To see clearly, not needing a drink or pill or puff of any pipe to know I’m alive. To come home, peel off sandals and step onto the cool tile floor needing only the rush of water over strawberries I picked myself and then a knife to trim the dusty green heads from each one, to watch them gleam cleanly in a colander in a patch of sun near the sink. ~James Crews “Clearly” from Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection
As a child, I could see some people I loved struggling with daily life like a never-ending wrestling match.
Can’t relax? Have a drink. Feeling irritable? Have a smoke. Can’t wake up? Strong coffee. Can’t lose weight? Amphetamines. Can’t sleep? Valium.
I watched as one after another after another lost the wrestling match with the life’s sharp edges, sometimes dying too young from their self-medication.
As a result, I never could reconcile experimenting with my brain, staying stone cold sober throughout 21 years of school, bored to tears at parties watching others get hammered and stoned. As a physician, I spent half my career trying to help people stop wrestling with life and find their sober selves again.
Like berries picked into a colander, we all need gentle handling, rinsing and hulling, to wash away the dust of the field, the spiders and slug slime.
No more wrestling. Restored to sweetness and sparkling beauty.
A new book from Barnstorming is available to order here:
Six days of work are spent To make a Sunday quiet That Sabbath may return. It comes in unconcern; We cannot earn or buy it. Suppose rest is not sent Or comes and goes unknown, The light, unseen, unshown. Suppose the day begins In wrath at circumstance, Or anger at one’s friends In vain self-innocence False to the very light, Breaking the sun in half, Or anger at oneself Whose controverting will Would have the sun stand still. The world is lost in loss Of patience; the old curse Returns, and is made worse As newly justified. In hopeless fret and fuss, In rage at worldly plight Creation is defied, All order is unpropped, All light and singing stopped ~Wendell Berry “Sabbath Poem V”
On the calendar, this past pandemic year contained just as many Sabbath days as any other year. Even so, we Christians allowed these fifty-plus precious days of rest to be broken by our own impatience and anger.
As a result of pandemic concerns and government regulations, many churches stopped meeting and even now continue to only worship virtually. Others blithely ignored the risks and continued to meet as they always had. Some tried to find an uneasy middle ground, meeting with restrictions on seating and indoor singing.
It felt like the Son Himself and His Light had been broken in half — the body of Christ divided.
The pandemic may be in its waning months but how will the church recover? Will friends find unity again after months of separation, disagreement and antipathy? Can healing reach into our pews and bond our prayers back together?
I have struggled to find rest on these Sabbath days, to look forward to meeting together with my brothers and sisters in the body. I am challenged by my tendency to fret and fuss. I need forgiveness for my attitude and I need to show forgiveness for those who see things differently.
The Lord knows what He is doing with His people, illuminating our divided hearts. Even in the darkest hour, He took on all our imperfections and failings and made them right.
May His broken Light be healed, our corrupted hearts be made whole and may our singing begin once again.
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days. Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals. Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices. Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you. Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart. Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope, where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all the things you did and could have done. Remember treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes pointing again and again down, down into the black depths. ~Dan Albergotti “Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” from The Boatloads.
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah 4:4
Most of us feel as though we were swallowed into the belly of the whale a year ago. We are treading water in the dark, disoriented and not just a little angry. All we can see of the outside world is a bit of blue sky through a tiny hole above us.
We try to imagine what life was like before the pandemic swallowed up our light and hope but if you are like me, you are grumpy.
Yet the belly of the whale is not forever. It is a time of contemplation with little distraction other than our own emotions. We’ll soon be regurgitated back onto the shore of our trivial pursuits and busyness where suddenly it will feel too noisy with too many demands.
This quiet time is meant to teach something to each of us, even if it is just to count the ribs, gaze into our own darkness and contemplate how we were trying to escape when God asked something of us.
I think of all the things I did and could have done, but resisted when the Lord asked me. It is time that I stop being angry and start to listen.
1. Courage, my soul, and let us journey on, Tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long. Thanks be to God, the morning light appears, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
Chorus: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
2. Billows rolling high, and thunder shakes the ground, Lightnings flash, and tempest all around, Jesus walks the sea and calms the angry waves, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
3. The stars have disappeared, and distant lights are dim, My soul is filled with fears, the seas are breaking in. I hear the Master cry, “Be not afraid, ’tis I,” And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
4. Soon we shall reach the distant shining shore, Free from all the storms, we’ll rest forevermore. Safe within the veil, we’ll furl the riven sail, And the storm will all be over, Hallelujah!
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20
How pale is the sky that brings forth the rain As the changing of seasons prepares me again For the long bitter nights and the wild winter’s day My heart has grown cold, my love stored away My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
I’ve been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow Where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go I’ve taken the pain, no girl should endure But faith can move mountains of that I am sure Faith can move mountains of that I am sure
Just get me through December A promise I’ll remember Get me through December So I can start again
No divine purpose brings freedom from sin And peace is a gift that must come from within And I’ve looked for the love that will bring me to rest Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest ~Gordie Sampson & Fred Lavery
It is winter in Narnia… and has been for ever so long …. always winter, but never Christmas. ~C. S. Lewis from The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe
We’ve been traveling through a wilderness of the pandemic for nearly a year, even as the calendar has changed from spring to summer to autumn and in December back to winter. In this winter wilderness, we struggle with the chill of isolation from each other and from God, the endless discouragement and fatigue, and the hot cold of resentment and anger.
We are called in the gospel of Matthew to leave behind our helplessness when overwhelmed by pervasive wilderness. He tells us to believe, even if it is only the tiniest grain of faith. Our cold hearts love and hunger for God.
So if we can’t make it to the mountain in the distance, our faith can move the mountain closer. God hears our plea and brings His peace to us by bringing Himself as close as the beating heart in our chest. There will be a Christmas again and there will be Easter.
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.
God is not dead, nor does he sleep. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellowfrom Christmas Bells
Unexpected God, your advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your coming, and bend our angers into your peace. Amen. ~Revised Common Lectionary First Sunday of Advent
During Advent there are times when I am guilty of blithely invoking the gentle bedtime story of that silent night, the infant napping away in a hay-filled manger, His devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door. All is calm. All is bright.
I’m dozing if I think that is all there was to it.
The reality is God Himself never sleeps.
This is no gentle bedtime story: a teenage mother giving birth in a smelly stable, with no alternative but to lay her baby in a rough feed trough. This is no gentle bedtime story: the heavenly host appearing to shepherds – the lowest of the low in society – shouting and singing glories leaving them “sore afraid.” That means: terrified. This is no gentle bedtime story: Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he sought out to kill a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered. This is no gentle bedtime story: a family’s flight to Egypt as immigrants seeking asylum so their son would not be yet another victim of Herod. This is no gentle bedtime story: the life Jesus eventually led during His ministry: itinerant and homeless, tempted and fasting in the wilderness for forty days, owning nothing, rejected by His own people, betrayed by His disciples, sentenced to death by acclamation before Pilate, tortured, hung on a cross until He gave up his spirit.
Yet Jesus understood He was not of this world; He knew the power that originally brought him to earth as a helpless infant lying in an unforgiving wood trough.
He would be sacrificed on rough unforgiving wood, He would die and rise again, He would return again as King of all nations, He is not of this world yet comes to save this world.
When I hear skeptics scoff at Christianity as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate the courage it takes to walk into church each week admitting we are a desperate people seeking rescue. We cling to the life preserver found in the Word, lashed to our seats and hanging on. It is only because of grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, shame, guilt and self-doubt to confront the reality of an all-knowing God who is not dead and who never ever sleeps.
This bedtime story is not for the faint of heart — we are “sore afraid” to “bend our anger” into His peace.
Yet be not afraid: the wrong shall fail the Right prevail.
The walls of a stable are not worthy of a king. You come, little one, borne on the songs of angels, the echoes of prophets, and the light of a strange star. Do not cry, though you must lie on this rough, unforgiving wood. You will be wrapped in lengths of linen, and you will sleep. Being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Though you must lie on this rough, unforgiving wood, you will be wrapped in lengths of linen, and you will sleep. These walls are not worthy of a king, little one, but your kingdom is not of this world.
I heard the bells on Christmas day Their old familiar carols play And mild and sweet their songs repeat Of peace on earth good will to men And the bells are ringing (peace on earth) Like a choir they’re singing (peace on earth) In my heart I hear them (peace on earth) Peace on earth, good will to men And in despair I bowed my head There is no peace on earth I said For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men But the bells are ringing (peace on earth) Like a choir singing (peace on earth) Does anybody hear them? (peace on earth) Peace on earth, good will to men Then rang the bells more loud and deep God is not dead, nor does he sleep (peace on earth, peace on earth) The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace… ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The way a crow Shook down on me The dust of snow From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart A change of mood And saved some part Of a day I had rued. ~Robert Frost “Dust of Snow”
All those with whom I speak these days wish things could be different~ nothing feels right, rights feel like nothing, everyone sadly angry and angrily sad.
Friends no longer speaking to friends, families divided, opinions expressed and dismissed.
This virus is doing more damage than it was ever designed to do. It simply wants to replicate itself, yet along with its RNA, we have allowed it to sow discord, distrust, discouragement into our cells as well.
There is no vaccine for the stubbornness of heart ailing us now; we resist protective measures, act as if all is normal when a quarter million are dead and more are dying.
This infection of the spirit will far outlast the virus by spreading through the generations, eroding relationships, splitting human bonds, and withering our love for one another.
Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray– For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife. Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest May fall, flit, fly, perch–crouch in the bowery breast Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;– Moveless there sit through all the burning day, And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay. ~George MacDonald from Diary of an Old Soul
I suspect I’m not the only U.S. citizen who slept fitfully last night, anxious about the election and how our nation’s peoples will accept and move on with life once official results are reported.
There can be no response but to bow in earnest prayer, waiting for a long-needed hatching of healing peace for our diverse beliefs and opinions.
Our lives are half-fledged, not yet fully delivered nor understood, doubt and distrust burns into our flesh like thorns on fire.
We have become a seething-angry and moaning-sore nation — today we will be further divided between those who win and those who lose. The moral high ground will go to the graceful loser who concedes defeat in a spirit of unity without stoking the fires of discontent. A gloating winner would bloat us all beyond recognition.
May our prayers for peace rise like a dove from hearts in turmoil, once again to soar on the wings of eagles.
Peace, come quickly. Be moved within us; no longer immobile. Cool our angry words. Take us to higher ground. Plow deep our hearts.
In Sleeping Beauty’s castle the clock strikes one hundred years and the girl in the tower returns to the world. So do the servants in the kitchen, who don’t even rub their eyes. The cook’s right hand, lifted an exact century ago, completes its downward arc to the kitchen boy’s left ear; the boy’s tensed vocal cords finally let go the trapped, enduring whimper, and the fly, arrested mid-plunge above the strawberry pie, fulfills its abiding mission and dives into the sweet, red glaze.
As a child I had a book with a picture of that scene. I was too young to notice how fear persists, and how the anger that causes fear persists, that its trajectory can’t be changed or broken, only interrupted. My attention was on the fly; that this slight body with its transparent wings and lifespan of one human day still craved its particular share of sweetness, a century later. ~Lisel Mueller “Immortality” from Alive Together
Little fly, Thy summer’s play My thoughtless hand Has brushed away.
Am not I A fly like thee? Or art not thou A man like me?
For I dance And drink and sing, Till some blind hand Shall brush my wing.
If thought is life And strength and breath, And the want Of thought is death,
Then am I A happy fly, If I live, Or if I die. ~William Blake “The Fly”
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm –…. ~Emily Dickinson
A fly made the news this past week. It became more important than the issues being discussed in the room in which it buzzed and landed. Maybe it has come to symbolize our helplessness in the face of our anger toward one another, which has become just another way for our fear to express itself.
There is nothing more humbling than a wayward fly buzzing in the room or landing uninvited on my head. No matter whether I live in a slum or a castle, a fly will find its way to me, just because it can. I must learn to coexist with what I can’t control; this is no time for frustration nor fear nor anger to raise my hand, ready to kill the offender.
When I’m feeling bugged, which happens all too often these days, the buzzing may overwhelm my stillness but I won’t let it overwhelm me. I will put down the swatter. I will breathe deeply and admire the ingenuity of such a brief life powered miraculously by two transparent wings.
A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter. I feel no obligation to deal with politics. I do feel a responsibility to society. A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down.
A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation.
I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: one role of the writer today is to sound the alarm. The environment is disintegrating, the hour is late, and not much is being done. Instead of carting rocks from the moon, we should be carting the feces out of Lake Erie. …I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me. ~E.B. White 1969 (on writing)
It becomes tiresome always feeling angry about what it is happening in the world, feeling that everything, even a virus, has been made political. I’m done with reading and writing nothing but words of frustration, but will rail against the meanness that surrounds us, and push back the bully to seek out a balance of perspective and insight.
When I need to feel something other than mad, I’ll walk as far as I can go, look up, revel in the gift of rays of light and bask in their warmth and promise.
I will accept what the sun has to offer and tell about it so that my anger drains away like so much waste flushed down a pipe, never to be seen again.