All Barb and Bristle

This upstart thistle
Is young and touchy; it is
All barb and bristle,

Threatening to wield
Its green, jagged armament
Against the whole field.

Butterflies will dare
Nonetheless to lay their eggs
In that angle where

The leaf meets the stem,
So that ants or browsing cows
Cannot trouble them.

Summer will grow old
As will the thistle, letting
A clenched bloom unfold

To which the small hum
Of bee wings and the flash of
Goldfinch wings will come,

Till its purple crown
Blanches, and the breezes strew
The whole field with down.
~Richard Wilbur “A Pasture Poem” from Anterooms

Not unlike the thistles that dot our pastures, I can have a tendency to be a bristly, barbed and sharp – some is simply my nature, but also long years of relentless training to become tough and impenetrable. Perhaps it represents my need for self-protection, but like the thistle, though having spiky thorns may keep me from being “eaten”, it doesn’t deter the gentle approach of butterfly or bee.

As a result, I have been softened over time (in more ways than one!) by forces outside of myself – a ripening that means I am less threat and more welcoming. My unfolding into fluffy blossom became my way of enveloping myself around my world as grace enveloped me.

With the breezes, the softest of thistle down spreads afar rather than standing stock-still in self-defense. I find in my seventh decade, I’m actually meant to fly, settling into nooks and crannies I never could have dreamed while barbed and spiky.

That is how grace and redemption works on thistles and bristly people: from sharp edges to delicate downiness.

We are all in need of such transformation.

A new book from Barnstorming is available to order here:

To Live One More Day

What a slow way to eat, the butterfly
is given by Nature, sipping nectar
one tiny blue flower at a time. Though
a Monarch in name, she’s made to scavenge
like the poorest of the poor, a morsel
here, a morsel there. A flutter of ink-
splattered orange wings. We don’t want to see
the struggle that undergirds the grace: the
ballerina’s sweat, or her ruined feet
hidden by tights and toe-shoes. She knows her
career will be as brief as it was hard
to achieve. Pollinated, the tiny
blue flowers are sated. The butterfly
flits away, hoping to live one more day.

~Barbara Quick, “The Struggle That Undergirds the Grace.”

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.
I wove my webs for you because I liked you.
After all, what’s a life, anyway?
We’re born, we live a little while, we die.
A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess,
with all this trapping and eating flies.
By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.
Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.
~E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web



And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid


So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.
~Audre Lorde from “A Litany for Survival”

We are here so briefly.
We were never designed to survive forever on this earth
yet we try to run the clock out as long as we can.

Just one day more.

We are here because of struggle –
the pain of our birth, whether the cry of our laboring mother,
or our own wrestling free of the cocoon or the shell,
our daily work to find food
to feed ourselves and our young,
the upkeep and maintenance of our frail and failing bodies,
our ongoing fear we’ll be taken
before we can make a difference in another’s life.

If there is a reason for all this (and there is):
our struggle forms the grace of another’s salvation.
The flowers bloom to feed the butterfly,
the butterfly pollinates the flower,
ensuring the next generations of both.
The silent and weakened find their voice
so that the next generation can thrive.

Heaven knows,
anyone’s life can stand a little of that.

Just one day more, Lord. Please – one day more.

Tomorrow we’ll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store
One more dawn
One more day
One day more

~from Les Miserable

A new book available from Barnstorming available to order here:

Wet Trembling June

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Green was the silence, wet was the light
the month of June trembled like a butterfly
~Pablo Neruda from “Sonnet XL”

 

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We are now four days into summer but aside from the date on the calendar, it would be difficult to prove otherwise.  After a dry stretch of warm late spring weather, it is now unseasonably cool, the skies stony gray, the rivers running full and fast, the ground peppered with puddles. Rain fell hard last night, hiding behind the cover of darkness as if ashamed of itself.   As it should be.

What all this moisture will yield is acres and acres of towering grass growth, more grass than imaginable, more grass than we can keep mowed,  burying the horses up to their backs as they dive head long into the pasture.  The Haflingers don’t need to lower their necks to graze,  choosing instead to simply strip off the ripe tops of the grasses as they forge paths through five foot forage.   It is like children at a birthday party swiping the frosting off cupcake after cupcake, licking their fingers as they go.  Instead of icing, the horses’ muzzles are smeared with dandelion fluff,  grass seed and buttercup petals.

In the northwest, June can tend to shroud its promise of longer days under clouds.  Outdoor weddings brace for rain and wind with a supply of umbrellas, graduation potlucks are served in the garage and Fourth of July picnics stay safely under cover.  There is a wary anticipation of solstice as it signals the slow inexorable return of darkness from which we have not yet fully recovered.

So I tremble as I too splash through the squishiness of late June,  quivering like a wet butterfly emerging from its cocoon ready to unfurl its wings to dry, but unsure how to fly and uncertain of the new world that awaits.  In fact the dark empty cocoon can look mighty inviting on a rainy June night or during a loud mid-day thunderstorm.   If I could manage to squeeze myself back in, it might be worth a try.

After all, there is no place like home.

 

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The Twinges of this World

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Under a canopy of leaves,
the irises, bountiful,
the calico butterfly flashing

and this one golden head
of a dazzling sunflower grasping
its cowled neck,

outweighing its stalk

in order to turn,
full bonneted,
to the absolute light.

What wonders these are:
things struggling
filament by filament,

birds twittering in a laughter
that could be weeping,
barely feeling the twinges of this world,

where the weak get stronger
or snailish with cracks

a day at a time.
~Judith Harris “Recovery”

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“Be patient and without bitterness, and realize that the least we can do is to make coming into existence no more difficult for Him than the earth does for spring when it wants to come.”
Rainier Marie Rilke

We feel the twinges of struggling to live broken in difficult times; indeed all our days are difficult times. We won’t get out of this predicament alive.

Whether we care or not about what happens next does not alter the fact Christ dwells with us; our heavy heads bow, turning to the absolute light. The coming of spring will not be stopped by a slumbering disinterested earth.

Like Mary, we must say:  “Let it be”, not “no, not me, not now.”

We are transformed, simply by accepting He has come on our behalf:
an oh so difficult faith that connects us like a filament to heaven,
like a shoot breaking through the crust of frozen earth to reach the sun in order to bloom,
like the butterfly emerging from its cracked chrysalis to try its wings,
like the snail shell abandoned because we will no longer fit inside its broken walls.

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Happiness Beyond Our Grasp

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July 4 is not only the birthday of our independence as the United States of America.  It is the day we declared to the world:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

No one had ever said it out loud before.  Historically there had been many a treatise written and wars won and lost about the right to live, and the right to freedom, but the right to pursue happiness?  Unprecedented– and so typically American.

Declaring it is one thing.  Making it so is quite another matter.  Happiness likes to elude our pursuit.

As the famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on July 4, wrote:

“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Americans pay a steep price in our noisy and pushy pursuit of happiness.  Perhaps it is the larger mortgage for a bigger house, a wider flat screen TV, the latest tech device, unlimited access to 24 hour porn sites, the best recreational substance money can buy, or the tank of gas that will carry us just a little farther down the road in our big trucks, RVs and SUVs.  We try to buy our way to happiness with our charge cards maxed out and find ourselves in a deeper debt pit, putting our life and liberty in serious jeopardy.  Even the government itself, home of the brave and the free, has never been so deep in deficit spending.

Happiness cannot be purchased with plastic, but is bought through individual personal sacrifice, making sure others have what they need before we ourselves rest easy.  It is the selfish pursuit of selflessness.  And that is exactly why it is so elusive because inalienable rights don’t come naturally–they must be fought for and preserved daily.

Much blood has been shed by Americans to guarantee Life and Liberty for others, including citizens of other countries.  If the price paid through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives has resulted in more happiness, why do we still seem so unsatisfied and miserable?

Perhaps we have it backward, as Hawthorne suggests.  We can’t pursue happiness;  it will find us, like God’s grace,  when we least expect or deserve it.

Happiness certainly won’t be found in the fireworks that will be blown up today, or the food consumed, or the free flowing alcohol. It will be in a quiet moment of realization that we are truly blessed by this incredible place to live and raise our children, and that we need to work harder than ever to make it even better.   We will not be free until we stop allowing our appetites to dictate how we live our lives, but realize true freedom comes when we do what ought to be done to preserve equality, justice and liberty for future generations.

At that moment, in a public, no longer silent, prayer of thanks to the Creator addressed in our Declaration of Independence, can we know the Happiness that pursues us when we live in a forward thinking spirit of gratitude and sacrifice.

Happiness touches us, like a butterfly that lights upon us in our stillness,
in a moment of pure grace.

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Wax and Wane

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Out in the rain a world is growing green,
   On half the trees quick buds are seen
       Where glued-up buds have been.
Out in the rain God’s Acre stretches green,
   Its harvest quick tho’ still unseen:
       For there the Life hath been.

If Christ hath died His brethren well may die,
   Sing in the gate of death, lay by
       This life without a sigh:
For Christ hath died and good it is to die;
   To sleep when so He lays us by,
       Then wake without a sigh.

Yea, Christ hath died, yea, Christ is risen again:
   Wherefore both life and death grow plain
       To us who wax and wane;
For Christ Who rose shall die no more again:
   Amen: till He makes all things plain
       Let us wax on and wane.
~Christina Rossetti “Easter Monday”

 

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On this day after Easter, this Easter Monday, we can too quickly settle back to routine as if nothing special happened. This was not the case when Jesus would appear in a room of people, joining others walking on a road, cooking breakfast for His friends by the lake.

So we look for Him to make things plain to us: we watch the waxing and waning of the seasons, of the living and dying around us, indeed, our own waxing and waning, living and dying. The transformation from death to life yesterday is everywhere we look, if we look.

The huge chestnut tree in our front yard is filled with such chrysalises of metamorphosis, from bud to green-winged butterfly leaf.

We are waxing on in Christ who shall die no more.

Amen and Amen.

 

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A Failing Light

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Day after day, day after still day,
The summer has begun to pass away.
Starlings at twilight fly clustered and call,
And branches bend, and leaves begin to fall.
The meadow and the orchard grass are mown,
And the meadowlark’s house is cut down.

The little lantern bugs have doused their fires,
The swallows sit in rows along the wires.
Berry and grape appear among the flowers
Tangled against the wall in secret bowers,
And cricket now begins to hum the hours
Remaining to the passion’s slow procession
Down from the high place and the golden session
Wherein the sun was sacrificed for us.
A failing light, no longer numinous,
Now frames the long and solemn afternoons
Where butterflies regret their closed cocoons.
We reach the place unripe, and made to know
As with a sudden knowledge that we go
Away forever, all hope of return
Cut off, hearing the crackle of the burn-
ing blade behind us, and the terminal sound
Of apples dropping on the dry ground.
~Howard Nemerov from “Summer Elegy’

 

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photo by Harry Rodenberger

A Flying Flower

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The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.
~Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun

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In almost thirty years of walking around on the grass of the world, she couldn’t recall having spent two minutes alone with a butterfly.
~Barbara Kingsolver from Flight Behavior

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In the Clover

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Lightly it flew to the pleasant home
Of the flower most truly fair,
On Clover’s breast he softly lit,
And folded his bright wings there.
‘Dear flower,’ the butterfly whispered low,
‘Long hast thou waited for me;
Now I am come, and my grateful love
Shall brighten thy home for thee;
Thou hast loved and cared for me, when alone,
Hast watched o’er me long and well;
And now will I strive to show the thanks
The poor worm could not tell.
Sunbeam and breeze shall come to thee,
And the coolest dews that fall;
Whate’er a flower can wish is thine,
For thou art worthy all.
~Louisa May Alcott from “Clover-Blossom”

 

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This Deep in Fall

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A caterpillar,
this deep in fall—
   still not a butterfly.
~Matsuo Basho

I too,
homely bristled and crawling
thriving only on what is beneathmy feet and mouth, blindly
chewing my way
through the leaf’s edge.

Till I peer over the verge
of what will be,
of winged beauty
and freedom,
a worm graced by
transforming love
undeserved.

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