Sundays too my father got up early And put his clothes on in the blueback cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? – Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays
As a child growing up, I was oblivious to the sacrifices my parents made to keep the house warm, place food on the table, to teach us the importance of faith and belief, to crack the door of opportunity open, so we could walk through to a better life.
It was no small offering to keep dry seasoned fire and stove wood always at the doorstep, to milk the cows twice a day, to grow and preserve fruits and vegetables months in advance, to raise and butcher meat animals, to read books together every night, to sit with us over homework and drive us to 4H, Cub Scouts and Camp Fire, to music lessons and sports, to sit together, never missing a Sunday morning, to worship God.
This was their love, so often invisible, too often imperfect, even when they were angry with one another– yet its encompassing warmth splintered and broke the grip of cold and loneliness that too often overwhelms and freezes a child’s heart and soul.
What did I know? Too little then, maybe a little more now.
This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight; The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves; The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves, And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows. Under a tree in the park, Two little boys, lying flat on their faces, Were carefully gathering red berries To put in a pasteboard box. Some day there will be no war, Then I shall take out this afternoon And turn it in my fingers, And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate, And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves. To-day I can only gather it And put it into my lunch-box, For I have time for nothing But the endeavour to balance myself Upon a broken world. ~Amy Lowell, “September, 1918” fromThe Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell
Am I the only one who awakes this morning with a prayer asking that today be the start of healing rather than conflict and hostility and pain, that the barbaric destruction of yesterday transform to reconciliation and understanding–
no more angry mobs, no more inciting speeches, no more windows bashed, no more doors breached, no more explosives hidden away, no more conspiracies hatched, no more untruths believed as gospel…
no more rising infection counts no more overflowing ICUs no more mounting deaths…
Am I the only one who awakes this morning with a prayer to seek only to celebrate the sunrise to watch the clouds glide past to praise God in His heaven to watch His Light slowly replenish itself after weeks – no, months – no, years – no, decades of darkness,
to take out this one day and taste it and find that it is good, especially in the midst of deprivation then put it away for self-keeping to share when and if I find someone else as hungry for grace and mercy as I am,
so as to balance myself somehow in the beauty of this world while teetering on its brokenness?
Let us step outside for a moment As the sun breaks through clouds And shines on wet new fallen snow, And breathe the new air. So much has died that had to die this year. We are dying away from things. It is a necessity—we have to do it Or we shall be buried under the magazines, The too many clothes, the too much food.
Let us step outside for a moment Among ocean, clouds, a white field, Islands floating in the distance. They have always been there. But we have not been there.
Already there are signs. Young people plant gardens. Fathers change their babies’ diapers And are learning to cook.
Let us step outside for a moment. It is all there Only we have been slow to arrive At a way of seeing it. Unless the gentle inherit the earth There will be no earth. ~May Sarton from “New Year Poem”
Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next. ~Frederick Buechnerfrom Beyond Words
This year I have been paying close attention to what makes me weep. During 2020, I have had more than ample opportunity to find out — from my tears — the secret of who I am, where I have come from, and for the salvation of my soul, where I am to be next.
My pockets contain hand sanitizer and kleenex, stowed right next to my mask.
In previous years, my tears flowed while spending time with far-flung children and grandchildren for the holidays — reading books and doing puzzles together and reminiscing about what has been and what could be. It was about singing grace together before a meal and my voice breaking with precious words of gratitude. My tears certainly had to do with bidding farewell until we meet again — gathering them in for that final hug and then that difficult letting-go and waving goodbye as they round the corner and disappear.
This year, that had to happen on a screen or from behind masks. No hugs hello or goodbye. None of the usual ways we celebrate together. I feel bereft as have countless other families around the globe. Some never had opportunity to say their final goodbye – too much has died this year.
As our children grew up, we encouraged them to go where their hearts told them they were needed and called to go, even if thousands of miles away from their one-time home on this farm. And so they went.
I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I learned to set my face toward the future, seeking how the sun might break through the clouds in my life. It led me to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, this church, to more tears and heartbreak, to more letting go. And it will continue if I’m granted more years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.
This year my tears flow for what could not be. For too many families, their tears flow for who now is missing and will never return. My tears flow for the pain and sadness of disagreement and angry words.
Spreading faster than COVID is the viral expansion of toxic misinformation and conspiracy theories sowing doubt and distrust. Masks are useless to protect people exposed to a deficiency of simple common sense.
So this is where I must go next: to love so much and so deeply that my tears might make a small difference to those around me, like the sun breaking through the clouds.
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:15
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple, Or cosy in a crib beside the font, But he is with a million displaced people| On the long road of weariness and want. For even as we sing our final carol His family is up and on that road, Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel, Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,| The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power, And death squads spread their curse across the world. But every Herod dies, and comes alone To stand before the Lamb upon the throne. ~Malcolm Guite from Waiting on the Word
…as you sit beneath your beautifully decorated tree, eat the rich food of celebration, and laugh with your loved ones, you must not let yourself forget the horror and violence at the beginning and end of the Christmas story. The story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.
Look into that manger representing a new life and see the One who came to die. Hear the angels’ celebratory song and remember that sad death would be the only way that peace would be given. Look at your tree and remember another tree – one not decorated with shining ornaments, but stained with the blood of God.
As you celebrate, remember that the pathway to your celebration was the death of the One you celebrate, and be thankful. ~Paul Tripp
There can be no consolation; only mourning and great weeping, sobbing that wrings dry every human cell, leaving dust behind– dust, only dust which is beginning and end.
He came to us for times such as this, born of the dust of woman and the breath of Spirit, God who bent down to lie in barn dust, walk on roads of dust, die and be laid to rest as dust in order to conquer such evil as this that could terrify masses and massacre innocents.
He became dust to be like us He began a mere speck in a womb like us, so easily washed away as unexpected, unneeded, unwanted.
Lord, You are long expected. You are needed You are wanted.
Your heart beat like ours breathing each breath like ours until a fearful fallen world took Your and our breath away.
You shine through the shadows of death to guide our stumbling uncertain feet. Your tender mercies flow freely when there is no consolation when there is no comfort.
You hear our cries as You cry too. You know our tears as You weep too. You know our mourning as You mourned too. You know our dying as You died too.
God weeps as tragedy happens. Evil comes not from God yet humankind embraces it. Sin is a choice we made from the beginning, a choice we continue to make.
Only God can glue together what evil has shattered. He just asks us to hand Him the pieces of our broken hearts.
We will know His peace when He comes to bring us home, our tears will finally be dried, our cells no longer just dust, never only dust as we are glued together by the breath of God forevermore.
the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1: 78-79
Was certainly not winter, scholars say, When holy habitation broke the chill Of hearth-felt separation, icy still, The love of life in man that Christmas day. Was autumn, rather, if seasons speak true; When green retreats from sight’s still ling’ring gaze, And creeping cold numbs sense in sundry ways, While settling silence speaks of solitude. Hope happens when conditions are as these; Comes finally lock-armed with death and sin, When deep’ning dark demands its full display. Then fallen nature driven to her knees Flames russet, auburn, orange fierce from within, And brush burns brighter for the growing grey. ~David Baird “Autumn”
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Watch for the Light
The shepherds were sore afraid. Why aren’t we?
The scholars say Christ was more likely born in the autumn of the year ~ so fitting, as the reds and oranges of fall fade fast as we descend into winter soon.
Murderous frosts have wilted down all that was flush with life and we are desperate for hope for renewal in the midst of the dying.
And so this babe has come like a refiner’s fire and we who have gotten too comfortable will feel the heat in the middle of the chill, no matter what time of year.
Hope happens when conditions are as these…
Deep in the cold of winter, Darkness and silence were eve’rywhere; Softly and clearly, there came through the stillness a wonderful sound, A wonderful sound to hear.
All bells in paradise I heard them ring, Sounding in majesty the news that they bring; All bells in paradise I heard them ring, Welcoming our Saviour, born on earth, a heavenly King.
Chorus: All bells in paradise, I heard them ring, ‘Glory to God on high’ the angel voices sing.
Lost in awe and wonder, Doubting I asked what this sign may be; Christ, our Messiah, revealed in a stable, A marvelous sight, a marvelous sight to see.
He comes down in peace, A child in humility, The keys to his kingdom belong to the poor; Before him shall kneel the kings with their treasures, Gold, incense, and myrrh.
Dearly. How was it used? Dearly beloved. Dearly beloved, we are gathered. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in this forgotten photo album I came upon recently.
Dearly beloved, gathered here together in this closed drawer, fading now, I miss you. I miss the missing, those who left earlier. I miss even those who are still here. I miss you all dearly. Dearly do I sorrow for you.
Sorrow: that’s another word you don’t hear much anymore. I sorrow dearly. ~Margaret Atwood from “Dearly”
A holiday without family is a day of longing and memories.
I did sorrow for those who were missing as they left us long ago and missed those who are still here but far away.
It is a bittersweet sorrow to be all together in a photo album, our color and youth fading along with our smiles.
Children who now have children of their own. Newlyweds who have become grandparents, trying to fit the shoes of those who came before.
And so, in our own leave-taking, we miss the missing. We miss who was, who would have been here if they could, and who will come to be the next in line that we may never meet.
The melon shades of leaves will soon rust and fall gently to layers of rest and forgetting, like sunken poems, unusual love, and grave silence after the crows.
The black walnut tree trembles down its mysterious spheres to sleep darkly, to pulse with memory of heartwood.
Old roses are paling with grace in this air of ruining tomorrows. Autumn again, and all the years twisting a garland of melancholy. ~Tim Buck, “Autumn” from VerseWrights Journal
The beauty around me is dying. It becomes harder to find vibrance and life in my surroundings in the volatility of deep autumn: a high wind warning is on the horizon in a few hours and we face a long winter as the uncontrolled pandemic continues unabated.
Those facts alone are enough to make me wander about the farm feeling melancholic. Even more than the loss of mere leaves and the fading of blooms is the reality of so many afflicted and infected people whose season for dying will come too soon.
Woe to us who are more concerned about our inconvenience and discomfort today than the months of ruined tomorrows for millions.
Lest it be forgotten in our bitterness – the promise of healing and renewal is also on the horizon.
May I listen for the pulse deep within the heartwood of each person with whom I have differences; my love for them must not fade nor wither but grow more graceful, more forgiving, more vibrant and beautiful by the day.
The wild November come at last Beneath a veil of rain; The night wind blows its folds aside – Her face is full of pain.
The latest of her race, she takes The Autumn’s vacant throne: She has but one short moon to live, And she must live alone.
A barren realm of withered fields, Bleak woods, and falling leaves, The palest morns that ever dawned; The dreariest of eves.
It is no wonder that she comes, Poor month! With tears of pain; For what can one so hopeless do But weep, and weep again? ~Richard Henry Stoddard “November”
Leaves wait as the reversal of wind comes to a stop. The stopped woods are seized of quiet; waiting for rain bird & bug conversations stutter to a stop.
…the rain begins to fall. Rain-strands, thin slips of vertical rivers, roll the shredded waters out of the cloud and dump them puddling to the ground.
Whatever crosses over through the wall of rain changes; old leaves are now gold. The wall is continuous, doorless. True, to get past this wall there’s no need for a door since it closes around me as I go through. ~Marie Ponsot from “End of October”
I reluctantly bid October good-bye to face forward into a darkening November.
Summer is mere memory now; all color drained from leaves fallen, dissolving in frost and rain.
There’s no turning around now that the clock has fallen back. We commit our stumbling feet to the path that trudges toward winter, silenced and seized by the relentless momentum of doorless darkness. There appears no escape hatch.
Yet when the light rises on the hills, even briefly, I feel a veil lift enough that I am able to see far beyond my reach. The horizon extends on and on forever and I only then I know I will endure another winter.
In the season leaves should love, since it gives them leave to move through the wind, towards the ground they were watching while they hung, legend says there is a seam stitching darkness like a name.
Now when dying grasses veil earth from the sky in one last pale wave, as autumn dies to bring winter back, and then the spring, we who die ourselves can peel back another kind of veil
that hangs among us like thick smoke. Tonight at last I feel it shake. I feel the nights stretching away thousands long behind the days till they reach the darkness where all of me is ancestor. ~Annie Finch, from “Samhain” from Eve
There is no denying I am composed of all of the hundreds (thousands?) of my ancestors, carrying their DNA in every cell of my body. Their traits and characteristics pulse continuously in my blood even when at times I wish they didn’t.
On the eve of All Hallow’s, we remember those from whom we come — all those spirited ghosts within our cells who shake and rattle a bit louder this time of year in the foggy darkness.
I wave at them warily from my perch in the 21st century.
I come from somber folk. That explains a lot.
I don’t mind all the peasant farmers I descend from though I wish I could turn off the genes that lead me to eat too much, and worry too much and my tendency toward the melancholy rather than the jocular. Somehow I have suppressed the tendency to drink too much and curse too much. I do come from a long line of believers in ghosts, so these days of Samhain and All Hallows’ tend to open those creaky doors of shivers and chills, so I avoid anything even remotely scary. It only encourages those strands of my DNA.
I am indeed made up of all-ancestor bits and pieces, and can’t deny it. There is some comfort in realizing there is nothing really brand new about me, so I try not to make a fool of myself on behalf of the hundreds of others sitting tidily wrapped up in my nuclei. There is additional comfort knowing a small part of me will continue in my descendants, who will ponder their family tree wondering which great-great-great-great grandparent passed down which annoying characteristic. I wave hopefully from the 21st century to those generations to come, to remind them not to forget those of us who came before. If there are spirits that come to visit on Samhain, I promise to be a friendly ghost.
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.