Your Very Flesh

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This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches,
give alms to everyone that asks,
devote your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
and your very flesh shall be a great poem,
and have the richest fluency, not only in its words,
but in the silent lines of its lips and face,
and between the lashes of your eyes,
and in every motion and joint of your body.
~Walt Whitman from his preface to “Leaves of Grass”

 

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Time lurches ahead in imprecisely measured chunks and today is the start of another summer season of relative rest, of another transition for several thousand college students moving on to another phase of life with advice of all sorts ringing in their ears.

Commencement is best suited to start in a season that itself is a poem.  Summer simply stands on its own in all its extravagant abundance of light and warmth and growth and color stretching deep within the rising and setting horizons. Each long day can feel like it must last forever, never ending, yet, like the length of our fleshy days on earth, it eventually winds down, spins itself out, darkening gradually into shadow.

In a few short months we will let go with reluctance as if no summer like it could ever come again.

Yet another will, somehow, somewhere, someday. Our very flesh can depend on it.

Surely such a never-ending summer is what heaven itself will be.

 

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There is Really No Death

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There is not one blade of grass,
there is no color in this world
that is not intended to make us rejoice.

~John Calvin

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The moment one gives close attention to any thing,
even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious,
awesome,
indescribably magnificent world in itself.

~Henry Miller

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Men do change,
and change comes like a little wind
that ruffles the curtains at dawn,
and it comes like the stealthy perfume
of wildflowers hidden in the grass.

~John Steinbeck

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Rest is not idleness,
and to lie sometimes
on the grass under trees on a summer’s day,
listening to the murmur of the water,
or watching the clouds float across the sky,
is by no means a waste of time.
~John Lubbock

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The virtues of a superior man are like the wind;
the virtues of a common man are like the grass
– I the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends.

We should be blessed if we lived in the present always,
and took advantage of every accident that befell us,
like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it.
~Henry David Thoreau from Walden

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If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy,
if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you,
if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand,
rejoice, for your soul is alive.
~Eleonora Duse

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When they would return to one another from their solitariness,
they returned gently as dew comes to the morning grass.

~David Paul Kirkpatrick

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All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.
Isaiah 40:6-8

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A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more
than he.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.

… I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see
and remark, and say Whose?

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
~Walt Whitman from “Song of Myself”

 

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Journey Work of the Stars

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I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.
~Walt Whitman

All photos were taken this week while walking past Western Washington University garden plots on my way to and from meetings on campus.   My routine tasks, my everyday journeyman duties, are rendered extraordinary in the light of petals, pollen, webs, pigment, fruit, seed pods and always, always the nurture of soil and rain.   I chanced upon a gardener yesterday and told him the difference his work makes in my day.  The rich visual and tactile variety in the gardens is like star-lit nebulae and galaxies scattered about in planter pots and plots.

He looked up, startled, so used to not being noticed,  and simply said, “it’s been a good year for the plants.”

Indeed it is.  A good year for us all.

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All Flesh

All flesh is grass.
Isaiah 40:6
photo by Josh Scholten

The moment one gives close attention to anything,
even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome,
indescribably magnificent world in itself.
– Henry Miller

With the light and warmth waning with autumn’s approach, we have likely mowed for the last time this season. The explosion of green in May has become the browning crisp of September. Our work may be on hiatus, but the grasses only appear to be resting.

Growth has gone to seed. The seed itself is gone as well: blowing in a gusty breeze, or attaching to a passing tuft of fur to ride to another destination, or traversing a bird’s digestive tract to eventually land at the base of a fence post, or simply landing into nurturing soil at the feet of the mother plant. There it is invited home once again.

The season of grasses, though unbearably short, is nevertheless perpetual. Half of the year nothing appears to be happening. Still its growth continues, invisible to the eye, all nuance and planned potential. Even as the plant dies back, it persists within the ever renewing and buried seed,  guaranteed a new life and purpose in another place and season.

Surely I too am grass, withering with seed falling.  Though gone with the wind, blown by the breath of God,  within that seed, His word endures forever.

And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles…
~ Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass

photo by Josh Scholten