The shadow’s the thing. If I no longer see shadows as “dark marks,” as do the newly sighted, then I see them as making some sort of sense of the light. They give the light distance; they put it in its place. They inform my eyes of my location here, here O Israel, here in the world’s flawed sculpture, here in the flickering shade of the nothingness between me and the light. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Be comforted; the world is very old, And generations pass, as they have passed, A troop of shadows moving with the sun; Thousands of times has the old tale been told; The world belongs to those who come the last, They will find hope and strength as we have done. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “A Shadow”
A shadow is hard to seize by the throat and dash to the ground. ~Victor Hugo from Les Miserables
We are dealing and dueling with shadows, our flawed imperfect darkness rather than one another. We write things on a screen that we would never say to another’s face. We assume motives, predict behavior, ponder reactions but all is smoke and mirrors.
Such is the cost of feeling fear and distrust.
As the sun moves and time passes, the shadows shift and play with the Light from a different angle, so shall we shift and pray.
Rather than holding the Light at a distance while trying to wrestle shadows to the ground, we’ll embrace it and make sense of it, yearning for the illuminating hugs we’ve been denied for so long.
O Lord, The house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it that you may enter in. ~Augustine of Hippo
…the miracle of God comes not only from above; it also comes through us; it is also dwelling in us. It has been given to every person, and it lies in every soul as something divine, and it waits. Calling, it waits for the hour when the soul shall open itself, having found its God and its home. When this is so, the soul will not keep its wealth to itself, but will let it flow out into the world. ~Eberhard Arnold
…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:14
When I feel squeezed through a narrow passage, compressed by the pressures of life from all sides, discouraged by limitations, unable to clearly see ahead or behind, longing for wide open spaces, of being able to once again do anything, go anywhere, feel anything I please~
I remember how this path was a choice, it is the way I will go, one step at a time. No one, certainly not God, promised an easy journey.
Yet He promised He would light the way to walk alongside me so I do not dwell in darkness.
If we could, like the trees, practice dying, do it every year just as something we do— like going on vacation or celebrating birthdays— it would become as easy a part of us as our hair or clothing.
Someone would show us how to lie down and fade away as if in deepest meditation, and we would learn about the fine dark emptiness, both knowing it and not knowing it, and coming back would be irrelevant.
Whatever it is the trees know when they stand undone, surprisingly intricate, we need to know also so we can allow that last thing to happen to us as if it were only any ordinary thing,
leaves and lives falling away, the spirit, complex, waiting in the fine darkness to learn which way it will go. ~Grace Butcher, “Learning from Trees” from Poetry of Presence
If I were to die as a leaf, I would want to change my clothes just bit by bit, overnight oozing gradually to scarlet, bleeding into the green a little bit more, until I’m so unrecognizable, I’ll seem brand new.
That would be ideal.
The reality is a fading to grey and brown, my edges withered and torn, bug-bitten with holes and weather-beaten bruised, dangling and fearful of letting go and so forgotten.
So I remember: no one, not one, falls without its Maker knowing. No one, not one, dies without being made brand new.
We walked at the edge of the sea, the dog, still young then, running ahead of us.
Few people. Gulls. A flock of pelicans circled beyond the swells, then closed their wings and dropped head-long into the dazzle of light and sea. You clapped your hands; the day grew brilliant.
Later we sat at a small table with wine and food that tasted of the sea.
A perfect day, we said to one another, so that even when the day ended and the lights of houses among the hills came on like a scattering of embers, we watched it leave without regret.
That night, easing myself toward sleep, I thought how blindly we stumble ahead with such hope, a light flares briefly—Ah, Happiness! then we turn and go on our way again.
But happiness, too, goes on its way, and years from where we were, I lie awake in the dark and suddenly it returns— that day by the sea, that happiness,
though it is not the same happiness, not the same darkness. ~Peter Everwine, “The Day,” from New Letters
The traumas of the past may revisit me in the night as they linger in the fringes of my mind, ready to creep back into my consciousness in times of stress. When I feel vulnerable and weak, I remind myself that past darkness must not overpower my nights. I try to call up different memories to push the sadness or fear back to the periphery.
So I return to my visits to the sea.
During those halcyon days, I was surrounded by beauty, of peacefulness, of family come together in warmth and closeness. Those times we’ve spent on the coast are treasures to open when I need them — breathing deeply of the sea, hearing the rhythm of the waves and feeling the cool breezes once again on my skin.
The memories themselves become precious reservoirs of happiness – readily renewed and refreshed. The darkness is overwhelmed, no longer overwhelming. Instead, it retreats from the shore of my mind like a wave pulls back into the depths of an endless sea.
At almost four in the afternoon, the wind picks up and sifts through the golden woods.
The tree trunks bronze and redden, branches on fire in the heavy sky that flickers
with the disappearing sun. I wonder what I owe the fading day, why I keep
my place at this dark desk by the window measuring the force of the wind, gauging
how long a certain cloud will hold that pink edge that even now has slipped into gray?
Quickly the lights are appearing, a lamp in every window and nests of stars
on the rooftops. Ladders lean against the hills and people climb, rung by rung, into the night. ~Joyce Sutphen “On the Shortest Days” from Modern Love & Other Myths.
While spending my day at my desk talking to faces on a screen, as I will today and every day, the names and stories and symptoms change every half hour. I sometimes glance up and out my window to the world beyond, concerned not to break eye contact.
I want to say: don’t you know this darkness surrounding you won’t last, while this day is fading you can turn on the light that you were given to find your way out of this.
I wonder if I owe it to you to tell you when I was young and afraid and away from home I didn’t believe the light was there either, or it wouldn’t turn on, or it burned out so I I felt swallowed by the darkness.
Then someone gave me a ladder to climb out and lit my light so I could see where I was going.
Here I am now, handing you a working light and a sturdy ladder and telling you how to use them.
Everything is made to perish; the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so. No, he thought. The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place. What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking? ~Paul Hardingfrom Tinkers
What persists indeed?
There are times when all appears to be perishing, especially in this dying time of year when the world is drying and burning up around us, blowing smoke hundreds of miles like a giant overhead dust storm soiling the air.
Each breath reminds us that we are mere ashes.
The obituary pages predominate in the paper, accompanying an overload of ongoing cases of contagious illness, bad news, riots and a pandemic of angry rhetoric.
All appears to be perishing with no relief or hope.
Waning light and shortening days color my view like the haze in the sky painting a sunset blood red. This darkness is temporary and inevitably is helpless; it can never overcome the Light of all things made.
Life persists in the midst of perishing because of the cataclysm of a loving and bleeding God dying as sacrifice on our behalf.
Nothing, nothing can ever be the same – He remains here with us through this. We only need to call His name.
God goes where God has never gone before. ~ Kathleen Mulhern in Dry Bones
Further in Summer than the Birds Pathetic from the Grass A minor Nation celebrates Its unobtrusive Mass.
No Ordinance be seen So gradual the Grace A pensive Custom it becomes Enlarging Loneliness.
Antiquest felt at Noon When August burning low Arise this spectral Canticle Repose to typify
Remit as yet no Grace No Furrow on the Glow Yet a Druidic Difference Enhances Nature now ~Emily Dickinson
“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time. The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world. She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:
So gradual the Grace A pensive Custom it becomes Enlarging Loneliness.
But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others. The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state. Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.” ~N. Scott Momaday from The Man Made of Words
On the first day I took his class on Native American Mythology and Lore in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this Dickinson poem on the blackboard. He told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written — this in a class devoted to Native American writing and oral tradition. In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a white New England recluse poet — someone as culturally distant from him and his people as possible.
But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences, and Scott knew this as he led us, mostly white students, through this poem. What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our understanding of nature and the world in which we, its creatures, find ourselves.
As summer begins its descent into the dark death of winter, we, unlike the crickets, become all too aware we too are descending. Not only are the skies are filled with smoke from uncontrolled wildfires, but the streets are filled with protesters and counter-protesters who loot and shoot rather than meet to ask questions, and our future is filled with the uncertain timeline of ongoing pandemic destruction as nature has the upper hand yet again.
There is no one as lonely as an individual facing their mortality and no one as lonely as a poet facing the empty page, in search of words to describe the sacrament of sacrifice and perishing.
Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone. The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man who shall emerge transformed.
There is no furrow on the glow. There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already lovingly planted and nurtured by our Creator God, yielding a fruited plain.
Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and to the storm within. ~Frederick Buechner – from Telling the Truth
We are so complicit and compliant in pleasant and peaceful appearance, sitting in silence allowing our inner storm to stay well hidden; if called and compelled to face wrongs boldly, the tempest can no longer be contained. Silence in the face of evil must itself be shattered, even the rocks will cry out, as our storm spills forth speaking the truth.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We all are feeling the unpredictability of the state of the climate all around us:
heavy damaging winds, devastating hale storms, thunder and lightening, sweaty sunny middays, torrential unpredictable showers, ankle-deep mud, horrible forest fires.
Protests, violence, conspiracy theories, people distrusting and disrespecting others, name-calling, and plenty of deafening silence.
And inside my own cranium:
words that fly out too quickly, anxiety mixed with a hint of anger, too easy tears, searing frustration, feeling immobilized by the daily muck and mire of the state of the world today.
I have no excuse for acting like moody March, October, December and August within a span of a few hours. I should not be so easily forgiven or unburdened. I end up lying awake at night with regrets, composing apologies, and wanting to hide under a rock until the storms inside and outside blow over.
But in the midst of all the extremes, while the pandemic, the climate change, the racial injustice storms keep raging, a miracle is wrought: it can only happen when brilliant light exposes weeping from heavy laid clouds, like the rainbow that dropped from heaven last week to touch the earth right in our backyard, only a few feet from our barn.
God cries too. His wept tears light the sky in a promise of forgiveness while we tear each other apart. He assures us: this storm too will pass.
He assures us because He knows all too well our desperate need for it.