Around December first, the summer people All have gone. Some had stayed to see the fall And some for hunting season—all have gone.
We walk deserted roads. The first snows came But dried away to traces in the ditch And snowy patches on the forest floor.
In town the Christmas lights are blinking bright, The tourists few. The locals are subdued, At peace with what some still call Advent time.
It’s dark by four. We light a fireplace fire. We have a drink and share a meal and read Until it’s time to go to early bed.
Outdoors to fetch tomorrow’s wood, I stand Beneath the stars. It’s moonless, clear and cold. The constellations reach like outspread hands.
Star bright but not at all a silent night, There seems to be a constant trembling— Someone surely there, someone almost here. ~Steven Peterson “Advent”
During these quiet quarantined days when we no longer share meals meeting on screens rather than living rooms, there is a sense of trembling anticipation, waiting and watching for the world to feel safer again.
We wander, wondering, looking for Someone who is almost here but not quite yet. Born to die for poor ornery people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky That Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky
Our toes, our noses Take hold on the loam, Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us, Stops us, betrays us; The small grains make room.
Soft fists insist on Heaving the needles, The leafy bedding,
Even the paving. Our hammers, our rams, Earless and eyeless,
Perfectly voiceless, Widen the crannies, Shoulder through holes. We
Diet on water, On crumbs of shadow, Bland-mannered, asking
Little or nothing. So many of us! So many of us!
We are shelves, we are Tables, we are meek, We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers In spite of ourselves Our kind multiplies
We shall by morning Inherit the earth. Our foot’s in the door. ~Sylvia Plath from “Mushroom”
This overnight overture into the light, a parturition of “ink caps” after a shower. As if seed had been sprinkled on the manure pile, they sprout three inch stalks still stretching at dawn, topped by dew-catching caps and umbrellas.
Nearly translucent as glass, already curling at the edges in the morning light, by noon melting into ooze by evening complete deliquescence, withered and curling back into the humus which birthed them hours before.
It shall be repeated again and again, this birth from unworthy soil, this brief and shining life in the sun, this folding, curling and collapse to die back to dust and dung.
Inedible, yet so Chrisincredible, they rise beautiful and worthy as is the way of things that never give up once a foot’s in the door.
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 will come like last leaf’s fall. One night when the November wind has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth wakes choking on the mould, the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost. One morning when the shrinking earth opens on mist, to find itself arrested in the net of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark. One evening when the bursting red December sun draws up the sheet and penny-masks its eye to yield the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come, will come like crying in the night, like blood, like breaking, as the earth writhes to toss him free. He will come like child. ~Rowan Williams “Advent Calendar”
How have we diminished the worth of a child?
More and more we resist humanity’s mandate to ensure a future for those who come after us.
Our excuse: the world is dying, the climate an emergency, how do we dare expose future generations to desolation and destruction?
Better to have no children at all. So many choose childlessness, doing whatever it takes to remain childless.
Yet all feel outrage at the images of children suffering and dying trying to escape poverty, homelessness, war and evil:
A toddler lying face down in the water on a Turkish beach, at first glance almost as if napping, but this sleep is forever. A father drowned in the Rio Grande protecting his daughter, also drowned, trying to bring her to a safe future in the States.
This is nothing new in the history of humanity. We kill unborn children every day in our own private wars that we justify without guilt or regret.
When confronted by images of dead children while eating breakfast, when millions cry out with the shame of it, so many tears falling like raindrops soaking deep on holy ground, ground we share with the poor and oppressed and homeless, ground we no longer can hoard.
These images change from one day to the next, birthing life, taking life, a child in the womb becomes ghost in the tomb, so we come undone, forced to unbuild walls we hide behind.
God Himself came like a child – bloody, broken, crying. The earth writhes in the reality that if conceived today, Jesus would likely be washed away before His birth, considered inconvenient and so unfortunate to be born to an impoverished refugee family. The world was much too harsh for Him to thrive.
So we would toss away the Son, the Light, the Hope and cling to our darkness.
What is the worth of such a Child? He answers clearly: He came because we are worthy of both His birth and His death.
Go north a dozen years on a road overgrown with vines to find the days after you were born. Flowers remembered their colors and trees were frothy and the hospital was
behind us now, its brick indifference forgotten by our car mirrors. You were revealed to me: tiny, delicate, your head smelling of some other world. Turn right after the circular room
where I kept my books and right again past the crib where you did not sleep and you will find the window where I held you that June morning when you opened your eyes. They were
blue, tentative, not the deep chocolate they would later become. You were gazing into the world: at our walls, my red cup, my sleepless hair and though I’m told you could not focus, and you
no longer remember, we were seeing one another after seasons of darkness. ~Faith Shearin “Sight”
The helpless state of a newborn adjusting to an unfamiliar world – when all depends on deep murmurs, shadowy faces and comforting arms, full nipples and cleansing rags. When all that can be said are mewing cries and satisfied grunts.
Those long exhausting sleepless nights finally transition to heart-warming smiles at dawn, when we lock onto each other for survival, peering into the mutual light and love in our eyes, needing each other like no other; it is always, and will be always, about those eyes.
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?
I’d like to make a comment this morning. Here we are, alive.
Too much time is spent trudging through the hours, unaware of the privilege of each breath.
The just-born and the nearly-dying know the preciousness of each moment. The rest of us need regular reminders each day- being alive is the responsibility to not waste a single minute.
As I look in the eyes of this new little soul, I am struck dumb and all my senses wrung dry: we are like bells pealing our witness of Glory. We are meant to respond.
A spoon in a cup of tea. Letters in yellow envelopes, the way a hand pushed lines into the soft paper. Morning laughter. A white shirt draped over her chair. An open window. The air. Call of one blackbird. Silence of another. November. Summer. My love for you, I say. My love for you infinity times a million, my son says. Sounds of piano notes as they rest in treetops. The road from here to there. Grief, that floating, lost swan. ~Paige Riehl “Things That Cannot Die” from Suspension
Anticipation of an early morning call so not much sleep last night. When the call came – a new grandson announced from miles away-
we laughed gleefully at this gift
our love expanded infinity times a million for these brand new parents, this new life joining the world, this new road to travel together from here to there. All that is ordinary is now new and extraordinary.
Love through the generations cannot die but thrives and pulses alive. We laugh and cry at once at the generous grace of our good God who turns all human grief to joy.
Lined with light the twigs are stubby arrows. A gilded trunk writhes Upward from the roots, from the pit of the black tentacles.
In the book of spring a bare-limbed torso is the first illustration.
Light teaches the tree to beget leaves, to embroider itself all over with green reality, until summer becomes its steady portrait and birds bring their lifetime to the boughs.
Then even the corpse light copies from below may shimmer, dreaming it feels the cheeks of blossom. ~May Swenson “April Light”
In April we wait for the corpse light~ a mysterious illumination which comes alive on a bright Sabbath Easter morning, taking bare stubs of people, hardly alive, begetting them green, bursting them into blossom, their cheeks pink with life, in promise of faithful fruitfulness.
These last few days of winter are a reawakening of nature’s rebirthing rhythms, with increased activity of all the wild creatures and birds around us, and most importantly, God’s renewal of our weary wintery hearts.
Some late winter and early spring mornings still are pitch black with blustering winds and rain, looking and feeling like the bleakest of December mornings about to plunge into the death spiral of winter all over again.
No self-respecting God would birth Himself into a dawn as dark as night.
But this God would.
He labors in our bleakest of hearts for good reason. We are unformed and unready to meet Him in the light, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts. Though we soon celebrate the rebirth of springtime, it is just so much talk until we accept the change of being transformed ourselves.
Though soon the birds will be singing their hearts out and the frogs chorusing in the warming ponds, we, His people, are silenced as He prepares us and prepares Himself for birth within us. The labor pains are His, not ours; we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again.
The world and its creatures, including us, is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, especially inside our healing wintery hearts.