A Refuge in Briars and Brambles

What’s incomplete in me seeks refuge
in blackberry bramble and beech trees,
where creatures live without dogma
and water moves in patterns
more ancient than philosophy.
I stand still, child eavesdropping on her elders.
I don’t speak the language
but my body translates best it can,
wakening skin and gut, summoning
the long kinship we share with everything.
~Laura Grace Weldon, “Common Ground” from  Blackbird

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things”

Nearly thirty months of pandemic separation and
I long to share our farm with our far-flung grandchildren
who live across the ocean, to watch them discover
the joys and sorrows of this place we inhabit.
I will tell them there is light beyond this darkness,
there is refuge amid the brambles,
there is kinship with what surrounds us,
there is peace amid the chaos,
there is a smile behind the tears,
there is stillness within the noisiness,
there is rescue when all seems hopeless,
there is grace as the old gives way to new.

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The Sacred Intoxication of Existence

For half-an-hour he writes words upon a scrap of paper….
words in which the soul’s blood pours out,

like the body’s blood from a wound.
He writes secretly this mad diary,
all his passion and longing,

his dark and dreadful gratitude to God,
his idle allegories, the tales that tell themselves in his head;
the joy that comes on him sometimes (he cannot help it)
at the sacred intoxication of existence…

~G.K. Chesterton in a letter to his fiancé

When I was six or seven years old, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.

The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny?

It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I can grumble and grouse about the state of the world with the best of the them.

But I know better. I’ve seen where negative thoughts lead and I can feel it aching in my bones when I’m steeping myself in it. The sky is grayer, the clouds are thicker, the night is darker–on and on to its overwhelming suffocating conclusion.

I don’t ever want to feel so impoverished that finding a penny doesn’t make my day better.

I have the privilege to choose joy, to turn away from the bleak and simply seek and bathe in the warmth and wonder of each ordinary mundane day. Like an opportunistic cat finding that one ray of sun and melting into it, I can absorb and equip myself to become radiant as well. I’m not putting on a “happy face” — instead joy adopts me, holds me close in the tough times and won’t abandon me. Though at times joy may dip temporarily behind a cloud and the rain will fall, I know the Sun is there even when I can’t see or feel it.

Today, joy is mine to choose because joy has chosen me, this morning and every morning.

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: We Are Not Overcome

Put no trust in the earth
in the sod you stand upon
Flowers fade into the dust
The Lord will make a place for us
Because of His great Love
We are not overcome

~Robert Heiskell/Rachel Briggs

In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?
~John Stott from “Cross”

With all that happens daily in this disordered world, in order to even walk out the door in the morning, we fall back on what we are told, each and every day, in 365 different verses in God’s Word itself:

Fear not.

Do not be overwhelmed with evil but overcome evil with good.

And so – we must overcome — despite evil and our fear of each other.

As demonstrated by the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary of Bethany on Wednesday of Holy Week, we must do what we can to sacrifice for others, to live in such a way that death cannot erase the meaning and significance of a life.  We are called to give up our selfish agendas in order to consider the dignity of others and their greater good.

It is crystal clear from Christ’s example as we observe His journey to the cross this week: we are to cherish life, all lives, born and unborn, even unto death. If Christ Himself forgave those who hated and murdered Him, He will forgive us as well.

Our only defense against the evil we witness is God’s offense through His Love. Only God can lead us to Tolkien’s “where everything sad will come untrue”, where we shall live in peace, walk hand in hand, no longer alone, no longer afraid, no longer shedding tears of grief and sorrow, but tears of relief and joy.

No longer overcome by evil but overcome with goodness, all to God’s glory.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.

If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).

In His name, may we sing…

The Lord our God is good
The Lord our God is good
Full of kindness and compassion
Merciful and just
The Lord our God is good

Who else knows our deepest pain
Bears it as his own
Finds us in our naked shame,
Clothes and brings us home
Who takes his inheritance
And gives it all away
Welcomes guests to feast with him
Who never can repay

Flesh will fail and bones will break
thieves will steal, the earth will shake
Night will fall, the light will fade
The Lord will give and take away

Because of His great Love
We are not overcome
Because of His great Love
We are not overcome

Put no trust in the earth
in the sod you stand upon
Flowers fade into the dust
The Lord will make a place for us

Because of His great Love
We are not overcome
Because of His great Love
We are not overcome

Offer up your shoes and shirt
Turn your cheek, turn your cheek
Bear the yoke of love and death
The Lord will give all life and breath

Because of His great Love
We are not overcome
Because of His great Love
We are not overcome

We shall overcome

We shall live in peace

We’ll walk hand in hand

We shall all be free

We are not afraid

We are not alone

God will see us through

We shall overcome

Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: The Falling Tear

When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound;
when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.
~William Billings

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!
But now they are hidden from your eyes. 
~Luke 19:41-42

Facing this week of remembrance,
knowing that right now thousands are displaced by war,
some in graves, some grieving their losses,
some wondering what comes next.

On this journey, we face our own fears of vulnerability and mortality,
a week where thorns overwhelm the emerging blossoms~~

To acknowledge what He did this week long ago,
to conquer the shroud and the stone,
to defy death,
makes all the difference for us here and now.

Indeed Jesus wept and groaned for us.

To be known for who we are
by a God who weeps for us
and groans with pain we caused:
we can know
no greater love.

This week ends our living for self, only to die,
and begins our dying to self, in order to live.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.

If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).

In His name, may we sing…

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: World Without End

As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be:
world without end.
Amen.

Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.
Luke 2: 34-35

Simeon had waited and waited for this promised moment of meeting the Son of God face to face, not knowing when or how, not knowing he would be able to hold him fast in his arms, not knowing he would be able to personally bless the parents of this holy child.

He certainly could not know this child would be the cause of so much joy and sorrow for all those who love Him deeply.

That sword of painful truth pierces into my soul as well, opening me with the precision of a surgeon under high beam lights in the operating room where nothing is left unilluminated.  I am, by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, bared completely, my own darkness thrust into dawn, my heart revealed as never before. This is equal opportunity surgery.

It is terrifying: all my cracks and crevices thrust into the light.   And it should be, given what I am, and what is true of every one of us.

Yet God is who we wait for, longing and hungry for peace. We are tired, too tired to continue to hide within the darkness and conflict of our sin.  We, like Simeon, are desperate for the peace of His appearance among us, dwelling with us, when we can gather Him into our arms, when all becomes known and understood and forgiven.

His birth is the end of our death, the beginning of the outward radiance of His peace, and wide open to all who open themselves to Him in a new world without end. Amen

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.

If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).

In His name, may we sing…

Nunc dimittis servum tuum,
Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto:
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.

Translation (The Book of Common Prayer, 1662):
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace:
according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen: thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared: before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles:
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: Night and Day

Day and night
A fragrance of hope
Day and night
She pleads for the lost and broken
Day and night

Until He comes
~Keith and Kristyn Getty

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2: 36-38

What’s enough? Countless times I’ve watched the sun rise like God’s tender mercy to gently lift the dark blanket from the earth, and countless more times I’ve watched the sun set in such a splendiferous farewell that it must reflect the fringe on God’s robe. I’ve seen the sky define blue and endless. I’ve watched rivers run to the sea, full as life runs to God. I’ve felt the sea roll in on the eternal note of mystery and assurance.

I’ve scratched the ears of dogs, laughed at the ballet of cats. I’ve heard the cry and gurgle of the newborn, played with children, rocked with grandmothers, learned from hundreds of teachers, some of them homeless, poor, and uneducated. 

I’ve been loved and forgiven beyond all deserving, and all breath to tell of it, by family and friends and God.

I’ve been shaken, changed, and blessed a thousand times — and still — by the prophets, and by Christ. I’ve felt the touch of God, each time before I realized that’s what it was. I’ve shared in the cantankerous yet remarkable family of faith called the church. I’m conscious of being conscious and alive. And all that’s just for starters.

How much does it take to praise God? I have a couple of trips around the Milky Way past enough for that, no matter if I never receive another thing.

So I best get on with it . . . and praise God that I can.
— Ted Loder from The Haunt of Grace

Unlike Anna the prophet, I tend to forget, in my ever-inward focus, I was created for worship and to give all glory to God.  I was given a mouth to sing, hands to clasp, eyes to witness His wonders, profound forgiveness through day and night, night and day.

Unlike Anna who waited so long, I’m not sure I would recognize the touch of God.

May I – praying alongside others who are also flawed and broken – be a fragrance of hope, praising God that we are able to praise Him.

What greater reason is there to exist?

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.

If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).

In His name, may we sing…

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The Stones Themselves Will Start to Sing: This Mountain Shall Be Moved

By faith this mountain shall be moved
And the power of the gospel shall prevail
For we know in Christ all things are possible
For all who call upon His name
~Keith and Kristyn Getty

Canadian Coastal Range
Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades
Mt. Baker, North Cascades

At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum in the silence…

The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega. It is God’s brooding over the face of the waters. Pray without ceasing.
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

Banff Provincial Park
Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

I tell you the truth, 
if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, 
you can say to this mountain, 
`Move from here to there’ and it will move. 
Nothing will be impossible for you. 
Matthew 17:20

We are called in the gospel of Matthew to leave behind our helplessness when overwhelmed by life’s pervasive wilderness. He tells us to believe, even if it is only the tiniest grain of faith.

Our troubled hearts hunger for God and want to move closer to Him. 

So if we can’t make it to the mountain in the distance, our faith can move the mountain closer. God hears our plea and brings His peace to us by bringing Himself as close as the beating heart in our chest.

With such faith, with mountains moving and our hearts renewed, there will always be another Easter.

Revelstoke
Mt. Baker

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.

If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).

In His name, may we sing…

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Lost and Precious

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”

None of us will remain as we are now.

For some, that is a source of deep regret as outer beauty fades, hair is lost or graying, skin wrinkles and strength weakens. Pulled along time’s ever-rolling stream to something new and eternal, we will become something far more precious than what our frail bodies could ever yield.

It is a special mystery with which God surrounds us: a thousand years is like an evening gone to Him. He guards us through our troubles now like irreplaceable treasures, even when we feel hopelessly lost.

We are mere buds now, waiting to open wide to a world far more glorious.

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by thy flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand,
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering e’er ’tis night.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

~Isaac Watts

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Mere Spectator Through the Window

She opened her curtains, and looked out towards the bit of road that lay in view, with fields beyond outside the entrance-gates. On the road there was a man with a bundle on his back and a woman carrying her baby; in the field she could see figures moving – perhaps the shepherd with his dog. Far off in the bending sky was the pearly light; and she felt the largeness of the world and the manifold wakings of men to labor and endurance. She was a part of that involuntary, palpitating life, and could neither look out on it from her luxurious shelter as a mere spectator, nor hide her eyes in selfish complaining.
~George Eliot in Middlemarch

As civilization begins to emerge from pandemic restrictions and mandates, it is crucial to review the lessons learned over the past two years. Worldwide we’ve simultaneously become more unified in our shared experience of isolation and quarantine and also more divided in our opinions about its necessity. Whether we agree or not on the details of COVID-19 prevention and management, we have learned much more about ourselves.

We are natural complainers when we feel our familiar freedoms are taken away, no question about it. Despite our ongoing feelings of deprivation and inconvenience, most of us have still been blessed with shelter, warmth and sustenance during this time. Some of us have had others around us in isolation, and others of us wish we could have had more quiet and privacy. We’re more used to waiting in lines for our turn, and encountering empty store shelves when we need something.

Medical care has been a challenge to access, both for COVID-related illness and everything else that usually happens to our minds and bodies daily. We even feel the need to complain about people complaining.

So I remind myself daily that nearly a million of our U.S. brothers and sisters have gone missing in action over the last two years, lost to the COVID battle, and though the vast majority survived, they (we) will never be the same.

Now as we look out our windows, we are no longer mere spectators at what is transpiring around us, but are rejoining our palpitating existence alongside others.

God only knows where we would be without each other. We can’t forget what we have shared together – our view out our window is unique to each of us, yet so familiar no matter where it is in the largeness of the world.

Indeed – this is a time of reckoning that won’t be soon forgotten.

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In Longing

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I’ve lived longing 
for your ever look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body. 
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as the body wanes.
The longing will outlive this body.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.

Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I’ve been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body. 
And my share of time has been nothing 
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly. 
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.

In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light 
hidden and singing. 

I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish. 

~Li-Young Lee, “I Loved You Before I Was Born”

I should have recognized you at first, but didn’t.

Once I looked you in the eyes, I knew that I had loved you from before I was born. It didn’t make sense to me but nevertheless I knew. Our longing in loneliness finally brought us face to face.

I handed you my heart and you handed me yours, to keep forever.
And there they remain with utmost tenderness,
our longings still being written.