Everything is made to perish; the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so. No, he thought. The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place. What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking? ~Paul Hardingfrom Tinkers
What persists indeed?
There are times when all appears to be perishing, especially in this dying time of year when the world is drying and burning up around us, blowing smoke hundreds of miles like a giant overhead dust storm soiling the air.
Each breath reminds us that we are mere ashes.
The obituary pages predominate in the paper, accompanying an overload of ongoing cases of contagious illness, bad news, riots and a pandemic of angry rhetoric.
All appears to be perishing with no relief or hope.
Waning light and shortening days color my view like the haze in the sky painting a sunset blood red. This darkness is temporary and inevitably is helpless; it can never overcome the Light of all things made.
Life persists in the midst of perishing because of the cataclysm of a loving and bleeding God dying as sacrifice on our behalf.
Nothing, nothing can ever be the same – He remains here with us through this. We only need to call His name.
God goes where God has never gone before. ~ Kathleen Mulhern in Dry Bones
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. ~Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking in Beyond Words
What is it that goes on within the soul, that it takes greater delight if things it loves are found or restored to it than if it had always possessed them? …The storm tosses seafarers about and threatens them with shipwreck: they all grow pale at their coming death. Then the sky and the sea become calm, and they exult exceedingly, just as they had feared exceedingly. Or a dear friend is ill.… All those who long to see him in good health are in mind sick along with him. He gets well again, and although he does not yet walk with his former vigor, there is joy such as did not obtain before when he walked well and strong.…everywhere a great joy is preceded by a greater suffering. ~Augustine of Hippo from Confessions
The ghosts swarm. They speak as one person. Each loves you. Each has left something undone.
Today’s edges are so sharp they might cut anything that moved. ~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”
(written 19 years ago today on the evening of 9/11/01 – with the ongoing events of this year, I find I need to remind myself yet again)
Tonight was a moment of epiphany in my life as a mother and farmer. This world suddenly feels so uncertain after the horrific and tragic events today, yet simple moments of grace-filled routine offer themselves up unexpectedly. I know the Lord is beside us no matter what has happened.
For me, the routine is tucking the horses into bed, almost as important to me as tucking our children into bed. In fact, my family knows I cannot sit down to dinner until the job is done out in the barn–so human dinner waits until the horses are fed and their beds prepared.
My work schedule is usually such that I must take the horses out to their paddocks from their cozy box stalls while the sky is still dark, and then bring them back in later in the day after the sun goes down. We have quite a long driveway from barn to the paddocks which are strategically placed by the road so the horses are exposed to all manner of road noise, vehicles, logging, milk and hay trucks, school buses, and never blink when these zip past their noses. They must learn from weanling stage on to walk politely and respectfully alongside me as I make that trek from the barn in the morning and back to the barn in the evening.
Bringing the horses in tonight was a particular joy because I was a little earlier than usual and not needing to rush: the sun was setting golden orange, the world had a glow, the poplar, chestnut and maple leaves carpeting the driveway and each horse walked with me without challenge, no rushing, pushing, or pulling–just walking alongside me like the partner they have been taught to be.
I enjoy putting each into their own box stall bed at night, with fresh fluffed shavings, a pile of sweet smelling hay and fresh water. I see them breathe a big sigh of relief that they have their own space for the night–no jostling for position or feed, no hierarchy for 12 hours, and then it is back out the next morning to the herd, with all the conflict that can come from coping with other individuals in the same space. My horses love their stalls, because that is their safe sanctuary where peace and calm is restored, that is where they get special scratching and hugs, and visits from a little red haired girl who loves them and sings them songs.
Then comes my own restoration of returning to the sanctuary of our house, feeding my human family and tucking three precious children into bed, even though two are now taller than me. The world feels momentarily predictable within our walls, comforting us in the midst of devastation and tragedy elsewhere. Hugging a favorite pillow and wrapping up in a familiar soft blanket, there is warmth and safety in being tucked in.
I’ll continue to search for these moments of restoration whenever I’m frightened, hurting and unable to cope. I need a quiet routine to help remind me how blessed we are to be here to wake each morning to regroup, renew and restore when it seems even the ground has given way.
I am stirring at the sink, I am stirring the amount of dew you can gather in two hands, folding it into the fragile quiet of the house. Before the eggs, before the coffee heaving like a warm cat, I step out to the feeder— one foot, then the other, alive on wet blades. Air lifts my gown—I might fly—
This thistle seed I pour is for the tiny birds. This ritual, for all things frail and imperiled. Wings surround me, frothing the air. I am struck by what becomes holy.
A woman who lost her teenage child to an illness without mercy, said that at the end, her daughter sat up in her hospital bed and asked: What should I do? What should I do?
I carry the woman with the lost child in my pocket, where she murmurs her love song without end: Just this, each day: Bear yourself up on small wings to receive what is given. Feed one another with such tenderness, it could almost be an answer. ~Marcia F. Brown from “Morning Song”
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend. ~Naomi Shihab Nye from “Kindness”
It is the gentle tenderness I miss most – this world aflame with anger, distrust and bitterness, resentment, suspicion and cussed stubbornness. There seems no relief in sight; we must find a way through.
It is time to accept help when needed. It is time to receive mercy without shame or scorn. It is time to be lifted up with soft small wings.
We are saved by kindness, by grace given freely, thrown like a lifeline to us when we are overwhelmed. Such love can never be as ephemeral as a morning dew gone by noon.
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. ~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
A farmer died yesterday yet his harvest will live on.
Arnie and his wife Gretchen hadn’t farmed in a few years, if you consider farming only as the raising of dairy heifers and the milking of cows. But farming is so much more if you consider their other harvest work: sharing the produce from a beautiful garden, his volunteering in the community bringing Meals on Wheels to the home bound, transporting people to church who would never make it otherwise, and an unfailing smile and greeting at church when paying special attention to anyone he had never seen before. He wanted them to know how welcome they were.
When he wasn’t running a dairy farm, Arnie harvested people. He exchanged his tractor for an SUV which made it easy to fold up and stow a wheelchair whenever needed. He traded in his hoe for a handshake, his farmer’s cap for a promise to show up to do whatever no one else would do.
He looked for those who were struggling to keep going, who had run out of fuel and were discouraged, their hope being battered by the storms of life. Arnie searched for the light hidden within and became a reigniting fire himself, even when his own illness overwhelmed him. He helped push back darkness with a sparkle and shine reflected from the Light he kept illuminated deep within himself.
His walk with God was a thing of true beauty, like multi-colored windows of faith that reflect our Savior. Arnie became a sanctuary bathed in the glow of a powerful inner light.
A farmer has gone home, but his harvest left behind is bountiful beyond imagining. It sparkles and shines; we’ll miss that welcoming smile until that day he greets us once again at heaven’s gates.
August rushes by like desert rainfall, A flood of frenzied upheaval, Expected, But still catching me unprepared. Like a match flame Bursting on the scene, Heat and haze of crimson sunsets. Like a dream Of moon and dark barely recalled, A moment, Shadows caught in a blink. Like a quick kiss; One wishes for more But it suddenly turns to leave, Dragging summer away. – Elizabeth Maua Taylor“August”
August is rushing by in its anxiousness to be done with this summer of upheaval: too many tears and too much tragedy.
The sky in weeping empathy leaves a quick moist kiss on our cheeks, dripping bedazzled.
It won’t last; we know these dangling drops will fade in the heat of the moment.
This wilted, withered summer won’t leave easy ~dragged away still kicking~ we’ll wave it goodbye, blowing our kisses in the air.
Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought? ~ Sophie Scholl from At the Heart of the White Rose
Little flower, but if I could understand what you are, root and all in all, I should know what God and man is. ~ Tennyson
There are days we live⠀ as if death were nowhere⠀ in the background; from joy⠀ to joy to joy, from wing to wing,⠀ from blossom to blossom to⠀ impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.⠀ ~Li-Young Lee from “From Blossoms”
Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape… ~Harper Lee from “To Kill a Mockingbird”
I seek relief anywhere it can be found: this parched landscape fills with anger and lashing out, division and distrust, discouragement and disparity.
I want to live again as if death is not in the background of overflowing ICUs and irrational shootings.
I want to be so preoccupied with the medley of beauty around me, there can be no room for other thoughts.
I want to understand how God still loves man even when we turn away.
I want to revel in the impossible possible, in a variegated kaleidoscope of colors prepared to bloom bountiful in an overwhelming tapestry of unity.
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. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
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 “God’s Grandeur”
…the sudden angel affrighted me––light effacing my feeble beam, a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying: …as that hand of fire touched my lips and scorched by tongue and pulled by voice into the ring of the dance. ~Denise Levertov from “Caedmon” in Breathing the Water
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”
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. Yours are the only hands with which he can do his work. yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world. Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. ~Teresa of Avila
Today, when we feel we are without hope, when the bent world reels with a troubled sickness of shedding blood and spreading violence, when faith feels frail, when love seems distant, we wait, stilled, for the moment we ourselves – not our cities – are lit afire ~ 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, His freshest deep down things, in this moment and for eternity.
In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls. This is the great reward of service. To live, far out and on, in the life of others; this is the mystery of the Christ, –to give life’s best for such high sake that it shall be found again unto life eternal. ~Major-General Joshua Chamberlain, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 1889
A box of over 700 letters, exchanged between my parents from late 1941 to mid-1945, sat unopened for decades until last year. I started reading.
My parents barely knew each other before marrying quickly on Christmas Eve 1942 – the haste due to the uncertain future for a newly trained Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. They only had a few weeks together before she returned home to her rural teaching position and he readied himself to be shipped out for the island battles to come.
They had no idea they would not see each other for another 30+ months or even see each other again at all. They had no idea their marriage would fall apart 35 years later and they would reunite a decade after the divorce for five more years together.
The letters do contain the long-gone but still-familiar voices of my parents, but they are the words and worries of youngsters of 20 and 21, barely prepared for the horrors to come from war and interminable waiting. When he was fighting battles on Tarawa, Saipan, and Tinian, no letters or news would be received for a month or more, otherwise they tried to write each other daily, though with minimal news to share due to military censorship. They speak mostly of their desire for a normal life together rather than a routine centered on mailbox, pen and paper and waiting, lots and lots of waiting.
I’m not sure what I hoped to find in these letters. Perhaps I hoped for flowery romantic whisperings and the poetry of longing and loneliness. Instead I am reading plain spoken words from two people who somehow made it through those awful years to make my sister and brother and myself possible.
Our inheritance is contained in this musty box of words bereft of poetry. But decades later my heart is moved by these letters – I carefully refold them back into their envelopes and replace them gently back in order. A six cent airmail stamp – in fact hundreds and hundreds of them – was a worthwhile investment in the future, not only for themselves and their family to come, but for generations of U.S. citizens who tend to take their freedom for granted.
Thank you, Dad and Mom, for what you gave up to make today possible.
I hear the mountain birds The sound of rivers singing A song I’ve often heard It flows through me now So clear and so loud I stand where I am And forever I’m dreaming of home I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home
It’s carried in the air The breeze of early morning I see the land so fair My heart opens wide There’s sadness inside I stand where I am And forever I’m dreaming of home I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home
This is no foreign sky I see no foreign light But far away am I From some peaceful land I’m longing to stand A hand in my hand …forever I’m dreaming of home I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home ~Lori Barth and Philippe Rombi “I’m Dreaming of Home”
What stood will stand, though all be fallen, The good return that time has stolen. Though creatures groan in misery, Their flesh prefigures liberty To end travail and bring to birth Their new perfection in new earth. At word of that enlivening Let the trees of the woods all sing And every field rejoice, let praise Rise up out of the ground like grass. What stood, whole in every piecemeal Thing that stood, will stand though all Fall–field and woods and all in them Rejoin the primal Sabbath’s hymn. ~Wendell Berry, from “Sabbaths” (North Point Press, 1987).
We live in a time where the groaning need anddividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized…
Yet this terrific human need and burden of the times causes us to see how weak and powerless we are to change this. Then we must see that if we are to advocate change, we must start with ourselves. We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for social injustice, oppression, and the downgrading of others, whether personal or on a broader plane. We must see that a revolution must take place against all that destroys life. This revolution must become a revolution different from any the world has ever seen. God must intervene and lead such a revolution with his Spirit and his justice and his truth. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8: 22-26
We are groaning in anticipation of what might come next – so many ill, so many lost. What can we make of this, how can we make sense of it?
We could groan together in the hard labor of birthing a newly unified people all facing the same viral enemy. Instead we groan angry and bitter, irritable with one another, wanting to find someone else, anything to blame for our misery.
God willingly pulls our groanings onto Himself and out of us. He understands even when we are too inarticulate to form the words we want Him to hear.
We must cling tenaciously to the mystery of God’s magnetism for our weakness and suffering and allow His healing us to begin.
By His Spirit we will be forever changed and our groanings will be no more.
How should I not be glad to contemplate the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window and a high tide reflected on the ceiling? There will be dying, there will be dying, but there is no need to go into that. The poems flow from the hand unbidden and the hidden source is the watchful heart. The sun rises in spite of everything and the far cities are beautiful and bright. I lie here in a riot of sunlight watching the day break and the clouds flying. Everything is going to be all right. ~Derek Mahon,”Everything is Going to be All Right” from Selected Poems
It’s tough to find reassurance these days; in a mere five months, things have gone from “doing okay” to outright disastrous. There is no expert anywhere with a crystal ball who can tell us what things will be like in another five months. We simply have to live it out as best we can.
I regularly remind myself: history has a way of repeating itself, and yes, the world has been in this place before. We’ve fought back against global pandemics and economic depressions and devastating world conflicts and we somehow manage to come out the other side.
It takes time and patience and prayer and groaning and a fair amount of teeth gritting.
So the sun rises in spite of everything. The clouds still fly by above us. We still love one another even when it takes a little work. So let’s give ourselves a little break from the bad news and just love, oh Lord above, in the glory of now.
Everything is going to be all right. Let your heart be watchful and untroubled.