What is pertinent is the calmness of beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it… For a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? ~Kazuo Ishiguro from The Remains of the Day
Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint you can on it. ~Danny Kaye
Every moment is a fresh beginning. ~T.S. Eliot
I am ashamed to admit I squander time looking back, yearning for a day that has long since passed, tossing off these present precious hours as somehow not measuring up to what came before.
Even when I believe things will never change, they will, and I will.
There have been over thirty-six years of such days in this farm country, one flowing gently after another, and every single one have been exactly what I’m looking for.
I shall toss my heart ahead and set out after it, each moment a fresh beginning and blank canvas, making the best of what remains of my day.
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We grow accustomed to the Dark — When Light is put away — As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp To witness her Good bye —
A Moment — We Uncertain step For newness of the night — Then — fit our Vision to the Dark — And meet the Road — erect —
And so of larger — Darknesses — Those Evenings of the Brain — When not a Moon disclose a sign — Or Star — come out — within —
The Bravest — grope a little — And sometimes hit a Tree Directly in the Forehead — But as they learn to see —
Either the Darkness alters — Or something in the sight Adjusts itself to Midnight — And Life steps almost straight. ~Emily Dickinson
So few grains of happiness measured against all the dark and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us only the strength we have and we give it. Then it asks more, and we give it. ~Jane Hirschfield from “The Weighing”
I admit that I’m stumbling about in the dark right now, bearing the bruises and scrapes of random collisions with objects hidden in the night.
My eyes must slowly adjust to such bare illumination, as the Lamp has been carried away. I must feel my way through this time of life.
I suspect there are fellow darkness travelers who also have lost their way and their Light, giving what they can and sometimes more.
And so, blinded as we each are, we run forehead-first into the Tree which has always been there and always will be.
Because of who we are and Who loves us, we, now free and forgiven, follow a darkened road nearly straight, all the way Home.
May you see God’s light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark. May you always hear even in your hour of sorrow the gentle singing of the lark. When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone. May you always remember when the shadows fall– You do not walk alone.
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First day of February, and in the far corner of the yard the Adirondack chair, blown over by the wind at Christmas, is still on its back, the snow too deep for me to traipse out and right it, the ice too sheer to risk slamming these old bones to the ground.
In April I will walk out across the warming grass, and right the chair as if there had never been anything to stop me in the first place, listening for the buzz of hummingbirds which reminds me of how fast things are capable of moving. ~John Stanizzi “Ascension”
It has been a harsh and cold winter so far with more days of snow on the ground than not. For a couple weeks there was a constant challenge of finding safe footing when surfaces were snow and ice-covered; local orthopedists were busy putting together broken arms and legs and dislocated joints from too many unscheduled landings.
It seems sometimes winter will never be done with us. The saddest moment a week ago was the discovery as our iced-over fish pond was thawing that it had frozen solid during the sub-zero temperatures – and a dozen decade-old koi and goldfish frozen with it. Our sorrow at this loss is deeper than the pond proved to be; we assumed the depth of the water was sufficient to keep our fish safe from harm as it has for decades. Yet this winter stole them from us.
I know in my head that winter is not forever — February will wrap up its short stay on the calendar and once again I will traipse about with ease without worrying about iced-over walkways. But my heart is not so easily convinced about winter waning. The unexpected loss of our fish reminds me of my guilt from the past: times I have failed to help others when I could have – like the priest and Levite, seeing the dying man on the road to Jericho, cross to the other side and walk past.
So my heart and head and old bones need reminding: Those who traipse on ice always risk being broken. Those who have fallen will be righted and put together again. Those who suffer regret are forgiven even when pain is not forgotten. And time moves quickly on despite our efforts to hold on to now; my old bones and tender heart will heal so I can be of use to others.
From the love of my own comfort From the fear of having nothing From a life of worldly passions Deliver me O God
From the need to be understood From the need to be accepted From the fear of being lonely Deliver me O God Deliver me O God
And I shall not want I shall not want When I taste Your goodness I shall not want When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
From the fear of serving others From the fear of death or trial From the fear of humility Deliver me O God Deliver me O God ~Audrey Assad
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You want to know how I spend my time? I walk the front lawn, pretending to be weeding. You ought to know I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact I’m looking for courage, for some evidence my life will change, though it takes forever, checking each clump for the symbolic leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already the leaves turning, always the sick trees going first, the dying turning brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform their curfew of music. You want to see my hands? As empty now as at the first note. Or was the point always to continue without a sign? ~Louise Glück “Matins V”
I have never been a brave person. In fact, I can be as fearful of the headlines of world events as the next person – a downright lily-livered chicken-heart. People like me may engage in lots of magical thinking, hoping I just might change through hard work and a large measure of good luck.
But what has luck got to do with it? Nothing whatsoever.
The reality is, many people work hard and still face insurmountable struggles that regularly force them to their knees. Courage is asking God for the grit to keep going no matter what confronts you because that is exactly what He did for us: even when his knees hurt from kneeling, his voice was hoarse with prayer, his eyes full of tears, his efforts unacknowledged and unappreciated, his heart broken.
Even when I come up empty-handed, I take courage and take heart. His heart.
Take heart, my friend, we’ll go together This uncertain road that lies ahead Our faithful God has always gone before us And He will lead the way once again
Take heart, my friend, we can walk together And if our burdens become too great We can hold up and help one other In God’s love and God’s grace
Take heart my friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our defender in the night
If we should falter when trouble surrounds us When the wind and the waves are wild and high We will look away to Him who ruled the waters Who spoke His peace into the angry tide
He is our comfort, our sustainer He is our help in time of need When we wander, He is our Shepherd He who watches over us never sleeps
Take heart my friend the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our defender in the night
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slicing this frozen sky know where they are going— and want to get there.
Their call, both strange and familiar, calls to the strange and familiar
heart, and the landscape becomes the landscape of being, which becomes
the bright silos and snowy fields over which the nuanced and muscular geese
are calling—while time and the heart take measure. ~Jane Mead, “The Geese” from To the Wren
Vast whisp-whisp of wingbeats awakens me and I look up at a minute-long string of black geese’ following low past the moon the white course of the snow-covered river and by the way thank You for keeping Your face hidden, I can hardly bear the beauty of this world ~Franz Wright from “Cloudless Snowfall”
A psalm of geese labours overland
cajoling each other near half…
The din grew immense. No need to look up.
All you had to do was sit in the sound
and put it down as best you could…
It’s not a lonesome sound but a panic,
a calling out to the others to see if they’re there;
it’s not the lung-full thrust of the prong of arrival in late October; not the slow togetherness
of the shape they take on the empty land on the days before Christmas:
this is different, this is a broken family, the young go the wrong way,
then at daybreak, rise up and follow their elders again filled with dread, at the returning sound of the journey ahead. ~Dermot Healy from A Fool’s Errand
We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times.
Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. ~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life
As I am at once strange and familiar, I call out to God to see if He’s there; He knows me as He came to earth both strange and familiar.
His face is no longer hidden yet I hide my face from Him.
When I call out to Him I try to conceal the tremble of my hands, my eyes welling up, breathing out the deep sigh of doubt — He witnesses my struggle, offering me the gift of being noticed and heard.
There is beauty in this world and in His face, and through it all, my eyes are on you.
It is well.
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Contorted by wind, mere armatures for ice or snow, the trees resolve to endure for now,
they will leaf out in April. And I must be as patient as the trees— a winter resolution
I break all over again, as the cold presses its sharp blade against my throat. ~Linda Pastan “January”from The Months
A year has come to us as though out of hiding It has arrived from an unknown distance From beyond the visions of the old Everyone waited for it by the wrong roads And it is hard for us now to be sure it is here A stranger to nothing In our hiding places ~W. S. Merwin “Early January” from The Lice
January can be a rough month for most of us: the beginning-of-winter doldrums can be fierce after the hubbub of holidays. It doesn’t help the new year I hoped for is nothing like the unfamiliar road I find myself following – full of twists and turns and switchbacks, as well as being stalled at times, iced firmly in place, a stranger to myself.
So resolutions have been set aside, travel plans postponed, priorities changed; what I need most is the patience to endure, trusting things do change over time, like the seasons.
Winter will not last forever. I will, like the bare trees around me, leaf out again.
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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.
It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply. It is a room I enter
from which someone has just gone, the vestibule for the arrival of one who has not yet come. I modernise the anachronism
of my language, but he is no more here than before. Genes and molecules have no more power to call him up than the incense of the Hebrews
at their altars. My equations fail as my words do. What resources have I other than the emptiness without him of my whole being, a vacuum he may not abhor? ~R.S. Thomas “The Absence”
To wait is hard when we know the value of the gift that awaits us. We know exactly what is in the package since we have watched it being carefully chosen, wrapped and presented to us to open.
We have seen His footprints on our landscape: in the hottest dessert, in the deepest snow, in the meadows and in the forests, in the mud and muck and mire of our lives; we know He has been here and wait for His return.
Not yet though, not quite yet. So we wait, and continue to wait.
Even more so, we wait and hope for what we do not see but know is coming, like a groaning in the labor of childbirth.
The waiting is never easy; it is painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted, barely able to function. Others won’t understand why we wait, nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for when it remains unseen, with only the footprints left behind to remind us.
Yet we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping, like Mary and Joseph, like Elizabeth and Zechariah, like the shepherds, like the Magi of the east, like Simeon and Anna in the temple.
This is the meaning of Advent: we are a community groaning together in sweet anticipation and expectation of the gift of Morning to come.
I pray my soul waits for the Lord My hope is in His word More than the watchman waits for dawn My soul waits for the Lord
1) Out of the depths I cry to You; From darkest places I will call. Incline Your ear to me anew, And hear my cry for mercy, Lord. Were You to count my sinful ways How could I come before Your throne? Yet full forgiveness meets my gaze – I stand redeemed by grace alone.
CHORUS I will wait for You, I will wait for You, On Your word I will rely. I will wait for You, surely wait for You Till my soul is satisfied.
2) So put Your hope in God alone, Take courage in His power to save; Completely and forever won By Christ emerging from the grave.
3) His steadfast love has made a way, And God Himself has paid the price, That all who trust in Him today Find healing in his sacrifice.
I will wait for You, I will wait for You Through the storm and through the night. I will wait for You, surely wait for You, For Your love is my delight.
Wait for the Lord, his day is near Wait for the Lord, be strong take heart Prepare the way for the Lord Make a straight path for Him The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed All the Earth will see the Lord Rejoice in the Lord always He is at Hand Joy and gladness for all who seek the Lord
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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It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk The dew that lay upon the morning grass; There is no rustling in the lofty elm That canopies my dwelling, and its shade Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint And interrupted murmur of the bee, Settling on the sick flowers, and then again Instantly on the wing. The plants around Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms. But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills, With all their growth of woods, silent and stern, As if the scorching heat and dazzling light Were but an element they loved.
…I woo the wind That still delays his coming. Why so slow, Gentle and voluble spirit of the air? Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth Coolness and life! Is it that in his caves He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge, The pine is bending his proud top, and now Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes; Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves! The deep distressful silence of the scene Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds And universal motion. He is come, Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs, And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs, And sound of swaying branches, and the voice Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers, By the road-side and the borders of the brook, Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew Were on them yet, and silver waters break Into small waves and sparkle as he comes. ~William Cullen Bryant from “Summer Wind”
In the Pacific Northwest, we are going through another string of hot dry days with smoky landscapes and horizons. This is becoming all too familiar: the temperatures are rising each year, the forests are burning, our usual pristine air quality deteriorating.
Even the birds are silent in this weather. The bees, discouraged by the wilting blooms, don’t linger. Our animals covered with fur are listlessly seeking shade and anything green in the pasture.
So I pray for relief – any breeze to move this humid air – something, anything that can break this cycle of sweatiness.
Yesterday, in the midst of 102 degree temperatures, out of nowhere came a northeast wind – as strong and determined as our northeast midwinter arctic blasts – but hot. It was so disorienting to be blown about by furnace heat. Branches and leaves fell from bewildered and already stressed trees. Plants withered as the moisture was sucked from leaves and blossoms. The garden sagged.
As suddenly as it came, it was gone again. And all around me – me included – wondered what had just hit us.
I am reminded to be careful what I pray for, knowing that my petition may well be heard and heeded. Perhaps the answer to prayer won’t be quite what I hoped for or expected, but it is nonetheless an answer.
I only need to listen…
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Open the window, and let the air Freshly blow upon face and hair, And fill the room, as it fills the night, With the breath of the rain’s sweet might.
Nought will I have, not a window-pane, ‘Twixt me and the air and the great good rain, Which ever shall sing me sharp lullabies; And God’s own darkness shall close mine eyes; And I will sleep, with all things blest, In the pure earth-shadow of natural rest. ~James Henry Leigh Hunt from “A Night-Rain in Summer”
Each morning for nearly two months, we have searched the sky for a hint of rain.
Will those few clouds grow heavier and more burdened or only tease and blow on to drip elsewhere?
Throughout the house, our windows stand open waiting for a breeze with a breath of moisture.
Last night, it came: the smell wafted in before we heard the patter. A few brief scent of petrichor and then as quickly as it came, it was gone again.
That incomparable fragrance of raindrops falling on brown and thirsty ground – I wish I could wear it like a perfumed promise of relief during more long dry days of dusty drought.
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