How late I came to love you, O Beauty so ancient and so fresh, how late I came to love you.
You were within me, yet I had gone outside to seek you.
Unlovely myself, I rushed toward all those lovely things you had made. And always you were with me. I was not with you.
All those beauties kept me far from you – although they would not have existed at all unless they had their being in you.
You called, you cried, you shattered my deafness.
You sparkled, you blazed, you drove away my blindness.
You shed your Fragrance, and I drew in my breath and I pant for you, I tasted and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and now I burn with longing. ~St. Augustine in Confessions
God spoke in His Word but I didn’t listen. God fed me but I chose junk food. God showed me beauty but I couldn’t see Him. God smelled like the finest rose but I turned away. God touched me but I was numb.
So He sent His Son as Word and food, beauty and fragrance, sparkling and blazing, reaching out broken hands so I would know my hunger and thirst is only and always for Him alone.
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Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. ~Eugene O’Neillfrom Act 4, Scene 1 – The Great God Brown
None of us can “mend” another person’s life, no matter how much the other may need it, no matter how much we may want to do it.
Mending is inner work that everyone must do for him or herself. When we fail to embrace that truth the result is heartbreak for all concerned.
What we can do is walk alongside the people we care about, offering simple companionship and compassion. And if we want to do that, we must save the only life we can save, our own. ~Parker Palmer writing about Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice – – – though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. ‘Mend my life!’ each voice cried. But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations – – – though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do – – – determined to save the only life you could save. ~Mary Oliver “The Journey”
We are born hollering and suddenly alone, already aware of our emptiness from the first breath, each tiny air sac bursting with the air of our fallen world~ air that is never enough.
The rest of our days are spent filling up our empty spaces whether alveoli or stomach or synapses starving for understanding, still hollering in our loneliness and heart broken.
So we mend ourselves through our walk with others also broken, we patch up our gaps by knitting the scraggly fragments of lives lived together. We become the crucial glue boiled from gifted Grace, all our holes somehow made holy.
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I do remember darkness, how it snaked through the alders, their ashen flanks in our high-beams the color of stone. That hollow slap as floodwater hit the sides of the car. Was the radio on? Had I been asleep? Sometimes you have to tell a story your entire life to get it right.
Twenty-two and terrified, I had married you but barely knew you. And for forty years I’ve told this story wrong. In my memory you drove right through it, the river already rising on the road behind us, no turning around. But since your illness I recall it differently. Now that I know it’s possible to lose you, I’m finally remembering it right. That night, you threw that car in reverse, and gunned it. You found us another way home. ~Emily Ransdell, “Everywhere a River,” from New Letters
When life gets scary, we long for rescue as the world threatens to overwhelm us. And eventually it is true, this world will overwhelm us, and we’ll wonder how we will escape.
Where does our help come from?
It doesn’t always come from the direction we expect. Most often, we keep staring ahead, hoping somehow salvation lies just around the corner.
But salvation has been behind us all the while. We were created saved but need to believe it, live it out, share it with anyone open to listen.
We all need to trust in the Rescuer when we are stuck and flooded with life. It takes courage, faith and grace to be led home, either straight ahead or back the way we came.
Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 1:
What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I am not my own, 1 but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, 2to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 3He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, 4and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 5He also preserves me in such a way 6that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; 7indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. 8Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life 9and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him
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Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing can be pleasing, how little in this hard world it takes to satisfy the mind and bring it to its rest.
Within the ongoing havoc the woods this morning is almost unnaturally still. Through stalled air, unshadowed light, a few leaves fall of their own weight.
The sky is gray. It begins in mist almost at the ground and rises forever. The trees rise in silence almost natural, but not quite, almost eternal, but not quite.
What more did I think I wanted? Here is what has always been. Here is what will always be. Even in me, the Maker of all this returns in rest, even to the slightest of His works, a yellow leaf slowly falling, and is pleased. ~Wendell Berry “VII”
What more did I think I wanted?
To know that as long as I’m able to hold on, I can be a spot of light in a dark and bleak world. Once I let go, it is finished and worthwhile, seeing His knowing smile.
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All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke. Down the block we bend with the season: shoes to polish for a big game, storm windows to batten or patch. And how like a field is the whole sky now that the maples have shed their leaves, too. It makes us believers—stationed in groups, leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone, bagging gold for the cold days to come. ~David Baker “Neighbors in October”
There is a desperation to these October days: the leaves torn from branches by unrelenting gusts with no thought to where they may land~ upon which patch of grass or gravel will be their final resting place to wilt and wither in the rain, under frost, buried by eventual peaceful snowbanks until they return to dust.
Or in my need to hold on to what I can of what was, I preserve a few like precious treasure, tucked between book pages to remain forever neighbors with the words they embrace.
A book with beautiful words and photography (but no leaves tucked inside) is available to order here:
Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day, I paused and said, ‘I will turn back from here. No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.’ The hard snow held me, save where now and then One foot went through. The view was all in lines Straight up and down of tall slim trees Too much alike to mark or name a place by So as to say for certain I was here Or somewhere else: I was just far from home. A small bird flew before me. He was careful To put a tree between us when he lighted, And say no word to tell me who he was Who was so foolish as to think what he thought. He thought that I was after him for a feather— The white one in his tail; like one who takes Everything said as personal to himself. One flight out sideways would have undeceived him. And then there was a pile of wood for which I forgot him and let his little fear Carry him off the way I might have gone, Without so much as wishing him good-night. He went behind it to make his last stand. It was a cord of maple, cut and split And piled—and measured, four by four by eight. And not another like it could I see. No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it. And it was older sure than this year’s cutting, Or even last year’s or the year’s before. The wood was gray and the bark warping off it And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle. What held it though on one side was a tree Still growing, and on one a stake and prop, These latter about to fall. I thought that only Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks Could so forget his handiwork on which He spent himself, the labor of his ax, And leave it there far from a useful fireplace To warm the frozen swamp as best it could With the slow smokeless burning of decay. ~Robert Frost, “The Wood-pile” from North of Boston
My labor is usually done with fervor and purpose, but there are times when I do not experience the fruits of my labor. It is left to smolder slowly to decay rather than provide the intended warmth and nurture of a fresh hearthfire.
I might have chosen a different way to go if I had known.
Perhaps I will simply follow the birds instead…
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The leaves are always near to falling there but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking heaven’s paths no longer feel the weight of years upon them. Safe in heaven’s calm, they take each other’s arm, the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone. But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept as Eden would be with the walls knocked down, the paths littered with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome. The last roses of the year nod their frail heads, like listeners listening to all that’s said, to ask, What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light? What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom? What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare? Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might, if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves, tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere. It is the last of many last days. Is it enough? To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun? To watch the lineaments of a world passing? To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal, press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow? And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun shining brightly as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth. My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been. To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening. The light is gold. And while we’re here, I think it must be heaven. ~Elizabeth Spires “In Heaven It Is Always Autumn” from Now the Green Blade Rises
I wander the autumn garden mystified at the passing of the weeks since the seed was first sown, weeds pulled, peapods picked. It could not possibly be done so soon–this patch of productivity and beauty, now wilted and brown, vines crushed to the ground, no longer fruitful.
The root cellar is filling up, the freezer is packed. The work of putting away is almost done.
So why do I go back to the now barren soil we so carefully worked, numb in the knowledge I will pick no more this season, nor feel the burst of a cherry tomato exploding in my mouth or the green freshness of a bean or peapod straight off the vine?
Because for a few fertile weeks, only a few weeks, the garden was a bit of heaven on earth, impermanent but a real taste nonetheless. We may have once mistaken our Lord for the gardener when He appeared to us radiant, suddenly unfamiliar, but it was He who offered us the care of the garden, to bring in the sheaves, to share the forever mercies in the form of daily bread grown right here and now.
When He says my name, then I will know Him. He will lead me farther than I have ever been.
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He loved to ask his mother questions. It was the pleasantest thing for him to ask a question and then to hear what answer his mother would give. Bambi was never surprised that question after question should come into his mind continually and without effort.
Sometimes he felt very sure that his mother was not giving him a complete answer, was intentionally not telling him all she knew. For then there would remain in him such a lively curiosity, such suspicion, mysteriously and joyously flashing through him, such anticipation, that he would become anxious and happy at the same time, and grow silent. ~Felix Salten from Bambi
A Wounded Deer—leaps highest— I’ve heard the Hunter tell— ‘Tis but the Ecstasy of death— And then the Brake is still! ~Emily Dickinson from “165″
My first time ever seated next to my mother in a movie theater, just a skinny four year old girl practically folded up in half by a large padded chair whose seat won’t stay down, bursting with anticipation to see Disney’s Bambi.
Enthralled with so much color, motion, music, songs and fun characters, I am wholly lost in a new world of animated reality when suddenly Bambi’s mother looks up, alarmed, from eating a new clump of spring grass growing in the snow.
My heart leaps with worry. She tells him to run for the thicket, the safest place where she has always kept him warm next to her.
She follows behind, tells him to run faster, not to look back, don’t ever look back.
Then the gun shot hits my belly too.
My stomach twists as he cries out for his mother, pleading for her. I know in my heart she is lost forever, sacrificed for his sake.
I sob as my mother reaches out to me, telling me not to look. I bury my face inside her hug, knowing Bambi is cold and alone with no mother at all.
My mama took me home before the end. I could not bear to watch the rest of the movie for years.
Those cries still echo in my ears every time someone hunts and shoots to kill the innocent.
Now, my own children are grown, they have babies of their own, my mom is gone from this earth, I can even keep the seat from folding me up in a movie theater.
I am in my seventh decade, and there are still places in this world where mothers and fathers sons and daughters grandmothers and grandfathers sisters and brothers and babies are hunted down despite the supposed safety of the thicket~ of the sanctuary, the school, the grocery store, the home, where we believe we are shielded from violence.
There is innocence no longer, if there ever was.
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And Is it not enough that every year A richly laden autumn should unfold And shimmer into being leaf by leaf, It’s scattered ochres mirrored everywhere In hints and glints of hidden red and gold Threaded like memory through loss and grief, When dusk descends, when branches are unveiled, When roots reach deeper than our minds can feel And ready us for winter with strange calm, That I should see the inner tree revealed And know its beauty as the bright leaves fall And feel its truth within me as I am?
It is not yet enough. So I must try, In my poor turn, to help you see it too, As though these leaves could be as rich as those, That red and gold might glimmer in your eye, That autumn might unfold again in you, Feeling with me what falling leaves disclose. ~Malcolm Guite from “And is it Not Enough?”
As the rains return, and the leaves turn and fall, we shelter together, blessed by years and miles, our unknown becoming known, our understanding of nakedness breathed in silence.
Though we be gray as the clouds above, our hearts beat in synchrony each pulsing moment more sacred than our last.
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