A sudden light transfigures a trivial thing, a weather-vane, a wind-mill, a winnowing flail, the dust in the barn door; a moment,- -and the thing has vanished, because it was pure effect; but it leaves a relish behind it, a longing that the accident may happen again. ~Walter Pater from his essay “The Renaissance”
The accident of light does happen, again and again, but when I least expect it. If I’m not ready for it, in a blink, it can be gone.
Yet in that moment, everything is changed and transformed forever. The thing itself, trivial and transient becomes something other, merely because of how it is illuminated.
So am I, trivial and transient, lit from outside myself with a light that ignites me within. I’m transfigured by a love and sacrifice unexpected and undeserved.
Am I ready to be changed?
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A lurking man in that half light, there where eye imagines sight, stops my heart until I see Lurking man is leaning tree.
What changed? The man? There was none. Tree? The tree was always there. Then me? I did not change. I came to see and what I saw, what was could be. ~Archibald MacLeish, from Collected Poems 1917 to 1982
Every day I look for what is obvious on the farm – the trees, the flowers, the animals, the clouds, the lighting – all the daily and mundane things surrounding me. More often than not, what I see is straight-forward, needing no extra mental processing or interpretation.
Occasionally, my mind’s eye sees more and I’m stopped in my tracks. What is it I’m seeing and how much am I simply imagining? I see what “could be” and that alone creates a new dimension to what, on the surface, is plain and simple. Suddenly what is plain becomes glorious – a flower is otherworldly, a cat transformed by light, a wet feather a thing of beauty, a tree moves and breathes as if it is on fire.
Because my mind’s eye wants to look deeper, I see more detail. Because I myself am complex, I seek out complexity. Because I need transformation and renewal, my mind seeks to transform and renew. Because nothing around me is quite as it seems on the surface, I am called upon to notice it, in its beauty and in its simplicity.
I am changed by imagining how glorious things could be.
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overly delicate, like a flower skimmed of all fragrance.
You hear in the long last notes of the nightingale’s song
how to harbor what’s left of joy, how spring clutches
the green shoot of life and holds on and on through summer, prepares
for no end that is sure in coming, the fall ever endlessly repeating. ~Maureen Doallas “Recounting Seasons”, from Neruda’s Memoirs
One of my greatest joys is watching time as days become weeks, then months, and as years flow by, the seasons repeat seemingly endlessly. I know they must end for me eventually so I anticipate transitions before they take place.
In the “olden” days, many farmers kept daily hand-written diaries to track the events of the seasons: when the soil was warm enough to sow, when the harvest was ready, the highs and lows of temperature fluctuations, how many inches in the rain gauge, how deep the snow.
Now we follow the years with a swift scroll in our photo collection in our phones: the tulips bloomed two weeks later this year, or the tomatoes ripened early or the pears were larger two years ago.
I take comfort things tend to repeat predictably year after year, yet I can spot subtle differences. Our hydrangea bushes are a harbinger of seasonal change: they are blooming a darker burgundy color this year, the lace caps are mostly blue rather than pink and purple. Their blooms fade eventually into blended earth tones, then blanche, finally losing color altogether and becoming skeletal.
And so it is with me. I harbor joy by noticing each change, knowing the repetition of the seasons and the cycle of blooming will continue, with or without me here watching. I am unnecessary except as a recorder of fact.
I will keep watching and keep documenting as long as I’m able.
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To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour. ~William Blake from Auguries of Innocence
If I look closely enough, I might find the extraordinary in the commonplace things of life. So I keep my eyes alert and my heart open to infinite possibilities.
Sometimes what I see is so extraordinary already, it is like uncovering a bit of heaven on earth. Up in the alpine meadows of the Cascade mountains grow delicate avalanche lilies in July, just as the snow melt is complete. Though brief in their blooming, they are our harbingers of heaven. Despite the chill and darkness of winter, they rise triumphant, an eternal promise of a someday never-ending summer.
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Happy the man, whose wish and care A few paternal acres bound, Content to breathe his native air, In his own ground. Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread, Whose flocks supply him with attire, Whose trees in summer yield him shade, In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find Hours, days, and years slide soft away, In health of body, peace of mind, Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease, Together mixed; sweet recreation; And innocence, which most does please, With meditation.
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown; Thus unlamented let me die; Steal from the world, and not a stone Tell where I lie.
But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. ~George Eliot’s final sentence in Middlemarch
We have no idea who came before us, unseen, unknown, unheralded, unvisited, yet they, by living and dying, made our lives better today.
They lie, forgotten, now dust in the ground.
Yet they lived fully and lovingly, stewards of the earth and its creatures, parents to the next generation and the next and the next, placed here as images of their Creator.
May we, someday, having also lived faithfully in the fullness of time, leave behind a legacy of good and unhistoric acts that leave this world a better place for those who walk behind us in our footsteps.
It’s the least we can do, to honor those whose footprints we now follow.
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…The world is flux, and light becomes what it touches, becomes water, lilies on water, above and below water, becomes lilac and mauve and yellow and white and cerulean lamps, small fists passing sunlight so quickly to one another that it would take long, streaming hair inside my brush to catch it. To paint the speed of light! Our weighted shapes, these verticals, burn to mix with air and change our bones, skin, clothes to gases. Doctor, if only you could see how heaven pulls earth into its arms and how infinitely the heart expands to claim this world, blue vapor without end. ~Lisel Mueller, “Monet Refuses the Operation” from Second Language
“Heaven pulls earth into its arms…”
We all see things differently, don’t we? What seems ordinary to one person is extraordinarily memorable to another. How might I help others to see the world as I do? How might I learn to adjust my focus to see things as you do?
The world is flux; my delight and dismay flows from moment to moment, from object to absence, from light to darkness, from color to gray. Perhaps the blur from the figurative (or real) cataract that impedes my vision creates a deeper understanding, as I use my imagination to fill in what I can’t discern.
My heart and mind expands exponentially to claim this world and all the beauty has to offer, while heaven – all this while – is pulling me into its arms.
In heaven, my focus will be clear. It will all be extraordinarily ordinary.
Had I not been awake I would have missed it, A wind that rose and whirled until the roof Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore
And got me up, the whole of me a-patter, Alive and ticking like an electric fence: Had I not been awake I would have missed it
It came and went too unexpectedly And almost it seemed dangerously, Hurtling like an animal at the house,
A courier blast that there and then Lapsed ordinary. But not ever Afterwards. And not now. ~Seamus Heaney “Had I Not Been Awake”
It is very still in the world now – Thronged only with Music like the Decks of Birds and the Seasons take their hushed places like figures in a Dream – ~Emily Dickinson from an envelope poem fragment
My dreams have been exceptionally vivid recently, not scary but seemingly real. I’ll awake suddenly, surfacing out of deepest sleep to take a breath of reality and remind my brain that I’m still in bed, in a dark hushed room, my husband solid and warm beside me. All is well. I lie awake, reorienting myself from dream world to my world and ponder the hazy neuro-pathways in-between.
If I had not been awake after my dreams, I would have missed the night sounds of coyotes howling in the fields around the farmhouse, the chorus of peepers in the wetlands, the trickling waterfall in our koi pond, the clicking of the owls flying overhead, the sudden gust of wind that shakes the windows, the pelting of heavy rain.
So much still happens when I am asleep to the world, numb and inattentive. Even so, when dreams wake me, I find myself alive and listening, electrified by the awareness of everything around me.
Suddenly, nothing is ordinary because everything is. I am the most unordinary ordinary of all.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight.
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward. ~Mary Oliver “The Poet thinks about the donkey” from her book Thirst.
With monstrous head and sickening cry And ears like errant wings…
The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will; Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour; One far fierce hour and sweet: There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet. G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”
Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day. Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now – for his plain and awkward looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.
There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God, disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.
But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.
The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving. Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort. Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger, just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod, the donkey would keep his secret well.
Who, after all, would ever listen to a mere donkey?
We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom.
The donkey knows.
He bears the burden we have shirked. He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as meaningless symbols of honor. He is the ultimate servant to the Servant.
A day of dichotomy — of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on of blessings and praise turning to curses of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.
And so He wept, knowing all this. I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.
Take heart, my Friend, we’ll go together This uncertain road that lies ahead Our faithful God has always gone before us And He will lead the Way once again. Take heart, my Friend, we can walk together And if our burdens become too great We can hold up and help one another In God’s LOVE, in God’s Grace. Take heart my Friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our Defender in the Night. If we should falter when trouble surrounds us When the wind and the waves are wild and high We will look away to HIM who rules the waters; Who speaks His Peace into the angry tide. He is our Comfort, our Sustainer He is our Help in time of need When we wander, He is our Shepherd He who watches over us NEVER sleeps. Take heart my friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our Assurance every morning Our Defender every night. Amen. 🙂
Humble King You chose the road that led to suffering Nothing was spared to prove Your love for me Oh, the mystery That Your final breath became eternity What we had lost forever You redeemed, mmm
Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever
Triumphant King The Lamb who was slain who rose in majesty There’s never a heart beyond Your victory You are the one that we are welcoming You are the one that we are welcoming, oh
Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever
Ooh, forever We worship You forever, forever It’s all about You Blessed is He, blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord Oh, join now and sing, Jesus is King He reigns
Though I have never caught the word Of God from any calling bird, I hear all that the ancients heard. Though I have seen no deity Enter or leave a twilit tree, I see all that the seers see. A common stone can still reveal Something not stone, not seen, yet real. What may a common stone conceal? Nothing is far that once was near. Nothing is hid that once was clear. Nothing was God that is not here. Here is the bird, the tree, the stone. Here in the sun I sit alone Between the known and the unknown. ~Robert Francis, “Nothing Is Far” from Collected Poems, 1936-1976
We live out our lives between heaven and earth, sometimes in an uneasy tug-of-war between the two. We feel not quite ready for heaven as our roots go deep here, yet the challenges of daily life on this soil can seem overwhelmingly difficult and we often seek relief, begging for mercy.
We are living “in between” where we are now and where we soon will be, between the “known” of the birds and trees and stones of this world and the “unknown” of what comes next.
Christ, incarnate as the Son on earth and still King in heaven, maintains an eternal connection to above and below. Nothing was God that is not still here on earth. In His hands and under His protection, we are safe no matter where we are and where He takes us.
We, His children, have stony hearts no more. We are known to Him.
This child through David’s city Shall ride in triumph by; The palm shall strew its branches, And every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry, Though heavy, dull, and dumb, And lie within the roadway To pave his kingdom come.
Yet he shall be forsaken, And yielded up to die; The sky shall groan and darken, And every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry For stony hearts of men: God’s blood upon the spearhead, God’s love refused again. ~Richard Wilbur from “A Christmas Hymn”