Making the Best of What Remains

What is pertinent is the calmness of beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it…

For a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?
~Kazuo Ishiguro from The Remains of the Day

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint you can on it.
~Danny Kaye

Every moment is a fresh beginning.
~T.S. Eliot

I am ashamed to admit I squander time looking back,
yearning for a day that has long since passed,
tossing off these present precious hours
as somehow not measuring up to what came before.

Even when I believe things will never change,
they will, and I will. 

There have been over thirty-six years
of such days in this farm country,
one flowing gently after another,
and every single one have been exactly what I’m looking for.

I shall toss my heart ahead and set out after it,
each moment a fresh beginning and blank canvas,
making the best of what remains of my day.

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: As It Was in the Beginning…

All shall be Amen and Alleluia.
We shall rest and we shall see.
We shall see and we shall know.
We shall know and we shall love.
We shall love and we shall praise.
Behold our end, which is no end.

~St. Augustine “Resurrection Prayer”

The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds. They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive 15 miles or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place…

For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God. They have been individuals, some white, some black, some poor, some rich, they have been the ‘natural’ world and a natural community. And now they have been called to “come together in one place,” to bring their lives, their very world with them and to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life.

We are already far beyond the categories of common worship and prayer. The purpose of this ‘coming together’ is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it ‘better’ – more responsible, more Christian.

The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning.
~ Father Alexander Schmemann from For the Life of the World

As the calendar approaches Holy Week, this week can feel somewhat like an ending of how things have been, or perhaps it is the wrap-up of the beginning of my awareness of my need for Christ’s redemptive power in my life.

I’m feeling very “in-between” right now – already but not yet.

Nevertheless, this is a world without end and I trust God’s leading me – from my beginning to an eternal life with Him.

In a different context, but nevertheless not so different as we are still a world at war with one another:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
~Winston Churchill

Glory be to the Father,
Glory be to the Son,
Glory be to the Holy Ghost,
As it was in the beginning
is now and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.

If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).

In His name, may we sing…

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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: Unlocked and Opened Wide

What seemed to be the end proved to be the beginning…
Suddenly a wall becomes a gate.
~Henri Nouwen from Gracias! A Letter of Consolation

As Christians we do not believe in walls,
but that life lies open before us;
that the gate can always be unbarred;
that there is no final abandonment or desertion.
We do not believe that it can ever be “too late.”

We believe that the world is full of doors that can be opened. Between us and others.
Between the people around us.
Between today and tomorrow.
Our own inner person can be unlocked too:
even within our own selves,
there are doors that need to be opened.

If we open them and enter,
we can unlock ourselves, too,
and so await whatever is coming to free us and make us whole.
~ Jörg Zink from “Doors to the Feast”

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
~T.S. Eliot from “Little Gidding” The Four Quartets


We stand outside the gate, incapable of opening it ourselves,
watching as God Himself throws it open wide. 
We choose to enter this unknown unremembered gate
into the endless length of days,
or we choose to remain outside,
lingering in the familiar confines of what we know,
though it destroys us.

There we shall rest and we shall see;
we shall see and we shall love;
we shall love and we shall praise.
Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.
~Augustine of Hippo

1 Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates; 
behold, the King of glory waits; 
the King of kings is drawing near; 
the Savior of the world is here!

2 Fling wide the portals of your heart; 
make it a temple, set apart 
from earthly use for heaven’s employ, 
adorned with prayer and love and joy.

3 Redeemer, come, with us abide; 
our hearts to thee we open wide; 
let us thy inner presence feel; 
thy grace and love in us reveal.

4 Thy Holy Spirit lead us on 
until our glorious goal is won; 
eternal praise, eternal fame 
be offered, Savior, to thy name!

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: Gradually Unfolding

…like dandelion seeds the Child
will blow across His room,
this sentence with its riverbed of stars,
this sentence that carries you too
the way a leaf is pulled downstream, because this
you begin to realize, is not the song of a seed
fallen on stone, not some light scorched 
into the dunes of the sky, but a phrase
whose wings fill the room, and you,––
you are that word which had remained
unnoticed in this sentence, and you begin
to speak with that light that quivers
like a branch, your own lips slightly moving
like a petal the bee has just left,
and you begin to realize you have lived
your whole life in this sentence
gradually unfolding towards its end,
the way the moon now ploys the sky, 
the way what you once thought was a mere star
now turns out to be a galaxy. 
~Richard Jackson “Annunciation” from Tidings in Poems of Devotion

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1: 1-5

I tend to forget that in the beginning,
God is Word first,
speaking the world into being,
speaking Himself into being from the darkness of a womb,
born to speak the Word until His moment of death,
then rising so His being and Words are borne as Light
within the darkness of my heart.

God as Word gradually unfolds within us
until He utters His Last Word:
He is the Alpha and Omega,
HIs sentences announce the Beginning and the End.

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child, rag-wrapped laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said:
“Yes, Let the God of Heaven and Earth be born in this place.”

Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts
And says,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth be born in THIS place.”
~Leslie Leyland Fields – “Let the Stable Still Astonish”

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: No Longer Homeless

Today is my mother’s birthday,
but she’s not here to celebrate
by opening a flowery card
or looking calmly out a window.

If my mother were alive,
she’d be 114 years old,
and I am guessing neither of us
would be enjoying her birthday very much.

Mother, I would love to see you again
to take you shopping or to sit
in your sunny apartment with a pot of tea,
but it wouldn’t be the same at 114.

And I’m no prize either,
almost 20 years older than the last time
you saw me sitting by your deathbed.
Some days, I look worse than yesterday’s oatmeal.

It must have been frigid that morning
in the hour just before dawn
on your first December 1st
at the family farm a hundred miles north of Toronto
.

Happy Birthday, anyway. Happy Birthday to you.
~Billy Collins from “December 1”

December 1st is not my mother’s birthday but it was her death day thirteen years ago.

Yet it felt a bit like a birth.

The call came from the care center about 5:30 AM on the Monday after Thanksgiving on a frozen morning: the nurse gently said her breathing had changed, it wasn’t long now until she’d be gone.

My daughter and I quickly dressed and went out into bleak darkness to make the ten minute drive to where she lay. Mom had been wearily existing since a femur fracture 9 months earlier on a cruel April 1st morning. Everything changed for her at 87 years of being active at home. It was the beginning of the end for her, unable to care for herself at home.

These nine months had been her gestation time to transition to a new life. It occurred to me as I drove – she was about to be born in her long-awaited yet long-feared transition to death.

Her room was darkened except for the multicolored lights on the table top artificial Christmas tree I had brought her a few days earlier. It cast colorful shadows onto the walls and the white bedspread on her hospital bed. It even made her look like she had color to her cheeks where there actually was none.

There was no one home.

She had already left, flown away while we drove the few miles to come to her. There was no reaching her now. Her skin was cooling, her face hollowed by the lack of effort, her body stilled and sunken.

I could not weep at that point – it was time for her to leave us behind. She was so very tired, so very weary, so very ready for heaven. And I, weary too, felt much like yesterday’s oatmeal, something she actually very much loved during her life, cooking up a big batch a couple times a week, enough to last several days.

I knew, seeing what was left of her there in that bed, Mom was no longer settling for yesterday’s oatmeal and no longer homeless. I knew she now she was present for a feast, would never suffer insomnia again, would no longer be fearful of dying, that her cheeks would be forever full of color.

I knew she had a new beginning: the glory of rebirth thanks to her Savior who had gently taken her by the hand to a land where joy would never end.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Happy December 1st Birthday to you.

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

God makes us happy as only children can be happy.
God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be –
in our sin, in our suffering and death.
We are no longer alone;
God is with us.
We are no longer homeless;
a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. 
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away

~Albert Brumley

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

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Heed No Nightly Noises

There was a fire in the wide hearth before them, and it was burning with a sweet smell, as if it were built of apple-wood. When everything was set in order, all the lights in the room were put out, except one lamp and a pair of candles at each end of the chimney-shelf. Then Goldberry came and stood before them, holding a candle; and she wished them each a good night and deep sleep.

“Have peace now,” she said, “until the morning! Heed no nightly noises! For nothing passes door and window here save moonlight and starlight and the wind off the hill-top. Good night!” She passed out of the room with a glimmer and a rustle. The sound of her footsteps was like a stream falling gently away downhill over cool stones in the quiet of night.

Tom sat on a while beside them in silence, while each of them tried to muster the courage to ask one of the many questions he had meant to ask at supper. Sleep gathered on their eyelids. At last Frodo spoke: “Did you hear me calling, Master, or was it just chance that brought you at that moment?”

Tom stirred like a man shaken out of a pleasant dream. ‘Eh, what?’ said he. ‘Did I hear you calling? Nay, I did not hear: I was busy singing. Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it. It was no plan of mine, though I was waiting for you. We heard news of you, and learned that you were wandering.”
~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings

We wander through this life, sometimes with a destination in mind, but too often lost and surrounded by a darkness threatening to swallow us whole.

It isn’t by chance that we have been rescued and brought to safety.

Our Savior has been waiting for us, hearing us call out for help. Our rescue begins again tomorrow with the Advent of the Light that comes into pitch dark to illuminate our way to becoming un-lost.

No longer do we need to fear the noises of the night or where we take our next step. We are reassured we have been found, as T.S. Eliot wrote of Advent: “the beginning shall remind us of the end and the first coming of the second coming.”

May the coming weeks be a time of peace and reflection:
For nothing passes door and window here save moonlight and starlight and the wind off the hill-top

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Rhubarb Thinking Its Way Up

When I take the chilly tools
from the shed’s darkness, I come
out to a world made new
by heat and light.

Like a mad red brain
the involute rhubarb leaf
thinks its way up
through loam.
~Jane Kenyon from “April Chores”

Over the last two weeks, the garden is slowly reviving, and rhubarb “brains” have been among the first to appear from the garden soil, wrinkled and folded, opening full of potential, “thinking” their way into the April sunlight.

Here I am, wishing my own brain could similarly rise brand new and tender every spring from the dust rather than leathery and weather-toughened, harboring the same old thoughts and patterns. 

Indeed, more wrinkles seem to be accumulating on the outside of my skull rather than the inside.

Still, I’m encouraged by my rhubarb cousin’s return every April.  Like me, it may be a little sour that necessitates sweetening, but its blood courses bright red and it is very very much alive.

The Narrow Way

 

O Lord,
The house of my soul is narrow;
enlarge it that you may enter in.
~Augustine of Hippo

 

passage

…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

 

dansouterrain2

…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.

Embraced By Life

After dinner, I try to digest
kale and cauliflower in my longing
to live longer, and a root-beer float
in case my world ends tomorrow.


I play the gamble game with exercise
and diet, reminded daily by obituaries
featuring people younger than me:
the impossible becoming likely.


I want to go out full, embraced by my life,
the grand quilt of being here. Yet memories
are remnants, and come one patch at a time.
And like moments, most fade unnoticed.


After a storm, I take a walk.
At the jasmine vine by my front door,
a raindrop, suspended on a stem, stops me.
What I want, what I can have, merge.

~Jeanie Greensfelder “What I Want and What I Can Have”  from I Got What I Came For

My life looks like a quilt of patches and patterns, sometimes with no discernible plan or design, sometimes with distinct colors and borders and purpose.

I easily get lost in a maze of moments and memories searching for what I want, missing the point of embracing all the senses I have, so generously given to me at the Beginning.

Seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching: each is still available to me. What I have – miraculously – can become what I want.

May it always be so.

We Are No Longer Alone: When Enough Was No Longer Enough

For hours, the flowers were enough.
Before the flowers, Adam had been enough.
Before Adam, just being a rib was enough.
Just being inside Adam’s body, near his heart, enough.
Enough to be so near his heart, enough
to feel that sweet steady rhythm, enough
to be a part of something bigger was enough.
And before the rib, being clay was enough.
And before clay, just being earth was enough.
And before earth, being nothing was enough.
But then enough was no longer enough.
The flowers bowed their heads, as if to say, enough,
and so Eve, surrounded by peonies, and alone enough,
wished very hard for something, and the wish was enough
to make the pinecone grow wings; the wish was enough
to point to the sky, say bird, and wait for something to sing.
~Nicole Callihan “The Origin of Birds”

photo by Harry Rodenberger

We were created to be enough,
but for us enough was no longer enough so we reached for more.

We ended up stripped and stark — as if fall and winter would be the ending of all things, but of course they are not. We will not sleep forever.

When I am down to my bare and broken essentials — the bleak and muddy and the too-early dark — I am the pinecone in the dirt wishing for the strength of wings and miraculously granted the gift of flight and a voice to sing.

I know this darkness is not the ending. 

Never has been.  Never will be.

Whence comes this rush of wings afar
Following straight the NoÎl star?
Birds from the woods, in wondrous flight
Bethlehem seek this Holy Night

“Tell us, ye birds, why come ye here
Into this stable, poor and drear?”
“Hast’ning, we seek the new-born King
And all our sweetest music bring.”

Hark! how the greenfinch bears his part
Philomel, too, with tender heart
Chants from her leafy dark retreat
Re, mi, fa, sol, in accents sweet

Angels and shepherds, birds of the sky
Come where the Son of God doth lie;
Christ on earth with man doth dwell
Join in the shout, “Noël, Noël!”
~French Carol