Her elbow rested here a century ago. This is the field
she looked upon, a mad rush of wheat anchored to the barn.
What her thoughts were, the words she penned are driven into the grain,
its deep tide crossing under my hand. She breathes through the knothole.
Outside, the wind pushes the farm down an ally of stars. ~Wyatt Townley, “The Oak Desk” from The Afterlives of Trees
A writing desk is simply a repurposed tree; the smoothly sanded surface of swirling grain and knotholes nourish words and stories rather than leaves and fruit.
I can easily lose myself in the wood, whether it is as I sit at a window composing, or whether I’m outside walking among the trees which are merely potential writing desks in the raw.
Museums often feature the writing desks of the famous and I’ve seen many over the years – it is thrilling to be able touch the wood they touched as they wrote – gaze at the same grain patterns they saw as the words gelled, and feel the worn spots where elbows rested.
Though my little desk won’t ever become a museum piece, nor will my words ever be famous, I am grateful for the tree that gave me this place to sit each morning, breathing deeply, and praying that I will share worthy fruit.
In the shallows of the river After one o’clock in the afternoon Ice still An eighth of an inch thick. Night never disappears completely But moves among the shadows On the bank Like a glimpse of fur. Meanwhile Trees Grass Flies and spiderwebs Appear alone in the flat air. The naked aspens stand like children Waiting to be baptized And the goldenrod too is stripped down To its bare stalk In the cold Even my thoughts Have lost their foliage. ~Tom Hennen“At the Beginning of Winter”, from Looking Into The Weather.
My thoughts are stripped bare these days, no flowers or flourishing foliage left behind- just stark rows of naked branches, waiting, orderly and plain.
It is the nature of winter to think only of the essentials when night is always creeping around the edges of midday.
There is silence outside and echoing in my head, while waiting for something, ~anything~ remarkable to bud out and bloom.
All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling work of turning a yard from the wild to a gardener’s will, I heard a bird singing from a hidden, though not distant, perch; a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding like, Can you believe this, believe this, believe? Can you believe this, believe this, believe? And all morning, I did believe. All morning, between break-even bouts with the unwanted, I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so I might later recognize it in a guide, and know and call its name, but even more, I wanted to join its church. For all morning, and many a time in my life, I have wondered who, beyond this plot I work, has called the order of being, that givers of food are deemed lesser than are the receivers. All morning, muscling my will against that of the wild, to claim a place in the bounty of earth, seed, root, sun and rain, I offered my labor as a kind of grace, and gave thanks even for the aching in my body, which reached beyond this work and this gift of struggle. ~Richard Levine “Believe This” from That Country’s Soul
North Brooklin, Maine 30 March 1973
Dear Mr. Nadeau: As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up in the morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day. Sincerely, [Signed, ‘E. B. White’] from Letters of Note
Today yet another era begins and another ends. However, the struggle continues: there is anguish on one side and relief on the other– just the reverse of four years ago.
I want to believe things will be different and the messes cleaned up without creating new messes. I realize, thanks to human nature, that is a futile hope.
I want to believe that goodness and compassion will thrive again.
So I will pull out the weeds that have taken over in my on back yard and clear the ground for a clean start. I will rewind the clock to help create order out of chaos and experience steadfastness instead of uncertainty.
May we hang on to hope that our dis-united states may once again survive a leader with many human flaws and failings, just as we’ve survived countless other imperfect leaders.
It is up to we the people to keep our own yards weed-free, and not allow them to take over — ever again.
Thank God for grace, Ye who weep only! —look up! those tears will run Soon in long rivers down the lifted face, And leave the vision clear for stars and sun. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning from “Tears”
Grief is a river you wade in until you get to the other side. But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting around my ankles, moving downstream over the flat rocks. I’m not able to lift a foot, move on. Instead, I’m going to stay here in the shallows with my sorrow… It’s mine. …I’m going to stand here, growing colder, until every inch of my skin is numb. I can’t cross over. Then you really will be gone. ~Barbara Crooker from “Grief”
A river of tears flows with the untimely loss of a young person, a child of our church. Sorrow at such a loss fills a chasm so deep and dark that it is a fearsome thing to even peer from the edge, as I do. The family is numb, swallowed up by their grief.
We can never understand why such infinite sadness should befall good and gracious people. We are once again reminded – there can be profound darkness that descends into the human heart, stealing away lives too soon.
Be assured you do not weep alone. Your grief is so familiar to a suffering God who too wept at the death of a friend, a God who cried out when asked to endure the unendurable.
There is comfort in knowing He understands and overcomes all peril to come to the rescue when we become stuck fast in the middle of our grief, too numb to move on. He will fill the hole left behind as only He can.
You who grieve: you are not abandoned. Your sadness is His, your sorrow is ours. You are loved with a love so deep and high and broad, it will somehow carry you through.
…if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community. Booker T. Washington was right: “Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Stride Toward Freedom
Do you know why this world is as bad as it is? It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrong-doers to light. My doctrine is this: that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt. ~Anna Sewell from Black Beauty
As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. ~William O. Douglasin a 1976 letter to Young Lawyers of the Washington State Bar Association
We live in a time where the groaning need and dividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized. Countless people are subjected to hatred, violence and oppression which go unchecked. The injustice and corruption which exist today are causing many voices to be raised to protest and cry out that something be done. Many men and women are being moved to sacrifice much in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace. There is a movement afoot in our time, a movement which is growing, awakening.
We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for every social injustice, every oppression, the downgrading of others and the injury that man does to man, whether personal or on a broader plane.… God must intervene with his spirit and his justice and his truth. The present misery, need, and decay must pass away and the new day of the Son of Man must dawn. This is the advent of God’s coming. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger that its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise. ~Marian Anderson, American opera singer at two presidential inaugurals, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and US State Dept. Goodwill Ambassador
We have a new definition of greatness: it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant. ~Martin Luther King, Jr. in a February 1968 sermon: “The Drum Major Instinct”, A Knock At Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King’s words and wisdom in his sermons and letters written over fifty years ago continue to inform us of our shortcomings as a society.
We flounder in our flaws and brokenness, persisting in our resistance to serve one another out of humility, grace and love.
Perhaps this week, we can be forgiven and start afresh.
Instead of spewing lies, profanity and hatred, can we unite despite our fear of one another? -to no longer be divided by strife and disagreements, -to no longer support actions that result in senseless killings, whether in the streets or in the womb, -to finally be able to hold up one another, born and unborn, as a holy and equal in God’s eyes.
May we join together as the light dawns on this day knowing, as Dr. King knew, a new day will come when the Lord God wipes tears away from all faces, all colors, all people, created in His image.
Sundays too my father got up early And put his clothes on in the blueback cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? – Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays
As a child growing up, I was oblivious to the sacrifices my parents made to keep the house warm, place food on the table, to teach us the importance of faith and belief, to crack the door of opportunity open, so we could walk through to a better life.
It was no small offering to keep dry seasoned fire and stove wood always at the doorstep, to milk the cows twice a day, to grow and preserve fruits and vegetables months in advance, to raise and butcher meat animals, to read books together every night, to sit with us over homework and drive us to 4H, Cub Scouts and Camp Fire, to music lessons and sports, to sit together, never missing a Sunday morning, to worship God.
This was their love, so often invisible, too often imperfect, even when they were angry with one another– yet its encompassing warmth splintered and broke the grip of cold and loneliness that too often overwhelms and freezes a child’s heart and soul.
What did I know? Too little then, maybe a little more now.
Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt, and then the shadow sweeps it away.
You know you’re alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
It was like a church to me. I entered it on soft foot, Breath held like a cap in the hand. It was quiet. What God there was made himself felt, Not listened to, in clean colours That brought a moistening of the eye, In a movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness Of the heart’s passions – that was praise Enough; and the mind’s cession Of its kingdom. I walked on, Simple and poor, while the air crumbled And broke on me generously as bread. ~R.S. Thomas “The Moor”
There are January days when I am surrounded by mist and fog and partly cloudies- a brief gift of blue sky and gilt light.
God is felt on days like this, neither seen or heard, His stilling presence overtaking me with each breath I draw, following the path of each glistening tear, becoming the arcing ground reaching to meet my foot with each bold step I take.
Though the barn is so warm that the oats in his manger, the straw in his bed seem to give off smoke—
though the wind is so cold, the snow in the pasture so deep he’d fall down and freeze in an hour—
the eleven-month-old palomino stallion has gone almost crazy fighting and pleading to be let out. ~Alden Nowlan “The Palomino Stallion” from Selected Poems.
Inside the barn the sheep were standing, pushed close to one another. Some were dozing, some had eyes wide open listening in the dark. Some had no doubt heard of wolves. They looked weary with all the burdens they had to carry, like being thought of as stupid and cowardly, disliked by cowboys for the way they eat grass about an inch into the dirt, the silly look they have just after shearing, of being one of the symbols of the Christian religion. In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were full of light gathered on summer pastures. Above them their white breath was suspended, while far off in the pine woods, night was deep in silence. The owl and rabbit were wondering, along with the trees, if the air would soon fill with snowflakes, but the power that moves through the world and makes our hair stand on end was keeping the answer to itself. ~Tom Hennen “Sheep in the Winter Night” from Darkness Sticks to Everything.
We all feel pretty locked in right now – not able to go where we want, when we want, or how we want. We are kicking at the walls and pummeling each other in our frustration at the limitations imposed by a blizzard of virus swirling outside, swallowing up another person every couple minutes.
It is hard to think of quarantine as a necessary time of security and safety. Even our horses are confined to their barn stalls in the worst of winter weather with all the comforts of home provided to them, yet somehow they believe it is better “out there” than inside. However, once they are “out there,” they take one look around and turn back to come in where there isn’t knee deep mud or bitter northeast winds or pounding drenching rain. It isn’t a bit friendly out there.
In this part of the world, we can continue to have harsh winter weather for another month or so and then we can start allowing our critters more freedom. There is no chance the viral storm will settle that soon so the rest of us will hunker down for a while longer.
The thing is to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again. ~Ellen Bass, “The Thing Is” from Mules of Love
There is so much grief these days so much loss of life so much weeping.
How can we withstand this? How can we know, now, when we are barely able to breathe that we might know – at some point – we might love life again?
Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.
The road, You shall follow it. The cup, You shall empty it. The pain, You shall conceal it. The truth, You shall be told it. The end, You shall endure it. ~Dag Hammarskjöld in writings from his 1953 journal
Today, after the wind storm of yesterday, when rain fell in unrelenting torrents from heaven, we are caught in a rising current so swift we must cling fast or be swept away.
Drenched beyond capacity to absorb any more, we are ready, Lord, to empty ourselves into your thirstiness so we are useful for your purposes.