The thing is to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again. ~Ellen Bass, “The Thing Is” from Mules of Love
There is so much grief these days so much loss of life so much weeping.
How can we withstand this? How can we know, now, when we are barely able to breathe that we might know – at some point – we might love life again?
The melon shades of leaves will soon rust and fall gently to layers of rest and forgetting, like sunken poems, unusual love, and grave silence after the crows.
The black walnut tree trembles down its mysterious spheres to sleep darkly, to pulse with memory of heartwood.
Old roses are paling with grace in this air of ruining tomorrows. Autumn again, and all the years twisting a garland of melancholy. ~Tim Buck, “Autumn” from VerseWrights Journal
The beauty around me is dying. It becomes harder to find vibrance and life in my surroundings in the volatility of deep autumn: a high wind warning is on the horizon in a few hours and we face a long winter as the uncontrolled pandemic continues unabated.
Those facts alone are enough to make me wander about the farm feeling melancholic. Even more than the loss of mere leaves and the fading of blooms is the reality of so many afflicted and infected people whose season for dying will come too soon.
Woe to us who are more concerned about our inconvenience and discomfort today than the months of ruined tomorrows for millions.
Lest it be forgotten in our bitterness – the promise of healing and renewal is also on the horizon.
May I listen for the pulse deep within the heartwood of each person with whom I have differences; my love for them must not fade nor wither but grow more graceful, more forgiving, more vibrant and beautiful by the day.
The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost For none now live who remember it. ~J.R.R. Tolkien Galadriel’s prologue to The Fellowship of the Rings
There trudges one to a merry-making With a sturdy swing, On whom the rain comes down.
To fetch the saving medicament Is another bent, On whom the rain comes down.
One slowly drives his herd to the stall Ere ill befall, On whom the rain comes down.
This bears his missives of life and death With quickening breath, On whom the rain comes down.
One watches for signals of wreck or war From the hill afar, On whom the rain comes down.
No care if he gain a shelter or none, Unhired moves on, On whom the rain comes down.
And another knows nought of its chilling fall Upon him at all, On whom the rain comes down. ~Thomas Hardy “An Autumn Rain-scene”(1904)
The rain has returned, now six months into a changed world. The rain blows, raging against the windows and puddling in the low spots, sparing nothing and no one.
It drenches all and everyone – none of us immune from the cleansing: whether missing the joy of sweet fellowship, whether bearing urgent messages or administering badly needed medication, whether trudging through the day’s chores, whether unemployed and praying for work, whether bearing witness to ongoing divisive conflict and tragedy, or whether the rain falls chill upon those newly lying still and silent beneath the soil.
In our universal soaking, may we look at one another with a renewed compassion. Each one of us deserves a warm and comforting toweling off, being buffed and fluffed so we’re ready to face what comes next.
Every night, no matter where I am when I lie down, I turn my back on half the world.
At home, it’s the east I ignore, with its theatres and silverware, as I face the adventurous west.
But when I’m on the road in some hotel’s room 213 or 402 I could be pointed anywhere,
yet I hardly care as long as you are there facing the other way so we are defended in all degrees
and my left ear is pressing down as if listening for hoof beats in the ground. ~Billy Collins “Sleeping on My Side” from Whale Day and Other Poems
It seems amazing we can actually sleep at all, knowing all the hazards out there beyond the bedroom walls
– whether it is pandemic viral particles floating in the air, or pollution from wildfires, or ozone layer depletion or “the-big-one-any-moment” earthquake, or an errant nuclear missile launch, or bands of roving bandits –
it is a wonder we can quiet our minds at all.
When I was about 8 years old, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I didn’t sleep for several days, fearful if I slept, then the world would end and me with it, without even knowing the bomb had hit. Somehow, my staying awake saved the world from destruction and no one, not one single person, ever thanked me for it.
There is always so terribly much to fear if you really think about it. We are constantly lying with our ears to the ground, listening for the hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, wondering how close they have come to our bedside.
These days I take comfort in knowing I don’t always need to be on high alert. I know, in fact, His eye is on the sparrow and He watches over me.
To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God.
There is no place so remote that we can escape His penetrating gaze. To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity. It is a life of wholeness that finds its unity and coherency in the majesty of God.
Our lives are to be living sacrifices, oblations offered in a spirit of adoration and gratitude.
A fragmented life is a life of disintegration. It is marked by inconsistency, disharmony, confusion, conflict, contradiction, and chaos. Coram Deo … before the face of God. …a life that is open before God. …a life in which all that is done is done as to the Lord. …a life lived by principle, not expediency; by humility before God, not defiance. ~R.C. Sproulfrom “What Does “coram Deo” mean?”
We cannot escape His gaze. Why is that?
We…all of us, all colors, shapes and sizes… are created in His image, imago dei, so He looks at us as His reflections in the mirror of the world.
And what would He see this week? Surely nothing that reflects the heart or face of God.
I cringe to think. I want to hide from His gaze. All I see around me and within me is: inconsistency, disharmony, confusion, conflict, contradiction, and chaos. And most of all: defiance.
Surely, surely I know best.
I’m not alone: so many others also each know best, calling hypocrisy on one another, holding fast to moral high ground when the reality is: we drown together in the mud of our mutual guilt and lack of humility.
It is past time for us to be on our knees pleading for mercy, certainly not on our knees leaning upon the neck of another imago dei, squeezing out their very life breath and right to exist.
We are miserable reflections, each and every one of us, surely not coram Deo.
All that we have done, we have done onto God Himself. Kind of takes one’s breath away.
What stood will stand, though all be fallen, The good return that time has stolen. Though creatures groan in misery, Their flesh prefigures liberty To end travail and bring to birth Their new perfection in new earth. At word of that enlivening Let the trees of the woods all sing And every field rejoice, let praise Rise up out of the ground like grass. What stood, whole in every piecemeal Thing that stood, will stand though all Fall–field and woods and all in them Rejoin the primal Sabbath’s hymn. ~Wendell Berry, from “Sabbaths” (North Point Press, 1987).
We live in a time where the groaning need anddividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized…
Yet this terrific human need and burden of the times causes us to see how weak and powerless we are to change this. Then we must see that if we are to advocate change, we must start with ourselves. We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for social injustice, oppression, and the downgrading of others, whether personal or on a broader plane. We must see that a revolution must take place against all that destroys life. This revolution must become a revolution different from any the world has ever seen. God must intervene and lead such a revolution with his Spirit and his justice and his truth. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8: 22-26
We are groaning in anticipation of what might come next – so many ill, so many lost. What can we make of this, how can we make sense of it?
We could groan together in the hard labor of birthing a newly unified people all facing the same viral enemy. Instead we groan angry and bitter, irritable with one another, wanting to find someone else, anything to blame for our misery.
God willingly pulls our groanings onto Himself and out of us. He understands even when we are too inarticulate to form the words we want Him to hear.
We must cling tenaciously to the mystery of God’s magnetism for our weakness and suffering and allow His healing us to begin.
By His Spirit we will be forever changed and our groanings will be no more.
The bridge of grace will bear your weight… ~Charles Spurgeon
Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words. They should remain open. Our only comfort is the God of the resurrection, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who also was and is (our) God. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from “Circular Letters in the Church Struggle”
Great gaps are being torn in families, kept separate in hospital ICUs and overflowing emergency rooms, where patients struggle for breath and fight for life – yet too sick, with too much risk for loved ones to be near.
Christ too knew separation from His Father, a chasm that appeared wholly unbridgeable- forsaken, suffering for His brothers and sisters by paying with His life a ransom we could never satisfy: we being so dead broke and captive to our sin.
His grace is the only bridge able to bear our weight, even now even now when our hearts break with uncertainty and fear.
We seek the comfort of a grace strong enough to fill our every hole bridge our every gap carry hope to our hopelessness and restore us wholly to our Father who was and is our God.
Lord, comfort us by spanning our troubled waters, bearing our weighty burdens, to make sure we get safely to the Other Side where Your arms await us.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, he has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why.
The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or a football match, have no such tendency.
Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home. ~C.S. Lewis from The Problem of Pain
I am reminded every day, with every headline shouting bad news: this is not our home; we are mere wayfarers.
We tend to lose focus on the “why” of our journey on this troubled earth: so much of our time and energy is understandably spent seeking out safety and security, striving for a road filled with happiness, joy and contentment, as if that should be our ultimate destination and purpose.
Yet the nature of a fallen world leads us down boulder-strewn paths filled with potholes and sheer cliffs. Suddenly nowhere feels safe or secure.
We are now confronted with thousands of ill and hurting people world-wide, some dying before their time, their travels on earth ending abruptly. We wonder who may be next.
Will it be someone I love? Will it be me? He accepts our fear of the unknown destination, as He knows what lies ahead on our journey.
God in His mercy never leaves us homeless or without hope. We are called to be the gift to others who are hurting.
…just as He gifted Himself to us.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. ~Matthew 25:35-6
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
1. What is the crying at Jordan? Who hears, O God, the prophecy? Dark is the season, dark our hearts and shut to mystery.
2. Who then shall stir in this darkness, prepare for joy in the winter night. Mortal in darkness we lie down blindhearted, seeing no light.
3. Lord, give us grace to awake us, to see the branch that begins to bloom; in great humility is hid all heaven in a little room.
4. Now comes the day of salvation, in joy and terror the Word is born! God comes as gift into our lives; oh let salvation dawn!
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response.
That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” ~Mary Oliver
Everyone needs a reminder about the privilege of waking up still alive. Having had that opportunity this morning, I’d like to make a comment.
This has happened at least two times over seven decades, and yesterday provided a third reminder. The common theme is that each involved my driving to work in the morning.
Maybe that alone should tell me something.
Yesterday, my 200,000 + mileage 14 year old hybrid suddenly died while I was going 60 mph on the busy interstate on my way to work. There are not many options for a driver in such a scenario: no power steering to help navigate out of traffic, nothing but coasting to a stop in the safest place available. God’s hand controlled that moment as there was no car to the right of me, so I was able to ease over to an exit that I could roll down, with a spot at the bottom where I could sit with my hazard lights blinking until a very kind policeman pushed me with his car onto a quieter residential side street to wait over two hours for a two truck. Needless to say, I was very late for my clinic day but very grateful to show up at all.
My car awaits diagnosis and prognosis. I can tell you my diagnosis is “gratefully still alive.” My prognosis is: “still alive enough to make a comment.“
My first “dead car in the middle of a busy city street” story was forty years ago during morning rush hour when my ancient Oldsmobile decided to drop its drive train on a rainy steep hill in Seattle as I was driving to my neurology rotation at Harborview Hospital. God’s hand managed to hold my emergency brake in place until a police car with protective flashing lights appeared within seconds to park behind me while streams of highly annoyed traffic passed by. It took a tow truck only 15 minutes to remove me and my car from what could well have been a much bigger mess. Yes, I showed up late and grateful to my work day.
My most dramatic near miss was twenty years ago. I was driving into work on one of our county’s rural two lane roads, going the speed limit of 50 mph, all while in a grumbly mood and wishing I was heading somewhere else on a bright and sunny day. My mind was busy with the anticipation of my workday when I noticed a slight shift to the right by the driver in the car ahead of me. It inexplicably moved over the fog line and then suddenly I realized why, in a moment of stark clarity. A huge empty gravel truck and trailer rig was heading north, moving at the speed limit, the driver seemingly oblivious to the fact his huge trailer was starting to whip back and forth. As he approached me much too quickly, his trailer was whipping back to the center line, approaching me full force at a ninety degree angle from the truck, filling up the entire lane in front of me. I had no choice but to run my car off the road into a grassy field to avoid being hit head on by the still attached but runaway trailer. Only by God’s hand were there no deep ditches, telephone poles or trees at that particular point in the road. My car dove right into tall grass, which enfolded me, like a shroud of green, shielding me from a tangle of metal and certain death. It was a near miss, but a miss nonetheless.
I sat still, gripping the steering wheel, gathering my wits and picking up what was left of my frayed nerves from where they had been strewn, feeling my heart race from the sheer relief of still being alive.
I was able to drive out of the field and happily headed to work to do what I initially planned to do that day, abruptly made aware of the privilege of having a life to live, a job to go to, and a grassy field that rescued me.
It was only later, while calling my husband about what had just taken place, that I cried. Until then, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Now, I don’t feel the need for any more such events to remind me to make comments, other than: Here I am, still alive.
Outside the house the wind is howling and the trees are creaking horribly. This is an old story with its old beginning, as I lay me down to sleep. But when I wake up, sunlight has taken over the room. You have already made the coffee and the radio brings us music from a confident age. In the paper bad news is set in distant places. Whatever was bound to happen in my story did not happen. But I know there are rules that cannot be broken. Perhaps a name was changed. A small mistake. Perhaps a woman I do not know is facing the day with the heavy heart that, by all rights, should have been mine. ~Lisel Mueller “In November”
It does not escape me~ (I wake every day knowing this) the earthquake happened somewhere else, a tornado leveled some other town, a plane full of ordinary people like me was shot out of the sky, a drunk driver destroyed a family, a fire left a forest and homes in ashes, a missing son’s body was found frozen in an avalanche, a devastating diagnosis darkens someone’s remaining days.
No mistake has been made, yet I wake knowing this part of my story has not yet visited me- the heavy heart that should have been mine awaits, still breaking, still bleeding, still beating still believing miracles can happen.