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.
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.
She wakes to gray. No words to guide the way toward son. His unfamiliar face seems kind enough. She nods hello. Just yesterday she knew his eyes, but now?
This morning’s mind welcomes the past but not the day. She was someone: woman who woke at 3:00 to sing her restless son to sleep, his calm her cause for celebration. Today the dawn brings
no clarity, yet still the stranger comes and draws her curtains wide. She thinks outside is where she left her life: daughters, a son who meet sunrise without her. Look, the light
is brighter now. The kind man helps her stand. To see the morning sun, she takes his hand. ~Marjorie Maddox “Alzheimer Aubade”
Lying still, your mouth gapes open as I wonder if you breathe your last. Your hair a white cloud Your skin baby soft No washing, digging, planting gardens Or raising children Anymore.
Where do your dreams take you? At times you wake in your childhood home of Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom. Other naps take you to your student and teaching days Grammar and drama, speech and essays. Yesterday you were a young mother again Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.
Today you looked about your empty nest Disguised as hospital bed, Wondering aloud about Children grown, flown. You still control through worry and tell me: Travel safely Get a good night’s sleep Take time to eat Call me when you get there
I dress you as you dressed me I clean you as you cleaned me I love you as you loved me You try my patience as I tried yours. I wonder if I have the strength to Mother my mother For as long as she needs.
When I tell you the truth Your brow furrows as it used to do When I disappointed you~ This cannot be A bed in a room in a sterile place Waiting for death Waiting for heaven Waiting
And I tell you: Travel safely Eat, please eat Sleep well Call me when you get there.
From the tawny light from the rainy nights from the imagination finding itself and more than itself alone and more than alone at the bottom of the well where the moon lives, can you pull me
into December? a lowland of space, perception of space towering of shadows of clouds blown upon clouds over new ground, new made under heavy December footsteps? the only way to live?
The flawed moon acts on the truth, and makes an autumn of tentative silences. You lived, but somewhere else, your presence touched others, ring upon ring, and changed. Did you think I would not change?
The black moon turns away, its work done. A tenderness, unspoken autumn. We are faithful only to the imagination. What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth. What holds you to what you see of me is that grasp alone. ~Denise Levertov “Everything that Acts is Actual”
Within these days of early winter is disappearance of our familiar world, of all that grows and thrives, of new life and freshness, of hope slipping away in a scurry for survival.
Then there comes this moment of softness amid the bleak, a gift of grace and beauty, a glance of sunlight on a snowy hillside, a covering of low misty puffs in the valley, a moon lit landscape, a startling sunrise, clouds upon clouds and then I know the actual world is seized with Your Truth because You have grasped hold of it and won’t let go.
You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there– the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall. All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home, which is no less shimmering and white as it falls. The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence. It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at, but unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up. It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed. ~Frederick Buechner “Sudden Snow”
There will be rest, and sure stars shining Over the roof-tops crowned with snow, A reign of rest, serene forgetting, The music of stillness holy and low.
I will make this world of my devising Out of a dream in my lonely mind. I shall find the crystal of peace, – above me Stars I shall find. ~Sara Teasdale “There Will Be Rest”
We had a surprise snowfall on the first day of winter last week.
In the Pacific Northwest, snow is often a once-a-winter event and usually doesn’t stay long. Here in the upper NW corner close to the Canadian border, it is accompanied by frigid northeast winds, blowing and drifting and making us all frankly miserable.
Yet this fresh-into-winter snowfall came down gently for several hours, without wind or drifts. It covered a multitude of messes that had accumulated over the previous year, making all things shimmer with newness. It made magic where before previously there had been drudgery.
And it silently lingered, like a long-lost memory I wanted to cling to, rolling it over and over in my mind like a snow ball that grows with each turn.
After a night of warm rain, it vanished and all was back to as it was. Yet I am better for having been visited by an unexpected snow, reminding me how my memories and dreams are not buried so deep that they are lost forever.
…Christmas will come once again. The great transformation will once again happen. God would have it so. Out of the waiting, hoping, longing world, a world will come in which the promise is given. All crying will be stilled. No tears shall flow. No lonely sorrow shall afflict us anymore, or threaten. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a sermon to a church in Havana, Cuba December 21, 1930
when this blessing comes, take its hand. Get up. Set out on the road you cannot see.
This is the night when you can trust that any direction you go, you will be walking toward the dawn. — Jan Richardson (author of Circle of Grace)
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” ~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings when Samwise Gamgee wakes to find his friends all around him
“The answer is yes. And the answer of the Bible is yes. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue.” ~Pastor Tim Keller’s response in a sermon given in an ecumenical prayer service memorial in Lower Manhattan on the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11.
In our minds, we want to rewind and replay the events of a tragedy in a way that would prevent it from happening in the first place. We want to bring the dead and injured back to health again. The pandemic virus fizzles out on its own, the devastating earthquake becomes a mere tremor, the flooding tsunami is only one foot, not thirty feet tall, the terrorist hijackers are prevented from ever boarding a plane, the shooter changes his mind at the last minute, lays down his arms, disables his booby trap bombs and calls someone for help with his distress and anger.
We want so badly for it all to be untrue, especially the events of this year. The bitter reality of horrendous suffering and sadness daily all over the earth is too much for us to absorb. We plead for relief, beg for a better day.
Our minds may play mental tricks like this, but God does not play tricks. He knows and feels what we do. He too wants to see it rewound and replayed differently. He has known grief and sadness, He has wept, He has suffered, He too died. And because of this, because of a God who came to dwell with us, was broken, died and then rose again whole and holy, we are assured, in His time, everything sad is going to come untrue.
Our tears will be dried, our grief turned to joy, our pain nonexistent, not even a memory. It will be a new day, a better day–as it is written, trustworthy and true.
May it come.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. Revelation 21: 4-5
Was certainly not winter, scholars say, When holy habitation broke the chill Of hearth-felt separation, icy still, The love of life in man that Christmas day. Was autumn, rather, if seasons speak true; When green retreats from sight’s still ling’ring gaze, And creeping cold numbs sense in sundry ways, While settling silence speaks of solitude. Hope happens when conditions are as these; Comes finally lock-armed with death and sin, When deep’ning dark demands its full display. Then fallen nature driven to her knees Flames russet, auburn, orange fierce from within, And brush burns brighter for the growing grey. ~David Baird “Autumn”
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Watch for the Light
The shepherds were sore afraid. Why aren’t we?
The scholars say Christ was more likely born in the autumn of the year ~ so fitting, as the reds and oranges of fall fade fast as we descend into winter soon.
Murderous frosts have wilted down all that was flush with life and we are desperate for hope for renewal in the midst of the dying.
And so this babe has come like a refiner’s fire and we who have gotten too comfortable will feel the heat in the middle of the chill, no matter what time of year.
Hope happens when conditions are as these…
Deep in the cold of winter, Darkness and silence were eve’rywhere; Softly and clearly, there came through the stillness a wonderful sound, A wonderful sound to hear.
All bells in paradise I heard them ring, Sounding in majesty the news that they bring; All bells in paradise I heard them ring, Welcoming our Saviour, born on earth, a heavenly King.
Chorus: All bells in paradise, I heard them ring, ‘Glory to God on high’ the angel voices sing.
Lost in awe and wonder, Doubting I asked what this sign may be; Christ, our Messiah, revealed in a stable, A marvelous sight, a marvelous sight to see.
He comes down in peace, A child in humility, The keys to his kingdom belong to the poor; Before him shall kneel the kings with their treasures, Gold, incense, and myrrh.