Sometimes, I am startled out of myself, like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking, flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek across the sky made me think about my life, the places of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling, the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place. Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold for a brief while, then lose it all each November. Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields, land on the pond with its sedges and reeds. You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks. All we do is pass through here, the best way we can. They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again. ~Barbara Crooker, from Radiance
We’ve lived long enough – now over three decades – in one place so things here on the farm are starting to break and fall apart, or stop working and simply give up. Over the last several weeks we’ve been busy fixing everything from barns to lawnmowers and old pick up trucks to leaking comfy air mattresses, not to mention various appliances threatening to give up the ghost.
We wonder what will break next, or whether all this is just preparing us for our own turn to fall apart, so I’m looking around with a renewed perspective of running out of time.
Like most people who have been stuck at home over the last several months, quarantine has been a good opportunity to clean up around here, including untouched boxes of things moved from our parents’ homes when they had to move into extended care before their deaths. We’ve packed up outdated possessions and no-longer-fitting clothing, scads of magazines and books never read and not-likely-to-be, and anything else that simply isn’t needed any longer.
The older I get, the more I feel I am merely passing through. No one else should have to pick up my messes after me.
Though this will be the summer of the purge of the old and used up, some things are always fixable, and that includes me. Like a seam with missing thread or a broken zipper or a dangling button, it is possible to be carefully stitched back into place once again and thus remain, forever, hopeful and whole.
We have a water bucket graveyard on our farm. Buckets, tubs, barrels, you name it – if it once had water in it, it is no longer functional and therefore is not only merely dead, it is really most sincerely dead.
Over the decades, we have bought various styles of buckets and tubs with which to water our Haflinger horses. None have survived more than a few weeks, all thanks to one Haflinger in particular who sees anything rubber, plastic or steel-coated as his personal ninja playground.
We discovered early on that Haflingers do have a variety of creative techniques for attracting attention to themselves when someone walks in the barn, especially around feeding time. Over the years, we’ve had the gamut: the noisy neigher, the mane tosser, the foot stomper, the stall door striker, the play with your lips in the water and splash everything, and most irritating of all, the teeth raked across the woven wire front of the stall. A few Haflingers do wait patiently for their turn for attention, without fussing or furor, sometimes nickering a low “huhuhuhuhuh” of greeting. That is truly blissful in comparison.
We raised one filly whose chosen method of bringing attention to herself was to bump her belly up against her rubber water buckets that hang in the stall, making them bounce wildly about, spraying water everywhere, drenching her, and her stall in the process. She loved it. It was sport for her to see if she could tip the buckets to the point of emptying them and then knock them off their hooks so she could boot them around the stall, destroying a few in the process. Nothing made this mare happier. When she had occasion to share a big stall space with one of her half-siblings, she found that the bucket bouncing technique was very effective at keeping her brothers away, as they had no desire to be drenched and they didn’t find noisy bucket bumping very attractive. So her hay pile was hers alone–very clever thinking.
This is not unlike a wild chimpanzee that I knew at Gombe in Tanzania, named “Mike” by Jane Goodall, who found an ingenious way of rising to alpha male status by incorporating empty oil drums in his “displays” of aggression, pounding on them and rolling them down hills to take advantage of their noise and completely intimidating effect on the other male chimpanzees. Mike was on the small side, and a bit old to be alpha male, but assumed the position in spite of his limitations through use of his oil drum displays. So my noisy and water splashing mare, became alpha over her peers.
Our current bucket destroyer is intent on making the kill rather than making noise for attention. During this gelding’s fifteen years of life, I estimate he has gone through over a hundred buckets. Ironically some buckets bite him back, causing such significant lower lip tears that on two occasions a vet made an emergency call to perform a laceration repair (also known as plastic surgery in the barn aisle) so this Haflinger bears scars for his bad bucket habit. Unfortunately, expensive lip repairs have not discouraged him from ongoing bucket battles. His latest victim was found this morning, its steel handle broken, the bucket itself half-buried in a hole my gelding had dug in the dirt floor of the stall. He isn’t even waiting for me to issue last rites anymore; he’s taking care of that himself.
We humans aren’t much different in our destructive tendencies and our need for attracting attention. Some of us talk too much, even if we have nothing much to say, some of us strut our physical beauty and toss our hair, some of us are pushy to the point of obnoxiousness. Some of us are real bluffers, making a whole lot more noise and fuss than is warranted, but enjoying the chaos that ensues. Sometimes we even tear down what is important to our own survival and nurture (everyone needs water, right?) and leave a wake of destruction behind us – all done to make sure someone notices.
Well, now I notice each time I buy a new bucket and am reminded:
I need to quit stomping and knocking doors in my impatience, as well as quit hollering when a quiet greeting is far more welcome and appropriate. I need to quit soaking everyone else with my splashing drama – after all, it yields me nothing more than empty broken buckets that sometimes bite me back. Eventually, when I destroy every bucket in the place, I will get very thirsty and wish I hadn’t been so foolish and brash.
So if my horses are potentially trainable to have better manners, so am I.
And then I realize: over the years, my horses have been busy training me.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Luke 13:34
…for him to see me mended, I must see him torn… ~Luci Shawfrom “Mary’s Song”
Today marks the crushing of Christ in the Garden of the Oil Press, Gethsemane.
“Gethsemane” means “oil press” –a place of olive trees treasured for the fine oil delivered from their fruit. And so, on this Thursday night, the pressure is turned up high on the disciples, not just on Jesus.
The disciples are expected, indeed commanded, to keep watch alongside the Master, to be filled with prayer, to avoid the temptation of the weakened flesh thrown at them at every turn.
But they fail pressure testing and fall apart.
Like them, I am easily lulled by complacency, by my over-indulged satiety for material comforts that do not truly fill hunger or quench thirst, by my expectation that being called a follower of Jesus is enough.
It is not enough. I fail the pressure test as well.
I fall asleep through His anguish. I dream, oblivious, while He sweats blood. I might even deny I know Him when pressed hard.
Yet, the moment of betrayal becomes the moment He is glorified, thereby God is glorified.
Crushed, bleeding, poured out over the world — from wings that brood and cover us — He becomes the sacrifice that anoints us.
Incredibly, indeed miraculously, He loves us, bent as we are, anyway.
VERSE 1 Let us praise Jesus, the Washer of Feet; Jesus, the Lordly who gave up his Seat; Jesus, the Maker of all that there is; Jesus, the Servant to all who are his.
REFRAIN We praise Jesus We praise Jesus
VERSE 2 Let us praise Jesus, the Blesser of Bread; Jesus, the Off’ring who suffered and bled; Jesus, the Royal who knelt in the dust; Jesus, the Priest in whose Blessing we trust.
VERSE 3 Let us praise Jesus, the Shepherd alone; Jesus, the Lover who gathers His own; Jesus, the Wounded who died for us all; Jesus, the Christ on whose goodness we call.
VERSE 4 Let us praise Jesus, the Savior adored; Jesus, the Sonnet of praise to our Lord; Jesus, the Gracious whose own life He gave; Jesus, the Lowly who came down to save.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying,“This is my body given for you;do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him… Luke 24: 30-31
God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. ~Vance Havner
Just as bread needs to be broken in order to be given, so, too, do our lives. ~Henri Nouwen
We yearn for perfection, for flawless and faultless, unblemished, aiming for symmetry, straight and smooth.
Life serves up something far different: our eye searches to find the cracks, scratches and damage, whether it is in a master’s still life portrait replete with snails, crawling flying insects and broken blossoms, or in the not so still life of pontificating political figures.
In the beginning, we were created unblemished, image bearers of perfection. No longer. Now we bear witness to brokenness with shattered lives, fragile minds and weakening bodies. It is our vulnerability and need for healing that stand out now.
To restore our lost relationship with Him, God applies the glue of grace to seal our cracks and heal our bustedness.
He breaks Himself to mend us, to glue us firmly in place, bound to Him forever.
The old church leans awry and looks quite odd, But it is beautiful to us, and God. ~Stephen Paulus “The Old Church”
The church knelt heavy above us as we attended Sunday School, circled by age group and hunkered on little wood folding chairs where we gave our nickels, said our verses, heard the stories, sang the solid, swinging songs.
It could have been God above in the pews, His restless love sifting with dust from the joists. We little seeds swelled in the stone cellar, bursting to grow toward the light.
Maybe it was that I liked how, upstairs, outside, an avid sun stormed down, burning the sharp- edged shadows back to their buildings, or how the winter air knifed after the dreamy basement.
Maybe the day we learned whatever would have kept me believing I was just watching light poke from the high, small window and tilt to the floor where I could make it a gold strap on my shoe, wrap my ankle, embrace any part of me. ~Maureen Ash “Church Basement”
There could be so much wrong with the church overall, comprised as it is with fallen people with broken wings, looking odd and leaning awry, determined to find flaws in each other’s doctrine, rituals, tradition, beliefs.
What is right with the church: who we pray to, why we sing, whose body we comprise so bloodied, fractured, yet healed despite our thoroughly motley messiness~ Our Lord of Heaven and Earth rains down His restless love upon our heads.
Marvelous Truth, confront us at every turn in every guise… Thrust close your smile that we know you, terrible joy. ~Denise Levertov from “Matins”
A child is born, crowned in blood, and we lighten up. Sure, we see it every day, and yet this day, tradition says, is unlike any, which is true. It has never happened, and never will again, over and over the will to be reborn, to gasp and cry forgiveness, that is, like birth, difficult, scared, insurgent, brave with the stranger, the winter child, that blossoms through the wound. ~Bruce Bond from “Advent”
In sleep his infant mouth works in and out. He is so new, his silk skin has not yet been roughed by plane and wooden beam nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.
He is in a dream of nipple found, of blue-white milk, of curving skin and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb of a warm heart’s repeated sound.
His only memories float from fluid space. So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door, broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash, wept for the sad heart of the human race. ~Luci Shaw “Kenosis”
To the end of the way of the wandering star, To the things that cannot be and that are, To the place where God was homeless And all men are at home. ~G.K. Chesterton from “The House of Christmas” (1915)
To think that the original Breath stirring the dust of man led to this?
This mystery of God becoming man, growing within woman, fed from her breast, wounded and bleeding to save her who delivered him, emptied himself completely to then deliver all of us as newborns, sliding slippery into our new life.
And we gasp for breath, our nostrils no longer breathing dust, but filled by the fragrance of forgiveness and grace.
We blossom through his wounds, bursting into bloom.
Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it – because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it – his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst. ~Thomas Merton from Watch for the Light
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
A Child in a foul stable, Where the beasts feed and foam; Only where He was homeless Are you and I at home;
To the end of the way of the wandering star, To the things that cannot be and that are, To the place where God was homeless And all men are at home. ~G.K. Chesterton from “The House of Christmas”
There have always been people living in boxes and tucked up against underpasses and under bridges. I’ve spent considerable time with those who come in from a bare existence outside when they are ill and need care, warmth and food. They would be offered a bed and protective shelter at discharge yet usually preferred to go back to the woods or street life they know, not trusting the gift of grace and mercy. They are so used to not belonging anywhere, they can’t imagine another way to live.
Homelessness has become an epidemic. Now we find tents lining urban sidewalks, and rundown RVs parked on streets with an attached generator. Cities are struggling to solve the dilemma of providing shelter for those who do want a different life, while moving those who don’t want to give up their piece of sidewalk.
We who have roofs over our heads are not so different, keeping our hearts safely out of God’s reach, preferring duct tape and baling twine to patch up our brokenness rather than accept His healing touch.
From our God, born homeless, comes a clear invitation to find home in Him. Rather than settling for a box and sleeping bag and tarps, there is a place built just for us, where we are safe and loved and wanted.