God called Abram to leave the familiar and go, go on a road he would make by going, to a place he would know by finding.
Jesus led Nicodemus to the threshold of a birth, a newness he could only know by going through it.
Only what’s behind us, not ahead, keeps us from going on, from entering the impossible womb of starting new.
The stones of disappointment in your pockets, the grave marker of the old life, they can’t come with you.
The path is not a test. It’s our freedom. Many a prisoner has looked into the tunnel, the Beloved waiting in the light, and said no.
Where is the Spirit calling you, the wind blowing? Where is the thin place between your habits and a new birth?
These pangs, this heavy breathing: the Beloved is trying to birth you. Let it happen. ~Steve Garnaass-Holmes “A new birth”
Like most people, I cling fast to the safe and familiar, sometimes wishing to retreat back to what feels most secure and safest. Yet, it is an impossible womb that would allow me back – it is clear I am meant to be fully launched, for better or worse. So carrying my checkered history stuffed deeply in my pockets, I embark on this life’s journey led by the Spirit and blown by His breath, uncertain where it will take me or how long it takes to get there.
There is an unsurpassed freedom in the path from womb to tomb; if I let His breath carry me, I’ll go so far beyond the place where my bones someday are laid.
May the wind always be in her hair May the sky always be wide with hope above her And may all the hills be an exhilaration the trials but a trail, all the stones but stairs to God.
May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts… ~Ann Voskamp from “A Prayer for a Daughter”
“I have noticed,” she said slowly, “that time does not really exist for mothers, with regard to their children. It does not matter greatly how old the child is – in the blink of an eye, the mother can see the child again as she was when she was born, when she learned to walk, as she was at any age — at any time, even when the child is fully grown….” ~Diana Gabaldon from Voyager
Your rolling and stretching had grown quieter that stormy winter night twenty eight years ago, but no labor came as it should. A week overdue post-Christmas, you clung to amnion and womb, not yet ready. Then the wind blew more wicked and snow flew sideways, landing in piling drifts, the roads becoming impassable, nearly impossible to traverse.
So your dad and I tried, worried about being stranded on the farm far from town. Our little car got stuck in a snowpile in the deep darkness, our tires spinning, whining against the snow. A nearby neighbor’s earth mover dug us out to freedom. You floated silent and still, knowing your time was not yet.
Creeping slowly through the dark night blizzard, we arrived to the warm glow of the hospital. You slept, your heartbeat checked out steady. I slept not at all.
Morning sun glistened off sculptured snow outside our window, and your heart ominously slowed when they checked. We both were jostled, turned, oxygenated, but nothing changed. You beat even more slowly, letting loose your tenuous grip on life.
The nurses’ eyes told me we had trouble. The doctor, grim faced, announced delivery must happen quickly, taking you now, hoping we were not too late. I was rolled, numbed, stunned, clasping your father’s hand, closing my eyes, not wanting to see the bustle around me, trying not to hear the shouted orders, the tension in the voices, the quiet at the moment of opening when it was unknown what would be found.
And then you cried. A hearty healthy husky cry, a welcomed song. Perturbed and disturbed from the warmth of womb, to the cold shock of a bright lit operating room, your first vocal solo brought applause from the surrounding audience who admired your purplish pink skin, your shock of damp red hair, your blue eyes squeezed tight, then blinking open, wondering and wondrous, emerging saved from the storm within and without.
You were brought wrapped for me to see and touch before you were whisked away to be checked over thoroughly, your father trailing behind the parade to the nursery. I closed my eyes, swirling in a brain blizzard of what-ifs.
If no snow storm had come, you would have fallen asleep forever within my womb, no longer nurtured by my aging placenta, cut off from what you needed to stay alive. There would have been only our soft weeping, knowing what could have been if we had only known, if God provided a sign to go for help.
Saved by a storm and dug out from a drift: I celebrate each time I hear your voice singing, knowing you are a thread born to knit and meant to mend hearts.
My annual reminder of a remarkable day when our daughter Eleanor (“Lea”) Sarah Gibson was born, hale and hearty because the good Lord sent a snow and wind storm to blow us into the hospital in time to save her. This year she became Lea Lozano, married to her true love Brian who is another gift from the Lord.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. John 1:9-10
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.
“Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” “A great Shadow has departed…”
And is it true? And is it true, This most tremendous tale of all, Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue, A Baby in an ox’s stall? The Maker of the stars and sea Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true? For if it is, No loving fingers tying strings Around those tissued fripperies, The sweet and silly Christmas things, Bath salts and inexpensive scent And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells, No caroling in frosty air, Nor all the steeple-shaking bells Can with this single Truth compare – That God was man in Palestine And lives today in Bread and Wine. ~John Betjeman from “Christmas”
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us O long-sought With-ness for a world without, O secret seed, O hidden spring of light. Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame, O quickened little wick so tightly curled, Be folded with us into time and place, Unfold for us the mystery of grace And make a womb of all this wounded world. O heart of heaven beating in the earth, O tiny hope within our hopelessness Come to be born, to bear us to our birth, To touch a dying world with new-made hands And make these rags of time our swaddling bands. ~Malcolm Guite “O Emmanuel”
The holiest of all holidays are those Kept by ourselves in silence and apart; The secret anniversaries of the heart, When the full river of feeling overflows;— The happy days unclouded to their close; The sudden joys that out of darkness start As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart Like swallows singing down each wind that blows! ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “Holidays”
And is it true?
Is it possible the darkness is set aside by His Light?
His flame springs from ashes, His wick quickened, the shadows banished.
It is true. It is true. The full river of grace overflows.
He is the Truth.
One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem Two for the hands that will rock him to sleep Three for the kings bringing gold, brining myrrh, bringing incense Four for the angels that watch over his bedside Blue for the robe of the sweet Virgin Mary White for the dawn of the first Christmas day Red for the blood that he shed for us all on Good Friday Black for the tomb where he rested ‘till Easter
Lullaby, see Jesus asleep. Angels and shepherds their watch on him keep Lullaby he soon will awake for the oxen are stirring and morning with break
One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem Two for the hands that will rock him to sleep Three for the kings bringing gold, brining myrrh, bringing incense Four for the angels that watch over his bedside And one for the heart, one for the heart, One for the heart that I give as my offering to Jesus!
In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world? just to hear his sister promise, An unfinished wing of heaven, just to hear his brother say, A house inside a house, but most of all to hear his mother answer, One more song, then you go to sleep.
How could anyone in that bed guess the question finds its beginning in the answer long growing inside the one who asked, that restless boy, the night’s darling?
Later, a man lying awake, he might ask it again, just to hear the silence charge him, This night arching over your sleepless wondering,
this night, the near ground every reaching-out-to overreaches,
just to remind himself out of what little earth and duration, out of what immense good-bye,
each must make a safe place of his heart, before so strange and wild a guest as God approaches. ~Li Young Lee “Nativity Poem”
As alone as we may feel during this odd time without the comfort of ones we love now near, as separate as it is without shared meals and laughter, there is one thing a virus can’t take from us:
we are the shelter for God comes newborn we are the womb He seeks we are the safe place hidden from the storms of the world and He grows here in our hearts – invited and wild and strange – so nurtured and so nurturing.
No presents, no candy, no treat No stockings hung by the fire No parties, no family to greet No angel’s heavenly choirs
Bells are ringing all over the world Bells are ringing calling the light Bells are ringing all over the world All over the world tonight
No doorways, no windows, no walls No shelter here on the ground No standing and no safe place to fall Just the promise of this distant sound
Bells are ringing all over the world Bells are ringing calling the light Bells are ringing all over the world All over the world tonight
Wherever you’re walking tonight Whoever you’re waiting for Somehow by the stable’s faint light Peace in your heart is restored
Bells are ringing all over the world Bells are ringing calling the light Bells are ringing all over the world All over the world
Bells are ringing all over the world Bells are ringing calling the light Bells are ringing all over the world All over the world tonight ~Mary Chapin Carpenter
It was gray and drizzly the November 15 you were born thirty two years ago, very much like today’s gray drizzle.
November is too often like that–there are times during this darkening month when we’re never really certain we’ll see the sun again. The sky is gray, the mountain is all but invisible behind the clouds, the air hangs heavy with mist, woods and fields are all shadowy. The morning light starts late and the evening takes over early.
I know you’ve heard the stories of that early morning when I labored, now almost mythical – how your Dad played solitaire to stay awake after a long work day and how I asked my obstetrician (in the middle of the push phase) if I could maybe go home now and come back and try again tomorrow, please?
He shook his head and told me to push harder.
A few hours later, your two year old brother took one look at you and decided the uneaten piece of toast on my hospital breakfast tray was far more interesting, unaware you two would become the best of friends before long.
You changed November for us all that day. You brought sunshine to our lives. You smiled almost from the first day, always responding, always watching, ready to engage with your new family even if you had first looked at us and wondered if God had made a mistake to place you smack dab in the middle of us. You were a delight from that first moment we saw you and have been a light in our lives and so many other lives ever since.
And you married another bright light and now you shine together with a very special bright light of your own in your lives.
I know this is your favorite kind of weather because you were born to it–you’ve always loved the misty fog, the drizzle, the chill winds, the hunkering down and waiting for brighter days to come.
November 15 was, and each time it rolls around, I love to remember it still is, that brighter day.
If we could, like the trees, practice dying, do it every year just as something we do— like going on vacation or celebrating birthdays— it would become as easy a part of us as our hair or clothing.
Someone would show us how to lie down and fade away as if in deepest meditation, and we would learn about the fine dark emptiness, both knowing it and not knowing it, and coming back would be irrelevant.
Whatever it is the trees know when they stand undone, surprisingly intricate, we need to know also so we can allow that last thing to happen to us as if it were only any ordinary thing,
leaves and lives falling away, the spirit, complex, waiting in the fine darkness to learn which way it will go. ~Grace Butcher, “Learning from Trees” from Poetry of Presence
If I were to die as a leaf, I would want to change my clothes just bit by bit, overnight oozing gradually to scarlet, bleeding into the green a little bit more, until I’m so unrecognizable, I’ll seem brand new.
That would be ideal.
The reality is a fading to grey and brown, my edges withered and torn, bug-bitten with holes and weather-beaten bruised, dangling and fearful of letting go and so forgotten.
So I remember: no one, not one, falls without its Maker knowing. No one, not one, dies without being made brand new.
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.
She lay on her back in the timothy and gazed past the doddering auburn heads of sumac.
A cloud – huge, calm, and dignified – covered the sun but did not, could not, put it out.
The light surged back again. Nothing could rouse her then from that joy so violent it was hard to distinguish from pain. ~Jane Kenyon, “The Poet at Ten” from The Best Poems of Jane Kenyon
I have a mare who journeyed as a foal from overseas alongside her mother, a difficult immigration to a new life and farm, followed by the drama of weaning and separation, then introduced to a new herd who didn’t speak her language so she couldn’t always understand what was being said.
She was shy and fearful from the beginning, knowing she didn’t belong, worried about doing the wrong thing, cringing when others laid back ears at her or bared their teeth, she always hung back and let others go first, waiting hungry and thirsty while others had their fill.
What she did best was be a mother herself, devoting herself to the care of her foals, as they became the light of her life though still covered with the cloud of not belonging, she grieved loudly at their weanling goodbyes.
Still, two decades later, in her retirement, she is shy and submissive, still feeling foreign, as if she never quite fit in, always letting others go first, concerned about making a misstep.
I think of her as an immigrant who never felt at home unless she had a baby at her side~ to live alongside one to whom she finally belonged: how does one measure the pain of true joy and love while knowing the violence of separation is inevitable?
thank you to Lea Gibson Lozano and Emily Vander Haak for their photos of Belinda and her babies
And what is it like: to be alive in this one place of all places anywhere where life is? Live a day of it and see. Take any day and LIVE IT. Nobody claims that it will be entirely painless, but no matter.
It is your birthday and there are many presents to open.The world is to be opened.
“I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.” ~Margaret Atwood from “Variations on the Word Sleep”
For Dan’s birthday:
the boy you were became the man you are today: blessed by our God, so necessary to your family, church and community, loved by your children and grandchildren, and by me ~ever more every day~
In this journey together, we inhabit each other, however long may be the road we travel; you have become the air I breathe, refreshing, renewing, restoring~~ you are that necessary to me, and that beloved.