Downpress of Dust Upward

Stretching Himself as if again,
through downpress of dust
upward, soul giving way
to thread of white, that reaches
for daylight, to open as green
leaf that it is…
Can Ascension
not have been
arduous, almost,
as the return
from Sheol, and
back through the tomb
into breath?
Matter reanimate
now must relinquish
itself, its
human cells,
molecules, five
senses, linear
vision endured
as Man –
the sole
all-encompassing gaze
resumed now,
Eye of Eternity.
Relinquished, earth’s
broken Eden.
self-enjoined task
of Incarnation.
He again
Fathering Himself.
Seed-case splitting.
He again
Mothering His birth:
torture and bliss.

~Denise Levertov “Ascension”

For as a cloud received Him from their sight,
So with a cloud will He return ere long:
Therefore they stand on guard by day, by night,
Strenuous and strong.

They do, they dare, they beyond seven times seven
Forgive, they cry God’s mighty word aloud:
Yet sometimes haply lift tired eyes to Heaven–
“Is that His cloud?”
~Christina Rossetti from “Ascension Day”

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .

~Malcolm Guite “Ascension”

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents

Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.
But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.
It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts
that makes already present what we are waiting for.
We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.
We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit,
and after the ascension of Jesus
we wait for his coming again in glory.
We are always waiting,
but it is a waiting in the conviction that
we have already seen God’s footsteps.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

Ascension Day observance reminds me that waiting is a hard sweet paradox in the Christian life.  It is hard not yet having what I know is coming. 

But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming because of the footprints left behind:
He has been here among us and, in His ascension, carried our dust to heaven. 

The waiting won’t be easy; it will often be painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when all seems exhausted. Others won’t understand why we wait, nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for. 

So we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping; we are a community groaning together in sweet expectation of the morning.


Make a one-time or recurring donation to support daily Barnstorming posts

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is deeply appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

A World Where Much is Missing

Leave a door open long enough,
a cat will enter.
Leave food, it will stay.
Soon, on cold nights,
you’ll be saying “Excuse me”
if you want to get out of your chair.
But one thing you’ll never hear from a cat
is “Excuse me.”
Nor Einstein’s famous theorem.
Nor “The quality of mercy is not strained.”
In the dictionary of Cat, mercy is missing.
In this world where much is missing,
a cat fills only a cat-sized hole.
Yet your whole body turns toward it
again and again because it is there.

~Jane Hirshfield “A Small-Sized Mystery” from Come, Thief.

The first time I saw him, it was just a flash of gray ringed tail
disappearing into autumn night mist as I opened the back door
to pour kibble into the empty cat dish on the porch:
just another stray cat among many who visit the farm.

A few linger and stay.

So he did, keeping a distance in the shadows under the trees,
a gray tabby with white nose and bib, serious yet skittish,
watching me as I moved about feeding dogs, cats, birds, horses,
creeping to the cat dish only when the others drifted away.

There was something in the way he held his head,
an oddly forward ear; a stilted swivel of the neck.
I startled him one day as he ate his fill at the dish.

He ran, the back of his head flashing red, scalp completely gone.

Not oozing, nor something new, but recent. A nearly mortal scar
from an encounter with coyote, or eagle or bobcat.
This cat thrived despite trauma and pain, tissue still raw, trying to heal.

He had chosen to live; life had chosen him.

My first thought was to trap him, to put him humanely to sleep
to end his suffering mercifully, in truth to end my distress at seeing him every day,
envisioning florid flesh even as he hunkered invisible
in the shadowlands of the barnyard.

Yet the scar did not keep him from eating well or licking clean his pristine fur.

As much as I wanted to look away, to avoid confronting his mutilation,
I always greeted him from a distance, a nod to his maimed courage,
through wintry icy blasts and four foot snow,
through spring rains and summer heat with flies.

His wounds remained always visible,
a reminder of his inevitable fate.

I never did stroke that silky fur,
or feel his burly purr, assuming he still knew how,
but still fed his daily fill,
as he fed my need to know:
the value of a life so broken,
each breath taken is filled with sacred air.

The depth of his wounds show how much he bleeds.

my wounded friend, as close as he would allow


Thank you your support for daily Barnstorming posts through a one-time or recurring donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is deeply appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

A Shivering Lily

A lily shivered
at His passing,
supposing Him to be
the Gardener.
~Margaret D. Smith “Easter morning, yesterday”
from A Widening Light -Poems of the Incarnation

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?”
They knew it was the Lord.
John 21:12

It’s so easy to look and see what we pass through in this world, but we don’t. If you’re like me, you see so little. You see what you expect to see rather than what’s there.
~Frederick Buechner from The Remarkable Ordinary

It is too easy, by the next day, to let go of Easter — to slide back into the Monday routine, managing our best to get through each day, teeth gritted, as we have before.

We had been blinded by our grief, shivering in misery, thinking Him only the Gardener as He passed by. We just don’t pay attention to Who is right before us, always tending us – the new Adam, caring for a world desperate for rescue.

God knows this about us.  So He meets us for breakfast on Monday and every day thereafter and feeds us, a tangible and meaningful act of nourishing us in our most basic human needs though we’ve done nothing to deserve the gift. He cooks up fish on a beach at dawn and invites us to join Him, as if nothing extraordinary has just happened.

Just yesterday evening he reviewed His Word and broke bread in Emmaus, opening the eyes and hearts of those like us who failed to see Who this is walking beside them. This is no mere Gardener.

When He offers a meal of His Word, the gift is nothing less than Himself.


Support daily Barnstorming posts with a one-time or recurring donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is deeply appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Made Worthy By His Word

Here is the source of every sacrament,
The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element
Remaking us in his creative Word.

For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.

And here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.

Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.

~Malcolm Guite “Maundy Thursday”

On this Maundy Thursday
we are called to draw near Him,
to gather together among the
hungry and thirsty
to the Supper He has prepared.

He washes the dirt off our feet;
we look away, mortified.
He serves us from Himself;
we fret about whether
we are worthy.

We are not.

Starving and parched,
grimy and weary,
hardly presentable
to be guests at His table,
we are made worthy only because
He has made us so.

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

By the magnet of Christ I am drawn to stillness
My joy is to live as a recluse of Love
Resting my head on the heart of all Mercy
Living in the presence of the Presence

This is my home where I will live forever:
Hidden with Christ in God

This breath and this heartbeat, the rhythm of my praising,
sounding to the wing-beats of angel-song.
My will is an anchor in the depths of silence –
Living in the presence of the Presence

Each morning I rise in the Holy of Holies
to sacrifice each moment of time.
Burning like a lamp with the oil of gladness –
Living in the presence of the Presence

Fasting from all things to feast on your manna,
bread in the wilderness gathered each dawn.
Tasting your sweetness in quiet communion –
Living in the presence of the Presence

With my prayer I am sowing / sewing the seeds of heaven,
a garden of paradise to bloom on earth.
Spinning and weaving, revealing the beauty
of Living in the presence of the Presence

In the silence of the senses I know only Being –
the vast fields of heaven in the smallest thing.
Unknowable mystery that cannot be spoken
living in the presence of the Presence
~Kathleen Deignan

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Hope is All We Know

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
     it shakes sleep from its eyes
     and drops from mushroom gills,
          it explodes in the starry heads
          of dandelions turned sages,
               it sticks to the wings of green angels
               that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
     it lives in each earthworm segment
     surviving cruelty,
          it is the motion that runs
          from the eyes to the tail of a dog,
               it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
               of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

~Lisel Mueller “Hope” from Alive Together

During this Holy Week when all hope seems lost, we hold onto what we see and know:
God has not abandoned us.

Instead He allowed us to abandon Him when He needed hope and love most.

He declared finished the mess we had started.

What greater hope is there than being given a fresh start?

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Every Stone Shall Cry

I tell you… if these should hold their peace,
the stones would immediately cry out.”
~Luke 19: 39-40

A stable lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky
The stars shall bend their voices
And every stone shall cry
And every stone shall cry
And straw like gold will shine
A barn shall harbour heaven
A stall become a shrine

This child through David’s city
Will ride in triumph by
The palm shall strew its branches
And every stone shall cry
And every stone shall cry
Though heavy, dull and dumb
And lie within the roadway
To pave the Kingdom come

Yet He shall be forsaken
And yielded up to die
The sky shall groan and darken
And every stone shall cry
And every stone shall cry
For thorny hearts of men
God’s blood upon the spearhead
God’s love refused again

But now as at the ending
The low is lifted high
The stars will bend their voices
And every stone shall cry
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled
~Richard Wilbur
 “A Christmas Hymn”

Feeling heavy, dull and dumb,
I am convinced
I’m no better than a simple rock,
inconsequential and immobile,
trod upon and paved over,
forgettable and forgotten.

I believe
there can be no pulse
in my stony heart,
if I turn away from God
who has come to walk beside me
on this humble gravelly ground.

Yet especially the lowest are lifted high by His descent–
every balanced or falling stone – the dumb and lifeless –
shall cry out in community with Him,
their silence finds a voice to praise.

Even my own voice,
meager as it is,
shall be heard.

I am no longer forgotten.
In fact, never have been forgotten.
So hard to reconcile:
as the stones have known Him all along,
then so should I.

So must I.

photo by Kathy Yates

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – One Fierce Sweet Hour

photo by Anna Blake

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
   leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
   clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.
~Mary Oliver “The Poet thinks about the donkey” from her book Thirst.

photo by Anna Blake, Infinity Farm

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings…

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”

Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day. 

Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now – for his plain and awkward hairy looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.

There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God, disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.

But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.

The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving. Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort. Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger, just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod, the donkey would keep his secret well.  

Who, after all, would ever listen to a mere donkey?

We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom. 

The donkey knows – he’s a believer.

He bears the burden we have shirked. He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as meaningless symbols of honor. He is the ultimate servant to the Servant.

A day of dichotomy —
of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on, 
of blessings and praise turning to curses,
of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.

And so He wept, knowing all this. I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

and just for fun on April 1st, I can’t resist sharing this one ….

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Everything Sad is Going to Come Untrue

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.  Revelation 21: 4-5

“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
~J.R.R. Tolkien as Samwise Gamgee wakes to find his friends all around him in The Lord of the Rings

“The answer is yes. And the answer of the Bible is yes. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue.”
~Pastor Tim Keller’s response in a sermon given in an ecumenical prayer service memorial in Lower Manhattan on the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11.

photo by Joel De Waard

In our minds, we want to rewind and replay the sad events of this week in a way that would prevent them from happening in the first place.

We want those in a broken relationship to come back together, hug and forgive. The devastating diagnosis would be proven an error and, in reality, only a transient illness. When a terrible tragedy happens, we want the dead and injured to rise up again. The destructive earthquake becomes a mere tremor, the flooding tsunami is only one foot, not over thirty feet tall, the hijackers are prevented from ever boarding a plane, the shooter changes her mind at the last minute and lays down her arms, the terrorist disables his suicide bombs and walks away from his training and misguided mission.

We want so badly for it all to be untrue. The bitter reality of horrendous suffering and sadness daily all over the earth is too much for us to absorb. We plead for relief and beg for a better day.

Our minds may play mental tricks like this, but God does not play tricks. He knows and feels what we do. He too wants to see it rewound and replayed differently. He has known grief and sadness, He has wept, He has suffered, He too has died in terrible humiliating and painful circumstances. 

And because of this, because of a God who came to dwell with us, was broken, died and then rose again whole and holy, we are assured, in His time, everything sad is going to come untrue.

Our tears will be dried, our grief turned to joy, our pain nonexistent, not even a memory.  It will be a new day, a better day–as it is written, trustworthy and true.

May it come.


photo by Nate Gibson

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – A Peculiar Treasure

Imagine yourself in a big city in a crowd of people.  
What it would be like to see all the people in the crowd like Jesus does —
an anonymous crowd with

old ones and young ones,
fat ones and thin ones,
attractive ones and ugly ones—
think what it would be like to love them.  

If our faith is true, if there is a God,
and if God loves, he loves each one of those.  
Try to see them as loved.  
And then try to see them, these faces, as loved by you.  
What would it be like to love these people, to love these faces —
the lovable faces, the kind faces, gentle compassionate faces?  
That’s not so hard.  
But there are lots of other faces —
disagreeable faces, frightening faces, frightened faces, cruel faces, closed faces. …
they are all peculiar treasures.  

In Exodus, God said to Israel,
“You shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.”  
God meant it for all of us.
~Frederick Buechner from The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life

t doesn’t take long for me to be overwhelmed by humanity when we have visited some of the world’s largest cities. Airports are a shock of weaving lines of weary people and crying children, commuter trains are packed with individuals standing like sardines for an hour or more twice a day, the stations are a sea of bobbing heads flowing out onto the streets where the crosswalks become a mass hive of activity whenever the light changes.

Yet I’ve been struck by the effort some locals make to help visitors who look lost, or who simply look different. There is outreach at times that is spontaneous, genuine and completely unexpected. Those are easy faces to love and we do. What is much much harder to is love those hundreds of thousands who rush past us on their way to work, to shop, to return home.  How can I even begin to have the capacity?

Who greeted Jesus after he entered Jerusalem in the final week of His life? These were not all friendly faces. He loved them all any way, every single one of them were peculiar treasures to him, forgiven and redeemed by His walk to, and death on, the cross.

I realize much of the time I too feel rushed, not bothering to reach out and be helpful when needed. Even so, He loves me still, flaws and all, as His redeeming grace is meant for one such as me – a peculiar treasure.  

Because of His love, I become the real thing and not just a distorted reflection of what I think I should be.

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Free to Move in Darkness

Holding the arms of his helper, the blind
Piano tuner comes to our piano.
He hesitates at first, but once he finds
The keyboard, his hands glide over the slow
Keys, ringing changes finer than the eye
Can see. The dusty wires he touches, row
On row, quiver like bowstrings as he
Twists them one notch tighter. He runs his
Finger along a wire, touches the dry
Rust to his tongue, breaks into a pure bliss
And tells us, “One year more of damp weather
Would have done you in, but I’ve saved it this
Time. Would one of you play now, please? I hear
It better at a distance.” My wife plays
Stardust. The blind man stands and smiles in her
Direction, then disappears into the blaze
Of new October. Now the afternoon,
The long afternoon that blurs in a haze
Of music…Chopin nocturnes, Clair de lune,
All the old familiar, unfamiliar
Music-lesson pieces, Papa’s Haydn’s
Dead and gone, gently down the stream
…Hours later,
After the last car has doused its beams,
Has cooled down and stopped its ticking, I hear
Our cat, with the grace of animals free
To move in darkness, strike one key only,
And a single lucid drop of water stars my dream.

~Gibbons Ruark “The Visitor”

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I’ve never understood
Why this is so

But there’s an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.
~Anne Porter “Music” from Living Things

photo by Lea Gibson
photo from The Olympian

I learned today that John Grace recently died at age 92; John was the blind piano tuner who tended and tuned our family’s old Kranich & Bach baby grand through the 60’s and 70’s until it moved with me to Seattle. When I saw his photo online in The Olympian newspaper, it took me back sixty years to his annual visits to our home, accompanied by a friend who drove him to his jobs, who guided him up the sidewalk to our front door and then waited for him to finish his work.

I was the 8 year old reason my great Aunt Marian had given us her beloved piano when she downsized from her huge Bellingham house into an apartment. I was fascinated watching John make the old strings sing harmonically again. He seemed right at home working on the innards of our piano, but appeared to truly enjoy ours, always ending his tuning session by sitting down on the bench and playing a familiar old hymn, smiling a broad smile.

There was no doubt his unseeing eyes made him a great piano tuner. He was fixed on the unseen, undistracted by what was unimportant to his job. He could “feel” the right pitch, not just hear it. He could sense the wire tension without seeing it. He touched the keys and wood with reverence, not distracted by the blemishes and bleaching in the mahogany, or the chips in the ivory.

I learned something about music from John, without him saying much of anything. He built a successful business in our town during a time you could count the black citizens on one hand. He spoke very little while he worked so I never asked him questions although I wish I had. It was as if he somehow transcended our troubled world through his art and skill. Though blind, when he was with a piano, he could move freely in the darkness, hearing and feeling what I could not. Perhaps it was because he was visited by a beauty and peacefulness we all long for, seen and unseen.

It occurs to me now, sixty years after observing him work, John Grace was just a step ahead in recognizing the voice of Jesus in our midst through the music he made possible.

Though he was blind, there is no doubt in my mind – he could see.

Yea when this flesh and heart shall fail
And mortal life shall cease.
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

articles about John Grace:

photo by Josh Scholten

This year’s Barnstorming Lenten theme is taken from 2 Corinthians 4: 18:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.