I know what you planned, what you meant to do, teaching me to love the world, making it impossible to turn away completely, to shut it out completely ever again – it is everywhere; when I close my eyes, birdsong, scent of lilac in early spring, scent of summer roses: you mean to take it away, each flower, each connection with earth – why would you wound me, why would you want me desolate in the end, unless you wanted me so starved for hope I would refuse to see that finally nothing was left to me, and would believe instead in the end you were left to me. ~Louise Glück “Vespers”(one of ten Vespers poems)
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; ~Psalm 130:5
Mid-spring days like this: bright, so promising with potential, birdsong constantly in the air, scent of orchard blossoms, lilacs, early roses and a flush of color everywhere…
how can I not love the world so much I never want to leave it?
Yet I must hold this loosely. It is but a tiny show of the glories to come, of what You have waiting for me next.
I am wounded with the realization that I must eventually let this go.
I hold onto the hope that won’t be found in all this beauty and lushness, the fulfilling hope that can only be found in my relationship with You as my Father and Creator.
You provide only a taste here so that I know what I starve for, starved with hope for what You have in store.
I will wait for you I will wait for you in the end You were left for me.
Amen and Amen.
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Had I not been awake I would have missed it, A wind that rose and whirled until the roof Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore
And got me up, the whole of me a-patter, Alive and ticking like an electric fence: Had I not been awake I would have missed it
It came and went too unexpectedly And almost it seemed dangerously, Hurtling like an animal at the house,
A courier blast that there and then Lapsed ordinary. But not ever Afterwards. And not now. ~Seamus Heaney “Had I Not Been Awake”
It is very still in the world now – Thronged only with Music like the Decks of Birds and the Seasons take their hushed places like figures in a Dream – ~Emily Dickinson from an envelope poem fragment
My dreams have been exceptionally vivid recently, not scary but seemingly real. I’ll awake suddenly, surfacing out of deepest sleep to take a breath of reality and remind my brain that I’m still in bed, in a dark hushed room, my husband solid and warm beside me. All is well. I lie awake, reorienting myself from dream world to my world and ponder the hazy neuro-pathways in-between.
If I had not been awake after my dreams, I would have missed the night sounds of coyotes howling in the fields around the farmhouse, the chorus of peepers in the wetlands, the trickling waterfall in our koi pond, the clicking of the owls flying overhead, the sudden gust of wind that shakes the windows, the pelting of heavy rain.
So much still happens when I am asleep to the world, numb and inattentive. Even so, when dreams wake me, I find myself alive and listening, electrified by the awareness of everything around me.
Suddenly, nothing is ordinary because everything is. I am the most unordinary ordinary of all.
Ample litany, sparing nothing I hate or love, not-yet-silenced, not-yet-fractured; not-yet-
I move my ear a little closer to that humming figure, I ask him only to stay. ~Jane Hirshfield “Not Yet” from The Lives of the Heart.
To wait for the “not yet” is a hard sweet tension.
There is tension in knowing that something profound is happening–a vanishing sunset, a vernal equinox, a life change or transition, but the transformation is not yet complete, and I’m not sure when it will be.
I am still unfinished business.
In two weeks I will be reminded of what is yet to come. I will know the shock of the empty tomb. My heart will burn within me as more is revealed, through the simple act of bread breaking.
It is hard not yet having what I know will be coming. But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming because of what we have already been given. Like the labor of childbirth, I groan knowing what it will take to get there, and I am full to brimming already.
The waiting won’t be easy; it will often be painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when I am exhausted, barely able to function. Others won’t understand why I wait, nor do they comprehend what I could possibly be waiting for.
Yet we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping – a community groaning together in expectation of what is to come in the morning.
It has been finished on our behalf, while we wait, while we wait.
Though I have never caught the word Of God from any calling bird, I hear all that the ancients heard. Though I have seen no deity Enter or leave a twilit tree, I see all that the seers see. A common stone can still reveal Something not stone, not seen, yet real. What may a common stone conceal? Nothing is far that once was near. Nothing is hid that once was clear. Nothing was God that is not here. Here is the bird, the tree, the stone. Here in the sun I sit alone Between the known and the unknown. ~Robert Francis, “Nothing Is Far” from Collected Poems, 1936-1976
We live out our lives between heaven and earth, sometimes in an uneasy tug-of-war between the two. We feel not quite ready for heaven as our roots go deep here, yet the challenges of daily life on this soil can seem overwhelmingly difficult and we often seek relief, begging for mercy.
We are living “in between” where we are now and where we soon will be, between the “known” of the birds and trees and stones of this world and the “unknown” of what comes next.
Christ, incarnate as the Son on earth and still King in heaven, maintains an eternal connection to above and below. Nothing was God that is not still here on earth. In His hands and under His protection, we are safe no matter where we are and where He takes us.
We, His children, have stony hearts no more. We are known to Him.
This child through David’s city Shall ride in triumph by; The palm shall strew its branches, And every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry, Though heavy, dull, and dumb, And lie within the roadway To pave his kingdom come.
Yet he shall be forsaken, And yielded up to die; The sky shall groan and darken, And every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry For stony hearts of men: God’s blood upon the spearhead, God’s love refused again. ~Richard Wilbur from “A Christmas Hymn”
Chunky and noisy, but with stars in their black feathers, they spring from the telephone wire and instantly
they are acrobats in the freezing wind. And now, in the theater of air, they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising; they float like one stippled star that opens, becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again; and you watch and you try but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it with no articulated instruction, no pause, only the silent confirmation that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin over and over again, full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us, even in the leafless winter, even in the ashy city. I am thinking now of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots trying to leave the ground, I feel my heart pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings. ~Mary Oliver “Starlings in Winter” from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared, then another, and another. It was the starlings going to roost. They gathered deep in the distance, flock sifting into flock, and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke. They seemed to unravel as they flew, lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. I didn’t move;they flew directly over my head for half an hour.
Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced. The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye. Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff. Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig, right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.
Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now, birds winging through the gaps between my cells, touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet? ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
…yesterday I heard a new sound above my head a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward I saw a flock of blackbirds rounding a curve I didn’t know was there and the sound was simply all those wings, all those feathers against air, against gravity and such a beautiful winning: the whole flock taking a long, wide turn as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
If we lived only in human society what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being here, in this curving and soaring world that is not our own so when mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives and when, even more rarely, we unite and move together toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub from “Blackbirds” from Wing Over Wing
Watching a winter starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me. I can get queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.
Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions. It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t. It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t. They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound.
We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA. Yet we don’t exercise such unity from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks. We are frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, going our own way bumping and crashing without care, leaving so much body and spiritual wreckage behind.
To where has flown our mercy and tenderness? We have corporately lost our internal moral compass.
We figuratively and literally shoot each other in the back, trampling over and suffocating one another, in a reach for justice that seems right in our own eyes.
We even watch the daily death count rise in ever-increasing numbers, and still some resist doing what it takes to protect themselves and one another.
The sound of silence is muffled weeping.
There comes a time in every fall before the leaves begin to turn when blackbirds group and flock and gather choosing a tree, a branch, together to click and call and chorus and clamor announcing the season has come for travel.
Then comes a time when all those birds without a sound or backward glance pour from every branch and limb into the air, as if on a whim but it’s a dynamic, choreographed mass a swoop, a swerve, a mystery, a dance
and now the tree stands breathless, amazed at how it was chosen, how it was changed. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub “Turning” from Wing Over Wing
I go to the mountain side of the house to cut saplings, and clear a view to snow on the mountain. But when I look up, saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in the uppermost branches. I don’t cut that one. I don’t cut the others either. Suddenly, in every tree, an unseen nest where a mountain would be. ~Tess Gallagher “Choices” from Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems.
Am I capable of such tenderness, such recognition of the well-being of others, by saving the nest and all future potential nests rather than exercise my freedom to have an unimpeded world view when and where I want it?
I must not forget: my right to choose can only mean choosing to do right by those who have no choice.
All winter the blue heron slept among the horses. I do not know the custom of herons, do not know if the solitary habit is their way, or if he listened for some missing one— not knowing even that was what he did— in the blowing sounds in the dark, I know that hope is the hardest love we carry. He slept with his long neck folded, like a letter put away. ~Jane Hirshfield “Hope and Love” from The Lives of the Heart
I know what it is like to feel out of step with those around me, an alien in my own land. At times I wonder if I belong at all as I watch the choices others make. I grew up this way, missing a connection that I could not find, never quite fitting in, a solitary kid becoming a solitary adult. The aloneness bothered me, but not in a “I’ve-got-to-become-like-them” kind of way.
I went my own way, never losing hope.
Somehow misfits find each other. Through the grace and acceptance of others, I found a soul mate and community. Even so, there are times when the old feeling of not-quite-belonging creeps in and I wonder whether I’ll be a misfit all the way to the cemetery, placed in the wrong plot in the wrong graveyard.
We disparate creatures are made for connection of some kind, with those who look and think and act like us, or with those who are something completely different. I’ll keep on the lookout for my fellow misfits, just in case there is another one out there looking for company along this journey.
We came, out of nothing, from Him, not randomly, not by chance, not a cosmic accident but an intentional act.
That first day -“and there was evening and there was morning, the first day” – is built within our very DNA. We are created with everything we need to support our freedom, our wings bearing our hearts aloft.
Our choice to fall is ours alone; it was not what God intended for us.
From nothing, God might yet make something of us – let our wings bear our hearts to Him who made us.
And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings Bear you on the breath of dawn Make you to shine like the sun And hold you in the palm of His hand… ~Michael Joncas
Night and day seize the day, also the night — a handful of water to grasp. The moon shines off the mountain snow where grizzlies look for a place for the winter’s sleep and birth. I just ate the year’s last tomato in the year’s fatal whirl. This is mid-October, apple time. I picked them for years. One Mcintosh yielded sixty bushels.
Fifty years later we hold each other looking out the windows at birds, making dinner, a life to live day after day, a life of dogs and children and the far wide country out by rivers, rumpled by mountains. So far the days keep coming. Seize the day gently as if you loved her. ~Jim Harrison, from “Carpe Diem” from Dead Man’s Float.
Forty some years later, the days keep coming, a life to live day after day after day. I try not to take a single one for granted, each morning a gift to be seized gently and embraced with reverent gratitude.
Even knowing I am meant to cherish this gift, I squander it. I grumble, I grouse, I can be tough to live alongside. I know better than to give into an impulse toward discontent, yet still it happens. Something inside me whispers that things could be better than they are — more of this, less of that — I tend to dwell on whatever my heart yearns for rather than the riches right in front of me.
I’m not the first one to struggle with this nor will I be the last. It turned out rather badly when those before me gave into their discontent and took what was not theirs to have.
We are still living out the consequences of that fall from grace.
Yet, even in our state of disgrace, despite our grumbling and groaning, we have been seized – gently and without hesitation – and held closely by One who loves us at our most unloveable.
Though my troubles and yearnings may continue, I will be content in that embrace, knowing even if I loosen my grip, I will not be let go.
The lawyer told him to write a letter to accompany the will, to prevent potential discord over artifacts valued only for their sentiment.
His wife treasures a watercolor by her father; grandmama’s spoon stirs their oatmeal every morning. Some days, he wears his father’s favorite tie.
He tries to think of things that could be tokens of his days: binoculars that transport bluebirds through his cataracts
a frayed fishing vest with pockets full of feathers brightly tied, the little fly rod he can still manipulate in forest thickets,
a sharp-tined garden fork, heft and handle fit for him, a springy spruce kayak paddle, a retired leather satchel.
He writes his awkward note, trying to dispense with grace some well-worn clutter easily discarded in another generation.
But what he wishes to bequeath are items never owned: a Chopin etude wafting from his wife’s piano on the scent of morning coffee
seedling peas poking into April, monarch caterpillars infesting milkweed leaves, a light brown doe alert in purple asters
a full moon rising in October, hunting-hat orange in ebony sky, sunlit autumn afternoons that flutter through the heart like falling leaves. ~Raymond Byrnes “Personal Effects” from Waters Deep
We’ve seen families break apart over the distribution of the possessions of the deceased. There can be hurt feelings, resentment over perceived slights, arguments over who cared most and who cared least.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen with our parents’ belongings. There had been a slow giving away process as their health failed and they needed to move from larger spaces to smaller spaces. Even so, no one was eager to take care of the things that had no particular monetary or sentimental value. We still have boxes and boxes of household and personal items sitting unopened in storage on our farm for over a decade. Each summer I think I’ll start the sorting process but I don’t. My intentions are good but my follow-through is weak.
So my husband and I have said to each other and our children that we don’t want to leave behind stuff which ultimately has little meaning in a generation or two. We need now to do the work it takes to make sure we honor that promise.
There is so much we would rather bequeath than just stuff we own. It can’t be stored in boxes or outlined in our wills: these are precious possessions that don’t take up space. Instead, we bequeath our love of simple everyday blessings, while passing down our faith in God to future generations.
May our memories be kept alive through stories about the people we tried to be in this life, told to our grandchildren and their children, with much humor and a few tears – that would be the very best legacy of all.