We live in an unbelieving age but one which is markedly and lopsidedly spiritual… an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily. There is something in us that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. …what <modern man> has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration.
This is an unlimited God and one who has revealed himself specifically. It is one who became man and rose from the dead. It is one who confounds the senses and the sensibilities, one known early on as a stumbling block. There is no way to gloss over this specification or to make it more acceptable to modern thought. This God is the object of ultimate concern and he has a name. ~Flannery O’Connor from a 1963 lecture published in Mystery and Manners
He has an unpronounceable name, this God of specificity, yet still He asks us to breathe it out with each breath we take — even if we don’t believe.
This God of specificity knows our name, as He formed each one of us for a reason and it is His voice calling out to us — even when we aren’t listening.
He is worthy of our attention as we are the object of His ultimate concern.
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And who has seen the moon, who has not seen Her rise from out the chamber of the deep, Flushed and grand and naked, as from the chamber Of finished bridegroom, seen her rise and throw Confession of delight upon the wave, Littering the waves with her own superscription Of bliss, till all her lambent beauty shakes towards us Spread out and known at last, and we are sure That beauty is a thing beyond the grave, That perfect, bright experience never falls To nothingness, and time will dim the moon Sooner than our full consummation here In this odd life will tarnish or pass away. ~D.H. Lawrence “Moonrise”
I could not sleep last night, tossing in turmoil while wrestling with my worries, concerned I’ve dropped the ball.
As a beacon of calm, the moon shone bright onto our bed covers before sunrise.
This glowing ball is never dropped, this holy sphere of the night remains aloft, sailing the skies, to rise again and again to light our darkest nights.
Its lambent reflection of His Love and Peace is balm; I am covered in its beauty.
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It’s when we face for a moment the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know the taint in our own selves, that awe cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart: not to a flower, not to a dolphin, to no innocent form but to this creature vainly sure it and no other is god-like, God (out of compassion for our ugly failure to evolve) entrusts, as guest, as brother, the Word. ~Denise Levertov “The Mystery of the Incarnation”
In the Christmas story, God … takes the risk of incarnation. The flesh God chooses is not that of a warrior but of a vulnerable baby, a claim that brought me tears of wonderment when I was young. But my adult knowledge of that infant’s fate — a fate shared by so many who have devoted their lives to love, truth, and justice — brings tears of anger and grief, along with a primal fear of what might happen if I followed suit.
…I know I’m called to share in the risk of incarnation. Amid the world’s dangers, I’m asked to embody my values and beliefs, my identity and integrity, to allow good words to take flesh in me. Constrained by fear, I often fall short — yet I still aspire to incarnate words of life, however imperfectly.
What good words wait to be born in us, and how can we love one another in ways that midwife their incarnation? ~Parker Palmer from “The Risk of Incarnation”
I, like you, am entrusted to care for the Word in its earthly incarnation: born into impoverished, humble, and homeless circumstances, He has no where to dwell except within me and within you.
And that is no small price for Him to pay, as my human heart can be inhospitable, hardened, cold and cracked. I am capable of the worst our kind can do.
So it is up to me to embody the Word in what I say and do, even if it means rejection as He suffered, even knowing that is the risk I must take. For me, it feels as vulnerable as if I were a bare tree standing naked in the chill winter wind. I’m fearful I might break or topple over. Yet if I’m created to harbor the incarnated Word, I must reach my roots deep, stand tall and find others who will stand alongside me.
This Advent, Iet us midwife the Word here on earth, to deliver it straight to receptive, warm, and loving hearts.
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life: Such a Way, as gives us breath: Such a Truth, as ends all strife: Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, My Light, my Feast, my Strength: Such a Light, as shows a feast: Such a Feast, as mends in length: Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart: Such a Joy, as none can move: Such a Love, as none can part: Such a Heart, as joys in love. ~George Herbert “The Call”
1.Let all mortal flesh keep silence, And with fear and trembling stand; Ponder nothing earthly-minded, For with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, Our full homage to demand.
2.King of kings, yet born of Mary, As of old on earth he stood, Lord of lords, in human vesture, In the body and the blood; He will give to all the faithful His own self for heavenly food.
3.At his feet the six-winged seraph, Cherubim, with sleepless eye, Veil their faces to the presence, As with ceaseless voice they cry: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Lord Most High!
God keep my jewel this day from danger; From tinker and pooka and bad-hearted stranger. From harm of the water, from hurt of the fire. From the horns of the cows going home to the byre. From the sight of the fairies that maybe might change her. From teasing the ass when he’s tied to the manger. From stones that would bruise her, from thorns of the briar. From evil red berries that wake her desire. From hunting the gander and vexing the goat. From the depths o’ sea water by Danny’s old boat. From cut and from tumble, from sickness and weeping; May God have my jewel this day in his keeping. ~Winifred Lett (1882-1973) Prayer for a Child
This prayer has hung in our home for almost three decades, purchased when I was pregnant with our first child. When I first saw it with its drawing of the praying mother watching her toddler leave the safety of the home to explore the wide world, I knew it addressed most of my worries as a new mother, in language that helped me smile at my often irrational fears. I would glance at it dozens of time a day, and it would remind me of God’s care for our children through every scary thing, real or imagined.
And I continue to pray for our grown children, their spouses, and now for four precious grandchildren who live too far away from us. I do this because I can’t not do it, and because I’m helpless without the care and compassion of our sovereign God.
May I be changed by my prayers.
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me. ~C.S. Lewis
Sleep child upon my bosom, It is cosy and warm; Mother’s arms are tight around you, A mother’s love is in my breast; Nothing shall disturb your slumber, Nobody will do you harm; Sleep in peace, dear child, Sleep quietly on your mother’s breast.
Sleep peacefully tonight, sleep; Gently sleep, my lovely; Why are you now smiling, Smiling gently in your sleep? Are angels above smiling on you, As you smile cheerfully, Smiling back and sleeping, Sleeping quietly on my breast?
Do not fear, it is nothing but a leaf Beating, beating on the door; Do not fear, only a small wave Murmurs, murmurs on the seashore; Sleep child, there’s nothing here Nothing to give you fright; Smile quietly in my bosom, On the blessed angels yonder.
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Chores at our farm are rarely routine since our batch of four male kittens were born 6 months ago. They were delivered unceremoniously in the corner of one of the horse stalls by their young mother whose spontaneous adoption we accepted a mere four weeks before, not realizing we were accepting five kitties, not just one.
They were born under a Haflinger’s nose, and amazingly survived the ordeal and managed to stay safe until the next day when we came in to clean and discovered them nicely warmed near a nice fresh pile of poop. What a birthing spot this mama had chosen. Thankfully Haflingers are tolerant about sharing their space as long as you don’t ask for a share of their food too…
We moved them and mama to a safer spot in the barn, away from big Haflinger feet, and they thrived, getting more adventuresome by the week, until they are now in full adolescent glory, mock fighting with each other, scrambling up and down the hay bales, using the shavings as their personal litter box, doing rodent patrol, and most of all, strolling along the shelves that line the stalls, breathing in the Haflinger smell, and rubbing their fur up against Haflinger noses through the wire. They are best of friends with these ponies in the light of day, as after all they were born right in a Haflinger bed.
But at night it’s another story. Each evening as I come out to do chores after returning home from work, it is pitch dark and the Haflingers, out in their winter paddocks, must walk with me one by one back to their box stalls for the night. Only this is now far more of an adventure thanks to four cats who glory in stealth attacks in the dark, like mountain lions in the shadows, waiting for their prey to pass by.
These four rascals are two tabbies, one black and one gray, all four perfectly suited to be camouflaged in the northwest dim misty fall evenings along a barely lit pathway between paddocks and barn. They flatten themselves tight on the ground, just inches from where our feet will pass, and suddenly, they spring into the air as we approach, just looking for a reaction from either the horse or myself. It never fails to unnerve me, as I’m always anticipating and fearing the horse’s response to a surprise cat attack. Interestingly, the Haflingers, used to kitten antics all night long in the barn, are completely bored by the whole show, but when the tension from me as I tighten on the lead rope comes through to them, their head goes up and they sense there must be something to fear. Then the dancing on the lead rope begins, only because I’m the one with the fear transmitted like an electric current to the Haflinger. We do this four times along the path to the barn as four kittens lay in wait, one after another, just to torment me. By the end of bringing in eight horses, I’m done in by my own case of nerves.
You’d think I’d learn to stop fearing, and start laughing at these pranksters. They are hilarious in their hiding places, their attempts to “guard” the barn door from intruders, their occasional miscalculations that land them right in front of a hoof about to hit the ground. Why I haven’t had at least one squished kitten by now is beyond my comprehension. Yet they survive to torment me and delight me yet another night. I cuddle them after the horses are all put away, flopping them on their backs in my arms, and tickling their tummies and scolding them for their contribution to my increasingly gray hair.
I’m a slow learner. These are like so many of my little daily fears, which seem to hide, blended in to the surroundings of my daily life, ready to spring at me without warning, looking like much bigger scarier things than they really are. I’m a highly skilled catastrophizer in the best of circumstances, and if I have a kitten sized worry, it becomes a mountain lion sized melodrama in no time. Only because I allow it to become so.
Stepping back, taking a deep breath, if I learn to laugh at the small stuff, then it won’t become a “cat”astrophe, now will it? If I can grab those fears, turn them over on their back and tickle their tummies until they purr, then I’m the one enjoying a good time.
I’ll try that the next time I feel that old familiar sensation of “what if?” making my muscles tense and my step quicken. I just might tolerate that walk in the dark a little better, whether it is the scary plane flight, the worry over a loved one’s health, the state of the economy, where the next terrorist will strike, or the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring.
I’ll know that behind that mountain lion is a soft loving purring fur ball, granting me relief from the mundane, for which I’m extremely grateful. Life is always an adventure, even if it is just a stroll down a barn lane in the dark wondering what might come at me next on the path.
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this. ~A.A. Milne
It is the final week of a very long academic year and tension is running high.
Among those students to whom I provide care, there are many who dwell deeply in “what if?” mode, immobilized in their anticipation of impending disaster.
I understand this line of thinking, particularly in this day and age of “in the moment” tragedy played out real-time in the palm of our hand and we can’t help but watch as it unfolds.
Those who know me well know I can fret and worry better than most. Medical training only makes it worse. It teaches one to think catastrophically. That is what I do for a living, to always be ready for the worse case scenario.
When I rise, sleepless, to face a day of uncertainty as we all must do at times~ after careful thought, I reach for the certainty I am promised over the uncertainty I can only imagine:
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong —body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Supposing it didn’t” — He says (and thus we are comforted)
Now a red, sleepy sun above the rim Of twilight stares along the quiet weald, And the kind, simple country shines revealed In solitudes of peace, no longer dim. The old horse lifts his face and thanks the light, Then stretches down his head to crop the green. All things that he has loved are in his sight; The places where his happiness has been Are in his eyes, his heart, and they are good. ~Siegfried Sassoon from “Break of Day”
I am growing older along with my horses. I think of them out to pasture throughout my workday as I continue to climb in the harness to pull the load as fast and hard as I can muster, returning home in the evening sore and weary.
I think of them with the morning sun on their withers, the green blades under their feet, as they search for the sweetest tender patch to munch.
They remind me to bring the calm of the pasture inside to balance the noise and bustle and troubles found in the clinic. There still is peace and light to be found; I have only to look for it.
“To practice medicine with good spirit does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to bring your calm and loving heart right into the midst of it.” from www.theheartofmedicine.org
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At times these days I think of the way the sun would set on the farmland around our small house in the autumn. A view of the horizon, the entire circle of it, if you turned, the sun setting behind you, the sky in front becoming pink and soft, then slightly blue again, as though it could not stop going on in its beauty, then the land closest to the setting sun would get dark, almost black against the orange line of the horizon, but if you turn around, the land is still available to the eye with such softness, the few trees, the quiet fields of cover crops already turned, and the sky lingering, lingering, then finally dark. As though the soul can be quiet for those moments.
I have learned, from those much wiser than I, to recognize moments meant for quieting. The news of the world constantly rushes past; there is suffering beyond imagining in the lives of a few I know and millions I don’t know. There is much I can do to make a difference but so much more beyond my feeble reach.
Instead of feeling abandoned on the shores of overwhelm, I seek out the familiar, the routine, and the ordinary, immersed in the recurring patterns of the day and night as the world turns on its axis. I turn myself around to witness what surrounds me.
Long yellow rushes bending above the white snow patches; purple and gold ribbon of the distant wood: what an angle you make with each other as you lie there in contemplation. – William Carlos Williams,January Morning – XII
For the past eleven days, millions of us wake reluctant to contemplate the headlines:
At what cross purposes are we now?
What right and left angles have been sharpened in the night?
What blowing snow covers a multitude of sins, hiding what we know lies beneath?
And when, O God, will a naked and merciless January yield to the more welcoming light of Your spring?