What’s incomplete in me seeks refuge in blackberry bramble and beech trees, where creatures live without dogma and water moves in patterns more ancient than philosophy. I stand still, child eavesdropping on her elders. I don’t speak the language but my body translates best it can, wakening skin and gut, summoning the long kinship we share with everything. ~Laura Grace Weldon, “Common Ground” from Blackbird
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 great 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”
Nearly thirty months of pandemic separation and I long to share our farm with our far-flung grandchildren who live across the ocean, to watch them discover the joys and sorrows of this place we inhabit. I will tell them there is light beyond this darkness, there is refuge amid the brambles, there is kinship with what surrounds us, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness, there is rescue when all seems hopeless, there is grace as the old gives way to new.
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For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.Psalm 56:13
God alone can deliver a soul from its death, lift a life from a wasteland of need. God alone can replenish with blessings untold until into His light we are freed we are freed. ~Susan Boersma from “Father of Light“
Wait, for now. Distrust everything, if you have to. But trust the hours. Haven’t they carried you everywhere, up to now? Personal events will become interesting again. Hair will become interesting. Pain will become interesting. Buds that open out of season will become lovely again. Second-hand gloves will become lovely again, their memories are what give them the need for other hands. And the desolation of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness carved out of such tiny beings as we are asks to be filled; the need for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Wait. Don’t go too early. You’re tired. But everyone’s tired. But no one is tired enough. Only wait a while and listen. Music of hair, Music of pain, music of looms weaving all our loves again. Be there to hear it, it will be the only time, most of all to hear, the flute of your whole existence, rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion. ~Galway Kinnell “Wait”from A New Selected Poems
If everyone abandons you and even drives you away by force, then when you are left alone fall on the earth and kiss it, water it with your tears, and it will bring forth fruit even though no one has seen or heard you in your solitude. Believe to the end, even if all people went astray and you were left the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in your loneliness. ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky from The Brothers Karamazov
Suicide rates of teenagers in the United States increased well over 30% since 2009. Their voices echo loudly:
“It would be easier if I were dead” “No one cares if I live or die” “The world would be better off without me” “It’s too painful to continue” “I’m not worthy to be here” “It is my right and no one can stop me”
Let us protect our holiness as created in the image of God even though weak and frail and prone to helpless hopelessness. We will be restored. In His Light, He will not let us stumble and fall.
Dear ones, please wait a little longer, only a little longer: don’t go too early – your bud will soon bloom in His Light.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.
If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).
In His name, may we sing…
From the comments on this video: Written by Susan Boersma and based loosely on Psalm 56, this piece was commissioned by the Sanctuary Choir of Third Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, in memory of Jonathan Richard White, the son of its music director John Stone White. Jonathan was a teenager who struggled with long-term depression and who, despite his persistent faith in God, in the end took his own life. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Jonathan’s family came to more deeply appreciate the magnitude of his struggle, as witnessed by what he wrote in his journal and Bible, and they noted that he returned frequently to the Psalms to find comfort in his distress. In contrast to the sadness surrounding this young man’s death, Craig Courtney’s writing in this piece is uniformly strong and triumphant. “Father of Light” opens with a vocal solo—indicative perhaps of a personal statement of faith—expressing confidence in God’s leading and protection. This solo is followed by unison singing in the lower voices which echoes the sentiments of the soloist. As the piece progresses, more parts are added and the harmonies become richer, until at last the music moves into a higher key, the piano drops out, and all the voices reiterate the words of the opening solo at a loud dynamic. A final entry of the soloist brings this work to its close and reminds the listener that God is sovereign in all things—even great suffering.
All praise to the name of the Father of Light One Who listens and hears when I call Ev’ry step He ordains, I shall walk without fear in His light I’ll not stumble or fall In His light I’ll not stumble or fall
What can mortal man do while I’m safe in His hand? He is God on His word I rely in the midst of my fear I will trust in His name for I know He will hear when I cry He knows all of my feelings, the depths of despair all the limits my soul can endure. I will trust in His name, I have nothing to lose, for in Him all my hopes are secure.
All praise to the name of the Father of Light One Who listens and hears when I call Ev’ry step He ordains, I shall walk without fear In His light I’ll not stumble or fall In His light I’ll not stumble or fall
God alone can deliver a soul from its death, lift a life from a wasteland of need. God alone can replenish with blessings untold until into His light we are freed we are freed.
All praise to the name of the Father of Light One Who listens and hears when I call Ev’ry step He ordains, I shall walk without fear In His light I’ll not stumble or fall In His light I’ll not stumble or fall Ev’ry step He ordains, I shall walk without fear In His light I’ll not stumble or fall
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A gracious Sabbath stood here while they stood Who gave our rest a haven. Now fallen, they are given To labor and distress. These times we know much evil, little good To steady us in faith And comfort when our losses press Hard on us, and we choose, In panic or despair or both, To keep what we will lose.
For we are fallen like the trees, our peace Broken, and so we must Love where we cannot trust, Trust where we cannot know, And must await the wayward-coming grace That joins living and dead, Taking us where we would not go– Into the boundless dark. When what was made has been unmade The Maker comes to His work. ~Wendell Berry “Sabbaths, II”
This day, our community is recovering from yesterday’s devastating flooding with landslides and trees having fallen over power lines and roads.
Our local folks are miserable on top of the misery imposed by nearly two years of pandemic restrictions, supply chain issues, and now damage to homes, businesses and land.
Front line responders and health care workers step up yet again when needed but they are exhausted too – their branches torn away, their roots weakened by summer drought and now tested in the wind and storm water swirling about them.
So many fallen, so many broken, so many who feel they cannot trust their footing any longer. We feel our foundations slip away; we are unmade.
The Maker sets to work. He holds together what is asunder. He props up and restores with Love, through His people and through His Spirit within them.
Once again, we can Love when we cannot Trust. We can Trust what we cannot Know.
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.
For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go.As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ~Kathleen Norris from Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10
Inundated moment by moment by overwhelmingly bad news of a pandemic world, highlighted in rapidly changing headlines, blasted from cable news 24/7, tweeted real time from every nook and cranny, I stumble in my frailty to find something, anything, to hold me up.
I cling to the mystery of His magnetism for my weakness.
God now has my full attention: He willingly pulls despair out of me onto Himself and replaces it with strength I didn’t know I would need nor would have ever wanted.
Two months ago, not one of us knew we were to go where we never expected to go: by His grace, we have always had God’s full attention.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
The art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. ~Henry Havelock Ellis
…God’s not nonexistent; He’s just been waylaid by a host of what no one could’ve foreseen. He’s got plans for you…
…it’s true that my Virginia creeper praises Him, its palms and fingers crimson with applause, that the local breeze is weaving Him a diadem… ~Jacqueline Osherow from “Autumn Psalm”
With what stoic delicacy does Virginia creeper let go: the feeblest tug brings down a sheaf of leaves kite-high, as if to say, To live is good but not to live—to be pulled down with scarce a ripping sound, still flourishing, still stretching toward the sun— is good also, all photosynthesis abandoned, quite quits. Next spring the hairy rootlets left unpulled snake out a leafy afterlife up that same smooth-barked oak. ~John Updike “Creeper”
The Virginia Creeper vine, its crimson leaves crawl over the brow of our ancient shed like a lock of unruly hair or a flowing stream. This humble building was a small chapel a century ago, moved from the intersection of two country roads to this raised knoll for forever sanctuary.
It is befitting that every fall this former church, now empty of sermons and hymns, weeps red.
Each winter the stripped bare vine clings tightly through thousands of “holdfast” suckers. The glue keeps the vine attached where no vine has gone before. Once there, it stays until pulled away; it becomes an invincible foundation to build upon in the spring.
Do not despair in this austere winter. The Lord has plans and will not be moved or ripped away, even when His name is removed from schools or public squares, He’s holding on, waiting on us, waiting for the spring and won’t ever, no never, let go.
Tired and hungry, late in the day, impelled to leave the house and search for what might lift me back to what I had fallen away from, I stood by the shore waiting. I had walked in the silent woods: the trees withdrew into their secrets. Dusk was smoothing breadths of silk over the lake, watery amethyst fading to gray. Ducks were clustered in sleeping companies afloat on their element as I was not on mine.
I turned homeward, unsatisfied. But after a few steps, I paused, impelled again to linger, to look North before nightfall-the expanse of calm, of calming water, last wafts of rose in the few high clouds.
And was rewarded: the heron, unseen for weeks, came flying widewinged toward me, settled just offshore on his post, took up his vigil. If you ask why this cleared a fog from my spirit, I have no answer. ~Denise Levertov “A Reward” from Evening Train.
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than the flu. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. There should be a vaccination against unnamed fears.
I want to say to my patients and to myself: Stop now, this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop.
Stop needing to be numb to all discomfort. Stop resenting the gift of each breath. Just stop. Instead, simply be.
I want to say: this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone, this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light.
Shout for joy in it. Celebrate it.
Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips just as rain can clear the fog. Stop holding them back.
Just be– be blessed in both the fine and the foggy days– in the now and now and now.
The darksome burn, horseback brown, His rollrock highroad roaring down, In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Inversnaid”
There is despair in the wilderness of untamed hearts.
Such wildness lies just beneath the surface;
it rounds and rounds, almost out of reach.
How are we spared drowning in its pitchblack pool?
How can we thrill to the beauty rather than be sucked into the darkness?
He came not to destroy the world’s wildness,
but to pull us, gasping,
from its unforgiving clutches as we sink in deep.As weeds surviving in the wilderness,
we must grow, flourish, and witness to a wild world bereft.
Toward the end of August I begin to dream about fall, how this place will empty of people, the air will get cold and leaves begin to turn. Everything will quiet down, everything will become a skeleton of its summer self. Toward
the end of August I get nostalgic for what’s to come, for that quiet time, time alone, peace and stillness, calm, all those things the summer doesn’t have. The woodshed is already full, the kindling’s in, the last of the garden soon
will be harvested, and then there will be nothing left to do but watch fall play itself out, the earth freeze, winter come. ~David Budbill “Toward the End of August” from Tumbling Toward the End.
I dream now of fall, wanting this stubborn summer to flame out, to leave its bare bones behind. The last few weeks have been particularly cruel with wildfires, hurricanes, drought, sweltering heat, and flooding rains. As if nature is not damaging enough, humanity continues to threaten humanity with local and global violence and threats of annihilation, while hundreds of thousands of refugees migrate from one poor country into even poorer countries in search of some semblance of hope and security for a safe future.
Anxiety and despair seem appropriate responses in the face of so much tragedy – they take root like weeds in a garden patch– overwhelming, crowding out and impairing all that is fruitful. The result is nothing of value grows–only unchecked proliferation of more weeds. My worry and anguish help no one and changes nothing, serving only to hinder me from being fruitful.
It shouldn’t take bad news and disaster to remind me of what I already know:
I am not God and never will be. He tends the garden and He pulls the weeds when the time is right.
His harvest is at hand. Either I’m fruit or weed.
Acknowledging this is everything. There is nothing left to do but watch as it plays itself out.
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