O Lord, The house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it that you may enter in. ~Augustine of Hippo
…the miracle of God comes not only from above; it also comes through us; it is also dwelling in us. It has been given to every person, and it lies in every soul as something divine, and it waits. Calling, it waits for the hour when the soul shall open itself, having found its God and its home. When this is so, the soul will not keep its wealth to itself, but will let it flow out into the world. ~Eberhard Arnold
…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:14
When I feel squeezed through a narrow passage, compressed by the pressures of life from all sides, discouraged by limitations, unable to clearly see ahead or behind, longing for wide open spaces, of being able to once again do anything, go anywhere, feel anything I please~
I remember how this path was a choice, it is the way I will go, one step at a time. No one, certainly not God, promised an easy journey.
Yet He promised He would light the way to walk alongside me so I do not dwell in darkness.
I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October. The sunshine is peculiarly genial; and in sheltered places, as on the side of a bank, or of a barn or house, one becomes acquainted and friendly with the sunshine. It seems to be of a kindly and homely nature. And the green grass strewn with a few withered leaves looks the more green and beautiful for them. ~Nathaniel Hawthornefrom The American Notebooks
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
If I were a month, I would choose to be October: bathed by a genial and friendly sun, within a kindly and homely nature, slowly withering, yet still crisp, with mild temperature and modest temperament despite a rain and wind storm or two, only once in a while foggy.
Most of all, I would cherish my flashes of burnt umber as I reluctantly relinquish the light.
If we could, like the trees, practice dying, do it every year just as something we do— like going on vacation or celebrating birthdays— it would become as easy a part of us as our hair or clothing.
Someone would show us how to lie down and fade away as if in deepest meditation, and we would learn about the fine dark emptiness, both knowing it and not knowing it, and coming back would be irrelevant.
Whatever it is the trees know when they stand undone, surprisingly intricate, we need to know also so we can allow that last thing to happen to us as if it were only any ordinary thing,
leaves and lives falling away, the spirit, complex, waiting in the fine darkness to learn which way it will go. ~Grace Butcher, “Learning from Trees” from Poetry of Presence
If I were to die as a leaf, I would want to change my clothes just bit by bit, overnight oozing gradually to scarlet, bleeding into the green a little bit more, until I’m so unrecognizable, I’ll seem brand new.
That would be ideal.
The reality is a fading to grey and brown, my edges withered and torn, bug-bitten with holes and weather-beaten bruised, dangling and fearful of letting go and so forgotten.
So I remember: no one, not one, falls without its Maker knowing. No one, not one, dies without being made brand new.
We walked at the edge of the sea, the dog, still young then, running ahead of us.
Few people. Gulls. A flock of pelicans circled beyond the swells, then closed their wings and dropped head-long into the dazzle of light and sea. You clapped your hands; the day grew brilliant.
Later we sat at a small table with wine and food that tasted of the sea.
A perfect day, we said to one another, so that even when the day ended and the lights of houses among the hills came on like a scattering of embers, we watched it leave without regret.
That night, easing myself toward sleep, I thought how blindly we stumble ahead with such hope, a light flares briefly—Ah, Happiness! then we turn and go on our way again.
But happiness, too, goes on its way, and years from where we were, I lie awake in the dark and suddenly it returns— that day by the sea, that happiness,
though it is not the same happiness, not the same darkness. ~Peter Everwine, “The Day,” from New Letters
The traumas of the past may revisit me in the night as they linger in the fringes of my mind, ready to creep back into my consciousness in times of stress. When I feel vulnerable and weak, I remind myself that past darkness must not overpower my nights. I try to call up different memories to push the sadness or fear back to the periphery.
So I return to my visits to the sea.
During those halcyon days, I was surrounded by beauty, of peacefulness, of family come together in warmth and closeness. Those times we’ve spent on the coast are treasures to open when I need them — breathing deeply of the sea, hearing the rhythm of the waves and feeling the cool breezes once again on my skin.
The memories themselves become precious reservoirs of happiness – readily renewed and refreshed. The darkness is overwhelmed, no longer overwhelming. Instead, it retreats from the shore of my mind like a wave pulls back into the depths of an endless sea.
Here we sit as evening falls Like old horses in their stalls. Thank you, Father, that you bless Us with food and an address And the comfort of your hand In this great and blessed land. Look around at each dear face, Keep each one in your good grace. We think of those who went before, And wish we could have loved them more. Grant to us a cheerful heart, Knowing we must soon depart To that far land to be with them. And now let’s eat. Praise God. Amen. ~Gary Johnson “Table Grace”
The world begins at a kitchen table. No Matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite. ~Joy Harjo “Perhaps the World Ends Here”
Our life revolves around the table, whether at home or at church.
This is where we hang out late into the evening, and begin the day before dawn.
This is where prayers happen, the meals happen, the arguments happen. This is where we listen to, understand and love each other.
This is where we share what we have and eat and are fed and this is where God provides for us daily.
One of the hardest parts of the pandemic is that the virus finds people who sing and talk together around a table, and who take off their masks to eat together. Truly this Enemy has found a way to keep people away from one another, caring for one another and being nourished together.
We think of those who went before and wish that we could have loved them more.
Let us love one another now, while we can, when we can, and we shall feast together later.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
Sheep will not eat it nor horses nor cattle unless they are starving. Unchecked, it will sprawl over pasture and meadow choking the sweet grass defeating the clover until you are driven to take arms against it but if unthinking you grasp it barehanded you will need tweezers to pick out the stickers.
Outlawed in most Northern states of the Union still it jumps borders. Its taproot runs deeper than underground rivers and once it’s been severed by breadknife or shovel —two popular methods employed by the desperate— the bits that remain will spring up like dragons’ teeth a field full of soldiers their spines at the ready.
Bright little bursts of chrome yellow explode from the thistle in autumn when goldfinches gorge on the seeds of its flower. The ones left uneaten dry up and pop open and parachutes carry their procreant power to disparate venues in each hemisphere which is why there will always be thistle next year. ~Maxine Kumin “Why There Will Always Be Thistle” from The Long Marriage.
Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men Thistles spike the summer air And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.
Every one a revengeful burst Of resurrection, a grasped fistful Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up
From the underground stain of a decayed Viking. They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects. Every one manages a plume of blood.
Then they grow grey, like men. Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear, Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground. ~Ted Hughes “Thistles”
Reluctantly the summer goes In a cloud of thistledown. ~Beverly Ashour from “September”
It is armored, it is deeply rooted, it is relentless. Highly ambitious, it produces downy tasty dancing seeds ready to soar far. Generation after generation of thistles persist due to this delicate ballerinas’ flight to the next horizon.
I should be strive to be as persistent, as rooted, as determined, yet as fluffy and tender under my defensive prickles and spines.
And then, may I softly dance in the journey to the next life.
Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.
He loved mountains, or he has loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire. ~J.R.R. Tolkienfrom The Lord of the Rings
Yesterday afternoon we drove up the highway an hour or so to be witness to grander things than our own worries or the chaos of election season.
There is always that moment when we turn the bend into Heather Meadows and Mount Shuksan suddenly appears, overwhelming the landscape and everything and everyone else. There is simply nothing else to look at so I stand there gawking, forgetting to breathe.
Then I realize that I have become more self-conscious rather than less: here am I at the foot of this incredible creation, wondering at how blessed I am to be there, and that moment becomes all about me. The mountain has been here for eons and will continue to be here for eons, and I’m merely a momentary witness.
We had left behind all the divisiveness and drama and talking heads: up in the mountains there was such sheer stillness all around us – nary a breeze or a bird call or even a bug making ripples on the lakes to spoil the perfect reflection.
I brought these images back with me to remember my moment of awestruck witness. The photographic image isn’t the real mountain, it isn’t even the pristine perfect reflection. Yet it means I was privileged to watch the mountain watching me back, welcoming me home.
The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. ~ C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
All men die. Not all men really live. ~William Wallace
Life — the temptation is always to reduce it to size. A bowl of cherries. A rat race. Amino acids. Even to call it a mystery smacks of reductionism. It is THE mystery.
After lecturing learnedly on miracles, a great theologian was asked to give a specific example of one. ‘There is only one miracle,’ he answered. “It is life.”
Have you wept at anything during the past year? Has your heart beat faster at the sight of young beauty? Have you thought seriously about the fact that someday you are going to die?
More often than not, do you really listen when people are speaking to you, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak? Is there anybody you know in whose place, if one of you had to suffer great pain, you would volunteer yourself?
If your answer to all or most of these questions is no, the chances are that you’re dead. ~Frederick Buechner from Listen to Your Life
I like mysteries if they are neatly solved between two book covers or contained within 90 minutes on a TV show.
Mysteries that don’t neatly resolve? Not so much. The uncertainty and unknowns can be paralyzing.
I am gifted the opportunity to witness miracles every day and the mystery is that I don’t often recognize them. I’m too “in my own head” to see.
If I weep, which I do more often than is comfortable to admit, am I weeping for something other than myself? If I listen, which I like to think I do well in my profession, but not as well in my personal life, do I really hear the perspective from another life and world view? If I become aware of someone’s suffering, am I willing to become uncomfortable myself to ease another’s pain?
I am being tested in these days of disrupted routines and potential threats to my health and well-being. Do I hunker down defensively or reach out unselfishly to make the best of the days that are left to me?
The mystery of when I will die can’t be solved until that moment comes, and I can’t be paralyzed by that unknown. But the everyday miracles of life are large and small and grand and plentiful and hidden in plain sight. I want to live every moment as their witness.
After dinner, I try to digest kale and cauliflower in my longing to live longer, and a root-beer float in case my world ends tomorrow.
I play the gamble game with exercise and diet, reminded daily by obituaries featuring people younger than me: the impossible becoming likely.
I want to go out full, embraced by my life, the grand quilt of being here. Yet memories are remnants, and come one patch at a time. And like moments, most fade unnoticed.
After a storm, I take a walk. At the jasmine vine by my front door, a raindrop, suspended on a stem, stops me. What I want, what I can have, merge. ~Jeanie Greensfelder “What I Want and What I Can Have” from I Got What I Came For
My life looks like a quilt of patches and patterns, sometimes with no discernible plan or design, sometimes with distinct colors and borders and purpose.
I easily get lost in a maze of moments and memories searching for what I want, missing the point of embracing all the senses I have, so generously given to me at the Beginning.
Seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching: each is still available to me. What I have – miraculously – can become what I want.