My life is not this steeply sloping hour, in which you see me hurrying. Much stands behind me; I stand before it like a tree;
I am the rest between two notes, which are somehow always in discord because Death’s note wants to climb over— but in the dark interval, reconciled, they stay there trembling. And the song goes on, beautiful. ― Rainer Maria Rilkefrom “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”
On Monday mornings I often feel I’m stuck immobilized in the spot in the middle between discordant notes.
There is on one side of me the pressure of catch-up from what was left undone through the weekend and on the other side is the anticipated demand of the coming week of stressful work I am committed to doing. Before I arrive to work, I dwell uneasily in dead center between the unknown ahead and the known behind.
This moment of rest in the present, this trembling broken Now, is my moment of reconciliation, my Sabbath extended.
This Monday morning I allow myself an instant of silence and reflection before I surge full bore into the week, knowing that on my journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes, just as I do when I play, unprepared, at the piano.
But it can be beautiful nevertheless.
Even the least harmonious notes seek reconciliation within the next chord. I now move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life.
Trembling, still trembling.
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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 are 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, to offer care even when rejected. to keep striving even if impeded.
Doing that work, I learned that obstacles will slow but cannot stop the cascade of love and hope over the rocks of life.
My days overflow with the uncertainty of what comes next: finding my real work is to wade in deep, tumbling over the barriers and still keep singing.
Simply keep singing.
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And what if I never get it right, this loving, this giving of the self to the other? And what if I die
before learning how to offer my everything? What if, though I say I want this generous,
indefatigable love, what if I forever find a way to hold some corner back? I don’t want
to find out the answer to that. I want to be the sun that gives and gives until it burns out,
the sea that kisses the shore and only moves away so that it might rush up to kiss it again. ~ Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “And Again” from Hush
What is it about us that always holds something back when loving others, keeping in reserve some little piece of ourselves that we can’t quite let go?
Even so, we ourselves want to be loved wholly, fully, completely, unconditionally yet something in us doesn’t trust it could be true – we know how undeserving we are.
When we are offered such generous indefatigable love, we hold back part of ourselves because we are afraid we’ll be left desolate, never to be filled again – a sun burned out and darkened, a shore left high and dry.
Once we experience our Creator’s love as wholly generous, completely tireless and persistent, unconditionally grace-filled, we can stop fearing our emptiness.
He pours more than enough love into us without holding back, filling us so full that we might spill over to others, again and again and again, with our light and heart and spirit unbound.
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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 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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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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When you are already here you appear to be only a name that tells of you whether you are present or not
and for now it seems as though you are still summer still the high familiar endless summer yet with a glint of bronze in the chill mornings and the late yellow petals of the mullein fluttering on the stalks that lean over their broken shadows across the cracked ground
but they all know that you have come the seed heads of the sage the whispering birds with nowhere to hide you to keep you for later
you who fly with them
you who are neither before nor after you who arrive with blue plums that have fallen through the night
The light of September is a filtered, more gentle illumination than we have experienced for the past several months of high summer glare.
Now the light is lambent: a soft radiance that simply glows at certain times of the day when the angle of the sun is just right, and the clouds are in position to soften and cushion the luminence.
It is also liminal: it is neither before or after, on the threshold between seasons when there is both promise and caution in the air.
Sometimes I think I can breathe in light like this, if not through my lungs, then through my eyes. It is a temptation to bottle it up with a stopper somehow, stow it away hidden in a back cupboard. Then I can bring it out, pour a bit into a glass on the darkest days and imbibe.
But for now, I fill myself full to the brim. And my only means of preservation is with a camera and a few words.
So I share it now with all of you to tuck away for a future day when you too are hungry for lambent light. Just check out “September.”
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How is it they live for eons in such harmony – the billions of stars – when most men can barely go a minute without declaring war in their mind against someone they know. There are wars where no one marches with a flag, though that does not keep casualties from mounting.
Our hearts irrigate this earth. We are fields before each other. How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.
O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature without gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy. Grant that I may know what You require me to do. Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul. ~St. Thomas Aquinas
I look at headline news through my fingers, cringing.
Amid the centuries of posturing between governments and every imaginable tribe and faction, the names and faces change but the nature of hatred of the “other” doesn’t.
We’ve seen this all before, over and over through history. Over 150 years ago it was in the Gettysburg fields that blood of rival armies intermingled and irrigated U.S. soil. Though now we stand side by side with Germany and Japan, our bitter adversaries a mere eighty years ago, our world continually brews new enemies and ignites new conflicts.
We can barely go a minute without declaring war in our minds even against our neighbor, even those we consider friends and family. There is yelling from the streets in angry protest and screaming at school board meetings. Casualties mount in our bitterness toward one another.
And who am I to point fingers or squint through them at the news of the day? I am as prone to this as anyone.
Am I myself capable of submission without protest, remaining patient and uncomplaining even when I disagree? Can I embody humility without having a hidden agenda? Can I remain selfless when my true nature is wholly selfish?
How can there ever be harmony? How can I overcome my own rancorous heart?
As critical as it seems, It is not love for one another that comes first. I must first know, love and trust the only God who has loved the unloveable so much He became one with us, overpowering our tendency to hate one another by taking it all upon Himself.
Jesus found us dying in a world desperately drying up; His bleeding heart poured itself out onto our thirsting soil. We have been handed salvation.
It is, in fact, God who is madly in love with us and though we’ve done nothing to deserve it, it is our turn to show love to one another.
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The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, and then dead timber. The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Wisdom of the Sands
It is always a difficult decision to take down decades-old trees that have become a risk of falling in a windstorm or losing branches that can cause damage. The time had come for the row of Lombardy poplars lining our western property line, originally planted in the 70s to create a buffer for a newly constructed farm building at our neighbors’ place. In their old age, the poplars were breaking and failing.
Yesterday they were felled by a tree expert who knew exactly how to bring them down in a tight area, leaving an open expanse we are adjusting to seeing. We are considering what might eventually take their place.
We have a few other dying trees on the farm we must part with soon, victims of recent drought years. It feels like parting with old friends. Each one reached to win the sky, but like us, must end up as dust.
And so we too are so much more than mere life cycle: like trees, we are infinite variety and fascinating diversity, clothed in finery yet at times naked and vulnerable; we lift burdens in our arms and harbor the frail, dig our roots deep and hold fast, shade those overcome by the sun, and sing in the breeze.
Most of all, we aim high to touch and win a sky which remains beyond our grasp.
(Our lone fir on top of the hill is doing just fine and she remains our sentinel tree and farm focal point, trying to touch the jet planes that ascend from the nearby Vancouver, B.C. airport in the top pictures)
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We were created as creatures of light invited to walk alongside our Creator – joyfully made in His image and gifted with managing a productive and beautiful world.
Yet even this wasn’t enough for us, this garden of wonders. We were free to do what was right in our own eyes rather than live in gratitude, faith and obedience, and made our choice at tremendous cost.
Now we struggle with the reality of daily life in a fallen world, experiencing conflict, disorder, illness and tragedy. Hurricanes bear down on vulnerable people, tornados rip apart towns, fires ravage homes, earthquakes level and destroy, tsunamis flood and overwhelm, pandemics kill indiscriminately.
Yet God has not abandoned us as we deserve. He has gifted Himself to His Created yet again, coming from heaven in a river of light to wash us clean, to invite us once again to walk beside Him, die with Him, live with Him.
What we are asked for in return is simple belief – by acknowledging a God who is greater than anything or anyone, admitting we are thirsty and filthy, in dire need of cleansing.
He is our river of light and life, glorious and ever-flowing.
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I dwell in Possibility – A fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars – Impregnable of eye – And for an everlasting Roof The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest – For Occupation – This – The spreading wide my narrow Hands To gather Paradise – ~Emily Dickinson
The possibilities contained within a Dickinson poem are doors and windows standing wide open for interpretation and comprehension. When I visit Emily’s dwelling full of mysterious capitalizations, inscrutable dashes and sideways rhymes, I am blind, get easily lost, stumbling over this and that, and end up wondering where she is leading me and how far I’m willing to go.
Yet she tells me – This – to get my attention, hold it fast, to look up and out, beyond, and into forever.
-This- is what I must do when I read her carefully chosen words and dashes -This- is what I ask of a reader who opens my email or comes to my daily post -This- is us dwelling in possibility for a moment or an eternity, all eyes and windows and doors wide open to grasp a glimpse of Paradise.
-This- is our hands spread, ready to gather, to hold, to embrace, to pray, to fold to prepare us for Whatever Comes Next…
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