We are waiting for snow the way we might wait for a train to arrive with its cold cargo— it is late already, but surely it will come. We are waiting for snow the way we might wait for permission to breathe again.
For only the snow will release us, only the snow will be a letting go, a blind falling towards the body of earth and towards each other.
And while we wait at this window whose sheer transparency is clouded already with our mutual breath,
it is as if our whole lives depended on the freezing color of the sky, on the white soon to be fractured gaze of winter. ~Linda Pastan “Interlude” from Queen of a Rainy Country
This poem by Linda Pastan was published in 2008 — it wasn’t written about waiting our turn for the new COVID vaccine, but it could have been.
Most of us are waiting for the vaccine like we wait for the relief of a winter snow storm. It’s as if we are all stuck inside, watching at the window, our noses pressed to the glass, our breath fogging the pane, gazing at the sky and trying to predict when and if the snow will come. We long to see the world clean and smooth and magical again with all its messy, grimy, muddy parts covered up, at least for awhile.
We want to play again and go where our heart wishes and be together with our friends and family. We want permission to breathe deeply, to show off our smiles and sing with gusto.
This second winter of COVID is crueler than the first because we know more now than a year ago: we know what we could have done and should have done but didn’t. We know we’ve lost far more lives than we should have and thousands more struggle to recover.
In order to fracture this COVID winter, to break open this frozen sky of our suspended lives, we seek the vaccine to arrive like the snow, covering all, protecting all, inviting all.
The glittering roofs are still with frost; each worn Black chimney builds into the quiet sky Its curling pile to crumble silently. Far out to the westward on the edge of morn, The slender misty city towers up-borne Glimmer faint rose against the pallid blue; And yonder on those northern hills, the hue Of amethyst, hang fleeces dull as horn.
And here behind me come the woodmen’s sleighs With shouts and clamorous squeakings; might and main Up the steep slope the horses stamp and strain, Urged on by hoarse-tongued drivers–cheeks ablaze, Iced beards and frozen eyelids–team by team, With frost-fringed flanks, and nostrils jetting steam. ~Archibald Lampman “A January Morning”
The vast majority of the world no longer depends on horse power on hooves to bring us the things we need to live every day.
Few of us depend on wood heat in our homes during these chilly January nights. Chimneys have become obsolete or merely decorative.
We live in a farm house that depended solely on wood heat to keep its original family warm through decades of brisk Pacific Northwest winters – in our remodel twenty plus years ago, we removed two wood stoves and installed a propane furnace and gas stove instead – now dependent on fossil fuels but trying to keep the air clean around us.
We also no longer have to wait, as our parents and grandparents did, on teamsters with frosted beards urging on their teams of steaming horses – pulling sleighs and wagons loaded with firewood or other goods. Now, sleek semis back up to the ramps of grocery stores and off-load their cargo into warehouse and freezers so night stockers can ensure the shelves are full for shoppers each morning.
For most of us living in a time of modern and immediate conveniences, we have little connection to the original source of the daily supplies we need and how they get to us. As descendants of subsistence farmers, my husband and I feel a relationship to the land we live on, fortunate to be able to store much of our garden and orchard produce right here in our pantry, root cellar and freezer.
And what of the horses who were so critical to the economy up until a century ago? Their role has been reduced to recreation and novelty rather than providing the essential horse power that supplied the goods we needed to live and moved us where we needed to go.
No fossil fuel necessary back then. No exhaust other than steaming nostrils and a pile of manure here or there.
We are the aging bridge generation between the end of horse power on hooves giving way to universal horse power on wheels. I remind myself of this each day as I do the chores in the barn. I’m a fortunate farmer, working alongside these animals on the edge of a frosty morning, knowing few people will remember how essential they were or have the privilege to continue to care for them as they deserve.
When the cold air comes on in, it kicks the furnace on, and the furnace overwhelms the cold. As the sorrow comes into the heart of a Christian, it kicks on more of the joy. It gets you closer to him, it helps you dig down deeper into him, and the joy kicks up, you might say, like a furnace, and overwhelms the sorrow. That is a picture of a solid Christian. Not a sorrow-less person who is happy, happy, happy, all the time. That’s not the picture. A picture of a real Christian is a person who has a furnace of joy in there that kicks up as the sorrow comes in and overwhelms the sorrow. But the sorrow is there. It is there. ~Pastor Tim Keller (1990), now in treatment for pancreatic cancer
The Cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us. ~John Stott
I have listened to criticism at times in my faith life that I don’t exhibit enough joy and happiness in my Christian walk. It is true that I tend toward lamenting the state of the world and the state of my own soul. I could use more balance in my expressions of gratitude. So what I hear from others is fair feedback.
My faith furnace thermostat is now set so high that it rarely kicks on and I dwell too much in the cold.
Especially in the last year of COVID-time, I have been especially feeling the chill as I watch so many dealing with immense sorrow and loss. So much has changed, particularly in how we can safely gather and worship together, resulting in finger pointing among Christians about who is showing more righteous dedication to the Word of God.
So the nit-picking begins.
If we don’t sing together in worship as commanded by our Lord but temporarily restricted by state regulations, do we lack conviction in our faith, allowing fear and earthly authorities to rule over us? If we sing outside, even in the cold dark rain and snow, is that sufficient compromise and does it truly “turn on” the furnace of our joy?
Or wearing a mask shows fear and a lack of faith that God is ultimately in charge as only He determines how many days we dwell on this earth. Yet by wearing a mask at all times when together we are showing compassion for others by loving them enough to try to protect them from any infection we may unknowingly harbor.
These feel like irreconcilable differences in perspective among people who purportedly love one another in the name of Christ. So we all end up in the cold, waiting on the furnace of our love and joy to kick on.
In my self-absorption, I tend to forget that the fire has always been there, lit by Christ’s sacrifice, despite His own mortal fear and hesitation and tears, yet fueled solely by His divine desire to save His children. I need to come closer to feel the heat of His love, and feel those sparks landing on my earthly skin to remind me there can be no love without pain.
Morning without you is a dwindled dawn. ~Emily Dickinsonin a letter to a friend April 1885
For the past year, the most common search term bringing new readers to my Barnstorming blog is “dwindled dawn.” I have written about Emily Dickinson’s “dwindles” on occasions, but had not really been diagnosed with a serious case myself until recently.
I am not the only one. It has spread across the globe and I regularly recognize the symptomatology of the dwindles in my clinical work with patients.
There really isn’t a pill or other therapy that works well for this. One of the most effective treatments I might prescribe is breaking bread with friends and family all in the same room at the same table while the sun rises around us, lingering in conversation because there could not be anything more important for us to do.
Just being together would be the ultimate cure.
Maybe experiencing friend and family deficiency helps us understand how vital they are to our well-being. You don’t know what you have ’till they’re gone, sadly some now forever.
Point well-taken; it is high time to replenish the reservoir before dwindling away to nothing.
So if you are visiting these words for the first time because you too searched for “dwindled dawn,” welcome to Barnstorming. We can dwindle together in our shared isolation.
Because mornings without you all diminishes me. I just wanted you to know.
Her elbow rested here a century ago. This is the field
she looked upon, a mad rush of wheat anchored to the barn.
What her thoughts were, the words she penned are driven into the grain,
its deep tide crossing under my hand. She breathes through the knothole.
Outside, the wind pushes the farm down an ally of stars. ~Wyatt Townley, “The Oak Desk” from The Afterlives of Trees
A writing desk is simply a repurposed tree; the smoothly sanded surface of swirling grain and knotholes nourish words and stories rather than leaves and fruit.
I can easily lose myself in the wood, whether it is as I sit at a window composing, or whether I’m outside walking among the trees which are merely potential writing desks in the raw.
Museums often feature the writing desks of the famous and I’ve seen many over the years – it is thrilling to be able touch the wood they touched as they wrote – gaze at the same grain patterns they saw as the words gelled, and feel the worn spots where elbows rested.
Though my little desk won’t ever become a museum piece, nor will my words ever be famous, I am grateful for the tree that gave me this place to sit each morning, breathing deeply, and praying that I will share worthy fruit.
In the shallows of the river After one o’clock in the afternoon Ice still An eighth of an inch thick. Night never disappears completely But moves among the shadows On the bank Like a glimpse of fur. Meanwhile Trees Grass Flies and spiderwebs Appear alone in the flat air. The naked aspens stand like children Waiting to be baptized And the goldenrod too is stripped down To its bare stalk In the cold Even my thoughts Have lost their foliage. ~Tom Hennen“At the Beginning of Winter”, from Looking Into The Weather.
My thoughts are stripped bare these days, no flowers or flourishing foliage left behind- just stark rows of naked branches, waiting, orderly and plain.
It is the nature of winter to think only of the essentials when night is always creeping around the edges of midday.
There is silence outside and echoing in my head, while waiting for something, ~anything~ remarkable to bud out and bloom.
All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling work of turning a yard from the wild to a gardener’s will, I heard a bird singing from a hidden, though not distant, perch; a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding like, Can you believe this, believe this, believe? Can you believe this, believe this, believe? And all morning, I did believe. All morning, between break-even bouts with the unwanted, I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so I might later recognize it in a guide, and know and call its name, but even more, I wanted to join its church. For all morning, and many a time in my life, I have wondered who, beyond this plot I work, has called the order of being, that givers of food are deemed lesser than are the receivers. All morning, muscling my will against that of the wild, to claim a place in the bounty of earth, seed, root, sun and rain, I offered my labor as a kind of grace, and gave thanks even for the aching in my body, which reached beyond this work and this gift of struggle. ~Richard Levine “Believe This” from That Country’s Soul
North Brooklin, Maine 30 March 1973
Dear Mr. Nadeau: As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up in the morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day. Sincerely, [Signed, ‘E. B. White’] from Letters of Note
Today yet another era begins and another ends. However, the struggle continues: there is anguish on one side and relief on the other– just the reverse of four years ago.
I want to believe things will be different and the messes cleaned up without creating new messes. I realize, thanks to human nature, that is a futile hope.
I want to believe that goodness and compassion will thrive again.
So I will pull out the weeds that have taken over in my on back yard and clear the ground for a clean start. I will rewind the clock to help create order out of chaos and experience steadfastness instead of uncertainty.
May we hang on to hope that our dis-united states may once again survive a leader with many human flaws and failings, just as we’ve survived countless other imperfect leaders.
It is up to we the people to keep our own yards weed-free, and not allow them to take over — ever again.
Thank God for grace, Ye who weep only! —look up! those tears will run Soon in long rivers down the lifted face, And leave the vision clear for stars and sun. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning from “Tears”
Grief is a river you wade in until you get to the other side. But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting around my ankles, moving downstream over the flat rocks. I’m not able to lift a foot, move on. Instead, I’m going to stay here in the shallows with my sorrow… It’s mine. …I’m going to stand here, growing colder, until every inch of my skin is numb. I can’t cross over. Then you really will be gone. ~Barbara Crooker from “Grief”
A river of tears flows with the untimely loss of a young person, a child of our church. Sorrow at such a loss fills a chasm so deep and dark that it is a fearsome thing to even peer from the edge, as I do. The family is numb, swallowed up by their grief.
We can never understand why such infinite sadness should befall good and gracious people. We are once again reminded – there can be profound darkness that descends into the human heart, stealing away lives too soon.
Be assured you do not weep alone. Your grief is so familiar to a suffering God who too wept at the death of a friend, a God who cried out when asked to endure the unendurable.
There is comfort in knowing He understands and overcomes all peril to come to the rescue when we become stuck fast in the middle of our grief, too numb to move on. He will fill the hole left behind as only He can.
You who grieve: you are not abandoned. Your sadness is His, your sorrow is ours. You are loved with a love so deep and high and broad, it will somehow carry you through.
…if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community. Booker T. Washington was right: “Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Stride Toward Freedom
Do you know why this world is as bad as it is? It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrong-doers to light. My doctrine is this: that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt. ~Anna Sewell from Black Beauty
As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. ~William O. Douglasin a 1976 letter to Young Lawyers of the Washington State Bar Association
We live in a time where the groaning need and dividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized. Countless people are subjected to hatred, violence and oppression which go unchecked. The injustice and corruption which exist today are causing many voices to be raised to protest and cry out that something be done. Many men and women are being moved to sacrifice much in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace. There is a movement afoot in our time, a movement which is growing, awakening.
We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for every social injustice, every oppression, the downgrading of others and the injury that man does to man, whether personal or on a broader plane.… God must intervene with his spirit and his justice and his truth. The present misery, need, and decay must pass away and the new day of the Son of Man must dawn. This is the advent of God’s coming. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger that its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise. ~Marian Anderson, American opera singer at two presidential inaugurals, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and US State Dept. Goodwill Ambassador
We have a new definition of greatness: it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant. ~Martin Luther King, Jr. in a February 1968 sermon: “The Drum Major Instinct”, A Knock At Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King’s words and wisdom in his sermons and letters written over fifty years ago continue to inform us of our shortcomings as a society.
We flounder in our flaws and brokenness, persisting in our resistance to serve one another out of humility, grace and love.
Perhaps this week, we can be forgiven and start afresh.
Instead of spewing lies, profanity and hatred, can we unite despite our fear of one another? -to no longer be divided by strife and disagreements, -to no longer support actions that result in senseless killings, whether in the streets or in the womb, -to finally be able to hold up one another, born and unborn, as a holy and equal in God’s eyes.
May we join together as the light dawns on this day knowing, as Dr. King knew, a new day will come when the Lord God wipes tears away from all faces, all colors, all people, created in His image.
Sundays too my father got up early And put his clothes on in the blueback cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? – Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays
As a child growing up, I was oblivious to the sacrifices my parents made to keep the house warm, place food on the table, to teach us the importance of faith and belief, to crack the door of opportunity open, so we could walk through to a better life.
It was no small offering to keep dry seasoned fire and stove wood always at the doorstep, to milk the cows twice a day, to grow and preserve fruits and vegetables months in advance, to raise and butcher meat animals, to read books together every night, to sit with us over homework and drive us to 4H, Cub Scouts and Camp Fire, to music lessons and sports, to sit together, never missing a Sunday morning, to worship God.
This was their love, so often invisible, too often imperfect, even when they were angry with one another– yet its encompassing warmth splintered and broke the grip of cold and loneliness that too often overwhelms and freezes a child’s heart and soul.
What did I know? Too little then, maybe a little more now.