I am struck by the otherness of things rather than their same- ness. The way a tiny pile of snow perches in the crook of a branch in the tall pine, away by itself, high enough not to be noticed by people, out of reach of stray dogs. It leans against the scaly pine bark, busy at some existence that does not need me.
It is the differences of objects that I love, that lift me toward the rest of the universe, that amaze me. That each thing on earth has its own soul, its own life, that each tree, each clod is filled with the mud of its own star. I watch where I step and see that the fallen leaf, old broken grass, an icy stone are placed in exactly the right spot on the earth, carefully, royalty in their own country. ~Tom Hennen “Looking for the Differences” from Darkness Sticks to Everything.
We dwell so much on our differences rather than our similarities, especially in an intense political year like this one. There is nothing wrong with “otherness” if each other is seen as God sees us.
We each are one of His precious and specially-made creations, worthy of existence even in our muddy, rocky, fragile state.
These days, though a “snowflake” is disparaged in the political banter of the day as weak and overly sensitive, there is nothing more uniquely “other” than an individual crystalline creation falling from heaven to the exact spot where it is intended to land. Something so unique becomes part of something far greater than it could be on its own, blending in, infinitely stronger, but never lost.
I am placed here, weak as I am, in the exact right spot, for reasons I continue to uncover and discover. I try every day, as best as I can, to not get lost and, of course, to stay out of the mud.
These woods on the edges of a lake are settling now to winter darkness. Whatever was going to die is gone — crickets, ferns, swampgrass. Bare earth fills long spaces of a field. But look: a single oak leaf brown and shining like a leather purse. See what it so delicately offers lying upturned on the path. See how it reflects in its opened palm a cup of deep, unending sky. ~ Laura Foley, “The Offering” from Why I Never Finished My Dissertation
Winter still has us in its chilly grasp for another four weeks. We feel caught up in its wintry web as viruses continue to swirl among us despite efforts to monitor and quarantine, and we wonder when our own turn will come.
The natural world, its joys and its threats, has always had the upper hand. We are dumbfounded, never quick enough to catch on to its tricks and sly mutations, unprepared to respond in the moment.
Like a withering leaf soon to become dust, we offer up what we can when we can: our reflection of the light, our hope of better things to come, our gift of beauty back to a despairing world.
It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty. To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives him glory too. To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, gives him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should. So then, my brethren, live. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins – Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins
Thanks in large part to how messily we humans live, this world is a grimy place.
As an act of worship, we work at cleaning up after ourselves. Hands that clean toilets, scrub floors, carry bedpans, pick up garbage might as well be clasped in prayer–it is in such mundane tasks God is glorified.
I spend time every day carrying buckets and wielding a pitchfork because it is my way of restoring order to the disorder inherent in human life. It is with gratitude that I’m able to pick up one little corner of my world, making stall beds tidier for our farm animals by mucking up their messes and in so doing, I’m cleaning up a piece of me at the same time.
I never want to forget the mess I’m in and the mess I am. I never want to forget to clean up after myself. I never want to feel it is a mere and mundane chore to worship with dungfork and slop pail.
It is my privilege. It is His gift to me. It is Grace that comes alongside me, to keep pitching the muck and carrying the slop when I am too weary to do it myself.
It appears now that there is only one age and it knows nothing of age as the flying birds know nothing of the air they are flying through or of the day that bears them up through themselves and I am a child before there are words arms are holding me up in a shadow voices murmur in a shadow as I watch one patch of sunlight moving across the green carpet in a building gone long ago and all the voices silent and each word they said in that time silent now while I go on seeing that patch of sunlight ~W.S. Merwin, “Still Morning” from The Shadow of Sirius
Our memories can play tricks. A whiff of a fragrance can trigger an experience of another time and place, a song can transport us to a decade long ago, a momentary sensation will remind us of a past experience long forgotten.
We dwell inside a different age as the years go by, in a body that no longer looks or feels exactly the same, yet our memories take us powerfully back to a special moment that happened before. For those who struggle with post-trauma recollections, this is a curse to be overcome. For those whose memories bring joy and comfort, they seek to nurture and cherish what has been as if it is still here and now.
We must remember the light, just as the poet W.S. Merwin in this poem “Still Morning” remembers the moment of his baptism in a church long gone and whose voices are long-stilled. The Light of that day remains, as fresh today as it was when it moved toward him.
Our memories aren’t tricks. They are as powerfully a part of us as the here and now: a moving patch light touching us here from back then.
…leave me a little love, A voice to speak to me in the day end, A hand to touch me in the dark room Breaking the long loneliness. In the dusk of day-shapes Blurring the sunset, One little wandering, western star Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow. Let me go to the window, Watch there the day-shapes of dusk And wait and know the coming Of a little love. ~Carl Sandburg from “At a Window”
Now close the windows and hush all the fields; If the trees must, let them silently toss; No bird is singing now, and if there is, Be it my loss.
I will be long ere the marshes resume, It will be long ere the earliest bird: So close the windows and not hear the wind, But see all wind-stirred. ~Robert Frost “Now Close the Windows”
Everything looks a little different framed by a window. We are set apart, looking out, rather than immersed within the landscape ourselves.
It is not unlike being in an art museum, walking past masterpieces that offer a framed view into another time and place, with people we don’t know and will never meet.
Let me go to the windows, moving through the house and peering out at the glory that awaits beyond the frame. But rather than simply admire the view, protected from the chill wind, I’ll walk out the door into the life that pulses continually beyond the glass.
It’s a motley lot. A few still stand at attention like sentries at the ends of their driveways, but more lean askance as if they’d just received a blow to the head, and in fact they’ve received many, all winter, from jets of wet snow shooting off the curved, tapered blade of the plow. Some look wobbly, cocked at oddball angles or slumping forlornly on precariously listing posts. One box bows steeply forward, as if in disgrace, its door lolling sideways, unhinged. Others are dented, battered, streaked with rust, bandaged in duct tape, crisscrossed with clothesline or bungee cords. A few lie abashed in remnants of the very snow that knocked them from their perches. Another is wedged in the crook of a tree like a birdhouse, its post shattered nearby. I almost feel sorry for them, worn out by the long winter, off-kilter, not knowing what hit them, trying to hold themselves together, as they wait for news from spring. ~Jeffrey Harrison “Mailboxes in Late Winter”
This time of year I too often feel like an off-kilter mailbox – rusty, dented, leaning rather than upright, covered with mildew and lichens — it will take some effort to look presentable after a long winter.
There isn’t much that would recommend me as a potential destination; most of the mail that is delivered to me is junk mail or bills. It is a rare pleasure to find a hand-addressed card or note. I have myself to thank for that: I rarely send one to anyone else. I’m not even sure I could find a stamp at home if I wanted one.
It reminds me how infrequently I actually hand write any form of communication any more, how dependent I’ve become on the instantaneous nature of texting and email, and how much I used to enjoy writing letters back and forth to family and friends, in what feels like another life.
Letters can be forever–a tangible representation of the writer illustrated by their choice of envelope, stamp and paper, writing utensil, style of script, sometimes a scent. The neatness or hurried nature of the writing says something about the urgency with which it was written. Emails have none of those features, and can feel ephemeral, although we know they can always be found and retrieved, for good and for ill, by those who know how to look for them.
It has been too long. It’s time to commit to writing a letter a week to someone who needs to be able to tangibly feel my caring about them, right in their hands.
Then just maybe, I can share news of the spring to come.