I try, as best I can, to see the world from a perspective other than my own:
Spending this week with our toddler grandson has helped me to look at things at the three foot rather than six foot level and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with how large everything appears.
I read opinions that differ considerably from my own so I can gain understanding and hopefully compassion for how others perceive the events of the world, even when I don’t and won’t agree.
And I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a bee – to leave my warm and cozy community to find the best sources of pollen, diving bum-deep into a plethora of colors and fragrances, from ‘blossom to blossom to impossible blossom.’
Bees have a life-preserving mission in the world – not only to sustain themselves and their hive, but pollinating millions of blooms, an essential task for the fruiting of the land. Now that is a purpose-driven life.
We are no different. Our reason to exist goes far beyond our self-preservation, or the preservation of everyone who looks like or thinks like we do, i.e. “hive-mind.” We were created to care for the rest of the world, by dipping into each beautiful and sacred thing that thrives here because of us, not despite us.
And that includes each other, as different as we look and think and act. Each of us a sweet impossible blossom.
New book available from Barnstorming — information on how to order it here
Gardens are also good places to sulk. You pass beds of spiky voodoo lilies and trip over the roots of a sweet gum tree, in search of medieval plants whose leaves, when they drop off turn into birds if they fall on land, and colored carp if they plop into water.
Suddenly the archetypal human desire for peace with every other species wells up in you. The lion and the lamb cuddling up. The snake and the snail, kissing. Even the prick of the thistle, queen of the weeds, revives your secret belief in perpetual spring, your faith that for every hurt there is a leaf to cure it. ~Amy Gerstler “Perpetual Spring” from Bitter Angel
We all want to fix what ails us: that was the point of my many years of medical training and over 40 years “practicing” that art. We want to know there is a cure for every hurt, an answer for every question, a resolution to every mystery, or peace for every conflict.
And there is. It just isn’t always on our timeline, nor is it always the answer we expect, nor the conflict magically dissolved. The mystery shall remain mystery until every tear is dried, as we stand before the Face of our Holy God who both loves and judges our hearts.
Sometimes this life hurts – a lot – but I believe in the perpetual Spring and Resurrection that guarantees our complete healing.
I lived in the first century of world wars. Most mornings I would be more or less insane, The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories, The news would pour out of various devices Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen. I would call my friends on other devices; They would be more or less mad for similar reasons. Slowly I would get to pen and paper, Make my poems for others unseen and unborn. In the day I would be reminded of those men and women, Brave, setting up signals across vast distances, Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values. As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened, We would try to imagine them, try to find each other, To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other, Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves, To let go the means, to wake.
Juries can’t raise the dead... …a just God governs the universe, and for that reason, none of our efforts are in vain ...God is not limited by our insufficiency, but perhaps might even be glorified through using limited human instruments for his purposes. ~Esau McCaulley, New Testament Wheaton College professor in his Opinion piece today “How I’m talking to my kids about the Derek Chauvin verdict”
How to reconcile ourselves with each other? Indeed – ourselves with ourselves?
How will a single verdict make a difference in the battles fought for centuries between people all made in the image of God but fallen so far from Him?
Juries call us to the truth about ourselves. The rest is up to us: what we tell our children about how to live and love.
What poems do we write to the unseen and the unborn so they do not repeat our mistakes.
And so, now we reconcile ourselves, heeding the call to live out His purposes.
Six days of work are spent To make a Sunday quiet That Sabbath may return. It comes in unconcern; We cannot earn or buy it. Suppose rest is not sent Or comes and goes unknown, The light, unseen, unshown. Suppose the day begins In wrath at circumstance, Or anger at one’s friends In vain self-innocence False to the very light, Breaking the sun in half, Or anger at oneself Whose controverting will Would have the sun stand still. The world is lost in loss Of patience; the old curse Returns, and is made worse As newly justified. In hopeless fret and fuss, In rage at worldly plight Creation is defied, All order is unpropped, All light and singing stopped ~Wendell Berry “Sabbath Poem V”
On the calendar, this past pandemic year contained just as many Sabbath days as any other year. Even so, we Christians allowed these fifty-plus precious days of rest to be broken by our own impatience and anger.
As a result of pandemic concerns and government regulations, many churches stopped meeting and even now continue to only worship virtually. Others blithely ignored the risks and continued to meet as they always had. Some tried to find an uneasy middle ground, meeting with restrictions on seating and indoor singing.
It felt like the Son Himself and His Light had been broken in half — the body of Christ divided.
The pandemic may be in its waning months but how will the church recover? Will friends find unity again after months of separation, disagreement and antipathy? Can healing reach into our pews and bond our prayers back together?
I have struggled to find rest on these Sabbath days, to look forward to meeting together with my brothers and sisters in the body. I am challenged by my tendency to fret and fuss. I need forgiveness for my attitude and I need to show forgiveness for those who see things differently.
The Lord knows what He is doing with His people, illuminating our divided hearts. Even in the darkest hour, He took on all our imperfections and failings and made them right.
May His broken Light be healed, our corrupted hearts be made whole and may our singing begin once again.
The whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts— that we are his fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. ~C.S. Lewisfrom Mere Christianity
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1Corinthians 12:27
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. ~Teresa of Avila
When I am awake in the night to attend to those who are hurting, some who have been hurt by illness, injury or abuse or who hurt themselves to escape their hopelessness, I remember, in my own weariness, this dear one too is part of His body, one of the cells that adjoins the cell that is me, each of us critical to the life raised in the body of Christ.
Why have have so many of us Christians forgotten this in the last year? How can we not care first and foremost for the vulnerable, for our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as those who we don’t know and don’t yet know Christ, by doing whatever we can, whether it is the inconvenience of masking or accepting the low risk of an effective vaccine, to shield others and ourselves from potential harm and end this painful time of pandemic history?
Pastor Tim Keller has said: Christians are called by God to be living so sacrificially and beautifully that the people around us, who don’t believe what we believe, will soon be unable to imagine the world without us.
Thank you to David French, Michael Luo, and Scott Sauls for their insights into the role of Christ’s church during the pandemic and how we can do better in living out our mandate as the body and cells of Christ.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your loves sake. Amen. ~Common Book of Prayer
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen. ~Thomas Merton “Prayer” from Thoughts in Solitude
kyrie eleison, have mercy, christe eleison, have mercy.
We are all alike in this one way when we can barely agree about anything else – We are all lost, wandering weeping wretched
It is when I am shown mercy that I become mercy, loving where others show hate giving where others take away building up where others tear down.
We are found: we become Christ where we live because He renews in us through His sacrifice a new life in Him.
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days. Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals. Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices. Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you. Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart. Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope, where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all the things you did and could have done. Remember treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes pointing again and again down, down into the black depths. ~Dan Albergotti “Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” from The Boatloads.
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah 4:4
Most of us feel as though we were swallowed into the belly of the whale a year ago. We are treading water in the dark, disoriented and not just a little angry. All we can see of the outside world is a bit of blue sky through a tiny hole above us.
We try to imagine what life was like before the pandemic swallowed up our light and hope but if you are like me, you are grumpy.
Yet the belly of the whale is not forever. It is a time of contemplation with little distraction other than our own emotions. We’ll soon be regurgitated back onto the shore of our trivial pursuits and busyness where suddenly it will feel too noisy with too many demands.
This quiet time is meant to teach something to each of us, even if it is just to count the ribs, gaze into our own darkness and contemplate how we were trying to escape when God asked something of us.
I think of all the things I did and could have done, but resisted when the Lord asked me. It is time that I stop being angry and start to listen.
1. Courage, my soul, and let us journey on, Tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long. Thanks be to God, the morning light appears, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
Chorus: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
2. Billows rolling high, and thunder shakes the ground, Lightnings flash, and tempest all around, Jesus walks the sea and calms the angry waves, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
3. The stars have disappeared, and distant lights are dim, My soul is filled with fears, the seas are breaking in. I hear the Master cry, “Be not afraid, ’tis I,” And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
4. Soon we shall reach the distant shining shore, Free from all the storms, we’ll rest forevermore. Safe within the veil, we’ll furl the riven sail, And the storm will all be over, Hallelujah!
Walking in February A warm day after a long freeze On an old logging road Below Sumas Mountain Cut a walking stick of alder, Looked down through clouds On wet fields of the Nooksack— And stepped on the ice Of a frozen pool across the road. It creaked The white air under Sprang away, long cracks Shot out in the black, My cleated mountain boots Slipped on the hard slick —like thin ice—the sudden Feel of an old phrase made real— Instant of frozen leaf, Icewater, and staff in hand. “Like walking on thin ice—” I yelled back to a friend, It broke and I dropped Eight inches in ~Gary Snyder “Thin Ice”
We have witnessed an unprecedented year of spreading infection. Not only have we been outwitted by a wily virus that mutates as needed to further its domination of its hosts and the world, but we stand on a frozen lake pandemic of daily discouragement and ice-cracking political division, not sure where we may safely take our next step.
Viruses depend on us harboring them without us dying promptly so we might infect as many others as possible as quickly as possible. The better we feel while contagious, the better it is for the virus to wreak potential havoc on those around us.
A mask on you and a mask on me helps to block my virus from entering your (as yet) uninfected nose. Similarly, we can both don “masks” to impede the intentional spread of our insistence that one of us is right and the other is wrong. If we don’t attempt to muzzle our disagreements, we’re creating cracks in the tenuous ice beneath our feet.
The trouble with overheated debates in the middle of winter is that we all end up walking on too-thin ice, breaking through and doused by the chilly waters below.
Lord, have mercy on us, help us see and hear the cracks forming beneath our feet. Put us on our knees before you, you alone, humble and aware of the contagious cracks we perpetuate.
I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless. ~G.K. Chesterton
I can grumble along with the best of the them, especially over the last year of nothing being as it was. There can be camaraderie in shared grumbling, as well as an exponential increase in dissatisfaction. Everyone shares their frustrations over how we have come to this — how people we thought we knew, and thought we loved, can be so obstinate and hard-headed.
You undoubtedly feel the same about me.
And I know better. I’ve seen where grousing and grumbling leads. It aches in my bones when I’m steeped in it. The sky is grayer, the clouds are thicker, the night is darker – on and on to an overwhelming suffocating conclusion that hey, life sucks.
Turning away from the vacuum of discouragement, I am reminded:
I have been loved even when unlovable. I have been forgiven even when I’ve done the unforgivable.
I have the privilege to choose hope and joy, turning away from being bleak and disgruntled and simply seek and bathe in the warmth and wonder of each new day.
This is not putting on a “happy face” — instead — in a true welcoming hospitality, joy finds me, adopts me, holds me close in the tough times and won’t abandon me.
Joy is always within my reach because hope has chosen me despite my hopelessness. How welcoming is that?
Chunky and noisy, but with stars in their black feathers, they spring from the telephone wire and instantly
they are acrobats in the freezing wind. And now, in the theater of air, they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising; they float like one stippled star that opens, becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again; and you watch and you try but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it with no articulated instruction, no pause, only the silent confirmation that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin over and over again, full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us, even in the leafless winter, even in the ashy city. I am thinking now of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots trying to leave the ground, I feel my heart pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings. ~Mary Oliver “Starlings in Winter” from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
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
…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
Watching a winter starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me. I can get 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.
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 exercise such unity from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks. We are frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, going our own way bumping and crashing without care, leaving so much body and spiritual wreckage behind.
To where has flown our mercy and tenderness? We have corporately lost our internal moral compass.
We figuratively and literally shoot each other in the back, trampling over and suffocating one another, in a reach for justice that seems right in our own eyes.
We even watch the daily death count rise in ever-increasing numbers, and still some resist doing what it takes to protect themselves and one another.
The sound of silence is muffled weeping.
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