May you see God’s light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark. May you always hear even in your hour of sorrow the gentle singing of the lark. When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone. May you always remember when the shadows fall– You do not walk alone. ~Traditional Irish Blessing
The day starts with the promise of beauty lit across the sky and concludes with the same light on the other side of the horizon. Yet everything in between can be darkness with no relief or stark brightness leaving no place to hide.
We can endure both if we endure it together. We can travel this long road if we have each other alongside in case we stumble. We can live out our days in gratitude even through our tears.
I tell myself softly, this is how love begins— the air alive with something inconceivable, seeds of every imaginable possibility floating across the wet grasses, under the thin arms of ferns. It drifts like snow or old ash, settling on the dust of the roadways as you and I descend into thickets, flanked by the fragrance of honeysuckle and white primrose.
I recall how my grandmother imagined these wanderers were living beings, some tiny phylum yet to be classified as life. She would say they reminded her of maidens decked in white dresses, waltzing through air. Even after I showed her the pods from which they sprang, blossoming like tiny spiders, she refused to believe.
Now, standing beside you in the crowded autumn haze, I watch them flock, emerge from brittle stalks, bursting upon the world as young lovers do—trysting in the tall grasses, resting fingers lightly in tousled hair. Listen, and you can hear them whisper in the rushes, gazing out at us, wondering— what lives are these? ~Bradford Tice, “Milkweed,” from Rare Earth
We all need to recall the wonder of love – how it forms, how it grows hidden away in a pod of potential until the right moment of emergence.
Then love looks around shyly, wondering at the world it is meant to transform by simply overwhelming it.
Outrageous flowers as big as human heads! They’re staggered by their own luxuriance: I had to prop them up with stakes and twine. In the darkening June evening I draw a blossom near, and bending close search it as a woman searches a loved one’s face. ~Jane Kenyon from “Peonies at Dusk”
There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick, There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done, For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders, If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders; And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden, You will find yourself a partner In the Glory of the Garden.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees, So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away! And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away ! ~Rudyard Kipling from “The Glory of the Garden”
There is no better place to be than in a garden down on my knees. Humans were created for this: the naming, the turning over of the soil, the planting and nurturing, the weeding and thinning, the harvest and gratitude, and then a time of lying fallow to rest.
The garden is a place for prayer and praise.
When I meet a truly great gardener, like my friend Jean who has grown and hybridized dahlias for decades, what I see growing in the soil is a tapestry of artwork made from petals, leaves and roots. She has passionately cared for these plants and they reflect that love in every spiral and swirl, hue and gradient of color, showing stark symmetry and delightful variegation.
Arising from the plainest of homely and knobby look-alike tubers grow these luxurious beauties of infinite variety. I kneel stunned before each one, captivated, realizing that same Creator makes sure I too bloom from mere dust and then set me to work in His garden.
No one compels you, traveler; this road or that road, make your choice! Dust or mud, heat or cold, fellowship or solitude, foul weather or a fairer sky, the choice is yours as you go by.
But here if you would take this path there is a gate whose latch is love, whose key is single and which swings upon the hinge of faithfulness,
and none can mock, who seeks this way, the king we worship shamelessly. If you would enter, traveler, into this city fair and wide, it is forever and you leave all trappings of the self outside. ~Jane Tyson Clements from No One Can Stem the Tide
What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate When the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning; ~T.S. Eliot from “Little Gidding” The Four Quartets
I can, with very little effort, remember the restlessness of my late teens once I learned homesickness was not a terminal condition. There was a world out there to be explored just beyond the gate of my childhood barnyard, and I just knew I was meant to be a designated explorer and traveler, seeking out the extraordinary.
Ordinary simply wouldn’t do. Ordinary was plentiful at my childhood home on a small farm with a predictable routine, a garden to be weeded and daily chores to be done, with middle-aged parents tight with tension in their struggling marriage.
On a whim at age nineteen, I applied for wild chimpanzee research study in Africa, and much to my shock, was accepted. A year of academic and physical preparation as well as Swahili language study was required, so this was no impulsive adventure. I had plenty of time to back out, reconsider, choose another path and retreat to ordinary again.
It was an adventure, far beyond what I had anticipated and trained for. When I had to decide between more exploration, without clear purpose or funds, or returning home, I opted to return to the place I started. I saw home differently, as if for the first time, after experiencing the world in all its glory and ugliness. The next path I took, I needed to leave the trappings of myself behind, unlatch the gate with the key I had been given from the very beginning. The hinge of faithfulness opens the gate wide.
I must remember I have chosen the path that leads to forever, though neither smooth nor easy. Entering that unknown, unremembered gate means I will arrive where I started, back at the beginning and knowing the place for the first time.
What seemed to be the end proved to be the beginning… Suddenly a wall becomes a gate. ~Henri Nouwen from A Letter of Consolation
Just past dawn, the sun stands with its heavy red head in a black stanchion of trees, waiting for someone to come with his bucket for the foamy white light, and then a long day in the pasture. I too spend my days grazing, feasting on every green moment till darkness calls, and with the others I walk away into the night, swinging the little tin bell of my name. ~Ted Kooser “A Birthday Poem”
This is not a usual summer, lacking boisterous gatherings of family and friends, missing our endless July outdoor meals~ instead staying in place, quietly feasting upon each gifted moment while close-crop grazing ’til I’m full up and spilling over, ready to someday again share all I have until empty.
I want to write with quiet hands. I want to write while crossing the fields that are fresh with daisies and everlasting and the ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment; let them be
songs in which nothing is neglected, not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable. I want them to honor both the heart of faith, and the light of the world; the gladness that says, without any words, everything. ~Mary Oliver “Everything”
I usually write at dawn during the shift change as the light switch is flipped on leaving me blinking and squinting to see what the morning will bring.
I need the quiet clarity of daybreak to prepare myself for what is to come.
Yet the fading light of dusk and advancing shadow of twilight soothes my soul and calms my heart as sky relinquishes sun to moon and stars.
The stage is bare, the audience hushed, waiting expectantly for the moment the curtain will be pulled back to reveal earth’s secrets once again.
Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought? ~ Sophie Scholl from At the Heart of the White Rose
Little flower, but if I could understand what you are, root and all in all, I should know what God and man is. ~ Tennyson
There are days we live⠀ as if death were nowhere⠀ in the background; from joy⠀ to joy to joy, from wing to wing,⠀ from blossom to blossom to⠀ impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.⠀ ~Li-Young Lee from “From Blossoms”
Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape… ~Harper Lee from “To Kill a Mockingbird”
I seek relief anywhere it can be found: this parched landscape fills with anger and lashing out, division and distrust, discouragement and disparity.
I want to live again as if death is not in the background of overflowing ICUs and irrational shootings.
I want to be so preoccupied with the medley of beauty around me, there can be no room for other thoughts.
I want to understand how God still loves man even when we turn away.
I want to revel in the impossible possible, in a variegated kaleidoscope of colors prepared to bloom bountiful in an overwhelming tapestry of unity.
I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you. ~R.S. Thomas “A Bright Field”
The secret of seeing is, then the pearl of great price. If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all. But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought.
The literature of illumination reveals this above all: although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise.
I return from one walk knowing where the killdeer nests in the field by the creek and the hour the laurel blooms. I return from the same walk a day later scarcely knowing my own name.
Litanies hum in my ears; my tongue flaps in my mouth. Ailinon, alleluia! ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside. ~Flannery O’Connor from A Prayer Journal
Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God… ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The hardest thing is to step out of the way so that my own shadow no longer obscures what provides illumination. I am regularly so blinded by discouragement, busyness and distraction that I lose sight of God Himself.
Surprise me, dear Lord. Cram this common bush with heaven.
Though I regularly lament in the shadows, help me lift my voice in praise and gratitude for your gift, the pearl of great price you generously hold out for me to take each day.