We came, out of nothing, from Him, not randomly, not by chance, not a cosmic accident but an intentional act.
That first day -“and there was evening and there was morning, the first day” – is built within our very DNA. We are created with everything we need to support our freedom, our wings bearing our hearts aloft.
Our choice to fall is ours alone; it was not what God intended for us.
From nothing, God might yet make something of us – let our wings bear our hearts to Him who made us.
And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings Bear you on the breath of dawn Make you to shine like the sun And hold you in the palm of His hand… ~Michael Joncas
Night and day seize the day, also the night — a handful of water to grasp. The moon shines off the mountain snow where grizzlies look for a place for the winter’s sleep and birth. I just ate the year’s last tomato in the year’s fatal whirl. This is mid-October, apple time. I picked them for years. One Mcintosh yielded sixty bushels.
Fifty years later we hold each other looking out the windows at birds, making dinner, a life to live day after day, a life of dogs and children and the far wide country out by rivers, rumpled by mountains. So far the days keep coming. Seize the day gently as if you loved her. ~Jim Harrison, from “Carpe Diem” from Dead Man’s Float.
Forty some years later, the days keep coming, a life to live day after day after day. I try not to take a single one for granted, each morning a gift to be seized gently and embraced with reverent gratitude.
Even knowing I am meant to cherish this gift, I squander it. I grumble, I grouse, I can be tough to live alongside. I know better than to give into an impulse toward discontent, yet still it happens. Something inside me whispers that things could be better than they are — more of this, less of that — I tend to dwell on whatever my heart yearns for rather than the riches right in front of me.
I’m not the first one to struggle with this nor will I be the last. It turned out rather badly when those before me gave into their discontent and took what was not theirs to have.
We are still living out the consequences of that fall from grace.
Yet, even in our state of disgrace, despite our grumbling and groaning, we have been seized – gently and without hesitation – and held closely by One who loves us at our most unloveable.
Though my troubles and yearnings may continue, I will be content in that embrace, knowing even if I loosen my grip, I will not be let go.
I took the dog and went to walk in the auditorium of the woods, but not to get away from things. It was our habit, that was all, a thing we did on summer days, and much there was to listen to. A slight wind came and went in three birches by the pond. A crow uphill was going on about the black life it led, and a brown creeper went creeping up a brown trunk methodically with no record of ever having been understood by anyone. A woodpecker was working out a deep hole from the sound of it in a stand of dead trees up there. And then a jay, much put upon, complained about some treachery it may or may not have endured, though most are liars anyway. The farther in, the quieter, till only the snapping of a stick broke the silence we were in. The dog stood still and looked at me, the woods by then already dark. Much later, on the porch at night, I heard the owl, an eldritch thing. The dog, still with me, heard it too, a call that came from where we’d been, and where we would not be again. ~John Foy, “Woods,” from Night Vision
We live near fields and woods so the evening walks we take with the dogs are listening walks. There is always plenty to hear.
It is an immense relief to hear something other than the talking heads on TV or podcasts. The voices we hear in the woods are unconcerned about upcoming elections, pandemics or the state of the economy.
I listen for the sound of breezes rustling the tree branches, the crunch of sticks and dry leaves under my boots, and more often than not, the woodpeckers tapping away at tree trunks, eagles chittering from the treetops, and unseen owls visiting back and forth from their hidey-holes. The red-tailed hawks scream out warnings as they float from tree top to tree top, particularly upset that we’ve brought along the corgis into their territory.
So, like the outside world, this woods has its own talking heads and drama, but I know who I will listen to and where I prefer to hang out if given a choice. I understand I’m only a visitor to their world and will be invited back only as long as we tread softly.
I know what you planned, what you meant to do, teaching me to love the world, making it impossible to turn away completely, to shut it out completely over again– it is everywhere; when I close my eyes, birdsong, scent of lilac in early spring, scent of summer roses: you mean to take it away, each flower, each connection with earth– why would you wound me, why would you want me desolate in the end, unless you wanted me so starved for hope I would refuse to see that finally nothing was left to me, and would believe instead that you were left to me. ~Louise Glück “Vespers”from The Wild Iris
Summer days like this: bright, so promising with potential, birdsong constantly in the air, scent of roses and a flush of color everywhere, miracles growing gilled under my feet –
how can I not love the world so much I never want to leave it?
Yet it is but a tiny show of the glories to come, of what You have waiting for us next.
We are wounded with the realization that we must eventually let this go.
We hold onto the hope that won’t be found in all this beauty and lushness, the fulfilling hope that can only be found in our relationship with You as our Father and Creator.
You provide only a taste here so that we know what we starve for, starved with hope for what You have in store for us next.
We’re told the earth would be a much healthier place if man wasn’t here. Our very presence disturbs the balance of nature: the climate has changed, we make messes, we don’t clean up after ourselves.
Yet we are here and were meant to be from the beginning – instructed to name and admire the creatures who came before us. The Creator Himself formed humans to be the disturbance nature must cope with from the beginning of time. And nature doesn’t take it lying down: it likes to flood and quake and blow and burn us to bits when it pleases. It is an uneasy relationship, to say the least.
Yet who else is there to admire two shy woodpeckers who would prefer I simply go away?
Deal with it, woodpeckers. I’m here to stay, just watching you watching me.
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,— When he beats his bars and he would be free; It is not a carol of joy or glee, But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core, But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings— I know why the caged bird sings! ~Paul Dunbar from “Sympathy”
…the goldfinch comes, with a twitching chirrup A suddenness, a startlement,at a branch end Then sleek as a lizard, and alert and abrupt, She enters the thickness,and a machine starts up Of chitterings, and of tremor of wings, and trillings – The whole tree trembles and thrills It is the engine of her family. She stokes it full, then flirts out to a branch-end Showing her barred face identity mask
Then with eerie delicate whistle-chirrup whisperings She launches away, towards the infinite… ~Ted Hughes from “The Laburnum Top”
The free bird thinks of another breeze and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom. ~Maya Angelou from “Caged bird”
The 4 AM moment of this waning night before the first bird awakes to sing – a solemn silence holds its breath till broken by chitters and tweets.
Like a full breast tingles with readiness to flow until emptied – this wave of quiet builds before toppling forward in barely contained abundance, saturating our ears.
The Conductor’s baton rises to ready the multi-voiced chorus – awaking voices, pleading, spill from a thousand thousand perches.
My anticipation rises for for such a prayer uncaged and free – cascading from overnight stillness into an explosive unmistakeable dawn.
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today; And give us not to think so far away As the uncertain harvest; keep us here All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white, Like nothing else by day, like ghosts at night; And make us happy in the happy bees, The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird That suddenly above the bees is heard, The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love, The which it is reserved for God above To sanctify to what far ends He will, But which it only needs that we fulfil. ~Robert Frost“A Prayer in Spring”
We are wisely warned what may happen in the next few months: a second or third wave of virus, more disruption, more closures, more deaths. There seems no end in sight on this long COVID road. Or perhaps the end is prematurely near for too many.
Thinking so far away to uncertain times ahead, we need to remember the future has always been uncertain; we just aren’t reminded so starkly. Instead we are reminded to dwell in the present here and now, appreciating these quiet moments at home for what they may bestow.
The earth is springing even while our hearts are weary of distancing and isolation. Each breath is filled with new fragrance, the greens startlingly verdant, each blossom heavy with promise.
There is reassurance in this renewal we witness yet again.
This, now, is love springing. This is His love, reminding us He has not abandoned us. This is love and nothing else can be as certain as that.
Again the woods are odorous, the lark Lifts on upsoaring wings the heaven gray That hung above the tree-tops, veiled and dark, Where branches bare disclosed the empty day.
After long rainy afternoons an hour Comes with its shafts of golden light and flings Them at the windows in a radiant shower, And rain drops beat the panes like timorous wings. Then all is still. The stones are crooned to sleep By the soft sound of rain that slowly dies; And cradled in the branches, hidden deep In each bright bud, a slumbering silence lies. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke [trans. Jessie Lemont], from Poems
It seems in May everything explodes with energy: the birdsong earlier and louder the grass nearly squeaks with growth the buds unfurling before our eyes.
There is much momentum running pellmell into longer days; I need to catch my breath.
As showers blow in from clouds gray and thick with menace, dumping their load, everything stills from the drenching, waiting for a shaft of light to break through again, turning everything to gold.
So I tell you to stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? — Matthew 6:25-27
Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be so busy with worldly affairs. He does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives. He does not tell us that what we do is unimportant, valueless, or useless. Nor does he suggest that we should withdraw from our involvements and live quiet, restful lives removed from the struggles of the world.
Jesus’ response to our worry-filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the “many things” to the “one necessary thing.”
It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things. Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace.
He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. This is the meaning of “Set your hearts on his kingdom first…and all these other things will be given you as well.”
What counts is where our hearts are. When we worry, we have our hearts in the wrong place. Jesus asks us to move our hearts to the center, where all other things fall into place. — Henri Nouwen from Making All Things New
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not how shall I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang. — Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
I must confess I am a skilled and well-practiced worrier. It’s deep in my DNA: my mother had truly exceptional worrying capability, awake or asleep. I’m glad she is safe in the arms of Jesus during these uncertain times as she would be beside herself.
As a novel virus passes, person to person to person, from a market in Wuhan, China, to the farthest corners of the earth in a matter of weeks, I find plenty to keep me awake, personally and professionally.
Yet I know my worry is wasted energy, and worse than that, it pulls me away from the center of all I really need to know: all will be well. It may take time to get there, but eventually all will be well.
Jesus wants my heart, not my worry.
This year’s Lenten theme on 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
Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh, When the bird waketh and the shadows flee; Fairer than morning, lovelier than the daylight, Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee! When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber, Its closing eye looks up to Thee in prayer; Sweet the repose beneath the wings o’ershading, But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there. So shall it be at last, in that bright morning When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee; O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning, Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee! ~Harriet Beecher Stowe