All Things Glad and Flourishing

Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came;
and if the village had been beautiful at first,
it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness.
The great trees, which had looked shrunken and bare in the earlier months, had now burst into strong life and health;
and stretching forth their green arms over the thirsty ground,
converted open and naked spots into choice nooks,
where was a deep and pleasant shade
from which to look upon the wide prospect,
steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched out beyond.
The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green;
and shed her richest perfumes abroad.
It was the prime and vigour of the year;
all things were glad and flourishing.”
~ Charles Dickens from Oliver Twist 

Despite a pandemic,
despite economic hardship,
despite racial tensions and in-the-street protests,
despite political maneuvering and posturing:

life is green and flourishing and vigorous
even when we feel gray and withered and weakened.

May we not forget why we are here.
May we never forget our calling and purpose
to steward the earth and care for one another.

He Accepts Us As We Are: In Rock’s Fixity

I rise today
in the power’s strength, invoking the Trinity
believing in threeness,
confessing the oneness,
of creation’s Creator.

I rise today
in heaven’s might,
in sun’s brightness,
in moon’s radiance,
in fire’s glory,
in lightning’s quickness,
in wind’s swiftness,
in sea’s depth,
in earth’s stability,
in rock’s fixity.

I rise today
with the power of God to pilot me,
God’s strength to sustain me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look ahead for me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to protect me,
God’s way before me,
God’s shield to defend me,
God’s host to deliver me,
from snares of devils,
from evil temptations,
from nature’s failings,
from all who wish to harm me,
far or near,
alone and in a crowd.

Around me I gather today all these powers
against every cruel and merciless force
to attack my body and soul.

May Christ protect me today
against poison and burning,
against drowning and wounding,
so that I may have abundant reward;
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me;
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me;
Christ in my lying, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising;
Christ in the heart of all who think of me,
Christ on the tongue of all who speak to me,
Christ in the eye of all who see me,
Christ in the ear of all who hear me.

For to the Lord belongs
salvation,
and to the Lord belongs salvation
and to Christ belongs salvation.
May your salvation, Lord, be with us always.

—”Saint Patrick’s Breastplate,”
Old Irish, eighth-century prayer.

St. Patrick’s grave marker

Every year on March 17, St. Patrick is little remembered for his selfless missionary work in Ireland in the fifth century. When we visited his grave in Ireland – a humble stone fixed upon on a hill top next to a cathedral overlooking the sea – I wondered what he would make of how this day, dubbed with his name, is celebrated now.

Perhaps Patrick would observe that this year, March 17 is much quieter and more contemplative than typical. Worldwide we are considering our frail and fragile physical and economic vulnerabilities due to the pandemic viral outbreak.

Patrick, in his prayer, urges us to rise up to meet God’s power of salvation in our lives, even in the toughest scariest times.

God is our Rock and our Redeemer. We are fixed upon Him.

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

May the strength of God pilot us,
May the wisdom of God instruct us,
May the hand of God protect us,
May the word of God direct us.
Be always ours this day and for evermore.

Between Midnight and Dawn: Being a Flower in the Green

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ireland

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St. Patrick’s grave marker

Be still, and know that I am God…
Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
~St. Patrick

 

Six years a slave, and then you slipped the yoke,
Till Christ recalled you, through your captors cries!
Patrick, you had the courage to turn back,
With open love to your old enemies,
Serving them now in Christ, not in their chains,
Bringing the freedom He gave you to share.
You heard the voice of Ireland, in your veins
Her passion and compassion burned like fire.

Now you rejoice amidst the three-in-one,
Refreshed in love and blessing all you knew,
Look back on us and bless us, Ireland’s son,
And plant the staff of prayer in all we do:
A gospel seed that flowers in belief,
A greening glory, coming into leaf.
~Malcolm Guite  — A St. Patrick Sonnet

 

St. Patrick is little remembered for his selfless missionary work in Ireland in the fifth century, but rather has become a caricature of all the drunken silliness of this day.  Visiting his grave in Ireland, a humble stone on a hill top overlooking the sea, I wondered what he would make of the modern March 17.

He would advise us to be still and know.

He would plant his staff in us and all we do; we would respond by flowering up from the green.

 

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All the World is Leafy Green

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Some of the most powerful memories of summer come out of our childhood when we wake up on a June morning and suddenly remember that school is out and that summer stretches in front of us as endlessly as the infinities of space. Everything is different. The old routines are gone. The relentless school bus isn’t coming. The bells will be silent in silent hallways. And all the world is leafy green, and will be green, forever and ever.
~Ray Bradbury

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Summer Silence

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“Summer makes a silence after spring.”
– Vita Sackville-West

As we bid farewell to England, Scotland and Ireland today, leaving mild temperatures in the 50’s to go to atypical temperatures in the 90’s at home,  summer will be hitting us with a surreptitious sledge hammer when we disembark in Seattle.   Hay will be ready to pick up in the fields and we will return to work within hours of getting off the plane.  But even with the responsibilities we reassume, we will know the joy of a house filled with our (now adult) children and friends from all over the world.

Life is rich with memories tightly woven into the tapestry of our everyday routine.   I will look back on this special time with Dan with fond remembrance for new friends discovered, amazing places experienced,  all the while blessed by returning home together to everyone we hold so dear.   Summer may be silent after spring but it is brimming with blessings.

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A Mourne Kind of Morning

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I have seen landscapes [in the Mourne Mountains] which, under a particular light, made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge.
~C.S. Lewis

The Mournes have a mystical quality to them, bewitching the traveler and inspiring C.S. Lewis as a child growing up near here to create Narnia as an adult.

We have seen these mountains silhouetted in the distance, and have driven through them, descending into coastal villages surrounded by miles and miles of stone fences checker boarding the farmland.

We need to always keep wonder close at hand and never cease to wonder at the fairy tales in our own back yard.

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The World is Wondrous Large

Legananny Dolmen, Northern Ireland
Legananny Dolmen, Northern Ireland

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yes, this dolmen is in the middle of a farm yard

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In the Neolithic Age savage warfare did I wage For food and fame and woolly horses’ pelt.

I was singer to my clan in that dim, red Dawn of Man, And I sang of all we fought and feared and felt.

Still the world is wondrous large,—seven seas from marge to marge— And it holds a vast of various kinds of man… ~Rudyard Kipling from “In a Neolithic Age”

Today we acted like archeologists in Northern Ireland, traveling the countryside looking for the numerous “dolmens” or stone formations from 4000-5000+ years ago constructed during the Neolithic period in human history.  These are considered “portal tombs” and like Stonehenge, may also have astrologic significance to these prehistoric peoples.  Interestingly, they are scattered across the Irish countryside, mostly found in farmyards and fields, with hardly a sign to show the way to find them.  In two cases, we needed to parkbeside a barn, open  (and close) several gates so the cows and sheep don’t get out,  to make our way to the dolmen.

The world is wondrous large indeed, as Kipling says in his homage to the Neolithics (and in the rest of the poem critiquing his fellow “modern” man).  To think that humans, way before the pyramids, way before Abraham walked the earth, managed to figure out how to honor their dead by constructing formations of multi-ton stones on top of one another.  They are so perfectly balanced to exist as they were intended for thousands of years.  A vast various kind of man did this, a singer to his clan, in the “red dawn” of human history.

I am awed and humbled.

Nothing I have done could ever last like this.

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Kilfeaghan Dolmen
Kilfeaghan Dolmen

This dolmen is above the Irish Sea
This dolmen is above the Irish Sea

Goward Dolmen at the foot of the Mourne Mountains
Goward Dolmen at the foot of the Mourne Mountains

Propping up Darkness

The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland --photo by E Gibson
The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland –photo by E Gibson

Sometimes on summer evenings I step
Out of my house to look at trees
Propping darkness up to the silence.
~Paul Zimmer from “A Final Affection”

It isn’t summer quite yet, but soon.  It does not feel like summer here in Northern Ireland although we did see some blue skies as we traveled to the northern coast to see Giant’s Causeway and castle ruins and a collection of seaside farms and villages unlike anywhere else in the world.

But my favorite moment was walking beneath these 300+ year old beech trees, now known as “Dark Hedges”, planted as an entry way to Grace Hill mansion, the Stuart family estate.  Even in their old age, they cling to one another overhead, reaching out to their neighbors and creating the filtered light beneath.   There is no sign pointing the way to this road –they are simply a lane in farming country that is particularly inspiring to experience.  Today a farmer was mowing hay right next to the trees, probably bemused that anyone bothers to stop and take pictures of a few old trees.

The beeches have been around long before me, and with their overarching sheltering of each other, they will be here long after.   I should be more like the twists and turns of the limbs of the beeches, reaching out, leaning in and holding on for dear life, to prop up the darkness so it can’t overwhelm.

As long as there is light, even just a little, all will be well.

The Dark Hedges --photo by E Gibson

The Dark Hedges –photo by E Gibson