When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” fromThe Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
When our grandchildren visit our farm, I watch them rediscover what I know are the joys and sorrows of this world. I am reminded there is light beyond the darkness I fear, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness there is rest despite my restlessness, there is grace as old gives way to new.
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I have walked through many lives, some of them my own, and I am not who I was, though some principle of being abides, from which I struggle not to stray. When I look behind, as I am compelled to look before I can gather strength to proceed on my journey, I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon
How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?
Yet I turn, I turn, exulting somewhat, with my will intact to go wherever I need to go, and every stone on the road precious to me. In my darkest night, when the moon was covered and I roamed through wreckage, a nimbus-clouded voice directed me: “Live in the layers, not on the litter.” Though I lack the art to decipher it, no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written. I am not done with my changes. ~Stanley Kunitz from “The Layers”
A child is asleep. Her private life unwinds inside skin and skull; only as she sheds childhood, first one decade and then another, can she locate the actual, historical stream, see the setting of her dreaming private life—the nation, the city, the neighborhood, the house where the family lives—as an actual project under way, a project living people willed, and made well or failed, and are still making, herself among them.
I breathed the air of history all unaware, and walked oblivious through its littered layers. ~Annie Dillard from An American Childhood
…we become whole by having the courage to revisit and embrace all the layers of our lives, denying none of them, so that we’re finally able to say, “Yes, all of this is me, and all of this has helped make me who I am.”
When we get to that point, amazingly, we can look at all the layers together and see the beauty of the whole. ~Parker Palmer from “Embracing All the Layers of Your Life” in On Being
My favorite scenes are ones where there are several “layers” to study, whether it is a still life of petals or a deep landscape with a foreground, middle and backdrop. The challenge is to decide where to look first, what to draw into sharp focus, and how to absorb it all as a whole. In fact, if I only see one aspect, I miss the entire point of the composition. It is wonderfully multi-faceted and multi-layered because that is how my own life is – complex with so much diverse and subtle shading.
If I try to suppress some darker part of my own life I wish to forget and blur out, I ignore the beauty of the contrast with the light that illuminates the rest.
The layers reflect who I was created to be as an image-bearer – complex, nuanced, illuminated in the presence of dark.
Beautifully composed and ultimately transformed.
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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.
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There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do – Go through his clothes and look for loose change. ~William Goldman – the wisdom of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride
You who believe, and you who sometimes believe and sometimes don’t believe much of anything, and you who would give almost anything to believe if only you could.
You happy ones and you who can hardly remember what it was like once to be happy.
You who know where you’re going and how to get there and you who much of the time aren’t sure you’re getting anywhere.
“Get up,” he says, all of you – all of you! – and the power that is in him is the power to give life not just to the dead like the child,
but to those who are only partly alive, which is to say to people like you and me
who much of the time live with our lives closed to the wild beauty and miracle of things, including the wild beauty and miracle of every day we live and even of ourselves. ~Frederick Buechner -Originally published inSecrets in the Dark
May I not settle for being slightly alive or mostly dead –
I want to be fully alive to the wild beauty and miracle of things, to the wild beauty and miracle of every day, and even the wild beauty and miracle of myself~~
I have known what it is to doubt, to be discouraged, defeated, and grieved.
It is part of the package: shadows appear when the Sun is the brightest and hottest. I have no doubt the Sun exists, especially after the last few days.
So I must “get up!” even if I don’t know where to go next.
And then I will believe ~truly believe~ I am created to be mostly and absolutely alive this day and every day.
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I had a profound amazement at the sovereignty of Being becoming a dizzy sensation of tumbling endlessly into the abyss of its mystery; an unbounded joy at being alive, at having been given the chance to live through all I have lived through, and at the fact thateverything has a deep and obvious meaning – this joy formed a strange alliance in me with a vague horror at the inapprehensibility and unattainability of everything I was so close to in that moment, standing at the very “edge of the infinite”;
I was flooded with a sense of ultimate happiness and harmony with the world and with myself, with that moment, with all the moments I could call up, and with everything invisible that lies behind it and has meaning. ~Václav Havel in a letter to his wife
– for Czesław Miłosz
How unattainable life is, it only reveals its features in memory, in nonexistence. How unattainable afternoons, ripe, tumultuous, leaves bursting with sap; swollen fruit, the rustling silks of women who pass on the other side of the street, and the shouts of boys leaving school. Unattainable. The simplest apple inscrutable, round. The crowns of trees shake in warm currents of air. Unattainably distant mountains. Intangible rainbows. Huge cliffs of clouds flowing slowly through the sky. The sumptuous, unattainable afternoon. My life, swirling, unattainable, free. ~Adam Zagajewski, “Fruit” Translated by Renata Gorczyńska and C. K. Williams
Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. ~Celtic saying
Sometimes the abundance in my life is so unbounded, I possibly can’t absorb it all, like an endless feast that far exceeds my hunger.
At times I have no idea how hungry I am until it is laid out before me; I don’t know where to begin.
When I feel myself on that cliff of overwhelm, that thin edge of knowing I can almost reach past the finite to touch the infinite, I realize it is unattainable.
Not now, not yet.
We live in the already but not yet. The all-encompassing I AM is here among us, His Spirit surrounding us with beauty beyond imagining. But we are waiting, wondering, wistful as the kingdom of God is already here and yet to come.
So He offers a glimpse and a taste and it is so very very good.
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In spring there’s hope, in fall the exquisite, necessary diminishing, in winter I am as sleepy as any beast in its leafy cave, but in summer there is everywhere the luminous sprawl of gifts, the hospitality of the Lord and my inadequate answers as I row my beautiful, temporary body through this water-lily world. ~Mary Oliver from “Six Recognitions of the Lord”
what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled— to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery. ~Mary Oliver from “The Ponds”
I admit to being oblivious to the wonders going on beneath my feet, around my middle and above my head. My nose is to the grindstone, doing what needs to be done.
When a moment comes out of nowhere and I’m dazzled by something I’ve seen or heard or smelled, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It has always been there; I’m simply waking to it.
Lord, lift my head in the midst of my blind hunger to see what you have already prepared for me.
Translation from Icelandic:
Hear, smith of heavens. The poet seeketh. In thy still small voice Mayest thou show grace. As I call on thee, Thou my creator. I am thy servant, Thou art my true Lord.
God, I call on thee; For thee to heal me. Bid me, prince of peace, Thou my supreme need. Ever I need thee, Generous and great, O’er all human woe, City of thy heart.
Guard me, my savior. Ever I need thee, Through ev’ry moment In this world so wide. Virgin–born, send me Noble motives now. Aid cometh from thee, To my deepest heart.
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It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity
….in the garden there was nothing which was not quite like themselves— nothing which did not understand the wonderfulness of what was happening to them— the immense, tender, terrible, heart-breaking beauty and solemnity of Eggs.
… if an Egg were taken away or hurt the whole world would whirl round and crash through space and come to an end— ~Frances Hodgson Burnett from The Secret Garden
I revel in being the good egg. Smooth on the surface, gooey inside, often a bit scrambled, yet ordinary and decent, indistinguishable from others, blending in, not making waves.
It’s not been bad staying just as I am. Except I can no longer remain like this.
A dent or two have appeared in my outer shell from bumps along the way, and a crack up one side extends daily.
It has come time to change or face inevitable rot.
Nothing can be the same again: the fragments of shell left behind must be abandoned as useless confinement.
Newly hatched and transformed: there is the wind beneath my wings. I’ll soar toward an endless horizon that stretches beyond eternity, no longer ordinary.
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The thrushes sing as the sun is going, And the finches whistle in ones and pairs, And as it gets dark loud nightingales In bushes Pipe, as they can when April wears, As if all Time were theirs.
These are brand-new birds of twelve months’ growing, Which a year ago, or less than twain, No finches were, nor nightingales, Nor thrushes, But only particles of grain, And earth, and air, and rain. ~Thomas Hardy “Proud Songsters”
Each year I watch the new hatchlings fledge and fly and feed, and marvel at how they know so young how to sing and survive. Last year they were mere elements and now they bring the world beauty and Grace.
They live as if all Time were theirs.
Now in my seventh decade, do I know how to sing and survive? Did I become more than the elements from which I arose?
Only thanks to the Maker of heaven and earth was I born to recognize Beauty and Grace when I see and hear it. And so I bring it here, now to share with all of you.
I live as if all Time is so precious, so fleeting.
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Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf. ~ Albert Schweitzer
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 for eternity makes getting up in the morning worth the effort when we would rather hide our homeliness and decay under the covers.
Yet nothing can be 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.
It’s enough to make you wonder…
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