May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet as honey, so absorb our hearts as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven. Grant that we may be ready to die for love of your love, as you died for love of our love. ~St. Francis of Assisi
Maundy Thursday is a day of letting go while still holding on.
If I am to see Jesus and know the power of His love, I must let go of this life and walk with Him with every step to the cross. I have only a tenuous grip on this world, utterly dependent on the Lord taking care of me.
This day, I am reminded of a few basics: No arguing over who is best. No hiding my dirty feet. No holding back on the most precious of gifts. No falling asleep. No selling out. No turning and running away. No covering my face in denial. No looking back. No clinging to the comforts of the world.
But of course I fail again and again. My heart resists leaving behind what I know.
Plucked from the crowd, I must grasp and carry His load (which is, of course, my load) alongside Him. Now is my turn to hold on and not let go, as if life depends on it. Which it does — requiring no nails.
The fire of His love leaves my sin in ashes. The food of His body nurtures my soul. From that soul and ashes rises new life. Love of His love of our love.
Ample litany, sparing nothing I hate or love, not-yet-silenced, not-yet-fractured; not-yet-
I move my ear a little closer to that humming figure, I ask him only to stay. ~Jane Hirshfield “Not Yet” from The Lives of the Heart.
To wait for the “not yet” is a hard sweet tension.
There is tension in knowing that something profound is happening–a vanishing sunset, a vernal equinox, a life change or transition, but the transformation is not yet complete, and I’m not sure when it will be.
I am still unfinished business.
In two weeks I will be reminded of what is yet to come. I will know the shock of the empty tomb. My heart will burn within me as more is revealed, through the simple act of bread breaking.
It is hard not yet having what I know will be coming. But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming because of what we have already been given. Like the labor of childbirth, I groan knowing what it will take to get there, and I am full to brimming already.
The waiting won’t be easy; it will often be painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when I am exhausted, barely able to function. Others won’t understand why I wait, nor do they comprehend what I could possibly be waiting for.
Yet we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping – a community groaning together in expectation of what is to come in the morning.
It has been finished on our behalf, while we wait, while we wait.
There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize Him or not…
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden art of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments….. and Life itself is Grace. ~Frederick Buechner from Now and Then- Listening to Your Life
The locus of the human mystery is perception of this world. From it proceeds every thought, every art. I like Calvin’s metaphor—nature is a shining garment in which God is revealed and concealed. ~Marilynne Robinson from her “Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred” essay
Perhaps it is the mystery of His life that brings us back, again and again, to read His story, familiar as it is, at first wrapped in the shining garment of swaddling clothes, then a plain robe to be gambled away beneath His nailed feet and finally a shroud left carefully folded and empty.
How can this mystery be? God appearing on earth, hidden in the commonplace, rendering it sacred and holy by His spilled blood.
How can it be? Through the will of the Father and the breath of the Spirit, this Son was born, died, then rose again and still is, and yet to be, forever and ever.
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
I laughed in the morning’s eyes. I triumphed and I saddened with all weather, Heaven and I wept together, and its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine. Against the red throb of its sunset heart, I laid my own to beat And share commingling heat.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come. Halts by me that Footfall. Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest, I am He whom thou seekest. Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me. ~Francis Thompson from “The Hound of Heaven”
My days are filled with anxious and sad patients, one after another after another. They sit in front of their screen and I in front of mine, so close yet so far from each another – a wilderness of unexpressed emotions.
They struggle to hold back the flood from brimming eyes. Each moment, each breath, each heart beat overwhelmed by questions: How to take yet another painful breath of this sad life? must there be another breath? Must things go on like this in fear of what the next moment will bring?
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the knowledge that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse. There is no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived. There is only fear of the next and the next so that now and now and now is lost forever.
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than any viral pandemic. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. I wish there was a vaccine to protect us all from our unnamed fears in the wilderness.
I want to say to them and myself: Stop this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop. Stop expecting this feeling must be “fixed.” Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort. Stop resenting the gift of each breath. Just stop. Instead, simply be in the now and now and now.
I want to say: this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone, this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light. Shout for joy in it. Celebrate it. Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips and stop holding them back.
Stop me before I write, out of my own anxiety over you, yet another prescription you don’t really need.
Just be– and be blessed– in the now and now and now.
Chunky and noisy, but with stars in their black feathers, they spring from the telephone wire and instantly
they are acrobats in the freezing wind. And now, in the theater of air, they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising; they float like one stippled star that opens, becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again; and you watch and you try but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it with no articulated instruction, no pause, only the silent confirmation that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin over and over again, full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us, even in the leafless winter, even in the ashy city. I am thinking now of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots trying to leave the ground, I feel my heart pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings. ~Mary Oliver “Starlings in Winter” from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared, then another, and another. It was the starlings going to roost. They gathered deep in the distance, flock sifting into flock, and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke. They seemed to unravel as they flew, lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. I didn’t move;they flew directly over my head for half an hour.
Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced. The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye. Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff. Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig, right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.
Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now, birds winging through the gaps between my cells, touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet? ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
…yesterday I heard a new sound above my head a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward I saw a flock of blackbirds rounding a curve I didn’t know was there and the sound was simply all those wings, all those feathers against air, against gravity and such a beautiful winning: the whole flock taking a long, wide turn as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
If we lived only in human society what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being here, in this curving and soaring world that is not our own so when mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives and when, even more rarely, we unite and move together toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub from “Blackbirds” from Wing Over Wing
Watching a winter starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me. I can get queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.
Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions. It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t. It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t. They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound.
We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA. Yet we don’t exercise such unity from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks. We are frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, going our own way bumping and crashing without care, leaving so much body and spiritual wreckage behind.
To where has flown our mercy and tenderness? We have corporately lost our internal moral compass.
We figuratively and literally shoot each other in the back, trampling over and suffocating one another, in a reach for justice that seems right in our own eyes.
We even watch the daily death count rise in ever-increasing numbers, and still some resist doing what it takes to protect themselves and one another.
The sound of silence is muffled weeping.
There comes a time in every fall before the leaves begin to turn when blackbirds group and flock and gather choosing a tree, a branch, together to click and call and chorus and clamor announcing the season has come for travel.
Then comes a time when all those birds without a sound or backward glance pour from every branch and limb into the air, as if on a whim but it’s a dynamic, choreographed mass a swoop, a swerve, a mystery, a dance
and now the tree stands breathless, amazed at how it was chosen, how it was changed. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub “Turning” from Wing Over Wing
When I can no longer say thank you for this new day and the waking into it, for the cold scrape of the kitchen chair and the ticking of the space heater glowing orange as it warms the floor near my feet, I know it is because I’ve been fooled again by the selfish, unruly man who lives in me and believes he deserves only safety and comfort. But if I pause as I do now, and watch the streetlights outside winking off one by one like old men closing their cloudy eyes, if I listen to my tired neighbors slamming car doors hard against the morning and see the steaming coffee in their mugs kissing their chapped lips as they sip and exhale each of their worries white into the icy air around their faces—then I can remember this one life is a gift each of us was handed and told to open: Untie the bow and tear off the paper, look inside and be grateful for whatever you find even if it is only the scent of a tangerine that lingers on the fingers long after you’ve finished eating it. ~James Crews, “Winter Morning” from How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope
I close my eyes, savor a wafer of sacred cake on my tongue and try to taste my mother, to discern the message she baked in these loaves when she was too ill to eat them:
I love you. It will end. Leave something of sweetness and substance in the mouth of the world. ~Anna Belle Kaufman “Cold Solace”
Each day, even now, brings something new and special to my life, for which I am so grateful; I peel it carefully to find what hides inside, all the while inhaling its fragrance then carefully, slowly, gently lifting it to my mouth to savor it, knowing only love, only loving, only the gift of sacrifice could taste this sweet.
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?
Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. ~Blaise Pascal from Pensées
We yearn for perfection, to be flawless and faultless, aiming for symmetry, straight and smooth.
Life serves up something far different and our eye searches for whatever is flawed like us: we find the cracks, the scratches and damage, the faults and frailties.
Somehow Christ bridges Himself between God and us — becoming a walkway for the wretched to redemption and renewal.
In the beginning we were created unblemished, image bearers of perfection. No longer. We bear witness to brokenness with our shattered lives, fragile minds and weakening bodies.
To restore our lost relationship with Him, Christ strikes the balance; He hung broken to mend us, a bridge to carry us across the gap, binding us to Him forever.
Refrain Jesus, Jesus, rest your head. You has got a manger bed. All the evil folk on earth Sleep in feathers at their birth. Jesus, Jesus, rest your head. You has got a manger bed.
1. Have you heard about our Jesus? Have you heard about his fate? How his mammy went to the stable On that Christmas Eve so late? Winds were blowing, cows were lowing, Stars were glowing, glowing, glowing. Refrain
2. To the manger came the Wise Men. Bringing from hin and yon, For the mother and the father, And the blessed little Son. Milkmaids left their fields and flocks And sat beside the ass and ox. Refrain
Two days of an icy prairie fog and every blade of grass, and twig, and branch, and every stretch of wire, barb, post and staple, is a knot or a threat in a lace of the purest white. To walk is like finding your way through a wedding dress, the sky inside it cold and satiny; no past, no future, just the now all breathless. Then a red bird, like a pinprick, changes everything. ~ Ted Kooser, “Hoarfrost” in Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems
When the landscape emerges in the morning light frost-bitten, all iced up and white-crisp, I yearn for color, any color, to reappear with the day’s thawing out. My breath hangs like a cloud in the dry air as I crunch my way to the barn, living proof that I breathe for another day even though too many others right now can not.
We are a breathless people, wondering what comes next, feeling frozen and suspended in a pandemic and smoke-filled burning world.
We are a breathless people, wondering who or what will choke our life from us.
We are a breathless people, dressed as a bride in frosted satin, waiting at the altar for the Groom who bleeds red to save us from our fate.