How late I came to love you, O Beauty so ancient and so fresh, how late I came to love you.
You were within me, yet I had gone outside to seek you.
Unlovely myself, I rushed toward all those lovely things you had made. And always you were with me. I was not with you.
All those beauties kept me far from you – although they would not have existed at all unless they had their being in you.
You called, you cried, you shattered my deafness.
You sparkled, you blazed, you drove away my blindness.
You shed your Fragrance, and I drew in my breath and I pant for you, I tasted and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and now I burn with longing. ~St. Augustine in Confessions
God spoke in His Word but I didn’t listen. God fed me but I chose junk food. God showed me beauty but I couldn’t see Him. God smelled like the finest rose but I turned away. God touched me but I was numb.
So He sent His Son as Word and food, beauty and fragrance, sparkling and blazing, reaching out broken hands so I would know my hunger and thirst is only and always for Him alone.
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I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen, of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been; Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were, with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair. I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green. I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago, and people who will see a world that I shall never know. But all the while I sit and think of times there were before, I listen for returning feet and voices at the door. ~J.R.R. Tolkien “Bilbo’s Song” from The Lord of the Rings
The shortening days make me greedy for what is left of daylight – watching the sky change by the hour, brown summer fields greening from rain, webs clinging when I pass.
More than anything, I hunker down, waiting for winter, knowing the quiet nights by the fire will restore me – hoping I’ll hear visitors at the door, those I love coming home to spend what time is left.
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After the keen still days of September, the October sun filled the world with mellow warmth… The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her… In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible. ~Elizabeth George Speare from The Witch of Blackbird Pond
On this early morning gray clouds lie heavy and unrelenting hovering low over the eastern hills, when a moment’s light snuck out from under the covers throwing back the blankets to glow golden over the mountain.
Only a minute of unexpected light underneath the gray gone in a heartbeat (as are we) yet O! the Glory when we too are luminous.
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They were smooth ovals, and some the shade of potatoes— some had been moth-eaten or spotted, the maples were starched, and crackled like campfire.
We put them under tracing paper and rubbed our crayons over them, X-raying the spread of their bones and black, veined catacombs.
We colored them green and brown and orange, and cut them out along the edges, labeling them deciduous or evergreen.
All day, in the stuffy air of the classroom, with its cockeyed globe, and nautical maps of ocean floors, I watched those leaves
lost in their own worlds flap on the pins of the bulletin boards: without branches or roots, or even a sky to hold on to. ~Judith Harris “Gathering Leaves in Grade School”
They are more like us than we care to admit: veined and ribbed, some wide, some thin, lots with sharp edges, others rounded, a variety of colors and shapes, twisting this way and that with the breeze, over-eager to let go, explore wide open spaces yet finding themselves blown and broken thrown far from home and roots with nothing left to hold on to, destined to dust, longing to return to branch and connection.
Even so- even so, when we are let go, we are thinking: oh, what a life!
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Under the harvest moon, When the soft silver Drips shimmering over the garden nights, Death, the gray mocker, Comes and whispers to you As a beautiful friend Who remembers.
Under the summer roses When the flagrant crimson Lurks in the dusk Of the wild red leaves, Love, with little hands, Comes and touches you With a thousand memories, And asks you Beautiful, unanswerable questions. ~Carl Sandburg, “Under the Harvest Moon”
As we enter the season of all that is lush and lovely which starts to wither and decay before our eyes, we know the flowers and trees aren’t alone. Death, whispering within its gray night’s cloak, has been stealing the young and old since time began, but never as boldly as during a pandemic. Millions of family members are left with nothing but bittersweet memories of their loved ones now buried deep.
The harvest moon – not nearly bright enough, as a poor reflection of the sun – mocks us who covet light during a rampage of contagious illness and death.
As we endure the searing beauty of yet another dying season, let us treasure those we protect through our care and concern. Let us cherish the memories of those we’ve lost. There can be only one answer to the unanswerable questions: Love itself died to become Salvation, an ever-sufficient Light that leads us home.
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The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. We cannot join ourselves to one another without giving our word. And this must be an unconditional giving, for in joining ourselves to one another we join ourselves to the unknown. ~Wendell Berry from “Poetry and Marriage” in Standing By Words
Our vows to one another forty years ago today:
Before God and this gathering, I vow from my heart and spirit that I will be your wife/husband for as long as we both shall live.
I will love you with faithfulness, knowing its importance in sustaining us through good times and bad.
I will love you with respect, serving your greatest good and supporting your continued growth.
I will love you with compassion, knowing the strength and power of forgiveness.
I will love you with hope, remembering our shared belief in the grace of God and His guidance of our marriage.
“And at home, by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be–and whenever I look up, there will be you.”
(our wedding vows for our September 19, 1981 wedding at First Seattle Christian Reformed Church — the last line adapted from Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd”)
Sometimes our life reminds me of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing and in that opening a house, an orchard and garden, comfortable shades, and flowers red and yellow in the sun, a pattern made in the light for the light to return to. The forest is mostly dark, its ways to be made anew day after day, the dark richer than the light and more blessed, provided we stay brave enough to keep on going in.
…Marriage… joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love, and trust one another brings them in the same breath into the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful, and joyful. The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to heaven and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds, and trust is its necessity. ~Wendell Berry from Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community
We married in our Seattle church with our pastor officiating, with a small group of family and friends as witnesses.
It was a wedding created by two frugal people with little to spend – I sewed my dress and Dan’s shirt from muslin, we grew our own flowers, our families helped potluck the lunch afterward and our tiered carrot cake was made by a friend.
Yet our vows to one another were not frugal and held nothing back. They were extravagant and comprehensive, coming from our hearts and spirits. The music we asked our amazing organist to play (versions below) inspired us by its simplicity and complexity – very much like the families that raised us and the God we worship.
Our vows have taken us from the city to the countryside, to the raising and rejoicing in three amazing children (each of whom wrote movingly to us today) and now four grandchildren. We served more than forty years as a public-employed attorney and physician, have laid down those responsibilities, and picked up the tools of farm and garden along with church and community service for as long as we are able.
We treasure each day of living together in faithfulness, respect, compassion and hope – knowing that how we love and find joy in one another mirrors how God loves and revels in His people.
We are praying for many more days to fill us with what endures.
A pot of red lentils simmers on the kitchen stove. All afternoon dense kernels surrender to the fertile juices, their tender bellies swelling with delight.
In the yard we plant rhubarb, cauliflower, and artichokes, cupping wet earth over tubers, our labor the germ of later sustenance and renewal.
Across the field the sound of a baby crying as we carry in the last carrots, whorls of butter lettuce, a basket of red potatoes.
I want to remember us this way— late September sun streaming through the window, bread loaves and golden bunches of grapes on the table, spoonfuls of hot soup rising to our lips, filling us with what endures. ~Peter Pereira from “A Pot of Red Lentils”
Here are versions of the organ music we selected for prelude, processional, recessional and postlude
And what if I never get it right, this loving, this giving of the self to the other? And what if I die
before learning how to offer my everything? What if, though I say I want this generous,
indefatigable love, what if I forever find a way to hold some corner back? I don’t want
to find out the answer to that. I want to be the sun that gives and gives until it burns out,
the sea that kisses the shore and only moves away so that it might rush up to kiss it again. ~ Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “And Again” from Hush
What is it about us that always holds something back when loving others, keeping in reserve some little piece of ourselves that we can’t quite let go?
Even so, we ourselves want to be loved wholly, fully, completely, unconditionally yet something in us doesn’t trust it could be true – we know how undeserving we are.
When we are offered such generous indefatigable love, we hold back part of ourselves because we are afraid we’ll be left desolate, never to be filled again – a sun burned out and darkened, a shore left high and dry.
Once we experience our Creator’s love as wholly generous, completely tireless and persistent, unconditionally grace-filled, we can stop fearing our emptiness.
He pours more than enough love into us without holding back, filling us so full that we might spill over to others, again and again and again, with our light and heart and spirit unbound.
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In the high woods that crest our hills, Upon a steep, rough slope of forest ground, Where few flowers grow, sweet blooms today I found Of the Autumn Crocus, blowing pale and fair. Dim falls the sunlight there; And a mild fragrance the lone thicket fills.
Languidly curved, the long white stems Their purple flowers’ gold treasure scarce display: Lost were their leaves since in the distant spring,
Their February sisters showed so gay. Roses of June, ye too have followed fleet! Forsaken now, and shaded as by thought, As by the human shade of thought and dreams, They bloom ‘mid the dark wood, whose air has wrought With what soft nights and mornings of still dew! Into their slender petals that clear hue, Like paleness in fresh cheeks; a thing On earth, I vowed, ne’er grew More delicately pure, more shyly sweet.
Child of the pensive autumn woods! So lovely, though thou dwell obscure and lone, And though thy flush and gaiety be gone; Say, among flowers of the sad, human mind, Where shall I ever find So rare a grace? in what shy solitudes? ~Robert Laurence Binyon “Autumn Crocus”
The early September emergence of autumn crocus is always unexpected, surprising even when I know where they hide in the shade of spent peony bushes.
They are bound in waning summer dreams beneath the surface, their incubation triggered by retreating light from above, unlike their springtime cousins who emerge to the sun through snow.
The autumn crocus waits with thoughtful temerity, summoned forth from earthly grime to remind us the end of summer is not the end of them or us.
A luminous gift of hope and beauty borne from a humble bulb; plain and only soil-adorned.
Slowly unfurling on a pale leggy stem, the tender lavender petals peel back to reveal golden crowns of saffron, brazenly blooming when all else is dying back.
In the end, they too painfully wilt, deeply bruised and purple – under the Sun’s reflection made manifest; returning defeated, inglorious, fallen, to dust.
Yet we know – they remind us – they (and we) will rise again.
…we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. . . It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer. C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock
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Let me enjoy this late-summer day of my heart while the leaves are still green and I won’t look so close as to see that first tint of pale yellow slowly creep in. I will cease endless running and then look to the sky ask the sun to embrace me and then hope she won’t tell of tomorrows less long than today. Let me spend just this time in the slow-cooling glow of warm afternoon light and I’d think I will still have the strength for just one more last fling of my heart. – Jonathan Bohrn, Late August
August rushes by like desert rainfall, A flood of frenzied upheaval, Expected, But still catching me unprepared. Like a match flame Bursting on the scene, Heat and haze of crimson sunsets. Like a dream Of moon and dark barely recalled, A moment, Shadows caught in a blink. Like a quick kiss; One wishes for more But it suddenly turns to leave, Dragging summer away. – Elizabeth Maua Taylor, August
I’m in the time of life when what is to come is ever so much shorter than what has been. I muse now at my sudden revelation as a five year old that a time would come when I would cease to be on this earth. I had no idea how soon that would come or whether I would have many years to think about how I might come to an end. That knowledge has colored all my days, knowing they are numbered and finite.
Now, like the drying leaves, I watch my edges curling and changing color in preparation – a kind of beauty preceding an eventual letting go.
I remember thinking, in my kindergarten-size brain, that I could not waste a minute of this life and needed to pay attention to everything. That has been much harder than I imagined: there is pain in attending to wars and famine, illness and injury, tragedy and tribulation. I was given my ears to hear, my eyes to see, my mouth to speak – for good reason. Though my heart hurts to read headlines, I must fling it into the messiness around me.
Even the leaves bleed red as tomorrow is less long.
It is the waning light and shortening days that colors my view like smoky haze in the sky painting a sunset deep orange. The coming darkness is temporary and, like me, is inevitably finite; it will never conquer the light that is everlasting.
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I dwell in Possibility – A fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars – Impregnable of eye – And for an everlasting Roof The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest – For Occupation – This – The spreading wide my narrow Hands To gather Paradise – ~Emily Dickinson
The possibilities contained within a Dickinson poem are doors and windows standing wide open for interpretation and comprehension. When I visit Emily’s dwelling full of mysterious capitalizations, inscrutable dashes and sideways rhymes, I am blind, get easily lost, stumbling over this and that, and end up wondering where she is leading me and how far I’m willing to go.
Yet she tells me – This – to get my attention, hold it fast, to look up and out, beyond, and into forever.
-This- is what I must do when I read her carefully chosen words and dashes -This- is what I ask of a reader who opens my email or comes to my daily post -This- is us dwelling in possibility for a moment or an eternity, all eyes and windows and doors wide open to grasp a glimpse of Paradise.
-This- is our hands spread, ready to gather, to hold, to embrace, to pray, to fold to prepare us for Whatever Comes Next…
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