By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast — a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines —
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches —
They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind —
Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined — It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of entrance — Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted they grip down and begin to awaken ~William Carlos Williams “Spring and All”
January wraps up with much of the country in deep freeze, covered in snow and ice and bitter wind chill.
Yet outside begins to awaken– tender buds swelling, bulbs breaking through soil, in reentry to the world from the dark and cold.
Like a mother who holds the mystery of her quickening belly, so hopeful and marveling, she knows soon and very soon there will be spring.
On the day when The weight deadens On your shoulders And you stumble, May the clay dance To balance you.
And when your eyes Freeze behind The grey window And the ghost of loss Gets into you, May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, green And azure blue, Come to awaken in you A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays In the currach of thought And a stain of ocean Blackens beneath you, May there come across the waters A path of yellow moonlight To bring you safely home. ~John O’Donohue from “Beannacht”
I figure I was born unbalanced in one way or another. I was the kid who couldn’t manage roller skating out of fear of falling, clinging to the rail rather than risk being ground-bound yet again. My one and only cross country skiing experience was actually cross-country sitting more than gliding. I still freeze in place when trying to walk over an icy surface or down a steep incline — my brain just can’t help my body navigate anything other than a straight flat pathway.
It isn’t just physical balance that is a challenge for me. As a child, and still at times in my later years, my feelings can be intense and immobilizing too, every disappointment becoming tragedy and every happy moment so joyous I cling to it fiercely, fearing it could fade.
A blessing of balance is ideal: ground that dances to steady me when I stumble, a palette of rainbow colors to overwhelm gray emotions when I’m struggling, a lighted pathway if the going gets dark.
I’ve given up the idea of skating or skiing, but just maybe I can ride and glide through the waves of life without getting seasick.
This saying good-by on the edge of the dark And the cold to an orchard so young in the bark Reminds me of all that can happen to harm An orchard away at the end of the farm All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night And think of an orchard’s arboreal plight When slowly (and nobody comes with a light) Its heart sinks lower under the sod. But something has to be left to God. ~Robert Frost from “Good-bye and Keep Cold”
The winter orchard looks cold and silent yet I know plenty is happening beneath the sod.
There isn’t much to be done this time of year until the pruning hook comes out and then the tree is shaped and shorn.
I too can appear cold and dormant, unfruitful and at times desolate. So my future fruitfulness must be left to God and His pruning hook.
We praise thee, O God, for thy glory displayed in all the creatures of the earth, In the snow, in the rain, in the wind, in the storm; in all of thy creatures, both the hunters and the hunted… They affirm thee in living; all things affirm thee in living; the bird in the air, both the hawk and the finch; the beast on the earth, both the wolf and the lamb;… Therefore man, whom thou hast made to be conscious of thee, must consciously praise thee, in thought and in word and in deed. Even with the hand to the broom, the back bent in laying the fire, the knee bent in cleaning the hearth… The back bent under toil, the knee bent under sin, the hands to the face under fear, the head bent under grief, Even in us the voices of the seasons, the snuffle of winter, the song of spring, the drone of summer, the voices of beasts and of birds, praise thee. ~T.S. Eliot fromMurder in the Cathedral
In the midst of all the snuffling viruses of winter, the back breaking daily work and labor:
this amazing glory happens this morning
the sky is afire with Him
I am reminded yet again all things affirm thee in living and so shall I.
How strange this fear of death is! We are never frightened at a sunset. George MacDonald
In our modern world that never seems to rest, a sunrise can feel more daunting than a sunset. We are unprepared for the day to start: the ready-set-go of a sunrise can be overwhelming to a tired soul.
There are mornings when the new light of dawn penetrates right through our closed eyelids, enough to wake the dead, if not the sleeping. It cannot be ignored in its urgency to rouse us to action.
In contrast, the end of the day requires little preparation. Sunsets signal a slowing-down unraveling of tension, a deep cleansing breath, a letting-go of the light for another night. It eases over us, covering us like a comfortable quilt, tucking us in for the night with a kiss and hug and promise of sweet dreams.
The reason we do not fear the sunset is that we know it isn’t all there is. The black nothingness of night would be petrifying if we didn’t understand and trust that the light will return, as startling as it may be in its brightness. It is the rerunning cycle of the light and dark that reassures. It is as it was created to be, over and over.
Let the sunset tuck us in. Let the sunrise ready us for a new day.
Morning without you is a dwindled dawn. ~Emily Dickinson in a letter to a friend April 1885
Adjusting to our children being grown and moved away from home took time: for months, I instinctively grabbed too many plates and utensils when setting the table, though the laundry and dishwasher loads seemed skimpy I washed anyway, the tidiness of their bedrooms was frankly disturbing as I passed by.
I need a little mess and noise around to feel that living is actually happening under this roof and that all is well. That quarter century of raising children consisted of nonstop parenting, farming, working, playing – never finding enough hours in the day and hardly enough sleep at night. It was a full to overflowing phase of life.
Somehow, life now is too quiet, and I am dwindling.
Though now I know: despite missing our children here, they have thrived where planted. And so must I.
Each morning is new, each dawn softens the void, and each diminishing moment becomes a recognition of how truly blessed life can be.
To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world. ~Karl Barth
There is much shouting and gnashing of teeth going on in our country right now. Some from the streets, some from computer keyboards and screens, and some from inside the halls of government and a certain White House.
We need to stop shouting and clasp hands in prayer.
Prayer is always easier for the youngest among us. It can be amazingly spontaneous for kids — an outright exclamation of joy, a crying plea for help, a word of unprompted gratitude. As a child I can remember making up my own songs and monologues to God as I wandered alone in our farm’s woods, enjoying His company in my semi-solitude. I’m not sure when I began to silence myself out of self-conscious embarrassment, but I stayed silent for many years, unwilling to put voice to the prayers that rattled in my head. In my childhood, prayer in public schools had been hushed into a mere and meaningless moment of silence, and intuitively I knew silence never changed anything. The world became more and more disorderly in the 60’s and 70’s and in my increasingly indoctrinated mind, there was no prayer I could say that would make a difference either.
How wrong could I and my education be? Nothing can right the world until we are right with God through talking to Him out of our depth of need and fear. Nothing can right the world until we submit ourselves wholly, bowed low, hands clasped, eyes closed, articulating the joy, the thanks, and the petitions weighing on our hearts.
An uprising is only possible when our voice comes alive, unashamed, unselfconscious, rising up from within us, uttering words that beseech and thank and praise. To rise up with hands clasped together calls upon a power needing no billions and no weapons and no walls ~ only the Word ~ to overcome and overwhelm the shambles left of our world.
Nothing can be more victorious than the Amen, our Amen, at the end.
…horses whose bellies are grain-filled, whose long-ribbed loneliness can be scratched into no-longer-lonely. ~Jane Hirshfield from The Love of Aged Horses
(originally written ~20 years ago)
Settling down into the straw, I am grateful for this quiet moment after a 12 hour workday followed by all the requisite personal conversations that help mop up the spills and splatters of every day life. My family has verbally unloaded their day like so much stored up laundry needing to be washed and rinsed with the spin cycle completed before tomorrow dawns. I moved from child to child to child to husband to grandmother, hoping to help each one clean, dry, fold and sort everything in their pile. Not to be outdone, I piled up a little dirty laundry of my own as I complain about my day.
By that time I’m on “spent” cycle myself and seeking a little “alone” time. I retreat to the barn where verbal communication isn’t necessary. Instead, I need to just sit quietly, watching what happens around me.
A new foal and his vigilant mama watch my every move.
This colt is intrigued by my intrusion into his 12′ x 24′ world. His mother is annoyed. He comes over to sniff my foot and his mother swiftly moves him away with a quick swing of her hips, daunting me with the closeness of her heels. Her first instinct insists she separate me from him and bar my access. My mandate is to woo her over. I could bribe her with food and sweet talk, but, no, that is too easy.
A curry comb is best. If nothing else will work, a good scratching always does. Standing up, I start peeling sheets of no longer needed winter hair off her neck, her sides, her flank and hindquarter. She relaxes in response to my efforts, giving her baby a body rub with her muzzle, wiggling her lips all up and down from his back to his tummy. He is delighted with this spontaneous mommy massage and leans into her, moving around so his hind end is under her mouth and his front end is facing me. Then he starts giving his own version of a massage too, wiggling his muzzle over my coat sleeve and wondrously closing this little therapeutic triangle, all of us “scratched into no-longer-lonely.”
Here we are, a tight little knot of givers/receivers with horse hair flying in a cloud about us. One weary human, one protective mama mare and one day-old foal, who is learning so young how to contribute to the well being of others. It is an incredible gift of trust they bestow on me like a blessing. I realize this horse family is helping me sort my own laundry in the same way I had helped with my human family’s load.
Too often in life we confine our lonely selves in painful triangles, passing our kicks and bites down the line to each other rather than providing nurture and respite. We find ourselves unable to wrench free from continuing to deliver the hurts we’ve just received. What strength it takes to respond with kindness when the kick has just landed on our backside. How chastened we feel when a kindness is directed at us, as undeserving as we are after having bitten someone hard.
Instead of biting, try a gentle scratching. Instead of kicking, try tickling. Instead of fear, try acceptance. Instead of annoyance, try patience. Instead of piling up so much laundry of your own, try washing, folding and sorting what is dumped on you by others, handing it back all ready for the next day.
Just settle into the straw to watch and wait – amazing things will happen.
…the cold waking you as if from long sleeping, then you can understand how, more often than not, truth is found in silence, how the natural world comes to you if you go out to meet it, its icy ditches filled with dead weeds, its vacant birdhouses, and dens full of the sleeping. But this is the slowed down season held fast by darkness and if no one comes to keep you company then keep watch over your own solitude. In that stillness, you will learn with your whole body the significance of cold and the night, which is otherwise always eluding you. ~Patricia Fargnoli from “Winter Grace”
So slowed down and immobilized by the rain, the cold, the darkness it can take every reserve I’ve got to embrace another day
yet embrace I must clinging to the knowledge
that even in stillness and silence I love and am loved.
“When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response:
‘Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely Yours, G. K. Chesterton.’
That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.” ~Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God
O lovely apple! beautifully and completely rotten hardly a contour marred–
perhaps a little shrivelled at the top but that aside perfect in every detail! O lovely
apple! what a deep and suffusing brown mantles that unspoiled surface! No one
has moved you since I placed you on the porch rail a month ago to ripen.
No one. No one! ~William Carlos Williams “Perfection”
I am what’s wrong with the world and so are you.
Not one of us escapes the rottenness that lies not-so-deep beneath our shiny surface. We are full of wormholes, inviting the worms of the world to eat us alive.
One look at the news headlines of the day is enough mar the most perfect surface. No one moves to save us from our over-ripening fate; we sit untouched, withering and shriveling.
We are the problem and the problem is us.
We need rescue by a Savior who is the one good apple among a barrel of contagiously bad apples. We are so tainted, it takes Someone who truly is Perfect to transform us from the inside out, from worm-holes back to wholeness and on to holiness.
May we fall to our knees, weeping and grateful, that Christ, who is the Leader of all in His Kingdom, will grant us a grace and sanctuary we emphatically don’t deserve.
May He pick us before the worms do. We are in this together.