When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” fromThe Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
When our grandchildren visit our farm, I watch them rediscover what I know are the joys and sorrows of this world. I am reminded there is light beyond the darkness I fear, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness there is rest despite my restlessness, there is grace as old gives way to new.
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Each morning as I rise to let the horses out to graze for the day, I’m once again that teenage girl who awoke early to climb on horseback to greet the summer dawn, mist in my hair and dew on my boots, picking ripe blackberries and blueberries as we rode past.
The angled light always drew sharper shadow lines as the sun rose until I knew it was time to turn around, each hoof step taking us closer to home to clean barn, do chores, hang laundry, weed the garden until sunset.
It is sunlight that creates and then erases all in me that is shadow. Eventually, only the real me remains.
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There is a timelessness to mid-summer hay harvest that goes back generations on both sides of our family. The cutting, raking and gathering of hay has evolved from horse-drawn implements and gathering loose shocks of hay to 100+ horse power air-conditioned tractors and huge round bales wrapped and stored in plastic sheathing rather than in barns.
Our farm is happily stuck somewhere in-between: we still prefer filling the haybarn with bales that I can still lift and move myself to feed our animals. True hay harvest involves sweat and dust and a neighborhood coming together to preserve summer in tangible form.
I grew up on a farm with a hayfield – I still have the scar over my eyebrow where I collided with the handle of my father’s scythe when, as a toddler, I came too close behind him as he was taking a swing at cutting a field of grass one swath at a time. I remember the huge claws of the hay hook reaching down onto loose hay piled up on our wagon. The hook would gather up a huge load, lift it high in the air to be moved by pulley on a track into our spacious hay loft. It was the perfect place to play and jump freely into the fragrant memories of a summer day, even in the dark of winter.
But these days it is the slanted light of summer I remember most: -the weightlessness of dust motes swirling down sun rays coming through the slats of the barn walls as the hay bales are stacked -the long shadows and distant alpenglow in the mountains -the dusk that goes on and on as owls and bats come out to hunt above us
Most of all, I will remember the sweaty days of mid-summer as I open the bales of hay in mid-winter – the light and fragrance of those grassy fields spilling forth into the chill and darkness, in communion of blessing for our animals.
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It’s deep time here, this barrow grave five thousand years old, where we follow like sheep behind the guide to the heart of its cruciform center. I’ve never been in a space so dark. What was it like to fear that the sun would not return, that crops would wither, deer flee, that night’s dark cloak was all there was? But miraculously, on the lip of the solstice, the light returned, liquid and golden, ran down the narrow corridor, hit the back wall, splashed in the stone basin, and they knew summer would come back, run to fruit. Light, dark, freeze, thaw, seedtime, harvest, wheel of the year, the spiral dance. What would they make of our device-laden lives, fossil-fueled cars, over-stocked larders? Who stands in the dark and listens now, gaping at the stars? — Barbara Crooker, “Newgrange” from The Book of Kells
There is nothing so dark as centuries-old underground tunnels and portal tombs, some positioned with an opening to capture a beam of light exactly at either the winter or summer solstice, illuminating what dwells in blackness the rest of the year.
The more recent ninth century soutterain tunnels were refuge for Christians hiding from invaders, keeping whole villages safe from capture.
The dolmens and portal graves are Neolithic structures built before the pyramids. They still exist today as they were constructed to last by people serious about their beliefs. Though those people are long dust, the stones and tunnels remain as they were, to protect the spirits of the departed.
What would they think now of our extravagance, our plethora of goods and foods, our modern ways of crippling others with the weapons of internet words and hacking, rather than stealing, pillaging and enslaving strangers?
We moderns are lost in our over-abundance of light year round, scarcely noting the calendar or the passing of the longest and shortest days.
What remarkable people of strength have preceded us, seeking to preserve the significance of Light in their darkness.
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When summer time has come, and all The world is in the magic thrall Of perfumed airs that lull each sense To fits of drowsy indolence;
Just for the joy of being there And drinking in the summer air, The summer sounds, and summer sights, That set a restless mind to rights When grief and pain and raging doubt Of men and creeds have worn it out;
O time of rapture! time of song! How swiftly glide thy days along Adown the current of the years, Above the rocks of grief and tears! ‘Tis wealth enough of joy for me In summer time to simply be. ~Paul Laurence Dunbar from “Summertime”
Each year, on the same date, the summer solstice comes. Consummate light: we plan for it, the day we tell ourselves that time is very long indeed, nearly infinite. And in our reading and writing, preference is given to the celebratory, the ecstatic.
What follows the light is what precedes it: the moment of balance, of dark equivalence.
But tonight we sit in the garden in our canvas chairs so late into the evening – why should we look either forward or backwards? Why should we be forced to remember: it is in our blood, this knowledge. Shortness of the days; darkness, coldness of winter. It is in our blood and bones; it is in our history. It takes a genius to forget these things. ~Louise Glück from “Solstice”
I stand, wavering in a balance of light and shadow~ this knowledge of what’s to come next rests deep in my bones.
I’ve been here before, so grateful for the sun’s return.
I will not forget this gift of Light, as darkness begins to claim the days again.
I remember, He promised to never let darkness overwhelm the world again.
I believe Him, on this longest day, and even more so, in the midst of the longest night.
Does the road wind up-hill all the way? Yes, to the very end. Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place? A roof for when the slow dark hours begin. May not the darkness hide it from my face? You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? Those who have gone before. Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? Of labour you shall find the sum. Will there be beds for me and all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come. ~Christina Rossetti, “Up-Hill” from Rossetti: Poems
Nothing is quite as comforting as a room to stay and bed to sleep in after a long day of traveling. At times, we’re not sure we’ll get there before dark. The roads stretch ahead for miles, the scenery seems foreign to our eyes.
So we hope for a quiet place to stay where others are welcoming.
Yet there is rest. Yes, there is rest for the weary and travel-worn. There are beds for each. A place to rest our heads.
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There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparell’d in celestial light, The glory of a dream.
The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind. ~William Wordsworth from Intimations of Immortality
I woke immersed in sadness; it doesn’t happen often. Whether a dream surrounded me in sorrow, or perhaps the weight of grayness of the morning, I couldn’t tell.
I felt burdened and weepy, wondering where hope had fled just overnight.
Even though I know true glory lies beyond this soil, I still look for it here, seeking encouragement in midst of trouble. I set out to find light which clothes the ordinary, becoming resplendent and shimmering from celestial illumination.
Though I may sometimes grieve for what is lost, there is enough, there is always enough each morning to remind me God’s gift of grace and strength transforms this day and every day.
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How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song– all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.
Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God. ~Nicholas Wolterstorffin Lament for a Son
“My God, My God,” goes the Psalm 22, “hear me, why have you forsaken me?”
This is the anguish all we of Godforsaken heart know well. But hear the revelation to which Christ directs us, further in the same psalm:
For He has not despised nor scorned the beggar’s supplication, Nor has He turned away His face from me; And when I cried out to Him, He heard me.“
He hears us, and he knows, because he has suffered as one Godforsaken. Which means that you and I, even in our darkest hours, are not forsaken. Though we may hear nothing, feel nothing, believe nothing, we are not forsaken, and so we need not despair.
And that is everything. That is Good Friday and it is hope, it is life in this darkened age, and it is the life of the world to come. ~Tony Woodlief from “We are Not Forsaken”
Scratch the surface of a human being and the demons of hate and revenge … and sheer destructiveness break forth.
The cross stands before us to remind us of this depth of ourselves so that we can never forget.
Again and again we read the stories of violence in our daily papers, of the mass murders and ethnic wars still occurring in numerous parts of our world. But how often do we say to ourselves: “What seizes people like that, even young people, to make them forget family and friends, and suddenly kill other human beings?” We don’t always ask the question in that manner. Sometimes we are likely to think, almost smugly: “How different those horrible creatures are from the rest of us. How fortunate I am that I could never kill or hurt other people like they did.”
I do not like to stop and, in the silence, look within, but when I do I hear a pounding on the floor of my soul. When I open the trap door into the deep darkness I see the monsters emerge for me to deal with. How painful it is to bear all this, but it is there to bear in all of us. If I do not deal with it, it deals with me. The cross reminds me of all this.
This inhumanity of human to human is tamed most of the time by law and order in most of our communities, but there are not laws strong enough to make men and women simply cease their cruelty and bitterness. This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves. This confrontation often leads us into the pit.
The empty cross is planted there to remind us: suffering is real but not the end, victory still is possible… ~Morton Kelsey from “The Cross and the Cellar”
The whole of Christ’s life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last.
His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death. ~John Donne – hisopening words in his sermon on Christmas Day 1626
Anytime we assume God in heaven could not possibly understand the loneliness and rejection we feel the pain and discouragement we endure the hatred that taints our communities the suffering that is part of living inside these frail vessels, our bodies. Surely, we think — if there was a God, He would do something about it:
He reminds us today of all days He was scraped and torn – no scratching the surface, but gouged deep. He knows exactly what we endure because He wasn’t spared.
He took it all on Himself — our affliction became His.
There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom. ~Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose
In the midst of this past dying year, when too many have been lost to virus, to loneliness, to despair, to violence…
I seek the fragrance of the ultimate Bloom, this true man yet very God
to be reminded of the Life and Light He brings to the darkness where we all dwell; this impossible God sharing the load of man, the sweetness of His glorious splendor
given to the undeserving with joy and love without reservation without hesitation from joy to joy to joy.
O Flow’r, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air, Dispels in glorious splendor The darkness ev’rywhere; True man, yet very God, From sin and death now saves us, And shares our ev’ry load.