Here is a meeting made of hidden joys Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place, From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise, And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.
Two women on the very edge of things Unnoticed and unknown to men of power, But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.
And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young,’ Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime.’ They sing today for all the great unsung Women who turned eternity to time,
Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth, Prophets who bring the best in us to birth. ~Malcolm Guite “The Visitation”
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1: 41-45 (Song of Elizabeth)
This scene in Luke is remarkable for its portrayal of the interconnected relationship of four individuals, not just two. Here are two cousins who become mothers despite utter impossibility — one too elderly and one virginal — present on this day with their unborn sons — one who is harbinger and one who is God.
These unborn babies are not just passively “hidden within” here. They have changed their mothers in profound ways, as all pregnancies tend to do, but especially these pregnancies. As any mother who first experiences the “quickening” of her unborn child can relate, there is an awesome and frightening awareness of a completely dependent but active “other” living inside.
She is aware she is no longer alone in her shell and what happens to her, happens to this other life as well. This is deeply personal, yet deeply communal at the same time – as we witnessed in the arguments about maternal vs. fetal rights that took place in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday.
The moment Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she and the baby in her womb are overwhelmed, filled with the Spirit from Mary’s unborn. They leap, figuratively and literally. Her voice leaps up, louder in her exclamation of welcome; John leaps in the womb in acknowledgement of being in the presence of God Himself.
How can our hearts not leap as well at God’s Word to us, at His hope and plan for each of us, at His gift of life from the moment of our conception.
After all, He once was unborn too, completely dependent on the willingness of His mother to bear Him to birth, completely alive because of the overshadowing Spirit of His Father.
I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what C.S. Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence. ~Clyde Kilby in “Amazed in the Ordinary”
An open heart is alive to wonder, to the sheer marvel of “isness.” It is remarkable that the world is, that we are here, that we can experience it. This world is not ordinary. Indeed, what is remarkable is that it could ever look ordinary to us. An open heart knows “radical amazement.” An open heart and gratitude go together. We can feel this in our bodies. In the moments in my life when I have been most grateful, I have felt a swelling, almost a bursting in my chest. ~Marcus Borg from The Heart of Christianity
Most of the time I’m sleep walking through each day, oblivious, as if in dense fog with unseeing wide-open eyes. There is a slow motion quality to time as it flows from one hour to the next to the next. I stumble through life asleep, the path indiscernible, my future uncertain, my purpose illusive.
Am I continually dozing or shall I rouse to the radical amazement of each moment?
When I’m simply glad, everything becomes more vivid, as in a dream — the sounds of geese flying overhead, the smell of the farm, the layers of a foggy landscape, the taste of an autumn apple right from the tree, the string of fog-drop pearls on a spider web, the intensity of every breath, the purpose for being.
So wake me -please- to dream some more. I want to chew on it again and again, simply savoring and simply glad.
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August of another summer, and once again I am drinking the sun… All my life I have been able to feel happiness, except whatever was not happiness, which I also remember. Each of us wears a shadow. But just now it is summer again…
Soon now, I’ll turn and start for home. And who knows, maybe I’ll be singing. ~Mary Oliver from “The Pond” from Felicity
…what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled- to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing- that the light is everything-that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do. ~Mary Oliver from “The Ponds” from House of Light
When I walk in my friend’s dahlia garden, surrounded by vivid color, I imagine the First Garden must have been a bit like this.
I simply want to drink it all in, to swim freely in the bright throes of summer, forgetting that with blinding light there will be shadow.
Like these blooms, I too am imperfect, not quite symmetrical, starting to wither and curl at the edges.
But even so~ a stroll in a Garden to be dazzled in the cool of the day is what God prescribed then and now.
For a little while, I am transported beyond this difficult world with its constant reminders of my flaws, and am assured of His Hand on me and how much He loves me anyway.
Thank you to my friend Jean in Lynden who grows the most dazzling dahlias and allows me come take their portraits!
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of the gladiola open all down the long aisle of the stem
like a choral procession or the woody notes
of a flute opening one stop at a time. ~Linda Pastan “Gladiola”
Most flowers tempt our senses: the vibrant colors to the eye, the softness of the petals to the touch, the delicate fragrances wafting to the nose – even some have a piquant perfumed taste for the palate.
Yet how many blooms sound like an orchestra tuning in the wind?
A long gladiola stalk rises boldly, swaying in the breeze, each key blossom unfolding one by one in flowing overture.
When each is done with its own ruffled note, the next one opens to play its part.
The notes progress up the stem until the final chord is held ~fermata-like~ until performances commence again next summer.
I’ll be sure to reserve a front row seat.
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What a slow way to eat, the butterfly is given by Nature, sipping nectar one tiny blue flower at a time. Though a Monarch in name, she’s made to scavenge like the poorest of the poor, a morsel here, a morsel there. A flutter of ink- splattered orange wings. We don’t want to see the struggle that undergirds the grace: the ballerina’s sweat, or her ruined feet hidden by tights and toe-shoes. She knows her career will be as brief as it was hard to achieve. Pollinated, the tiny blue flowers are sated. The butterfly flits away, hoping to live one more day. ~Barbara Quick, “The Struggle That Undergirds the Grace.”
You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that. ~E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web
…And when the sun rises we are afraid it might not remain when the sun sets we are afraid it might not rise in the morning when our stomachs are full we are afraid of indigestion when our stomachs are empty we are afraid we may never eat again when we are loved we are afraid love will vanish when we are alone we are afraid love will never return and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid
We are here so briefly. We were never designed to survive forever on this earth yet we try to run the clock out as long as we can.
Just one day more.
We are here because of struggle – the pain of our birth, whether the cry of our laboring mother, or our own wrestling free of the cocoon or the shell, our daily work to find food to feed ourselves and our young, the upkeep and maintenance of our frail and failing bodies, our ongoing fear we’ll be taken before we can make a difference in another’s life.
If there is a reason for all this (and there is): our struggle forms the grace of another’s salvation. The flowers bloom to feed the butterfly, the butterfly pollinates the flower, ensuring the next generations of both. The silent and weakened find their voice so that the next generation can thrive.
Heaven knows, anyone’s life can stand a little of that.
Just one day more, Lord. Please – one day more.
Tomorrow we’ll discover What our God in Heaven has in store One more dawn One more day One day more… ~from Les Miserable
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Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all, in my hand, Little flower—but if I could understand What you are, root and all, all in all, I should know what God and man is. ~Lord Alfred Tennyson “Flower in the Crannied Wall”
Am I root, or am I bud? Am I stem or am I leaf?
All in all, I am but the merest reflection of God’s fruiting glory;
I am His tears shed as He broke into blossom.
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The wind, one brilliant day, called to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
“In return for the odor of my jasmine, I’d like all the odor of your roses.”
“I have no roses; all the flowers in my garden are dead.”
“Well then, I’ll take the withered petals and the yellowed leaves and the waters of the fountain.”
The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself: “What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?” ~Antonio Machado “The Wind, One Brilliant Day” translated by Robert Bly
This garden bloomed with potential, entrusted to me for 32 years: the health and well-being of 16,000 students, most thriving and flourishing, some withering, their petals falling, a few have been lost altogether.
As the winds of time sweep away another group of graduates from my care, to be blown to places unknown, their beauty and fragrance gone from here.
I marvel at their growth, but also weary weep for those who left too soon, wondering if I failed to water them enough – or is it I who am parched in this garden with a thirst unceasing, my roots reaching deep into drought-stricken soil, ever so slowly drying out?
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There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom. ~Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose
In the midst of this past dying year, when too many have been lost to virus, to loneliness, to despair, to violence…
I seek the fragrance of the ultimate Bloom, this true man yet very God
to be reminded of the Life and Light He brings to the darkness where we all dwell; this impossible God sharing the load of man, the sweetness of His glorious splendor
given to the undeserving with joy and love without reservation without hesitation from joy to joy to joy.
O Flow’r, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air, Dispels in glorious splendor The darkness ev’rywhere; True man, yet very God, From sin and death now saves us, And shares our ev’ry load.
The bud stands for all things, even for those things that don’t flower, for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on its brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing; as Saint Francis put his hand on the creased forehead of the sow, and told her in words and in touch blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow began remembering all down her thick length, from the earthen snout all the way through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail, from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine down through the great broken heart to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them: the long, perfect loveliness of sow. ~Galway Kinnell, “Saint Francis and the Sow” from Three Books.
We all need such a blessing – a gentle hand on our forehead to remind us of our budding loveliness. Without that affirmation, we become convinced we will never flower and fruit, that we are worthless to the world.
Due to cruel comparisons on social media and elsewhere, our young people (and too many older adults) remain crippled buds, feeling criticized and bullied into believing they don’t measure up and can never be crucially beautiful in the world.
And so I must ask: compared to what and whom? What is more glorious than blooming just as we were created – serving the very purpose for which we were intended? Why wish for something or someone else?
There is nothing more wonderful than exactly how God knitted us together for His own purpose and in His own image — imperfectly perfect.
Celebrate your lifelong loveliness, whoever you are!