The Rough Made Smooth

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All day the blanket snapped and swelled
on the line, roused by a hot spring wind….
From there it witnessed the first sparrow,
early flies lifting their sticky feet,
and a green haze on the south-sloping hills.
Clouds rose over the mountain….At dusk
I took the blanket in, and we slept,
restless, under its fragrant weight.
~Jane Kenyon “Wash”

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How much better it is
to carry wood to the fire
than to moan about your life.
How much better
to throw the garbage
onto the compost, or to pin the clean
sheet on the line,
With a gray-brown wooden clothes pin.
~Jane Kenyon “The Clothespin”

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I grew up hanging clothes outside to dry on a clothesline on all but the rainiest stormiest days.  It was a routine summer chore for our family of five–there was almost always a load or two a day to wash and hang outside, then to gather in and fold into piles before the air and clothes grew moist with evening dew.  I would bury my little girl face in the pile of stiff towels and crispy sheets to breathe in the summer breezes–still apparent when pulled from the linen closet days later.

Over my adult years on this farm, we’ve not had a consistent spot for our clothesline so I had gotten out of the habit of hanging them up wet and pulling them down dry.  We finally decided the time had come to use less dryer energy and more solar energy, so the line went back up a few years ago.

I’ve discovered modern bath towels are not meant for clothesline drying–they are too plush, requiring the fluffing of a dryer to stay soft and pliant.  On the clothesline they dry like sandpaper, abrasive and harsh.  I heard a few complaints about that from my tender-skinned children.  I decided it is good for us all to wake up to a good buffing every morning, smoothing out our rough edges, readying us for the day.

We live in a part of the county up on an open hill with lots of windy spells, but those breezes carry interesting smells from the surrounding territory that the drying laundry absorbs like a sponge.  On the good days, it may be smells of blooming clover from the fields or the scent of apple and pear blossoms during a few spring weeks.  On other differently-fragranced days, local manure spreading or wood stove burning results in an earthy odor that serves as a reminder of where we live.  It isn’t all sunshine and perfume all the time–it can be smoke and poop as well.

The act of hanging up and gathering in the laundry remains an act of faith for me.  It is trusting, even on the cloudy or chilly days, that gravity and wind and time will render all dry and fresh.  And thanks to those line-dried bed sheets and those sandpaper bath towels, I’ll surely end up buffed and smoothed, my rough edges made plain.

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A Strong Enough Bridge

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The bridge of grace will bear your weight…
~Charles Spurgeon

 

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.    
~Meister Eckhart from “Expands His Being”

 

What God would birth Himself into something as dark as this world?
Into this place of meanness, tribal conflicts and hatred?

This God would.

He labors in our dark hearts for good reason, becoming a bridge strong enough to bear us into the light and heal the cracks and fissures within.  We are unformed and unready to meet Him, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts, afraid to walk the plank as our weight of sin is so heavy, our need so great.

We are silenced as He prepares us, as He prepares Himself for birth within us. The labor pains are His, not ours;  we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again, bearing us up, no matter how heavy the burden we bring to Him.

The world is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, even where we were sure we would break the bridge we tread. The broken heart is healed and sealed by grace for which no weight is too great.

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Crossing the Threshold

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John O’Donohue gave voice to the connection between beauty and those edges of life—
thresholds was the word he loved—
where the fullness of reality becomes more stark and more clear.

If you go back to the etymology of the word “threshold,” it comes from “threshing,” which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.

There are huge thresholds in every life.

You know that, for instance, if you are in the middle of your life in a busy evening, fifty things to do and you get a phone call that somebody you love is suddenly dying, it takes ten seconds to communicate that information.

But when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. Suddenly everything that seems so important before is all gone and now you are thinking of this.

So the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we are on is so tentative.
And a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and very often how we cross is the key thing.

When we cross a new threshold worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition
that were in us that had us caught somewhere.

~John O’Donohue from an “On Being” interview with Krista Tippett on “Becoming Wise”

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I emerge from the mind’s
cave into the worse darkness
outside, where things pass and
the Lord is in none of them.
I have heard the still, small voice
and it was that of the bacteria
demolishing my cosmos. I
have lingered too long on
this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul
I was leading upwards towards
the light. To look forward? Ah,
what balance is needed at
the edges of such an abyss.
I am alone on the surface
of a turning planet. What
to do but, like Michelangelo’s
Adam, put my hand
out into unknown space,
hoping for the reciprocating touch?
~R.S. Thomas “Threshold”

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These past few months of mass shootings, tragic deaths and never-ending conflict have forced us all to a threshold needing to be crossed. Yet we stand stubborn, immobilized, frozen and dying on the spot, peering out in fear but never peering inward for self-examination.

Instead of submitting to the crushing winnowing that must happen to blow away the chaff of our lives, to get down to the kernel of truth that sustains us, we cling to the old and familiar. It is we who have delivered ourselves a non-choice between two deeply flawed individuals for president. They represent what evils we tolerate as a people: celebrating entitlements, tolerating their legal, moral and financial shenanigans simply because they are rich and famous.

Unwilling to change attitude or perspective, reluctant to move forward into largely uncharted territory, mired in a tribalism only skin deep, we wonder why history repeats itself, why we are dying every day, by our own hand or by others’.

How to cross worthily? How to cross together, arm in arm, united in the need to move forward beyond this mess we have made for ourselves?

We need a good threshing, badly. We need to be worthy. We need to reach out our hands into the unknown that lies ahead, hoping and praying Someone is there to grab hold and lead us across to a better day.

 

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Plunged into the Dark Abyss

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The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction….
The chain reaction of evil —
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars —
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.
~
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Strength to Love

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The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.
— J. R. R. Tolkien

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We forget that God is right there, waiting for us to turn to him, no matter how dire our situation.  We forget the reassuring words of his messengers: “Fear not.”   God always seeks to draw close to us — even in the depths of hell.
…it comes down to this: the only way to truly overcome our fear of death is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.  It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others.  It means choosing generosity over greed.  It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power.  Finally, it means being ready to die again and again — to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion or agenda.

~Johann Christoph Arnold

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This week, bullets have been fired out of fear and anger by, and have struck down, people who look and are just like us.  Shed tears never need translation or interpretation, no matter what color cheeks they moisten.

Distrust and fear continue to impact our communities daily, settling like a shroud over the most routine activities.  So we must fall back on what we were told long ago and each and every day in 365 different verses in the Word itself: fear not.

Do not be overwhelmed with evil but overcome evil with good.

The goal of this life is to live for others, to live in such a way that death cannot erase the meaning and significance of a life.  We are called to give up our selfish agendas in order to consider the dignity of others and their greater good.

Cherish life, all lives, including, as is crystal clear from Christ’s example,  those who are so fearful, they hate and want to murder us.

Our only defense against evil is God’s offense; only He will lead us to Tolkien’s “where everything sad will come untrue”, where tears are no longer shed in sorrow,  but can only be tears of joy.

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Another Day’s Chalking

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Life is grace.
Sleep is forgiveness.
The night absolves.
Darkness wipes the slate clean,
not spotless to be sure,
but clean enough for another day’s chalking.
~Frederick Buechner

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Today
is the tomorrow
hoped for last night,
a clean slate on which to
leave a mark on a new day
after night’s erasing rest.

No matter what took place the day before,
no matter the misgivings,
no matter what should have been left unsaid,
no matter how hard the heart,
there is another day to make it right.

Forgiveness finds a foothold in the dark,
when eyelids close and leak,
thoughts quietly crack open,
voices hush in prayers
of praise, petition and gratitude.

And so now
sleep on it
knowing his grace
abounds in blameless dreams.

Morning will come
awash in new light,
another chance
freely given.

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What I Did Not Know

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For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go.
~Kathleen Norris

 

His grace and mercy have salvaged me
when I didn’t know I needed saving,
given me what I didn’t think I needed
so have never asked for,
and taken me where I never planned to be
because I was so comfortable where I was.

Grace is not about giving me what I want;
it is not reward for following the rules,
being good or staying out of trouble.
It is rescue from a fate of meaningless,
a gift of God’s heart buoying my weakness
when I deserve nothing whatsoever.

This grace is a prickly vine I must cling to,
grateful to be spared from falling.
It is a overwhelming flow that carries me to safety
through the desolate landscape.

I am grateful,
so very grateful,
for what I did not know
I needed to know.

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meijer1.

The Scars of Living and Dying

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Scars come in various sizes and shapes, some hidden, some quite obvious to all.  How they are inflicted also varies–some accidental, others therapeutic, and too many intentional.  The most insidious are the ones so deep inside,  no one can see or know they are there.

Back in our woodlot stands a sawed off stump of a cedar that was old growth in virgin forest over a hundred years ago.  One day the clearcut loggers came through our part of this rural county and took every tree they could to haul to the local sawmills to become beams and lumber for the growing homesteading population in the region.  This cedar once was grand and vast, covering an immense part of the forest floor, providing protection to trillium at its feet and finches’ nests and raptors hunting in its branches.   It nurtured its environment until other plans were made, and one day, axes fell on its sides to cut out the notches for the springboards where two loggers stood to man the saw which brought the tree down.  Where the wood went is anyone’s guess.  It could be one of the mighty beams supporting our old hay barn roof or it could have become the foundation flooring of a nearby one room school house.  It surely had a productive and meaningful life as part of a structure somewhere until rot or carpenter ants or fire brought it once again to its knees.

But the stump remains, a tombstone of remembrance of a once grand tree, the notch scars embedded deep in its sides, nursing new seedlings from its center and moss, lichen and ferns from its sides.

I come from logger stock so I don’t begrudge these frontier settlers their hard scrabble living, nor minimize their dangerous work in order to feed themselves and their families.  It’s just I’m struck by those scars even one hundred years later — such a visible reminder of what once was a vital living organism toppled for someone’s need and convenience.

Trees are not unique.  It happens to people too.  Everyday scars are inflicted for reasons hard to justify.  Too often I see them self-inflicted in an effort to feel something other than despair.  Sometimes they are inflicted by others out of fear or need for control.

Sometimes they are simply the scars of living, wounds accumulated along the pathway we tread, often to letting in Light where there was none before.

None of them are as deep and wide as the scars that were accepted on our behalf, nor as wondrous as the love that oozed from them, nor as amazing as the grace that abounds to this day because of the promise spelled out by them.  These are scars from the Word made Flesh.

As a result, that Tree lives.

 

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loggers standing on springboards wedged into a large fir (courtesy of Campbell River Museum, British Columbia)

Teardrops in Our Eyes

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Some things are very dear to me–
Such things as flowers bathed by rain
Or patterns traced upon the sea
Or crocuses where snow has lain . . .
The iridescence of a gem,
The moon’s cool opalescent light,
Azaleas and the scent of them,
And honeysuckles in the night.
And many sounds are also dear–
Like winds that sing among the trees
Or crickets calling from the weir
Or Negroes humming melodies.
But dearer far than all surmise

Are sudden tear-drops in your eyes
~Gwendolyn Bennett — Sonnet 2

We human beings do real harm.
History could make a stone weep.
~Marilynne Robinson–Gilead

 

 

Created with the freedom to choose our own way, we tend to opt for the path of least resistance with the highest pay back. Hey, after all, we’re human and that’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it.

No road less traveled for most of us–instead we blindly head down the superhighway of what’s best for number one, no matter what the means of transportation, what it costs to get there, how seedy the billboards or how many warning signs appear, or where the ultimate destination takes us.

History is full of the piled-high wrecking yards of demolition remnants from crashes along the way.

It’s enough to make a stone weep and so we weep aplenty.
Certainly God wept and probably still does as we are very dear to Him.

He knew what He was doing and thought it good at the time.  Perhaps it still might be.

 

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Between Midnight and Dawn: The World Bereft

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All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.
 My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
    even the light has gone from my eyes.

For I am about to fall,
    and my pain is ever with me.
 I confess my iniquity;
    I am troubled by my sin.
 Many have become my enemies without cause;
    those who hate me without reason are numerous.
 Those who repay my good with evil
    lodge accusations against me,
    though I seek only to do what is good.

 Lord, do not forsake me;
    do not be far from me, my God.
 Come quickly to help me,
    my Lord and my Savior.
from Psalm 38

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The darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Inversnaid” 

 

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There is despair in the wilderness of untamed hearts.
Such wildness lies just beneath the surface;
it rounds and rounds, almost out of reach. 
How are we spared drowning in its pitchblack pool?
How can we thrill to the beauty rather than be sucked into the darkness?

He came not to destroy the world’s wildness,
but to pull us, gasping,
from its unforgiving clutches as we sink in ever deeper.
As weeds surviving in the wilderness,
we must grow, flourish, and witness to a wild world bereft.

O let us be left.
Let us be left.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Between Midnight and Dawn: Our Forgetfulness

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I weep over the sorrows and disgraces of our Lord,
and what causes me the greatest sorrow
is that men, for whom He suffered so much,
live in forgetfulness of Him.
~St. Francis of Assisi

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.
~from Psalm 51

It doesn’t take committing infidelity or murder,
like King David with blood on his hands,
to feel estranged from God.

It can be as simple as
living each day within
a delusion of self-sufficiency.

But I am never sufficient.

Unable to fix my own heart,
I seek relief from the mud of
remorse and regret.
I bring my broken heart to Him.
May my tears no longer just be wept
in guilt for my wrongdoing,
but that I weep for our
God forgotten.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn