Guarded within the old red wall’s embrace, Marshaled like soldiers in gay company, The tulips stand arrayed. Here infantry Wheels out into the sunlight. What bold grace Sets off their tunics, white with crimson lace! Here are platoons of gold-frocked cavalry With scarlet sabres tossing in the eye Of purple batteries, every gun in place. Forward they come, with flaunting colors spread, With torches burning, stepping out in time To some quick, unheard march. Our ears are dead, We cannot catch the tune. In pantomime Parades that army. With our utmost powers We hear the wind stream through a bed of flowers. ~Amy Lowell – 1914 “A Tulip Garden”
April ignites an explosion: Dazzling retinal hues Singed, crying Grateful tears for such as this Array of floral arms- A rainbow on Earth
Transient, incandescent Brilliance hoped for. Remembered in dreams, Promises realized, Housed in crystal before shattering.
Spread between rows of beans, last year’s rusty leaves tamp down weeds. Coffee grounds and banana peels foster rose blooms. Bread crumbs scattered for birds become song. Leftovers offered to chickens come back as eggs, yolks sunrise orange. Broccoli stems and bruised apples fed to cows return as milk steaming in the pail, as patties steaming in the pasture.
Surely our shame and sorrow also return, composted by years into something generative as wisdom. ~Laura Grace Weldon, “Compost Happens” from Blackbird
As a farmer, I spend over an hour a day cleaning my barn, and wheel heavy loads of organic material to a large pile in our barnyard which composts year round. Piling up all that messy stuff that is no longer needed is crucial to the process: it heats up quickly to the point of steaming, and within months, it becomes rich fertilizer, ready to help the fields to grow grass, or the garden to produce vegetables, or the fragrant blooms in the flower beds. It becomes something far greater and more productive than what it was to begin with.
That’s what my past clinical work in detox and treatment of addictions was like.
As a physician, I helped patients “clean up” the parts of their lives they can’t manage any longer, that are causing problems with their health, their families and jobs, and most of all, their relationship with their Creator. There isn’t a soul walking this earth who doesn’t struggle in some way with things that take over our lives, whether it is work, computer use, food, gambling, you name it. For the chemically dependent, it comes in the form of smoke, a powder, a bottle, a syringe or a pill. There is nothing that has proven more effective than “piling up together” learning what it takes to walk the road to health and healing, “heating up”, so to speak, in an organic process of transformation that is, for lack of any better description, primarily a spiritual treatment process.
When a support group becomes a crucible for the “refiner’s fire”, it does its best work melting people down to rid the impurities before they can be built back up again, stronger than ever. They become compost, productive, with the wisdom and readiness to grow others.
This work with a spectrum of individuals of all races, professional and blue collar, rich and homeless, coming from all over the state for help, was transforming for me. I worked with incredibly gifted nursing and counseling staff, some recovering themselves, who dedicated their careers to this work.
As Jesus says in Matthew 25: 40–‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Nature teaches that nothing is lost.
God teaches we seek out the lost until they are found and then and only then, the work of transformation begins.
Flowers preach to us if we will hear: The rose saith in the dewy morn: I am most fair; Yet all my loveliness is born Upon a thorn. The poppy saith amid the corn: Let but my scarlet head appear And I am held in scorn; Yet juice of subtle virtue lies Within my cup of curious dyes. The lilies say: Behold how we Preach without words of purity. The violets whisper from the shade Which their own leaves have made: Men scent our fragrance on the air, Yet take no heed Of humble lessons we would read. But not alone the fairest flowers: The merest grass Along the roadside where we pass, Lichen and moss and sturdy weed, Tell of His love who sends the dew, The rain and sunshine too, To nourish one small seed. ~Christina Rossetti fromGoblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems
Some sermons are written bold with color, illustrated with powerful gospel stories of righteousness and redemption in the face of our sin.
Some sermon passages are fragrant with the scent of grace and forgiveness, lingering long after the words are spoken.
Some sermon stories remain subtle and hidden, cryptic messages like the blooms that grow close to the ground, barely visible.
We need to hear them all preached, but most of all we need those every day plain-to-the-bone sermons which are trampled and tread upon, springing back up to guide our feet to the best pathway home. No color, no fragrance, no hiding: just celebrating the ubiquitous lichens, mosses and grasses and weeds which exist solely to help cushion our inevitable fall and help us rise up again.
Here, on this surge of hill, I find myself not as I am or will be or once was, not as the measure of days defines my soul; beyond all that a being of breath and bone, partaker of wind and sun and air and earth, I stand on the surge of hill and know myself Below, the stars sink landward, and above I breathe with their slow glimmer; fields are gone, the woods are fallen into the speechless dark; no claim, no voice, no motion, no demand. It is alone we end then and alone we go, creatures of solitary light; the finger of truth is laid upon my heart: See and be wise and unafraid, a part of stars and earth-wind and the deepening night. ~Jane Tyson Clement “Here On This Surge of Hill”
The world feels like a fearsome place with endless stories of tragedy and loss, too much pain and suffering, blinding me in its darkness.
Yet I listen to my risen Creator and Savior: Be not afraid Come have breakfast Touch and see Follow me Peace be with you
As I am but mere breath and bone, a wisp in a moment of time, this truth anchors my heart: I am called by His solitary light.
To what purpose, April, do you return again? Beauty is not enough. You can no longer quiet me with the redness Of little leaves opening stickily. I know what I know. The sun is hot on my neck as I observe The spikes of the crocus. The smell of the earth is good. It is apparent that there is no death. But what does that signify? Not only under ground are the brains of men Eaten by maggots. Life in itself Is nothing, An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs. It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, April Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. ~Edna St. Vincent Millay “Spring”
I know that we cannot depend on the return of Spring to heal us~ it is balm not cure.
I know that none of its beauty can bloom without it dying before~ it is a shroud thrown over to cover our decay.
I know I cannot be transformed by the warmth of the sun~ it is not enough for my skin to sweat when my heart lies still and cold.
I know I must dig deeper in holy ground for the truth~ it does not lie in perfumed blossoms and sweet blue skies.
I know what I know~ life in itself is nothing unless death is overcome yet again and our hearts, once broken, begin to pulse red once more.
Life has loveliness to sell, All beautiful and splendid things, Blue waves whitened on a cliff, Soaring fire that sways and sings, And children’s faces looking up Holding wonder like a cup.
Life has loveliness to sell, Music like a curve of gold, Scent of pine trees in the rain, Eyes that love you, arms that hold, And for your spirit’s still delight, Holy thoughts that star the night.
Spend all you have for loveliness, Buy it and never count the cost; For one white singing hour of peace Count many a year of strife well lost, And for a breath of ecstasy Give all you have been, or could be. ~Sara Teasdale “Barter”
Some days I wish to keep hold forever: when the light is just right in the trees, the breezes fill with blossom fragrance, the congregation sings with joy as I play accompaniment, a smiling child climbs up on my lap just because, a meal is enjoyed by all who join together.
I know I barter for these moments by giving up some piece of me, knowing the sowing of self will reap the rich harvest of an overflowing heart.
.…you mustn’t be frightened … if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? ~Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet
…difficulties are magnified out of all proportion simply by fear and anxiety. From the moment we wake until we fall asleep we must commend other people wholly and unreservedly to God and leave them in his hands, and transform our anxiety for them into prayers on their behalf: With sorrow and with grief… God will not be distracted. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Letters from Prison
Every day I see college students who are so consumed by anxiety they become immobilized in their ability to move forward through the midst of life’s inevitable obstacles and difficulties. They become so stuck in their own overwhelming feelings they can’t sleep or eat or think clearly, so distracted are they by their symptoms. They self-medicate, self-injure and self-hate. Being unable to nurture themselves or others, they wither like a young tree without roots deep enough to reach the vast reservoir that lies untapped beneath them. In epidemic numbers, some decide to die, even before life really has fully begun for them.
I grieve for them in their distress. My role is to help find healing solutions, whether it is counseling therapy, a break from school, or a medicine that may give some form of relief. My heart knows the ultimate answer is not as simple as the right prescription.
We who are anxious must depend upon a Creator who does not suffer from attention deficit disorder and who is not distracted from His care for us even when we turn away in worry and sorrow. We magnify our difficult circumstances by staying so tightly into ourselves, unable to look beyond our own eyelashes. Instead we are to reach higher and deeper, through prayer, through service to others, through acknowledging there is power greater than ourselves.
So we are called to pray for ourselves and for others, disabling anxiety and fear and transforming it to gratitude and grace. No longer withering, we just might bloom.