, and daunting size, the Pacific ran out of its depths, and the rocks punished every effort.

     My time in Oregon was counting down quickly. I was booked on the redeye; by the math, factoring in such things as a rental return, TSA, repacking bags, one or two hours to be comfortable, et cetera, I had nearly ten hours to pull off and wander around taking photographs. I wanted to see as much as I could. I stopped at beaches, lighthouses, a waterfall, one-hundred state parks (more or less), and God only...

June 11, 2019

    

A couple weeks ago, my wife came to me and asked, “Do you want to go to Oregon?”

     “Uh, yeah,” I said. Who wouldn’t want to go? Wandering around the Cascades, wayfaring stony coastlines, hiking the snowy rim of a long-extinct volcano. But that is not what Angela had in mind. Nearly a year ago, Angela’s pregnant daughter, my step-daughter, loaded up a Penske with her new husband, a pit bull/bonkers hybrid and a puppy Rottweiler, two babies (ages 1 and 2-3 months), and all the belongings a young, cash-strapped newlyweds had. That was a year ago. Now, the new baby has entered the world and there were complications. So Angela dispatched me like a nursemaid to help with brand-new baby Alexander’s older brothers.

     Now, I don’t want to make any sweeping declarations about babies, and I should admit my own inadequacies to the subject: I adopted my son when he was three years old, and Angela’s children were teenagers when I mantled the title: step-father. Chang...

April 28, 2019

     Jesus’ birth, ministry, and death are accounted for by eyewitnesses, and, even if they weren’t as much eyewitness accounts as they were narrative imperatives, the gospel writers obliged themselves to memorialize these happenings. That’s not to say they did it uniformly. While Matthew tells of kings and Luke notes shepherds, Mark skips the whole birth narrative entirely to bring us into the mind of a locust-eating, cameled-hair-clothed baptizer. John, on the other hand, introduces Jesus as the Word, and whatever else that might be, it near trivializes shepherds and kings by comparison. Luke shares the good Samaritan; Matthew gifts us with the beatitudes; John makes everything poetic and mystical. Matthew and Luke start their gospels like a student writing a late-night-due-tomorrow essay, and John is cosmically braggadocios. Mark, on the other hand, composes a great first sentence, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God. (Where’s the verb...

April 10, 2019

I have my ghost stories. We all have them.

     When I was a teenager, fourteen years old or so, I was out with a collection of friends looking for the specter of a tormented soul. It was October, several days before Halloween, and had rained earlier in the day, not much but enough to get everything slick and colder feeling. The sky was uncannily backlit by a near full-moon with brooding clouds casting the umbra of wraithlike tree.  Accosted by poor choices, the crisp wind brought mid-autumn goosebumps. Leaves flurried down from the trees, caught in currents and drafts making them look like life rafts floating between worlds.

     We had parked behind a haunted house, or so the older kids had told me, and hiked through the steep wooded backyard, crunching leaves with every step. The backside of the house was too dark, shaded by every moon-born shadow imaginable in the scarce cloud-breaks. We placed our hands on the side of the abandon house. Maybe we thought...

March 31, 2019

People like the pretty flowers. Their supple textures and brilliant colors. The way a flower mysteriously rests atop an elastic stem, stretching after the noonday sun. The unfolding of petals, the mathematical precision. Is it the golden ratio or Fibonacci sequence? The barely noticeable grooves and scanty channels glistening through the diamond sparkle of dewdrops or a spring drizzle. It is easy to see why people enjoy spring.

     Now here I could segue into one of my favorite passages, which I take as a commandment as important as any other, Consider the lilies. And I could point out to you that you are as beautiful as a lily, even more so. But it is Lent, the season of morose reflection and self-denial. Easter cannot be seen before the cross; there’s an event on the horizon that our eyes cannot see past. And even though the tulips are bursting with radiance, this is still Lent, the grim season of foreboding and repentance, the season which started with ash. A time to...

March 16, 2019

A week ago, I set out for Cedar Point, about an hour north, to photograph birds. About halfway there, the banality of bird photography frustrated me. What would I find? Another egret? A blue heron? Don’t get me wrong. I love birds and bird photography, especially the lanky, stock-still wading birds fishing up breakfast. But the torpor of a passing nihilistic trough begged unwelcomed questions. What does a bird photograph mean? Even if I took the world’s greatest bird photograph, would beauty stand apart from meaning, divorced by meaning’s caprice, and flitter away like a flame extinguished to a greater degree of existence? Or is beauty contingent on meaning, the way an idea is buttressed by the firing of billions of neurons? 

     I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to do (and still don’t) with my esoteric moodiness. All I knew was that I loved the bible – that gated retreat moated by bread and circuses. Not so much the shopworn chestnuts passed around by sentinel pink clouders, memes, an...

February 27, 2019

I grew up in a protestant church tradition that valued not complaining, chin-up manners, correct posture, and constrained yawns while firmly affixed to a hard-wooden pew, listening to the incomprehensible yammerings of a man draped in a black, authoritative robe. Our “Sunday” clothes were always freshly washed, ironed, and itchy. And, in these clothes, play was forbidden. So was eating anything more than a little TIC-TAC of what I was told was supposed to be bread. Water from the water fountain was fine before or after worship, but the thimble-sized cup of grape juice was all that was allowed. 

     All of this, of course, is what it was like to sit through “Big Church” as a child. We called it “Big Church” because the room we sat in was the biggest room we had ever sat in, and, with the exception of the “Children’s Message,” it was for big people. There were sporadic exceptions to this monotony, such as that one Sunday a year when we were given great big leaves to wave around like ligh...

February 8, 2019

Tomorrow I will head to the mountains. But today I am standing on Wrightsville Beach. The sun is out, the wind is cold. When the ocean water fills up my boot because I underestimated an approaching wave, the billow of white-foamed water stings through my socks.

I want to know what is more beautiful. The oceans or the mountains? 

The ocean stretches out flat, breaching the horizon, and continuing on through an imagined infinity. The clouds are pushed over its surface and will fall into the water before reaching their destination. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. 

The long-exposed cord-grass, whipped by the coming front, and clouds shoved by those same global forces, the earth and water are gilded into promises and assurances. Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden…

  

I pull out of the driveway at five in the mornin...

January 20, 2019

     

     “So, I hear you don’t want to take your meds anymore,” she said. Her face contorted with equal measures of disbelieve and ridicule. I explained I hadn’t been sleeping. “No one can go that long without sleep,” she said. I hadn’t said that I had gone six days without sleep. I had specifically said that I was getting sleep. I was getting abbreviated cat naps, ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there. I had even suggested that I might be getting as much as an hour or more at night. “How do you know that?” she asked. And when I explained that I looked at the clock, the sleep hygiene police poured out of her eyeballs and tried to take me captive. I persevered. I explained that I had other symptoms and pushed my opinion that my meds were the culprit.  I insisted an hour or two of sleep a day is a form of torture. She looked at me, pursed her lips, and informed me that “The military has tortured people with sleep deprivation, and no one has gone as long as you claim.” T...

January 10, 2019

I am visited by the dead in my dreams; I speak to them in dreams. A friend came last night. He said nothing or little, and I had no idea who he was until I was taken away to damp sheets and hard-kicked blankets. We had been walking along the seashore. The air was a muddy azure in that opaque way the sky and sea coalesce to form a painting’s texture. The waves lapped against the sand with a tender “shhhh,” the sort of energy an elderly woman releases when soothing a child. Everything was serene. There was nowhere to go. A somnolent calm and kindhearted breeze, time corked in a dream, I felt free, disrobed of masks and pretense. My dead friend who withheld his identity was a paradise of harmony. Then, it was time to go. He pulled away from the shadow obscuring my recognition. Instantly, I knew him by the pain that brought him to this beach. His lacerated soul had been swallowed by a tortured heart, a tormented mind, a fragmented life. This pinched emotion yanked me back into myself with...

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