He Does Not Leave Us Where We Are: Living is Not Delicate

From other
angles the
fibers look
fragile, but
not from the
spider’s, always
hauling coarse
ropes, hitching
lines to the
best posts
possible. It’s
heavy work
everyplace,
fighting sag,
winching up
give. It
isn’t ever
delicate
to live.

~Kay Ryan “Spiderweb” (2010)

Despite His fragility as a newborn baby, we know the Son of God was equipped with the toughness needed for a life that started out homeless, then becoming a refugee with displaced parents seeking safety in a foreign land.

He grew up in a dusty little town, learning a trade with His hands. He knew what it took to make something strong enough to be worthy. He knew how much it would take to make us, His children, sturdy and worthy.

His Word tells us clearly there is nothing delicate about the life of Jesus; we know it took a strong mother to feed him and care for him, a loving and steadfast father to raise and teach him, and without both, he would not have survived. Once He began His preaching, He gathered about Him disciples who were hard-working people, toughened by the necessity of survival day-to-day. There was nothing delicate about living a homeless life on the road, sleeping on the ground, depending on the good will of others.

There was nothing delicate about becoming the foundational sacrifice for us, His suffering making possible our new Home.

Jesus asks us, His beautiful creation, to choose to cling to Him instead of earthly things. He does not sag or tear under pressure. He doesn’t leave us dangling. Life in Jesus is never delicate – it takes toughness, foresight, strength and the persistence to repair and restore when things are torn.

And this new Home is beautiful. There is nothing else more beautiful.

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 Importance of Each Tree

Our universe is not made up only of beautiful trees,
but also of stunted ones.
Yet each tree is important.

Television shows us movie stars,
men and women with beautiful bodies and extravagant clothes.
But that is not the reality of the majority of people!

The beauty of human beings lies in their capacity
to accept who they are, just as they are;
not to live in a world of dreams or illusions,
in anger or despair,
wanting to be other than they are,
or trying to run away from reality.
~Jean Vanier from Seeing Beyond Depression

Long ago I gave up striving
for perfect symmetry,
strong shapely limbs,
the straightest trunk,
the most luscious foliage and colorful blooms.

Instead, my life is as fruitful as possible,
even if I bend more in winter storms,
my roots not anchored as deep,
despite bare and broken branches,
falling leaves,
crooked trunk,
and increasing lumpiness.

I try to provide the best of which I’m capable,
with a minimum of scab, rot and hidden worms.

The promise of breathtaking beauty enriches and enlivens.
It makes getting up in the morning worth the effort
when we would rather hide our homeliness under the covers.

Yet nothing is as beautiful as the reality of
broken people giving their all
for other broken people.

It is for this we are created;
our imperfections on display,
continually pruned and refined
to produce needed fruit,
abundantly filling and ever so sweet.

Beautiful and Strange

There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free—
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.

Your heart’s in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You’d have sworn no one knew you more than you.

How many people thought you’d never change?
But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.
~Kate Light from “There Comes the Strangest Moment” in
 Open Slowly

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being,…
~Omid Safi from The Disease of Being Busy

Now that I have officially committed to reduce to part-time clinic work nine months out of the year with summers off, I’m struggling with the strangeness of waking up with no job to go to. I’m no longer paid to be busy. It feels a bit like I’m vigorously treading water but with no destination in mind other than to stay afloat. Maybe that’s enough to just move and breathe but until I get my feet on this new uncertain ground, I won’t make much progress.

With no little trepidation, I have decided this is the time to start backing off from all-consuming clinic responsibilities, knowing I was becoming less effective due to diminishing passion and energy for the work. I’ve worked in some capacity for over fifty years, throughout school and graduate school. Not working feels, well… very strange. It makes me question who I really am and how not leaving home for a job changes me. I can barely remember who I was before I became a physician.

So here I am — changing — whether it is taking on new color or shape, exercising a different part of my brain, or simply praying I will make good use of this time to do something as worthwhile as what I have been doing.

And once again my days … will be … strangely beautiful.

Completely and Deceptively Rotten

“When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response:

‘Dear Sirs:
I am.
Sincerely Yours,
G. K. Chesterton.’

That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.”
~Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God 

O lovely apple!
beautifully and completely
                 rotten
hardly a contour marred–

                 perhaps a little
shrivelled at the top but that
                 aside perfect
in every detail! O lovely

                 apple! what a
deep and suffusing brown
                 mantles that
unspoiled surface! No one

                 has moved you
since I placed you on the porch
                 rail a month ago
to ripen.

                 No one. No one!
~William Carlos Williams “Perfection”

I am what’s wrong with the world and so are you.

Not one of us escapes the rottenness that lies not-so-deep beneath our shiny surface.  We are full of wormholes, inviting the worms of the world to eat us alive.

One look at the news headlines of the day is enough mar the most perfect surface. No one moves to save us from our over-ripening fate; we sit untouched, withering and shriveling.

We are the problem and the problem is us.

We need rescue by a Savior who is the one good apple among a barrel of contagiously bad apples. We are so tainted, it takes Someone who truly is Perfect to transform us from the inside out, from worm-holes back to wholeness and on to holiness.

May we fall to our knees, weeping and grateful, that Christ, who is the Leader of all in His Kingdom, will grant us a grace and sanctuary we emphatically don’t deserve.

May He pick us before the worms do. We are in this together.


The World Too Beautiful

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O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with color! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,– Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,– let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay “God’s World”

 

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Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. 
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute? 
I’m ready to go back. I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are!
Just blind people.
~Thornton Wilder, from Emily’s monologue in Our Town

 

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Let me not wear blinders through my days.
Let me see and hear and feel it all even when it seems too much to bear.

Lord,  prepare me to be so whelmed at your world, that
Heaven itself will be familiar, and not that far,
Just round the corner.

 

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Brokenness Under the Blessing

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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

 

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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.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 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 Corinthinians: 6-12, 16

 

mendedpot1

 

It is a ceramic pot 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 kintsugiwhere 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 it 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 even 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.

 

mendedpot3

 

 

horsehairvase

Be On My Best Behavior

frozenpineneedles

 

Find a quiet rain.  Then a green spruce tree.  You will notice that nearly every needle has been decorated with a tiny raindrop ornament.  Look closely inside the drop and there you are. In color. Upside down. Raindrops have been collecting snapshots since objects and people were placed, to their surprise, here and there on earth.

…even if we are only on display for a moment in a water drop as it clings to a pine needle, it is expected that we be on our best behavior, hair combed, jacket buttoned, no vulgar language.  Smiling is not necessary, but a pleasant attitude is helpful, and would be, I think, appreciated.
~Tom Hennen from “Outdoor Photos”

 

rainjewels

 

… We are, as we have always been, dangerous creatures, the enemies of our own happiness. But the only help we have ever found for this, the only melioration, is in mutual reverence. God’s grace comes to us unmerited, the theologians say. But the grace we could extend to one another we consider it best to withhold in very many cases, presumptively, or in the absence of what we consider true or sufficient merit (we being more particular than God), or because few gracious acts, if they really deserve the name, would stand up to a cost-benefit analysis. This is not the consequence of a new atheism, or a systemic materialism that afflicts our age more than others. It is good old human meanness, which finds its terms and pretexts in every age. The best argument against human grandeur is the meagerness of our response to it, paradoxically enough.

And yet, the beautiful persists, and so do eloquence and depth of thought, and they belong to all of us because they are the most pregnant evidence we can have of what is possible in us.
~ Marilynne Robinson from “What Are We Doing Here?”

 

rainykale4

 

Some days I choose to trudge along dry and cranky — each step an effort, each thought a burden, each moment an opportunity to grump about myself and my fellow man.  It is good to be reminded I am preserved, as is, for an instant, in the camera eye of the raindrops I pass, each snapping an instagram photo of my attitude.

It wouldn’t hurt me to smile out of a sense of grace and forgiveness, even if the events of the day may not call for it.  At least those smiles, reflected in the lens of each raindrop, will soak the soil at the moment it is let go to fall earthward.

There is no better place for the gift of grace to bloom and grow, ready for a new day.

 

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Wading a Fall Meadow

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One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides   
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies 
On water; it glides 
So from the walker, it turns 
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you   
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes. 
The beautiful changes as a forest is changed   
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;   
As a mantis, arranged 
On a green leaf, grows 
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves   
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows. 
Your hands hold roses always in a way that says   
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes   
In such kind ways,   
Wishing ever to sunder 
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose   
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

~Richard Wilbur from “The Beautiful Changes” Collected Poems 1943-2004

(Richard Wilbur, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet, passed Saturday at age 96)
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Wading through an autumn field
where gradual change breaks up the beautiful once again:
to wonder at the throes of dying,
to know the kindness of a glistening dawn
when all before seemed darkness,
when all to come seems ephemeral;
brokenness in a moment
made whole.
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qalace2016

How Many Flowers Fail

eveningpetunia

lupinepods

How many Flowers fail in Wood –
Or perish from the Hill –
Without the privilege to know
That they are Beautiful –

How many cast a nameless Pod
Upon the nearest Breeze –
Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight –
It bear to Other Eyes –
~Emily Dickinson

hollyhockwwured

If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?
—G.K. Chesterton

rosechocolate

We are mere seeds lying dormant, plain and simple, with no knowledge of the beauty we harbor within, a beauty for which we were created. There is nothing to distinguish us one from the other until the murmurs of spring begin, so soft, so subtle.  The soil shakes loose frosty crust as the thawing warmth begins.   Sunlight makes us stir and swell, no longer frozen but animate and intimate.

We are called awake from our quiescence to sprout, bloom and fruit.  We reach as far as our tethered roots will allow, beyond earthly bounds to touch the light and be touched. We fling our seeds to the wind.

There is renewed hope created in the heart of man, ready and waiting to unfurl, with a precious fragrance that lingers long after our pods have burst open, as our seed dries, loosens, and falls to freedom.

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Hope Increased

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Van Gogh's Irises
Van Gogh’s Irises

I have a small grain of hope–
one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.

I need more.

I break off a fragment
to send you.

Please take
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink.

Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow.

Only so, by division,
will hope increase,

like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source–
clumsy and earth-covered–
of grace.
~Denise Levertov “For the New Year, 1981”

Years ago,  my newly widowed sister-in-law was trying to bring order to her late husband’s large yard and flower garden which had become overgrown following his sudden cardiac death in his mid-fifties.  In her ongoing ebb and flow with her grief, she brought to us several paper bags full of iris roots resting solemnly in clumps of dirt–dry misshapened feet and fingers crippled and homely — such unlikely sources of hope and healing.

We were late in the year getting them into the ground but they rewarded us with immense forgiveness. They took hold in the freedom of space in a new home and transformed our little courtyard into a Van Gogh landscape. Over the years they continue to gladden our hearts until we too must, to save them, divide them to pass on their gift of beauty to another garden.

This act– “by division, will hope increase”–feels radical yet that is exactly what God did:  sending Himself to become dusty, grime and earth-covered, so plain, so broken, so full of hope ready to bloom.

A part of God put down roots to grow, thrive and be divided, over and over and over again to increase the beauty and grace for those of us limited to this soil.

Just so:
our garden will bloom so all can see and know: hope grows here.

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I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
~Thomas Hardy “The Darkling Thrush” written on New Year’s Eve 1899