Life has loveliness to sell, All beautiful and splendid things, Blue waves whitened on a cliff, Soaring fire that sways and sings, And children’s faces looking up Holding wonder like a cup.
Life has loveliness to sell, Music like a curve of gold, Scent of pine trees in the rain, Eyes that love you, arms that hold, And for your spirit’s still delight, Holy thoughts that star the night.
Spend all you have for loveliness, Buy it and never count the cost; For one white singing hour of peace Count many a year of strife well lost, And for a breath of ecstasy Give all you have been, or could be. ~Sara Teasdale “Barter”
Some days I wish to keep hold forever: when the light is just right in the trees, the breezes fill with blossom fragrance, the congregation sings with joy as I play accompaniment, a smiling child climbs up on my lap just because, a meal is enjoyed by all who join together.
I know I barter for these moments by giving up some piece of me, knowing the sowing of self will reap the rich harvest of an overflowing heart.
From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention… pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.
Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.
Is it too much to say that Stop, Look, and Listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to history is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power-plays, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.
And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.
In a letter to a friend Emily Dickinson wrote that “Consider the lilies of the field” was the only commandment she never broke. She could have done a lot worse. Consider the lilies. It is the sine qua non of art and religion both. ~Frederick Buechner from Whistling in the Dark
I have broken the commandment to “consider the lilies” way too many times. In my daily life I am considering almost anything else: my own worries and concerns as I walk past so much beauty and meaning and holiness. My mind dwells within, blind and deaf to what is outside.
It is necessary to be reminded every day that I need to pay attention beyond myself, to be reminded to love my neighbor, to remember what history has to teach us, to search for the sacred in all things.
Stop, Look, Listen, Consider: all is grace, all is gift, all is holiness brought to life – stunning, amazing, wondrous.
“Why, what’s the matter, That you have such a February face, So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?” – William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
February never fails to be seductive, teasing of spring on a bright sunny day and the next day all hope is dashed by a frosty wind cutting through layers of clothing. There is a hint of green in the pastures but the deepening mud is sucking at our boots. The snowdrops and crocus are up and blooming, but the brown leaves from last summer still cling tenaciously to oak branches, appearing as if they will never ever let go to make room for a new leaf crop.
A February face is tear-streaked and weepy, winter weary and spring hungry. Thank goodness it is a short month or we’d never survive the glumminess of a month that can’t quite decide whether it is done with us or not.
So much ado. So much nothing. So much anything that becomes everything.
…this has been a day of grace in the dead of winter, the hard knuckle of the year, a day that unwrapped itself like an unexpected gift, and the stars turn on, order themselves into the winter night. ~Barbara Crooker from Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems
…it’s easy to forget that the ordinary is just the extraordinary that’s happened over and over again. Sometimes the beauty of your life is apparent. Sometimes you have to go looking for it. And just because you have to look for it doesn’t mean it’s not there. God, grant me the grace of a normal day. ~Billy Coffey
…there is no such thing as a charmed life, not for any of us, no matter where we live or how mindfully we attend to the tasks at hand. But there are charmed moments, all the time, in every life and in every day, if we are only awake enough to experience them when they come and wise enough to appreciate them. ~Katrina Kenison from The Gift of an Ordinary Day
These dead of winter days are lengthening, slowly and surely, but I still leave the farm in darkness to head to my work in town, and I return in darkness at the end of the workday. Barn chores at either end of the day happen under moonlight and starlight.
Each day, so extraordinary in its ordinariness, is full of grace if I awake to really see it, even under cover of darkness.
The bones of the trees, and the bones of me, illuminated.
We praise thee, O God, for thy glory displayed in all the creatures of the earth, In the snow, in the rain, in the wind, in the storm; in all of thy creatures, both the hunters and the hunted… They affirm thee in living; all things affirm thee in living; the bird in the air, both the hawk and the finch; the beast on the earth, both the wolf and the lamb;… Therefore man, whom thou hast made to be conscious of thee, must consciously praise thee, in thought and in word and in deed. Even with the hand to the broom, the back bent in laying the fire, the knee bent in cleaning the hearth… The back bent under toil, the knee bent under sin, the hands to the face under fear, the head bent under grief, Even in us the voices of the seasons, the snuffle of winter, the song of spring, the drone of summer, the voices of beasts and of birds, praise thee. ~T.S. Eliot fromMurder in the Cathedral
In the midst of all the snuffling viruses of winter, the back breaking daily work and labor:
this amazing glory happens this morning
the sky is afire with Him
I am reminded yet again all things affirm thee in living and so shall I.
If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. ― Rainer Maria Rilke
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. ~Mary Oliver
As a child, I would sometimes spend long rainy afternoons languishing on the couch, complaining to my mother how boring life was.
Her typical response was to remind me my boredom said more about me than about life– I became the accused, rather than the accuser, failing to summon up life’s riches.
Thus convicted, my sentence followed: she would promptly give me chores to do. I learned not to voice my complaints about how boring life seemed, because it always meant work.
Some things haven’t changed, even fifty-some years later. Whenever I am tempted to feel frustrated or pitiful or bored, accusing my life of being poor or unfair, I need to remember what that says about me. If I’m not poet enough to recognize the Creator’s brilliance in every slant of light or every molecule, then it is my poverty I’m accusing, not His.
So – back to the work of paying attention and being astonished. There is a life to be lived and almost always something to say about it.
I have a small grain of hope–
one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.
I need more.
I break off a fragment to send you.
Please take this grain of a grain of hope so that mine won’t shrink.
Please share your fragment so that yours will grow.
Only so, by division, will hope increase,
like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source–
clumsy and earth-covered–
~Denise Levertov “For the New Year, 1981”
One autumn years ago, my sister-in-law brought several paper bags full of iris roots resting solemnly in earth-covered clumps: dirt–dry misshaped feet and fingers crippled with potential. Her garden had become overcrowded and for her iris to continue to thrive, she needed to divide and share the roots.
We were late getting them into the ground but their clustered grace rose up forgiving us our clumsiness. They took hold and transformed our little courtyard into a Van Gogh landscape.
These iris will continue to gladden our hearts until we too must divide them to pass on their gift of beauty to another garden. This act– “by division, will hope increase”–feels radical yet that is exactly what God did in sending His Son to become earth-covered.
A part of God was broken off to put down roots, grow, thrive and be divided, over and over and over again to increase the beauty and grace for those of us limited to this soil.
Each spring our garden blooms so all can see and know: hope lives here —
even in the last few hours of an old and tired year
passing haltingly, hesitantly
into something brand new.