Sparkled and Blazed

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.

A book of beauty in word and photography, available for order here:

Another Way Home

I do remember darkness, how it snaked
through the alders, their ashen flanks
in our high-beams the color of stone.
That hollow slap as floodwater hit
the sides of the car. Was the radio on?
Had I been asleep?
Sometimes you have to tell a story
your entire life to get it right.

Twenty-two and terrified, I had married you
but barely knew you. And for forty years
I’ve told this story wrong. In my memory
you drove right through it, the river
already rising on the road behind us,
no turning around.
But since your illness I recall it
differently. Now that I know it’s possible
to lose you, I’m finally remembering
it right. That night,
you threw that car in reverse,
and gunned it. You found us
another way home.
~Emily Ransdell, “Everywhere a River,” from New Letters

When life gets scary, we long for rescue as the world threatens to overwhelm us. And eventually it is true, this world will overwhelm us, and we’ll wonder how we will escape.

Where does our help come from?

It doesn’t always come from the direction we expect. Most often, we keep staring ahead, hoping somehow salvation lies just around the corner.

But salvation has been behind us all the while. We were created saved but need to believe it, live it out, share it with anyone open to listen.

We all need to trust in the Rescuer when we are stuck and flooded with life. It takes courage, faith and grace to be led home, either straight ahead or back the way we came.

Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 1:

Q.What is your only comfort in life and death?
A.That I am not my own, 1
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death, 
2to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 
3He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood, 
4and has set me free
from all the power of the devil. 
5He also preserves me in such a way 
6that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head; 
7indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation. 
8Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life 
9and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him

A book of beauty and hope in words and photography, available for order here:

The Way I Might Have Gone

Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day,
I paused and said, ‘I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.’
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went through. The view was all in lines
Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather—
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled—and measured, four by four by eight.

And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year’s cutting,
Or even last year’s or the year’s before.
The wood was gray and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labor of his ax,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could

With the slow smokeless burning of decay.
~Robert Frost, “The Wood-pile” from North of Boston

My labor is usually done with fervor and purpose, but there are times when I do not experience the fruits of my labor. It is left to smolder slowly to decay rather than provide the intended warmth and nurture of a fresh hearthfire.

I might have chosen a different way to go if I had known.

Perhaps I will simply follow the birds instead…

fire photo by Josh Scholten

A book of beauty in words and photography is available for order here:

To a Heaven of Impermanence

In heaven it is always autumn.
~John Donne

The leaves are always near to falling there
but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking
heaven’s paths no longer feel the weight of years upon them.
Safe in heaven’s calm, they take each other’s arm,
the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone.
But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept
as Eden would be with the walls knocked down,
    the paths littered
with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes
for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling
the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome.
The last roses of the year nod their frail heads,
like listeners listening to all that’s said, to ask,
What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light?
What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom?
What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare?
Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might,
if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves,
tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere.
It is the last of many last days. Is it enough?
To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun?
To watch the lineaments of a world passing?
To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal,
press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds
pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow?
And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun
    shining brightly

as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure
leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth.
My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been.
To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence
where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening.
The light is gold. And while we’re here, I think it must
    be heaven.
~Elizabeth Spires “In Heaven It Is Always Autumn” from Now the Green Blade Rises

I wander the autumn garden mystified at the passing of the weeks since the seed was first sown, weeds pulled, peapods picked. It could not possibly be done so soon–this patch of productivity and beauty, now wilted and brown, vines crushed to the ground, no longer fruitful.

The root cellar is filling up, the freezer is packed.  The work of putting away is almost done.

So why do I go back to the now barren soil we so carefully worked, numb in the knowledge I will pick no more this season, nor feel the burst of a cherry tomato exploding in my mouth or the green freshness of a bean or peapod straight off the vine?

Because for a few fertile weeks, only a few weeks, the garden was a bit of heaven on earth, impermanent but a real taste nonetheless.   We may have once mistaken our Lord for the gardener when He appeared to us radiant, suddenly unfamiliar, but it was He who offered us the care of the garden, to bring in the sheaves, to share the forever mercies in the form of daily bread grown right here and now.

When He says my name, then I will know Him. 
He will lead me farther than I have ever been.

A book of beauty in words and photography is available to order here:

What Falling Leaves Disclose

And Is it not enough that every year
A richly laden autumn should unfold
And shimmer into being leaf by leaf,
It’s scattered ochres mirrored everywhere
In hints and glints of hidden red and gold
Threaded like memory through loss and grief,
When dusk descends, when branches are unveiled,
When roots reach deeper than our minds can feel
And ready us for winter with strange calm,
That I should see the inner tree revealed
And know its beauty as the bright leaves fall
And feel its truth within me as I am?

It is not yet enough. So I must try,
In my poor turn, to help you see it too,
As though these leaves could be as rich as those,
That red and gold might glimmer in your eye,
That autumn might unfold again in you,
Feeling with me what falling leaves disclose.

~Malcolm Guite from “And is it Not Enough?”

As the rains return,
and the leaves turn and fall,
we shelter together,
blessed by years and miles,
our unknown becoming known,
our understanding of nakedness
breathed in silence.

Though we be gray as the clouds above,
our hearts beat in synchrony
each pulsing moment
more sacred than our last.

More beauty in words and photography in this book, available to order here:

Listen for Returning Feet

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.

A dichotomy of sweet peas and pumpkins in October

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In My Hunger

I made for grief a leaden bowl
and drank it, every drop.
And though I thought I’d downed it all
the hurting didn’t stop.

I made of hope a golden sieve
to drain my world of pain.
Though I was sure I’d bled it dry
the void filled up again.

I made of words a silver fork
and stabbed love in the heart,
and when I found the sweetness gone
I chewed it into art.
~Luci Shaw “What I Needed to Do”

How can I stow away our hurt and grief
when it keeps refilling, leaking everywhere?
Where can hope be found when all feels hopeless?
When I have been loved beyond all measure,
with bleeding hands and feet and side;
why not turn to the Word,
its sweetness never exhausted
no matter how often I chew through it
in my hunger.

A book of art in words and photography, available to order here:

October Colors Shout and Sing

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.

A book of beauty in words and photography, available to order here:

Eavesdropping on Private Voices

When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
whispers.
                   My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
                                               I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
peacefully.
~Denise Levertov, “Aware” from This Great Unknowing.

I need to be cautious or I also would be swallowed up inch by inch by a variety of vines surrounding our home and farm buildings. Between the ivy, Virginia creeper and our opportunistic ubiquitous blackberry vines, I’m mere audience to their varied plans of expansive world domination.

As part of generations of human creep, I can’t indict the vines as aggressive interlopers for going where no vine has gone before. Much human migration has been out of necessity due to inadequate food sources or inhospitable circumstances. Some is due to a spirit of adventure and desire for new places to explore. Nevertheless, we human vines end up dominating places where we may not be really welcome.

So we human vines whisper together conspiratorially about where to send out our tendrils next, never asking permission, only sometimes asking for forgiveness later.

I can’t help but listen to those private voices – one of which is my own – who feel discontented with the “here and now” — we suspect somewhere else may be better. Rather than choose to stay and flourish in place, we keep creeping and overwhelming our surroundings.

Dear human vines: creep gently with sensitivity for the ground you occupy. Don’t block the sun from others or quench yourself while others thirst. Be kind and make the spot you cover more beautiful than it was before.https://barnstorming.blog/new-book-available-almanac-of-quiet-days/

A book of beauty in words and photography

Like a Passing Smile

The morning glories
bloom, securing the gate
in the old fence
~Matsuo Basho Haiku

Was it worthwhile to paint so fair
The every leaf – to vein with faultless art
Each petal, taking the boon light and air
Of summer so to heart?

To bring thy beauty unto a perfect flower,
Then like a passing fragrance or a smile
Vanish away, beyond recovery’s power –
Was it, frail bloom, worthwhile?

Thy silence answers: “Life was mine!
And I, who pass without regret or grief,
Have cared the more to make my moment fine,
Because it was so brief.

In its first radiance I have seen
The sun! – Why tarry then till comes the night?
I go my way, content that I have been
Part of the morning light!”
~Florence Earle Coates “The Morning Glory”

I am alive — I guess —
The Branches on my Hand
Are full of Morning Glory —

~Emily Dickinson

Can I too unfurl with joy in the morning light, knowing I will wilt and wither at the end of the day? Will I live fully open to this day, unconcerned about tomorrow?

God intended for us to tend His garden yet He continually tends us. We mess up and are given a daily opportunity to make it right. I am alive – no question – to try to make this day better.

I blossom under His tending and like a passing smile, I leave without grief or regret.

A book of beauty in words and photos, available to order