You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised. Great is your power, and infinite is your wisdom. You are worthy of our praise, though we are but a speck in your creation. You awaken our hearts to delight in your praise. You made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. St. Augustine of Hippo, 354-430, Confessions, Book I, Chapter 1
As swimmers dare to lie face to the sky and water bears them, as hawks rest upon air and air sustains them, so would I learn to attain freefall, and float into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace, knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace. ~Denise Levertov “The Avowal”
Do I truly trust what holds me up, like the hawk gliding in the air or the swimmer afloat on water?
Instead I work restlessly to earn something tangible to rely on, putting my faith in all the wrong things in my search for comfort, for wholeness, for purpose, for identity and meaning.
But that’s not what God’s plan requires. That is not what He asks of me. I don’t have to earn anything through my effort.
I am sought out. I am held up. I can rest in Him and stop searching restlessly. I am only asked to open up to receive His all surrounding and endless grace.
O Beauty ancient, O Beauty so new Late have I loved Thee and feebly yet do. Though you were with me, I was not with You. Then You shone Your face and I was blind no more
Chorus: My heart searches restlessly and finds no rest ‘till it rests in Thee. O Seeker You sought for me, Your love has found me; I am taken by thee.
I sought this world and chased its finer things, Yet were these not in You, they would not have been. My ceaseless longing hid the deeper truth, In all my desirings, I was desiring You.
Lord, in my deafness You cried out to me. I drew my breath and now Your fragrance I breathe O Fount of Life, You are forever the same; O Fire of Love, come set me aflame. ~Daniel Purkapile, “Prayer of St. Augustine”
In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world? just to hear his sister promise, An unfinished wing of heaven, just to hear his brother say, A house inside a house, but most of all to hear his mother answer, One more song, then you go to sleep. How could anyone in that bed guess the question finds its beginning in the answer long growing inside the one who asked, that restless boy, the night’s darling? Later, a man lying awake, he might ask it again, just to hear the silence charge him, This night arching over your sleepless wondering, this night, the near ground every reaching-out-to overreaches, just to remind himself out of what little earth and duration, out of what immense good-bye, each must make a safe place of his heart, before so strange and wild a guest as God approaches. ~Li-Young Lee “Nativity”
“What’s wrong with the world?” asked The Times of famous authors. “Dear Sir, I am. “ Yours, G.K. Chesterton
I’m not ashamed that I still ask the hard questions, just as I did when I was a child, lying in bed, fearful in the dark. Some call it a lack of faith: if I truly believed, I would trust completely, so asking such questions would be “out of the question.”
Yet God throughout scripture encourages questions, listens to lament, isn’t intimidated by uncertainty and weakness. He waits patiently for His people to make their hearts a safe place for Him to dwell – a place of wings and songs and awe and worship – even when resounding with questions.
My heart is a womb where our strange and wild God seeks to reside in this world. “Why me?” I ask, pondering yet another hard question in the dark. “Why not you?” comes His response: a question for which He awaits my answer.
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20
How pale is the sky that brings forth the rain As the changing of seasons prepares me again For the long bitter nights and the wild winter’s day My heart has grown cold, my love stored away My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
I’ve been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow Where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go I’ve taken the pain, no girl should endure But faith can move mountains of that I am sure Faith can move mountains of that I am sure
Just get me through December A promise I’ll remember Get me through December So I can start again
No divine purpose brings freedom from sin And peace is a gift that must come from within And I’ve looked for the love that will bring me to rest Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest ~Gordie Sampson & Fred Lavery
It is winter in Narnia… and has been for ever so long …. always winter, but never Christmas. ~C. S. Lewis from The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe
We’ve been traveling through a wilderness of the pandemic for nearly a year, even as the calendar has changed from spring to summer to autumn and in December back to winter. In this winter wilderness, we struggle with the chill of isolation from each other and from God, the endless discouragement and fatigue, and the hot cold of resentment and anger.
We are called in the gospel of Matthew to leave behind our helplessness when overwhelmed by pervasive wilderness. He tells us to believe, even if it is only the tiniest grain of faith. Our cold hearts love and hunger for God.
So if we can’t make it to the mountain in the distance, our faith can move the mountain closer. God hears our plea and brings His peace to us by bringing Himself as close as the beating heart in our chest. There will be a Christmas again and there will be Easter.
In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world? just to hear his sister promise, An unfinished wing of heaven, just to hear his brother say, A house inside a house, but most of all to hear his mother answer, One more song, then you go to sleep.
How could anyone in that bed guess the question finds its beginning in the answer long growing inside the one who asked, that restless boy, the night’s darling?
Later, a man lying awake, he might ask it again, just to hear the silence charge him, This night arching over your sleepless wondering,
this night, the near ground every reaching-out-to overreaches,
just to remind himself out of what little earth and duration, out of what immense good-bye,
each must make a safe place of his heart, before so strange and wild a guest as God approaches. ~Li Young Lee “Nativity Poem”
As alone as we may feel during this odd time without the comfort of ones we love now near, as separate as it is without shared meals and laughter, there is one thing a virus can’t take from us:
we are the shelter for God comes newborn we are the womb He seeks we are the safe place hidden from the storms of the world and He grows here in our hearts – invited and wild and strange – so nurtured and so nurturing.
No presents, no candy, no treat No stockings hung by the fire No parties, no family to greet No angel’s heavenly choirs
Bells are ringing all over the world Bells are ringing calling the light Bells are ringing all over the world All over the world tonight
No doorways, no windows, no walls No shelter here on the ground No standing and no safe place to fall Just the promise of this distant sound
Bells are ringing all over the world Bells are ringing calling the light Bells are ringing all over the world All over the world tonight
Wherever you’re walking tonight Whoever you’re waiting for Somehow by the stable’s faint light Peace in your heart is restored
Bells are ringing all over the world Bells are ringing calling the light Bells are ringing all over the world All over the world
Bells are ringing all over the world Bells are ringing calling the light Bells are ringing all over the world All over the world tonight ~Mary Chapin Carpenter
…It’s true it can make you weep to peel them, to unfurl and to tease from the taut ball first the brittle, caramel-colored and decrepit papery outside layer, the least
recent the reticent onion wrapped around its growing body, for there’s nothing to an onion but skin, and it’s true you can go on weeping as you go on in, through the moist middle skins, the sweetest
and thickest, and you can go on in to the core, to the bud-like, acrid, fibrous skins densely clustered there, stalky and in- complete, and these are the most pungent… ~William Matthews from “Onions”
…I would never scold the onion for causing tears. It is right that tears fall for something small and forgotten. How at meal, we sit to eat, commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma but never on the translucence of onion, now limp, now divided, or its traditionally honorable career: For the sake of others, disappear. ~Naomi Shihab Nye, from “The Traveling Onion” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.
Onion, luminous flask, your beauty formed petal by petal, crystal scales expanded you and in the secrecy of the dark earth your belly grew round with dew. Under the earth the miracle happened and when your clumsy green stem appeared, and your leaves were born like swords in the garden, the earth heaped up her power showing your naked transparency…
…You make us cry without hurting us. I have praised everything that exists, but to me, onion, you are more beautiful than a bird of dazzling feathers, heavenly globe, platinum goblet, unmoving dance of the snowy anemone
and the fragrance of the earth lives in your crystalline nature. ~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to the Onion”
Everything smells of “eau de onion” here in the kitchen as the onions are brought in from our late summer garden to be stored or dehydrated and frozen for winter soups and stews.
This is weepy business, but these are good tears like I spill over the whistled Greensleeves theme from the old “Lassie” TV show, or during any childrens’ choir song, or by simply watching videos of our grandchildren who are quarantined so far away from our arms.
It takes almost nothing these days to make me weep, so onions are a handy excuse, allowing my tears to flow without explanation:
I weep over the headlines. I weep over how changed life is and for the sadness of the stricken. I weep over how messy things can get between people who don’t listen to one another or who misinterpret what they think they hear. I weep knowing we all have layers and layers of skin that appear tough on the outside, but as you peel gently or even ruthlessly cut them away, the layers get more and more tender until you reach the throbbing heart of us.
We tend to hide our hearts out of fear of being hurt, crying out in pain.
Like an onion, each one of us exists to make the day a bit better, the meal more savory, to enhance the flavors of all who are mixed into this melting pot together. We aren’t meant to stand alone, but to disappear into the stew, and be sorely missed if we are absent.
So very dish needs an onion, and for the sake of the dish, every onion vanishes in the process.
No, I don’t mean to make you cry as you peel my layers away, gently, one by one, each more tender until you reach my heart. Chop away at me if you must but weep the good tears, the ones that mean we weep for the sake of our meal together: you eating and drinking, and me – consumed.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
…the sudden angel affrighted me––light effacing my feeble beam, a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying: …as that hand of fire touched my lips and scorched by tongue and pulled by voice into the ring of the dance. ~Denise Levertov from “Caedmon” in Breathing the Water
Unless the eye catch fire, Then God will not be seen. Unless the ear catch fire Then God will not be heard. Unless the tongue catch fire Then God will not be named. Unless the heart catch fire, Then God will not be loved. Unless the mind catch fire, Then God will not be known. ~William Blake from “Pentecost”
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. Yours are the only hands with which he can do his work. yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world. Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. ~Teresa of Avila
Today, when we feel we are without hope, when the bent world reels with a troubled sickness of shedding blood and spreading violence, when faith feels frail, when love seems distant, we wait, stilled, for the moment we ourselves – not our cities – are lit afire ~ when the Living God is seen, heard, named, loved, known forever burning in our hearts deep down, brooded over by His bright wings~ we are His dearest, His freshest deep down things, in this moment and for eternity.
How should I not be glad to contemplate the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window and a high tide reflected on the ceiling? There will be dying, there will be dying, but there is no need to go into that. The poems flow from the hand unbidden and the hidden source is the watchful heart. The sun rises in spite of everything and the far cities are beautiful and bright. I lie here in a riot of sunlight watching the day break and the clouds flying. Everything is going to be all right. ~Derek Mahon,”Everything is Going to be All Right” from Selected Poems
It’s tough to find reassurance these days; in a mere five months, things have gone from “doing okay” to outright disastrous. There is no expert anywhere with a crystal ball who can tell us what things will be like in another five months. We simply have to live it out as best we can.
I regularly remind myself: history has a way of repeating itself, and yes, the world has been in this place before. We’ve fought back against global pandemics and economic depressions and devastating world conflicts and we somehow manage to come out the other side.
It takes time and patience and prayer and groaning and a fair amount of teeth gritting.
So the sun rises in spite of everything. The clouds still fly by above us. We still love one another even when it takes a little work. So let’s give ourselves a little break from the bad news and just love, oh Lord above, in the glory of now.
Everything is going to be all right. Let your heart be watchful and untroubled.