Lenten Grace — Peace Among the Rocks

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks…

…And let my cry come unto Thee.
~T.S. Eliot from the conclusion of “Ash Wednesday”

Too many daily distractions prevent me from being still and seeking peace in my earthly life.  I constantly want to build up, to tear down, to keep moving, I care too much, I care too little — anything to avoid being like an inanimate rock.  There is always the awareness that everlasting stillness will come soon enough, much too soon, in the grave, in the forever of my becoming dust.

Yet even among the rocks they fail to stay rooted in place;  they are washed away with the waves, moved at the mercy of the tide, landing somewhere new and unfamiliar only to be stilled, then shifted once again.

Let my peace be among the rocks, to be picked up and moved where He wills, to settle where I am placed until the time comes to move again.   Let my peace be in the knowledge He has control, not I.

And so I cry out.
Even among the rocks
Even among the rocks

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

Lenten Grace — Rain on Dust

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”
~Charles Dickens as “Pip” in Great Expectations

Lent humbles the hardest of hearts by softening and readying us through our tears.  We weep to read again of Christ’s walk on the parched road to the cross, where our tears are as welcome as a cleansing rain — tears meant to renew and restore the dust beneath His feet.

When we cry for Him in His sacrifice, experience His rejection and sorrow, we empty out our bitterness, our pride, and our ingratitude.  Our tears gently cushion His footsteps.  We prepare ourselves to follow on this difficult and arduous road, fitting our foot to each print He has left behind, knowing exactly where it will take us.

Our tears make us better than we ever have been and will set us right.

We weep in joy that we have His tear-stained footprints to follow.

Wild Harbinger of Spring

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Welcome, wild harbinger of spring!
  To this small nook of earth;
Feeling and fancy fondly cling
  Round thoughts which owe their birth
To thee, and to the humble spot
Where chance has fixed thy lowly lot.
        ~Bernard Barton—To a Crocus.

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Hail to the King of Bethlehem,
Who weareth in his diadem
The yellow crocus for the gem
    Of his authority!
        Longfellow—Christus. Pt. II. The Golden Legend. IX.

Lenten Grace — Dust as Equalizer

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

It comes equally to us all,
and makes us all equal when it comes.

The ashes of an oak in the chimney
are no epitaph of that oak,

to tell me how high or how large that was;
it tells me not what flocks it sheltered while it stood,
nor what men it hurt when it fell †
and when a whirlwind hath blown
the dust of the churchyard into the church,
and the man sweeps out
the dust of the church into the churchyard,
who will undertake
to sift those dusts again,
and to pronounce,
This is the Patrician,
this the noble flower,
and this the yeomanly,
this the Plebeian bran.
~ John Donne

And we shall all look the same when the end comes
sifted through His hands
blown on with His breath
bled on in His sacrifice–
Varied as we are now in life,
we shall, in death, become One in Him.

Amen

Lenten Grace — Quintessence of Dust

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

What a piece of work is a man!
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
~ William Shakespeare in Hamlet’s monologue 

This dust left of man:
earth, air, water and fire
prove inadequate
to quell its significance.

Only the transcendent hope
of eternal life restored
can breathe glory
into the plainest of ash.

We therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ;
who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body…
Committal service from The Common Book of Prayer

Lenten Grace — Forestalling Burial

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..earth sifts over things. If you stay still, earth buries you, ready or not. The debris on the tops of your feet or shoes thickens, windblown dirt piles around it, and pretty soon your feet are underground..

Micrometeorite dust can bury you, too, if you wait: a ton falls on earth every hour.

Quick: Why aren’t you dusting? On every continent, we sweep floors and wipe tabletops not only to shine the place, but to forestall burial.
~Annie Dillard from For the Time Being

I conveniently thought dust came from flakes of old dead skin innocuously loosening and lazily floating away from their body of origin to accumulate on the piano, or book shelves, or hide innocently in surreptitious dust-bunny clumps under the bed.   Each house is it’s own self-sustaining dust-factory thanks to its exfoliating occupants.   I hadn’t given too much thought to all that alien dust outside our doors, much of it originating from something quite extraterrestial.

A mega-ton meteor comes roaring out of the sky, breaking sound barriers and everything around, including people, and busts into millions of microscopic particles on impact.   Now that is real DUST, overwhelming dust, a beyond-our-comprehension debris burying us from above with shock and awe brightness.

We dust compulsively in our daily lives, trying to forestall our ultimate burial, hoping to avoid the harsh reality of being covered up only to become dust ourselves someday —  all dust and nothing but dust.

Truly, in one fell swoop, we will all be changed, in a blink of any eye.   A little meteor exploding from the heavens is nothing compared to the cataclysm of the Son of Man hung, dying, buried, to be returned to dust like us all,  and yet rising to walk again.   Instead he dusts us up, shines us clean, and readies us to live when he comes again.

No more dead skin to forestall.  We will be so much more than mere dust.

Everything exists, everything is true and the earth is just a bit of dust beneath our feet.
~ W. B. Yeats

Better was it to go unknown and leave behind you an arch, then to burn like a meteor and leave no dust.
~ Virginia Woolf

Lenten Grace — Fearful Dust

photo from the top of Mt. Baker by Josh Scholten
photo from the top of Mt. Baker by Josh Scholten

I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
~T.S. Eliot in “Burial of the Dead” from “The Wasteland”

We do not want to think of ourselves as the dust we were and the dust we will become.  There is too much of us living right now; we cast shadows before and behind us depending on the time of day and time of life.  We are substance with our shadows only ephemeral reflections of our presence on earth.

Yet the dust we were and the dust we become is a fearful thing.
Nothing but dust…
until the Creator lifts us up in the palm of His hand, and blows on us.  Now we breathe and pulse and weep and bleed.

We become something different than mere shadow.

We become His, awed,  to the last grain of fearful dust with which we are made.  We become so much more.  So much more.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Tangled Up

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It did seem odd this morning during my barn chores that our six year old Haflinger gelding stood facing the back wall as I opened his stall door to give him his hay.  For a moment I wondered if there was a problem with his appetite as he usually would dive right into his hay as soon as I threw it to him.  A closer look told me the problem was with his hind end, not his front end:  his heavy white tail was wrapped snugly around a J hook hanging on the stall wall meant to hold his water bucket.  Instead now it held him — and wasn’t letting go.  He had apparently been itching his butt back and forth, round and round on the handy hook and managed to wrap his tail into such tight knots on the hook that he was literally tethered to the wall.  He was very calm about the whole thing only maybe just a little embarrassed.

He turned his head to look at me, pitiful. How long he’d been standing there like that through the night was anyone’s guess.  I bet he no longer was itchy.

I started to work at untying the tail knots to free him and found them wound so tight that loosening them required significant cooperation from my 1200 pound buddy.  Unfortunately, any time I managed to almost unloop a knot over the hook end, he would pull forward, snugging it even tighter.  Out of desperation I pulled out the scissors I keep in my barnjacket pocket.  I cut one knot hoping that would be sufficient.   Then I cut through another knot.  Still not enough.  I cut a third big knot and thank God Almighty, he was free at last.  He sauntered over to his hay now with a chunk of his tail in my hand and a big gap in what was still left hanging on him.  It may take a year to grow that missing hair back out.  But hey, it is only hair and at least someone kind and caring came along with a set of shears to release him painlessly from his captivity.  We aren’t all so lucky.

I know what it is like to get tangled up in things I should probably give wide berth.  I have a tendency, like my young horse, to butt in where I best not be and then become so bound I can’t get loose again.   It can take forever to free myself,  sometimes painfully leaving parts of my hide behind.

So when I inevitably get tied up in knots again, I hope someone will come along to save me.  Better yet, I hope someone might warn me away from the things that hook me before I foolishly back right into them.  I’ve got to loosen up and quit pulling the knots tighter.

It’s best to always have a detangler handy.  You never know when you might need one.

Lenten Grace — The Unstilled World

photo of lenticular clouds near Mt. Rainier by Kathy Yates
photo of lenticular clouds near Mt. Rainier by Kathy Yates

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
~T.S. Eliot from “Ash Wednesday”

We spin uncontrolled in our individual orbits, impervious to the silent stillness of God.
He is there, steadfast and faithful, whether we acknowledge Him or not, whether we listen to his word.

The Word is within, the Word is for the world
yet we, the unstilled, our world still whirls.

May the light shine on our darkness.
May we be stilled,
stunned to silence.