Where the Sun Never Sets

In this kingdom 
the sun never sets; 
under the pale oval 
of the sky 
there seems no way in 
or out, 
and though there is a sea here 
there is no tide.
For the egg itself 
is a moon 
glowing faintly 
in the galaxy of the barn, 
safe but for the spoon’s 
ominous thunder, 
the first delicate crack 
of lightning.
~Linda Pastan, “Egg”

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird:
it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly

while remaining an egg. 
We are like eggs at present. 
And you cannot go on indefinitely

being just an ordinary, decent egg. 
We must be hatched or go bad.
C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

I try hard to be the good egg-
smooth on the surface,
gooey inside, often a bit scrambled,
yet ordinary and decent,
indistinguishable from others,
blending in,
not making waves.

It’s not been bad staying just as I am.
Except I can no longer remain like this.

A dent or two have appeared in my outer shell
from bumps along the way,
and a crack up one side
extends daily.

It has come time to change or face inevitable rot.

Nothing can be the same again:
the fragments of shell left behind
must be abandoned as
useless confinement.

Newly hatched
and transformed:
now there is the wind beneath my wings.
I’ll soar toward an endless horizon
where the sun never sets.
and stretches beyond eternity.

I will no longer be merely ordinary.

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A Cozy Rain

The best kind of rain, of course, is a cozy rain. This is the kind of rain that falls on a day when you’d just as soon stay in bed a little longer, write letters or read a good book by the fire, take early tea with hot scones and jam, and look out the streaked window with complacency.
~ Susan Allen Toth
from England for All Seasons

Cozy rains typically don’t happen on weekdays.  There are always things to do, places to be, people to impress, rain or shine.  On weekdays rain tends to be a drag-us-down,  smotheringly gray inconvenience of wet shoes, damp jackets, impossibly limp hair in school and work place.

But on a Saturday?  The same drops from the same cloudy skies become a comfy, tuck-me-in-once-again and snuggle-down kind of rain.  There is no schedule to follow, no structured day, no required attendance, no need to even poke my nose out the door (unless living on a farm with hungry critters in the barn).

This is why most northwest natives are rainophilics, anticipating this quiet time of year with great longing.  We are granted permission by precipitation to be complacent, slowed down, contemplative, and yes, even lazy…
*
*
*
Okay, enough of that.  Gotta get up, get going, laundry to do, house to clean, barn to muck out, bills to pay, meals to prepare.

Maybe in the morning the rain will still be falling and there will be a chance to sit with hot tea cup in hand after church, gazing through streaked windows. Cozy rain all day on a Sabbath Sunday.  With scones.  And jam.
Bliss…
that is, until Monday.

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Fingers Crimson With Applause

Oh, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with
the fragrance of the fields and the
freshness of the oceans which you have
made, and help me to hear and to hold
in all dearness those exacting and wonderful
words of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying:
Follow me.
~Mary Oliver from “Six Recognitions of the Lord

A full year passed (the seasons keep me honest)
since I last noticed this same commotion.   
Who knew God was an abstract expressionist?
I’m asking myself—the very question   
I asked last year, staring out at this array of racing colors-
the out-of-control Virginia creeper   
my friends say I should do something about,
whose vermilion went at least a full shade deeper…

…God’s not nonexistent; He’s just been waylaid
by a host of what no one could’ve foreseen.   

He’s got plans for you: this red-gold-green parade
is actually a fairly detailed outline.  

…it’s true that my Virginia creeper praises Him,   
its palms and fingers crimson with applause, 
that the local breeze is weaving Him a diadem…
~Jacqueline Osherow from “Autumn Psalm”


The crimson leaves creep over the brow of our ancient garage in growing streaks and flowing streams, crawling alongside to reach new destinations.

This old building was once a small church at the turn of the 20th century, moved just a few hundred yards from the intersection of two country roads to this raised knoll.

It is fitting that every fall this little cedar-paneled church,
emptied of sermons and worship,
weeps red.

Every autumn these bloodied fingers reach out
to touch and bless,
clasp and envelope:
Do not despair.
He’s got plans for us all.
Plans that give hope.

I must follow.

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Taking Care Where I Step

I didn’t stay for the closing
hymns and prayers. I felt
out of sorts, so I left.

Someone was before me
at the door: a child, gazing
at a spot on her wrist.

She said, “Can you help me?”
“What is it?”
“A ladybug,” she said.

So I opened the door,
and she said, “It jumped off.”
We stood looking around.

“It’ll be all right,” I said.
She went in, and I left,
taking care where I stepped.

~Louis Simpson “At the Church Door” from The Owner of the House.

Maker of All Things,
including appetite,
including stealth,
including the fear that makes
all of us, sometime or other,
flee for the sake
of our small and precious lives,
let me abide in your shadow—
let me hold on
to the edge of your robe
as you determine
what you must let be lost
and what will be saved.

I will try.
I will step from the house to see what I see and hear

and I will praise it…

But this too, I believe, is a place
where God is keeping watch
until we rise, and step forth again…
~Mary Oliver from “Red Bird”

Even when I am out of sorts,
even though my mind is already out the door
and the rest of me not far behind,
even though I am supposed to have a smile on my face
and encouraging words on my lips,
even though I should be focusing on who needs my help
rather than my own helplessness.

Then, somehow, there is solace.

I am plucked out of my doldrums
and given a chance to reset and start over –
God intervenes in the least likely way
so that I see things differently,
by watching where I am stepping to protect the defenseless
rather than plunge, lurch, stumble, crush my way back to the world.

I am a rescuer rescued, encouraged by encouragement, ready to step forth in compassion.

God is keeping watch over the mere lady bug and merest me.

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The Shadow of the Mercy of Light

How long does it take to make the woods?
As long as it takes to make the world.
The woods is present as the world is, the presence
of all its past, and of all its time to come.
It is always finished, it is always being made, the act
of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction.
It is a part of eternity, for its end and beginning
belong to the end and beginning of all things,
the beginning lost in the end, the end in the beginning.

What is the way to the woods, how do you go there?
By climbing up through the six days’ field,
kept in all the body’s years, the body’s
sorrow, weariness, and joy. By passing through
the narrow gate on the far side of that field
where the pasture grass of the body’s life gives way
to the high, original standing of the trees.
By coming into the shadow, the shadow
of the grace of the strait way’s ending,
the shadow of the mercy of light.

Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come in among these trees you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.
~Wendell Berry, “Sabbath 1985 V”

We who live in the six day world, walking the six day path to the narrow gate forget too quickly about the seventh day Sabbath. The meaning of our existence is not defined by how much we accomplish in the week, or how capable we are at carrying our burdens.

We are invited to walk through the narrow way, where worries and heavy loads cannot fit the opening.

Passing through shadow is part of reaching the light. The mercy of the shadow is — then we know light exists.

Light beyond shadow, Joy beyond tears,
Love that is greater when darkest our fears;
deeper the Peace when the storm is around,
nearer the Hope to the lost who is found.
Light of the world, ever shining, shining!

Hope in our pain and our dying. in our darkness,
there is Light, in our crying, there is Love,
in the noise of life imparting Peace that passes understanding.

Light beyond shadow, Joy beyond tears,
Love that is greater when darkest our fears;
deeper the Peace when the storm is around,
nearer the Hope to the lost who is found.
-Paul Wigmore

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A Pure, Speechless Receptacle

To plunge headlong into
the heart of a blossom, its amber eyes
inscrutably focusing on your own,
magnified by a lens of dew.
Whose scent, invisible,
drowns you in opulence, and for which
you can find nothing adequate to say.

You sense that you are loved wholly,
yet are quite unable to understand why.
But then, you lift your face,
creased with the ordinary, to a heaven
that is breaking into blue,
and find your contentment utterly beyond
telling, unspeakable, uncontained.
~Luci Shaw from “Speechless” from  Sea Glass

my heart panics not to be,
as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.
~Mary Oliver from “Blue Iris”

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

~Li-Young Lee, last stanza of “From Blossoms” from Rose.

… it seemed as if the tiniest seed of belief had finally flowered in me, or, more accurately, as if I had happened upon some rare flower deep in the desert and had known, though I was just then discovering it, that it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me, surviving all the seasons of my unbelief.
~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

To live as if
death were nowhere in the background:
that is impossible right now
when death stalks every headline.

Yet, to emerge and blossom,
even when we are drying in the desert of discouragement,
is to respond to Christ’s call to us.
 
We are not dying,
but alive in Him,
an amazing impossible flowering.

So I allow my eye to peer through
a dying time such as this,
needing a flotation device
and depth finder
as I’m likely to get lost,
sweeping and swooning
through the inner space
of life’s deep tunnels,
canyons and corners,
coming up for air and diving in again
to journey into exotic locales
draped in silken hues
~this fairy land on a stem~
to immerse and emerge
in the possibilities
of such an impossible blossom.

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The One Who Sees and Knows

Yesterday,
running slowly
in the gravel
I saw
a tiny bird
feathered pulsating globe
of white and gray
on its back
black pinprick eyes
pointing up to the sky.
I stooped down
closely
to peer.
We stared at one another—
creature to creature—
for a small eternity.
I scooped him
into my hands
and placed him gently
an offering
upright
onto the grass
whispering
a prayer to the One
who sees
and knows
each one
every sparrow
and every sorrow.
~Karen Swallow Prior “Creature to Creature”

photo by Harry Rodenberger

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Luke 12: 6-7

Typically, I hear sparrows more than see them most of the year. They are shy little birds and fly away any time I approach them. But during the winter months when the northeast arctic winds are blowing, they cling to the rose bushes beneath my bird feeders, fluffed up to try to stay warm, buffeted about by the breeze, just trying to stay alive. Singing is the last thing on their little minds.

This is when we need each other the most; the sparrow is hanging on the best it can to make it to spring and so am I, seeking to nurture some small part of Creation in order to keep simmering my hope for the future. Although there is no sparrows’ song lilting in the air during the coldest months, I know it will return.

So I sing for them.

I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely,
And long for Heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Refrain

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Let not your heart be troubled,
His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness,
I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth,
But one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted,
Whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing,
When hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him,
From care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Lyrics by Civilla Martin

ot one sparrow is forgotten,
E’en the raven God will feed;
And the lily of the valley
From His bounty hath its need.
Then shall I not trust Thee, Father,
In Thy mercy have a share?
And through faith and prayer, my Mother,
Merit Thy protecting care?

                Shaker Hymn (Canterbury Shakers Hymnal, 1908)
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Where the Joy Came In

Incurable and unbelieving
in any truth but the truth of grieving,
I saw a tree inside a tree
rise kaleidoscopically
as if the leaves had livelier ghosts.

I pressed my face as close
to the pane as I could get
to watch that fitful, fluent spirit
that seemed a single being undefined
or countless beings of one mind
haul its strange cohesion
beyond the limits of my vision
over the house heavenwards.

Of course I knew those leaves were birds.

Of course that old tree stood
exactly as it had and would
(but why should it seem fuller now?)
and though a man’s mind might endow
even a tree with some excess
of life to which a man seems witness,
that life is not the life of men.
And that is where the joy came in.
~Christian Wiman, “From a Window” from Every Riven Thing. 

Coming to Christianity is like color slowly aching into things, the world becoming brilliantly, abradingly alive. “Joy is the overflowing consciousness of reality,” Simone Weil writes, and that’s what I had, a joy that was at once so overflowing that it enlarged existence, and yet so rooted in actual things that, again for the first time, that’s what I began to feel: rootedness.
~Christian Wiman “Gazing Into the Abyss”

Nothing is to be taken for granted.  Nothing remains as it was.

Like this old pink dogwood tree, I now lean over more,
I have a few bare branches with no leaves,
I have my share of broken limbs,
I have my share of blight and curl.

Yet each stage and transition of life has its own beauty: 
bursting forth with leaves and blooms
after a long winter of nakedness adorned
only by feathered friends destined to fly away.

Color has literally seeped in overnight,
resulting in a riot of joy.

Yet what matters most is what grows unseen,
underground, in a network that feeds and thrives
no matter what happens above ground,
steadfast roots of faith remain a reason to believe.

Nothing is to be taken for granted.  Nothing remains as it was.
Especially me. Oh, and especially me.

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A Restless Sabbath Love

The old church leans awry and looks quite odd,
But it is beautiful to us, and God.

~Stephen Paulus “The Old Church”

A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.

But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.
~R.S. Thomas “The Chapel”

It’s just a boarded-up shack with a tower
Under the blazing summer sky
On a back road seldom traveled
Where the shadows of tall trees
Graze peacefully like a row of gallows…

The congregation may still be at prayer.
Farm folk from flyspecked photos
Standing in rows with their heads bowed
As if listening to your approaching steps.
So slow they are, you must be asking yourself
How come we are here one minute
And in the very next gone forever?
Try the locked door, then knock once.

High above you, there is the leaning spire
Still feeling the blow of the last storm.
And then the silence of the afternoon . . .
Even the unbeliever must feel its force.

~Charles Simic, from “Wooden Church” from The Voice at 3:00 A.M.

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”

Mom,
You raised your hands while we sang this morning
like I’ve never known you to,
but I guess until recently I’ve never really known you in a church that let you feel alive.

Were you tired of hiding,
or just tired?

Thank you for letting yourself be seen.

Thank you, Lord, for her.
~Griffin Messer from “An Analysis of Worship Today”

There is so much wrong with churches overall,
comprised as they are of fallen people
with broken wings and fractured faith,
we who look odd and lean awry,
so keen to find flaws in one another
when we are cracked open and spilling with our own.

Yet what is right with the church is
who we pray to, why we sing and absorb the Word-
we are visible people joined together as a body
so bloodied, bruised, being healed
despite our thoroughly motley messiness.

Our Lord of Heaven and Earth
rains down His restless love upon our heads
no matter how humble a building we worship in,
or how we look or feel today.

We are simply grateful to be alive,
to raise our hands, to kneel and bow
in a house God calls His own.

The old church leans nearby a well-worn road,
Upon a hill that has no grass or tree,
The winds from off the prairie now unload
The dust they bring around it fitfully.

The path that leads up to the open door
Is worn and grayed by many toiling feet
Of us who listen to the Bible lore
And once again the old-time hymns repeat.

And ev’ry Sabbath morning we are still
Returning to the altar waiting there.
A hush, a prayer, a pause, and voices fill
The Master’s House with a triumphant air.

The old church leans awry and looks quite odd,
But it is beautiful to us and God.
~Stephen Paulus

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We Sing Together – All is Changed Utterly

All changed,
changed utterly:  
 A terrible beauty is born.
~William Butler Yeats from “Easter, 1916”

Let Him easter in us,
be a dayspring to the dimness of us,
be a crimson-cresseted east.
― Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland”

It has been a slow coming of spring this year, seeming in no hurry whatsoever.  Snow, sleet and hail fell on our farm just this past week with the mountains piled high with white and the greening of the fields yet to begin.

The soil is too cold and damp to plant and our animals want to hang onto their winter hair, reluctant to give it up in chill winds.

Like Narnia, winter still has its terrible grip on us – and not just in terms of weather trends. We live in a world at war and we as individuals continue to find ways to argue among ourselves after a two year pandemic.

So here we are, frozen in a darkened world, thawed by a Risen Son who shines and actually warms us from our prolonged dormancy.

This is exactly what eastering is.  It is awakening out of a restless sleep, opening the door to let in fresh air, and the heavy stone that locked us in the dark is now rolled back, never to cover us again.

Overnight all is changed, changed utterly.

He is not only risen.  He is given indeed.

Alleluia!