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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The Chance of One Sweet Last Hour

Bending above the spicy woods which blaze,
Arch skies so blue they flash, and hold the sun
Immeasurably far; the waters run
Too slow, so freighted are the river-ways
With gold of elms and birches from the maze
Of forests. Chestnuts, clicking one by one,
Escape from satin burs; her fringes done,
The gentian spreads them out in sunny days,
And, like late revelers at dawn, the chance
Of one sweet, mad, last hour, all things assail,
And conquering, flush and spin; while, to enhance
The spell, by sunset door, wrapped in a veil
Of red and purple mists, the summer, pale,
Steals back alone for one more song and dance.

~Helen Hunt Jackson “October”


And how like a field is the whole sky now
that the maples have shed their leaves, too.
It makes us believers—stationed in groups,
leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters
over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone,
bagging gold for the cold days to come.
~David Baker from “Neighbors in October”

A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded…
~T.E. Hulme from “Autumn”

We make a dwelling in the evening air, 
In which being there together is enough.
~Wallace Stevens from "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour"



No other time of year is quite like the end of October. God prepares us for the long haul of winter gray by giving us one last sweet hour of golden memories to bag up as keepsakes for the dark cold nights ahead.

The air is now pristine after a wind and rain storm yesterday. I am finally seeing the golden glow of October.

As Robert Frost wrote, “nothing gold can stay” so I bid this gilded air goodbye for another year. I nod in recognition at the rising moon and wave at bare branches dancing leafless in the wind and celebrate the last sweet hours of October.

It’s now time to dwell together, huddled and cuddled, in the chill of the autumn evening air.

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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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Letting My Heart Go Forth

The season of sunset as it draws a veil over the day,
befits that repose of the soul when earthborn cares

yield to the joys of heavenly communion.
The glory of the setting sun excites our wonder,
and the solemnity of approaching night awakens our awe.


If the business of this day will permit it, it will be well, dear reader,
if you can spare an hour to walk in the field at eventide,
but if not, the Lord is in the town too, and will meet with you

in your chamber or in the crowded street.

Let your heart go forth to meet Him.

~Charles Spurgeon from Morning and Evening Devotionals

During my forty years in medical practice, I saw many patients who struggled to sleep at night. Their minds raced, they couldn’t stop worrying, their bodies were tight with tension.

I would have preferred to prescribe walking an hour with God at sunset but that was not permissible at a public institution owned by the government.

Instead, I prescribed sleep hygiene habit, over the counter herbals, prescription medications or talk therapy, wrote documentation for emotional support animals, or suggested yoga or “meditation” or even a labyrinth walk.

I find what is most effective in my own life is allowing my heart to go forth and meet God’s invitation to communion with Him.

Spurgeon, in his own anxiety and depression, knew the healing power of a walk with God at sunset or a meal together in His memory. Even when we are hungry, thirsty, exhausted with worry — by throwing the cares of our heart out to Him, He will catch and hold them tight, raising us up alongside Him on the last day.

I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me shall not hunger;
he who believes in me shall not thirst.
No one can come to me
unless the Father draw him.

And I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up on the last day.

The bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world,
and he who eats of this bread,
he shall live for ever,
he shall live for ever.

And I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up on the last day.

Unless you eat
of the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink of his blood,
and drink of his blood,
you shall not have life within you.

And I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up on the last day.

I am the resurrection,
I am the life.
He who believes in me
even if he die,
he shall live for ever.

And I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up on the last day.

Yes, Lord, I believe
that you are the Christ,
the Son of God,
who has come
into the world.

And I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up on the last day.

Sr. Suzanne Toolan

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

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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An Arch of Colored Light

Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life.
The evening beam that smiles the clouds away,

and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.
~Lord Byron

But mark! what arch of varied hue
  From heaven to earth is bowed?
Haste, ere it vanish, haste to view
  The Rainbow in the cloud.

How bright its glory! there behold
  The emerald’s verdant rays,
The topaz blends its hue of gold
  With the deep ruby’s blaze.

Yet not alone to charm thy sight
  Was given the vision fair;–
Gaze on that arch of colored light,
  And read God’s mercy there.

~Felicia Hemans from “The Rainbow”

The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.
~Henry David Thoreau

Painting the indescribable with words necessitates subtlety, sound and rhythm on a page.  The best word color portraits I know are by Gerard Manley Hopkins who created  through startling combinations:  “crimson-cresseted”, “couple-colour”, “rose-moles”, “fresh-firecoal”, “adazzle, dim”, “dapple-dawn-drawn”, “blue-bleak embers”, “gash gold-vermillion”.

I understand, as Thoreau does,  how difficult it is to harvest a day using ordinary words.   Like grasping ephemeral star trails or the transient rainbow that moves away as I approach, what I bring to the page or screen is intangible yet so very real.

I will keep reaching for rainbows, searching for the best words to preserve my days and nights forever. It does feel like I’m clutching at a moment in time moving through my fingers.

I witnessed this Sabbath rainbow last night from our farm, standing with two of our very young grandchildren, hoping they would remember it enough to describe it to our someday great-grandchildren. Perhaps they will even read my words and know how much it mattered to me that they experience such beauty and promise.

I want them to always remember: in the beginning was the Word, and we are created by the same Author who writes incredible rainbows across the sky.

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Unintentionality

I go to nature not because
its flowers and sunsets speak
to me (though they do) or
listen to me inquire but


because I have filled it with
unintentionality, so that I
can miss anything personal in
the roar of sunset, so that


I can in beds of flowers hold
my head up too.
~A.R. Ammons from The Ridge Farm from Complete Poems

Take the tangle instead of the trouble it causes.
Take the world inside
as seriously as any other.
Take your elderly mother and father
at face value as they have to.
Take the mirror of the sky
mirrored in the bay.
Take the swell of new-mown hay
and the river conversing
where the valley opens its mouth
and the land begins to creak less
as the evening steals light away—
Take the wick in the far hills
and take the sun and the wind
and the look of nothing for granted.
Take a little less, all right
and try not to take fright.
Take the end in mind
instead of the end in sight.

~Brian Turner “Take This” from Taking Off

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from The Book of Hours

Each of us,
intentionally made by our Creator
in His image,
yet we discover the beauty and terror of living
in His shadow.

So much happens which we don’t intend
but there is nothing unintentional with God.

Books and lectures tell us to live intentionally
while each day contains something that
brings us to our knees.

I tell myself:
even though I don’t know what tomorrow will be,
I will not take fright
and hold my head up
I’ll just keep going
while taking His Hand and following
wherever He intends to take me.

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Taking It Slow

Sweet smell of phlox drifting across the lawn—
an early warning of the end of summer.
August is fading fast, and by September
the little purple flowers will all be gone.

Season, project, and vacation done.
One more year in everybody’s life.
Add a notch to the old hunting knife
Time keeps testing with a horny thumb.

Over the summer months hung an unspoken
aura of urgency. In late July
galactic pulsings filled the midnight sky
like silent screaming, so that, strangely woken,

we looked at one another in the dark,
then at the milky magical debris
arcing across, dwarfing our meek mortality.
There were two ways to live: get on with work,

redeem the time, ignore the imminence
of cataclysm; or else take it slow,
be as tranquil as the neighbors’ cow
we love to tickle through the barbed wire fence
(she paces through her days in massive innocence,
or, seeing green pastures, we imagine so).

In fact, not being cows, we have no choice.
Summer or winter, country, city, we
are prisoners from the start and automatically,
hemmed in, harangued by the one clamorous voice.

Not light but language shocks us out of sleep
ideas of doom transformed to meteors
we translate back to portents of the wars
looming above the nervous watch we keep.

~Rachel Hadas, “The End of Summer” from Halfway Down the Hall: New and Selected Poems.

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past…
Psalm 90: 4

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Each summer that passes feels more urgent; most of my summers are far behind me and I have no idea how many more are ahead. I try to take each day slowly, lingering in the moments yet time speeds ahead, irredeemable.

I tend to forget that Time, which feels so precious and burdensome to me, is of no consequence to an infinite God who built an infinite universe. He began it all with a Word, and despite all our human efforts to thwart and even destroy a perfect Creation, He remains a constant presence, guaranteeing the sun will rise again.

We are not alone; we are not abandoned. We are loved.

Good night, love! May heaven’s brightest stars watch over thee!
Good angels spread their wings, and cover thee;
And through the night, So dark and still,
Spirits of light Charm thee from ill!
My heart is hovering round thy dwelling-place,
Good night, dear love! God bless thee with His grace!
Good night, love! Soft lullabies the night-wind sing to thee!
And on its wings sweet odours bring to thee;
And in thy dreaming May all things dear,
With gentle seeming, Come smiling near!
My knees are bowed, my hands are clasped in prayer—
Good night, dear love! God keep thee in His care!
~Frances Anne Kemble

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