You want to know how I spend my time? I walk the front lawn, pretending to be weeding. You ought to know I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact I’m looking for courage, for some evidence my life will change, though it takes forever, checking each clump for the symbolic leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already the leaves turning, always the sick trees going first, the dying turning brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform their curfew of music. You want to see my hands? As empty now as at the first note. Or was the point always to continue without a sign? ~Louise Glück “Matins V”
I have never been a brave person. In fact, I can be as fearful of the headlines of world events as the next person – a downright lily-livered chicken-heart. People like me may engage in lots of magical thinking, hoping I just might change through hard work and a large measure of good luck.
But what has luck got to do with it? Nothing whatsoever.
The reality is, many people work hard and still face insurmountable struggles that regularly force them to their knees. Courage is asking God for the grit to keep going no matter what confronts you because that is exactly what He did for us: even when his knees hurt from kneeling, his voice was hoarse with prayer, his eyes full of tears, his efforts unacknowledged and unappreciated, his heart broken.
Even when I come up empty-handed, I take courage and take heart. His heart.
Take heart, my friend, we’ll go together This uncertain road that lies ahead Our faithful God has always gone before us And He will lead the way once again
Take heart, my friend, we can walk together And if our burdens become too great We can hold up and help one other In God’s love and God’s grace
Take heart my friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our defender in the night
If we should falter when trouble surrounds us When the wind and the waves are wild and high We will look away to Him who ruled the waters Who spoke His peace into the angry tide
He is our comfort, our sustainer He is our help in time of need When we wander, He is our Shepherd He who watches over us never sleeps
Take heart my friend the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our defender in the night
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Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock. “Now they are all on their knees,” An elder said as we sat in a flock By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where They dwelt in their strawy pen, Nor did it occur to one of us there To doubt they were kneeling then. So fair a fancy few would weave In these years!
Yet, I feel,If someone said on Christmas Eve, “Come; see the oxen kneel,“ In the lonely barton by yonder coomb Our childhood used to know, ”I should go with him in the gloom, Hoping it might be so.“ ~Thomas Hardy “The Oxen”
Says a country legend told every year: Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see what the creatures do as that long night tips over. Down on their knees they will go, the fire of an old memory whistling through their minds!
So I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold I creaked back the barn door and peered in. From town the church bells spilled their midnight music, and the beasts listened – yet they lay in their stalls like stone.
Oh the heretics! Not to remember Bethlehem, or the star as bright as a sun, or the child born on a bed of straw! To know only of the dissolving Now!
Still they drowsed on – citizens of the pure, the physical world, they loomed in the dark: powerful of body, peaceful of mind, innocent of history.
Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas! And you are no heretics, but a miracle, immaculate still as when you thundered forth on the morning of creation! As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me. Caught in its light, listening again to its story, I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me the best it could all night. ~Mary Oliver “Christmas Poem”from Goodness and Light
The winds were scornful, Passing by; And gathering Angels Wondered why
A burdened Mother Did not mind That only animals Were kind.
For who in all the world Could guess That God would search out Loneliness. ~Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B. “The Stable”
Beholding his glory is only half our job. In our souls too the mysteries must be brought forth; we are not really Christians till that has been done. A mystic says human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice— animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid— and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God. ~Evelyn Underhill“Light of the World” from Watch for the Light
Growing up on my childhood farm, remembering the magic of Christmas eve night, I bundled myself up to stay warm in our barn, to witness an unbelievable sight.
At midnight we knew the animals knelt down, speaking words we could all understand, to worship a Child born in Bethlehem town, in a barn, long ago in a far away land.
They were there that night, to see and to hear, the blessings that came from the sky. They patiently stood watch at the manger near, in a barn, while shepherds and kings stopped by.
My trips to the barn were always too late, our cows would be chewing, our chickens asleep, our horses breathing softly, cats climbing the gate, in our barn, there was never a neigh, moo or peep.
But I knew they had done it, I just missed it again! They were plainly so calm, well-fed and at peace in the sweet smelling straw, all snug in their pens, in a barn, a mystery, once more, took place.
Even now, I still bundle to go out Christmas eve, in the hope I’ll catch them just once more this time. Though I’m older and grayer, I still firmly believe in the barn, a Birth happened amid cobwebs and grime.
Our horses sigh low as they hear me come near, that tells me the time I hope for is now, they will drop to their knees without any fear in our barn, as worship, all living things bow.
I wonder anew at God’s immense trust for His creatures so sheltered that darkening night – the mystery of why of all places, His Son must begin life in a barn: a welcoming most holy and right. ~Emily Gibson “In the Barn” (written Christmas Eve 1999)
Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come. ~Jane Kenyon, from “Let Evening Come”
Latin text O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, iacentem in praesepio! Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Iesum Christum. Alleluia!
English translation O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia!
Sing O the wild wood, the green holly, The silent river and barren tree; The humble creatures that no man sees: Sing O the wild wood.
A weary journey one winter’s night; No hope of shelter, no rest in sight. Who was the creature that bore Mary? A simple donkey.
And when they came into Beth’lem Town They found a stable to lay them down; For their companions that Christmas night, An ox and an ass.
And then an angel came down to earth To bear the news of the Saviour’s birth; The first to marvel were shepherds poor, And sheep with their lambs.
Sing O the wild wood, the green holly, The silent river and barren tree; The humble creatures that no man sees: Sing O the wild wood. John Rutter
Jesus our brother, strong and good Was humbly born in a stable rude And the friendly beasts around him stood Jesus our brother, strong and good “I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown “I carried his mother up hill and down I carried his mother to Bethlehem town” “I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown “I, ” said the cow, all white and red “I gave him my manger for his bed I gave him my hay to pillow his head” “I, ” said the cow, all white and red “I, ” said the sheep with curly horn “I gave him my wool for his blanket warm He wore my coat on Christmas morn” “I, ” said the sheep with curly horn “I, ” said the dove from the rafters high “I cooed him to sleep so he would not cry We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I” “I, ” said the dove from rafters high Thus every beast by some good spell In the stable dark was glad to tell Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel
Try as I might to hold fear and suffering to the periphery of my vision, it is difficult to keep them there; like a morning fog clutching at the ground, bad news creeps out and covers everything, distorting truth and color and light, yet so seductive by softening the rough edges until reality hits.
Maybe I can turn away Maybe it won’t reach me Maybe it is all mirage, someone’s imagining.
Still, I can no longer be mere audience to the events of the day, too weak in the knees to do anything. The trouble that lies beyond this hill touches us all.
I kneel in silent witness: to wait, to listen, to pray for a flood of stillness to cover us.
Outrageous flowers as big as human heads! They’re staggered by their own luxuriance: I had to prop them up with stakes and twine. In the darkening June evening I draw a blossom near, and bending close search it as a woman searches a loved one’s face. ~Jane Kenyon from “Peonies at Dusk”
There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick, There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done, For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders, If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders; And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden, You will find yourself a partner In the Glory of the Garden.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees, So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away! And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away ! ~Rudyard Kipling from “The Glory of the Garden”
There is no better place to be than in a garden down on my knees. Humans were created for this: the naming, the turning over of the soil, the planting and nurturing, the weeding and thinning, the harvest and gratitude, and then a time of lying fallow to rest.
The garden is a place for prayer and praise.
When I meet a truly great gardener, like my friend Jean who has grown and hybridized dahlias for decades, what I see growing in the soil is a tapestry of artwork made from petals, leaves and roots. She has passionately cared for these plants and they reflect that love in every spiral and swirl, hue and gradient of color, showing stark symmetry and delightful variegation.
Arising from the plainest of homely and knobby look-alike tubers grow these luxurious beauties of infinite variety. I kneel stunned before each one, captivated, realizing that same Creator makes sure I too bloom from mere dust and then set me to work in His garden.
Walking in February A warm day after a long freeze On an old logging road Below Sumas Mountain Cut a walking stick of alder, Looked down through clouds On wet fields of the Nooksack— And stepped on the ice Of a frozen pool across the road. It creaked The white air under Sprang away, long cracks Shot out in the black, My cleated mountain boots Slipped on the hard slick —like thin ice—the sudden Feel of an old phrase made real— Instant of frozen leaf, Icewater, and staff in hand. “Like walking on thin ice—” I yelled back to a friend, It broke and I dropped Eight inches in ~Gary Snyder “Thin Ice”
We are surrounded by divisive opinions about all manner of things — how we should live, who is privileged and who is marginalized, who we should believe, who we cannot possibly believe — these battles of words hog headlines, scroll the bottom of our screens, blare from classrooms, city squares, radios and podcasts.
Continual conflict, literally a splintering crack creaking with our weight, occupies too much of the world’s scarce resources, while compassionate people stand stranded on the frozen lake of political emotions.
The trouble with such overheating in the middle of winter is that we all end up walking on too-thin ice: both those who are far too overconfident in expressing their own righteous views and opinions about how much more they know than others, and those of us who passively listen and judge between the blowhards.
We’ll all end up breaking through the ice, thoroughly doused by the chilly waters below.
Lord, have mercy on us, show us your Light, blend the division between shadow and dawn, help us recognize the cracks creaking beneath our feet, compelling us to fall to our knees, before you and you alone.
the looming presences – great suffering, great fear –
withdraw only into peripheral vision:
but ineluctable this shimmering of wind in the blue leaves:
this flood of stillness widening the lake of sky:
this need to dance, this need to kneel:
this mystery… ~Denise Levertov “Of Being”
Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw upon itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom.
Inundated by the overwhelmingly bad news of the world,
blasted 24/7 from cable TV,
highlighted in rapidly changing headlines online,
and tweeted real time from every nook and cranny,
we must cling to the mystery
of His magnetism for our weaknesses and flaws.
He willingly pulls our evil out of us
and onto Himself.
Hatred and pain,
shame and anger,
our bitterness disappears
into the vortex of His love and beauty,
the dusty corners of our hearts vacuumed spotless.
We are let in on this secret:
He is not sullied by absorbing the dirty messes of our lives.
Instead, as we kneel forgiven,
He washes us forever clean.
For two days, wind and rain storms have noisily centered my attention; they pummel, push and pelt to remind me I am not in control and never have been.
When I look out the window at tall trees bowing and proud blossoms breaking to the ground, I too am bent and broken.
If there was a time to kneel down, this is it.
The rain to the wind said, ‘You push and I’ll pelt.’ They so smote the garden bed That the flowers actually knelt, And lay lodged–though not dead. I know how the flowers felt. ~Robert Frost “Lodged”
I yearn for flowers that bend with the wind and rain.
The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.
The heavy rain beat down the tender branches of vine and jessamine,
and trampled on them in its fury;
and when the lightning gleamed,
it showed the tearful leaves shivering and cowering together at the window,
and tapping at it urgently,
as if beseeching to be sheltered from the dismal night.
~Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit
No one but Night, with tears on her dark face,
Watches beside me in this windy place.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay