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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They were smooth ovals, and some the shade of potatoes— some had been moth-eaten or spotted, the maples were starched, and crackled like campfire.
We put them under tracing paper and rubbed our crayons over them, X-raying the spread of their bones and black, veined catacombs.
We colored them green and brown and orange, and cut them out along the edges, labeling them deciduous or evergreen.
All day, in the stuffy air of the classroom, with its cockeyed globe, and nautical maps of ocean floors, I watched those leaves
lost in their own worlds flap on the pins of the bulletin boards: without branches or roots, or even a sky to hold on to. ~Judith Harris “Gathering Leaves in Grade School”
They are more like us than we care to admit: veined and ribbed, some wide, some thin, lots with sharp edges, others rounded, a variety of colors and shapes, twisting this way and that with the breeze, over-eager to let go, explore wide open spaces yet finding themselves blown and broken thrown far from home and roots with nothing left to hold on to, destined to dust, longing to return to branch and connection.
Even so- even so, when we are let go, we are thinking: oh, what a life!
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The summer ends, and it is time To face another way. Our theme Reversed, we harvest the last row To store against the cold, undo The garden that will be undone. We grieve under the weakened sun To see all earth’s green fountains dried, And fallen all the works of light. You do not speak, and I regret This downfall of the good we sought As though the fault were mine. I bring The plow to turn the shattering Leaves and bent stems into the dark, From which they may return. At work, I see you leaving our bright land, The last cut flowers in your hand. ~Wendell Berry “The Summer Ends” from A Timbered Choir.
I want to memorize it all before it changes as the light weakens from the sun shifting from north to south, balancing on the fulcrum of our country road at equinox.
The dying back of the garden leaves and vines reveals what lies unharvested beneath, so I gather in urgency, not wanting it to go to waste.
We part again from you, Summer – your gifts seemed endless until you ended – a reminder that someday, so must I.
I sit silenced and brooding, waiting for what comes next.
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Enter autumn as you would a closing door. Quickly, cautiously. Look for something inside that promises color, but be wary of its cast — a desolate reflection, an indelible tint. ~Pamela Steed Hill “September Pitch”
Summer begins to have the look Peruser of enchanting Book Reluctantly but sure perceives– A gain upon the backward leaves
Autumn begins to be inferred By millinery of the cloud Or deeper color in the shawl That wraps the everlasting hill.
The eye begins its avarice A meditation chastens speech Some Dyer of a distant tree Resumes his gaudy industry.
Conclusion is the course of All Almost to be perennial And then elude stability Recalls to immortality. ~Emily Dickinson, Poem 65
This hot summer now wanes, wistful; it has the look of packing up, and moving on without bidding adieu or looking back over its shoulder.
I wave goodbye without regret; it leaves behind a hot mess of burned landscape and drought.
Blustery winds have carried in darkening clouds spread green leaves, chestnuts and walnuts everywhere, loosened before their time. Long overdue rain gave us a good drenching worth celebrating.
Overhead skies are heavily burdened with clues of what more is coming: earlier dusk, the cool feel of moisture, the deepening graying purplish hues, the briskness of breezes.
There is no negotiation possible. I steel myself and get ready, wrapping myself in my perennial soft shawl of inevitability.
So autumn advances forth with its clouds, taking up residence as summer moves out, bringing its own unique plans for redecorating using an array of hues and textures.
The truth is we’ve seen nothing yet.
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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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The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. We cannot join ourselves to one another without giving our word. And this must be an unconditional giving, for in joining ourselves to one another we join ourselves to the unknown. ~Wendell Berry from “Poetry and Marriage” in Standing By Words
Our vows to one another forty years ago today:
Before God and this gathering, I vow from my heart and spirit that I will be your wife/husband for as long as we both shall live.
I will love you with faithfulness, knowing its importance in sustaining us through good times and bad.
I will love you with respect, serving your greatest good and supporting your continued growth.
I will love you with compassion, knowing the strength and power of forgiveness.
I will love you with hope, remembering our shared belief in the grace of God and His guidance of our marriage.
“And at home, by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be–and whenever I look up, there will be you.”
(our wedding vows for our September 19, 1981 wedding at First Seattle Christian Reformed Church — the last line adapted from Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd”)
Sometimes our life reminds me of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing and in that opening a house, an orchard and garden, comfortable shades, and flowers red and yellow in the sun, a pattern made in the light for the light to return to. The forest is mostly dark, its ways to be made anew day after day, the dark richer than the light and more blessed, provided we stay brave enough to keep on going in.
…Marriage… joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love, and trust one another brings them in the same breath into the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful, and joyful. The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to heaven and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds, and trust is its necessity. ~Wendell Berry from Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community
We married in our Seattle church with our pastor officiating, with a small group of family and friends as witnesses.
It was a wedding created by two frugal people with little to spend – I sewed my dress and Dan’s shirt from muslin, we grew our own flowers, our families helped potluck the lunch afterward and our tiered carrot cake was made by a friend.
Yet our vows to one another were not frugal and held nothing back. They were extravagant and comprehensive, coming from our hearts and spirits. The music we asked our amazing organist to play (versions below) inspired us by its simplicity and complexity – very much like the families that raised us and the God we worship.
Our vows have taken us from the city to the countryside, to the raising and rejoicing in three amazing children (each of whom wrote movingly to us today) and now four grandchildren. We served more than forty years as a public-employed attorney and physician, have laid down those responsibilities, and picked up the tools of farm and garden along with church and community service for as long as we are able.
We treasure each day of living together in faithfulness, respect, compassion and hope – knowing that how we love and find joy in one another mirrors how God loves and revels in His people.
We are praying for many more days to fill us with what endures.
A pot of red lentils simmers on the kitchen stove. All afternoon dense kernels surrender to the fertile juices, their tender bellies swelling with delight.
In the yard we plant rhubarb, cauliflower, and artichokes, cupping wet earth over tubers, our labor the germ of later sustenance and renewal.
Across the field the sound of a baby crying as we carry in the last carrots, whorls of butter lettuce, a basket of red potatoes.
I want to remember us this way— late September sun streaming through the window, bread loaves and golden bunches of grapes on the table, spoonfuls of hot soup rising to our lips, filling us with what endures. ~Peter Pereira from “A Pot of Red Lentils”
Here are versions of the organ music we selected for prelude, processional, recessional and postlude
It’s strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you. ~John O’Donohue from Anam Cara
We must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. ~Wendell Berry from The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
How did we come here and how is it we remain?
Even when the wind blows mightily, the waters rise, the earth shakes, the fires rage, the pandemic persists…
~we are here, granted another day to get it right. And will we?
It is strange to be here, marveling at the mystery around us – recognizing we are the ultimate mystery of creation, placed here as its witnesses, worshiping in humility, with reverence and obedience.
We don’t own what we see; we only own our awe.
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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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