After all the false dawns, who is this who unerringly paints the first rays in their true colours? We have kept vigil with owls when the occult noises of the night fell tauntingly silent and a breeze got up as if for morning. This time the trees tremble. Is it with a kind of reckless joy at the gentle light lapping their leaves like the very first turn of a tide? Timid creatures creep out of burrows sensing kindness and the old crow on the cattle-shed roof folds his wings and dreams. ~Richard Bauckham “First Light”
Who is this who has come to change everything in my life and everything within my heart?
Who is this who paints the skies to speak to me from His creation?
Who is this who wraps me firmly within His grasp and holds me tenderly when I am trembling afraid?
There will be no more false dawns. He brings the sun with Him and I am here, a witness, standing before Him.
If I am alive this time next year Will I have arrived in time to share? And mine is about as good this far And I’m still applied to what you are And I am joining all my thoughts to you And I’m preparing every part for you And I heard from the trees a great parade And I heard from the hills a band was made And will I be invited to the sound? And will I be a part of what you’ve made? And I am throwing all my thoughts away And I’m destroying every bet I’ve made And I am joining all my thoughts to you And I’m preparing every part for you For you ~Sufjan Stevens
Even without family gathered around us this day, we do have each other and that is a blessing in and of itself. May we revel in our thanksgiving feast for two because, through thick and thin and COVID, we are still together.
There’s a single tree at the fence line… When I cross the unfertile pasture strewn with rocks and the holes of gophers, badgers, coyotes, and the rattlesnake den (a thousand killed in a decade because they don’t mix well with dogs and children) in an hour’s walking and reach the tree, I find it oppressive. Likely it’s as old as I am, withstanding its isolation, all gnarled and twisted from its battle with weather. I sit against it until we merge, and when I return home in the cold, windy twilight I feel I’ve been gone for years. ~Jim Harrison, from “Fence Line Tree” from Saving Daylight.
Our fence line apple tree is considerably older than I am, and not a far walk away from the house. I visit it nearly every day, to be reminded that there is a wonder in gnarled limbs and blatant asymmetry.
What strikes me is the consistent presence of this tree though so much changes around it: the seasons, the birds that nest in it, the animals that graze under it and the ever-changing palette above and beyond.
This tree stands bent and misshapen, though not nearly as fruitful as in its younger years, yet still a constant in my life and in generations to come.
May I be that constant for those around me, to be steady when all around me changes in swirls and storms. Perhaps being bent and wrinkled and knobby can also be beautiful.
I stop the car along the pasture edge, gather up bags of corncobs from the back, and get out. Two whistles, one for each, and familiar sounds draw close in darkness— cadence of hoof on hardened bottomland, twinned blowing of air through nostrils curious, flared. They come deepened and muscular movements conjured out of sleep: each small noise and scent heavy with earth, simple beyond communion, beyond the stretched-out hand from which they calmly take corncobs, pulling away as I hold until the mid-points snap. They are careful of my fingers, offering that animal-knowledge, the respect which is due to strangers; and in the night, their mares’ eyes shine, reflecting stars, the entire, outer light of the world here. ~Jane Hirshfield “After Work”from Of Gravity and Angels.
I’ve been picking up windfall apples to haul down to the barn for a special treat each night for the Haflingers. These are apples that we humans wouldn’t take a second glance at in all our satiety and fussiness, but the Haflingers certainly don’t mind a bruise, or a worm hole or slug trails over apple skin.
I’ve found over the years that our horses must be taught to eat apples–if they have no experience with them, they will bypass them lying in the field and not give them a second look. There simply is not enough odor to make them interesting or appealing–until they are cut in slices that is. Then they become irresistible and no apple is left alone from that point forward.
When I offer a whole apple to a young Haflinger who has never tasted one before, they will sniff it, perhaps roll it on my hand a bit with their lips, but I’ve yet to have one simply bite in and try. If I take the time to cut the apple up, they’ll pick up a section very gingerly, kind of hold it on their tongue and nod their head up and down trying to decide as they taste and test it if they should drop it or chew it, and finally, as they really bite in and the sweetness pours over their tongue, they get this look in their eye that is at once surprised and supremely pleased. The only parallel experience I’ve seen in humans is when you offer a five month old baby his first taste of ice cream on a spoon and at first he tightens his lips against its coldness, but once you slip a little into his mouth, his face screws up a bit and then his eyes get big and sparkly and his mouth rolls the taste around his tongue, savoring that sweet cold creaminess. His mouth immediately pops open for more.
It is the same with apples and horses. Once they have that first taste, they are our slaves forever in search of the next apple.
The Haflinger veteran apple eaters can see me coming with my sweat shirt front pocket stuffed with apples, a “pregnant” belly of fruit, as it were. They offer low nickers when I come up to their stalls and each horse has a different approach to their apple offering.
There is the “bite a little bit at a time” approach, which makes the apple last longer, and tends to be less messy in the long run. There is the “bite it in half” technique which leaves half the apple in your hand as they navigate the other half around their teeth, dripping and frothing sweet apple slobber. Lastly there is the greedy “take the whole thing at once” horse, which is the most challenging way to eat an apple, as it has to be moved back to the molars, and crunched, and then moved around the mouth to chew up the large pieces, and usually half the apple ends up falling to the ground, with all the foam that the juice and saliva create. No matter the technique used, the smell of an apple as it is being chewed by a horse is one of the best smells in the world. I can almost taste the sweetness too when I smell that smell.
What do we do when offered such a sublime gift from someone’s hand? If it is something we have never experienced before, we possibly walk right by, not recognizing that it is a gift at all, missing the whole point and joy of experiencing what is being offered. How many wonderful opportunities are right under our noses, but we fail to notice, and bypass them because they are unfamiliar?
Perhaps if the giver really cares enough to “teach” us to accept this communion meal, by preparing it and making it irresistible to us, then we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the generosity and are transformed by the simple act of receiving.
We must learn to take little bites, savoring each piece one at a time, making it last rather than greedily grab hold of the whole thing, struggling to control it, thereby losing some in the process. Either way, it is a gracious gift, and it is how we receive it that makes all the difference.
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.
Lord, when you send the rain think about it, please, a little? Do not get carried away by the sound of falling water, the marvelous light on the falling water. I am beneath that water. It falls with great force and the light Blinds me to the light. ~James Baldwin, “Untitled” from Jimmy’s Blues
The good Lord sends what He knows we need even if we don’t know we need it. Then we’re puzzled and not just a little perturbed, especially when it doesn’t fit our plans, our timeline, our desires, our hopes and dreams.
Anyone ask for this year’s chaos and grief? Can I see a show of hands?
No one I know sent up prayers for a viral scourge to sicken 40 million and kill over a one million in a matter of months, or for ever-widening political divides and disagreements, or increasing distrust and less cooperation between nuclear powers, or devastating unemployment and economic hardship, or triggers for riots in the streets, or being unable to visit my 100 year old aunt in her long term care facility.
Maybe, just maybe, we are too blinded by the force of this deluge pounding and battering us to acknowledge the nearly-drowned soaking we bring upon ourselves.
Maybe, just maybe, the Lord thinks a bit about what He sends, just as He has done before and has ever promised to do: a Light in the midst of the storm, that Marvelous Light, if only we would open our eyes enough to see it.
Here we sit as evening falls Like old horses in their stalls. Thank you, Father, that you bless Us with food and an address And the comfort of your hand In this great and blessed land. Look around at each dear face, Keep each one in your good grace. We think of those who went before, And wish we could have loved them more. Grant to us a cheerful heart, Knowing we must soon depart To that far land to be with them. And now let’s eat. Praise God. Amen. ~Gary Johnson “Table Grace”
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 the table, whether at home or at church.
This is where we hang out late into the evening, and begin the day before dawn.
This is where prayers happen, the meals happen, the arguments happen. This is where we listen to, understand and love each other.
This is where we share what we have and eat and are fed and this is where God provides for us daily.
One of the hardest parts of the pandemic is that the virus finds people who sing and talk together around a table, and who take off their masks to eat together. Truly this Enemy has found a way to keep people away from one another, caring for one another and being nourished together.
We think of those who went before and wish that we could have loved them more.
Let us love one another now, while we can, when we can, and we shall feast together later.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.