Try as I might to hold fear and suffering to the periphery of my vision, it is difficult to keep them there; like a morning fog clutching at the ground, bad news creeps out and covers everything, distorting truth and color and light, yet so seductive by softening the rough edges until reality hits.
Maybe I can turn away Maybe it won’t reach me Maybe it is all mirage, someone’s imagining.
Still, I can no longer be mere audience to the events of the day, too weak in the knees to do anything. The trouble that lies beyond this hill touches us all.
I kneel in silent witness: to wait, to listen, to pray for a flood of stillness to cover us.
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper?
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
I’m reminded daily of how short our time on earth is – the evidence is everywhere. Yesterday it was the stark finality of discovering a beetle-cleaned bighorn sheep skull in the woods, in addition to the bold reality of a black bear paw print on the car sitting next to our cabin.
Each day I receive an email from the local hospital where I’ve had clinical privileges for 35 years – it innumerates the number of admitted COVID-19 cases and deaths, the number of ICU beds filled and the number of ventilators in use. Reading those numbers is like scanning the obituaries for names and ages and causes of death in the newspaper, the only consistent thing I read in the paper anymore. The deaths are reported dispassionately, as if they are inevitable, which they are, yet each happens too soon.
Much too soon.
So the admonition is to pay attention to each living thing and witness each moment, falling onto the grass in worship of this “wild and precious life” I’ve been given rather than dwell on the future when I’ll be buried under the grass.
I shall celebrate being a consumer of this precious life, overjoyed by these sweet weeds and colorful wildflowers. There is still much that awaits me on this earth before, inevitably, I too become the consumed.
The lawyer told him to write a letter to accompany the will, to prevent potential discord over artifacts valued only for their sentiment.
His wife treasures a watercolor by her father; grandmama’s spoon stirs their oatmeal every morning. Some days, he wears his father’s favorite tie.
He tries to think of things that could be tokens of his days: binoculars that transport bluebirds through his cataracts
a frayed fishing vest with pockets full of feathers brightly tied, the little fly rod he can still manipulate in forest thickets,
a sharp-tined garden fork, heft and handle fit for him, a springy spruce kayak paddle, a retired leather satchel.
He writes his awkward note, trying to dispense with grace some well-worn clutter easily discarded in another generation.
But what he wishes to bequeath are items never owned: a Chopin etude wafting from his wife’s piano on the scent of morning coffee
seedling peas poking into April, monarch caterpillars infesting milkweed leaves, a light brown doe alert in purple asters
a full moon rising in October, hunting-hat orange in ebony sky, sunlit autumn afternoons that flutter through the heart like falling leaves. ~Raymond Byrnes “Personal Effects” from Waters Deep
We’ve seen families break apart over the distribution of the possessions of the deceased. There can be hurt feelings, resentment over perceived slights, arguments over who cared most and who cared least.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen with our parents’ belongings. There had been a slow giving away process as their health failed and they needed to move from larger spaces to smaller spaces. Even so, no one was eager to take care of the things that had no particular monetary or sentimental value. We still have boxes and boxes of household and personal items sitting unopened in storage on our farm for over a decade. Each summer I think I’ll start the sorting process but I don’t. My intentions are good but my follow-through is weak.
So my husband and I have said to each other and our children that we don’t want to leave behind stuff which ultimately has little meaning in a generation or two. We need now to do the work it takes to make sure we honor that promise.
There is so much we would rather bequeath than just stuff we own. It can’t be stored in boxes or outlined in our wills: these are precious possessions that don’t take up space. Instead, we bequeath our love of simple everyday blessings, while passing down our faith in God to future generations.
May our memories be kept alive through stories about the people we tried to be in this life, told to our grandchildren and their children, with much humor and a few tears – that would be the very best legacy of all.
There is a day that comes when you realize you can’t bake enough bread to make things turn out right, no matter how many times you read Little House on the Prairie to your children. There aren’t enough quart jars to fill with tomatoes or translucent slices of pear to keep you from feeling unproductive. There is no bonfire that burns orange enough in the chill October night to keep your mind from following the lonesome howls and yips of the coyotes concealed by darkness in the harvested cornfield just beyond the circle of your fire.
And when you step away from your family and fire, into the dark pasture and tip your head back, feel the whole black bowl of sky with its icy prickles of stars, its swath of Milky Way, settle over you, you know that no one and everyone is just this alone on the Earth though most keep themselves distracted enough not to notice. In your hollowness you open your arms to God because no one else is enough to fill them. Eternity passes between and no one knows this but you.
The hum of their conversation, the whole world, talking. When it is time, you turn, grasp the woodcart’s handle, pull it, bumping behind you across the frosty grass, up the hill to the house, where you step inside cubes of light, and begin to do ordinary things, hang up coats, open and close drawers, rinse hot chocolate from mugs. And you are still separate, but no longer grieving bread. ~Daye Phillippo “Bread” from The Exponent. Vol. 124 – No 75 (May 3, 2010)
Try as I might, there aren’t enough chores to do, nor meals to make, nor pictures to take or words to write to distract me from the emptiness that can hit in the middle of the night. We each try to find our own way to make the world feel right and good, to give us a sense of purpose for getting up each morning.
Yet life can be harsh. I hear regularly from my patients who fight a futile struggle with pointlessness. Hours, days and years are hollow without loving and meaningful relationships with each other, but especially with our Creator.
My work here is simple: to find meaning in routine and the rhythm of the seasons with a desire to leave behind something that will last longer than I will. In those moments of feeling hollowed-out, I am reminded that God-shaped hole is just as He created it. God knows exactly what I need— I rise like leavened bread becoming more than I could ever be without Him.
The ordinary in me is filled by the extraordinary.
My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation. I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing It sounds an echo in my soul How can I keep from singing?
While though the tempest round me roars, I know the truth, it liveth. And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
I Lift my eyes. The cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it. And day by day, this pathway smooths, since first I learned to love it. No storm can shake my inmost calm, I hear the music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing? ~Robert Lowry
We are spending a few precious days with our grandson in Colorado before his first birthday. He loves being sung to – he rocks and bops to the melodies and rhythms and then relaxes to sleep listening to us sing the quiet evening hymns we sang to his father at night.
He will see so much in his lifetime that we can’t even imagine. Already in his short time on earth there have been plenty of cataclysmic events, and without a doubt, more are in store.
No matter what comes, we pray he will always hear his parents’ and four grandparents’ voices resounding inside his head when things get rough. The hymns and the prayers said over him will give him calm and confidence in the face of trouble.
God’s reality and truth are shared with him in songs and words every day, and as he someday raises children of his own, how can he keep from singing that out when it is most needed?
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. ~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
A farmer died yesterday yet his harvest will live on.
Arnie and his wife Gretchen hadn’t farmed in a few years, if you consider farming only as the raising of dairy heifers and the milking of cows. But farming is so much more if you consider their other harvest work: sharing the produce from a beautiful garden, his volunteering in the community bringing Meals on Wheels to the home bound, transporting people to church who would never make it otherwise, and an unfailing smile and greeting at church when paying special attention to anyone he had never seen before. He wanted them to know how welcome they were.
When he wasn’t running a dairy farm, Arnie harvested people. He exchanged his tractor for an SUV which made it easy to fold up and stow a wheelchair whenever needed. He traded in his hoe for a handshake, his farmer’s cap for a promise to show up to do whatever no one else would do.
He looked for those who were struggling to keep going, who had run out of fuel and were discouraged, their hope being battered by the storms of life. Arnie searched for the light hidden within and became a reigniting fire himself, even when his own illness overwhelmed him. He helped push back darkness with a sparkle and shine reflected from the Light he kept illuminated deep within himself.
His walk with God was a thing of true beauty, like multi-colored windows of faith that reflect our Savior. Arnie became a sanctuary bathed in the glow of a powerful inner light.
A farmer has gone home, but his harvest left behind is bountiful beyond imagining. It sparkles and shines; we’ll miss that welcoming smile until that day he greets us once again at heaven’s gates.
What I didn’t know before was how horses simply give birth to other horses. Not a baby by any means, not a creature of liminal spaces, but already a four-legged beast hellbent on walking, scrambling after the mother.
A horse gives way to another horse and then suddenly there are two horses, just like that.
That’s how I loved you. You, off the long train from Red Bank carrying a coffee as big as your arm, a bag with two computers swinging in it unwieldily at your side. I remember we broke into laughter when we saw each other.
What was between us wasn’t a fragile thing to be coddled, cooed over. It came out fully formed, ready to run. ~Ada Limón “What I Didn’t Know Before”
It felt fully formed and meant to be right from the beginning, now over forty years ago. We both recognized we were ready to run unafraid, trusting our legs were strong enough to take us wherever life would lead.
We don’t need to run as often now, but we are hellbent on walking through this world together as long and far as possible, laughing and loving as often as we can.
We didn’t know it could be like this. We just needed to wait for it to be born fully formed when the time was right.
Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and to the storm within. ~Frederick Buechner – from Telling the Truth
We are so complicit and compliant in pleasant and peaceful appearance, sitting in silence allowing our inner storm to stay well hidden; if called and compelled to face wrongs boldly, the tempest can no longer be contained. Silence in the face of evil must itself be shattered, even the rocks will cry out, as our storm spills forth speaking the truth.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We all are feeling the unpredictability of the state of the climate all around us:
heavy damaging winds, devastating hale storms, thunder and lightening, sweaty sunny middays, torrential unpredictable showers, ankle-deep mud, horrible forest fires.
Protests, violence, conspiracy theories, people distrusting and disrespecting others, name-calling, and plenty of deafening silence.
And inside my own cranium:
words that fly out too quickly, anxiety mixed with a hint of anger, too easy tears, searing frustration, feeling immobilized by the daily muck and mire of the state of the world today.
I have no excuse for acting like moody March, October, December and August within a span of a few hours. I should not be so easily forgiven or unburdened. I end up lying awake at night with regrets, composing apologies, and wanting to hide under a rock until the storms inside and outside blow over.
But in the midst of all the extremes, while the pandemic, the climate change, the racial injustice storms keep raging, a miracle is wrought: it can only happen when brilliant light exposes weeping from heavy laid clouds, like the rainbow that dropped from heaven last week to touch the earth right in our backyard, only a few feet from our barn.
God cries too. His wept tears light the sky in a promise of forgiveness while we tear each other apart. He assures us: this storm too will pass.
He assures us because He knows all too well our desperate need for it.
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles, Whether I walk city streets, Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky, Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water, Or stand under trees in the woods, Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love, Or sit at table at dinner with the rest, Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon, Or animals feeding in the fields, Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air, Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright, Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring; These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles, The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, Every cubic inch of space is a miracle, Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same, Every foot of the interior swarms with the same. Every spear of grass — the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women, and all that concerns them…
Everywhere I turn, there is a miracle in the making. I know this deep in my bones, even when our days on this earth are short. I turn my camera to try to preserve it; I search for words to do it justice.
The strange miracle is that we are here at all: in an instant we are formed in all our unique potential, never having happened before and never to happen again—to become brain and heart and skin and arms and legs. We were allowed to be born, a miracle in itself in this modern age of conditional conception.
Now precious lives are being prematurely lost in this pandemic of spreading virus as well as the societal pandemic of divisiveness, when we need unified meeting of the minds more than anything else. I am trying not to get infected: a mask may cover my face and my hands can be washed, but how do I shield my ears and eyes from the barrage of words and images that spread distrust more effectively than a cough or sneeze?
The strangest miracle of all is that we are still loved, corrupted as we are. We are still offered salvage, undeserving as we are. We are still gifted with the miracle of grace until our last breath.