What words or harder gift does the light require of me carving from the dark this difficult tree?
What place or farther peace do I almost see emerging from the night and heart of me?
The sky whitens, goes on and on. Fields wrinkle into rows of cotton, go on and on. Night like a fling of crows disperses and is gone.
What song, what home, what calm or one clarity can I not quite come to, never quite see: this field, this sky, this tree. ~Christian Wiman, “Hard Night”
Even the darkest night has a sliver of light left, if only in our memories. We remember how it was and how it can be — the promise of better to come.
While the ever-changing sky swirls as a backdrop, a tree on a hill became the focal point, as it must, like a black hole swallowing up all pain, all suffering, all evil threatening to consume our world.
What clarity, what calm, what peace can be found at the foot of that tree, where our hearts can rest in this knowledge: our sin died there, once and for all and our names are carved into its roots for all time.
Now a red, sleepy sun above the rim Of twilight stares along the quiet weald, And the kind, simple country shines revealed In solitudes of peace, no longer dim. The old horse lifts his face and thanks the light, Then stretches down his head to crop the green. All things that he has loved are in his sight; The places where his happiness has been Are in his eyes, his heart, and they are good. ~Siegfried Sassoon from “Break of Day”
When we are at war, whether deep in the foxhole hiding from the enemy, or fighting against a wily pathogen which makes its hidden way, person to person, we sing our battle hymn without ceasing.
Amid the suffering we dream of better days and an untroubled past, when the hunter and hunted was merely a game, not real life and even more real death.
This is war against a contagious disease, not against one another.
Move away from reading 24 hour headlines. Avoid being crushed in the numbers of viral dead and dying; ignore the politics of power or by those frantically salvaging shredded investments or hoarding the last from bare shelves.
Do not forget how the means of peace was sent to earth directly from God by one Man walking among us.
So stay home, giving the enemy no fresh place to invade. Pray for those who sacrifice much to care for the ill.
A new day breaks fresh each morning and folds gently and quietly each evening. Be glad to live another day with all those things you love within your sight: so glad, so grateful, such glory to be reminded how rich we all are.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord You are speaking truth to power, you are laying down our swords Replanting every vineyard ’til a brand new wine is poured Your peace will make us one
I’ve seen you in our home fires burning with a quiet light You are mothering and feeding in the wee hours of the night Your gentle love is patient, you will never fade or tire Your peace will make us one
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Your peace will make us one
In the beauty of the lilies, you were born across the sea With a glory in your bosom that is still transfiguring Dismantling our empires ’til each one of us is free Your peace will make us one
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Your peace will make us one
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields, Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven, And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end. The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind’s masonry. Out of an unseen quarry evermore Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer Curves his white bastions with projected roof Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work, The frolic architecture of the snow. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson from “The Snow-Storm”
The barn bears the weight of the first heavy snow without complaint.
White breath of cows rises in the tie-up, a man wearing a frayed winter jacket reaches for his milking stool in the dark.
The cows have gone into the ground, and the man, his wife beside him now.
A nuthatch drops to the ground, feeding on sunflower seed and bits of bread I scattered on the snow.
The cats doze near the stove. They lift their heads as the plow goes down the road, making the house tremble as it passes. ~Jane Kenyon “This Morning”
We’ve seen harsher northeast winds, we’ve seen heavier snow. Yet there is something refreshingly disruptive about the once or twice a year overnight snow storm: it transforms, transcends and transfigures.
So we stay home when the weather and farms demand we do, to feed and water ourselves and our animals and the wild ones around us. It is a quiet and private and tumultuous time, a time to be attuned to one another.
I grew up on a small farm with several acres of woodland. It was my near-daily retreat until I left for college: I walked among twittering birds, skittering wild bunnies, squirrels and chipmunks, busy ant hills and trails, blowing leaves, swimming tadpoles, falling nuts, waving wildflowers, large firs, pines, cottonwoods, maples and alder trees.
I had a favorite “secret” spot sitting perched on a stump where a large rock provided a favorite warm sunning spot for salamanders. They and I would make eye contact and ponder what the other was thinking.
It was where I felt closest to Creation, more so than the house I slept in with my family, the busy classrooms, the dentist office and retirement home where I worked.
Only our church sanctuary was such a thin place with a “can almost touch the hem of God” reality.
At college I searched for a place as private, as quiet, as serene, as full of the voices of creation – nothing ever matched the woods of my childhood home. I gave up as I lived a decade in the city and almost forgot what a familiar woods felt like.
I’ve come close again on this farm we’ve stewarded for thirty years, but the constant distractions are much greater now than when I was a child. I can’t empty out my head and heart as completely to receive the gifts of the field and trees and woodlands. I have greater worries, bigger responsibilities, places to go, people to see, things to do, a shorter timeline to get what I want to accomplish done …
Perhaps the time will come again to simply gaze into the eyes of a fellow creature, and invite them in with a head and heart ready to receive what they and our Creator have to give.
There seemed a smell of autumn in the air At the bleak end of night; he shivered there In a dank, musty dug-out where he lay, Legs wrapped in sand-bags,—lumps of chalk and clay Spattering his face. Dry-mouthed, he thought, “To-day We start the damned attack; and, Lord knows why, Zero’s at nine; how bloody if I’m done in Under the freedom of that morning sky!” And then he coughed and dozed, cursing the din.
Was it the ghost of autumn in that smell Of underground, or God’s blank heart grown kind, That sent a happy dream to him in hell?— Where men are crushed like clods, and crawl to find Some crater for their wretchedness; who lie In outcast immolation, doomed to die Far from clean things or any hope of cheer, Cowed anger in their eyes, till darkness brims And roars into their heads, and they can hear Old childish talk, and tags of foolish hymns.
He sniffs the chilly air; (his dreaming starts). He’s riding in a dusty Sussex lane In quiet September; slowly night departs; And he’s a living soul, absolved from pain. Beyond the brambled fences where he goes Are glimmering fields with harvest piled in sheaves, And tree-tops dark against the stars grown pale; Then, clear and shrill, a distant farm-cock crows; And there’s a wall of mist along the vale Where willows shake their watery-sounding leaves. He gazes on it all, and scarce believes That earth is telling its old peaceful tale; He thanks the blessed world that he was born…. Then, far away, a lonely note of the horn.
They’re drawing the Big Wood! Unlatch the gate, And set Golumpus going on the grass: He knows the corner where it’s best to wait And hear the crashing woodland chorus pass; The corner where old foxes make their track To the Long Spinney; that’s the place to be. The bracken shakes below an ivied tree, And then a cub looks out; and “Tally-o-back!” He bawls, and swings his thong with volleying crack,— All the clean thrill of autumn in his blood, And hunting surging through him like a flood In joyous welcome from the untroubled past; While the war drifts away, forgotten at last.
Now a red, sleepy sun above the rim Of twilight stares along the quiet weald, And the kind, simple country shines revealed In solitudes of peace, no longer dim. The old horse lifts his face and thanks the light, Then stretches down his head to crop the green. All things that he has loved are in his sight; The places where his happiness has been Are in his eyes, his heart, and they are good. * * * * Hark! there’s the horn: they’re drawing the Big Wood. ~Siegfried Sassoon “Break of Day” (written about his memories as a WWI soldier)
When we are at war, whether deep in the foxhole hiding from the enemy, or deeper yet in a hole of our own making, trying to conceal our sins.
Amidst that mire and mud, we dream of better days and an untroubled past, when the hunter and hunted was merely a game, not life and death.
May we know the means of peace was brought to earth.
May we surface in mutual surrender, begging for reprieve, longing for redemption. May the solitudes of peace overwhelm those who are angry and conflicted. May we lift our faces up and thank the Light.
What I remember is the ebb and flow of sound That summer morning as the mower came and went And came again, crescendo and diminuendo, And always when the sound was loudest how it ceased A moment while he backed the horses for the turn, The rapid clatter giving place to the slow click And the mower’s voice. That was the sound I listened for, The voice did what the horses did. It shared the action As sympathetic magic does or incantation. The voice hauled and the horses hauled. The strength of one Was in the other and in the strength was impatience. Over and over as the mower made his rounds I heard his voice and only once or twice he backed And turned and went ahead and spoke no word at all. ~Robert Francis “The Sound I Listened For” from Collected Poems
In the rural countryside where we live, we’ve been fortunate enough to know people who still dabble in horse farming, whose draft teams are hitched to plows and mowers and manure spreaders as they head out to the fields to recapture the past and experience working the land in a way that honors the traditions of our forebears.
A good teamster primarily works with his horses using his voice. No diesel engine means hearing bird calls from the surrounding fields and woods, along with the steady footfall of the horses, the harness chains jingling, the leather straps creaking, the machinery shushing quietly as gears turn and grass lays over in submission. No ear protection is needed. There is no clock needed to pace the day.
There is a rhythm of nurture when animals instead of motors are part of the work day. The gauge for taking a break is the amount of foamy sweat on the horses and how fast they are breathing — time to stop and take a breather, time to start back up and do a few more rows, time to water, time for a meal, time for a nap, time for a rest in a shady spot.
This is gentle use of the land with four footed stewards who deposit right back to the soil the digested forage they have eaten only hours before. This is gentle to our ears and our souls, measuring the ebb and flow of sound and silence.
The horse-drawn field mower is a sound I listen for, if not next door then in my dreams.
Broad August burns in milky skies, The world is blanched with hazy heat; The vast green pasture, even, lies Too hot and bright for eyes and feet.
Amid the grassy levels rears The sycamore against the sun The dark boughs of a hundred years, The emerald foliage of one.
Lulled in a dream of shade and sheen, Within the clement twilight thrown By that great cloud of floating green, A horse is standing, still as stone.
He stirs nor head nor hoof, although The grass is fresh beneath the branch; His tail alone swings to and fro In graceful curves from haunch to haunch.
He stands quite lost, indifferent To rack or pasture, trace or rein; He feels the vaguely sweet content Of perfect sloth in limb and brain. ~William Canton “Standing Still”
Sweet contentment is a horse dozing in the summer field, completely sated by grass and clover, tail switching and skin rippling automatically to discourage flies.
I too wish at times for that stillness of mind and body, allowing myself to simply “be” without concern about yesterday’s travails, or what duties await me tomorrow. Sloth and indifference sounds almost inviting. I’m an utter failure at both.
The closest I come to this kind of stillness is my first moments of waking from an afternoon nap. As I slowly surface out of the depths of a few minutes of sound sleep, I lie still as a stone, my eyes open but not yet focused, my brain not yet working overtime.
I simply am.
It doesn’t stay simple for long. But it is good to remember the feeling of becoming aware of living and breathing.
I want to use my days well. I want to be worthy. I want to know there is a reason to be here beyond just warning the flies away.
It is absolutely enough to enjoy the glory of it all.
In the grey summer garden I shall find you With day-break and the morning hills behind you. There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings; And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings. Not from the past you’ll come, but from that deep Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep: And I shall know the sense of life re-born From dreams into the mystery of morn Where gloom and brightness meet. And standing there Till that calm song is done, at last we’ll share The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star. ~Siegfried Sassoon “Idyll”
Sixty five years ago today was a difficult day for my mother and me. She remembered it was a particularly hot July 4 with the garden coming on gangbusters and she having quite a time keeping up with summer farm chores. With three weeks to go in her pregnancy, her puffy legs were aching and she wasn’t sleeping well.
She just wanted to be done gestating, with the planned C section scheduled a few days before my due date of August 1.
She and my dad and my sister had waited eight long years for this pregnancy, having given up hope, having already chosen an infant boy to adopt, the papers signed and waiting on the court for the final approval. They were ready to bring him home when she discovered she was pregnant and the adoption agency gave him to another family.
I’ve always wondered where that little boy ended up, his life trajectory suddenly changed by my conception. I feel some accountability.
Every subsequent July 4, my mother would tell me about July 4, 1954 when I was curled upside down inside her impatiently kicking her ribs in my attempts to stretch, hiccuping when she tried to nap, and dozing as she cooked the picnic meal they took to eat while waiting for the local fireworks show to start.
As I grew up, she would remind me when I cringed and covered my ears as fireworks shells boomed overhead, that I leapt startled inside her with each explosion. She wondered if I might jump right out of her, so she held onto her belly tight, trying to calm and reassure me. Perhaps I was justifiably fearful about what chaos was booming on the outside, as I remained inside until the doctor opened Mom up three weeks later.
Now I know I am meant for quieter things, greeting the mystery of each morning with as much calm as I can muster. I still cringe and jump at fireworks and recognize I was blessed to be born to a family who wanted me and waited for me.
May there come a day when every baby knows such a blessing.
Sunrise is an event that calls forth solemn music in the very depths of our nature, as if one’s whole being had to attune itself to the cosmos and praise God for the new day, praise him in the name of all the creatures that ever were or ever will be.
I look at the rising sun and feel that now upon me falls the responsibility of seeing what all my ancestors have seen, in the Stone Age and even before it, praising God before me. Whether or not they praised him then, for themselves, they must praise him now in me. When the sun rises each one of us is summoned by the living and the dead to praise God. ~Thomas Merton from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
I’m well aware not everyone greets the morning with praise; dawn signals the start of a new day of painful relationships, back-breaking work, and unending discouragement. I know people who keep themselves up until 3 AM just so they can sleep through the sunrise and somehow find a way to start their day at noon after all hint of morning has passed.
Instead I’m one of those barely tolerable “morning” persons, waking up without an alarm, ready to rise, a song in my heart and a smile on my lips. The gift of a new day and another try at life is a source of great joy and inspiration to me.
God keeps bringing the sun back to us, day in and day out. We, His creatures, are given yet another chance.