The Honey of Afternoon Light

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious
~Lisel Mueller “In Passing”

Each one of us is like a swelling bud hanging heavy and waiting on the stem —
already but not quite yet.

Such is the late afternoon light of a mid-spring day.
There is an air of mystery in a honeyed moment of illumination
knowing something more is coming.

Not just the inevitable darkness when we all must give up the light to sleep.
Not just opening wide to what we cannot yet understand.
Not just peering through a glass darkly.

Breaking into blossom means opening fully,
into the glow of full ripeness,
to become part of the light itself.

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A Palouse Farmgirl

My mother, Elna Schmitz Polis, was born 103 years ago today in the lonely isolation of a Palouse wheat and lentil farm in eastern Washington. She drew her first breath in a two story white house located down a long poplar-lined lane and nestled in a draw between the undulating hills.

She attended a one room school house until 8th grade, located a mile away in the rural countryside, then moved in with her grandmother “in town” in Rosalia to attend high school, seeing her parents only a couple times a month.

It was a childhood which accustomed her to solitude and creative play inside her mind and heart – her only sibling, an older brother, was busy helping their father on the farm. All her life and especially in her later years, she would prefer the quiet of her own thoughts over the bustle of a room full of activities and conversation.

Her childhood was filled with exploration of the rolling hills, the barns and buildings where her father built and repaired farm equipment, and the chilly cellar where the fresh eggs were stored after she reached under cranky hens to gather them. She sat in the cool breeze of the picketed yard, watching the huge windmill turn and creak next to the house. She helped her weary mother feed farm crews who came for harvest time and then settled in the screened porch listening to the adults talk about lentil prices and bushel production. She woke to the mourning dove call in the mornings and heard the coyote yips and howls at night.

She nearly died at the age of 13 from a ruptured appendix, before antibiotics were an option. That near-miss seemed to haunt her life-long, filling her with worry that it was a mistake that she survived that episode at all. Yet she thrived despite the anxiety, and ended up, much to her surprise, living a long life full of family and faith, letting go at age 88 after fracturing a femur, breaking her will to continue to live.

As a young woman, she was ready to leave the wheat farm behind for college, devoting herself to the skills of speech, and the creativity of acting and directing in drama, later teaching rural high school students, including a future Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Carolyn Kizer. She loved words and the power and beauty they wielded.

Marrying my father was a brave and impulsive act, traveling by train to the east coast only a week before he shipped out for almost 3 years to the South Pacific to fight as a Marine in WWII. She must have wondered about the man who returned from war changed and undoubtedly scarred in ways she could not see or touch. They worked it out mostly in silence, as rocky as it must have been at times. Her episode of Graves’ disease, before I was born, must have been agonizing, as her storm of thyroid overactivity resulted in months of sleepless full time panic. Only thyroid removal saved her, but even radical surgeries take their toll. Their marriage never fully recovered.

In their reconciliation after a painful divorce years later, I finally could see the devotion and mutual respect between life companions who had found shared purpose and love.

As a wife and mother, she rediscovered her calling as a steward of the land and a tireless steward of her family, gardening and harvesting fruits, vegetables and us children. When I think of my mother, I most often think of her tending us children in the middle of the night whenever we were ill; her over-vigilance was undoubtedly due to her worry we might die in childhood as she almost did.

She never did stop worrying until the last few months. As she became more dependent on others in her physical decline, she gave up the control she thought she had to maintain through her “worry energy” and became much more accepting about the control the Lord maintains over all we are and will become.

I know from where my shyness comes, my preference for birdsongs rather than radio music, my love of naps, and my tendency to be serious and straight-laced with a twinkle in my eye. This is my German Palouse side–immersing in the quietness of solitude, thrilling to the sight of the spring wheat flowing like a green ocean wave in the breeze and appreciating the warmth of rich soil held in my hands. From that heritage came my mother and it is the legacy she left with me. I am forever grateful for her unconditional love and her willingness to share the sunshine and warmth of her nest whenever we felt the need to fly back home and shelter, overprotected but safe nonetheless, under her wings.

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That Kind of Day

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
~Billy Collins  “Today”

This is the kind of morning that begs to be admired from dawn’s first moment:  everything emerges from the fog so sharp, vividly bathed in golden light.

It takes my breath away at the same time as it delivers it deep within me.

How might I spring others free as I now have been sprung?

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Born to Witness What I Can

(Laryx lyallis)

A few weeks after my mother died,
I dreamed that she was waiting for me
in a ravine of spring-green larches.
There was no worry in her eyes, and
she sat there with her knees drawn up,
content to be in the filtered sunlight.
Funny, because she never lived
among larch trees–my mom grew up
on an orange grove and raised us
in the Douglas fir. I do not live
among them either, apart from my rare
visits to the North Cascades. But when
I’m there, as now I am, sitting barefoot
on Cutthroat Pass among amber larches
bathing every bowl and basin,
I have a sense that she’s okay,
and that I am too, born to witness what
I can within this green and golden world
which still persists, with or without us,
but mostly with us, I’ve come to believe.
Things and people pass away–
but that’s when they become themselves.
There’s a new heaven, a new earth,
around and about us–and not much
different from the better parts of the old.
We don’t live there very often,
but when we do, eternity
ignites in a moment, light in the larches
that shines. And shines.

~Paul J. Willis “Sustainability” from Between Midnight and Dawn

We are promised all will be new.

When I imagine a new heaven and a new earth, I can only think of the moments in my life when eternity has been ignited momentarily – the light shining just so – when I realize what it will be like forever, not just for a moment.

Forever is more than I can fathom; we were put here to witness this green and golden world, while being loved by its infinite eternal Creator.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. 
And there shall be no more death neither sorrow nor crying,
Neither shall there be any more pain,
For the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

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Leaving Stars on the Pavement

Holes in the shape of stars
punched in gray tin, dented,
cheap, beaten by each
of her children with a wooden spoon.

Noodle catcher, spaghetti stopper,
pouring cloudy rain into the sink,
swirling counter clockwise
down the drain, starch slime
on the backside, caught
in the piercings.

Scrubbed for sixty years, packed
and unpacked, the baby’s
helmet during the cold war,
a sinking ship in the bathtub,
little boat of holes.

Dirt scooped in with a plastic
shovel, sifted to make cakes
and castles. Wrestled
from each other’s hands,
its tin feet bent and re-bent.

Bowl daylight fell through
onto freckled faces, noon stars
on the pavement, the universe
we circled aiming jagged stones,
rung bells it caught and held.

~Dorianne Laux “My Mother’s Colander”

Many of my mother’s kitchen things, some over eighty years old, are still packed away in boxes that I haven’t had the time or the emotional wherewithal to open. They sit waiting for me to sort and purge and save and weep. As if I still haven’t wanted to say goodbye after all this time.

But this kitchen item, her old dented metal colander, she gave to me when I moved into my first apartment some 45 years ago – she had purchased a bright green plastic colander at a Tupperware party so the old metal one seemed somehow outdated, overworked and plain. It had held hundreds of pounds of rinsed garden vegetables during my childhood, had drained umpteen pasta noodles, had served as a sifter in our sandbox, and a helmet for many a pretend rocket launch to infinity and beyond.

Dented and battered, it still works fine, thank you very much, for all intended and some unintended purposes. It does make me wonder what other treasures may surprise me when I finally decide to open up my mother’s boxes. She died 15 years ago, but her things remain, as if in suspended animation, to be rediscovered when I’m ready. They wait patiently to be useful to someone again, touched lovingly and with distinct purpose as they once were, and be remembered for the part they played in one woman’s long sacrificial and faith-filled life.

Maybe, just maybe, it will feel like I’ve unpacked Mom once again and maybe this time it will be both hello and goodbye.

To infinity and beyond…

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Raw Moist Dawn

I love these raw moist dawns with
a thousand birds you hear but can’t
quite see in the mist.

~Jim Harrison “Another Country”

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
~Georgia Douglas Johnson from 
The Heart of a Woman and Other Poems

In those raw moments before dawn
when a glow gently tints
the inside of the horizon’s eyelids,
the black of midnight waxes to merely shadow,
the worries of nighttime forgotten
amid a joyful chorus of unseen singers.

A gloaming dusk
fades into a gleaming dawn,
backlit silhouettes stark and still
as a drowsing world
slowly opens her eyes
and greets this new and glorious morn.

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No Synonym for Light

I hope my life was penned
in such a way that when time

comes to write my epitaph
someone might think to say
not that I was good so much
as kind and that I wrote
quite well beyond my means
because it was the wind of grace
blown down that gave me words
and moved my sluggish hands,
and that I always sought
to know the unseen things
and though I loved the breadth
of language for my art,
my heart always seemed fixed
on a day when all the sound
and words would fall away,
and that I was quite hopeful
to the last if anyone would choose
one line to inscribe my memory
in stone it surely should be
the simple supposition I know right:
there merely is no synonym for light.
~Margaret Ingraham “Epitaph” from Exploring This Terrain

This world can feel like a fearsome place
with endless stories of tragedy and loss,
so much pain and suffering,
blinding me in darkness
so I struggle to see each day’s emerging light.

How to describe a Light
transforming all that is bleak?

With these Words:

Be not afraid
Come have breakfast

Touch and see
Follow me

Do you love me?
Feed my sheep
Peace be with you


I am mere breath and bone,
a wisp in a moment of time,
so His truths anchor my heart
and illuminate my soul:
I am called forth into a Light
which needs no other words.

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
Through love to light!
Oh, wonderful the way
That leads from darkness to the perfect day!
From darkness and from sorrow of the night
To morning that comes singing o’er the sea.
Through love to light!
Through light, O God, to thee,
Who art the love of love, the eternal light of light!
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Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – Break Through to Bright Air

Oh let me fall as grain to the good earth
And die away from all dry separation,
Die to my sole self, and find new birth
Within that very death, a dark fruition,
Deep in this crowded underground, to learn
The earthy otherness of every other,
To know that nothing is achieved alone
But only where these other fallen gather.

If I bear fruit and break through to bright air,
Then fall upon me with your freeing flail
To shuck this husk and leave me sheer and clear
As heaven-handled Hopkins, that my fall
May be more fruitful and my autumn still
A golden evening where your barns are full.

~Malcolm Guite “Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls Into the Ground and Dies”

…new life starts in the dark.
Whether it is a seed in the ground,
a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb,
it starts in the dark.
~Barbara Brown Taylor from Learning to Walk in the Dark

The ground is slowly coming to life again;
snowdrops, crocus, and daffodils are surfacing from months of dormancy,
buds are swelling, the spring chorus frogs have come from the mud to sing again
and birds now greet the lazy dawn.

The seed shakes off the darkness surrounding it as growth begins.

I too began a mere seed, plain and simple, lying dormant
in the darkness of my mother’s body.

Just as the spring murmurs life to the seed in the ground,
so the Word calls a human seed of life to stir and swell,
becoming at once both an animate and intimate reflection of Himself.

I was awakened in the dark to sprout, bloom and fruit, 
to reach as far as my tethered roots allow,
aiming beyond earthly bounds to touch the light.

Everything, everyone, so hidden;
His touch calls us back to life.
Love is come again
to the fallow fields of our hearts.

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 Safe and Kindly Light

Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.

Psalm 43:3

Lead, kindly light, amidst the grey and gloom
The night is long and I am far from home
Here in the dark, I do not ask to see
The path ahead–one step enough for me
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

I was not ever willing to be led
I could have stayed, but I ran instead
In spite of fear, I followed my pride
My eyes could see, but my heart was blind
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

And in the night, when I was afraid
Your feet beside my own on the way
Each stumbling step where other men have trod
shortens the road leading home to my God
Lead on, lead on,
my God, my God,
lead on, lead on, kindly light.
~Audrey Assad
inspired by Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s poem “Lead Kindly Light”


Once in awhile, I awake in a windstorm-tossed night,
in pitch blackness with no flashlight within reach.

The familiar path to bathroom and kitchen
becomes obstacle course,
full of places to trip
and stub my toes
and bump my head.

Illumination for just the next step
is all I need.

A small circle of light that shows
where to safely put my foot.

You, Lord, come alongside
You, Lord, make the dark less fearsome
You, Lord, are that safe and kindly light
that shows me where to step next.
One step at a time, one again, and then another…

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: Because the Sun Has Risen

I believe in God as I believe that the Sun has risen,
not only because I see it,
but because by it I see everything else.
~C.S. Lewis from “They Asked For A Paper,” in Is Theology Poetry?

I see your world in light that shines behind me,
Lit by a sun whose rays I cannot see,
The smallest gleam of light still seems to find me
Or find the child who’s hiding deep inside me.
I see your light reflected in the water,
Or kindled suddenly in someone’s eyes,
It shimmers through the living leaves of summer,
Or spills from silver veins in leaden skies,
It gathers in the candles at our vespers
It concentrates in tiny drops of dew
At times it sings for joy, at times it whispers,
But all the time it calls me back to you.
I follow you upstream through this dark night
My saviour, source, and spring, my life and light.
~Malcolm Guite “I am the Light of the World”

Without God’s Light that comes reliably every morning, I would be hopelessly casting about in the dark, stumbling and fumbling my way without the benefit of His illumination.

It feels like a fresh gift each time, whether brilliantly painted, or much of the time, a sullen and sodden gray.

I fix my eyes on the unseen, as it is lit in the Lord.
And then:
was blind, but now I see…

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