How granular they feel—grief and regret, arriving, as they do, in the sharp particularities of distress. Inserting themselves— cunning, intricate, subversive—into our discourse.
In the long night, grievances seem to multiply. Old dreams mingling with new. Disappointment and regret bludgeon the soul, your best imaginings bruised, your hopes ragged.
Yet wait, watch. From the skylight the room is filling with soft early sun, slowly sifting its light on the bed, on your head, a shower of fine particles. How welcome. And how reliable. ~Luci Shaw“Sorrow”
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
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” from Thirst
We are given a box full of darkness by someone who loves us, and we can’t help but open it and weep.
It takes a lifetime to understand, if we ever do, we will inevitably hand off this gift to others whom we love.
Opening the box allows the Light in where none existed before. Light pours into our brokenness.
Sorrow ends up shining through our tears: we reach out from a deep well of need. Because we are loved so thoroughly, we too love deeply beyond ourselves.
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surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven’t deserved of days and solitude, your body’s immoderate good health that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs you never intended. At the end there may be no answers and only a few very simple questions: did I love, finish my task in the world? Learn at least one of the many names of God? At the intersections, the boundaries where one life began and another ended, the jumping-off places between fear and possibility, at the ragged edges of pain, did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy? ~Jeanne Lohmann “Praise What Comes”from The Light Invisible Bodies”
The ragged edge of sadness and sorrow is a box full of darkness handed to me by Someone who knows my name.
It takes a lifetime to understand, if I ever do, this gift with which I am entrusted is meant to be passed on to another and another whom I love just as deeply.
He cracked open the box of shadows to allow His light in where none dwelled before, seeping into my brokenness from a deep well of holiness, giving me a glimpse of all Love can do.
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
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God of the sparrow, care for us, Speak in our sorrow, Lord of grief. Sing us Your music, lift our hearts, Pour out Your mercy, send relief. ~Craig Courtney
Through the winter, I feed the sparrows, the woodpeckers and chickadees, the juncos and finches, and yes — even the starlings. They would be fine without my daily contribution to their well-being, but in return for my provision of seeds, I am able to enjoy their spirited liveliness and their gracious ability to share the bounty with one another.
These birds give back to me simply by showing up, without ever realizing what their presence means to me.
How much more does God lay out for me on a daily basis to sustain me so I show up for Him? How oblivious am I to His gracious and profound gifts? How willingly do I share these gifts with others?
Unlike the birds, I could never survive on my own without His watchful care.
When life feels overwhelming, when I am filled with worries, sorrow, regrets and pain, I seek out this God who cares even for sparrows. He knows how to quiet my troubles and strengthen my faith and perseverance, a comfort that extends far beyond sunflower seeds.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.
If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).
In His name, may we sing…
God of the sparrow, sing through us Songs of deliv’rance, songs of peace. Helpless we seek You, God our joy, Quiet our troubles, bid them cease, Quiet our troubles, bid them cease. Alleluia.
God of the sparrow, God of hope, Tenderly guide us, be our song, God of affliction, pain and hurt, Comfort Your children, make us strong, Comfort Your children, make us strong. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
God of the sparrow, care for us, Speak in our sorrow, Lord of grief. Sing us Your music, lift our hearts, Pour out Your mercy, send relief.
God, like the sparrow, we abide In Your protection, love and grace. Just as the sparrow in Your care, May Your love keep us all our days, May Your love keep us all our days. Amen. ~Craig Courtney
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Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock. “Now they are all on their knees,” An elder said as we sat in a flock By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where They dwelt in their strawy pen, Nor did it occur to one of us there To doubt they were kneeling then. So fair a fancy few would weave In these years!
Yet, I feel,If someone said on Christmas Eve, “Come; see the oxen kneel,“ In the lonely barton by yonder coomb Our childhood used to know, ”I should go with him in the gloom, Hoping it might be so.“ ~Thomas Hardy “The Oxen”
Says a country legend told every year: Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see what the creatures do as that long night tips over. Down on their knees they will go, the fire of an old memory whistling through their minds!
So I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold I creaked back the barn door and peered in. From town the church bells spilled their midnight music, and the beasts listened – yet they lay in their stalls like stone.
Oh the heretics! Not to remember Bethlehem, or the star as bright as a sun, or the child born on a bed of straw! To know only of the dissolving Now!
Still they drowsed on – citizens of the pure, the physical world, they loomed in the dark: powerful of body, peaceful of mind, innocent of history.
Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas! And you are no heretics, but a miracle, immaculate still as when you thundered forth on the morning of creation! As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me. Caught in its light, listening again to its story, I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me the best it could all night. ~Mary Oliver “Christmas Poem”from Goodness and Light
The winds were scornful, Passing by; And gathering Angels Wondered why
A burdened Mother Did not mind That only animals Were kind.
For who in all the world Could guess That God would search out Loneliness. ~Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B. “The Stable”
Beholding his glory is only half our job. In our souls too the mysteries must be brought forth; we are not really Christians till that has been done. A mystic says human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice— animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid— and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God. ~Evelyn Underhill“Light of the World” from Watch for the Light
Growing up on my childhood farm, remembering the magic of Christmas eve night, I bundled myself up to stay warm in our barn, to witness an unbelievable sight.
At midnight we knew the animals knelt down, speaking words we could all understand, to worship a Child born in Bethlehem town, in a barn, long ago in a far away land.
They were there that night, to see and to hear, the blessings that came from the sky. They patiently stood watch at the manger near, in a barn, while shepherds and kings stopped by.
My trips to the barn were always too late, our cows would be chewing, our chickens asleep, our horses breathing softly, cats climbing the gate, in our barn, there was never a neigh, moo or peep.
But I knew they had done it, I just missed it again! They were plainly so calm, well-fed and at peace in the sweet smelling straw, all snug in their pens, in a barn, a mystery, once more, took place.
Even now, I still bundle to go out Christmas eve, in the hope I’ll catch them just once more this time. Though I’m older and grayer, I still firmly believe in the barn, a Birth happened amid cobwebs and grime.
Our horses sigh low as they hear me come near, that tells me the time I hope for is now, they will drop to their knees without any fear in our barn, as worship, all living things bow.
I wonder anew at God’s immense trust for His creatures so sheltered that darkening night – the mystery of why of all places, His Son must begin life in a barn: a welcoming most holy and right. ~Emily Gibson “In the Barn” (written Christmas Eve 1999)
Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come. ~Jane Kenyon, from “Let Evening Come”
Latin text O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, iacentem in praesepio! Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Iesum Christum. Alleluia!
English translation O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia!
Sing O the wild wood, the green holly, The silent river and barren tree; The humble creatures that no man sees: Sing O the wild wood.
A weary journey one winter’s night; No hope of shelter, no rest in sight. Who was the creature that bore Mary? A simple donkey.
And when they came into Beth’lem Town They found a stable to lay them down; For their companions that Christmas night, An ox and an ass.
And then an angel came down to earth To bear the news of the Saviour’s birth; The first to marvel were shepherds poor, And sheep with their lambs.
Sing O the wild wood, the green holly, The silent river and barren tree; The humble creatures that no man sees: Sing O the wild wood. John Rutter
Jesus our brother, strong and good Was humbly born in a stable rude And the friendly beasts around him stood Jesus our brother, strong and good “I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown “I carried his mother up hill and down I carried his mother to Bethlehem town” “I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown “I, ” said the cow, all white and red “I gave him my manger for his bed I gave him my hay to pillow his head” “I, ” said the cow, all white and red “I, ” said the sheep with curly horn “I gave him my wool for his blanket warm He wore my coat on Christmas morn” “I, ” said the sheep with curly horn “I, ” said the dove from the rafters high “I cooed him to sleep so he would not cry We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I” “I, ” said the dove from rafters high Thus every beast by some good spell In the stable dark was glad to tell Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel
Well I know now the feel of dirt under the nails, I know now the rhythm of furrowed ground under foot, I have learned the sounds to listen for in the dusk, the dawning and the noon.
I have held cornfields in the palm of my hand, I have let the swaying wheat and rye run through my fingers, I have learned when to be glad for sunlight and for sudden thaw and for rain.
I know now what weariness is when the mind stops and night is a dark blanket of peace and forgetting and the morning breaks to the same ritual and the same demands and the silence. ~Jane Clement from No One Can Stem the Tide
Seven-thirty. Driving northwest out of town, the snowscape dusky, sky tinted smoky peach. In the rear view mirror, a bright orange glow suffuses the stubbly treeline. Suddenly a column of brightness shoots from the horizon, a pillar of fire! One eye on the road, I watch behind me the head of a golden child begin to push up between the black knees of the hills. Two weeks out from Solstice, the sun so near winter it seems to rise in the south. A fiery angel stands over his cradle of branches. And what strange travelers come to honor him? And what gift will I bring to him this day? ~Thomas Smith “Advent Dawn” from The Glory
And he shall be their peace. Micah 5:5
I tossed and turned last night — my thoughts too busy, my blankets twisted in turmoil, my muscles too tight.
The worries of the day required serious wrestling in the dark rather than settling silent and forgotten under my pillow after prayer.
Yet, as ever, morning dawns anew and once again I’m comforted by the rhythm of emerging light overwhelming the night. This ritual of starting fresh remembers the promises given to us again and again in His Word.
In the name of peace today, I will get my hands dirty digging a hole deep enough to hold the worries that kept me awake in the night.
And tomorrow, even if I try to remember, I will have forgotten where exactly I buried them.
I haven’t yet been able to find words— a sentence for what happens when I brush my daughter’s hair and divide into thirds enough hair for a family of four (one barber said, the rare one I trusted). Honeycomb-colored braid, she’s out the door for school (green coat, pink backpack), and rushing right on time, little Virgo, to the bus. One-woman-show with harmonies, alone— amazed, bowed down (deep inhale) O the joy contained in waves on waves: a shimmering song my daughter’s hair sings as she floats each afternoon high up into a tree. Against the clouds she climbs, far beyond me. ~Megan Buchanan “My Daughter’s Hair”, from Clothesline Religion
She was born with the announcement from the doctor: “we have a bunch of red hair here on this little lady!”
Then as a little girl her hair was straight as could be, until one day she woke up with hints of waves and ringlets which eventually became a virtual thicket of auburn tresses.
No longer could I quickly comb through her hair or even trust myself with scissors. Instead I stood back in awe, with my thin straight hair, marveling at how this could happen to a child of mine. This was her daddy’s hair.
Her amazing mane is but one part of who this remarkable woman has become, these endless waves, yet it is only the surface of a strong light that dwells richly within her. Now, as a teacher of 10 year olds, she floats among children who someday will transform overnight as she did. She is part of determining who they will become, her effect on them like a wave upon wave upon wave.
When I was a child, I had a powerful sense that I wanted to commemorate things. I even remember thinking at the time that it was a strange word for a twelve-year old to use.
… it is the idea that every life is sacred and that life is composed of details, of lost moments, of things that nobody cares about, including the people who are wounded or overjoyed by those moments. I don’t think people allow themselves to value their lives enough. They ignore and discard these fragments.
I would like my writing to be precise enough, detailed enough so that the attention I bring to bear on something unlocks a door to the reader’s life. In that way, by honoring one’s own life, it’s possible to extend empathy and compassion to others. ~Patricia Hampl – Alaska Quarterly Review, Fall and Winter 1995 (interview)
I have been writing here nearly daily for over twelve years:
I have come to know so many of you who I will never meet face to face but who share with me: your love of beautiful words and pictures, your love of the land we all steward, your love of good stories and poetry, your love of your animal companions, your love of hanging on to lost moments, and most of all — your love of our resurrected Lord.
What do I seek to commemorate in my words and photos as I prepare this daily?
I know your light and love illuminates as it finds its way through the darkest and thorniest corners of my life: how precious is a kind word, a silent tear, a crooked smile, a whispered prayer.
What do I want you to experience having visited here?
I want you to remember there is warmth in these words and colors in these photos that don’t come close to what it is like for real, that lost moments will be found and cherished.
I want you to know that each morning, I send out this love to thousands I’ll never meet but feel I know, as you are nevertheless my Barnstorming brothers and sisters.
Carry me with you and pass the light forward. Keep lost moments in your pocket to pull out when needed. Open this door to others and welcome them in. You never know where it could take them.
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We were created as creatures of light invited to walk alongside our Creator – joyfully made in His image and gifted with managing a productive and beautiful world.
Yet even this wasn’t enough for us, this garden of wonders. We were free to do what was right in our own eyes rather than live in gratitude, faith and obedience, and made our choice at tremendous cost.
Now we struggle with the reality of daily life in a fallen world, experiencing conflict, disorder, illness and tragedy. Hurricanes bear down on vulnerable people, tornados rip apart towns, fires ravage homes, earthquakes level and destroy, tsunamis flood and overwhelm, pandemics kill indiscriminately.
Yet God has not abandoned us as we deserve. He has gifted Himself to His Created yet again, coming from heaven in a river of light to wash us clean, to invite us once again to walk beside Him, die with Him, live with Him.
What we are asked for in return is simple belief – by acknowledging a God who is greater than anything or anyone, admitting we are thirsty and filthy, in dire need of cleansing.
He is our river of light and life, glorious and ever-flowing.
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Late August, given heavy rain and sun For a full week, the blackberries would ripen. At first, just one, a glossy purple clot Among others, red, green, hard as a knot. You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots. Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills We trekked and picked until the cans were full, Until the tinkling bottom had been covered With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre. But when the bath was filled we found a fur, A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache. The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour. I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot. Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not. ~Seamus Heaney “Blackberry Picking”
…Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you… Ezekiel 2:6
In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. ~John Stottfrom The Cross
Today I will make wild blackberry cobbler, facing down the brambles and briers that thwart my reach for the elusive fruit – in this heat, it is important to harvest blackberries before they shrivel up and rot on the vine. I aim to gather more berries than scratches to prove that thorns and rot must never win and I will not yield to them.
Painful thorns and decay have always been part of life. They barricade us from all that is sweet and good and precious. They tear us up, bloody us, make us cry out in pain and grief, cause a stink, and deepen our fear that we may never overcome such a sorrowful destiny.
Yet even the most brutal crown of thorns or the rot of the grave did not stop the loving sacrifice, can never thwart the sweetness of redemption, will not spoil the goodness, nor destroy the promise of salvation to come.
We simply wait to be fed the loving gift that comes only from bloodied hands.
Flesh will fail and bones will break thieves will steal, the earth will shake Night will fall, the light will fade The Lord will give and take away
Put no trust in the earth in the sod you stand upon Flowers fade into dust The Lord will make a place for us
Because of His great Love We are not overcome Because of His great Love We are not overcome
Have no fear for your life Turn your cheek, turn your cheek Bear the yoke of love and death The Lord will give all life and breath
Because of His great Love We are not overcome Because of His great Love We are not overcome (from Bifrost Arts)
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You are alive. It needn’t have been so. It wasn’t so once, and will not be forever. But it is so now.
And what is it like: to be alive in this one place of all places anywhere where life is? Live a day of it and see. Take any day and LIVE IT. Nobody claims that it will be entirely painless, but no matter.
It is your birthday and there are many presents to open. The world is to be opened. It is the first day because it has never been before and the last day because it will never be again.
When I was very young, I would trace my finger over the long scar that curved along the front of my mother’s neck and ask her what happened. She would tell me her thyroid gland had been overworking so she had to have it removed before I was born. That’s all she had to say about that and I never thought to ask more. Somehow I knew, just as my knowing my father would not talk about his experience as a Marine in WWII, my mother was hiding more than her big scar under high collars or a pearl necklace.
Hers was a deeper scar I couldn’t see or touch.
However, my older sister – about five at the time – remembers my mother’s illness. Mom was a little over thirty when her hands began to tremble, her pulse raced and she was irritable with trouble sleeping. My parents were hoping for a second child, but unable to get pregnant. Once her doctor diagnosed thyrotoxicosis , Mom had the option to try a new medication that had been recently developed – propylthiouracil – meant to suppress the function of overactive thyroid glands.
It didn’t work for her and she felt worse. It caused more side effects and my mother’s symptoms grew so severe, she was unable to leave her bedroom due to severe anxiety and paranoia made worse by insomnia. My paternal grandmother came to help since my father needed to continue to work to support the family but there was little that could be done other than sedation to ease my mother’s symptoms. My sister recalls not seeing Mom for days, unnerved by the wailing she heard from the bedroom. From her description, I now wonder if Mom was experiencing the beginning of thyroid “storm” (extremely high thyroid levels) which is potentially life-threatening with severe physical and emotional side effects.
After Mom was hospitalized and her entire thyroid was removed, she was placed on thyroid hormone supplements to take daily for the rest of her life. It took months for her to recover and feel somewhat normal again. Her eventual hormonal stability resolved her infertility as well as most of her other symptoms. She remained chronically anxious and had heart palpitations and insomnia the rest of her life, like a residual stain on her sense of well-being, although she lived another 55 years. The trauma of how her illness affected my dad and sister was never fully resolved. They all suffered. I can understand why those months remained as hidden as my mom’s surgical scar.
I was born about two years later – the second baby they never expected could happen. My brother was born 20 months after me.
From my family’s suffering came the solace of new life.
So I nearly wasn’t.
I’m reminded on each birthday: I needn’t have been here yet by the grace of God I am. I need to BE ALIVE and LIVE THIS DAY because it will never be again.
This is a truth for us all to cling to.
Each day is a gift to be opened and savored. Each day a first day, a last day, a great day – a birthday of amazing grace.
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