Passing Through

Wild geese fly south, creaking like anguished hinges; along the riverbank the candles of the sumacs burn dull red.
It’s the first week of October.
Season of woolen garments taken out of mothballs;
of nocturnal mists and dew
and slippery front steps, and late-blooming slugs;
of snapdragons having one last fling;
of those frilly ornamental pink-and-purple cabbages that never used to exist, but are all over everywhere now.
~Margaret Atwood
from The Blind Assassin

But it was no good trying to tell about the beauty. It was just that life was beautiful beyond belief, and that is a kind of joy which has to be lived.

Sometimes, when they came down from the cirrus levels to catch a better wind, they would find themselves among the flocks of cumulus: huge towers of modeled vapor, looking as white as Monday’s washing and as solid as meringues. Perhaps one of these piled-up blossoms of the sky, these snow-white droppings of a gigantic Pegasus, would lie before them several miles away. They would set their course toward it, seeing it grow bigger silently and imperceptibly, a motionless growth; and then, when they were at it, when they were about to bang their noses with a shock against its seeming solid mass, the sun would dim. Wraiths of mist suddenly moving like serpents of the air would coil about them for a second. Grey damp would be around them, and the sun, a copper penny, would fade away. The wings next to their own wings would shade into vacancy, until each bird was a lonely sound in cold annihilation, a presence after uncreation. And there they would hang in chartless nothing, seemingly without speed or left or right or top or bottom, until as suddenly as ever the copper penny glowed and the serpents writhed. Then, in a moment of time, they would be in the jeweled world once more: a sea under them like turquoise and all the gorgeous palaces of heaven new created, with the dew of Eden not yet dry.
~T.H. White from The Once and Future King

Each day this first week of October, feathered travelers have slipped past us unseen and unheard.  They may stop for a drink in the pond or a bite to eat in the field and woods, but we never know they are there – they are simply passing through.

Others are compelled to announce their journey with great fanfare, usually heard before seen.  The drama of migration becomes bantering conversation from bird to bird, bird to earth, bird to sun, moon and stars, with unseen magnetic forces pointing the way.

When not using voices, their wings sing the air with rhythmic beat and whoosh, like the creaking of rusty hinges.

It reminds me how we are all together here — altogether — even when our voices are raised sharply, our silences brooding, our hurts magnified, our sorrows deep. How we spend our days becomes a matter of debate.

Our destination is not in dispute however.  We’re all heading to the same end to the human story of creation/fall/redemption, no matter how we manage to get there.

It is just that life is beautiful beyond belief, and that is a kind of joy which has to be lived.

So let’s unite our wings and voices in joy: we are just passing through, just passing through, just passing through.

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Calling Out

The geese

slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going—
and want to get there.


Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar


heart, and the landscape
becomes the landscape
of being, which becomes


the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese


are calling—while time
and the heart take measure.

~Jane Mead, “The Geese” from To the Wren

Vast whisp-whisp of wingbeats
awakens me and I look up
at a minute-long string of black geese’
following low past the moon the white
course of the snow-covered river and
by the way thank You for
keeping Your face hidden, I
can hardly bear the beauty of this world
~Franz Wright from “Cloudless Snowfall”

A psalm of geese
labours overland

cajoling each other
near half…

The din grew immense.
No need to look up.

All you had to do
was sit in the sound

and put it down
as best you could…

It’s not a lonesome sound
but a panic,

a calling out to the others
to see if they’re there;

it’s not the lung-full thrust of the prong of arrival
in late October;
not the slow togetherness

of the shape they take
on the empty land
on the days before Christmas:

this is different, this is a broken family,
the young go the wrong way,

then at daybreak, rise up and follow their elders
again filled with dread,
at the returning sound of the journey ahead.
~Dermot Healy from A Fool’s Errand 

We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times.

Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life 

As I am at once strange and familiar,
I call out to God to see if He’s there;
He knows me as He came to earth
both strange and familiar.

His face is no longer hidden
yet I hide my face from Him.

When I call out to Him
I try to conceal
the tremble of my hands,
my eyes welling up,
breathing out the deep sigh of doubt — 
He witnesses my struggle,
offering me the gift of being noticed
and heard.

There is beauty in this world and
in His face,
and through it all, my eyes are on you.

It is well.

A book of beauty in words and photographs – available to order here:

The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: Calling Out

Vast whisp-whisp of wingbeats
awakens me and I look up
at a minute-long string of black geese
following low past the moon the white
course of the snow-covered river and
by the way thank You for
keeping Your face hidden, I
can hardly bear the beauty of this world
~Franz Wright from “Cloudless Snowfall”

A psalm of geese
labours overland

cajoling each other
near half…

The din grew immense.
No need to look up.

All you had to do
was sit in the sound

and put it down
as best you could…

It’s not a lonesome sound
but a panic,

a calling out to the others
to see if they’re there
~Dermot Healy from A Fool’s Errand 

Hear my prayer, Lord;
    let my cry for help come to you.

Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress;
Incline Your ear to me;
In the day when I call answer me quickly.
Psalm 102:1-2

We are here to witness the creation and abet it.
We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow
and each stone on the beach but, especially,
we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other.

We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us.
We witness our generation and our times.
We watch the weather.
Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life edited by David Friend

We tend to keep our faces hidden from each other, even when we want to be recognized and known, especially when we are distressed.

What someone tells me about what they are feeling may not always match what I notice: trembling hands, a deep sigh, eyes filling with tears.  I am audience and witness to their burden and struggle; even more, I am called to listen, offering them the gift of being noticed and being there for them, just them, at that moment.

I know this because it is how God cares for me: when I call out to Him, sometimes in a panic to see if He is there, I know I am not playing or praying to an empty house. God is ready and listening, loving us enough to show us His face in the form of a helpless infant.

This is a God who allows Himself to be vulnerable to those He loves, whether laid to sleep in a wooden manager or dying nailed to a tree.

He calls out to us to see if we are there, ready to listen.

Psalm 102: 1 Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you.

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

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My One Heedless Glance


Wild geese are flocking and calling in pure golden air,
Glory like that which painters long ago
Spread as a background for some little hermit
Beside his cave, giving his cloak away,
Or for some martyr stretching out
On her expected rack.
A few black cedars grow nearby
And there’s a donkey grazing.

Small craftsmen, steeped in anonymity like bees,
Gilded their wooden panels, leaving fame to chance,
Like the maker of this wing-flooded golden sky,
Who forgives all our ignorance
Both of his nature and of his very name,
Freely accepting our one heedless glance.
~Anne Porter, “A November Sunrise” from An Altogether Different Language.

snowgeese in Whatcom County – photo by Chris Lovegren

My need for forgiveness is continually overwhelmed by God’s capacity to forgive: I mess up so frequently, it is as natural as breathing to me.

I tend to forget His provision — God’s grace cleans up after me.

May I never forget His name, see the beauty He created and acknowledge His capacity for loving the unlovable.

And so shall I try to fulfill His hope for me.

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A book of beauty in words and photography, available to order here:

At Home with Us

The birds do not sing in these mornings. The skies
are white all day. The Canadian geese fly over
high up in the moonlight with the lonely sound
of their discontent. Going south. Now the rains
and soon the snow. The black trees are leafless,
the flowers gone. Only cabbages are left
in the bedraggled garden. Truth becomes visible,
the architecture of the soul begins to show through.
God has put off his panoply and is at home with us.
We are returned to what lay beneath the beauty.
We have resumed our lives. There is no hurry now.
We make love without rushing and find ourselves
afterward with someone we know well. Time to be
what we are getting ready to be next. This loving,
this relishing, our gladness, this being puts down
roots and comes back again year after year. 
~Jack Gilbert “Half the Truth”

Time to be
what we are getting ready to be next.

Once again comes
a slowing of days and lengthening of nights;
some may be on the move but
I am being prepared for months of stillness and silence
without the rush and hurry
of madding lives.

I relish this time
peering past the vanishing beauty
to discern the Truth of
Who is at home with us.

He put down roots here.
Though He flew away,
He will return.

A book of beauty in words and photography available to order here:

To Be Quiet in Heart

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

~Wendell Berry “Wild Geese” from Collected Poems 1957-1982

I hear them coming before I see them:
the wild geese flying overhead,
noisily honking their way across an autumn sky,
drawn to the harvested cornfields
to glean after the machinery has left.

Soon they will leave altogether,
pulled to be content somewhere else.

I remain as witness
rather than move on,
reminding myself,
my heart quiet, my eye clear,
what I need is here
until it is my turn to leave.

A book of beautiful words and photography, available to order here:

Born Out of Nothing

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings
was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.
~Li-Young Lee “One Heart”

I.
What banged?

II.
Before banging
How did it get there?

III.
When it got there
Where was it?
~Wendell Berry “On the Theory of the Big Bang as the Origin of the Universe” from Leavings

Creation ex nihilo is a way of saying that although we are nothing, in our natural capabilities, God might yet make something of us…
~Dr. Nathan Chambers from Reconsidering Creation Ex Nihilo in Genesis 1

“In the beginning, God…”

We came, out of nothing, from Him, not randomly, not by chance, not a cosmic accident but an intentional act.

That first day -“and there was evening and there was morning, the first day” – is built within our very DNA. We are created with everything we need to support our freedom, our wings bearing our hearts aloft.

Our choice to fall is ours alone; it was not what God intended for us.

From nothing, God might yet make something of us – let our wings bear our hearts to Him who made us.

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His hand

~Michael Joncas

Stitched Up Whole Again

 Sometimes, I am startled out of myself,
like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.

~Barbara Crooker, from Radiance

We’ve lived long enough – now over three decades – in one place so things here on the farm are starting to break and fall apart, or stop working and simply give up. Over the last several weeks we’ve been busy fixing everything from barns to lawnmowers and old pick up trucks to leaking comfy air mattresses, not to mention various appliances threatening to give up the ghost.

We wonder what will break next, or whether all this is just preparing us for our own turn to fall apart, so I’m looking around with a renewed perspective of running out of time.

Like most people who have been stuck at home over the last several months, quarantine has been a good opportunity to clean up around here, including untouched boxes of things moved from our parents’ homes when they had to move into extended care before their deaths. We’ve packed up outdated possessions and no-longer-fitting clothing, scads of magazines and books never read and not-likely-to-be, and anything else that simply isn’t needed any longer.

The older I get, the more I feel I am merely passing through. No one else should have to pick up my messes after me.

Though this will be the summer of the purge of the old and used up, some things are always fixable, and that includes me. Like a seam with missing thread or a broken zipper or a dangling button, it is possible to be carefully stitched back into place once again and thus remain, forever, hopeful and whole.

The Path of Pathlessness

Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic.

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wind-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren from “The Collected Poems”

I wish I could be as sure
as the geese and swans
flying overhead in unwordable utterance~
they trust where they are led
is where they belong.

They may not make it there
but nevertheless they go when called.

I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on such a path of pathlessness
knowing only
I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.


Keeping Your Face Hidden

 

 

 

 

 

Vast whisp-whisp of wingbeats
awakens me and I look up
at a minute-long string of black geese’
following low past the moon the white
course of the snow-covered river and
by the way thank You for
keeping Your face hidden, I
can hardly bear the beauty of this world
~Franz Wright from “Cloudless Snowfall”

 

 

 

A psalm of geese
labours overland

cajoling each other
near half…

The din grew immense.
No need to look up.

All you had to do
was sit in the sound

and put it down
as best you could…

It’s not a lonesome sound
but a panic,

a calling out to the others
to see if they’re there;

it’s not the lung-full thrust of the prong of arrival
in late October;
not the slow togetherness

of the shape they take
on the empty land
on the days before Christmas:

this is different, this is a broken family,
the young go the wrong way,

then at daybreak, rise up and follow their elders
again filled with dread,
at the returning sound of the journey ahead.
~Dermot Healy from A Fool’s Errand 

 

 

 

We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life
 edited by David Friend

 

 

I am overwhelmed by the amount of “noticing” I need to do in the course of my work.  Each patient, and there are so many,  deserves my full attention for the few minutes we are together.  I start my clinical evaluation the minute I walk in the exam room and begin taking in all the complex verbal and non-verbal clues offered by another human being.

How are they calling out to me as they keep their faces hidden?

What someone tells me about what they are feeling may not always match what I notice:  the trembling hands, the pale skin color, the deep sigh, the scars of self injury.  I am their audience and a witness to their struggle; even more, I must understand it in order to best assist them.  My brain must rise to the occasion of taking in another person, offering them the gift of being noticed and being there for them, just them.

This work I do is distinctly a form of praise: the patient is the universe for a few moments and I’m grateful to be watching and listening. When my patient calls out to me, may they never feel they are playing to an empty house. May I always look for the beauty in their hidden faces.