These woods on the edges of a lake are settling now to winter darkness. Whatever was going to die is gone — crickets, ferns, swampgrass. Bare earth fills long spaces of a field. But look: a single oak leaf brown and shining like a leather purse. See what it so delicately offers lying upturned on the path. See how it reflects in its opened palm a cup of deep, unending sky. ~ Laura Foley, “The Offering” from Why I Never Finished My Dissertation
Winter still has us in its chilly grasp for another four weeks. We feel caught up in its wintry web as viruses continue to swirl among us despite efforts to monitor and quarantine, and we wonder when our own turn will come.
The natural world, its joys and its threats, has always had the upper hand. We are dumbfounded, never quick enough to catch on to its tricks and sly mutations, unprepared to respond in the moment.
Like a withering leaf soon to become dust, we offer up what we can when we can: our reflection of the light, our hope of better things to come, our gift of beauty back to a despairing world.
The children are sleeping and the cows and chickens are sleeping, and the grass itself is sleeping. The machines are off and the neighbor’s lights, a half mile away, are out, and the moon is hanging like a powdered face in a darkened room, and the snow is shining under stars the way we are shining here in our cold skins under warm quilts.
There is no season, no grass gone brown, no cold, and no one to say we are anything but beautiful, swimming together across the wide channel of night. ~David Romtvedt from “Still” in Some Church
In the evening we come down to the shore to drink our fill, and sleep, while it flows through the regions of the dark. It does not hold us, except we keep returning to its rich waters thirsty. We enter, willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.
I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark, containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning. I give you the life I have let live for the love of you: a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road, the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life that we have planted in the ground, as I have planted mine in you. ~Wendell Berry from “The Country of Marriage”
Again we find ourselves alone together ~ shining in a warmth we find in each other planted so deeply we cannot always know where one ends and another begins, a commonwealth of shared everything~ the soft beauty of touch and tears: no matter what comes next. Mine is yours.
When trees have lost remembrance of the leaves
that spring bequeaths to summer, autumn weaves
and loosens mournfully — this dirge, to whom
does it belong — who treads the hidden loom?
When peaks are overwhelmed with snow and ice,
and clouds with crepe bedeck and shroud the skies —
nor any sun or moon or star, it seems,
can wedge a path of light through such black dreams — All motion cold, and dead all traces thereof:
What sudden shock below, or spark above,
starts torrents raging down till rivers surge —
that aid the first small crocus to emerge?
The earth will turn and spin and fairly soar,
that couldn't move a tortoise-foot before —
and planets permeate the atmosphere
till misery depart and mystery clear! —
Who gave it the endurance so to brave
such elements? — shove winter down a grave? —
and then lead on again the universe?
~Alfred Kreymborg from "Crocus"
To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that. Two thousand years are only a day or two by this [God’s] scale. A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says, ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’ Because we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. . . It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer. ~C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock
Whether late winter or autumn the ground yields unexpected crocus, surprising even to the observant.
Hidden beneath the surface, their incubation readily triggered by advancing or retreating light from above.
Waiting with temerity, to be called forth from earthly grime and granted reprieve from indefinite interment.
A luminous gift of hope and beauty borne from a humble bulb adorned with dirt.
Summoned, the harbinger rises from sleeping dormant ground in February or spent topsoil, exhausted by October.
These bold blossoms do not pause for snow and ice nor hesitate to pierce through a musty carpet of fallen leaves.
They break free to surge skyward cloaked in tightly bound brilliance, deployed against the darkness.
Slowly unfurling, the petals peel to reveal golden crowns, royally renouncing the chill of winter’s beginning and end, staying brazenly alive when little else is.
In the end, they wilt, deeply bruised purple a reflection of Light made manifest; returning defeated, inglorious, fallen, to dust.
Yet like the Sun, we know they will rise yet again.
He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light, and he can bring thee summer out of winter, though thou hast no spring. Though in the ways of fortune, understanding, or conscience thou hast been benighted till now, wintered and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied, now God comes to thee, not as the dawning of the day, not as the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon. ~John Donne from John Donne: The Major Works
I get caught by autumn advancing too fast to winter, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupified stuck in place, frozen to the spot. Only God can come, like a winter sun dim at noon, almost invisible, but there, reminding us of His promises, dressing us in His beauty, drying our wings, wringing the darkness to free the reluctant light.
Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. ~ Henri Nouwen
When the slings and arrows are directly aimed at me, hit their mark and open a wound, I can choose to pick at the scab, maybe even cause it to get infected and make the scar worse, or I can marvel I’m still standing, still capable of doing what I do best, and able to fully heal.
I see beauty in recovery and becoming whole again. I see goodness in those who come alongside even if it means they become a target along with me.
Even when my heart bleeds from its inflicted wounds, I choose forgiveness arising from grace and gratitude. I hope I too will be forgiven for any wounds I inflict.
All becomes grace, the gift that never stops giving.
Glory be to God for dappled things – For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Pied Beauty”
The unconventional and unnoticed beauty, freckled, spare and strange– helps me feel beautiful too. The interplay of light and shadow within every moment of our existence, some moments darker than others, some brilliant and dazzling.
I try to find the sweet and sour, knowing I’m capturing my own dappled essence – a reflection of the Fathering that loves us even in our fickleness, who possibly could know how?
There is no perfection outside of Him; His reflected beauty has no uniformity. We give Him glory in our imperfection, the defects and blemishes which only He can make whole. Who knows why He does this? Yet He does.