Glory be to God for dappled things – For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Pied Beauty”
The unconventional and unnoticed beauty, freckled, spare and strange– helps me feel beautiful too. The interplay of light and shadow within every moment of our existence, some moments darker than others, some brilliant and dazzling.
I try to find the sweet and sour, knowing I’m capturing my own dappled essence – a reflection of the Fathering that loves us even in our fickleness, who possibly could know how?
There is no perfection outside of Him; His reflected beauty has no uniformity. We give Him glory in our imperfection, the defects and blemishes which only He can make whole. Who knows why He does this? Yet He does.
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 began to say to himself ‘Perhaps I shall cross the river myself one day.’ To which the other half of his mind always replied ‘Not yet.’ ~J.R.R. Tolkien — Frodo in Fellowship of the Rings
When you live in Whatcom County, as we do, it is possible to cross the river (several times) over 90 minutes of two lane highway switchbacks to arrive in these wild lands, breathless and overcome by their majesty.
Visions of mountains from our dreams become an overwhelming 360 degree reality, nearly reachable if I stretch out my hand.
God touches every square inch of earth as if He owns the place, but these square inches are particularly marked by His artistry. It is a place to feel awed by His magnificence.
I am left to wonder about the wild lands, much like Tolkien’s Frodo, pondering what bridges God is building to bring us back home to Him.
I love to go out in late September among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries to eat blackberries for breakfast, the stalks very prickly, a penalty they earn for knowing the black art of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries fall almost unbidden to my tongue, as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words like strengths or squinched, many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps, which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well in the silent, startled, icy, black language of blackberry-eating in late September. ~Galway Kinnell“Blackberry Eating”
“In that year, 1914, we lived on the farm And the relatives lived with us. A banner year for wild blackberries Dad was crazy about wild blackberries No berries like that now. You know Kitsap County was logged before The turn of the century—it was easiest of all, Close to water, virgin timber, When I was a kid walking about in the Stumpland, wherever you’d go a skidroad Puncheon, all overgrown. We went up one like that, fighting our way through To its end near the top of a hill: For some reason wild blackberries Grew best there. We took off one morning Right after milking: rode the horses To a valley we’d been to once before Hunting berries, and hitched the horses. About a quarter mile up the old road We found the full ripe of berrytime— And with only two pails—so we Went back home, got Mother and Ruth, And filled lots of pails. Mother sent letters To all the relatives in Seattle: Effie, Aunt Lucy, Bill Moore, Forrest, Edna, six or eight, they all came Out to the farm, and we didn’t take pails Then: we took copper clothes-boilers, Wash-tubs, buckets, and all went picking. We were canning for three days.” ~ Gary Snyder “6” from Myths and Texts.
Earth’s crammed with heaven And every common bush afire with God But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries~ –Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Aurora Leigh”
All I wanted was a few blackberries.
I admit my objective was just to pick enough for cobbler for today’s noon dinner after church, oblivious to God burning in the bushes towering over me, around me, snagging me at every opportunity. If I had given it more thought, I would have realized the reaching vines hooking my arms and legs were hardly subtle. The thorns ripped at my skin, leaving me bloody and smarting. The fruit itself stained my hands purple, making them look freshly bruised. I crushed fat vines underfoot, trampling and stomping with my muck boots in order to dive deeper into the bushes. Webs were everywhere, with spiders crawling up my arms and dropping down into my hair. I managed to kick up one hornet’s nest so I called it quits.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, so blinded to all the clues crammed in every nook and cranny of every bush.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, trampling on holy ground with well-protected feet, unwilling to be barefoot and tenderly vulnerable.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, the lure of black gold plucked at the cost of rips and scratches and tears.
What I got was burned by a bush…
and a few blackberries for today’s crammed-with-heaven cobbler.
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime. ~Ray Bradbury from Fahrenheit 451
At last the entire family stood, like people seeing someone off at the rail station, waiting in the room.
“Well,” said Great-grandma, “there I am, I’m not humble, so it’s nice seeing you standing around my bed. Now next week there’s late gardening and closet-cleaning and clothes-buying for the children to do. And since that part of me is called, for convenience, Great-grandma, won’t be here to step it along, those other parts of me called Uncle Bert and Leo and Tom and Douglas, and all the other names, will have to take over, each to his own.”
Somewhere a door closed quietly.
… she saw it shaping in her mind quietly, and with serenity like a sea moving along and endless and self-refreshing shore.
Downstairs, she thought, they are polishing the silver, and rummaging the cellar, and dusting in the halls. She could hear them living all through the house.
“It’s all right,” whispered Great-grandma, as the dream floated her. “Like everything else in this life, it’s fitting.”
And the sea moved her back down the shore. ~Ray Bradbury “Great-Grandmother” from Dandelion Wine
Esther learned young how to work and she never forgot, still working up until the last few days of her long life.
Today she is sweeping up, wiping down counters and washing the dishes in a corner of heaven, after baking cookies and putting a soup on to simmer, to be sure everyone up there is well-fed and feels welcome.
She grew up on a remote farm in South Dakota where survival meant the whole family pitched in to help. When she married Pete and headed west to Washington, the work never let up: six sons, a small farm, a construction business to help manage, working as a caretaker privately and in a nursing home, taking on the mission of coordinating a large Sunday School ministry in our small church back over fifty years ago and never leaving.
Esther touched everything and everyone in this life, leaving a bit of herself behind in all of us. She’ll stay plenty busy in the next life.
She wasWiser Lake Chapel for over half her life, along with her husband Pete who passed from chronic leukemia over a decade ago. Their son Wes took on many of Pete’s carpentry and building maintenance duties at church, but then he too lost a fight with acute leukemia.
Esther persevered despite these heartbreaking losses, a tenacious testament to the power of the Spirit in one woman’s life. She had more artificial joints in her body than her own joints, some replaced twice. Her heart tried to fail any number of times, most recently after a trip to Europe she made earlier this year, by herself, to visit her missionary son. She never stopped driving. She never stopped walking even though every step took immense effort paid in pain. She came to every church service, morning and night and mid-week, usually with something fresh-baked in her hand. If soup was needed for a meal on short notice, she could make it happen in an hour from what she stored away in her freezer. She was a self-appointed clean-up crew, wheeling her walker from table to sink to counter to trash can and back again.
Every new great-grandbaby and every new Chapel baby had a hand-made Esther quilt, complete with her hand-painted pictures and the details of the birthday and birthweight printed on it. She made hundreds over her lifetime.
Esther’s family is a large exuberant and glory-filled group of sons and daughter-in-laws and grands and great-grands who reflect who she and Pete were to them, to our church and the greater community. They are a legacy left on earth, to keep up the good work and gratitude-filled worship, to never ever give up, no matter how tough life can be.
Thank you, Esther, for changing us all so profoundly we won’t ever be the same as we were before you touched us; you left us all so much better than before. Now I believe we all are just a little bit like you.
And most of all, thanks for 90-plus years of your loving labor on the Lord’s behalf. The soup is on the stove in memory of you.
We must go up into the chase in the evenings, and pray there with nothing but God’s cloud temple between us and His heaven!
…and then all still – hushed – awe-bound, as the great thunderclouds slide up from the far south! Then, there to praise God! ~Charles Kingsley
Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. ~Celtic saying
To make myself understood and to diminish the distance between us, I called out: “I am an evening cloud too.” They stopped still, evidently taking a good look at me. Then they stretched towards me their fine, transparent, rosy wings. That is how evening clouds greet each other. They had recognized me. ~Rainer Maria Rilke, Stories of God
We do not live in a part of the world with extremes in weather and for that I’m immensely grateful. We are moderate in temperature range, precipitation, wind velocity – for the most part.
Our cloud cover is mostly solid gray much of the time, very plain and unassuming, barely worth noticing.
When there are a few days each season of dramatic clouds, the horizon takes on a different feel, telling a new story, inviting our attention and admiration and welcoming us closer.
Heaven is nearer; the clouds recognize us and greet us with their rosy wings. The thin place between earth and heaven becomes thin indeed.
Does the road wind up-hill all the way? Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place? A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face? You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come. ~Christina Rossetti “Up-Hill”
It is a comfort to sleep in our own bed after being away for a week. We drove uphill much of yesterday through numerous mountain passes, but then when we descended back into western Washington as darkness descended, we were greeted by the familiar landscape of home.
This life of ours can be a weary and sometimes perilous journey. There are times when it is so dark we’re not sure we can see the road, much less where it is headed or when and where we may be able to rest.
Many have gone on before us so that we will not be left stranded, lost and waiting by the roadside. There is a place waiting for wayfarers like us.
The door is flung open – those who are weary are welcomed with open arms. The road uphill points to the best home of all.
Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.” ~Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
I studied bees, who were able to convey messages through dancing and could find their ways home to their hives even if someone put up a blockade of sheets and boards and wire. Bees had radar in their wings and brains that humans could barely understand. I wrote a paper proclaiming their brilliance and superiority and revised it at a small café featuring wooden hive-shaped honey-dippers in silver honeypots at every table. ~Naomi Shihab Nye from “Bees Were Better”
Suddenly a bee, big as a blackberry, bumbles against my window, knocking for attention. Rolling in azalea cups all morning, she weaves in slow motion then hovers like a helicopter, humming to herself. The key, C major. No black notes, no sharps, no flats. Only naturals—the fan of her own wings, the bliss of her own buzz.
She doesn’t practice. She doesn’t have to. She knows. To make honey, you follow the dance. ~Alice Friman from “The Key”
I wish I had a homing device in my body that would bring me home no matter where I wander. I simply turn my face to the sun and my wings take me back there, even if I wasn’t paying attention to the dance of others and I’m off kilter or too stubborn to admit home is where I need to be.
After a summer of watching thousands of bees making a “bee-line” to home at night as if they are on a superhighway to their very own hive and honey cell, I need to be just as determined, just as committed, just as confident that I’m heading to where I belong.
The rest are waiting for me and have left the light on.