Grace and Gratitude

photo by Josh Scholten

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.
Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo.
Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightening.
~Karl Barth

Nothing separates our thankfulness
from the gifts we’ve been granted.
We have been given life, certainly.
But that is not all,
though more than plenty.

Beyond imagining,
we are given forgiveness.
Offered a new life,
undeserved.
An opportunity to
make things right again
by forgiving
the unforgivable.

It is possible to be grateful every day
without knowing grace.
Many voices raised today
speak of thankfulness.

But to know the gift of grace–
experience its resounding clarifying brightness,
its gentle, compassionate merciful touch
every day, every hour, every moment
every breath,

we must respond, thundering
our gratitude at the spark of God,
echoing unending thanks
in our every breath.

photo by Josh Scholten

Interrupted

“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

So I’m sauntering through life, enjoying the view, appreciating each mundane moment, doing what I think I was meant to do and whammo!~clobbered by a cold wave that knocks me off my feet, chills me to the bone and stops me in my tracks wondering what just hit me and why.  It feels like I’m drowning.

I feel rudely interrupted because I was ill prepared to change course, alter expectations, or be transformed by life’s sudden cold shower.

I can’t think of any situation where interruption initially feels good.  It shocks because it seems unexpected but I have chosen to be someone who must be rudely interrupted in order to change direction.

God doesn’t just soak me to the bone–He made my bones and heals my fractures.  He doesn’t just knock me to my feet–He offers His hand to pull me up again.  He doesn’t let me drown–He throws me a life preserver that I must choose to grab and hold on to.  Then He wraps me in His warm embrace like a huge towel to remind me where I come from and where I’m heading.

We interrupt this life for a message from our sponsor. 

I’m ready to pay attention.

The Hush of Advent

photo by Josh Scholten

There is that moment
of silent expectancy
as a choir
lifts their books
together
when the conductor,
readying them
for what is to come,
lifts his hands.

As if
one body,
they take
a first breath
that unites their
tones and words
together.

The audience waits in
suspended sanctuary
of sweet longing,
wanting to be
carried away
on a stream
of voices.

And so too
Advent is the hush
before we break
into jubilant song,
as God
lifts His Hands
to ready us,
looks deep into our eyes,
breathes with us
as if one body,
stepping away from the podium
to sing the Words
alongside us.

The Scent of Work

Fireflies are daughters to the stars
And go in the countryside to catch the scent of hay
Which is the scent of God
Because it smells of work–Giovanni Cerri

Our horses are now officially pulled off the pastures for winter, relegated to smaller dirt paddocks until the fields have rested, recovered and dried sufficiently in April to bear their hooves and teeth again.

So I climb the ladder to the hay loft daily to toss down carefully stacked bales of hay placed there by our hay crew four months ago.   I release the dried stems from their bondage by twine.  The scent of July work hits me full force; I’m transported back to the sweaty days of hay mowing, tedding, raking and baling.   It was just yesterday, so it seems, that my children and their friends were picking up these heavy bales and tossing them onto the trailer, and then bringing them into the barn.

The scent of work on the earth, like fireflies to the stars, is the perfume of heaven.

Melancholy Days

photo by Josh Scholten

The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds and naked wood, and meadows brown and sear.
William Cullen Bryant

These are the dark and sodden days we can scarcely recall while basking in the lightness of June when sun graces us 19 hours a day.  There is no way but to ease into this a few minutes at a time, otherwise the shock would be too great.  The howling wind continually knocks and batters, the rain beats mercilessly at the window panes, the puddles stand deeper than they appear, the leaves now thoroughly shaken from embarrassed branches.  There is no remnant of summer civility and frivolity left; we must adapt or cry trying, only adding to the pervasive sogginess.

Nevertheless, melancholy days have their usefulness and there are times they can be a source of joy when snuggled deep under quilts, safe, dry and warm.  Without the stark contrast, the light time of year would become routine and under-appreciated, only another sunny day.

That never happens here.

We celebrate the light with real thanksgiving and in turn can acknowledge the darkness makes our gratitude more genuine.

We are privileged to live the paradox:  there is gladness in our sadness.

Emptying Like A Cloud

God empties himself
into the earth like a cloud.
God takes the substance, contours
of a man, and keeps them,
dying, rising, walking,
and still walking
wherever there is motion.
Annie Dillard from “Feast Days”

We soon will enter the season of Advent, an opportunity to reflect on a God who “takes the substance, contours of a man”, as He “empties himself into the earth like a cloud.”  Like drought-stricken parched ground, we prepare to respond to the drenching of the Spirit, ready to spring up with growth anew.

He walked among us before His dying, and rising up, He walked among us again, appearing where least expected, sharing a meal, burning our hearts within us, inviting us to touch and know Him.

His invitation remains open-ended.

I think of that every time the clouds open and empty.   He freely falls to earth, soaking us completely, through and through.

photo by Josh Scholten

Opening Up

photo by Josh Scholten

There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world.
~Thomas Merton

This coming Thanksgiving week is a time of reflection about the gifts given freely to us, even when we are undeserving and ungrateful.  I am struck every day by how much I routinely take for granted as something I have somehow “earned” by my existence,  whether it is my ability to get up out of bed and walk to wherever I need to go,  or opening up cupboards and a freezer full of food, or taking in the view outside my window of the mighty Cascade mountains and Canadian Rockies.  Even my next breath is not a given yet I assume it will happen without interruption.

A lesson I’ve learned from my botanical mentors just outside my back door —  nothing is earned by simply being alive.  Instead,  being alive allows us to proclaim our unending gratitude.  Whether it is a seed rising from the ground, a bud opening its face to the sun, or the gathering harvest of grain and seed to start the process over again,  we gladly sing of His greatness by showing up, growing and being alive as we are meant to be.  Grateful, always grateful.

Mercy follows us through the hours of our days and nights, even as we wither to frail and someday die, still thankful for His Hand on us, ready to lift us when we are about to fail and fall.  We are as fragile as the grasses with bending and broken stems, yet our voices sing praise beyond our roots.

May our gratitude reseed, grow, bloom and continue to be harvested forever.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

A Bumbling Intricacy

photo by Josh Scholten

Here is a new light on the intricate texture of things in the world…: the way we the living are nibbled and nibbling — not held aloft on a cloud in the air but bumbling pitted and scarred and broken through a frayed and beautiful land.
Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

The weather is getting brisker so the outdoor critters, some invited, some not,  are starting to move inside.  The cats scoot between our legs as we open the front door, heading straight for the fireplace to bask in the warmth rather than a cold wind.  The puppy comes in from the yard for his nightly snack and chew bone, and stretches out on the rug, acting every bit like a piece of furry furniture.  And today there was another mouse in the trap under the sink.  I almost thought we were mouse-free with three weeks of none sighted and none trapped, but there he was waiting for me when I got home from work, well fed and quite dead.  He became an opportune meal for a cat too lazy to go get himself a living breathing mouse.  From nibbling to nibbled.  It is a tough world, inside and out.

Our most numerous and ambitious visitors from outside are the spiders, appearing miraculously crawling futilely up the sides in the bathtub, or scurrying across the kitchen floor, or webbing themselves into a corner of the ceiling with little hope of catching anything but a stray house moth or two this time of year.   Arachnids are certainly determined yet stationary predators, rebuilding their sticky traps as needed to ensure their victims won’t rip away, thereby destroying the web.

I don’t really mind sharing living quarters with another of God’s creatures, but I do prefer the ones that are officially invited into our space and not surprise guests.  The rest are interlopers that I tolerate with grudging admiration for their instinctive ingenuity.  I admit I’m much too inept and bumbling to find my way into someone else’s house through a barely perceptible crack, and I’m certainly incapable of weaving the intricate beauty of a symmetrical web placed just so in a high corner.

After all, I am just another creature in the same boat.  There is something quite humbling about being actually invited into this complex and broken world, “pitted and scarred” as I am.    I’m grateful I’ve so far escaped capture in the various insidious traps of life,  not just the spring-loaded kind and the sticky filament kind.

So it is okay that I’m settled in, cozy in front of the fireplace, just a piece of the furniture.  Just so long as I don’t startle anyone or nibble too much of what I shouldn’t, I just might be invited to stay awhile.

photo by Josh Scholten

Companions in Adversity

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

When shrieked
The bleak November winds, and smote the woods,
And the brown fields were herbless, and the shades
That met above the merry rivulets
Were spoiled, I sought, I loved them still; they seemed
Like old companions in adversity.
~William Cullen Bryant  in A Winter Piece

When the winds start to howl
and leaves are flying through the air
like birds on the wing heading south,
when branches snap
and trunks bend to the point of breaking
when the ground is hopelessly barren
and the hills are nothing
but continuing shades of gray
descending from the sky
when the sun disappears for days
and the rains are continuous

I love it all still;

knowing we are in this together
when the times are tough and
the mud is thick
and obstacles fall in our way
even to the end of time
as we travel this road
like old companions
broken, withered, splintered
but sharing the journey
wherever it blows us.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Learning to be Alone

photo by Josh Scholten

All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.
~Blaise Pascal

photo by Bette Vander Haak

I don’t do alone well.  Never have.  I’ve always preferred plenty of activity around me, planning gatherings, and filling days to the brim.  Very little of my days is spent by myself and I designed it that way.  But once in a while there comes a time when I must quiet myself, be still, and simply be, with no agenda.  With our children grown and gone, this is happening more often than I prefer even though the love of my life and I commute to work together, eat meals together, spend our evenings and nights together.  It is just so much … quieter now.  So quiet.

Typically I don’t prefer my own company.  I would rather be around those who are positive and encouraging yet when alone I’ll grouse and complain to myself.   There is no glossing over my flaws nor distracting myself from where I fall short.  Alone is an unforgiving mirror reflecting back what I have kept myself too busy to see.

Slowly but surely I will learn to sit within my own skin more comfortably, gaze out through 58 year old eyes attached to an over-capacity brain and begin to appreciate thinking random uninterrupted thoughts as they occur to me.    I might even decide I’m fit company for myself.   Maybe someday.  Probably not today.

Anyone up for a cup of coffee?

My treat.