More than once I’ve seen a dog waiting for its owner outside a café practically implode with worry. “Oh, God, what if she doesn’t come back this time? What will I do? Who will take care of me? I loved her so much and now she’s gone and I’m tied to a post surrounded by people who don’t look or smell or sound like her at all.” And when she does come, what a flurry of commotion, what a chorus of yelping and cooing and leaps straight up into the air! It’s almost unbearable, this sudden fullness after such total loss, to see the world made whole again by a hand on the shoulder and a voice like no other. ~John Brehm from “If Feeling Isn’t In It”
We all need to know love like this: so binding, so complete, so profoundly filling: its loss empties our world of all meaning as our flowing tears run dry.
So abandoned, we woeful wait, longing for the return of the gentle voice, the familiar smile, the tender touch and encompassing embrace.
With unexpected restoration when we’ve done nothing whatsoever to deserve it- we leap and shout with unsurpassed joy, this world without form and void is made whole again.
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The difficulty to think at the end of day, When the shapeless shadow covers the sun And nothing is left except light on your fur—
There was the cat slopping its milk all day, Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk and August the most peaceful month.
To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time, Without that monument of cat, The cat forgotten on the moon; And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light In which everything is meant for you And nothing need be explained;
Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself; And east rushes west and west rushes down, No matter. The grass is full
And full of yourself. The trees around are for you, The whole of the wideness of night is for you, A self that touches all edges,
You become a self that fills the four corners of night. The red cat hides away in the fur-light And there you are humped high, humped up,
You are humped higher and higher, black as stone — You sit with your head like a carving in space And the little green cat is a bug in the grass. ~Wallace Stevens, from “A Rabbit As King of the Ghosts”
This summer has brimmed with fullness ready for emptying: a spilling over of light and sun and heat and life, almost too much to take in.
I tried to blend in, almost disappear into my surroundings, as evening fell, catching me just-so, immobile, captured by failing light as the day darkened.
Then I prepared to dream unthinkingly peaceful in the night when all is stilled anticipation.
With pulsing vessels in twitching transparent ears, both warming and cooling, aglow yet fading, my empty spaces are filled.
I welcome the relief of sitting still as a statue in the cool whiff of this misty August morning.
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More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees that really gets to me. When all the shock of white and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin growing over whatever winter did to us, a return to the strange idea of continuous living despite the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then, I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all. ~Ada Limón“Instructions on Not Giving Up”
I thought I was empty – hollow and irretrievable – after such a long drawn out winter. Yet here I am, here we are, still among the living and I find I am swept away and useless to accomplish anything else except breathing.
The landscape is exploding with layers of color and shadow and standing too close, I too am ignited. It is impossible to witness so much unfolding life and light and not be engulfed and singed.
It lures me outside where flames of green lap about my ankles as I stroll the fields and each fresh breeze fans the fires until I’ve nothing left of myself but ash and shadow.
Consumed and subsumed. Combusted and busted.
What a way to go.
I’ll take it. I’ll take it all.
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You want to know how I spend my time? I walk the front lawn, pretending to be weeding. You ought to know I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact I’m looking for courage, for some evidence my life will change, though it takes forever, checking each clump for the symbolic leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already the leaves turning, always the sick trees going first, the dying turning brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform their curfew of music. You want to see my hands? As empty now as at the first note. Or was the point always to continue without a sign? ~Louise Glück “Matins V”
I have never been a brave person. In fact, I can be as fearful of the headlines of world events as the next person – a downright lily-livered chicken-heart. People like me may engage in lots of magical thinking, hoping I just might change through hard work and a large measure of good luck.
But what has luck got to do with it? Nothing whatsoever.
The reality is, many people work hard and still face insurmountable struggles that regularly force them to their knees. Courage is asking God for the grit to keep going no matter what confronts you because that is exactly what He did for us: even when his knees hurt from kneeling, his voice was hoarse with prayer, his eyes full of tears, his efforts unacknowledged and unappreciated, his heart broken.
Even when I come up empty-handed, I take courage and take heart. His heart.
Take heart, my friend, we’ll go together This uncertain road that lies ahead Our faithful God has always gone before us And He will lead the way once again
Take heart, my friend, we can walk together And if our burdens become too great We can hold up and help one other In God’s love and God’s grace
Take heart my friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our defender in the night
If we should falter when trouble surrounds us When the wind and the waves are wild and high We will look away to Him who ruled the waters Who spoke His peace into the angry tide
He is our comfort, our sustainer He is our help in time of need When we wander, He is our Shepherd He who watches over us never sleeps
Take heart my friend the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our defender in the night
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This is the honest grace of her body: that she is afraid, and in this moment does not hide her fear... Until in the cave of her body she might feel without willing it a tenderness begin to form. Like the small, ghostly clover of the meadow; the deer hidden in the hills. A tenderness like mourning. The source of love, she thinks, is mourning. …the child that will soon form inside her body, this loss by which we come to bend before the given, its arms that open unexplained, and take us in. ~Laurie Sheck from “The Annunciation”
Like Mary, we have no way of knowing… We can ask for courage, however, and trust that God has not led us into this new land only to abandon us there. ~Kathleen Norrisfrom God With Us
As if until that moment nothing real had happened since Creation
As if outside the world were empty so that she and he were all there was — he mover, she moved upon
As if her submission were the most dynamic of all works: as if no one had ever said Yes like that
As if one day the sun had no place in all the universe to pour its gold but her small room ~Luci Shaw“Virgin”
Like most people, I want my life to be the way I want it: my plans, my timing, my hopes and dreams first and foremost.
And then stuff happens and suddenly nothing looks the way it was supposed to be. I feel emptied of the future I had envisioned.
Yet only then, as an empty vessel, can I be filled.
In the annunciation of the angel, Mary’s response to this overwhelming circumstance is a model for us all when we are hit by a wave of circumstances we didn’t expect and had not prepared for.
She is prepared; she has studied and knows God’s Word and His promise to His people, even in the midst of trouble. She is able to articulate it beautifully in the song she sings as her response. She gives up her so-carefully-planned-out life to give life to God within her.
Her resilience sings through the ages and to each one of us in our troubles: may it be to me as you say.
May it be. Your plans, Your purpose, Your promise. Let it be. Even if it may pierce my soul as with a sword. You are there with your exquisite tenderness to stem the bleeding so I sing through my fear, through my weariness, and through my tears.
The angel Gabriel from heaven came His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame “All hail” said he “thou lowly maiden Mary, Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!
“For known a blessed mother thou shalt be, All generations laud and honor thee, Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head “To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said, “My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.” Most highly favored lady. Gloria!
Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say: “Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!
Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. ~Eugene O’Neillfrom Act 4, Scene 1 – The Great God Brown
None of us can “mend” another person’s life, no matter how much the other may need it, no matter how much we may want to do it.
Mending is inner work that everyone must do for him or herself. When we fail to embrace that truth the result is heartbreak for all concerned.
What we can do is walk alongside the people we care about, offering simple companionship and compassion. And if we want to do that, we must save the only life we can save, our own. ~Parker Palmer writing about Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice – – – though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. ‘Mend my life!’ each voice cried. But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations – – – though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do – – – determined to save the only life you could save. ~Mary Oliver “The Journey”
We are born hollering and suddenly alone, already aware of our emptiness from the first breath, each tiny air sac bursting with the air of our fallen world~ air that is never enough.
The rest of our days are spent filling up our empty spaces whether alveoli or stomach or synapses starving for understanding, still hollering in our loneliness and heart broken.
So we mend ourselves through our walk with others also broken, we patch up our gaps by knitting the scraggly fragments of lives lived together. We become the crucial glue boiled from gifted Grace, all our holes somehow made holy.
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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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There is no light in the incarnation without witnessing the empty darkness that precedes His arrival; His reason for entering our world is to fill our increasing spiritual void, our hollow hearts, our growing deficit of hope and faith.
God abhors a vacuum.
We find our God most when we keenly feel His absence, hearing no reply to our prayers, our faith shaken, not knowing if such unanswered prayers are heard.
In response, He has answered. He comes to walk beside us. He comes to be present among us, to ransom us from our self-captivity by offering up Himself instead.
He fills the vacuum completely and forever.
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem Come and behold Him Born the King of Angels O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him Christ the Lord!
God of God, Light of Light Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb Very God Begotten, not created O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him Christ the Lord!
Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above! Glory to God All glory in the highest O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him Christ the Lord!
Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning Jesus, to Thee be glory given Word of the Father Now in flesh appearing O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him Christ the Lord!
The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do. ~Naomi Shihab Nye “Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems
Here’s the truth of it: no one really wants to be famous but seeks a life of meaning and purpose rather than one empty of significance.
The button alone is pure window-dressing, a flash in the pan, a bauble ready to loosen and fall off, easy to go missing.
A button hole by itself without a button to latch around is plain and gaping and lonely and allows in drafts, blending into the background, silently waiting for its moment of usefulness.
We cannot forget who we’re meant to be and what we’re meant to do – we fit the task for which we’re made.
Send me a button and I’ll make sure it is secured.