Every few minutes, he wants to march the trail of flattened rye grass back to the house of muttering hens. He too could make a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it to his ear while the other children laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him, so little yet, too forgetful in games, ready to cry if the ball brushed him, riveted to the secret of birds caught up inside his fist, not ready to give it over to the refrigerator or the rest of the day. ~Naomi Shibab Nye “Boy and Egg” from Fuel
Gathering eggs on my childhood farm was a source of wonder and terror: the pleasure and challenge of reaching under a downy breast to wrap my fingers around such smooth warm wholeness.
Daily I fought my fear of a hen muttering under her breath, staring warily at me, her beak at the ready, ready to defend what was rightfully hers and not mine.
It was a game of chicken in the truest sense, a stand-off between a four year old girl and two year old hen: we locked onto each other’s eyes while I bravely grabbed the egg and she pecked at my hand. I would never let go of her egg or her eyes and, as part of the daily game, she allowed me to have both.
Like the game of chicken I watch my dogs play daily now, their eyes locked in mutual respect, intimidation and affection. They need one another for this game of love: give and take, take and give.
A new book from Barnstorming and poet Lois Edstrom now available for order here:
In a daring and beautiful creative reversal, God takes the worse we can do to Him and turns it into the very best He can do for us. ~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness
See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness— 15 so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. Isaiah 52: 13-15
When I was wounded whether by God, the devil, or myself —I don’t know yet which— it was seeing the sparrows again and clumps of clover, after three days, that told me I hadn’t died. When I was young, all it took were those sparrows, those lush little leaves, for me to sing praises, dedicate operas to the Lord. But a dog who’s been beaten is slow to go back to barking and making a fuss over his owner —an animal, not a person like me who can ask: Why do you beat me? Which is why, despite the sparrows and the clover, a subtle shadow still hovers over my spirit. May whoever hurt me, forgive me. ~Adelia Prado “Divine Wrath” translated from BrazilianPortuguese by Ellen Doré Watson
Emmet Till’s mother speaking over the radio
She tells in a comforting voice what it was like to touch her dead boy’s face,
how she’d lingered and traced the broken jaw, the crushed eyes–
the face that badly beaten, disfigured— before confirming his identity.
And then she compares his face to the face of Jesus, dying on the cross.
This mother says no, she’d not recognize her Lord, for he was beaten far, far worse
than the son she loved with all her heart. For, she said, she could still discern her son’s curved earlobe,
My Lord, my Lord, Long have I cried out to Thee In the heat of the sun, The cool of the moon, My screams searched the heavens for Thee. My God, When my blanket was nothing but dew, Rags and bones Were all I owned, I chanted Your name Just like Job.
Father, Father, My life give I gladly to Thee Deep rivers ahead High mountains above My soul wants only Your love But fears gather round like wolves in the dark. Have You forgotten my name? O Lord, come to Your child. O Lord, forget me not.
You said to lean on Your arm And I’m leaning You said to trust in Your love And I’m trusting You said to call on Your name And I’m calling I’m stepping out on Your word.
Into the alleys Into the byways Into the streets And the roads And the highways Past rumor mongers And midnight ramblers Past the liars and the cheaters and the gamblers. On Your word On Your word. On the wonderful word of the Son of God. I’m stepping out on Your word. ~Maya Angelou from “Just Like Job”
Once again — and again and again — bullets have been fired out of evil intent by disturbed and hate-filled men, striking down people who look (and are) just like us.
Weeping never needs translation or interpretation, no matter what color cheeks they moisten.
Distrust and fear continue to impact us daily, settling like a shroud over the most routine activities – going to school, going grocery shopping, going to church. It isn’t just a virus that threatens us; it is being targeted in someone’s gun sight.
In order to even walk out the door in the morning, we must fall back on what we are told, each and every day, in 365 different verses in God’s Word itself:
Do not be overwhelmed with evil but overcome evil with good.
We shall overcome despite evil and our fear of each other.
The goal of this life is to live for others, to live in such a way that death cannot erase the meaning and significance of a life. We are called to give up our selfish agendas in order to consider the dignity of others and their greater good. We are called to keep weapons out of the hands of those who would use them to harm themselves or others, which means better screening, longer waiting periods, improved tracking of ownership.
It is crystal clear from Christ’s example as we observe His journey to the cross over the next week: we are to cherish life, all lives, born and unborn, even unto death. Christ forgave those who hated and murdered Him.
Our only defense against the evil we witness is God’s offense. Only God can lead us to Tolkien’s “where everything sad will come untrue”, where we shall live in peace, walk hand in hand, no longer alone, no longer afraid, no longer shedding tears of grief and sorrow, but tears of relief and joy.
We shall all be free. We shall overcome because God does.
We shall overcome
We shall live in peace
We’ll walk hand in hand
We shall all be free
We are not afraid
We are not alone
God will see us through
We shall overcome
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe We shall overcome some day
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Strength to Love
The whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts— that we are his fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. ~C.S. Lewisfrom Mere Christianity
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1Corinthians 12:27
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. ~Teresa of Avila
When I am awake in the night to attend to those who are hurting, some who have been hurt by illness, injury or abuse or who hurt themselves to escape their hopelessness, I remember, in my own weariness, this dear one too is part of His body, one of the cells that adjoins the cell that is me, each of us critical to the life raised in the body of Christ.
Why have have so many of us Christians forgotten this in the last year? How can we not care first and foremost for the vulnerable, for our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as those who we don’t know and don’t yet know Christ, by doing whatever we can, whether it is the inconvenience of masking or accepting the low risk of an effective vaccine, to shield others and ourselves from potential harm and end this painful time of pandemic history?
Pastor Tim Keller has said: Christians are called by God to be living so sacrificially and beautifully that the people around us, who don’t believe what we believe, will soon be unable to imagine the world without us.
Thank you to David French, Michael Luo, and Scott Sauls for their insights into the role of Christ’s church during the pandemic and how we can do better in living out our mandate as the body and cells of Christ.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your loves sake. Amen. ~Common Book of Prayer
Walking in February A warm day after a long freeze On an old logging road Below Sumas Mountain Cut a walking stick of alder, Looked down through clouds On wet fields of the Nooksack— And stepped on the ice Of a frozen pool across the road. It creaked The white air under Sprang away, long cracks Shot out in the black, My cleated mountain boots Slipped on the hard slick —like thin ice—the sudden Feel of an old phrase made real— Instant of frozen leaf, Icewater, and staff in hand. “Like walking on thin ice—” I yelled back to a friend, It broke and I dropped Eight inches in ~Gary Snyder “Thin Ice”
We have witnessed an unprecedented year of spreading infection. Not only have we been outwitted by a wily virus that mutates as needed to further its domination of its hosts and the world, but we stand on a frozen lake pandemic of daily discouragement and ice-cracking political division, not sure where we may safely take our next step.
Viruses depend on us harboring them without us dying promptly so we might infect as many others as possible as quickly as possible. The better we feel while contagious, the better it is for the virus to wreak potential havoc on those around us.
A mask on you and a mask on me helps to block my virus from entering your (as yet) uninfected nose. Similarly, we can both don “masks” to impede the intentional spread of our insistence that one of us is right and the other is wrong. If we don’t attempt to muzzle our disagreements, we’re creating cracks in the tenuous ice beneath our feet.
The trouble with overheated debates in the middle of winter is that we all end up walking on too-thin ice, breaking through and doused by the chilly waters below.
Lord, have mercy on us, help us see and hear the cracks forming beneath our feet. Put us on our knees before you, you alone, humble and aware of the contagious cracks we perpetuate.
What a person desires in life is a properly boiled egg. This isn’t as easy as it seems. There must be gas and a stove, the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills, banks that dispense the lozenge of capital. There must be a pot, the product of mines and furnaces and factories, of dim early mornings and night-owl shifts, of women in kerchiefs and men with sweat-soaked hair. Then water, the stuff of clouds and skies and God knows what causes it to happen. There seems always too much or too little of it and more pipelines, meters, pumping stations, towers, tanks. And salt-a miracle of the first order, the ace in any argument for God. Only God could have imagined from nothingness the pang of salt. Political peace too. It should be quiet when one eats an egg. No political hoodlums knocking down doors… It should be quiet, so quiet you can hear the chicken, a creature usually mocked as a type of fool, a cluck chained to the chore of her body. Listen, she is there, pecking at a bit of grain that came from nowhere. ~Baron Wormser, from “A Quiet Life” from Scattered Chapters.
So much depends on the cluck of a chicken, on her self-satisfied cackle when she releases her perfect egg into the nest.
I wish I could be so flawless as her egg but am far from it. The simple things in life season me with meaning and flavor, all God-given mercy making it possible that I am here at all: walking this earth for the time I am granted, talking with those who listen intently, healing those who seek my help, writing for those who read kindly, loving those who, like me, thrive solely on being fed God’s gentle grace salted over my forgiven flaws: I’m a boiled egg peeled imperfectly with divets and bits of shell still attached, yet formed from a clucking chicken fed generously from His holy hand.
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
There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. ~Will Rogers
Learning is a universal human experience from the moment we take our first breath. It is never finished until the last breath is given up. With a lifetime of learning, one would think eventually we should get it right.
But we don’t. We tend to learn the hard way especially when it comes to matters having to do with our (or others’) health.
As physicians in training, we “see one, do one, teach one.” That kind of approach doesn’t always go so well for the patient. As patients, we like to eat, drink, and live how we wish, demanding what interventions we want only when we want them – this also doesn’t go so well for the patient. You’d think we’d know better, but as fallible human beings, we may impulsively make decisions about our health without actually using our heads (is it evidence-based or simply an anecdotal story about what “worked” for someone else?).
The cows and horses on our farm need to touch an electric fence only once when reaching for greener grass on the other side. That moment provides a sufficient learning curve for them to make an important decision. They won’t try testing it again no matter how alluring the world appears on the other side. Humans are smarter sentient beings who should learn as quickly as animals but unfortunately don’t. I know all too well what a shock feels like and I want to avoid repeating that experience. Even so, in unguarded careless moments of feeling invulnerable (it can’t happen to me!), and yearning to have what I don’t necessarily need, I may find myself reaching for the greener grass (or another cookie) even though I know better. I suspect I’m not alone in my surprise when I’m jolted back to reality when I continually indulge myself and climb on the scale to see the results.
Many great minds have worked out various theories of effective learning, but, great mind or not, Will Rogers confirms a common sense suspicion: an adverse experience, like a “bolt out of the blue,” can be a powerful teacher. As clinicians, we call it “a teachable moment.” None of us want to experience a teachable moment — none of us, and we resent it when someone points it out to us.
When physicians and patients learn the hard way, we need to come along aside one another rather than work at cross-purposes.
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.
…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.