How swiftly the strained honey of afternoon light flows into darkness
and the closed bud shrugs off its special mystery in order to break into blossom
as if what exists, exists so that it can be lost and become precious ~Lisel Mueller “In Passing”
None of us will remain as we are now.
For some, that is a source of deep regret as outer beauty fades, hair is lost or graying, skin wrinkles and strength weakens. Pulled along time’s ever-rolling stream to something new and eternal, we will become something far more precious than what our frail bodies could ever yield.
It is a special mystery with which God surrounds us: a thousand years is like an evening gone to Him. He guards us through our troubles now like irreplaceable treasures, even when we feel hopelessly lost.
We are mere buds now, waiting to open wide to a world far more glorious.
A thousand ages in thy sight Are like an evening gone; Short as the watch that ends the night Before the rising sun.
The busy tribes of flesh and blood, With all their lives and cares, Are carried downwards by thy flood, And lost in following years.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream, Bears all its sons away; They fly forgotten, as a dream Dies at the opening day.
Like flowery fields the nations stand, Pleased with the morning light; The flowers beneath the mower’s hand Lie withering e’er ’tis night.
Our God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Be thou our guard while troubles last, And our eternal home. ~Isaac Watts
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As once a Child was planted in a womb (and later, erected on a hill, a wooden cross) one year we dug a hole to plant a tree. Our choice, a Cornus Kousa with its fine, pink, four-petaled bracts, each curving lip touched with a red as deep as human blood. It rooted well, and every year it grows more glorious, bursting free in Spring—bud into full flower, flame-colored, flushed as wine. Even the slim sapling’s roughened bark speaks of that tree, nail-pierced and dark. Now, each new year, fresh blossoms shine radiant, and each cross-blessed, as if all love and loveliness has been compressed into a flower’s face, fresh as the Son’s new-born presence, a life only just begun.
The dogwood leaves turn iron red in Fall, their centers fully ripening—into small seeded balls, each one a fruit vivid as Mary’s love, and edible. The sciontree, once sprung from Jesse’s root, speaks pain and life and love compressed and taken in, eye, mouth, heart. Incredible that now all Eucharists in our year suggest the living Jesus is our Christmas guest. ~Luci Shaw “Dogwood Tree” from Eye of the Beholder
God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer from God Is in the Manger
I ponder the paradox of Christ, the Son of God, coming to the world through the womb of a woman, born homeless in order to bring us home with Him.
The uncontainable contained the infinite made finite the Deliverer delivered the Eternal dwelling here and now already but not yet.
As only one child of many of the Very God of Very God, (He is and was and always will be) I am cross-blessed to realize my life feels fresh-born – only just begun – yet we all have been known to the Creator from the start of time.
(If you are interested in hearing an old old story about the dogwood tree in song, and you don’t mind old-timey honky-tonk music, there is this….)
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Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing can be pleasing, how little in this hard world it takes to satisfy the mind and bring it to its rest.
Within the ongoing havoc the woods this morning is almost unnaturally still. Through stalled air, unshadowed light, a few leaves fall of their own weight.
The sky is gray. It begins in mist almost at the ground and rises forever. The trees rise in silence almost natural, but not quite, almost eternal, but not quite.
What more did I think I wanted? Here is what has always been. Here is what will always be. Even in me, the Maker of all this returns in rest, even to the slightest of His works, a yellow leaf slowly falling, and is pleased. ~Wendell Berry “VII”
What more did I think I wanted?
To know that as long as I’m able to hold on, I can be a spot of light in a dark and bleak world. Once I let go, it is finished and worthwhile, seeing His knowing smile.
A book of beauty in words and photography, available to order here:
I am still skeptical about the reasons some seek spirituality in the land, for the spirituality the land offers is anything but easy.
It is the spirituality of a God who would, with lightening and earthquakes, sneeze away the bland moralism preached in many pulpits, a wildly free, undomesticated divinity, the same God who demands of Moses from a burning bush, “Remove your shoes, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
When God appears to Job, the comforting sentiments we might expect to feel are absent because such sentiments are at most God’s trappings, not the infinite himself. The God who speaks to Job from the whirlwind reminds him that, comforting or terrifying, he alone is God. To be satisfied with anything less would be the spiritual catastrophe the Old Testament calls idolatry.
Some of our idols shatter in the West’s rugged vastness, others remain.
Perhaps God leaves exposed the land’s brokenness – the scars of forest fires, the fossils of extinct biospheres, rifts showing ancient continents now scattered like puzzle pieces – to remind us that he is greater than the icon, too.
The heavens and earth will wear out like a garment, the Psalmist says, like clothes that are changed.
We are now 45 days into a hotter dry spell this summer with a slight possibility of some rain next week. Everything here in the Pacific Northwest is looking as it would in late August with the snow melt in the Cascades much accelerated from its usual timeline. With the fires already happening for weeks on the eastern side of the state, as well as to the north of us in British Columbia and south in Oregon and California, we are looking at a withering August of smoke and ash.
Dan and I headed up the Mt. Baker Highway yesterday evening to see how bare Baker and Shuksan look up close. We wonder what snow will be left before our typical precipitation begins in earnest in early October. These seemingly unchanging monoliths are being stripped of their usual garments, now naked and vulnerable. They are subject to God’s transforming power just as surely as we are.
When I stand at the foot of these peaks, I never fail to be awed to a whisper, as if I were inside an immense cathedral. God reminds us to remove our shoes out of respect for His holy ground. Yet I worship not the mountains nor the awe-inspiring landscape they are placed in, but worship their Creator whose strength and love is greater than all.
I tread lightly. I speak softly. I remove my shoes. I witness the fading light.
God, the eternal, the unchangeable, takes my breath away, as only He can..
Here is an opportunity to own a Barnstorming book of more photos like these along with poems written for each poem by Lois Edstrom. It is available to order here:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour. ~William Blake from Auguries of Innocence
If I look closely enough, I might find the extraordinary in the commonplace things of life. So I keep my eyes alert and my heart open to infinite possibilities.
Sometimes what I see is so extraordinary already, it is like uncovering a bit of heaven on earth. Up in the alpine meadows of the Cascade mountains grow delicate avalanche lilies in July, just as the snow melt is complete. Though brief in their blooming, they are our harbingers of heaven. Despite the chill and darkness of winter, they rise triumphant, an eternal promise of a someday never-ending summer.
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Life is a stream On which we strew Petal by petal the flower of our heart; The end lost in dream, They float past our view, We only watch their glad, early start.
Freighted with hope, Crimsoned with joy, We scatter the leaves of our opening rose; Their widening scope, Their distant employ, We never shall know. And the stream as it flows Sweeps them away, Each one is gone Ever beyond into infinite ways. We alone stay While years hurry on, The flower fared forth, though its fragrance still stays. ~Amy Lowell “Petals”
It is at the edge of a petal that love waits. ~William Carlos Williams from Spring and All (1923)
Here is the fringy edge where elements meet and realms mingle, where time and eternity spatter each other with foam. ~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm
It is common to look for love only inside the heart of things, watching it pulse as both showpiece and show off, reverberating from deep within, yet loud enough for all the world to bear witness.
But as I advance on life’s road, I find love lying waiting at the periphery of my heart, fragile and easily torn as a petal edge – clinging to the fringe of my life, holding on through storms and trials.
This love is ever-present, protects and cherishes, fed by fine little veins which branch from the center to the tender margins of infinity.
It is on that delicate edge of forever I dwell, waiting to be fed and trembling with anticipation.
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May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints forever, for Thou art kind. Eternal rest give to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
In my father’s near daily letters home to my mother during WWII, month after month after month, he would say, over and over while apologizing for the repetition:
“I will come home to you, I will return, I will not let this change me, we will be joined again…”
This was his way of convincing himself even as he carried the dead and dying after island battles: men he knew well and the enemy he did not know. He knew they were never returning to the home they died protecting and to those who loved them.
He shared little of battle in his letters as each letter was reviewed and signed off by a censor before being sealed and sent. This story made it through:
“You mentioned a story of Navy landing craft taking the Marines into Tarawa. It reminded me of something which impressed me a great deal and something I’m sure I’ll never forget.
So you’ll understand what I mean I’ll try to start with an explanation. In training – close order drill- etc. there is a command that is given always when the men form in the morning – various times during the day– after firing– and always before a formation is dismissed. The command is INSPECTION – ARMS. On the command of EXECUTION- ARMS each man opens the bolt of his rifle. It is supposed to be done in unison so you hear just one sound as the bolts are opened. Usually it is pretty good and sounds O.K.
Just to show you how the morale of the men going to the <Tarawa> beach was – and how much it impressed me — we were on our way in – I was forward, watching the beach thru a little slit in the ramp – the men were crouched in the bottom of the boat, just waiting. You see- we enter the landing boats with unloaded rifles and wait till it’s advisable before loading. When we got about to the right distance in my estimation I turned around and said – LOAD and LOCK – I didn’t realize it, but every man had been crouching with his hand on the operating handle and when I said that — SLAM! — every bolt was open at once – I’ve never heard it done better – and those men meant business when they loaded those rifles.
A man couldn’t be afraid with men like that behind him.”
(for my father Henry Polis on Memorial Day)
It was only a part of what we knew about you- serving three long years in the South Pacific, spoken of obliquely only if asked about, but never really answered.
We knew you were a Marine battalion leader at age 21, knew you spent too many nights without sleep, unsure if you or your men would see the dawn only to dread what the next day would bring.
We knew you lost buddies and your innocence; found unaccustomed strength in a mama’s boy who once cried too easily and later almost never.
Somehow life had prepared you for this: pulling your daddy out of taverns when you were ten watching him beat your mama until finally getting big enough to stand in the way so he stopped.
Then Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian beaches bitterly bloodsoaked battles won, to be restored and renewed as vacation resorts.
We let you go without knowing your full story– even Mom didn’t ask. You could not share the depth of horror and fear you felt.
It was not shame that kept you silent; simply no need to revisit the pain of remembrance. It was done, finished, you had done your duty.
So as we again set flowers and flag on your grave, reunited with Mom after years apart, I regret so many questions unasked of your sacrifice beyond imagining.
Sleep well, Dad, with Mom now by your side. I rejoice you have wakened to a renewed dawn, an eternal light Lux Aeterna.
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors which it passes to a row of ancient trees. You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.
leaving you, not really belonging to either, not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent, not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing that turns to a star each night and climbs–
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads) your own life, timid and standing high and growing, so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out, one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star. ~Rainer Maria Rilke “Sunset” (Trans. by Robert Bly) from The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy
We, frail people that we are, live out our lives between heaven and earth, sometimes in an uneasy tug-of-war between the two. We feel not quite ready for heaven as our roots go deep here, yet the challenges of daily life on this soil can seem overwhelmingly difficult and we seek relief, begging for mercy.
As we struggle to stay healthy during a spreading pandemic, it is frightening to watch others suffer as death tolls rise. We pray for safety for ourselves and those we love, knowing we are living “in between” where we are now and where we soon will be.
Shall we remain stones on the ground, still and lifeless, or are we destined to become a star glistening in the firmament?
Or are we like a tree stretching between soil and sky trying to touch both and remain standing while buffeted by forces beyond our control?
Christ the Son, on earth and in heaven, maintains an eternal connection to above and below. In His hands and under His protection, we are safe no matter where we are and where He takes us.
We can be mere stones no more.
This year’s Barnstorming theme for the season of Lent:
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
We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being. ~Thornton Wilder, from “Our Town”
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. ~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”
I began to write regularly after September 11, 2001 because more than on any previous day, it became obvious to me I was dying, though more slowly than the thousands who vanished that day in fire and ash, their voices obliterated with their bodies into eternity.
Nearly each day since, while I still have voice and a new dawn to greet, I speak through my fingers to others dying with and around me.
We are, after all, terminal patients — some of us more prepared than others to move on — as if our readiness had anything to do with the timing.
Each day I get a little closer to the eternal, but I write in order to feel a little more ready. Each day I want to detach just a little bit, leaving a trace of my voice behind. Eventually, through unmerited grace, so much of me will be left on the page there won’t be anything or anyone left to do the typing.