Lenten Grace — Weeds and Wilderness

The darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Inversnaid”

There is despair in the wilderness of untamed hearts.
Such wildness lies just beneath the surface;
it rounds and rounds, almost out of reach. 
How are we spared drowning in its pitchblack pool?
How can we thrill to the beauty rather than be sucked into the darkness?
He came not to destroy the world’s wildness,
but to pull us, gasping,
from its unforgiving clutches as we sink in deep.
As weeds surviving in the wilderness,
we must grow, flourish, and witness to a wild world bereft.
O let us be left.
Let us be left.
photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

The Face of February

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

“Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?”
–  William Shakespeare,  Much Ado About Nothing

February never fails to be seductive,  teasing of spring on a bright sunny day and the next day all hope is dashed by a frosty wind cutting through layers of clothing.  There is a hint of green in the pastures but the deepening mud is sucking at our boots.  The snowdrops and crocus are up and blooming, but the brown leaves from last summer still cling tenaciously to oak branches, appearing as if they will never ever let go to make room for a new leaf crop.

A February face is tear-streaked and weepy, winter weary and spring hungry.  Thank goodness it is a short month or we’d never survive the glumminess of a month that can’t quite decide whether it is done with us or not.

So much ado.
So much nothing.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Lenten Grace — The Dry Stone

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
~T.S. Eliot from “Burial of the Dead” in The Wasteland

We are created from perfection yet born broken, like a new toy flawed right out of the box already destined for the rubbish heap.  Out of our detritus there rises a thirst quenched only by hope and promise, coursing through roots that reach deep, surging into branches that rise higher despite a drought of faith.

This promise becomes glue for the brokenhearted, a sticky grace that can’t be shaken off, clinging to us though we are dry and undeserving as a stone.

Broken no more, silent no more, parched no more.  The living water now flows through us, a river of relief and shelter.

Lenten Grace — Merciful Dew

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

He hath abolished the old drought
And rivers run where all was dry,
The field is sopp’d with merciful dew
He hath put a new song in my mouth.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

When I have no voice left, He gives me a song I can still sing.
When I run dry, He replenishes.
When I wither, His merciful dew
restores and readies me for a new day.

I am stopped astonished,
sopped and mopping up,
spilling over in His grace.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Lenten Grace — Plunge into Deep Waters

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

Discipleship is not limited to what you can understand – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own understanding, and I will help you to comprehend.

Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. In this way Abraham went forth from his father, not knowing where he was going. That is the way of the cross. You cannot find it in yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man.

Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire – that is the road you must take. It is to this path that I call you, and in this sense that you must be my disciple.

~Martin Luther, quoted in Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship

Plunging describes the leap of faith into unknown depths when we’d rather choose to remain safely on shore sitting on a comfortable bench. The water wraps around like a sheath and doesn’t let go. It is a shock to the system, it takes our breath away, it is immersion into completely unfamiliar territory.

We aren’t pushed into the deep, we are led. It isn’t where we choose to go, but where we must go, not knowing to where we go.







Late February Days

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Late February days; and now, at last,
Might you have thought that
Winter’s woe was past;
So fair the sky was and so soft the air.
The happy birds were hurrying here and there,
as something soon would happen…

–  William Morris from Earthly Paradise

We’ve had a pair of bald eagles who return every winter to our hilltop farm.  They like the high perches offered by our tall Douglas fir trees providing them a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside and fields.  I suspect their nest is nearby, if not in our woods.  They were back today, full of conversation and gossip, chittering back and forth like a couple of sparrows, only much louder and much much bigger/grander.  The regular inhabitants of our fir trees — crows and red-tailed hawks — are quite put out at the encroachment of eagles on their territory.  They fly about the trees angrily, with scolding and harassing calls.

But the eagles reign wherever they set down talons.  There is simply nothing to argue about.  My only worry about having them in the yard is how vulnerable our cats might be when the wild bunny pickings get thin.   Otherwise I appreciate the eagles for the good neighbors they are.  They keep the rodent population under control, they are polite and don’t throw raucous parties at night, and they have a stable long term marriage, something I deeply respect.

So when their chirpy dialogue quiets down for the night and the hoot owls start in, I think about how much I always miss all this conversation during the silent nights of deep winter.  Happy birds are back, a truly hopeful sign that we are passing into spring, and something soon will happen…

Lenten Grace — Then Water Enters

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
Rebuked, she turned and ran
uphill to the barn. Anger, the inner   
arsonist, held a match to her brain.   
She observed her life: against her will   
it survived the unwavering flame.
The barn was empty of animals.   
Only a swallow tilted
near the beams, and bats
hung from the rafters
the roof sagged between.

Her breath became steady
where, years past, the farmer cooled  
the big tin amphoræ of milk.
The stone trough was still
filled with water: she watched it  
and received its calm.

So it is when we retreat in anger:  
we think we burn alone
and there is no balm.
Then water enters, though it makes  
no sound.
~Jane Kenyon from “Portrait of a Figure Near Water”

There is a balm badly needed for souls scorched by their own anger.

Allowing anger to smolder only leaves us awash in ashes.  I am witness through my own eyes how my indignation inflames like an “inner arsonist”, leaving behind the shadows that forever cloud my vision.  I will not see clearly until I stop feeding the fire.

Time to let the water enter in, to flood and cool the flame, to cleanse, renew and forgive,  to restore a calm, silent and serene.

That is the balm badly needed.  That is the balm freely given.

I just need to apply it to where it hurts the most.

Lenten Grace — Emptied and Hollow

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow;
you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I am often unprepared for the rush of challenges each clinic day brings.  Each call, each message, each tug on my arm, each box of kleenex handed over, each look of hopelessness  —  I am emptying continuously throughout the day.  If I’m down and dry, hollowed to the core with no more left to give, I pray for more than I could possibly deserve.

And so it pours over me, torrential and flooding, and I only have a mere cup to hold out for filling.  There is far more cascading grace than I can even conceive of, far more love descending than this cup of mine could ever hold, far more hope ascending from the mist and mystery of doctoring,  over and over again.

I am never left empty for long,  grateful for a hollow hallowed.

Lenten Grace — Streams in the Desert

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
Isaiah 35: 5-7

And so we will not remain mere dust in the ground.

The dry wilderness bubbles with streams and gushes with falls.
The barren grows fruit.
The impossible becomes possible.

We are paradox.

Once dead, we live again.

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates