Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came; and if the village had been beautiful at first, it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken and bare in the earlier months, had now burst into strong life and health; and stretching forth their green arms over the thirsty ground, converted open and naked spots into choice nooks, where was a deep and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide prospect, steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched out beyond. The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing.” ~ Charles Dickens from Oliver Twist
Despite a pandemic, despite economic hardship, despite racial tensions and in-the-street protests, despite political maneuvering and posturing:
life is green and flourishing and vigorous even when we feel gray and withered and weakened.
May we not forget why we are here. May we never forget our calling and purpose to steward the earth and care for one another.
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.
Tell the bees. They require news of the house; they must know, lest they sicken from the gap between their ignorance and our grief. Speak in a whisper. Tie a black swatch to a stick and attach the stick to their hive. From the fortress of casseroles and desserts built in the kitchen these past few weeks as though hunger were the enemy, remove a slice of cake and lay it where they can slowly draw it in, making a mournful sound.
And tell the fly that has knocked on the window all day. Tell the redbird that rammed the glass from outside and stands too dazed to go. Tell the grass, though it’s already guessed, and the ground clenched in furrows; tell the water you spill on the ground, then all the water will know. And the last shrunken pearl of snow in its hiding place.
Tell the blighted elms, and the young oaks we plant instead. The water bug, while it scribbles a hundred lines that dissolve behind it. The lichen, while it etches deeper its single rune. The boulders, letting their fissures widen, the pebbles, which have no more to lose, the hills—they will be slightly smaller, as always,
So many around the globe are grieving their losses, their reality forever changed by a virus. Yet the world churns on, oblivious to the sorrows of individuals.
The tradition of telling the bees is that it matters to the community of hives how people who care for them are faring: is there a wedding coming up? a baby due? an overwhelming illness? a death of a loved one? If a hive is kept in ignorance, the cloud of grief will sicken them or drive them away. Shared grief is a nurturing spirit that allows the community to thrive and move on in sweetness.
Nothing happens without an impact down the line; the butterfly effect is also the bee effect. We speak softly of our desolation and suffering so our tears water thirsty ground.
Let the bees know, let them hear; the bees will go about their work and they will turn our sorrow to honey.
God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage.
Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honour and glory. ~Augustine of Hippo
The broken alabaster of your heart Revealed to Him alone a hidden door, Into a garden where the fountain sealed, Could flow at last for him in healing tears… ~Malcolm Guite from “Mary Magdelene: A Sonnet”
She has done what she could… ~Mark 14:8
Those final few days of His life may have been like this: the sky oppressive with storm clouds, the shouldered burden too painful, His soul weighed down, discouraged, disheartened. Each step brought Him closer to a desperate loneliness borne of betrayal and rejection.
But the end of that dark walk was just the beginning of a journey into new covenant:
He is anointed from the broken jar, His aching joints covered in perfume by one who believes and wants to help bear His burden.
Instead of rain, the clouds bear light, flooding the pathway so we too can come together to lift the load. Instead of loneliness, now arises a community like no other. Instead of stillness, there is declaration of His glory to the heavens. Instead of discouragement, He embodies hope for all hearts.
His promise fulfilled spills over our path, our feet, our heads. We too are drenched in gratitude, flooded with grace.
Come out of sadness From wherever you’ve been Come broken hearted Let rescue begin Come find your mercy Oh sinner come kneel Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t heal Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t healSo lay down your burdens Lay down your shame All who are broken Lift up your face Oh wanderer come home You’re not too far So lay down your hurt Lay down your heart Come as you areThere’s hope for the hopeless And all those who’ve strayed Come sit at the table Come taste the grace There’s rest for the weary Rest that endures Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t cureSo lay down your burdens Lay down your shame All who are broken Lift up your face Oh wanderer come home You’re not too far Lay down your hurt lay down your heart Come as you are Come as you are Fall in his arms Come as you are There’s joy for the morning Oh sinner be still Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t heal Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t healSo lay down your burdens Lay down your shame All who are broken Lift up your face Oh wanderer come home You’re not too far So lay down your hurt Lay down your heart Come as you are Come as you are Come as you are Come as you are ~David Crowder
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.” ~Danusha Laméris“Small Kindnesses”
No matter what the grief, its weight, we are obliged to carry it. We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength that pushes us through crowds. And then the young boy gives me directions so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open, waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through. All day it continues, each kindness reaching toward another—a stranger singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees offering their blossoms, a child who lifts his almond eyes and smiles. Somehow they always find me, seem even to be waiting, determined to keep me from myself, from the thing that calls to me as it must have once called to them— this temptation to step off the edge and fall weightless, away from the world. ~Dorianne Laux “For the Sake of Strangers”
Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent in doing kind things – in merely doing kind things? … he spent a great proportion of his time simply in making people happy, in doing good turns to people.
There is only one thing greater than happiness in the world, and that is holiness; and it is not in our keeping. But what God has put in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.…
I wonder why it is that we are not all kinder than we are. How much the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered. ~Henry Drummond from The Greatest Thing in the World
Kindness has always watched for me; I remember how it infallibly surrounds me.
I weep with those who weep, whether in fear, or separation, or frustration, or anger, or grief, or loss, or sheer exhaustion.
I weep to wonder why any one of us should not know the kindness and comfort of being held in the arms of the Lord who loves us as we are despite who we are.
This year’s Lenten theme for 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
Kindness, gentleness Tender ardent zeal Endless graciousness Dependable and real
Pity, piety Patient, sure and true Goodness, faithfulness Love that’s always new
Beauty, loyalty Generous and kind Relentless tenderness Hope of humankind Hope of humankind
Who You truly Are We hardly can believe You know what we are Yet You refuse to leave
All Your wordless power Your Own mighty strength, Your matchless might Your Holiness, In kindness seen
Beauty, loyalty Generous and kind Relentless tenderness Hope of humankind Hope of humankind ~Michael Card
Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars. ~James Agee “Sure on This Shining Night”
Here dies another day During which I have had eyes, ears, hands And the great world round me; And with tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two? ~G.K. Chesterton “Evening”
Even on a Monday, despite so much of the world suffering, there is work that must be done; I’ve been allowed this day to do my best and maybe as this day dies there will come, just as miraculous, another.
There comes a time in every fall before the leaves begin to turn when blackbirds group and flock and gather choosing a tree, a branch, together to click and call and chorus and clamor announcing the season has come for travel.
Then comes a time when all those birds without a sound or backward glance pour from every branch and limb into the air, as if on a whim but it’s a dynamic, choreographed mass a swoop, a swerve, a mystery, a dance
and now the tree stands breathless, amazed at how it was chosen, how it was changed. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub “Turning” from Wing Over Wing
…yesterday I heard a new sound above my head a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward I saw a flock of blackbirds rounding a curve I didn’t know was there and the sound was simply all those wings, all those feathers against air, against gravity and such a beautiful winning: the whole flock taking a long, wide turn as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
If we lived only in human society what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being here, in this curving and soaring world that is not our own so when mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives and when, even more rarely, we unite and move together toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub from “Blackbirds” from Wing Over Wing
Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared, then another, and another. It was the starlings going to roost. They gathered deep in the distance, flock sifting into flock, and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke. They seemed to unravel as they flew, lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. I didn’t move; they flew directly over my head for half an hour.
Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced. The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye. Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff. Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig, right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.
Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now, birds winging through the gaps between my cells, touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet? ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Watching the starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me. I feel queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.
Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions. It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t. It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t. They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound of air rushing past wings.
We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA. Yet we don’t learn from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks. We have become frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, each going our own way bumping and crashing without care.
We have lost our internal moral compass for how it is meant to be.
The rustling ruffling quiet of wings in the air is actually muffled weeping.
We are waiting for snow the way we might wait for permission to breathe again.
For only the snow will release us, only the snow will be a letting go, a blind falling towards the body of earth and towards each other. ~Linda Pastan from “Interlude”
I wish one could press snowflakes in a book like flowers. ~James Schuyler from “February 13, 1975”
I wait with bated breath, wondrous at today’s snowfall, to see the landscape transformed. Each snowflake falls alone, settling in together in communal effort. And each is created as a singular masterpiece itself.
We, the created, are like each snowflake. Together we change the world, sometimes for better, too often for worse. But each of us have come from heaven uniquely designed and purposed, preciously preserved for eternity through God’s loving sacrifice.
Without Him, we melt between the pages of history.
The church, I think, is God’s way of saying, “What I have in the pot is yours, and what I have is a group of misfits whom you need more than you know and who need you more than they know.”
“Take, and eat,” he says, “and take, and eat, until the day, and it is coming, that you knock on my door. I will open it, and you will see me face to face.”
He is preparing a table. He will welcome us in. Jesus will be there, smiling and holy, holding out a green bean casserole. And at that moment, what we say, what we think, and what we believe will be the same: “I didn’t know how badly I needed this.” ~Jeremy Clive Huggins from “The Church Potluck”
Perhaps a celebration at the end of a long cold winter month Possibly a need of respite from a month of dieting Likely a response to bad headline news day after day: A potlatch, a potluck, a communion of comfort food.
What to bring? What soothes stomach and heart?
Macaroni and cheese, with drizzled bread cubes on top Beef stew chuck-a-block with vegetables and potatoes Buckets of fried chicken Greenbean casserole Meat loaf topped with ketchup Tossed Caesar salad Tator tots drizzled with cheese Jello and ham buns
Home made bread, steaming, soft Whole chocolate milk And ice cream sundaes
Nothing expensive Or extravagant Or requiring going into debt to pay.
A fitting ending to a Sabbath of worship, After meeting for prayer and hymns and the Word; When times get tough, when we feel all alone, When we drown in discouragement.
This is time for connecting congregation and community, For huddling against life’s storm Forgetting our worries for a time And sharing God’s comfort food, all together, misfits that we are, Smiling to know — we all badly needed this.
The whole concept of the Imago Dei (or)…the ‘Image of God’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected…
This gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this…there are no gradations in the Image of God.
Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the Image of God.
One day we will learn that.
We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man. – Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “The American Dream” sermon, July 4, 1965
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. ~C. S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory
We are united by our joint creation as the Image of God. Not one of us reflects God more than another but together form His body and His kingdom on earth.
Dr. King’s words and wisdom continue to inform us of our shortcomings more than 50 years later as we flounder in our flaws and brokenness; so many question not only the validity of equality of all people of all shades, but even doubt the existence of a God who would create a world that includes the crippled body, the troubled mind, the questioned gender, the genetically challenged, the human beings never allowed to draw a breath.
Yet we are all one, a composition made up of white and black keys too often discordant, sometimes dancing to different tempos, on rare occasions a symphony. The potential is there for harmony, and Dr. King would see and hear that in his time on earth.
Perhaps today we unite only in our shared tears, shed for the continued strife and disagreements, shed for the injustice that results in senseless killings, shed for our inability to hold up one another as holy in God’s eyes as His intended creation, no matter our color, our origin, our defects, our differences and similarities.
We can weep together on this day, knowing, as Dr. King knew, a day will come when the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces — all colors just as they are.
There are no longer gradations in who God is nor who He made us to be.