Dawn on Our Darkness: There’s Nothing Like the Sun

There’s nothing like the sun as the year dies,
Kind as can be, this world being made so,
To stones and men and birds and beasts and flies,
To all things that it touches except snow,
Whether on mountainside or street of town.
The south wall warms me: November has begun,
Yet never shone the sun as fair as now
While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough
With spangles of the morning’s storm drop down
Because the starling shakes it, whistling what
Once swallows sang. But I have not forgot
That there is nothing, too, like March’s sun,
Like April’s, or July’s, or June’s, or May’s,
Or January’s, or February’s, great days:
August, September, October, and December
Have equal days, all different from November.
No day of any month but I have said—
Or, if I could live long enough, should say—
“There’s nothing like the sun that shines today.”
There’s nothing like the sun till we are dead.

~Edward Thomas “There’s nothing like the sun”

Each day throughout the year, I search the sky for a hint of how the sunlight might appear through the clouds. Like a gallery of landscapes in a museum, the artistry of Light penetrating darkness changes moment to moment. Some days the sun is completely missing in action and we’re covered under a gray flannel blanket. Other days, there are no clouds whatsoever for the light to flow over and play with.

November can be particularly poignant because of the dying light at the end of the year. At times I feel desperate for the dawn, almost worried it won’t come. During these recent chill late autumn mornings, any light is welcome, along with the potential warmth it brings.

I keep taking pictures of what I see during this transition from night to light and light to night. I keep trying to find words to describe what these brief moments feel like, as it is always a visceral experience, often exhilarating, watching the sun navigate the horizon yet again.

I know if I could only live long enough, there will be a day when I say “nothing can equal the light I see today.” That would indeed be the day when the ultimate Light has called me home. What I see here is merely the preview. Indeed, God Himself came down to see how things look from our perspective.

There’s nothing like the Son to light the way home.

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Dawn on our Darkness: Where We Dwell

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

~Wendell Berry “To Know the Dark” from Soul Food – Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds

What is coming upon the world is the Light of the World.
It is Christ.
That is the comfort of it.

The challenge of it is that it has not come yet.
Only the hope for it has come, only the longing for it.
In the meantime we are in the dark,
and the dark, God knows, is also in us.

We watch and wait for a holiness to heal us and hallow us,
to liberate us from the dark.
Advent is like the hush in a theater just before the curtain rises.
It is like the hazy ring around the winter moon
that means the coming of snow which will turn the night to silver.

Soon.
But for the time being, our time, darkness is where we are. 
~Frederick Buechner from The Clown in the Belfry

We enter Advent immersed in darkness; it exists both outside us and within.
Somehow we must withstand it until the Light comes.
It is where we are.

We are promised this in the Word: “and night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light… Revelation 22:5.

The Word in the beginning set a dark universe in motion.
The Word became both flesh and Savior to a world dwelling in darkness.
The Word as Spirit thrives eternally to enlighten our hearts, our minds and hands.

Advent is a time of quiet stillness, awaiting the Light brought by His Word;
He is a flint struck to our wick – the darkness abolished by His illuminating glow.

This year’s Advent theme “Dawn on our Darkness” is taken from this 19th century Christmas hymn.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid.
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
~Reginald Heber -from “Brightest and Best”

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Dawn on Our Darkness: A Seed in the Ground

…new life starts in the dark.
Whether it is a seed in the ground,
a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb,
it starts in the dark.
~Barbara Brown Taylor from Learning to Walk in the Dark

If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?
G.K. Chesterton

The seed is the word of God.
Luke 8:11b

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5

I began a mere seed lying dormant in the darkness of my mother’s body, plain and simple.

Just as the spring murmurs life to the seed in the ground, so the Word calls a human seed of life to stir and swell, becoming at once both an animate and intimate reflection of Himself.

The seed shakes off the darkness as growth begins.

I was awakened from quiescence to sprout, bloom and fruit. I reach as far as my tethered roots allow, aiming beyond earthly bounds to touch the light and be touched.

These days of Advent seed renew hope in my heart, ready and waiting to unfurl. A precious fragrance will linger, long after my last petal has withered, loosened, and fallen to freedom.

I began in the dark and dawn is calling me to reach for the heavens.

This year’s Advent theme “Dawn on our Darkness” is taken from this 19th century Christmas hymn.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid.
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
~Reginald Heber -from “Brightest and Best”

Christmas comes anew, O let us sing Noel!
Glory to God! Now let your praises swell!
Sing we Noel for Christ, the newborn King,4
Christmas comes anew, O let us sing Noel!

Angels did say, “O shepherds come and see,
Born in Bethlehem, a blessed Lamb for thee.”
Sing we Noel for Christ, the newborn King,
Christmas comes anew, O let us sing Noel!

In the manger bed, the shepherds found the child;
Joseph was there, and the Mother Mary mild.
Sing we Noel for Christ, the newborn King,
Christmas comes anew, O let us sing Noel!

Soon came the kings from following the star,
Bearing costly gifts from Eastern lands afar.
Sing we Noel for Christ, the newborn King,
Christmas comes anew, O let us sing Noel!

Brought to Him gold and incense of great price;
Then the stable bare resembled Paradise.
Sing we Noel for Christ, the newborn King,
Christmas comes anew, O let us sing Noel!

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love Whom we had slain,
Thinking that He’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Up He sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Up from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

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Rumors of Rutabagas

Rutabagas were new to me
when I first paired with Jean.
At Thanksgiving and Easter dinners
her grandpa Frank, her spinster cousin,
mom, dad, and a tribe of handsome
brothers dined in near silence
at a great green table
with fierce griffins underneath.
I would wonder if their quiet
was about secrets or something wrong
but now I think it was
just how they gathered.

Rutabagas were on the table.
I had to ask Jean what they were.
My first mouthful tasted
like something in a gunny sack;
nothing like a wine
from which an epicure, or would-be epicure,
might claim to read the soils
in which the grapes were grown.
She said she loved their dug-up texture,
the hint of dirt
that couldn’t be baked away,
how they left the tongue
with a rumor of something
underground and dark.

Autumn vegetables suit her,
I think, and none more than rutabagas,
so reluctant to have left the ground.

~James Silas Rogers, “Rutabagas: A Love Poem” from Sundogs

It’s true. We had never eaten rutabaga before this Thanksgiving. It is an otherworldly thing that looks like it would rather stay out of sight in the ground. Rutabagas get no respect because they appear rough and tumble, though in actuality they are exceedingly humble with a shy sense of humor.

Our son Ben is an innovative cook and loves to try new things for family get-togethers. This week our dinner was graced with peeled, diced and roasted root vegetables including this new addition. These all came direct from our garden – hiding deep in the soil one minute and roasting in olive oil and seasonings the next: beets, carrots, leeks, garlic and this absolutely ginormous and homely-looking rutabaga.

This is Dan’s first year of planting rutabaga seed, having experimented with turnips previously; we were impressed with the growth of roots up to the size of a melon. It was a great addition to the roasted vegetables, tasting of an earthy but slightly sweet essence of the soil that nourished it.

Rumor is – rutabagas will be back in the garden plan for next year. There is just something exceptional about a scabby-skinned, pock-marked and bumpy vegetable that prefers to stay tucked away in the dark underground, but when chosen, picked and brought into the light, happily feeds a family for a week.

May we all have the heart of a rutabaga.

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Blinking in the Sun

When you have been
at war with yourself
for so many years that
you have forgotten why,
when you have been driving
for hours and only
gradually begin to realize
that you have lost the way,
when you have cut
hastily into the fabric,
when you have signed
papers in distraction,
when it has been centuries
since you watched the sun set
or the rain fall, and the clouds,
drifting overhead, pass as flat
as anything on a postcard;
when, in the midst of these
everyday nightmares, you
understand that you could
wake up,
you could turn
and go back
to the last thing you
remember doing
with your whole heart:
that passionate kiss,
the brilliant drop of love
rolling along the tongue of a green leaf,
then you wake,
you stumble from your cave,
blinking in the sun,
naming every shadow
as it slips.
~Joyce Sutphen “From Out the Cave” from Straight Out of View
.

Rather than mindfulness, I try to practice something I call “heartfulness.” Instead of staying so much inside my head while going through the necessary motions of everyday routine, I try to make sense of my place and purpose in the world to invest my heart in it. I pay attention to what is happening around me – the sights, sounds, smells – to where my feet will land next and to where my hands might extend to serve. For internally focused people like me, it helps to stretch my vision and my actions beyond my own needs.

It is like waking from a troubled sleep, and seeing familiar surroundings that have been in shadow, cast in a new light for the first time. When I first bought a phone with a camera over a decade ago, I started looking at the world differently, eager to capture the subtle changes I witnessed throughout the time of day and seasonal progression. Sometimes I receive feedback that my photos look “all the same” – they are only two-dimensional versions of what I see around me. Indeed, how can a photo communicate the fresh feel of dew-dawn air, or the crunch of snow underfoot, or the scent of spring blossoms or the smell of badly needed rain? My photo becomes my hook back to a focused moment of heartfulness for me — my reminder of what ‘was’ and ‘is” and what ‘will be again.’

As I climb out of the relative safety of my dark “cave” – a place we all retreat to when life is simply too much – I stand astonished and heart-full, blinking at the sun, aware that I’m meant to witness all that is beyond me.

And simply to share and tell about it as best I can.

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Simply to Be is a Blessing

Before the adults we call our children arrive with their children in tow
  for Thanksgiving,

we take our morning walk down the lane of oaks and hemlocks, mist
  a smell of rain by nightfall—underfoot,

the crunch of leathery leaves released by yesterday’s big wind.

You’re ahead of me, striding into the arch of oaks that opens onto the fields
  and stone walls of the road—

as a V of geese honk a path overhead, and you stop—

in an instant, without thought, raising your arms toward sky, your hands
  flapping from the wrists,

and I can read in the echo your body makes of these wild geese going
  where they must,

such joy, such wordless unity and delight, you are once again the child
  who knows by instinct, by birthright,

just to be is a blessing. In a fictional present, I write the moment down.
  You embodied it. 
~Margaret Gibson “Moment” 

On this day,
this giving-thanks day,
I know families who surround loved ones fighting for life in ICU beds,
others struggling to find gratitude in their pierced hearts
when their child/brother/sister/spouse is gunned down in mass shootings,
or too many tragically lost every day to overwhelming depression,
as well as those lost in a devastating three year pandemic.

It is the measure of us – we created ones –
to kneel in gratitude while facing the terrible
and still feel touched, held, loved and blessed,
to sincerely believe how wide and long and high and deep is His love for us —
even when we weep, even when we mourn,
even when our pain makes no sense.

God chose to come alongside us and suffer,
rather than fly away.
He knew being alive
~just to be like us at all~
was His blessing to last an eternity.

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Frost of Adversity

There is an arid Pleasure –
As different from Joy –
As Frost is different from Dew –
Like Element – are they –

Yet one – rejoices Flowers –
And one – the Flowers abhor –
The finest Honey – curdled –
Is worthless – to the Bee –
~Emily Dickinson

Remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity.
~Charles Spurgeon

Even when hard times leave us frozen solid,
completely immobilized
and too cold to touch,
there is hope and healing,
in the warming immensity
of the goodness of God.

Even when life’s chill leaves us aching,
longing for relief,
the coming thaw is real
because God is good.

Even when we’re flattened,
stepped on, broken into fragments —
the pieces left are the beginning
of who we will become,
becoming whole again
because God is good.

Frost lasts not forever.
Sunlight makes us glisten and glitter
as ice melts down to droplets.
We are a reflection of the goodness of God:
His eyes and ears,
heart and soul,
hands and feet.
Even more so,
we become His tears
as God weeps in His goodness.

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Keeper of the Wardrobe Door

You are our portal to those hidden havens
Whence we return to bless our being here.
Scribe of the Kingdom, keeper of the door
Which opens on to all we might have lost,

Ward of a word-hoard in the deep hearts core
Telling the tale of Love from first to last.

Generous, capacious, open, free,
Your wardrobe-mind has furnished us with worlds
Through which to travel, whence we learn to see
Along the beam, and hear at last the heralds,
Sounding their summons, through the stars that sing,
Whose call at sunrise brings us to our King.

~Malcolm Guite from “C.S. Lewis: a sonnet”


This is the 59th anniversary of C.S Lewis’s death in 1963, overshadowed that day by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

the wardrobe from C.S. Lewis’ childhood home built by his grandfather, later to serve as his inspiration for “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in his home “The Kilns” at Oxford.

Sign on this wardrobe which is part of the C.S. Lewis collection at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, Illinois:

“We do not take responsibility for people disappearing.”

This is no mere piece of furniture;
Enchantment hangs within
Among the furs and cloaks
Smelling faintly of mothballs.

Touch the smooth wood,
Open the doors barely
To be met with a faint cool breeze~
Hints of snowy woods and adventure.

Reach inside to feel smooth soft furs
Move aside to allow dark passage
Through to another world, a pathway to
Cherished imagination of the soul.

Seek a destination for mind and heart,
A journey through the wardrobe,
Navigate the night path to reach a
Lit lone lamp post in the wood.

Beaming light as it shines undimmed,
A beacon calling us home, back home
Through the open door, to step out transformed,
No longer lost or longing, but immersed in the Glory of Spring.

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Tenderness for Ordinary Things

Last evening,
As I drove into this small valley,
I saw a low-hanging cloud
Wandering through the trees.
It circled like a school of fish
Around the dun-colored hay bales.
Reaching out its foggy hands
To stroke the legs of a perfect doe
Quietly grazing in a neighbor’s mule pasture
I stopped the car
And stepping out into the blue twilight,
A wet mist brushed my face,
And then it was gone.
It was not unfriendly,
But it was not inclined to tell its secrets.
I am in love with the untamed things,
The cloud, the doe,
Water, air and light.
I am filled with such tenderness
For ordinary things:
The practical mule, the pasture,
A perfect spiral of gathered hay.
And although I should not be,
Consistent as it is,
I am always surprised
By the way my heart will open
So completely and unexpectedly,
With a rush and an ache,
Like a sip of cold water
On a tender tooth.
~Carrie Newcomer “In the Hayfield”

I realize that nothing in this life is actually ordinary – at times I could weep over the unordinariness that is around me.

The light falls a certain way, the colors astound, the animals grace the fields with their contentment, the birds become overture, the air is perfumed with rain or blossom.

How can I not ache with this knowledge? How can I not feel the tenderness of my heart feeling so full, it could burst at any moment?

Truly extraordinary to be able to give myself over to this.

Light pools like spilled water on the floor
Cold air slips like silk beneath the door
The sky feels like a grey wool cap
Pulled down round my ears that near

All the ridge is lined with stands of beech
At the tops they’re swaying quietly
So elegant and raw without their leaves
All of these I see

I catch a memory a scent another short glimpse
Like someone leaned over and gave my forehead a kiss
I give myself to this

There’s a hidden spring back where it’s hard to find
Someone used it years ago to make moonshine
This forest has a different sense of time
Than yours or mine

I catch a memory a scent another short glimpse
Like someone leaned over and gave my forehead a kiss
I give myself to this

There’s a soil horizon
Layers beneath the trees
A sign of outward grace
Unraveling

One bird sits and sings an aching song
One turning leaf, ten circles on the pond
Two careful does wait silently beyond
Then they’re gone they’re gone

I catch a memory a scent another short glimpse
Like someone leaned over and gave my forehead a kiss
I give myself to this
~Carrie Newcomer

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A Broken and Contrite Heart

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit:
a broken and contrite heart
Psalm 51:17

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart.
2 Corinthians: 6-12, 16

The great mystery of God’s love is that we are not asked to live as if we are not hurting, as if we are not broken. In fact, we are invited to recognize our brokenness as a brokenness in which we can come in touch with the unique way that God loves us. The great invitation is to live your brokenness under the blessing. I cannot take people’s brokenness away and people cannot take my brokenness away.  But how do you live in your brokenness? Do you live your brokenness under the blessing or under the curse? The great call of Jesus is to put your brokenness under the blessing.
~Henri Nouwen from a Lecture at Scarritt-Bennett Center

Every day, as the sun goes down,
I pause, broken, remembering how often
I messed up that day, in big and small ways.
I’m cracked open, my mistakes illuminated,
weighing down my heart, impossible to forget.
Yet, as I pray for mercy, there follows a peacefulness,
as my errors are blotted out.

My slate, one more time, is wiped clean.

This ceramic pot is meant specially for our kitchen table — handmade by a friend using the abstract artistry of mane hairs from our farm’s Haflinger horses burnt onto the sides.  But it hit the floor and broke into many pieces, looking completely beyond repair.

It is back on our table, repaired with love and care by another friend, using nothing more than copious amounts of Elmer’s Glue.  This is the glue of every child’s school desk, the glue of every mother’s junk drawer, the glue of every heart that needs mending.  Elmer’s is not the gold of the Japanese art of kintsugiwhere broken vessels are repaired with precious metals, creating an object even more valuable and beautiful than before, with streaks and tracks of gold highlighting their shattered history.

Yet this ceramic is now even more precious to me. Someone we love cared deeply enough to make it in the first place, and another we love cared deeply to repair it, making it more beautiful and blessed in its brokenness, highlighting ragged pieces made whole again.

Someone made us.
Someone repairs us when we fall apart.
Someone blesses our brokenness with a glued-together beauty that makes us whole.

Therefore do not lose heart…


~Allegri’s Miserere — setting of Psalm 51

Translation:
Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offenses.

Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight:
that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.

Behold, I was shaped in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.

Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness:
that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.

Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.

Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.

O give me the comfort of Thy help again: and establish me with Thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.

Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my health:
and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.

For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.

O be favorable and gracious unto Sion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness,
with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar.

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