Making the Best of What Remains

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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A Darkened Path

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

photo by Bob Tjoelker

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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These Old Bones

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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Kneeling for Courage

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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Calling Out

The geese

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.

A book of beauty in words and photographs – available to order here:

A Stranger to Nothing

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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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: We Wait For We Have Seen His Footsteps

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.

We are always waiting,
but it is a waiting in the conviction that
we have already seen God’s footsteps.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

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.

photo by Josh Scholten

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

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

Born Broken

Man is born broken.
He lives by mending.
The grace of God is glue.
~Eugene O’Neill
from 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.

A book of beauty in words and photography, available for order here:

A Sultry Day

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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Waiting for a Breath of Rain

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.

Needing relief from the drought of a long dry summer? Consider this new book from Barnstorming, available for order here: