Run, Rise, Rest

Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,
And hast redeem’d me through thy blood,
And sanctifi’d me to do good;

Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.

Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee. 

~George Herbert “Trinity Sunday” (modernized)

Spend your life trying to understand it, and you will lose your mind; but deny it and you will lose your soul.
St. Augustine in his work “On the Trinity”

In the Beginning, not in time or space,
But in the quick before both space and time,
In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,
In three in one and one in three, in rhyme…

Our God beyond, beside us and within.
~Malcolm Guite from “Trinity Sunday”

A story has been told that Augustine of Hippo was walking on the beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity. Then he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole.
Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.”
“That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made” said Augustine.
The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.”

I accept that my tiny brain, ever so much tinier than St. Augustine’s,  cannot possibly absorb or explain the Trinity – I will not try to put the entire ocean in that small hole.  The many analogies used to help human understanding of the Trinity are dangerously limited in scope:
vapor, water, ice
shell, yolk, albumin
height, width, depth
apple peel, flesh, core
past, present, future.

It is sufficient for me to know, as expressed by the 19th century Anglican pastor J.C. Ryle:  

It was the whole Trinity, which at the beginning of creation said, “Let us make man”. It was the whole Trinity again, which at the beginning of the Gospel seemed to say, “Let us save man”.

All one, equal, harmonious, unchangeable, bound together with faith, with hope, with charity, to save us from ourselves.

I run, rise, rest in Thee, all Three.

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A Tongue 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

Unless the eye catch fire,
Then God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
Then God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
Then God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire,
Then God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire,
Then God will not be known.
~William Blake from “Pentecost”

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”

Love flows from God into man,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
Thus we move in His world,
One in body and soul,
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
Humanity sings–
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings
Which are touched in Love
Must sound.
~Mechtild of Magdeburg 1207-1297 “Effortlessly”
trans. Jane Hirshfield

May the Divine
rain down
in strange syllables
yet with
an ancient familiarity,
a knowing borne
in the blood,
the ear,
the tongue,
bringing the clarity
that comes
not in stone
or in steel
but in fire,
in flame.

May there come
one searing word:
enough to bare you
to the bone,
enough to set
your heart ablaze,
enough to make you
whole again.
~Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

On this day of Pentecost,
when we feel we are without hope,
when the bent world reels in blood and violence,
when faith feels frail,
when love seems distant:

We wait stilled and silent
for the moment we are lit afire by the Holy Spirit ~
when the Living God is
seen, heard, named, loved, known
forever burning in our hearts deep down,
brooded over by His bright wings

We are His dearest and freshest
in this moment
and for eternity.

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An Unignorable Silence

photo by Barb Hoelle

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
“Here endeth” much more loudly than I’d meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these – for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
~Philip Larkin from “Church-going”

Even an empty shell of a church invites in silent witness-
even those of us who struggle with unbelief,
who stop only to rest a moment, to mock or sigh,
breathe in the musty history of such a place.

Over the centuries, there has been much wrong with churches,
comprised as they are of fallen people
with broken wings and fractured faith.
They seem anachronistic, from another time and place,
echoing of baptisms and eucharist, weddings and funerals.

Yet we still return, fragmented souls that we are,
acknowledging the flaws in one another
as we crack open to spill our own.

What is right with the church goes beyond silence:
Who we pray to, why we sing and feast together on
the grace and generosity of His Word.
We are restless noisy people joined together
as a body bloodied, bruised, redeemed.

Dear Lord of Heaven and Earth,
look out for us in our motley messiness,
rain down Your restless love upon our heads,
no matter how frowsty a building we worship in,
or how we look or feel today.

Be unignorable, so we might come back, again and again.

We stand, stirred, in silence,
simply grateful to be alive,
to raise our hands together,
then sing and kneel and bow
in such an odd and humble house,
indeed a home God might call His own.

pulpit peonies

The old church leans nearby a well-worn road,
Upon a hill that has no grass or tree,
The winds from off the prairie now unload
The dust they bring around it fitfully.

The path that leads up to the open door
Is worn and grayed by many toiling feet
Of us who listen to the Bible lore
And once again the old-time hymns repeat.

And ev’ry Sabbath morning we are still
Returning to the altar waiting there.
A hush, a prayer, a pause, and voices fill
The Master’s House with a triumphant air.

The old church leans awry and looks quite odd,
But it is beautiful to us and God.
~Stephen Paulus

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Downpress of Dust Upward

Stretching Himself as if again,
through downpress of dust
upward, soul giving way
to thread of white, that reaches
for daylight, to open as green
leaf that it is…
Can Ascension
not have been
arduous, almost,
as the return
from Sheol, and
back through the tomb
into breath?
Matter reanimate
now must relinquish
itself, its
human cells,
molecules, five
senses, linear
vision endured
as Man –
the sole
all-encompassing gaze
resumed now,
Eye of Eternity.
Relinquished, earth’s
broken Eden.
Expulsion,
liberation,
last
self-enjoined task
of Incarnation.
He again
Fathering Himself.
Seed-case splitting.
He again
Mothering His birth:
torture and bliss.

~Denise Levertov “Ascension”

For as a cloud received Him from their sight,
So with a cloud will He return ere long:
Therefore they stand on guard by day, by night,
Strenuous and strong.

They do, they dare, they beyond seven times seven
Forgive, they cry God’s mighty word aloud:
Yet sometimes haply lift tired eyes to Heaven–
“Is that His cloud?”
~Christina Rossetti from “Ascension Day”

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .

~Malcolm Guite “Ascension”

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents

Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.
But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.
It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts
that makes already present what we are waiting for.
We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.
We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit,
and after the ascension of Jesus
we wait for his coming again in glory.
We are always waiting,
but it is a waiting in the conviction that
we have already seen God’s footsteps.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

Ascension Day observance reminds me that waiting is a hard sweet paradox in the Christian life.  It is hard not yet having what I know is coming. 

But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming because of the footprints left behind:
He has been here among us and, in His ascension, carried our dust to heaven. 

The waiting won’t be easy; it will often be painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when all seems exhausted. Others won’t understand why we wait, nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for. 

So we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping; we are a community groaning together in sweet expectation of the morning.

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Born to Witness What I Can

(Laryx lyallis)

A few weeks after my mother died,
I dreamed that she was waiting for me
in a ravine of spring-green larches.
There was no worry in her eyes, and
she sat there with her knees drawn up,
content to be in the filtered sunlight.
Funny, because she never lived
among larch trees–my mom grew up
on an orange grove and raised us
in the Douglas fir. I do not live
among them either, apart from my rare
visits to the North Cascades. But when
I’m there, as now I am, sitting barefoot
on Cutthroat Pass among amber larches
bathing every bowl and basin,
I have a sense that she’s okay,
and that I am too, born to witness what
I can within this green and golden world
which still persists, with or without us,
but mostly with us, I’ve come to believe.
Things and people pass away–
but that’s when they become themselves.
There’s a new heaven, a new earth,
around and about us–and not much
different from the better parts of the old.
We don’t live there very often,
but when we do, eternity
ignites in a moment, light in the larches
that shines. And shines.

~Paul J. Willis “Sustainability” from Between Midnight and Dawn

We are promised all will be new.

When I imagine a new heaven and a new earth, I can only think of the moments in my life when eternity has been ignited momentarily – the light shining just so – when I realize what it will be like forever, not just for a moment.

Forever is more than I can fathom; we were put here to witness this green and golden world, while being loved by its infinite eternal Creator.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. 
And there shall be no more death neither sorrow nor crying,
Neither shall there be any more pain,
For the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

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Raw Moist Dawn

I love these raw moist dawns with
a thousand birds you hear but can’t
quite see in the mist.

~Jim Harrison “Another Country”

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
~Georgia Douglas Johnson from 
The Heart of a Woman and Other Poems

In those raw moments before dawn
when a glow gently tints
the inside of the horizon’s eyelids,
the black of midnight waxes to merely shadow,
the worries of nighttime forgotten
amid a joyful chorus of unseen singers.

A gloaming dusk
fades into a gleaming dawn,
backlit silhouettes stark and still
as a drowsing world
slowly opens her eyes
and greets this new and glorious morn.

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Contagious

Good things as well as bad, you know
are caught by a kind of infection.

If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire:
if you want to be wet you must get into the water.
If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life,
you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. 

They are not a sort of prize which God could,
if He chose, just hand out to anyone.
They are a great fountain of energy and beauty

spurting up at the very centre of reality.
If you are close to it, the spray will wet you:

if you are not, you will remain dry.

Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?
Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?

~C.S. Lewis- Mere Christianity

Now looking back over four decades as a working physician, I remember struggling after the observance of rest and worship each Sunday, to return to the sterile world of a busy secular clinic.

Although freshly exposed to the Spirit, immersed in the reality of a loving God, I was restricted from sharing my infection while close to my patients. Each Monday, my responsibility was to prevent contagion, measuring my words and washing my hands thoroughly upon entering each exam room.

At times I failed in my efforts, even as I donned a protective mask and gloves to keep us from spreading our respective infections.

I hope now, with masks and gloves removed, if I’m contagious, may it be because I’m overwhelmed with the Spirit rather than engulfed in the infections of this world.

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No Synonym for Light

I hope my life was penned
in such a way that when time

comes to write my epitaph
someone might think to say
not that I was good so much
as kind and that I wrote
quite well beyond my means
because it was the wind of grace
blown down that gave me words
and moved my sluggish hands,
and that I always sought
to know the unseen things
and though I loved the breadth
of language for my art,
my heart always seemed fixed
on a day when all the sound
and words would fall away,
and that I was quite hopeful
to the last if anyone would choose
one line to inscribe my memory
in stone it surely should be
the simple supposition I know right:
there merely is no synonym for light.
~Margaret Ingraham “Epitaph” from Exploring This Terrain

This world can feel like a fearsome place
with endless stories of tragedy and loss,
so much pain and suffering,
blinding me in darkness
so I struggle to see each day’s emerging light.

How to describe a Light
transforming all that is bleak?

With these Words:

Be not afraid
Come have breakfast

Touch and see
Follow me

Do you love me?
Feed my sheep
Peace be with you


I am mere breath and bone,
a wisp in a moment of time,
so His truths anchor my heart
and illuminate my soul:
I am called forth into a Light
which needs no other words.

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
Through love to light!
Oh, wonderful the way
That leads from darkness to the perfect day!
From darkness and from sorrow of the night
To morning that comes singing o’er the sea.
Through love to light!
Through light, O God, to thee,
Who art the love of love, the eternal light of light!
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A Day That Perishes

White roses, tiny and old, flare among thorns
by the barn door.
                                For a hundred years
under the June elm, under the gaze
of seven generations,

                                       they lived briefly
like this, in the month of roses,
                                                        by the fields
stout with corn, or with clover and timothy
making thick hay,

                                grown over, now,
with milkweed, sumac, paintbrush.
                                                                 Old
roses survive
winter drifts, the melt in April, August
parch,

           and men and women
who sniffed roses in spring and called them pretty
as we call them now,
                                      walking beside the barn
on a day that perishes.

~Donald Hall “Old Roses” from The Selected Poems of Donald Hall. 

The lily has a smooth stalk,
  Will never hurt your hand;
But the rose upon her brier
  Is lady of the land.

There’s sweetness in an apple tree,
  And profit in the corn;
But lady of all beauty
  Is a rose upon a thorn.

When with moss and honey
  She tips her bending brier,
And half unfolds her glowing heart,
  She sets the world on fire.

~Christina Rossetti “The Rose”

We are continually overflowing
toward those who preceded us,
toward our origin, and toward
those who seemingly come after us.

 
It is our task to imprint this
temporary, perishable earth
into ourselves so deeply,
so painfully and passionately,
that its essence can rise again
invisibly, inside us.

~Rainer Maria Rilke from The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

There is a rose bush that still blooms decades later on the farm where my grandparents raised their family, next to the walkway where the house once stood. Overwhelmed with weeds and blackberry vines, it still sets my heart on fire to witness its stubborn persistence, thriving through trauma, abandonment, loneliness and adversity. No one comes to water it in summer drought, and though frozen during ice-covering winters, it thrives again in spring with leaf and bud and blossom.

The vulnerable, perishable, and beloved seed will rise again, imperishable.

…let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1Peter 3:4

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Springing Out of the Rock

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen

the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes

found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,

it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,

up and out through the rock.
~Denise Levertov from “The Fountain”

photo by Josh Scholten

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work and that
when we no longer know which way to go
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
The world, the truth, is more abounding,
more delightful, more demanding than we thought.
What appeared for a time perhaps to be mere dutifulness …
suddenly breaks open in sweetness —
and we are not where we thought we were,
nowhere that we could have expected to be.
~Wendell Berry from “Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms,” in Standing By Words

Who among us knows with certainty each morning
what we are meant to do that day
or where we will be asked to go?

Or do we make our best guess by
putting one foot ahead of the other as we were taught
until the day is done and it is time to rest?

For me, over four decades,
I woke baffled each day
that I was allowed
to eavesdrop on heartbeats,
touch tender bellies,
sew up broken skin,
set fractured bones,
listen to and through tears.

I woke humbled with commitment and duty
to keep going even when too tired,
my heart sometimes too dry,
though to offer care even when rejected
and keep striving even if impeded.

Doing that work, I learned that
obstacles will slow but cannot stop
the cascade of love and hope
spilling over and through the rocks of life.

My days still overflow with the uncertainty
of what comes next:
finding my real work in this time of life
is to wade in deep, tumbling over the barriers
and still keep singing.

Simply keep singing.

photo by Josh Scholten
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