Out through the fields and the woods And over the walls I have wended; I have climbed the hills of view And looked at the world, and descended; I have come by the highway home, And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground, Save those that the oak is keeping To ravel them one by one And let them go scraping and creeping Out over the crusted snow, When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still, No longer blown hither and thither; The last lone aster is gone; The flowers of the witch hazel wither; The heart is still aching to seek, But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man Was it ever less than a treason To go with the drift of things, To yield with a grace to reason, And bow and accept the end Of a love or a season? ~Robert Frost “Reluctance”
As I kick through piles of fallen leaves in the barnyard, I realize how close I am to becoming one of them. Within my own seasons, I have flourished and bloomed and fruited, but, with aging, am now reminded of my fading, withering and eventual letting go. I find I’m not nearly so bold anymore, instead trembling nervously when harsh winds blow me about.
I have come to question the stability of the stems, branches, trunk and roots I’ve always depended upon. Will they continue to nourish and sustain me?
Everything feels transitory — especially me.
When these thoughts overwhelm, I tend to hang on tighter rather than simply giving up and letting go. My feet stumble when I try to do the same tasks I did so smoothly years ago. I am easily torn, broken and full of holes. No graceful bow from me; I’m stubbornly wanting things to stay the same, reluctant for a transition to something different.
My only solace is that the heart of man — indeed my own holey heart — is transient compared to the holy Heart of God. I am sustained by His steady Pulse, His ubiquitous Circulation, His impeccable Rhythm of Life and Death.
In that I trust. In that I come to abandon my stubborn reluctance.
She raised her face, shining, and found her mirror in <his> eyes. I saw them look at each other, and felt the tears prickle behind my lids. ~Diana Gabaldon from Voyager
I leaned over his shoulder now and deposited a bowl of oatmeal in front of him, a smile hiding in his eyes, caught my hand and kissed it lightly. He let me go, and went back to his parritch. I touched the back of his neck, and saw the smile spread to his mouth. I looked up, smiling myself, and found Brianna watching. One corner of her mouth turned up, and her eyes were warm with understanding. Then I saw her gaze shift to Roger, who was spooning in his parritch in an absentminded sort of way, his gaze intent on her. ~Diana Gabaldon from Drums of Autumn
Occasionally books and movies get it right. If they really want to show two people in love with each other, it does not require states of undress, or acrobatic clinches, or lots of heavy breathing.
All the movie needs is “that look”.
Some call it “locked eyes” or the “the held intense gaze” or “gazing longingly”. It’s not ogling or lurid or lusty.
It is the look that confirms: “I want to look into your eyes forever and stay lost there.”
It works for me every time because I am lucky enough to know what it feels like. I get that butterfly in the stomach feeling anytime it happens. My husband held my eyes with his from across a room early in our relationship, and forty years later, he still holds them when he looks at me. And I look at him just that way as well. The eyes say what there are no words for. The eyes don’t lie, being both mirror and reflection, as they are portal to both the mind and heart. The eyes never change even though the years bring gray hair and crow’s feet.
The “look” says “I want to look at you forever, just like this, just as you are, wherever you are — because of who you are.”
Then summer fades and passes and October comes and goes. We’ll smell smoke then, and feel an unexpected sharpness, a thrill of nervousness, swift elation, a sense of sadness and departure. ~ Thomas Wolfe
November begins bittersweet, heralding the inevitable slow down to winter stillness.
The garden is put to bed, lawnmowers put away, pruning shears not yet readied for the work of refinement and shaping.
The air sparkles, sharp-edged in the lungs.
I am never ready for this crush of dark hours descending so quickly. Yet it comes with the promise of the light to come.
And so we wait on the known and patiently ponder the unknown.
Autumn in my part of the world is a season of bounty and beauty. It’s also a season of steady decline—and, for some of us, a slow slide into melancholy. The days become shorter and colder, the trees shed their glory, and summer’s abundance starts to decay toward winter’s death.
I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about fall and its sensuous delights.
Then I began to understand a simple fact: All the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as Earth prepares for yet another uprising of green. ~ Parker J. Palmer from On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old
A fine rain was falling, and the landscape was that of autumn. The sky was hung with various shades of gray, and mists hovered about the distant mountains – a melancholy nature. Every landscape is, as it were, a state of the soul, and whoever penetrates into both is astonished to find how much likeness there is in each detail. ~Henri Frederic Amiel
A melancholic first glance~ rain droplets glisten bejeweled when studied up close.
It isn’t all sadness~ there is solace in knowing the landscape and I share an inner world of change: both promises and tears.
I spent this morning adjusting to this change in season by occupying myself with the familiar task of moving manure. Cleaning barn is a comforting chore, allowing me to transform tangible benefit from something objectionable and just plain stinky to the nurturing fertilizer of the future. It feels like I’ve actually accomplished something.
As I scooped and pushed the wheelbarrow, I remembered another barn cleaning twenty years ago, when I was one of three or four friends left cleaning over ninety stalls after a Haflinger horse event that I had organized at our local fairgrounds. Some people had brought their horses from over 1000 miles away to participate for several days. Whenever horse people gather, there were personality clashes and harsh words among some participants along with criticism directed at me that I had taken very personally. As I struggled with the umpteenth wheelbarrow load of manure, tears stung my eyes and my heart. I was miserable with regrets. After going without sleep and making personal sacrifices over many months planning and preparing for the benefit of our group, my work felt like it had not been acknowledged or appreciated.
My friend Jenny had stayed behind with her family to help clean up the large facility and she could see I was struggling to keep my composure. Jenny put herself right in front of my wheelbarrow and looked me in the eye, insisting I stop for a moment and listen.
“You know, none of these troubles and conflicts will amount to a hill of beans years from now. People will remember a fun event in a beautiful part of the country, a wonderful time with their horses, their friends and family, and they’ll be all nostalgic about it, not giving a thought to the infighting or the sour attitudes or who said what to whom. So don’t make this about you and whether you did or didn’t make everyone happy. You loved us all enough to make it possible to meet here and the rest was up to us. So quit being upset about what you can’t change. There’s too much you can still do for us.”
During tough times which still come often in my professional life, Jenny’s advice replays, reminding me to stop seeking appreciation from others, or feeling hurt when harsh words come my way. She was right about the balm found in the tincture of time and she was right about giving up the upset in order to die to self and self absorption, and keep focusing outward.
Jenny, I have remembered what you said even though sometimes I emotionally relapse and forget.
Jenny herself spent the next six years literally dying, while vigorously living her life every day, fighting a relentless cancer that was initially helpless in the face of her faith and intense drive to live. She became a rusting leaf, fading imperceptibly over time, crumbling at the edges until she finally let go. Her dying did not flash brilliance, nor draw attention at the end. Her intense focus during the years of her illness had always been outward to others, to her family and friends, to the healers she spent so much time with in medical offices, to her belief in the plan God had written for her and others.
Despite her intense love for her husband and young children, she had to let go her hold on life here. And we all had to let her go.
Brilliance cloaks her as her focus is now on things eternal.
You were so right, Jenny. No conflicts from twenty years ago amounted to a hill of beans; all is remembered fondly by those who were part of the gathering. I especially treasure the words you wisely spoke to me.
And I’m no longer upset that I can’t change the fact that you have left us. There is still so much you do for us, alive in our memories.
Definite beliefs are what make the radical mystery — those moments when we suddenly know there is a God about whom we “know” absolutely nothing –– accessible to us and our ordinary, unmysterious lives.
And more crucially: definite beliefs enable us to withstand the storms of suffering that come into every life, and that tend to destroy any spiritual disposition that does not have deep roots. ~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss
Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. ~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk
Unexpected God, your advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your coming, and bend our angers into your peace. Amen. ~Revised Common Lectionary First Sunday of Advent
We are only a few weeks away from the beginning of Advent, a time when I am very guilty of blithely invoking the gentle story of Christmas Eve’s silent night, the sleeping infant away in a manger, the devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door.
The reality, I’m confident, was far different.
There was nothing gentle about a teenage mother giving birth in a stable, laying her baby in a feed trough–I’m sure there were times when Mary could have used a life preserver. There was nothing gentle about the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds, shouting and singing the glories and leaving them “sore afraid.” The shepherds needed crash helmets. There was nothing gentle about Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he swept overboard a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered. There was nothing gentle about a family’s flight to Egypt to flee that fate for their only Son. There was nothing gentle about the life Jesus eventually led during his ministry: itinerant and homeless, tempted and fasting in the wilderness for forty days, owning nothing, rejected by his own people, betrayed by his disciples, sentenced to death by acclamation before Pilate, tortured and hung on a cross until he took his last breath.
Yet he understood the power that originally brought him to earth and would return him to heaven, and back again someday. No signal flares needed there.
When I hear skeptics scoff at Christianity as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate the courage it takes to walk into church each week as a desperate person who will never ever save oneself. We cling to the life preserver found in the Word, lashed to our seats and hanging on. It is only because of grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt to let go of our own anger in order to confront the reality of the radical mystery of God.
It is not for the faint of heart, this finding a “definite belief” within our ordinary unmysterious lives and giving it deep roots to thrive. It is reasonable and necessary to be “sore afraid” and “bend our anger” into His peace.