The earth invalid, dropsied, bruised, wheeled Out in the sun, After frightful operation. She lies back, wounds undressed to the sun, To be healed, Sheltered from the sneapy chill creeping North wind, Leans back, eyes closed, exhausted, smiling Into the sun. Perhaps dozing a little. While we sit, and smile, and wait, and know She is not going to die. ~Ted Hughes from ” A March Morning Unlike Others” from Ted Hughes. Collected Poems
March. I am beginning to anticipate a thaw. Early mornings the earth, old unbeliever, is still crusted with frost where the moles have nosed up their cold castings, and the ground cover in shadow under the cedars hasn’t softened for months, fogs layering their slow, complicated ice around foliage and stem night by night,
but as the light lengthens, preacher of good news, evangelizing leaves and branches, his large gestures beckon green out of gray. Pinpricks of coral bursting from the cotoneasters. A single bee finding the white heather. Eager lemon-yellow aconites glowing, low to the ground like little uplifted faces. A crocus shooting up a purple hand here, there, as I stand on my doorstep, my own face drinking in heat and light like a bud welcoming resurrection, and my hand up, too, ready to sign on for conversion. ~Luci Shaw “Revival” from What the Light Was Like.
Spring is emerging slowly this year from an exceptionally haggard and droopy winter. All growing things are a month behind the usual budding blooming schedule when, like the old “Wizard of Oz” movie, the landscape will suddenly turn from monochrome to technicolor, the soundtrack from forlorn to glorious birdsong.
Yearning for spring to commence, I tap my foot impatiently as if owed a timely seasonal transformation from dormant to verdant. We all have been waiting for the Physician’s announcement that this patient survived some intricate life-changing procedure: “I’m happy to say the Earth is alive after all and restored, wounded but healing, breathing on her own but too sedated for a visit just yet.”
I wait impatiently to celebrate her healing, yet I know Creation is very much alive- this temporary home of ours. No invalid this patient. She lives, she breathes, she thrives, she will bloom and sing with everything she’s got and soon, so will I.
This year’s Lenten theme: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4: 18
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48b (NIV)
Jesus concludes his parable of the wise and faithful servant with this line, which has become a modern mantra – thanks to Spiderman, the U.S. Supreme Court, Winston Churchill, Bill Gates and a few recent U.S. presidents.
Yet no one actually quotes the full New Testament parable itself ending with this very concept.
The story Jesus tells in Luke 12: 42-48 makes us wince, just as it is meant to:
42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
The same story as told in the gospel of Matthew ends not only with “a few blows” but with “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Somehow that part is left out of Spiderman’s story, even though Spiderman experiences plenty of weeping in accepting his fate. Still, this is a bit too close to home for those in power and those with immense wealth — like Peter Parker’s reluctant acceptance of his Spidey powers, we know all too well the reality of just how fragile and weak we really are despite American’s relative wealth compared to the rest of the world.
Those who live as Christians have particular responsibility and accountability, identifying by name with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who made the ultimate sacrifice for humanity. He took the blows so we would be spared – no more weeping and gnashing of teeth.
On this federal holiday honoring our government’s top executive position, we must continually hold our elected leaders to their vowed oaths of responsibility and accountability. As individual citizens entrusted with much, we have much to give even before we’re asked.
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support daily Barnstorming posts
You might not know this old tree by its bark, Which once was striate, smooth, and glossy-dark, So deep now are the rifts that separate Its roughened surface into flake and plate.
Fancy might less remind you of a birch Than of mosaic columns in a church Like Ara Coeli or the Lateran Or the trenched features of an agèd man.
Still, do not be too much persuaded by These knotty furrows and these tesserae To think of patterns made from outside in Or finished wisdom in a shriveled skin.
Old trees are doomed to annual rebirth, New wood, new life, new compass, greater girth, And this is all their wisdom and their art— To grow, stretch, crack, and not yet come apart. ~Richard Wilbur “A Black Birch in Winter”
When I see birches bend to left and right Across the lines of straighter darker trees, I like to think some boy’s been swinging them. But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning After a rain. They click upon themselves As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel. Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust— Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen. They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load, And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed So low for long, they never right themselves: You may see their trunks arching in the woods Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm I should prefer to have some boy bend them As he went out and in to fetch the cows— Some boy too far from town to learn baseball, Whose only play was what he found himself, Summer or winter, and could play alone. One by one he subdued his father’s trees By riding them down over and over again Until he took the stiffness out of them, And not one but hung limp, not one was left For him to conquer. He learned all there was To learn about not launching out too soon And so not carrying the tree away Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise To the top branches, climbing carefully With the same pains you use to fill a cup Up to the brim, and even above the brim. Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish, Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches. And so I dream of going back to be. It’s when I’m weary of considerations, And life is too much like a pathless wood Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs Broken across it, and one eye is weeping From a twig’s having lashed across it open. I’d like to get away from earth awhile And then come back to it and begin over. May no fate willfully misunderstand me And half grant what I wish and snatch me away Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better. I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree, And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, But dipped its top and set me down again. That would be good both going and coming back. One could do worse than be a swinger of birches. ~Robert Frost “Birches”
Old trees are doomed to annual rebirth, New wood, new life, new compass, greater girth, And this is all their wisdom and their art— To grow, stretch, crack, and not yet come apart.
The poet understands as we (and trees) age, we are no longer smooth on the surface, developing cracks and furrows, a flaking and peeling skin surrounding a steadfast trunk. Yet we still grow, even if not as recognizable in our old skin – our innards are still working, in particular enhancing a “greater girth.” (!)
Our farm’s twin birch trees have had some rough winters, having been bent double in a previous ice storm. One has not survived the trauma – the other continues to struggle. There are times when these flexible trees can bear no more bending despite their strength and perseverance.
As I am no longer a swinger of birches (and in truth, never was), I hope instead for the “finished wisdom in shriveled skin” of the aging tree. I admire how the birches renew themselves each spring, not giving up hope despite everything they have been through. They keep reaching higher up to the sky, while a slender branch just might touch the hem of heaven oh so gently.
1. See the lovely birch in the meadow, Curly leaves all dancing when the wind blows. Loo-lee-loo, when the wind blows, Loo-lee-loo, when the wind blows.
2. Oh, my little tree, I need branches, For the silver flutes I need branches. Loo-lee-loo, three branches, Loo-lee-loo, three branches.
3. From another birch I will make now, I will make a tingling balalaika. Loo-lee-loo, balalaika, Loo-lee-loo, balalaika.
4. When I play my new balalaika, I will think of you, my lovely birch tree. Loo-lee-loo, lovely birch tree, Loo-lee-loo, lovely birch tree.
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support daily Barnstorming posts
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart… Psalm 51:17
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. 2 Corinthians: 6-12, 16
The great mystery of God’s love is that we are not asked to live as if we are not hurting, as if we are not broken. In fact, we are invited to recognize our brokenness as a brokenness in which we can come in touch with the unique way that God loves us. The great invitation is to live your brokenness under the blessing. I cannot take people’s brokenness away and people cannot take my brokenness away. But how do you live in your brokenness? Do you live your brokenness under the blessing or under the curse? The great call of Jesus is to put your brokenness under the blessing. ~Henri Nouwen from a Lecture at Scarritt-Bennett Center
Every day, as the sun goes down, I pause, broken, remembering how often I messed up that day, in big and small ways. I’m cracked open, my mistakes illuminated, weighing down my heart, impossible to forget. Yet, as I pray for mercy, there follows a peacefulness, as my errors are blotted out.
My slate, one more time, is wiped clean.
This ceramic pot is meant specially for our kitchen table — handmade by a friend using the abstract artistry of mane hairs from our farm’s Haflinger horses burnt onto the sides. But it hit the floor and broke into many pieces, looking completely beyond repair.
It is back on our table, repaired with love and care by another friend, using nothing more than copious amounts of Elmer’s Glue. This is the glue of every child’s school desk, the glue of every mother’s junk drawer, the glue of every heart that needs mending. Elmer’s is not the gold of the Japanese art of kintsugi, where broken vessels are repaired with precious metals, creating an object even more valuable and beautiful than before, with streaks and tracks of gold highlighting their shattered history.
Yet this ceramic is now even more precious to me. Someone we love cared deeply enough to make it in the first place, and another we love cared deeply to repair it, making it more beautiful and blessed in its brokenness, highlighting ragged pieces made whole again.
Someone made us. Someone repairs us when we fall apart. Someone blesses our brokenness with a glued-together beauty that makes us whole.
Therefore do not lose heart…
~Allegri’s Miserere — setting of Psalm 51
Translation: Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offenses.
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.
Behold, I was shaped in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me. But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of Thy help again: and establish me with Thy free Spirit. Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my health: and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness. Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.
For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings. The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.
O be favorable and gracious unto Sion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar.
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support a daily Barnstorming posts
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. ~Harper Lee from To Kill A Mockingbird
I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are.
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for. ~J.R.R. Tolkien – Samwise Gamgee to Frodo in The Two Towers
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ~ G.K. Chesterton from “The Paradoxes of Christianity” in Orthodoxy
This is another day, O Lord… If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. — Kathleen Norris citing the Book of Common Prayer
What courage it takes to step out one’s front door these days.
I never know where I might be swept off to or what I might be swept into.
When I feel overwhelmed and discouraged, when it seems the world is cast in nothing but shadow, I am reminded I too am part of a great story and the plot progression is, by necessity, a mystery.
While the darkness seems to never end, I will pass through shadows and feel great fear, I will be asked to do things that threaten my well-being because it is the right thing to do for another.
Yet we are promised Light and Joy at the end of this epic story. There is still good in the world and it is worth fighting for.
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off too. ~J.R.R. Tolkien – Bilbo to Frodo in Fellowship of the Rings
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support daily Barnstorming posts
How is it they live for eons in such harmony – the billions of stars – when most men can barely go a minute without declaring war in their mind against someone they know. There are wars where no one marches with a flag, though that does not keep casualties from mounting.
Our hearts irrigate this earth. We are fields before each other. How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.
O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature without gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy. Grant that I may know what You require me to do. Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul. ~St. Thomas Aquinas
I look at headline news through my fingers, cringing.
Amid the centuries of posturing between governments and every imaginable tribe and faction, the names and faces change but the nature of hatred of the “other” doesn’t.
We’ve seen this all before, over and over through history. Over 150 years ago it was in the Gettysburg fields that blood of rival armies intermingled and irrigated U.S. soil. Though now we stand side by side with Germany and Japan, our bitter adversaries a mere eighty years ago, our world continually brews new enemies and ignites new conflicts.
We can barely go a minute without declaring war in our minds even against our neighbor, even those we consider friends and family. There is yelling from the streets in angry protest and screaming at school board meetings. Casualties mount in our bitterness toward one another.
And who am I to point fingers or squint through them at the news of the day? I am as prone to this as anyone.
Am I myself capable of submission without protest, remaining patient and uncomplaining even when I disagree? Can I embody humility without having a hidden agenda? Can I remain selfless when my true nature is wholly selfish?
How can there ever be harmony? How can I overcome my own rancorous heart?
As critical as it seems, It is not love for one another that comes first. I must first know, love and trust the only God who has loved the unloveable so much He became one with us, overpowering our tendency to hate one another by taking it all upon Himself.
Jesus found us dying in a world desperately drying up; His bleeding heart poured itself out onto our thirsting soil. We have been handed salvation.
It is, in fact, God who is madly in love with us and though we’ve done nothing to deserve it, it is our turn to show love to one another.
A book from Barnstorming is available for order here:
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.
In our secret yearnings we wait for your coming, and in our grinding despair we doubt that you will.
And in this privileged place we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than do we and by those who despair more deeply than do we.
Look upon your church and its pastors in this season of hope which runs so quickly to fatigue and in this season of yearning which becomes so easily quarrelsome.
Give us the grace and the impatience to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes, to the edges of our fingertips.
Come in your power and come in your weakness in any case and make all things new. Amen. ~ Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth
We simply have to wait and wait. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14
These are troubling times and yes, I’m troubled. It can feel like things will never change. It can feel like I will never adapt to how the world is darker right now, how people are more bitter and angry, how each day brings more bad news, how tired we all are of wearing our real and figurative masks.
I know better than this; I’ve seen dark times before that have taken time to resolve. So why does this time seem different? Why have doubts become four-dimensional realities?
So I remember: we were created for this waiting in-between. We were created to keep watching for when all things will be made new. From the bottoms of our toes to the tips of our fingers, we marvel at the power shown by our God choosing weakness as the vessel that saves us.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. Psalm 130: 5-6
O Lord, The house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it that you may enter in. ~Augustine of Hippo
…the miracle of God comes not only from above; it also comes through us; it is also dwelling in us. It has been given to every person, and it lies in every soul as something divine, and it waits. Calling, it waits for the hour when the soul shall open itself, having found its God and its home. When this is so, the soul will not keep its wealth to itself, but will let it flow out into the world. ~Eberhard Arnold
…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:14
When I feel squeezed through a narrow passage, compressed by the pressures of life from all sides, discouraged by limitations, unable to clearly see ahead or behind, longing for wide open spaces, of being able to once again do anything, go anywhere, feel anything I please~
I remember how this path was a choice, it is the way I will go, one step at a time. No one, certainly not God, promised an easy journey.
Yet He promised He would light the way to walk alongside me so I do not dwell in darkness.