I saw the tree with lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.
I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. ~Annie Dillardfrom Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Too much of the time I fixate on what I think I can control in life~ what I see, hear, taste, feel
Instead – how must I appear to my Maker as I begin each day? -my utter astonishment at waking up, -my true gratitude for each breathless moment, -my pealing resonance when struck senseless by life.
I stop the car along the pasture edge, gather up bags of corncobs from the back, and get out. Two whistles, one for each, and familiar sounds draw close in darkness— cadence of hoof on hardened bottomland, twinned blowing of air through nostrils curious, flared. They come deepened and muscular movements conjured out of sleep: each small noise and scent heavy with earth, simple beyond communion, beyond the stretched-out hand from which they calmly take corncobs, pulling away as I hold until the mid-points snap. They are careful of my fingers, offering that animal-knowledge, the respect which is due to strangers; and in the night, their mares’ eyes shine, reflecting stars, the entire, outer light of the world here. ~Jane Hirshfield “After Work”from Of Gravity and Angels.
I’ve been picking up windfall apples to haul down to the barn for a special treat each night for the Haflingers. These are apples that we humans wouldn’t take a second glance at in all our satiety and fussiness, but the Haflingers certainly don’t mind a bruise, or a worm hole or slug trails over apple skin.
I’ve found over the years that our horses must be taught to eat apples–if they have no experience with them, they will bypass them lying in the field and not give them a second look. There simply is not enough odor to make them interesting or appealing–until they are cut in slices that is. Then they become irresistible and no apple is left alone from that point forward.
When I offer a whole apple to a young Haflinger who has never tasted one before, they will sniff it, perhaps roll it on my hand a bit with their lips, but I’ve yet to have one simply bite in and try. If I take the time to cut the apple up, they’ll pick up a section very gingerly, kind of hold it on their tongue and nod their head up and down trying to decide as they taste and test it if they should drop it or chew it, and finally, as they really bite in and the sweetness pours over their tongue, they get this look in their eye that is at once surprised and supremely pleased. The only parallel experience I’ve seen in humans is when you offer a five month old baby his first taste of ice cream on a spoon and at first he tightens his lips against its coldness, but once you slip a little into his mouth, his face screws up a bit and then his eyes get big and sparkly and his mouth rolls the taste around his tongue, savoring that sweet cold creaminess. His mouth immediately pops open for more.
It is the same with apples and horses. Once they have that first taste, they are our slaves forever in search of the next apple.
The Haflinger veteran apple eaters can see me coming with my sweat shirt front pocket stuffed with apples, a “pregnant” belly of fruit, as it were. They offer low nickers when I come up to their stalls and each horse has a different approach to their apple offering.
There is the “bite a little bit at a time” approach, which makes the apple last longer, and tends to be less messy in the long run. There is the “bite it in half” technique which leaves half the apple in your hand as they navigate the other half around their teeth, dripping and frothing sweet apple slobber. Lastly there is the greedy “take the whole thing at once” horse, which is the most challenging way to eat an apple, as it has to be moved back to the molars, and crunched, and then moved around the mouth to chew up the large pieces, and usually half the apple ends up falling to the ground, with all the foam that the juice and saliva create. No matter the technique used, the smell of an apple as it is being chewed by a horse is one of the best smells in the world. I can almost taste the sweetness too when I smell that smell.
What do we do when offered such a sublime gift from someone’s hand? If it is something we have never experienced before, we possibly walk right by, not recognizing that it is a gift at all, missing the whole point and joy of experiencing what is being offered. How many wonderful opportunities are right under our noses, but we fail to notice, and bypass them because they are unfamiliar?
Perhaps if the giver really cares enough to “teach” us to accept this communion meal, by preparing it and making it irresistible to us, then we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the generosity and are transformed by the simple act of receiving.
We must learn to take little bites, savoring each piece one at a time, making it last rather than greedily grab hold of the whole thing, struggling to control it, thereby losing some in the process. Either way, it is a gracious gift, and it is how we receive it that makes all the difference.
Night and day seize the day, also the night — a handful of water to grasp. The moon shines off the mountain snow where grizzlies look for a place for the winter’s sleep and birth. I just ate the year’s last tomato in the year’s fatal whirl. This is mid-October, apple time. I picked them for years. One Mcintosh yielded sixty bushels.
Fifty years later we hold each other looking out the windows at birds, making dinner, a life to live day after day, a life of dogs and children and the far wide country out by rivers, rumpled by mountains. So far the days keep coming. Seize the day gently as if you loved her. ~Jim Harrison, from “Carpe Diem” from Dead Man’s Float.
Forty some years later, the days keep coming, a life to live day after day after day. I try not to take a single one for granted, each morning a gift to be seized gently and embraced with reverent gratitude.
Even knowing I am meant to cherish this gift, I squander it. I grumble, I grouse, I can be tough to live alongside. I know better than to give into an impulse toward discontent, yet still it happens. Something inside me whispers that things could be better than they are — more of this, less of that — I tend to dwell on whatever my heart yearns for rather than the riches right in front of me.
I’m not the first one to struggle with this nor will I be the last. It turned out rather badly when those before me gave into their discontent and took what was not theirs to have.
We are still living out the consequences of that fall from grace.
Yet, even in our state of disgrace, despite our grumbling and groaning, we have been seized – gently and without hesitation – and held closely by One who loves us at our most unloveable.
Though my troubles and yearnings may continue, I will be content in that embrace, knowing even if I loosen my grip, I will not be let go.
Walking, I drew my hand over the lumpy bloom of a spray of purple; I stripped away my fingers, stained purple; put it to my nose,
the minty honey, a perfume so aggressively pleasant—I gave it to you to smell, my daughter, and you pulled away as if
I was giving you a palm full of wasps, deceptions: “Smell the way the air changes because of purple and green.”
This is the promise I make to you: I will never give you a fist full of wasps, just the surprise of purple and the scent of rain. ~Kwame Dawes “Purple”
But maybe I ought to practise a little now? So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple. ~Jenny Joseph from “Warning”
Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple Leaping like Leopards to the Sky Then at the feet of the old Horizon Laying her spotted Face to die Stooping as low as the Otter’s Window Touching the Roof and tinting the Barn Kissing her Bonnet to the Meadow And the Juggler of Day is gone ~Emily Dickinson “228”
I haven’t anything purple to wear – never have. It’s not that I don’t like purple – I do. I just have never felt worthy to be adorned in it like the sky and flowers and fruit.
Perhaps my reluctance to wear purple is that it represents the rich and royal … yet also the bruised and battered … all at once. I know One who was both and took a beating for me in place of me.
There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Silver dust lifted from the earth, higher than my arms reach, you have mounted. O silver, higher than my arms reach you front us with great mass;
no flower ever opened so staunch a white leaf, no flower ever parted silver from such rare silver;
O white pear, your flower-tufts, thick on the branch, bring summer and ripe fruits in their purple hearts. ~Hilda Doolittle Dawson (H.D.) “Pear Tree”
…we noticed the pear tree, the limbs so heavy with fruit they nearly touched the ground. We went out to the meadow; our steps made black holes in the grass; and we each took a pear, and ate, and were grateful. ~Jane Kenyon from “Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer”
A moment’s window of perfection is so fleeting in a life of bruises, blemishes and worm holes. Wait too long and nectar-smooth flesh softens to mush and rot.
The unknown rests beneath a blushed veneer: perhaps immature gritty fruit unripened, or past-prime browning pulp brimming with fruit flies readily tossed aside for compost.
Our own sweet salvage from warming humus depends not on flawless flesh deep inside but heaven’s grace dropped into our laps: to be eaten the moment it is offered.
The perfect pear falls when ripe and not a moment before, ready to become an exquisite tart which tastes of a selfless gift.
I am stirring at the sink, I am stirring the amount of dew you can gather in two hands, folding it into the fragile quiet of the house. Before the eggs, before the coffee heaving like a warm cat, I step out to the feeder— one foot, then the other, alive on wet blades. Air lifts my gown—I might fly—
This thistle seed I pour is for the tiny birds. This ritual, for all things frail and imperiled. Wings surround me, frothing the air. I am struck by what becomes holy.
A woman who lost her teenage child to an illness without mercy, said that at the end, her daughter sat up in her hospital bed and asked: What should I do? What should I do?
I carry the woman with the lost child in my pocket, where she murmurs her love song without end: Just this, each day: Bear yourself up on small wings to receive what is given. Feed one another with such tenderness, it could almost be an answer. ~Marcia F. Brown from “Morning Song”
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend. ~Naomi Shihab Nye from “Kindness”
It is the gentle tenderness I miss most – this world aflame with anger, distrust and bitterness, resentment, suspicion and cussed stubbornness. There seems no relief in sight; we must find a way through.
It is time to accept help when needed. It is time to receive mercy without shame or scorn. It is time to be lifted up with soft small wings.
We are saved by kindness, by grace given freely, thrown like a lifeline to us when we are overwhelmed. Such love can never be as ephemeral as a morning dew gone by noon.
But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back. You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August, you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love, though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes, and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead, but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands as if they meant to spend a lifetime together.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed, at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump, how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards, until you learn about love, about sweet surrender, and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept. There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s, it will always whisper, you can’t have it all, but there is this. ~Barbara Ras from “You Can’t Have It All“ from Bite Every Sorrow
My pragmatic mother who gave up her teaching career for marriage and family reminded me regularly that I couldn’t have it all: there was no way a woman can have a husband and children and a farm and a garden and animals and a profession and travel and volunteer in the community and not make a mess of it all and herself.
My father would listen to her and say softly under his breath: “you do whatever you put your mind to…you know what you are here for.”
They were both right. The alluring abundance of this life has invited me to want to touch and feel and taste it all, not unlike another woman who was placed with purpose in the Garden to be side-by-side companion and co-worker. Yet she demonstrated what happens when you want more than you are given and yes, she made a mess of it.
Yet there is this: despite wanting it all and working hard for it all and believing I could do it all, I indeed missed the point altogether. It’s forgive and forget walking hand in hand for a lifetime. It’s all gift, not earned. It’s all grace, not deserved. It’s all August abundance, all year long, to sustain us through the drought and drab of winter.
Just past dawn, the sun stands with its heavy red head in a black stanchion of trees, waiting for someone to come with his bucket for the foamy white light, and then a long day in the pasture. I too spend my days grazing, feasting on every green moment till darkness calls, and with the others I walk away into the night, swinging the little tin bell of my name. ~Ted Kooser “A Birthday Poem”
This is not a usual summer, lacking boisterous gatherings of family and friends, missing our endless July outdoor meals~ instead staying in place, quietly feasting upon each gifted moment while close-crop grazing ’til I’m full up and spilling over, ready to someday again share all I have until empty.
I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you. ~R.S. Thomas “A Bright Field”
The secret of seeing is, then the pearl of great price. If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all. But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought.
The literature of illumination reveals this above all: although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise.
I return from one walk knowing where the killdeer nests in the field by the creek and the hour the laurel blooms. I return from the same walk a day later scarcely knowing my own name.
Litanies hum in my ears; my tongue flaps in my mouth. Ailinon, alleluia! ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside. ~Flannery O’Connor from A Prayer Journal
Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God… ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The hardest thing is to step out of the way so that my own shadow no longer obscures what provides illumination. I am regularly so blinded by discouragement, busyness and distraction that I lose sight of God Himself.
Surprise me, dear Lord. Cram this common bush with heaven.
Though I regularly lament in the shadows, help me lift my voice in praise and gratitude for your gift, the pearl of great price you generously hold out for me to take each day.
As a father steals into his child’s half-lit bedroom slowly, quietly, standing long and long counting the breaths before finally slipping back out, taking care not to wake her,
and as that night-lit child is fully awake the whole time, with closed eyes, measured breathing, savoring a delicious blessing she couldn’t name but will remember her whole life,
how often we feel we’re being watched over, or that we’re secretly looking in on the ones we love, even when they are far away, or even as they are lost in the sleep
no one wakes from—what we know and what we feel can fully coincide, like love and worry, like taking care in full silence and secrecy, like darkness and light together. ~David Graham “Listening for Your Name“
2 “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, 3 when his lamp shone on my head and by his light I walked through darkness! Job 29:2-3
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift. ~Mary Oliver, “The Uses of Sorrow”
The season of Lent is a box full of darkness given to us by Someone who loves us enough to watch over us even as we sleep.
The Light is already here but the darkness has not yet dissipated.
It takes a lifetime to understand, if we ever do: we are watched over as we watch over one another.
By opening the gift of darkness, we allow a Light in where none was before.
Light pours through the cracks of our sorrow and brokenness as we are watched with care, as we illuminate amid the shadows, as we are loved with the deepest of concern.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
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
Another sleepless night I’m turning in my bed Long before the red sun rises In these early hours I’m falling again Into the river of my worries When the river runs away I find a shelter in your name
Jesus, only light on the shore Only hope in the storm Jesus, let me fly to your side There I would hide, Jesus
Hear my anxious prayer The beating of my heart The pulse and the measure of my unbelief Speak your words to me Before I come apart Help me believe in what I cannot see Before the river runs away I will call upon your name
Jesus, only light on the shore Only hope in the storm Jesus, let me fly to your side There I would hide, Jesus ~Elaine Rubenstein, Fernando Ortega