Out through the fields and the woods And over the walls I have wended; I have climbed the hills of view And looked at the world, and descended; I have come by the highway home, And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground, Save those that the oak is keeping To ravel them one by one And let them go scraping and creeping Out over the crusted snow, When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still, No longer blown hither and thither; The last lone aster is gone; The flowers of the witch hazel wither; The heart is still aching to seek, But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man Was it ever less than a treason To go with the drift of things, To yield with a grace to reason, And bow and accept the end Of a love or a season? ~Robert Frost “Reluctance”
As I kick through piles of fallen leaves in the barnyard, I realize how close I am to becoming one of them. Within my own seasons, I have flourished and bloomed and fruited, but, with aging, am now reminded of my fading, withering and eventual letting go. I find I’m not nearly so bold anymore, instead trembling nervously when harsh winds blow me about.
I have come to question the stability of the stems, branches, trunk and roots I’ve always depended upon. Will they continue to nourish and sustain me?
Everything feels transitory — especially me.
When these thoughts overwhelm, I tend to hang on tighter rather than simply giving up and letting go. My feet stumble when I try to do the same tasks I did so smoothly years ago. I am easily torn, broken and full of holes. No graceful bow from me; I’m stubbornly wanting things to stay the same, reluctant for a transition to something different.
My only solace is that the heart of man — indeed my own holey heart — is transient compared to the holy Heart of God. I am sustained by His steady Pulse, His ubiquitous Circulation, His impeccable Rhythm of Life and Death.
In that I trust. In that I come to abandon my stubborn reluctance.
Holy as a day is spent Holy is the dish and drain The soap and sink, and the cup and plate And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile Shower heads and good dry towels And frying eggs sound like psalms With bits of salt measured in my palm It’s all a part of a sacrament As holy as a day is spent Holy is the familiar room And quiet moments in the afternoon And folding sheets like folding hands To pray as only laundry can I’m letting go of all my fear Like autumn leaves made of earth and air For the summer came and the summer went As holy as a day is spent Holy is the place I stand To give whatever small good I can And the empty page, and the open book Redemption everywhere I look Unknowingly we slow our pace In the shade of unexpected grace And with grateful smiles and sad lament As holy as a day is spent And morning light sings ‘providence’ As holy as a day is spent ~Carrie Newcomer “Holy as a Day Is Spent “
If the New York Times says “Something Special is Happening in Rural America,” then of course, it must be true. But those of us out in the hinterlands have known the truth about the quieter life for decades. The pace is slower, the space is greater, the faces are friendlier.
It’s the small things that matter on a daily basis. Being in the center of things doesn’t matter.
Give me a home where the clouds and cows roam, where laundry is line-dried and there is no traffic noise.
Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. ~Eugene O’Neill
We are born hollering, already aware of our brokenness – our emptiness evident from the first breath, each tiny air sac bursting with the air of a fallen world that is never quite enough to satisfy.
The rest of our days are spent filling up our empty spaces: whether alveoli or stomach or synapse hungry for knowledge; still hollering and heart broken.
So we mend and are mended through healing another, sewn up by knitting together the scraggly fragments of lives, becoming the crucial glue boiled from His gifted Grace, all empty holes made holy when filled to brimming so wholly.
Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20
We weren’t conceived by random happenstance, including so many millions not welcomed but wished or washed away before taking a breath.
We are here because we were earnestly needed and wanted, by a power and divinity beyond comprehension with a capacity for love and compassion beyond anything in our earthly experience.
We aren’t a cosmic joke, or random couplings of DNA. We aren’t pawns in the universe’s chess game.
We may look silly as we intentionally loll about in the smelly stuff of life, or we may think what we say or do doesn’t matter a hill of beans, but we are created to clearly see God for who He is, and in whose image He made us.
He won’t be ignored; we have no more excuses. It is time to open our eyes, to come and see.
From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention… pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.
Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.
Is it too much to say that Stop, Look, and Listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to history is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power-plays, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.
And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.
In a letter to a friend Emily Dickinson wrote that “Consider the lilies of the field” was the only commandment she never broke. She could have done a lot worse. Consider the lilies. It is the sine qua non of art and religion both. ~Frederick Buechner from Whistling in the Dark
I have broken the commandment to “consider the lilies” way too many times. In my daily life I am considering almost anything else: my own worries and concerns as I walk past so much beauty and meaning and holiness. My mind dwells within, blind and deaf to what is outside.
It is necessary to be reminded every day that I need to pay attention beyond myself, to be reminded to love my neighbor, to remember what history has to teach us, to search for the sacred in all things.
Stop, Look, Listen, Consider: all is grace, all is gift, all is holiness brought to life – stunning, amazing, wondrous.
But to apprehend The point of intersection of the timeless With time, is an occupation for the saint— No occupation either, but something given And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love, Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender. For most of us, there is only the unattended Moment, the moment in and out of time, The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight, The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply That it is not heard at all, but you are the music While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses, Hints followed by guesses; and the rest Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action. The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation. Here the impossible union Of spheres of existence is actual, Here the past and future Are conquered, and reconciled…
~T.S. Eliot from “Dry Salvages”
We want to understand.
We want to know, not just guess anymore.
We want God to fit into the holes of our comprehension exactly like a puzzle piece falls into place in the space meant just for it.
But He doesn’t. He won’t. Our holes are rarely God-shaped. They are ragged and changing moment by moment – the hints are laid out and we make our haphazard
The holes of our understanding gape so large that only God knows it takes the glue of faith to bridge the gap. Our doubts are conquered, our conflicts reconciled, the impossible union of heaven and earth made possible through the Incarnation.
Perhaps that is what “holy” is all about – filling up all our hole-li-ness with His Holiness come to earth from heaven.
It’s just a leaf. A damaged leaf at that, clinging to a filbert tree ravaged by blight. The leaf turns partially back upon itself, riddled with holes, the traumatic result of voracious insect appetites.
Damaged does not accurately describe this leaf, the color of rich burgundy wine, deep purple veins that branch to the tips of its serrated edge. The holes open the leaf to light and air, forming a filigree of nature, an exquisite fragile beauty.
It makes me think of our own traumas, how they open us, raw and hurting, humble us, soften and expand us to the pain of others and when we are most vulnerable we hold on, weakened, but not necessarily damaged.
Perhaps it is then our scars become beautiful and an inner loveliness shines through. ~Lois Parker Edstrom “Fragile Beauty”
–an ekphrastic poem based on my photo above,
soon to be published in her latest poetry book –
thank you, Lois, for allowing me to share your beautiful words here
Nature doth thus kindly heal every wound.
By the mediation of a thousand little mosses and fungi,
the most unsightly objects become radiant of beauty.
There seem to be two sides of this world, presented us at different times,
as we see things in growth or dissolution, in life or death.
And seen with the eye of the poet,
as God sees them,
all things are alive and beautiful. ~Henry David Thoreau (journal)
…writing was one way to let something of lasting value emerge
from the pains and fears of my little, quickly passing life.
Each time life required me to take a new step into unknown spiritual territory,
I felt a deep, inner urge to tell my story to others–
Perhaps as a need for companionship but maybe, too,
out of an awareness that my deepest vocation
is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch. ~Henri Nouwen
“I make them warm to keep my family from freezing;
I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking.”
–From the journal of a prairie woman, 1870
To keep a husband and five children warm,
she quilts them covers thick as drifts against
the door. Through every fleshy square white threads
needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours
count each small suture that holds together
the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life.
She pieces each one beautiful, and summer bright
to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers
the scraps grow to green birds and purple
improbable leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter
mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold
between the double stars, the wedding rings. ~Luci Shaw “Quiltmaker”
It could be the world was made this way:
piecemeal, the parts fitting together
as if made for one another~
disparate and separate,
all the edges
coming together in harmony.
The point of its creation
to be forever functional,
a blanket of warmth and security
but its result is so much more:
beauty arising from scraps,
the broken stitched to broken
to become holy and whole.
(all quilts here are on display this week at the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden)
I know for a while again,
the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valley side,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which I may even step
forth from myself and be free.
~ Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 2000
I was told once by someone I respected that my writing reflected “sacramental” living — touching and tasting the holiness of everyday moments, as if they are the cup and bread that sustains us daily.
I have allowed that feedback to sit warmly beside me, like a welcome companion during the many hours I struggle with what to share here.
It is now apparent to me it is all too tempting to emphasize sacrament over the sacrifice it represents. As much as I love the world and the beauty in the moments I find here, my search should be for the entrance to the “thin places” between heaven and earth, by forgetting self and stepping forth through a holy threshold into something far greater.
There is a scary freedom in the sacrificial life, a wonderful terrifying illuminating freedom, still far beyond my grasp.