Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you. ~David Wagoner “Lost”
I’m frequently lost in the figurative forest of my days on this earth, unsure where I’m heading and struggling to figure out where I’ve been. It seems I have been following a path laid out before me, keeping my head down to make sure I don’t trip over a root or stumble on a rock, when around and above me are the clues to where I am and where I’m going.
So I stand still and breathe deeply of the forest and let it tell me where I am. It can tell when my focus is misdirected.
I took the dog and went to walk in the auditorium of the woods, but not to get away from things. It was our habit, that was all, a thing we did on summer days, and much there was to listen to. A slight wind came and went in three birches by the pond. A crow uphill was going on about the black life it led, and a brown creeper went creeping up a brown trunk methodically with no record of ever having been understood by anyone. A woodpecker was working out a deep hole from the sound of it in a stand of dead trees up there. And then a jay, much put upon, complained about some treachery it may or may not have endured, though most are liars anyway. The farther in, the quieter, till only the snapping of a stick broke the silence we were in. The dog stood still and looked at me, the woods by then already dark. Much later, on the porch at night, I heard the owl, an eldritch thing. The dog, still with me, heard it too, a call that came from where we’d been, and where we would not be again. ~John Foy, “Woods,” from Night Vision
We live near fields and woods so the evening walks we take with the dogs are listening walks. There is always plenty to hear.
It is an immense relief to hear something other than the talking heads on TV or podcasts. The voices we hear in the woods are unconcerned about upcoming elections, pandemics or the state of the economy.
I listen for the sound of breezes rustling the tree branches, the crunch of sticks and dry leaves under my boots, and more often than not, the woodpeckers tapping away at tree trunks, eagles chittering from the treetops, and unseen owls visiting back and forth from their hidey-holes. The red-tailed hawks scream out warnings as they float from tree top to tree top, particularly upset that we’ve brought along the corgis into their territory.
So, like the outside world, this woods has its own talking heads and drama, but I know who I will listen to and where I prefer to hang out if given a choice. I understand I’m only a visitor to their world and will be invited back only as long as we tread softly.
Prick my ears, Lord. Make them hungry satellites, have your way with their tiny bones, teach the drum within that dark to drum again. Because within the hammering of woodpecker is a long tongue unwinding like a tape measure from inside his pileated head, darting dinner from the pine’s soft bark. And somewhere I know is a spider who births a filament of silk and flies it to the next branch; somewhere, a fiddlehead unstrings its violin into the miracle of fern.
Those are your sounds, are they not? Do not deny it, Lord, do not deny me. I do not know those songs. Nor do I know the hush a dandelion’s face makes when it closes, surrenders, then goes to seed. No, I only know the sound my own breath makes as I wish and blow that perfect globe away; I only know the small, satisfactory popping of roots when I call it weed and yank it from the yard. There is a language of all you’ve created. Hear me, please. I just want to be still enough to hear. Right here, Lord: I want to be. ~Nikole Brown from “Prayer to Be Still and Know”
The hardest thing sometimes is to shut up our constant internal monologue long enough to be able to hear all the other voices outside in the world around us.
We just spent a few days with a visiting 13 month old who wanted very much to communicate even though none of his language was understandable to our ears, yet all the appropriate inflections were there. He clearly was speaking sentences, asking questions, making emphatic statements with the rise and fall of his voice, but his baby babble was completely foreign to our grown-up ears. Sometimes I wonder if that is exactly how God hears us: all blather and babble which makes sense to us, but not remotely intelligible.
So I need to shut up and listen to all the subtle language around me and not keep trying to shout it down, grumble it to the ground, or whisper it away. I need the Lord’s still small voice coming from a billion corners of creation to understand who He is and why He gave me — me! — ears to hear.
In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls Across the open field, leaving the deep lane Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon…
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence. Wait for the early owl.
Dawn points, and another day Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind Wrinkles and slides. I am here Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated Of dead and living. Not the intense moment Isolated, with no before and after, But a lifetime burning in every moment And not the lifetime of one man only But of old stones that cannot be deciphered. There is a time for the evening under starlight, A time for the evening under lamplight
Love is most nearly itself When here and now cease to matter. ~T. S. Eliot, verses from “East Coker” in Four Quartets
As I grow older I’m reminded daily of my limited point of view; I can scarcely peer past the end of my nose to understand the increasing complexity of the world around me – to look beyond, behind and through the here and now.
I’m not alone. For uncounted generations, people have sought answers when confronted with the indecipherable mysteries of existence here. We create monuments to the living and the dead to feel closer to them. We make up our own stories to explain the inexplicable.
The Word as given to us is all the story needed as all shall be revealed – still, we wait and wait, watching for Light to illuminate our darkness and Love laid down as never before.
“In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
To reassure us that persistent prayer makes a difference to both us and God, Jesus tells this story with a bit of irony. If an unjust judge can grant justice, how much more so will the Lord provide justice for those He loves?
We cry out day and night at times, when the burden is heavy. He hears us and will respond with exactly what we need, even if we don’t know what we need.
His wisdom is infinite, and His knowledge of us unsurpassed. We shall pray His justice prevails.
May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
Why worry about the loaves and fishes? If you say the right words, the wine expands. If you say them with love and the felt ferocity of that love and the felt necessity of that love, the fish explode into many. Imagine him, speaking, and don’t worry about what is reality, or what is plain, or what is mysterious. If you were there, it was all those things. If you can imagine it, it is all those things. Eat, drink, be happy. Accept the miracle. Accept, too, each spoken word spoken with love. Mary Oliver – “Logos”
Many reject him because they weren’t there-
how can they know
what was real without seeing and hearing him
with their own eyes and ears.
We read his words
and think about
how his voice sounded
in a crowd
of 5000 people so hungry,
and how his eyes teared
as he was betrayed
We weren’t in the garden
that day when he was mistaken
for the gardener
nor were we on the road to Emmaus
walking beside a stranger whose words
made our hearts burn within us
but we can imagine hearing our name spoken
and knowing it is him
or watching him break the bread
and recognizing his body.
We weren’t there
but we didn’t have to be.
If we can imagine what His Logos tells us,
it is plain and real,
a mystery of the heart
all of these things
all of these things
all these things
and so much more
I believe there are some debts That we never can repay I believe there are some words That you can never unsay And I don’t know a single soul Who didn’t get lost along the wayI believe in socks and gloves Knit out of soft grey wool And that there’s a place in heaven for those Who teach in public school And I know I get some things right But mostly I’m a foolChorus I believe in a good strong cup of ginger tea And all these shoots and roots will become a tree All I know is I can’t help but see All of this as so very holy
I believe in jars of jelly Put up by careful hands I believe most folks are doing About the best they can And I know there are some things That I will never understand
Chorus I believe there’s healing in the sound of your voice And that a summer tomato is a cause to rejoice And that following a song was never really a choice Never really
I believe in a good long letter written on real paper and with real pen I believe in the ones I love and know I’ll never see again I believe in the kindness of strangers and the comfort of old friends And when I close my eyes to sleep at night it’s good to say “Amen”
I believe that life’s comprised of smiles and sniffles and tears And in an old coat that still has another good year Ball I need is here
Chorus I believe in a good strong cup of ginger tea And all these shoots and roots will become a tree All I know is I can’t help but see All of this as so very holy