Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing can be pleasing, how little in this hard world it takes to satisfy the mind and bring it to its rest.
Within the ongoing havoc the woods this morning is almost unnaturally still. Through stalled air, unshadowed light, a few leaves fall of their own weight.
The sky is gray. It begins in mist almost at the ground and rises forever. The trees rise in silence almost natural, but not quite, almost eternal, but not quite.
What more did I think I wanted? Here is what has always been. Here is what will always be. Even in me, the Maker of all this returns in rest, even to the slightest of His works, a yellow leaf slowly falling, and is pleased. ~Wendell Berry “VII”
What more did I think I wanted?
To know that as long as I’m able to hold on, I can be a spot of light in a dark and bleak world. Once I let go, it is finished and worthwhile, seeing His knowing smile.
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Every year the lilies are so perfect I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding the black, mid-summer ponds. Nobody could count all of them —
the muskrats swimming among the pads and the grasses can reach out their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that rife and wild. But what in this world is perfect?
I bend closer and see how this one is clearly lopsided — and that one wears an orange blight — and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away — and that one is a slumped purse full of its own unstoppable decay.
Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled — to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing — that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do. ~Mary Oliver “The Ponds”
Born as we are into a fallen world, this place originally meant to be pristine, without decay – we focus on the imperfection around us rather than the flaws in ourselves.
The mystery is: I know how incomplete, half chewed up and sinking in mire I am, yet I was created in the image of God and He looks at me as though I am whole and beautiful.
He made us in His mold that we promptly fractured, so He came to salvage His broken people. He made sure our flaws became nothing; His Light and glue and love are everything.
It’s strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you. ~John O’Donohue from Anam Cara
We must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. ~Wendell Berry from The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
How did we come here and how is it we remain?
Even when the wind blows mightily, the waters rise, the earth shakes, the fires rage, the pandemic persists…
~we are here, granted another day to get it right. And will we?
It is strange to be here, marveling at the mystery around us – recognizing we are the ultimate mystery of creation, placed here as its witnesses, worshiping in humility, with reverence and obedience.
We don’t own what we see; we only own our awe.
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And what if I never get it right, this loving, this giving of the self to the other? And what if I die
before learning how to offer my everything? What if, though I say I want this generous,
indefatigable love, what if I forever find a way to hold some corner back? I don’t want
to find out the answer to that. I want to be the sun that gives and gives until it burns out,
the sea that kisses the shore and only moves away so that it might rush up to kiss it again. ~ Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “And Again” from Hush
What is it about us that always holds something back when loving others, keeping in reserve some little piece of ourselves that we can’t quite let go?
Even so, we ourselves want to be loved wholly, fully, completely, unconditionally yet something in us doesn’t trust it could be true – we know how undeserving we are.
When we are offered such generous indefatigable love, we hold back part of ourselves because we are afraid we’ll be left desolate, never to be filled again – a sun burned out and darkened, a shore left high and dry.
Once we experience our Creator’s love as wholly generous, completely tireless and persistent, unconditionally grace-filled, we can stop fearing our emptiness.
He pours more than enough love into us without holding back, filling us so full that we might spill over to others, again and again and again, with our light and heart and spirit unbound.
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“I make them warm to keep my family from freezing; I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking.” –From the journal of a prairie woman, 1870
To keep a husband and five children warm, she quilts them covers thick as drifts against the door. Through every fleshy square white threads needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours count each small suture that holds together the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life. She pieces each one beautiful, and summer bright to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers the scraps grow to green birds and purple improbable leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold between the double stars, the wedding rings. ~Luci Shaw “Quiltmaker”
Perhaps the world was made this way: piecemeal, the parts fitting together exactly as if made for one another~ the unique, disparate and separate coming together in a glorious harmony.
The point of its creation is forever functional and full of love – a blanket of warmth and security for generations to come. Our legacy is to preserve this beauty arising from scraps, this broken stitched to broken in a tapestry holy and whole.
all quilts here are on display this week at the Northwest Washington Fair see previous year’s artwork here and here and here and here
This new Barnstorming book is like a quilt made of pieces of poetry and photographs – available for order here:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; ~William Butler Yeats from “The Second Coming”
The city orbits around eight million centers of the universe and turns around the golden clock at the still point of this place. Lift up your eyes from the moving hive and you will see time circling under a vault of stars and know just when and where you are. ~Billy Collins “Grand Central”
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline.
Here is a place of disaffection Time before and time after In a dim light: neither daylight Investing form with lucid stillness Turning shadow into transient beauty With slow rotation suggesting permanence Nor darkness to purify the soul Emptying the sensual with deprivation Cleansing affection from the temporal. Neither plentitude nor vacancy. ~T.S. Eliot from “Burnt Norton” The Four Quartets
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25
Which shall it be? Billions of people orbit the center – or – each of us strives to be our own center of the universe, but cannot hold on there.
We’ve been to Grand Central Station, a relaxed rest stop compared to the moving hive we navigated at Shinjuku Station and Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo, a city four times the size of New York.
Try as I might to picture train stations constituting a “center” holding a great city together, such works of man – like political leaders – have only a tenuous hold on those who come and go. We each desire to do what is right in our own eyes.
As a result, there is no glue; things fall apart.
The Center only holds when it constitutes the Source itself- the origin, the beginning and the end and everything in between. Starting from there, no matter how far you may feel from the Center, you have no doubt about who and where and when you are. Then and only then, you know what is right to do.
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How often do we miss the fainter note Or fail to see the more exquisite hue, Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet, Eyes fixed upon some other, further view. What chimes of harmonies escape our ears, How many rainbows must elude our sight, We see a field but do not see the grass, Each blade a miracle of shade and light. How then to keep the greater end in eye And watch the sunlight on the distant peak, And yet not tread on any leaf of love, Nor miss a word the eager children speak? Ah, what demand upon the narrow heart, To seek the whole, yet not ignore the part. ~Philip Britts “Sonnet 1”
I saw the lovely arch Of Rainbow span the sky, The gold sun burning As the rain swept by.
In bright-ringed solitude The showery foliage shone One lovely moment, And the Bow was gone. ~Walter De La Mare “The Rainbow”
We are born nearly blinded, focused solely on our emptiness – a hunger to be filled and our need to be held. As we grow, our focus sharpens to fall in love with those who feed and nurture us.
Eventually we discover, challenge and worship He who made us.
This world is often too much for us to take in as a whole — our exquisite view of shadow and light, color and gray, loneliness and embrace, sorrow and joy.
With more years and a broader vision, we scan for the finer details within the whole before it disappears with the changing light. Time’s a wasting (and so are we) as we try to capture it all with the lenses of our eyes and hearts.
The end of life comes too soon, when once again our vision blurs and the world fades away from view.
We hunger yet again to be filled and held.
And then heaven itself will seem almost too much to take in – our hearts full to bursting with light and promise for the rest of eternity.
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I am still skeptical about the reasons some seek spirituality in the land, for the spirituality the land offers is anything but easy.
It is the spirituality of a God who would, with lightening and earthquakes, sneeze away the bland moralism preached in many pulpits, a wildly free, undomesticated divinity, the same God who demands of Moses from a burning bush, “Remove your shoes, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
When God appears to Job, the comforting sentiments we might expect to feel are absent because such sentiments are at most God’s trappings, not the infinite himself. The God who speaks to Job from the whirlwind reminds him that, comforting or terrifying, he alone is God. To be satisfied with anything less would be the spiritual catastrophe the Old Testament calls idolatry.
Some of our idols shatter in the West’s rugged vastness, others remain.
Perhaps God leaves exposed the land’s brokenness – the scars of forest fires, the fossils of extinct biospheres, rifts showing ancient continents now scattered like puzzle pieces – to remind us that he is greater than the icon, too.
The heavens and earth will wear out like a garment, the Psalmist says, like clothes that are changed.
We are now 45 days into a hotter dry spell this summer with a slight possibility of some rain next week. Everything here in the Pacific Northwest is looking as it would in late August with the snow melt in the Cascades much accelerated from its usual timeline. With the fires already happening for weeks on the eastern side of the state, as well as to the north of us in British Columbia and south in Oregon and California, we are looking at a withering August of smoke and ash.
Dan and I headed up the Mt. Baker Highway yesterday evening to see how bare Baker and Shuksan look up close. We wonder what snow will be left before our typical precipitation begins in earnest in early October. These seemingly unchanging monoliths are being stripped of their usual garments, now naked and vulnerable. They are subject to God’s transforming power just as surely as we are.
When I stand at the foot of these peaks, I never fail to be awed to a whisper, as if I were inside an immense cathedral. God reminds us to remove our shoes out of respect for His holy ground. Yet I worship not the mountains nor the awe-inspiring landscape they are placed in, but worship their Creator whose strength and love is greater than all.
I tread lightly. I speak softly. I remove my shoes. I witness the fading light.
God, the eternal, the unchangeable, takes my breath away, as only He can..
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I look for the way things will turn out spiralling from a center, the shape things will take to come forth in
so that the birch tree white touched black at branches will stand out wind-glittering totally its apparent self:
I look for the forms things want to come as
from what black wells of possibility, how a thing will unfold:
not the shape on paper, though that, too, but the uninterfering means on paper:
not so much looking for the shape as being available to any shape that may be summoning itself through me from the self not mine but ours. ~A. R. Ammons, “Poetics” from A Coast of Trees
Even our very origin as a unique organism is a process of unfolding and spiraling: from our very first doubling after conception expanding to a complexity of trillions of cells powering our every thought and movement.
I look everywhere in my backyard world for beginnings and endings, wanting to understand where I fit and where I am in the process of this unfolding life. As I grow older, I find myself more peripheral than central, as I am meant to be – I have more perspective now. I can see where I came from, and where I am headed.
We unfurl, each one of us, slowly, surely, gently, in the Hands of our Creator God. He knows how each of us began as He was there from the beginning. He remains at the core our unfolding forever.
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