An Unexpected January Light

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”

After years of rarely paying attention,
too busy with whatever household,
work-place, or barnyard task needed doing,
I realized there are only a finite number
of sunrises and sunsets left to me.

Now I stop, take a deep breath,
sense the earth’s roundness
and feel lucky to be alive,
a witness to a moment of manna
falling from the sky.

Sometimes it is as plain and gray
as I am, but at times,
a fire is lit from above and beneath,
igniting the sky, overwhelming me.

I am swept away by light and shadow,
transfixed and transformed,
forever grateful to be fed
by heavenly bread broken over my head.

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Here Under This Sky

I stop

and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.

I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.
~David Budbill from Winter: Tonight: Sunset

Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case.
~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”

At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace.

It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then – it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbons and bows; it has two white wings.

It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s.
~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”

I began to write regularly after September 11, 2001 because that day it became obvious to me I was dying too, though more slowly than the thousands who vanished in fire and ash, their voices obliterated with their bodies.   So, nearly each day since, while I still have voice and a new dawn to greet, I speak through my fingers to others dying around me.

We are, after all, terminal patients, some of us more prepared than others to move on, as if our readiness has anything to do with the timing.  Once, when our small church lost one of its most senior members to metastatic cancer, he announced his readiness once the doctor gave him the dire news (he liked to say he never bought green bananas as he wasn’t sure he’d be around to use them), but God had different plans and kept him among us for several years beyond his diagnosis.

Each day I too get a little closer to the end, but I write in order to feel a little more ready.  Each day I detach just a little bit, leaving a trace of my voice behind.  Eventually, through unmerited grace, so much of me will be left on the page there won’t be anything or anyone left to do the typing. I will be far out of the park, far beyond here.

Not a moment, not a sunrise, not a sunset, and not a word to waste.

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Something to Behold

Sometimes I just sit like this at the window and watch
the darkness come. If I’m smart, I’ll put on Bach.

I’m thinking now of how far it always seems there is to go.
Maybe it is too easy that I speak so often

of late last light on a December day,
of that stubborn grass that somehow still remains green

behind the broken chain link fence on the corner.
But the need is so great for the way light looks

as it takes its leave of us. We say
what we can to each other of these things,

we who are such thieves, stealing first
one breath and then the next. Bach, keep going

just this slowly, show me the way to believe
that what matters in this world has already happened

and will go on happening forever.
The way light falls on the last

of the stricken leaves of the copper beech
at the end of the block is something to behold.

~Jim Moore “The Need Is So Great”

No matter
No matter what happens between the sunrise and the sunset
No matter what happens between the sunset and the sunrise
It is something to behold.

To witness the return of light:
the rise and the set
the set and the rise

it keeps coming and going
through troubles
and sickness
joy and heartbreak
birth and death
loss and gain
it keeps coming and going
something to behold

the earth continues
to turn
to grant
a new start
a new day
something to behold

then settles
serenely
a quiet night
a respite from light

which matters so much
more than anything in between
so much more to behold
so much
so

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Dawn on Our Darkness: A Radiant and Merciful Light

But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Romans 8:25-27

And so many of us.
How can we expect Him
to keep track of which voice
goes with what request.
Words work their way skyward.
Oh Lord, followed by petition —
for a cure, the safe landing.
For what is lost, missing —
a spouse, a job, the final game.
Complaint cloaked as need —
the faster car, porcelain teeth.
That so many entreaties
go unanswered
may say less about our lamentable
inability to be heard
than our inherent flawed condition.

Why else, at birth, the first sound
we make, that full-throttled cry?
Of want, want, want.
Of never enough. Desire
as embedded in us as the ancestral tug
in my unconscienced dog who takes
to the woods, nose to the ground, pulled far
from domesticated hearth, bowl of kibble.
Left behind, I go about my superior business,
my daily ritual I could call prayer.

But look, this morning, in my kitchen,
I’m not asking for more of anything.
My husband slices bread,
hums a tune from our past.
Eggs spatter in a skillet.
Wands of lilac I stuck in a glass
by the open window wobble
in a radiant and — dare I say it?—
merciful light.

~Deborah Cummins “Just One God” from Counting the Waves

We who are nothingness can never be filled:
Never by orchards on the blowing sea,
Nor the rich foam of wheat all summer sunned.

Our hollow is deeper far than treasure can fill:
Helmets of gold swim ringing in the wells
Of our desire as thimbles in the sea.

Come like an ocean thundering to the moon,
Drowning the sunken reef, mounting the shore.
Come, infinite answer to our infinite want.
~John Frederick Nims from “Prayer”

Each morning’s sunrise, each evening’s sunset
is answer to our unuttered prayers.
From subtle simmer to blazing boil, settling back to gray.

And so our prayers of praise, thanksgiving, petition
rise and fall, simmer and boil and are sometimes breathed in silence.

Yet our Father answers with radiance and mercy.

So we keep on trudging,
with each step our prayers are answered:
we will take the next step,
and the next, and the next.

Never alone. Always heard. Forever loved.

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”

O radiant Light, O Sun divine;
Of God the Father’s deathless face,
O image of the Light sublime that fills the heav’nly dwelling place.
O Son of God, the source of life,
Praise is your due by night and day.
Our happy lips must raise the strain
of your esteemed and splendid name.

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Sustained by Mystery

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
                                                        And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.
~Denise Levertov  “Primary Wonder” from Selected Poems

Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw upon itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom.
~N.T.Wright from The Crown and The Fire

When I’m embittered and overwhelmed by the bad news of the world and I am buried in my own troubles such as COVID visiting our household, I cling to the mystery of God’s magnetism for my weaknesses and flaws.

He willingly pulls evil onto Himself, out of each of us. Hatred and pain and shame and anger disappear into the vortex of His love and beauty, the mucky corners of my heart vacuumed spotless.

We are let in on a secret: God is not sullied by absorbing the dirty messes of our lives as He came here to do just that. God leaves no void behind; He fills all emptiness with Himself.

Created in His image, we are sustained and saved through Him, thus bound to reflect His glory – how can we not be transformed and healed by His Love?

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A Decade of October Dawns

It is the exquisite and early hour,
The sudden sunrise reddens the sky.
Through the autumn mist
The garden leaves fall.

Their fall is slow. We can follow them
With our eyes and recognize
The oak by its leaf of copper,
The maple by its leaf of blood.

The last ones, the most rusty
Fall from the bare branches,
But it’s not winter yet.

A fair light sprinkles down on
Nature and in the whole rosy sky
You’d think it was snowing gold.

~François Coppée “October Morning”

This is a compilation of October sunrises from over the past decade, most taken from the same spot in our farm’s backyard. Twice a year, in early October and late May, we may be blessed to see the sun cast a mountain shadow across the clouds in the sky.

October dawns are sometimes flashy and flamboyant, sometimes subtle and somber, but always a harbinger of a time of quiet and reflection.

This year’s mornings are sadly smoky; we raise prayers for a cleansing rain to come soon. We need more than falling leaves to rain down like golden snowflakes. We need precious water drops to wash away all that has become ashen and renew the parched and dying.

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Taking a Moment to Thank the Light

Now a red, sleepy sun above the rim
Of twilight stares along the quiet weald,
And the kind, simple country shines revealed
In solitudes of peace, no longer dim.
The old horse lifts his face and thanks the light,
Then stretches down his head to crop the green.
All things that he has loved are in his sight;
The places where his happiness has been
Are in his eyes, his heart, and they are good.
~Siegfried Sassoon from “Break of Day”

We grow older along with our horses – as we near seventy, our oldest mare is thirty years old. None of us, horses or humans, have to climb in the harness to pull the heavy loads of our former work lives.

During these October days, as the horses feel the morning sun on their withers and the green blades under their feet, they scan the pasture for the sweetest tender patch to munch in the fields they know and love so well. They nap more now than in their younger years, taking breaks to let their heads hang relaxed and nodding, their tails slowly swishing at flies.

To be honest, I nap and nod more now as well.

They remind me to borrow the calm of the pasture to balance the noise and misery always present in the morning headlines. Carrying that calm to my decades of work as a physician was an essential survival skill. I remembered how peace and light intentionally descended to a troubled earth in sore need of healing.

A new day’s sunlight breaks fresh each morning and sinks gently and quietly beneath the horizon each evening. All things I love are within my sight; happiness and contentment do grow, like the grass beneath my feet, thanks to the Light.

And I am glad, so very glad that it is good.

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The Heart in Exile

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli,” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,


and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing


that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder


or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,


but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom


still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

~Tony Hoagland “The Word” from Sweet Ruin

When I moved from Washington state to California for college, daily sunshine was a new experience for me, having grown up in the cloudy Pacific Northwest. At first I was nearly giddy with the new reality of not having to wear jackets with hoods or (horrors!) carry an umbrella. It was like being let out of gray prison into the land of puppies and rainbows – like the old Wizard of Oz B&W film becoming technicolor when Dorothy’s house lands in Oz and she opens the door to her new home.

But then I realized strings of sunny days were doing something to my head. Previously, I was dependent on rainy days to stay inside and hit the books, curled up in a quiet corner, content to be cerebral rather than exercising the rest of my muscles. If there was a sunny day in Washington, then I was compelled outside to enjoy what few hours were offered up by the skies. Real gray life happened the rest of the time when I could buckle down and get some work done.

So college days started out euphoric and ended up depressing – I tried studying in dark carrels in the library but I still knew there was sunshine going to waste. I tried studying outside on the college lawn but the distraction of all the activity around me was too great. I finally learned to apportion my “out-in-the-sun” hours from my study hours so I wasn’t feeling robbed of either. I decided to take a sun bath like I take a water bath – just enough to feel transformed and cleansed.

I owned a rainy heart in exile so moving back to the northwest after college was easy; I longed for strings of cloudy days so I could be productive guilt-free again. To this day, I only dose myself with sunbeams in moderation as if I was still worried there won’t be enough sun to last another day.

But there is, there always is.

You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

Original Barnstorming artwork note cards available as a gift to you with a $50 donation to support Barnstorming – information here

Life Goes Too Fast

Sometimes you don’t get a chance
To pause and rest
Even to just take it all in
Sometimes life just goes too fast
And if you halt, even for a moment
You could get rolled over
By the momentum of existence
So, push yourself and keep going
Because once you stop
You may not get started again
And if you need a breather
Do it after the big stuff is done –
I guarantee you the view
Will be a whole lot better
~Eric Nixon “The Momentum of Existence” from Equidistant

The weather app on my phone tells me precisely when sunrise and sunset will happen every day, but I’m often too distracted to be present to witness them. I miss some great shows because I don’t get up early enough or don’t return home in time or simply don’t bother to look out the window or pay attention.

These are brilliant light and shadow shows that are free for the having if only I pause, take a breather, and watch.

The view from our hill keeps getting better the older I get. The momentum of daily life slows enough to allow me, breathless, to take in the best art show around.

No charge for admission and the Artist’s exhibit rotates daily.

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The Flame is on the Hill

You may take your winters southward,
You may have your golden Junes,
You may have your summer mountains
Or your eastern fog-swept dunes;
But I’ll take the first red ember,
Where the Painter works his will,
When it’s morning in September,
Or it’s noon-day in September,
Or it’s twilight in September,
And the flame is on the hill.


There is orange down the valley,
There is crimson out the lane;
There’s a fleck of purple tinting
Where the maples meet the rain.
For the glow that I remember,
With an everlasting thrill,
Is a morning in September,
Or a noon-time in September,
Or a twilight in September,
When the flame is on the hill.
~Henry Grantland Rice “The Month of All”

I cherish September for the look and feel of the landscape as it browns and burnishes with aging – transforming to gilded, burnt and rusted, almost glistening in its dying.

I gather up and store these images, like sheaves of wheat stacked in the field. I’ll need them again someday, when I’m hungry, starving for the memory of what once was, and, when the light is just right, how it could be again someday.

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