Forgive me if I forget with the birdsong and the day’s last glow folding into the hands of the trees, forgive me the few syllables of the autumn crickets, the year’s last firefly winking like a penny in the shoulder’s weeds, if I forget the hour, if I forget the day as the evening star pours out its whiskey over the gravel and asphalt I’ve walked for years alone, if I startle when you put your hand in mine, if I wonder how long your light has taken to reach me here. ~Jake Adam York “Abide”
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me. ~Henry Lyte, from the hymn “Abide with Me”
A Peaceful Day on a Shaded Porch As a couple dozen Holstein cows Swaying their great udders march To the barn behind this house. We rock in the chairs, drinking tea, Thinking of the ones who died, Working this farm before you and me, Singing, “Fast falls the eventide,” Thinking of all they must do Before the end and the deep abyss, They took great comfort from this view On just such a peaceful day as this. Which says: our time is short, no time to waste. Let us improve today before we are replaced. ~Rozel Hunt, “A Peaceful Day on a Shaded Porch.”
On my grayest days, as transient as life can feel, I am no more than a raindrop on the fingertip of a glass blade.
We walk hand in hand, alongside ~abiding~ in Him whose Light reaches out even in the depths of our night.
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide, The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide When other helpers fail and comforts flee Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away Change and decay in all around I see O Thou who changest not, abide with me
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if Thou abide with me
I need thy presence every passing hour. What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who like thyself my guide and strength can be? Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me Abide with me, abide with me
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What’s incomplete in me seeks refuge in blackberry bramble and beech trees, where creatures live without dogma and water moves in patterns more ancient than philosophy. I stand still, child eavesdropping on her elders. I don’t speak the language but my body translates best it can, wakening skin and gut, summoning the long kinship we share with everything. ~Laura Grace Weldon, “Common Ground” from Blackbird
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things”
Nearly thirty months of pandemic separation and I long to share our farm with our far-flung grandchildren who live across the ocean, to watch them discover the joys and sorrows of this place we inhabit. I will tell them there is light beyond this darkness, there is refuge amid the brambles, there is kinship with what surrounds us, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness, there is rescue when all seems hopeless, there is grace as the old gives way to new.
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Two horses were put together in the same paddock. Night and day. In the night and in the day wet from heat and the chill of the wind on it. Muzzle to water, snorting, head swinging and the taste of bay in the shadowed air. The dignity of being. They slept that way, knowing each other always. Withers quivering for a moment, fetlock and the proud rise at the base of the tail, width of back. The volume of them, and each other’s weight. Fences were nothing compared to that. People were nothing. They slept standing, their throats curved against the other’s rump. They breathed against each other, whinnied and stomped. There are things they did that I do not know. The privacy of them had a river in it. Had our universe in it. And the way its border looks back at us with its light. This was finally their freedom. The freedom an oak tree knows. That is built at night by stars. ~Linda Gregg, “The Weight” from All of It Singing: New and Selected Poems
When the pasture gate opens after a long winter, they are let out on grass to a world vast and green and lush beyond their wildest imaginings.
They run leaping and bounding, hair flying in the wind, heels kicked up in a new freedom to re-form together their binding trust of companionship.
They share feasting and grooming with one another, as grace grows like grass stretching to eternity yet bounded safely within fence rows.
When cold rains come, as miserable times will, and this spring day feels far removed, when covered in the mud or frost or drought of life, they still have warm memories of one another.
Even though fences lean and break, as they will, the ponies are reminded where home is, whistled back to the barn if they lose your way, pointing them back to the gate to night’s rest and quiet.
Once there they long again for the gift of pasture freedom: how blessed is this opened gate, these fences, and most of all their dignity of being together as they feast with joy on the richness of spring.
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And who has seen the moon, who has not seen Her rise from out the chamber of the deep, Flushed and grand and naked, as from the chamber Of finished bridegroom, seen her rise and throw Confession of delight upon the wave, Littering the waves with her own superscription Of bliss, till all her lambent beauty shakes towards us Spread out and known at last, and we are sure That beauty is a thing beyond the grave, That perfect, bright experience never falls To nothingness, and time will dim the moon Sooner than our full consummation here In this odd life will tarnish or pass away. ~D.H. Lawrence “Moonrise”
I could not sleep last night, tossing in turmoil while wrestling with my worries, concerned I’ve dropped the ball.
As a beacon of calm, the moon shone bright onto our bed covers before sunrise.
This glowing ball is never dropped, this holy sphere of the night remains aloft, sailing the skies, to rise again and again to light our darkest nights.
Its lambent reflection of His Love and Peace is balm; I am covered in its beauty.
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(Fourteen years ago this week, a healthy young college student came to our university health clinic ill with seasonal influenza complicated by pneumonia. His family gave permission for his story to be told. I share this again to honor the patients, young and old, who have fallen victim to the even more devastating COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, as well as their families who have not had the same privilege of being at their bedside as they die. And honoring the health care workers who have witnessed so many preventable deaths over and over and will never truly recover from that experience.)
Nothing was helping. Everything had been tried for a week of the most intensive critical care possible. A twenty year old man – completely healthy only two weeks previously – was dying and nothing could stop it.
The battle against a sudden MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus) pneumonia precipitated by a routine seasonal influenza infection had been lost. Despite aggressive hemodynamic, antibiotic, antiviral and ventilator management, he was becoming more hypoxic and his renal function was deteriorating. He was no longer responsive to stimuli.
The intensivist looked weary and defeated. The nurses were staring at their laps, unable to look up, their eyes tearing. The hospital chaplain reached out to hold this young man’s mother’s shaking hands.
After a week of heroic effort and treatment, there was now clarity about the next step.
Two hours later, a group gathered in the waiting room outside the ICU doors. The average age was about 21; they assisted each other in tying on the gowns over their clothing, distributed gloves and masks. Together, holding each other up, they waited for the signal to gather in his room after the ventilator had been removed and he was breathing without assistance. They entered and gathered around his bed.
He was ravaged by this sudden illness, his strong body beaten and giving up. His breathing was now ragged and irregular, sedation preventing response but not necessarily preventing awareness. He was surrounded by silence as each individual who had known and loved him struggled with the knowledge that this was the final goodbye.
His father approached the head of the bed and put his hands on his boy’s forehead and cheek. He held this young man’s face tenderly, bowing in silent prayer and then murmuring words of comfort:
It is okay to let go. It is okay to leave us now. We will see you again. We’ll meet again. We’ll know where you will be.
His mother stood alongside, rubbing her son’s arms, gazing into his face as he slowly slowly slipped away. His father began humming, indistinguishable notes initially, just low sounds coming from a deep well of anguish and loss.
As the son’s breaths spaced farther apart, his dad’s hummed song became recognizable as the hymn of praise by John Newton, Amazing Grace. The words started to form around the notes. At first his dad was singing alone, giving this gift to his son as he passed, and then his mom joined in as well. His sisters wept. His friends didn’t know all the words but tried to sing through their tears. The chaplain helped when we stumbled, not knowing if we were getting it right, not ever having done anything like this before.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been here ten thousand years Bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’ve first begun.
And he left us.
His mom hugged each sobbing person there–the young friends, the nurses, the doctors humbled by powerful pathogens. She thanked each one for being present for his death, for their vigil kept through the week in the hospital as his flesh and heart had failed.
This young man, now lost to this mortal life, had profoundly touched people in a way he could not have ever predicted or expected. His parents’ grief, so gracious and giving to the young people who had never confronted death before, remains unforgettable.
This was their sacred gift to their son so Grace could lead him home.
Now winter downs the dying of the year, And night is all a settlement of snow; From the soft street the rooms of houses show A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere, Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin And still allows some stirring down within.
These sudden ends of time must give us pause. We fray into the future, rarely wrought Save in the tapestries of afterthought. More time, more time. The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow. ~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, The flying cloud, the frosty light: The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind For those that here we see no more; Ring out the feud of rich and poor, Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause, And ancient forms of party strife; Ring in the nobler modes of life, With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin, The faithless coldness of the times; Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes, But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood, The civic slander and the spite; Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be. ~Lord Alfred Tennyson “Ring Out, Wild Bells”
I know there are still communities where the New Year begins at midnight with church bells ringing, just as in days of old.
Here in the frontier of the rural Pacific Northwest, all we can hear from our farm are gun shots, bottle rockets and (what sounds like) explosions of cannon fire and mortar shells.
So much for larger hearts and kindlier hands.
Even without being able to hear wild bells ringing out the old and ringing in the new, I want to begin the new year with singing in harmony, mending the frays in the tapestry of time, behaving with good manners and care for those around me, and abandoning a thousand years of war to find a thousand years of peace.
Let the darkness make room for the Light that was and is and will ever be.
Amen and hallelujah!
I will sing with the spirit Hallelujah, hallelujah
And I will sing with the understanding also Hallelujah, hallelujah
I will sing (I will sing) With the spirit (sing hallelujah) I will sing with the spirit Hallelujah, hallelujah
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Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation. Luke 2:29-30 (Simeon’s Song)
Cards in each mailbox, angel, manger, star and lamb, as the rural carrier, driving the snowy roads, hears from her bundles the plaintive bleating of sheep, the shuffle of sandals, the clopping of camels. At stop after stop, she opens the little tin door and places deep in the shadows the shepherds and wise men, the donkeys lank and weary, the cow who chews and muses. And from her Styrofoam cup, white as a star and perched on the dashboard, leading her ever into the distance, there is a hint of hazelnut, and then a touch of myrrh. ~Ted Kooser “Christmas Mail”
the utterly unexpected a star, a light, a voice shakes us awake opens our sleepy eyes interrupts familiar routines as
our hearts tremble, muscles tighten; do we run to prepare for battle or do we freeze in place?
the animals also rustle and stand up- confused like us
they see the exploding sky and yet they sense no threat but instead merely listen,
huddled together for warmth as unearthly music fills their ears.
we quickly make plans to see this great thing, a revelation- word has become flesh and we have been invited to catch the first glimpse. ~Steve Bell “First Glimpse”
…Grant us thy peace. Before the stations of the mountain of desolation, Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow, Now at this birth season of decease, Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word, Grant Israel’s consolation To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow. According to thy word. They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation With glory and derision, Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair. Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer, Not for me the ultimate vision. Grant me thy peace. (And a sword shall pierce thy heart, Thine also). ~T.S. Eliot from “A Song for Simeon”
Simeon had waited and waited for this promised “first glimpse” moment of meeting the Son of God face to face, not knowing when or how, not knowing he would be able to hold him fast in his arms, not knowing he would be able to personally bless the parents of this holy child.
He certainly could not know this child would be the cause of so much joy and sorrow for those who love Him deeply.
That sword of painful truth pierces into our soul, opening us with the precision of a surgeon under high beam lights in the operating room where nothing is left unilluminated. We are, by the birth of Jesus, bared completely, our darkness thrust into dawn, our hearts revealed as never before, no matter who we are, our place of origin, our faith or lack thereof.
God is an equal opportunity heart surgeon.
It is terrifying, this mountain of desolation, all cracks and crevices thrust into the light. And it should be, given what we are, every one of us.
We wait for this incarnate God, longing and hungry for His peace. We are tired, too tired to continue to hide within the darkness of our troubles and conflict of our sin. We, like Simeon, are desperate for a first glimpse of the promise of His appearance dwelling with us, when we can gather Him into our arms and He gathers us into His, when all becomes known and understood and forgiven.
His birth is the end of our death, the beginning of the outward radiance of His peace, and wide open to all who open themselves to Him.
Light upon Light.
Based on Psalm 74: 12 Salvation is created in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia.
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Now, newborn, in wide-eyed wonder he gazes up at his creation. His hand that hurled the world holds tight his mother’s finger. Holy light spills across her face and she weeps silent wondering tears to know she holds the One who has so long held her. ~Joan Rae Mills from “Mary”in Light Upon Light
Now burn, new born to the world, Doubled-naturèd name, The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, Mid-numbered he in three of the thunder-throne!
Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came; Kind, but royally reclaiming his own; A released shower, let flash to the shire, not a lightning of fíre hard-hurled.
Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east… ~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland”
Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78-79 (Zechariah’s Song)
It never fails to surprise and amaze: the dawning seems to come from nowhere.
There is bleak dark, then a hint of light over the foothills in a long thin line, followed by the appearance of subtle dawn shadows as if the night needs to cling to the ground a little while longer, not wanting to relent and let us go.
Then color appears, erasing all doubt: the hills begin to glow orange along their crest, as if a flame is ignited and is spreading down a wick. Ultimately the explosion of Light occurs, spreading the orange pink palette unto the clouds above, climbing high to bathe the glaciers of Mount Baker and onto the peaks of the Twin Sisters.
~Dayspring to our dimness~
From dark to light, ordinary to extraordinary. This gift is from the tender mercy of our God, who has become the Light of a new Day, guiding our feet on the pathway of peace.
We no longer need to stumble about in the shadows. He comes to light our darkness.
Merry Christmas today to all my Barnstorming readers and visitors!
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. ~John 1:5
Sleeping child, I wonder, have you a dream to share? May I see the things you see as you slumber there? I dream a wind that speaks, like music as it blows As if it were the breath of everything that grows.
I dream a flock of birds flying through the night Like silent stars on wings of everlasting light. I dream a flowing river, deep as a thousand years, Its fish are frozen sorrow, its water bitter tears.
I dream a tree so green, branches wide and long, And ev’ry leaf and ev’ry voice a song. I dream of a babe who sleeps, a life that’s just begun. A word that waits to be spoken. The promise of a world to come. ~Charles Bennett “Sleeping Child”
Oh little child it’s Christmas night And the sky is filled with glorious light Lay your soft head so gently down It’s Christmas night in Bethlehem town.
Chorus: Alleluia the angels sing Alleluia to the king Alleluia the angels sing Alleluia to the king.
Sleep while the shepherds find their way As they kneel before you in the golden hay For they have brought you a woolly lamb On Christmas night in Bethlehem.
Sleep till you wake at the break of day With the sun’s first dawning ray You are the babe, who’ll wear the crown On Christmas morn in Bethlehem town.
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock. “Now they are all on their knees,” An elder said as we sat in a flock By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where They dwelt in their strawy pen, Nor did it occur to one of us there To doubt they were kneeling then. So fair a fancy few would weave In these years!
Yet, I feel,If someone said on Christmas Eve, “Come; see the oxen kneel,“ In the lonely barton by yonder coomb Our childhood used to know, ”I should go with him in the gloom, Hoping it might be so.“ ~Thomas Hardy “The Oxen”
Says a country legend told every year: Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see what the creatures do as that long night tips over. Down on their knees they will go, the fire of an old memory whistling through their minds!
So I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold I creaked back the barn door and peered in. From town the church bells spilled their midnight music, and the beasts listened – yet they lay in their stalls like stone.
Oh the heretics! Not to remember Bethlehem, or the star as bright as a sun, or the child born on a bed of straw! To know only of the dissolving Now!
Still they drowsed on – citizens of the pure, the physical world, they loomed in the dark: powerful of body, peaceful of mind, innocent of history.
Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas! And you are no heretics, but a miracle, immaculate still as when you thundered forth on the morning of creation! As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me. Caught in its light, listening again to its story, I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me the best it could all night. ~Mary Oliver “Christmas Poem”from Goodness and Light
The winds were scornful, Passing by; And gathering Angels Wondered why
A burdened Mother Did not mind That only animals Were kind.
For who in all the world Could guess That God would search out Loneliness. ~Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B. “The Stable”
Beholding his glory is only half our job. In our souls too the mysteries must be brought forth; we are not really Christians till that has been done. A mystic says human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice— animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid— and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God. ~Evelyn Underhill“Light of the World” from Watch for the Light
Growing up on my childhood farm, remembering the magic of Christmas eve night, I bundled myself up to stay warm in our barn, to witness an unbelievable sight.
At midnight we knew the animals knelt down, speaking words we could all understand, to worship a Child born in Bethlehem town, in a barn, long ago in a far away land.
They were there that night, to see and to hear, the blessings that came from the sky. They patiently stood watch at the manger near, in a barn, while shepherds and kings stopped by.
My trips to the barn were always too late, our cows would be chewing, our chickens asleep, our horses breathing softly, cats climbing the gate, in our barn, there was never a neigh, moo or peep.
But I knew they had done it, I just missed it again! They were plainly so calm, well-fed and at peace in the sweet smelling straw, all snug in their pens, in a barn, a mystery, once more, took place.
Even now, I still bundle to go out Christmas eve, in the hope I’ll catch them just once more this time. Though I’m older and grayer, I still firmly believe in the barn, a Birth happened amid cobwebs and grime.
Our horses sigh low as they hear me come near, that tells me the time I hope for is now, they will drop to their knees without any fear in our barn, as worship, all living things bow.
I wonder anew at God’s immense trust for His creatures so sheltered that darkening night – the mystery of why of all places, His Son must begin life in a barn: a welcoming most holy and right. ~Emily Gibson “In the Barn” (written Christmas Eve 1999)
Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come. ~Jane Kenyon, from “Let Evening Come”
Latin text O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, iacentem in praesepio! Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Iesum Christum. Alleluia!
English translation O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia!
Sing O the wild wood, the green holly, The silent river and barren tree; The humble creatures that no man sees: Sing O the wild wood.
A weary journey one winter’s night; No hope of shelter, no rest in sight. Who was the creature that bore Mary? A simple donkey.
And when they came into Beth’lem Town They found a stable to lay them down; For their companions that Christmas night, An ox and an ass.
And then an angel came down to earth To bear the news of the Saviour’s birth; The first to marvel were shepherds poor, And sheep with their lambs.
Sing O the wild wood, the green holly, The silent river and barren tree; The humble creatures that no man sees: Sing O the wild wood. John Rutter
Jesus our brother, strong and good Was humbly born in a stable rude And the friendly beasts around him stood Jesus our brother, strong and good “I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown “I carried his mother up hill and down I carried his mother to Bethlehem town” “I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown “I, ” said the cow, all white and red “I gave him my manger for his bed I gave him my hay to pillow his head” “I, ” said the cow, all white and red “I, ” said the sheep with curly horn “I gave him my wool for his blanket warm He wore my coat on Christmas morn” “I, ” said the sheep with curly horn “I, ” said the dove from the rafters high “I cooed him to sleep so he would not cry We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I” “I, ” said the dove from rafters high Thus every beast by some good spell In the stable dark was glad to tell Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel
Well I know now the feel of dirt under the nails, I know now the rhythm of furrowed ground under foot, I have learned the sounds to listen for in the dusk, the dawning and the noon.
I have held cornfields in the palm of my hand, I have let the swaying wheat and rye run through my fingers, I have learned when to be glad for sunlight and for sudden thaw and for rain.
I know now what weariness is when the mind stops and night is a dark blanket of peace and forgetting and the morning breaks to the same ritual and the same demands and the silence. ~Jane Clement from No One Can Stem the Tide
Seven-thirty. Driving northwest out of town, the snowscape dusky, sky tinted smoky peach. In the rear view mirror, a bright orange glow suffuses the stubbly treeline. Suddenly a column of brightness shoots from the horizon, a pillar of fire! One eye on the road, I watch behind me the head of a golden child begin to push up between the black knees of the hills. Two weeks out from Solstice, the sun so near winter it seems to rise in the south. A fiery angel stands over his cradle of branches. And what strange travelers come to honor him? And what gift will I bring to him this day? ~Thomas Smith “Advent Dawn” from The Glory
And he shall be their peace. Micah 5:5
I tossed and turned last night — my thoughts too busy, my blankets twisted in turmoil, my muscles too tight.
The worries of the day required serious wrestling in the dark rather than settling silent and forgotten under my pillow after prayer.
Yet, as ever, morning dawns anew and once again I’m comforted by the rhythm of emerging light overwhelming the night. This ritual of starting fresh remembers the promises given to us again and again in His Word.
In the name of peace today, I will get my hands dirty digging a hole deep enough to hold the worries that kept me awake in the night.
And tomorrow, even if I try to remember, I will have forgotten where exactly I buried them.