The Soul’s Sap Quivers

To think that this meaningless thing was ever a rose,
Scentless, colourless, this!
Will it ever be thus (who knows?)
Thus with our bliss,
If we wait till the close?


Though we care not to wait for the end, there comes the end
Sooner, later, at last,
Which nothing can mar, nothing mend:

An end locked fast,
Bent we cannot re-bend.

~Christina Rossetti “Summer is Ended”

The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?

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;


And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

~T.S. Eliot – lines taken from “Little Gidding”

As a grade school child in November 1963, I learned the import of the U.S. flag being lowered to half mast in response to the shocking and violent death of our President. The lowering of the flag was so rare when I was growing up, it had dramatic effect on all who passed by — our soul’s sap quivers — something very sad had happened to our country, something or someone had tragically ended, warranting our silence and our stillness.

For twenty years since 9/11/01, our flag has spent significant time at half mast, so much so that I’m befuddled instead of contemplative, puzzling over what the latest loss might be as there are so many, sometimes all happening in the same time frame.  We no longer are silenced by this gesture of honor and respect and we certainly are not stilled, personally and corporately instigating and suffering the same mistakes against humanity over and over again.

We are so bent. Will we ever be mended again?

Eliot wrote the prescient words of the Four Quartets in the midst of the WWII German bombing raids that destroyed people and neighborhoods. Perhaps he sensed the destruction he witnessed would not be the last time in history that evil visits the innocent, leaving them in ashes. There would be so many more losses to come, not least being the horror of 9/11/01.

There remains so much more sadness to be borne, such abundance of grief that our world has become overwhelmed and stricken. Yet Eliot was right: we have yet to live in a Zero summer of endless hope and fruitfulness, of spiritual awakening and understanding.  Where is it indeed? When will rise again the summer Rose of beauty and fragrance?

We must return, as people of faith to Eliot’s still point to which we are called on a day such as today.  We must be stilled; we must be silenced. We must grieve the losses of this turning world and pray for release from the suffering we cause and we endure.  Only in the asking, only in the kneeling down and pleading, are we surrounded by God’s unbounded grace and His Rose may bloom recognizable again.  

“There Are No Words” written on 9/11/2001
by Kitty Donohoe

there are no words there is no song
is there a balm that can heal these wounds that will last a lifetime long
and when the stars have burned to dust
hand in hand we still will stand because we must

in one single hour in one single day
we were changed forever something taken away
and there is no fire that can melt this heavy stone
that can bring back the voices and the spirits of our own

all the brothers, sisters and lovers all the friends that are gone
all the chairs that will be empty in the lives that will go on
can we ever forgive though we never will forget
can we believe in the milk of human goodness yet

we were forged in freedom we were born in liberty
we came here to stop the twisted arrows cast by tyranny
and we won’t bow down we are strong of heart
we are a chain together that won’t be pulled apart

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By the Shade of Thought and Dreams

In the high woods that crest our hills,
Upon a steep, rough slope of forest ground,
Where few flowers grow, sweet blooms today I found
Of the Autumn Crocus, blowing pale and fair.
Dim falls the sunlight there;
And a mild fragrance the lone thicket fills.


Languidly curved, the long white stems
Their purple flowers’ gold treasure scarce display:
Lost were their leaves since in the distant spring,

Their February sisters showed so gay.
Roses of June, ye too have followed fleet!
Forsaken now, and shaded as by thought,
As by the human shade of thought and dreams,
They bloom ‘mid the dark wood, whose air has wrought
With what soft nights and mornings of still dew!
Into their slender petals that clear hue,
Like paleness in fresh cheeks; a thing
On earth, I vowed, ne’er grew
More delicately pure, more shyly sweet.

Child of the pensive autumn woods!
So lovely, though thou dwell obscure and lone,
And though thy flush and gaiety be gone;
Say, among flowers of the sad, human mind,
Where shall I ever find
So rare a grace? in what shy solitudes?

~Robert Laurence Binyon “Autumn Crocus”

The early September emergence
of autumn crocus is always unexpected,
surprising even when I know where they hide
in the shade of spent peony bushes.

They are bound in waning summer dreams beneath the surface,
their incubation triggered by retreating light from above,
unlike their springtime cousins who emerge to the sun through snow.

The autumn crocus waits with thoughtful temerity,
summoned forth from earthly grime
to remind us the end of summer is not the end of them or us.

A luminous gift of hope and beauty
borne from a humble bulb;
plain and only soil-adorned.

Slowly unfurling on a pale leggy stem,
the tender lavender petals peel back to reveal golden crowns of saffron,
brazenly blooming when all else is dying back.

In the end, they too painfully wilt, deeply bruised and purple –
under the Sun’s reflection made manifest;
returning defeated, inglorious, fallen, to dust.

Yet we know – they remind us – they (and we) will rise again.

we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. . . It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.
C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock

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A Decent Egg

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird:
it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. 
We are like eggs at present. 
And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. 
We must be hatched or go bad.
C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

….in the garden there was nothing which was not quite like themselves—
nothing which did not understand

the wonderfulness of what was happening to them—
the immense, tender, terrible, heart-breaking beauty and solemnity of Eggs.

… if an Egg were taken away or hurt the whole world would whirl round and crash through space and come to an end—
~Frances Hodgson Burnett from The Secret Garden

I revel in being the good egg.
Smooth on the surface,
gooey inside, often a bit scrambled,
yet ordinary and decent,
indistinguishable from others,
blending in,
not making waves.

It’s not been bad staying just as I am.
Except I can no longer remain like this.

A dent or two have appeared in my outer shell
from bumps along the way,
and a crack up one side
extends daily.

It has come time to change or face inevitable rot.

Nothing can be the same again:
the fragments of shell
left behind
must be abandoned
as useless confinement.

Newly hatched
and transformed:
there is the wind beneath my wings.
I’ll soar toward an endless horizon
that stretches beyond eternity,
no longer ordinary.

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Feathers of Flame

Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs…
~Czeslaw Milosz from “Veni Creator” in Selected and Last Poems

The cows
munched or stirred or were still. I
was at home and lonely,
both in good measure. Until
the sudden angel affrighted me––light effacing
my feeble beam,
a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:
but the cows as before
were calm, and nothing was burning,
nothing but I, as that hand of fire
touched my lips and scorched my tongue
and pulled my voice
into the ring of the dance.
~Denise Levertov from “Caedmon” in Breathing the Water

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”

Today, when I feel at times without hope,
as mute and dumb as cattle chewing the cud,
as the bent world reels with illness, blood and violence,
I remain in hiding: my faith feels frail, love seems distant.

I wait, stilled
for the moment I am lit afire ~
when the Living God is
seen, heard, named, loved, known
forever burning in my heart deep down,
brooded over by His bright wings: His dearest
in this moment
and for eternity.

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Opening for the Sun

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.
~Louise Glück “The Red Poppy”

What would poppies tell me if they could speak?

They would remind me that my existence is solely dependent on my Creator God who made me from dust, just like a seed. My color and fullness and growth is due to His sun and His rain and His breath blowing life and soul into me.

So I open slowly, eager to be known, to be loved and to love until the fire shining in the heart of me is like His fire, reflecting His glory.

And so I will shatter here — yet I know there is more. Even my God planted himself here, opening up His beauty, thrived, then died here, and raised from the dark here.

God shatters so I can thrive and flourish, to be ready to open again.

Forever and ever.

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Always Something to Make You Wonder

bayleaf

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore.
There is always something to make you wonder
in the shape of a tree,
the trembling of a leaf.
~ Albert Schweitzer

Long ago I gave up striving
for perfect symmetry,
strong shapely limbs,
the straightest trunk,
the most luscious foliage and colorful blooms.

Instead, my life is as fruitful as possible,
even if I bend more in winter storms,
my roots not anchored as deep,
despite bare and broken branches,
falling leaves,
crooked trunk,
and increasing lumpiness.

I try to provide the best of which I’m capable,
with a minimum of scab, rot and hidden worms.

The promise of breathtaking beauty for eternity
makes getting up in the morning worth the effort
when we would rather hide our homeliness and decay under the covers.

Yet nothing can be as beautiful as the reality of
broken people giving their all
for other broken people.

It is for this we are created;
our imperfections on display,
continually pruned and refined
to produce needed fruit,
abundantly filling and ever so sweet.

It’s enough to make you wonder…

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The Clustered Roots of Grace

I have a small grain of hope–
one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.

I need more.

I break off a fragment
to send you.

Please take
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink.

Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow.

Only so, by division,
will hope increase,

like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source–
clumsy and earth-covered–
of grace.
~Denise Levertov “For the New Year, 1981”

Years ago,  my newly widowed sister-in-law was trying to bring order to her late husband’s large yard and flower garden, overgrown following the shock of his sudden cardiac death.  In her ongoing ebb and flow with her grief, she brought to us several paper bags full of bearded iris roots resting solemnly in clumps of dirt. They appeared to be such unlikely sources of beauty, hope and healing: dry misshapen knobby feet and fingers, crippled-appearing and homely.

We got them into the ground late in the year yet they rewarded us with immense forgiveness. They took hold in their new space and transformed our little courtyard into a Van Gogh landscape. Over the years they have continued to gladden our hearts until we too must, to save them, divide them to pass on their gift of beauty to another garden.

This act– by division, will hope increase–feels radical yet that is exactly what God did:  sending Himself to become dusty, grime and earth-covered, so plain, so broken, so full of hope ready to bloom.

A part of God put down roots among us to grow, thrive and be divided, over and over and over again to increase the beauty and grace for those of us limited to this soil.

Just so —
our garden blooms so all can see and know:
hope grows here from clustered roots of grace.

Van Gogh “Irises” owned by J. Paul Getty Museum, California

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Iris Edges Unfold

What word informs the world,
and moves the worm along in his blind tunnel?

What secret purple wisdom tells the iris edges
to unfold in frills? What juiced and emerald thrill

urges the sap until the bud resolves
its tight riddle? What irresistible command

unfurls this cloud above this greening hill,
or one more wave — its spreading foam and foil —

across the flats of sand? What minor thrust
of energy issues up from humus in a froth

of ferns? Delicate as a laser, it filigrees
the snow, the stars. Listen close — What silver sound

thaws winter into spring? Speaks clamor into singing?
Gives love for loneliness? It is this

un-terrestrial pulse, deep as heaven, that folds you
in its tingling embrace, gongs in your echo heart.

~Luci Shaw “What Secret Purple Wisdom”  The Green Earth: Poems of Creation 

He gave Himself to us
to bring joy into our misery;

This mystery is too much to accept
such sacrifice is possible.

We are blind-hearted to the possibility:
He who cannot be measured unfolds before us
to overwhelm our darkness. 

I prefer remaining tight in my bud,
hidden in the little room of my heart
rather than risk opening in full blossom and fruitfulness.

Lord, give me grace to open my tight fist of a bud.

Prepare me for embracing your mystery. 
Prepare me to bloom.

What is the crying at Jordan?
Who hears, O God, the prophecy?
Dark is the season, dark
our hearts and shut to mystery.

Who then shall stir in this darkness
prepare for joy in the winter night?
Mortal in darkness we
lie down, blind-hearted, seeing no light.

Lord, give us grace to awake us,
to see the branch that begins to bloom;
in great humility
is hid all heaven in a little room.

Now comes the day of salvation,
in joy and terror the Word is born!
God gives himself into our lives;
Oh, let salvation dawn!
~Carol Christopher Drake

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Cure for Every Hurt

hankerchief tree (Ireland)
Baby Barn Owlet hiding in the rocks and grass
River carp (2-3 feet long) in Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo

Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies   
and trip over the roots   
of a sweet gum tree,   
in search of medieval   
plants whose leaves,   
when they drop off   
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they   
plop into water.

Suddenly the archetypal   
human desire for peace   
with every other species   
wells up in you. The lion   
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,   
queen of the weeds, revives   
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt   
there is a leaf to cure it.

~Amy Gerstler “Perpetual Spring” from Bitter Angel

photo by Tomomi Gibson

We all want to fix what ails us: that was the point of my many years of medical training and over 40 years “practicing” that art. We want to know there is a cure for every hurt, an answer for every question, a resolution to every mystery, or peace for every conflict.

And there is. It just isn’t always on our timeline, nor is it always the answer we expect, nor the conflict magically dissolved. The mystery shall remain mystery until every tear is dried, as we stand before the Face of our Holy God who both loves and judges our hearts.

Sometimes this life hurts – a lot – but I believe in the perpetual Spring and Resurrection that guarantees our complete healing.

Soli Deo Gloria

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The Ache in Your Heart

Your cold mornings are filled
with the heartache about the fact that although
we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have,
that it is ours but that it is full of strife,
so that all we can call our own is strife;
but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it?

…rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will
and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful,
and part of a greater certainty…

be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart
and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive,
still human, and still open to the beauty of the world,
even though you have done nothing to deserve it.
~Paul Harding in Tinkers

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
John 21:12

It is so easy to let go of Easter —
slide back into the work-a-day routine,
and continue to merely survive each day with gritted teeth as we did before.

God knows this about us. 

So, in our anguish and oblivion, He feeds us after He is risen, an astonishingly tangible and meaningful act of nourishing us in our most basic human needs though we’ve done nothing to deserve the gift:

Sharing a meal and breaking bread in Emmaus to open the eyes and hearts of the blinded.

Cooking up fish over a charcoal fire on a beach at dawn and inviting us to join Him.

Reminding us again and again and again – if we love Him as we say we do, we will feed His sheep.

When He offers me a meal,  I will accept it with newly opened eyes of gratitude, knowing the gift He hands me is nothing less than Himself.