Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will: Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still! ~William Wordsworth from Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 1802
The world will never starve for want of wonders, but for want of wonder. — G. K. Chesterton
The ending of September is wistful yet expectant. We have not yet had frost but the air has a stark coolness that presages a freeze coming soon. Snow has fallen on the mountain passes and the peaks.
Nothing is really growing any more; there is a settling in, as if going down for a nap–drifting off, comfortable, sinking deep and untroubled under the blankets.
Our long sleep is not yet come but we take our rest at intervals. There is still daylight left though the frenetic season has passed.
We take our calm as it comes, in a serene moment of reflection, looking out from the edge and wondering… pondering what is waiting on the other side.
Definite beliefs are what make the radical mystery — those moments when we suddenly know there is a God about whom we “know” absolutely nothing –– accessible to us and our ordinary, unmysterious lives.
And more crucially: definite beliefs enable us to withstand the storms of suffering that come into every life, and that tend to destroy any spiritual disposition that does not have deep roots. ~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss
Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. ~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk
Unexpected God, your advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your coming, and bend our angers into your peace. Amen. ~Revised Common Lectionary First Sunday of Advent
We are only a few weeks away from the beginning of Advent, a time when I am very guilty of blithely invoking the gentle story of Christmas Eve’s silent night, the sleeping infant away in a manger, the devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door.
The reality, I’m confident, was far different.
There was nothing gentle about a teenage mother giving birth in a stable, laying her baby in a feed trough–I’m sure there were times when Mary could have used a life preserver. There was nothing gentle about the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds, shouting and singing the glories and leaving them “sore afraid.” The shepherds needed crash helmets. There was nothing gentle about Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he swept overboard a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered. There was nothing gentle about a family’s flight to Egypt to flee that fate for their only Son. There was nothing gentle about the life Jesus eventually led during his ministry: itinerant and homeless, tempted and fasting in the wilderness for forty days, owning nothing, rejected by his own people, betrayed by his disciples, sentenced to death by acclamation before Pilate, tortured and hung on a cross until he took his last breath.
Yet he understood the power that originally brought him to earth and would return him to heaven, and back again someday. No signal flares needed there.
When I hear skeptics scoff at Christianity as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate the courage it takes to walk into church each week as a desperate person who will never ever save oneself. We cling to the life preserver found in the Word, lashed to our seats and hanging on. It is only because of grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt to let go of our own anger in order to confront the reality of the radical mystery of God.
It is not for the faint of heart, this finding a “definite belief” within our ordinary unmysterious lives and giving it deep roots to thrive. It is reasonable and necessary to be “sore afraid” and “bend our anger” into His peace.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No Matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite. ~Joy Harjo “Perhaps the World Ends Here”
Our life revolves around this table. This is where we hang out late into the evening, and begin the day before dawn. This is where the prayers happen, the meals happen, the arguments happen. This is where we understand each other.
Open your hands, lift them.—William Stafford, “Today”
The parking space beside the store when you were late. The man who showed up just in time to hold the door when you were juggling five big packages. The spider plant that grew— though you forgot to water it. The new nest in the tree outside your window. Chime of distant church bells when you’re lonely. Rhyme of friendship. Apples. Sky a trove of blue. And who’s to say these miracles are less significant than burning bushes, loaves and fishes, steps on water. We are blessed by marvels wearing ordinary clothes— how easily we’re fooled by simple dress— Oranges. Water. Leaves. Bread. Crows. ~Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “But You Thought You Knew What a Sign Looked Like” from Naked for Tea
It was a dark and stormy night. Leaves were strewn everywhere this morning, but more cling tightly to branches, waiting for another night, another storm to come, knowing it will be sooner rather than later.
I feel a bit strewn myself, bits and pieces of me flung here and there, while the rest of me remains clinging, hanging on for dear life, wondering what comes next.
Can I weather the weather of life, tossed and drenched?
Truly, marvels and miracles abound wherever I look, sometimes dressed so plainly I miss them first time around. In fact, they are so glorious, I am blinded by them. To see these signs, to know their significance, I must simply open my hands, lift up my eyes, quiet my troubled heart and be content.
A hill, a farm, A forest, and a valley. Half a hill plowed, half woods. A forest valley and a valley field.
Sun passes over; Two solstices a year Cow in the pasture Sometimes deer
A farmhouse built of wood. A forest built on bones. The high field, hawks The low field, crows
Wren in the brambles Frogs in the creek Hot in summer Cold in snow
The woods fade and pass. The farm goes on. The farm quits and fails The woods creep down
Stocks fall you can’t sell corn Big frost and tree-mice starve Who wins who cares? The woods have time. The farmer has heirs. ~“Map” by Gary Snyder from Left Out in the Rain.
We have now passed from the season when our farm is brilliant, verdant and delicious to behold. In June, the cherry orchard blossoms yield to fruit and the pastures are knee high with grass. During the summer months, the daylight starts creeping over the eastern foothills at 4 AM and the last glimpse of sun disappears at nearly 10 PM. So many hours of light to work with!
I yearn for the coming dark rainy days to hide inside with a book.
Instead the lawnmower and weed whacker call our names, and the fish pond needs cleaning and the garden must be prepared for winter. It’s not that things don’t happen on the farm during months like this. It’s just that nothing we do is enough. Blackberry brambles have taken over everything, grass grows faster than we can keep it mowed down, the manure piles grow exponentially. The fences always need fixing.
Suddenly our farm dream seems not nearly so compelling.
We spent many years dreaming about the farm as we hoped it would be. We imagined the pastures managed perfectly with fencing that was both functional and beautiful. Our barns and buildings would be tidy and leak-proof, and the stalls secure and safe. We’d have a really nice pick up truck with low miles on it, not a 35 year old hand me down truck with almost 200,000 miles. We would have trees pruned expertly and we’d have flower beds blooming as well as a vegetable garden yielding 9 months of the year. Our hay would never be rained on. We would have dogs that wouldn’t run off and cats that would take care of all the rodents. We wouldn’t have any moles, thistles, dandelions or buttercup. The pheasant, deer, coyotes, raccoons, and wild rabbits would only stroll through the yard for our amusement and not disturb anything. We’d have livestock with the best bloodlines we could afford and a steady demand from customers to purchase their offspring at reasonable prices so that not a dime of our off-farm income would be necessary to pay farm expenses. Our animals (and we) would never get sick or injured.
And our house would always stay clean.
Dream on. Farms are often back-breaking, morale-eroding, expensive sinkholes. I know ours is. Yet here we be and here we stay.
It’s home. We’ve raised three wonderful children here. We’ve bred and grown good horses and great garden and orchard crops and tons of hay from our own fields. We breathe clean air and hear dozens of different bird songs and look out at some of the best scenery this side of heaven. Eagles land in the trees in our front yard. It’s all enough for us even if we are not enough for the farm. I know there will come a time when the farm will need to be a fond memory and not a daily reality. Until then we will keep pursuing our dream as we and the farm grow older. Dreams age and mature and I know now what I dreamed of when I was younger was not the important stuff.
We have been blessed with one another, with the sunrises and the sunsets and everything in between. This is the stuff of which the best dreams are made.
This far north, the harvest happens late. Rooks go clattering over the sycamores whose shadows yawn after them, down to the river. Uncut wheat staggers under its own weight.
Summer is leaving too, exchanging its gold for brass and copper. It is not so strange to feel nostalgia for the present; already this September evening is as old
as a photograph of itself. The light, the shadows on the field, are sepia, as if this were some other evening in September, some other harvest that went ungathered years ago. ~Dorothy Lawrenson “September” from Painted, spoken, 22
September/remember naturally go together in every rhyming autumnal poem and song.
For me, the nostalgia of this season is for the look and feel of the landscape as it browns out with aging – gilded, burnt and rusted, almost glistening in its dying.
I gather up and store these images, like sheaves of wheat stacked in the field. I’ll need them again someday, when I’m hungry, starving for the memory of what once was, and, when the light is just right, how it could be again someday.
Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes, Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour; And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!— These things, these things were here and but the beholder Wanting; which two when they once meet, The heart rears wings bold and bolder And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Hurrahing for Harvest”
Being too warm the old lady said to me is better than being too cold I think now in between is the best because you never give it a thought but it goes by too fast I remember the winter how cold it got I could never get warm wherever I was but I don’t remember the summer heat like that only the long days the breathing of the trees the evenings with the hens still talking in the lane and the light getting longer in the valley the sound of a bell from down there somewhere I can sit here now still listening to it ~W.S. Merwin “Remembering Summer” from Garden Time
Yet another transition between seasons and adapting to the demands of a new day ~ there is good reason things don’t stay the same.
Air and light and colors change, as do I, as I must.
That perfect tipping point balance is only a moment in time; gone by too fast and I scramble to adjust yet again, holding out hope I can walk carefully, cautiously along the center line.
I love to go out in late September among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries to eat blackberries for breakfast, the stalks very prickly, a penalty they earn for knowing the black art of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries fall almost unbidden to my tongue, as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words like strengths or squinched, many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps, which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well in the silent, startled, icy, black language of blackberry-eating in late September. ~Galway Kinnell“Blackberry Eating”
“In that year, 1914, we lived on the farm And the relatives lived with us. A banner year for wild blackberries Dad was crazy about wild blackberries No berries like that now. You know Kitsap County was logged before The turn of the century—it was easiest of all, Close to water, virgin timber, When I was a kid walking about in the Stumpland, wherever you’d go a skidroad Puncheon, all overgrown. We went up one like that, fighting our way through To its end near the top of a hill: For some reason wild blackberries Grew best there. We took off one morning Right after milking: rode the horses To a valley we’d been to once before Hunting berries, and hitched the horses. About a quarter mile up the old road We found the full ripe of berrytime— And with only two pails—so we Went back home, got Mother and Ruth, And filled lots of pails. Mother sent letters To all the relatives in Seattle: Effie, Aunt Lucy, Bill Moore, Forrest, Edna, six or eight, they all came Out to the farm, and we didn’t take pails Then: we took copper clothes-boilers, Wash-tubs, buckets, and all went picking. We were canning for three days.” ~ Gary Snyder “6” from Myths and Texts.
Earth’s crammed with heaven And every common bush afire with God But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries~ –Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Aurora Leigh”
All I wanted was a few blackberries.
I admit my objective was just to pick enough for cobbler for today’s noon dinner after church, oblivious to God burning in the bushes towering over me, around me, snagging me at every opportunity. If I had given it more thought, I would have realized the reaching vines hooking my arms and legs were hardly subtle. The thorns ripped at my skin, leaving me bloody and smarting. The fruit itself stained my hands purple, making them look freshly bruised. I crushed fat vines underfoot, trampling and stomping with my muck boots in order to dive deeper into the bushes. Webs were everywhere, with spiders crawling up my arms and dropping down into my hair. I managed to kick up one hornet’s nest so I called it quits.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, so blinded to all the clues crammed in every nook and cranny of every bush.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, trampling on holy ground with well-protected feet, unwilling to be barefoot and tenderly vulnerable.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, the lure of black gold plucked at the cost of rips and scratches and tears.
What I got was burned by a bush…
and a few blackberries for today’s crammed-with-heaven cobbler.
It is not that the sun comes up or the earth goes around or that the plants sprout and take up rain and flower and set seed or that our hearts pound five thousand times an hour – It’s that we don’t have to go out with tethers to make the heavenly bodies move correctly around or caress the ground and tease the stems upright and separate the petals or tap our chests continually with little hammers and we can put our attention elsewhere. ~Michael Goldman, “The Miracle” from Unified Light Theory
So much we’ve been told we must care for:
our babies our elders our animals our gardens our water our air ourselves
and so much more for which we are mere witness.
If we don’t take notice, we lose out on the miracle of knowing every breath, every heartbeat is sheer miracle.