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”
It is a comfort to sleep in our own bed after being away for a week. We drove uphill much of yesterday through numerous mountain passes, but then when we descended back into western Washington as darkness descended, we were greeted by the familiar landscape of home.
This life of ours can be a weary and sometimes perilous journey. There are times when it is so dark we’re not sure we can see the road, much less where it is headed or when and where we may be able to rest.
Many have gone on before us so that we will not be left stranded, lost and waiting by the roadside. There is a place waiting for wayfarers like us.
The door is flung open – those who are weary are welcomed with open arms. The road uphill points to the best home of all.
It is possible, I suppose that sometime we will learn everything there is to learn: what the world is, for example, and what it means. I think this as I am crossing from one field to another, in summer, and the mockingbird is mocking me, as one who either knows enough already or knows enough to be perfectly content not knowing. Song being born of quest he knows this: he must turn silent were he suddenly assaulted with answers. Instead oh hear his wild, caustic, tender warbling ceaselessly unanswered. At my feet the white-petalled daisies display the small suns of their center piece, their – if you don’t mind my saying so – their hearts. Of course I could be wrong, perhaps their hearts are pale and narrow and hidden in the roots. What do I know? But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given, to see what is plain; what the sun lights up willingly; for example – I think this as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch – the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the daisies for the field. ~Mary Oliver “Daisies”
I spend much of my time acknowledging I don’t know what I wish I knew. Aging means becoming content with the mystery and ceasing to strive so much for what is not yet illuminated, but will soon be.
I don’t fight my dark ignorance like I used to — no longer cry out in frustration about what I don’t understand and stomp angrily through each bewildering day.
Instead I am grateful for what insight is given freely and willingly, what is plainly illuminated, to be touched without being picked and destroyed.
I realize, if only I open up just enough to the Sun, it is my own heart that is alit and ripening. That is how heaven must be and I remain content to stay planted where I am until I’m picked.
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this. ~A.A. Milne
It is the final week of a very long academic year and tension is running high.
Among those students to whom I provide care, there are many who dwell deeply in “what if?” mode, immobilized in their anticipation of impending disaster.
I understand this line of thinking, particularly in this day and age of “in the moment” tragedy played out real-time in the palm of our hand and we can’t help but watch as it unfolds.
Those who know me well know I can fret and worry better than most. Medical training only makes it worse. It teaches one to think catastrophically. That is what I do for a living, to always be ready for the worse case scenario.
When I rise, sleepless, to face a day of uncertainty as we all must do at times~ after careful thought, I reach for the certainty I am promised over the uncertainty I can only imagine:
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong —body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Supposing it didn’t” — He says (and thus we are comforted)
The air was soft, the ground still cold. In the dull pasture where I strolled Was something I could not believe. Dead grass appeared to slide and heave, Though still too frozen-flat to stir, And rocks to twitch and all to blur. What was this rippling of the land? Was matter getting out of hand And making free with natural law, I stopped and blinked, and then I saw A fact as eerie as a dream. There was a subtle flood of steam Moving upon the face of things. It came from standing pools and springs And what of snow was still around; It came of winter’s giving ground So that the freeze was coming out, As when a set mind, blessed by doubt, Relaxes into mother-wit. Flowers, I said, will come of it. ~Richard Wilbur “April 5, 1974”
As the ground softens with spring, so do I. Somehow the solid winter freeze was comforting as nothing appeared to change and stayed static, so did I, remaining stolid and fixed, resisting doubt and uncertainty.
But now, with light and warmth, the fixed is flexing, steaming in its labor, and so must I find blessing in giving ground and giving birth to what will follow. Flowers will come of it.
This World is not Conclusion. A Species stands beyond – Invisible, as Music – But positive, as Sound – It beckons, and it baffles – Philosophy, don’t know – And through a Riddle, at the last – Sagacity, must go – To guess it, puzzles scholars – To gain it, Men have borne Contempt of Generations And Crucifixion, shown – Faith slips – and laughs, and rallies – Blushes, if any see – Plucks at a twig of Evidence – And asks a Vane, the way – Much Gesture, from the Pulpit – Strong Hallelujahs roll – Narcotics cannot still the Tooth That nibbles at the soul – ~Emily Dickinson
Doubt can feel like the bare branches of winter – plenty of bleak bark, and nothing that feels alive or real or even meaningful.
Yet spring ushers in such profound intervention that doubt is ushered out with little ceremony. What was mere potential is now bud and bloom. What was mere twig is now glorious.
On the day when The weight deadens On your shoulders And you stumble, May the clay dance To balance you.
And when your eyes Freeze behind The grey window And the ghost of loss Gets into you, May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, green And azure blue, Come to awaken in you A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays In the currach of thought And a stain of ocean Blackens beneath you, May there come across the waters A path of yellow moonlight To bring you safely home. ~John O’Donohue from “Beannacht”
I figure I was born unbalanced in one way or another. I was the kid who couldn’t manage roller skating out of fear of falling, clinging to the rail rather than risk being ground-bound yet again. My one and only cross country skiing experience was actually cross-country sitting more than gliding. I still freeze in place when trying to walk over an icy surface or down a steep incline — my brain just can’t help my body navigate anything other than a straight flat pathway.
It isn’t just physical balance that is a challenge for me. As a child, and still at times in my later years, my feelings can be intense and immobilizing too, every disappointment becoming tragedy and every happy moment so joyous I cling to it fiercely, fearing it could fade.
A blessing of balance is ideal: ground that dances to steady me when I stumble, a palette of rainbow colors to overwhelm gray emotions when I’m struggling, a lighted pathway if the going gets dark.
I’ve given up the idea of skating or skiing, but just maybe I can ride and glide through the waves of life without getting seasick.
…the cold waking you as if from long sleeping, then you can understand how, more often than not, truth is found in silence, how the natural world comes to you if you go out to meet it, its icy ditches filled with dead weeds, its vacant birdhouses, and dens full of the sleeping. But this is the slowed down season held fast by darkness and if no one comes to keep you company then keep watch over your own solitude. In that stillness, you will learn with your whole body the significance of cold and the night, which is otherwise always eluding you. ~Patricia Fargnoli from “Winter Grace”
So slowed down and immobilized by the rain, the cold, the darkness it can take every reserve I’ve got to embrace another day
yet embrace I must clinging to the knowledge
that even in stillness and silence I love and am loved.