The missing-ness of it all surfaced again I asked, “Grief, do you have anything new?” “No, but you do.”
I suspect this will be our dance You lead; I age. ~Jordan Sleed “Our Dance”
...my whole life, whether it be short or long, will be devoted to your service. ~Elizabeth in a speech on her 21st birthday
I don’t consider myself a monarchist, nor have I carefully tracked the comings and goings of the British Royal Family over my nearly seventy years of life, being a mere youngster compared to the Queen. But like many others around the world yesterday, I was moved to learn of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, only two days after she held an audience (looking very much alive with her broad smile and signature handbag) with the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Now she has moved on from us, her name and life relegated forever to the history books.
How can I possibly weep and feel grief for the passing of someone I never met, nor could have ever aspired to meet?
This is the strange way of grief — it dances with us throughout our lives, leading us into dark corners we don’t expect to visit. I am grieving for someone who was not born to be queen yet was thrust onto an international stage for 70 years of her life. When she was called to it, she did not shrink from the duty nor did she give up when it became overwhelmingly hard. She made a promise to her people and she delivered on that promise.
I did have an opportunity to speak once with someone who knew the Queen very well and who met with her regularly during her last several decades. He had nothing but great admiration for her character, perseverance, faith and love of family and country.
She was the real deal. And anyone who loves corgis and ponies is exactly my cup of tea.
I believe God welcomed her home with open arms just as He embraces the least of us into His Light – to God, we are all royalty, serving with humility and a duty of honor.
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heav’n: to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light, no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitation of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen. ~John Donne
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What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs, And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. ~W.H. Davies “Leisure”
…I believe there are certain habits that, if practiced, will stimulate the growth of humble roots in our lives. One of those is a habit of awe and wonder.
By awe and wonder, I mean the regular practice of paying careful attention to the world around us. Not merely seeing but observing. Perceiving. Considering. Asking thoughtful questions about what we see, smell, hear, touch, taste. In other words, attending with love and curiosity to what our senses sense. (How often do we eat without tasting? How often do we look without seeing? Hear without listening?) Admiring, imagining, receiving the beauty of the world around us in a regular, intentional way: this is the habit of a wonder-filled person. And it leads to humility.
A regular habit of awe and wonder de-centers us. It opens a window in our imaginations, beckoning us to climb out of our own opinions and experiences and to consider things greater and beyond our own lives. It strengthens our curiosity, which in turn lowers the volume on our anxieties and grows our ability to empathize. Over time, we become less self-focused and can admit without embarrassment what we don’t know. In short, we grow more humble. ~Kelly Givens from “Teaching Children to See” from Mere Orthodoxy
This would be a poor life indeed if we didn’t take time to stand and stare at all that is displayed before us – whether it is the golden cast at the beginning and endings of the days, the light dancing in streams or simply staring at God’s creatures staring back at us.
I need to be a child for a minute, an hour, a day, a week, or forever, just to experience the wonder of what is before me. There is nothing sweeter.
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As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. ~William O. Douglasin a 1976 letter to Young Lawyers of the Washington State Bar Association
Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood.
We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
We must see this, believe this, and live by it… ~Martin Luther King Jr. from a sermon in A Knock At Midnight
Do you know why this world is as bad as it is? It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrong-doers to light. My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt. ~Anna Sewell from Black Beauty
Dr. King’s words and wisdom still inform us of our shortcomings.
We flounder in brokenness despite our shared global neighborhood, despite an inescapable mutuality and commitment to brotherhood.
We still stand apart from one another; even as the bell tolls, we suffer divisiveness from a lack of humility, grace and love.
Perhaps today, for a day, for a week, for a year, we can unite in our shared tears: shed for continued strife and disagreement, shed for injustice that results in senseless killings, shed for our inability to hold up one another as brothers and sisters holy in God’s eyes.
We weep together as the light dawns on this day, knowing as Dr. King knew: a new day will come when the Lord God wipes tears away from all faces and all colors — a brotherhood created exactly as He intends.
…the little baby, born in such pitiful humility and cut down as a young man in his prime, commands the allegiance of millions of people all over the world. Although they have never seen him, he has become friend and companion to innumerable people. This undeniable fact is, by any measurement, the most astonishing phenomenon in human history.
That is why … we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.
We shall be celebrating no beautiful myth, no lovely piece of traditional folklore, but a solemn fact. God has been here once historically, but, as millions will testify, he will come again with the same silence and the same devastating humility into any human heart ready to receive him. ~J.B. Phillips from “The Dangers of Advent” inWatch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.
During this month of advent waiting, I am, once again, humbled by the fact of our God not only “visiting” His children within His created world, but becoming one with us. He committed Himself to far more than a brief visit; He came to rescue us from ourselves. That we are valued enough to warrant this – that our spiritual deterioration necessitates His humble sacrifice – is astonishing.
In Philippians 2:Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (2:6-8)
The story of Christ come to earth is the beginning of His earthly life of humility and obedience, to remind us how our story will conclude at the end of time. He calls us to model humility and obedience throughout the Advent season, and until He comes again.
As in the song below:
Dark and cheerless is the morn Till Your love in me is born Joyless is the evening sun ‘till Emmanuel has come
This is no brief visit. The Light has come to stay put and stay on.
Christ whose glory fills the skies Christ the Everlasting Light Son of Righteousness arise Triumph o’er these shades of night
Come Thou long awaited one In the fullness of Your Love Loose this heart bound up by shame And I will never be the same
So here I wait in hope of You, My soul’s longing through and through Dayspring from on high be near Daystar in my heart appear
Dark and cheerless is the morn ‘Till Your love in me is born Joyless is the evening sun ‘till Emmanuel has come
So here I wait in hope of You, My soul’s longing through and through Dayspring from on high be near Daystar in my heart appear So here I wait in hope of You, My soul’s longing through and through Dayspring from on high be near Daystar in my heart appear ~Christy Nockels “Advent Hymn”
Now may the fragrance of His peace Soar through your heart like the dove released Hide in His wings oh weary, distant soul He’ll guide your spirit home And may His love poured from on high Flow to the depths of your deepest sigh Oh come and drink from the only living stream And on His shoulder lean And may the hope that will not deceive Through every pain bring eternal ease There is no night that can steal the promises His coming brings to us So may His joy rush over you Delight in the path He has called you to May all your steps walk in Heaven’s endless light Beyond this Christmas night (Make your sole purpose Christ) ~Keith and Kristyn Getty
That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly,dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain. ~Ray Bradbury from The October Country
Just as a painter needs light in order to put the finishing touches to his picture, so I need an inner light, which I feel I never have enough of in the autumn. ~Leo Tolstoy
A few days of heavy rain in November transforms our farm to mush. Puddles are everywhere, the ground is saturated and mushrooms are sprouting in the most unlikely places. It’s ideal weather for the trumpeter swans and snow geese who glean in the nearby harvested cornfields, filling up on dropped corn kernels. They fly overhead to head out to the fields, noisily honking, their wings swooshing the air as they pass over.
The wet weather means chores are more challenging on our farm. Some of the stalls in the barn have started to get moist from the rising ground water, so the Haflingers appreciate diving into fresh shavings for a good roll and shake. I can appreciate the relief they feel as I like getting back to solid footing too at the end of the day. Much of my day also seems to be spent navigating slippery slopes and muddy terrain, both real and figurative.
It isn’t always apparent what ground is treacherous from appearance alone. The grassy slope heading down to the barn from the house looks pretty benign until I start navigating in a driving rainstorm in the dark, and suddenly the turf becomes a skating rink and I’m finding I’m picking my way carefully with a flashlight. The path I seek is to find the patches of moss, which happily soak up the water like a sponge carpet-like, so not slick to walk on. Even if moss ordinarily is not a welcome addition to lawn or pasture–I appreciate it this time of year.
Another challenge is pushing a wheelbarrow with two 60 pound bales of hay back up that slope to the stalls for the day’s feeding. There is no traction underneath to help my feet stick to the ground for the push uphill. I can feel particularly foolish at this futile effort–my feet sometimes slide out beneath me, landing me on my knees down on the ground, soaked and humiliated, and the wheelbarrow goes skidding right back down to the barn door where it started.
Trusting the footing underneath my feet is crucial day to day. If I am to get work done most efficiently and make progress, I must have solid ground to tread. But the stuff of real life, like our farm’s ground, doesn’t come made to order that way. Some days are slick and treacherous, unpredictable and ready to throw me to my knees, while other days are simple, easy, and smooth sailing. Waking in the morning, I cannot know what I will face that day–whether I need my highest hip boots to wade through the muck or whether I can dash about in comfy house slippers. My attitude has something to do with it too–sometimes my “internal” footing is loose and slippery, tripping up those around me as well as myself. That is when I need most to plant myself in the solid foundation that I know will support me during those treacherous times. I need my faith, my need to forgive and experience forgiveness, my family holding me as I fall, and to help pick them up when they are down. Without those footings every day, I’m nothing more than a muddy soiled mess lying face down on the ground wondering if I’ll ever walk again.
There is good reason I end up on my knees at times. It is the best reminder of where I would be full time if it were not for stronger Hands that lift me up, clean me up and guide my footsteps all my days.
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It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.The world, the truth, is more abounding, more delightful, more demanding than we thought. What appeared for a time perhaps to be mere dutifulness … suddenly breaks open in sweetness — and we are not where we thought we were, nowhere that we could have expected to be. ~Wendell Berry from “Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms,” in Standing By Words
Who among us knows with certainty each morning what we are meant to do that day or where we are to go?
Or do we make our best guess by putting one foot ahead of the other as we were taught until the day is done and it is time to rest?
For me, over four decades, I woke baffled each day that I was allowed to eavesdrop on heartbeats, touch tender bellies, sew up broken skin, set fractured bones, listen to and through tears.
I woke humbled with commitment and duty to keep going even when too tired, to offer care even when rejected. to keep striving even if impeded.
Doing that work, I learned that obstacles will slow but cannot stop the cascade of love and hope over the rocks of life.
My days overflow with the uncertainty of what comes next: finding my real work is to wade in deep, tumbling over the barriers and still keep singing.
Simply keep singing.
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It’s strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you. ~John O’Donohue from Anam Cara
We must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. ~Wendell Berry from The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
How did we come here and how is it we remain?
Even when the wind blows mightily, the waters rise, the earth shakes, the fires rage, the pandemic persists…
~we are here, granted another day to get it right. And will we?
It is strange to be here, marveling at the mystery around us – recognizing we are the ultimate mystery of creation, placed here as its witnesses, worshiping in humility, with reverence and obedience.
We don’t own what we see; we only own our awe.
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How is it they live for eons in such harmony – the billions of stars – when most men can barely go a minute without declaring war in their mind against someone they know. There are wars where no one marches with a flag, though that does not keep casualties from mounting.
Our hearts irrigate this earth. We are fields before each other. How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.
O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature without gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy. Grant that I may know what You require me to do. Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul. ~St. Thomas Aquinas
I look at headline news through my fingers, cringing.
Amid the centuries of posturing between governments and every imaginable tribe and faction, the names and faces change but the nature of hatred of the “other” doesn’t.
We’ve seen this all before, over and over through history. Over 150 years ago it was in the Gettysburg fields that blood of rival armies intermingled and irrigated U.S. soil. Though now we stand side by side with Germany and Japan, our bitter adversaries a mere eighty years ago, our world continually brews new enemies and ignites new conflicts.
We can barely go a minute without declaring war in our minds even against our neighbor, even those we consider friends and family. There is yelling from the streets in angry protest and screaming at school board meetings. Casualties mount in our bitterness toward one another.
And who am I to point fingers or squint through them at the news of the day? I am as prone to this as anyone.
Am I myself capable of submission without protest, remaining patient and uncomplaining even when I disagree? Can I embody humility without having a hidden agenda? Can I remain selfless when my true nature is wholly selfish?
How can there ever be harmony? How can I overcome my own rancorous heart?
As critical as it seems, It is not love for one another that comes first. I must first know, love and trust the only God who has loved the unloveable so much He became one with us, overpowering our tendency to hate one another by taking it all upon Himself.
Jesus found us dying in a world desperately drying up; His bleeding heart poured itself out onto our thirsting soil. We have been handed salvation.
It is, in fact, God who is madly in love with us and though we’ve done nothing to deserve it, it is our turn to show love to one another.
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He is a hard one to write a poem about. Like Napoleon. Hannibal. Genghis Khan. Already so large in history. To do it right, I have to sit down with him. At a place of his own choosing. Probably a steakhouse. We take a table in a corner. But people still recognize him, come up and slap him on the back, say how much they enjoyed studying about him in school and ask for his autograph. After he eats, he leans back and lights up a cigar and asks me what I want to know. Notebook in hand, I suggest that we start with the Little Big Horn and work our way back. But I realize I have offended him. That he would rather take it the other way around. So he rants on about the Civil War, the way west, the loyalty of good soldiers and now and then twists his long yellow hair with his fingers. But when he gets to the part about Sitting Bull, about Crazy Horse, he develops a twitch above his right eye, raises his finger for the waiter, excuses himself and goes to the restroom while I sit there along the bluffs with the entire Sioux nation, awaiting his return. ~David Shumate “Custer” from High Water Mark
When my family took two cross-country trips by car, once in 1963 and another in 1965, my father, a former officer and battalion leader in the Marines during WWII, was the primary driver and keeper of maps and deadlines. He could be convinced to stop at any number of state and national parks, points of interest and historical markers, but all four times we passed the sign indicating the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he would not stop despite our pleading.
“You’ve seen as much as there is up there,” he would say as we sped past, pointing at the marble monolith at the top of the hill where the battle took place. I would look around at the desolate countryside of brown grass with no trees, in the middle of nowhere, and wonder how this place could ever have warranted a battle to the death.
Then I would get mad at my dad’s refusal to stop to learn more.
I had certainly learned about General George Custer’s Last Stand in my elementary school history lessons. But my interest was primarily driven by a 1958 Disney movie “Tonka Wakan” that I had seen in the theater and then later on Sunday nights on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” I thought I understood the tragedy of that day from the standpoint of the U.S. Calvary and the only surviving horse Comanche, who in the Disney-imagined version of the battle, was raised and trained by a young Indian boy who turned the horse over to the calvary and then later was part of the Little Bighorn Battle in defense of Indian territory.
So I had a very skewed and Disney-fied version of history and my father was not helping me understand more deeply. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the likely reason he was so reluctant to stop and examine the history of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
My father was ashamed of it. He was a humble man who knew there could be no pride or sense of honor in that place.
He had very likely been trained in his Marine Officer’s Training in 1942 to understand that the poor decision-making of a cocky, overly self-assured General Custer led to the slaughter of five companies of the 7th Calvary Regiment as well as their Indian scouts in addition to dozens of Lakota and Dakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors.
My father had lived through three South Pacific island battles where poor decision-making was a death sentence. He didn’t feel the need to rehash the history in this desolate part of Montana.
As an adult, I’ve visited the Battlefield with my husband and children several times, have learned more about what led to the battle, what took place that day and how the indigenous people of the region have memorialized the spot from their own perspective. When we approach this spot on our cross-country drives, I’m filled with regret and remorse at the loss of life and the eventual loss of a Native American culture that could never again be as it was, despite the defeat they handed to the cavalry that day. I learned more when our son lived and taught high school math on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota Sioux people and we visited the site of Wounded Knee, another tear-drenched place in U.S. Cavalry and Native American history.
We, all descendants of immigrant Americans, comprise the U.S. government and military which doesn’t always make the best or wisest decisions. This is haunting us again this week in the miserably managed ending of the twenty-year war in Afghanistan that has cost so many American and Afghan lives – certainly beyond the scale of the horrific one day defeat at the Little Bighorn River. This long drawn-out complicated response to the attacks we suffered on 9/11/01, ended with yet more tragic bloodshed as we left so many vulnerable behind.
War, suffering, loss and death cannot and should not be Disney-fied. History is more complex than a paragraph in a textbook.
We have so much to learn about our shame and our need for greater humility. We need to understand who we have offended, not just how offended we feel. We can’t hide in the bathroom or drive on past the sites of these bloody conflicts, hoping it will all be forgotten.
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In Sleeping Beauty’s castle the clock strikes one hundred years and the girl in the tower returns to the world. So do the servants in the kitchen, who don’t even rub their eyes. The cook’s right hand, lifted an exact century ago, completes its downward arc to the kitchen boy’s left ear; the boy’s tensed vocal cords finally let go the trapped, enduring whimper, and the fly, arrested mid-plunge above the strawberry pie, fulfills its abiding mission and dives into the sweet, red glaze.
As a child I had a book with a picture of that scene. I was too young to notice how fear persists, and how the anger that causes fear persists, that its trajectory can’t be changed or broken, only interrupted. My attention was on the fly; that this slight body with its transparent wings and lifespan of one human day still craved its particular share of sweetness, a century later. ~Lisel Mueller “Immortality” from Alive Together
Little fly, Thy summer’s play My thoughtless hand Has brushed away.
Am not I A fly like thee? Or art not thou A man like me?
For I dance And drink and sing, Till some blind hand Shall brush my wing.
If thought is life And strength and breath, And the want Of thought is death,
Then am I A happy fly, If I live, Or if I die. ~William Blake “The Fly”
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm –…. ~Emily Dickinson
A fly made the news this past week. It became more important than the issues being discussed in the room in which it buzzed and landed. Maybe it has come to symbolize our helplessness in the face of our anger toward one another, which has become just another way for our fear to express itself.
There is nothing more humbling than a wayward fly buzzing in the room or landing uninvited on my head. No matter whether I live in a slum or a castle, a fly will find its way to me, just because it can. I must learn to coexist with what I can’t control; this is no time for frustration nor fear nor anger to raise my hand, ready to kill the offender.
When I’m feeling bugged, which happens all too often these days, the buzzing may overwhelm my stillness but I won’t let it overwhelm me. I will put down the swatter. I will breathe deeply and admire the ingenuity of such a brief life powered miraculously by two transparent wings.