Two whistles, one for each, and familiar sounds draw close in darkness— cadence of hoof on hardened bottomland, twinned blowing of air through nostrils curious, flared. They come deepened and muscular movements conjured out of sleep: each small noise and scent heavy with earth, simple beyond communion…
…and in the night, their mares’ eyes shine, reflecting stars, the entire, outer light of the world here. ~Jane Hirschfield from “After Work”
It’s tempting to fall headfirst into their fathomless well – Their eyes are what rivet me as they search my own, This retinal magnet drawing me into Such incalculable depths.
Yet I’m merely reflected like starlight; Only dancing on this mirrored surface When I long to dive deep to understand what they see in me: To be so lost I must be found.
There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom. ~Li-Young Lee, last stanza of “From Blossoms” from Rose.
… it seemed as if the tiniest seed of belief had finally flowered in me, or, more accurately, as if I had happened upon some rare flower deep in the desert and had known, though I was just then discovering it, that it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me, surviving all the seasons of my unbelief. ~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss
To live as if death were nowhere in the background: that is impossible right now when death is in every headline and everyone knows someone who has been lost to the virus.
Yet, to still emerge and blossom, despite the dryness and drought of pandemic~ this is Christ’s call to us.
We are not dying, but alive in Him, an amazing impossible flowering.
So I allow my eye to peer through a dying time such as this, needing a flotation device and depth finder as I’m likely to get lost, sweeping and swooning through the inner space of life’s deep tunnels, canyons and corners, coming up for air and diving in again to journey into exotic locales draped in silken hues ~this fairy land on a stem~ to immerse and emerge in the possibilities of such an impossible blossom.
I sometimes think the PussyWillows grey Are Angel Kittens who have lost their way, And every Bulrush on the river bank A Cat-Tail from some lovely Cat astray. ~Oliver Herford, from The Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten
Our little calico Nala has the bravado of a cat many times her size and age. She climbs the tallest trees, dangles over the house roof eaves to stare eyeball-to-eyeball with the birds picking at seeds in the feeders. She takes no guff from the dogs or from her bigger brother Simba.
One day last summer, a visitor to our farm knocked early in the morning on our front door to say our kitty was struggling to walk, dragging her hind legs behind her. I hurriedly dressed to go find her, thinking I needed to somehow gather her up in a blanket to take to the vet, but she was no where to be found. I looked everywhere in the bushes and the hidden-away spots I knew she enjoyed, but she had vanished. I put out bowls of food to entice her but no luck – after three days, I figured she had crawled away to die alone, as cats are wont to do. Even her brother didn’t seem to know where she had gone as I followed him on his farm excursions.
I tried to theorize what might had happened – had she fallen from a roof or tree and become paralyzed? Surely she could not survive such a devastating injury.
Nine days later, long after I assumed she had died of her injuries or starvation, she appeared on the front porch when I opened the door. She was thin, weak, with her hind legs moving and holding up her weight. She was hungry and extremely vocal and not just a little perturbed that there was an empty cat food bowl on the porch.
On closer inspection, she had healing wounds along either side of her spine, matching closely with what I assume were eagle talon marks that had grasped her, if only briefly, as a raptor tried to carry her away. I suspect, feisty as she was, she fought her predator so fiercely that she was dropped from a bit of a height, bruising her spine. For an eagle, in this land of plenty of prey, dining on a calico is never worth such aggravation and hassle.
What a cat – now minus at least one, if not more lives. Only eight to go.
She is indeed resurrected; completely healed up, her spine is working fine and the only marks left on her back are white patches of new hair growth over her former wounds.
We thought she was lost forever, but she had not lost her way back to us, only way-laid for a bit. Our angel kitten is now resident on the front porch and back to her farm life climbing trees and torturing little birds.
God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving toward the house of peace and joy. This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey. The God of love who gave us life sent his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.
The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be. A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain. Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost. Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.
Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him—whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend—be our companion. ~Henri Nouwen from Gracias!
Like so many, I tend to walk through life blinded to what is really important, essential and necessary. I am self-absorbed, immersed in my own troubles and concerns, staring at my own feet as I walk each step, rather than looking forward at the road ahead, listening to the companion who has always walked beside me.
We were joined by this living breathing walking God on the road to Emmaus as He fed us from His word. I hunger for even more, my heart burning within me. Jesus makes plain how He Himself addresses my most basic needs:
He is the bread of life so I am fed.
He is the living water so I no longer thirst.
He is the light so I am never left in darkness.
He shares my yoke so my burden is easier.
He clothes me with righteousness so I am never naked.
He cleanses me when I am at my most soiled and repugnant.
He is the open door–always welcoming, with a room prepared for me, even me, the poor ornery person I am.
So when I encounter Him along the road of my life, I need to be ready to recognize him, listen, invite Him in to stay, share whatever I have with Him. When He breaks bread and hands me my piece, I want to accept it with open eyes of gratitude, knowing the gift He hands me is nothing less than Himself, the Companion we were blessed with Christmas morning.
Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.” ~Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
I studied bees, who were able to convey messages through dancing and could find their ways home to their hives even if someone put up a blockade of sheets and boards and wire. Bees had radar in their wings and brains that humans could barely understand. I wrote a paper proclaiming their brilliance and superiority and revised it at a small café featuring wooden hive-shaped honey-dippers in silver honeypots at every table. ~Naomi Shihab Nye from “Bees Were Better”
Suddenly a bee, big as a blackberry, bumbles against my window, knocking for attention. Rolling in azalea cups all morning, she weaves in slow motion then hovers like a helicopter, humming to herself. The key, C major. No black notes, no sharps, no flats. Only naturals—the fan of her own wings, the bliss of her own buzz.
She doesn’t practice. She doesn’t have to. She knows. To make honey, you follow the dance. ~Alice Friman from “The Key”
I wish I had a homing device in my body that would bring me home no matter where I wander. I simply turn my face to the sun and my wings take me back there, even if I wasn’t paying attention to the dance of others and I’m off kilter or too stubborn to admit home is where I need to be.
After a summer of watching thousands of bees making a “bee-line” to home at night as if they are on a superhighway to their very own hive and honey cell, I need to be just as determined, just as committed, just as confident that I’m heading to where I belong.
The rest are waiting for me and have left the light on.
Tell me, where is the road I can call my own, That I left, that I lost So long ago? All these years I have wandered, Oh when will I know There’s a way, there’s a road That will lead me home?
After wind, after rain, When the dark is done, As I wake from a dream In the gold of day, Through the air there’s a calling From far away, There’s a voice I can hear That will lead me home.
Rise up, follow me, Come away, is the call, With the love in your heart As the only song; There is no such beauty As where you belong; Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home. ~Stephen Paulus “The Road Home”
we who are wanderers–
who take wrong turns never ask for directions stumble over the rough roads find ourselves in the ditch get distracted by sightseeing and forget our ultimate destination
we are ready to heed the call that leads us home
nothing we’ve seen thus far no song we’ve heard no goal achieved compares to the beauty that awaits us
More than once I’ve seen a dog waiting for its owner outside a café practically implode with worry. “Oh, God, what if she doesn’t come back this time? What will I do? Who will take care of me? I loved her so much and now she’s gone and I’m tied to a post surrounded by people who don’t look or smell or sound like her at all.” And when she does come, what a flurry of commotion, what a chorus of yelping and cooing and leaps straight up into the air! It’s almost unbearable, this sudden fullness after such total loss, to see the world made whole again by a hand on the shoulder and a voice like no other. ~John Brehm from “If Feeling Isn’t In It”
We all need to love like this: so binding, so complete, so profoundly filling: its loss empties our world of all meaning as our tears run dry.
So abandoned, we woeful wait, longing for the return of the gentle voice, the familiar smile, the tender touch and encompassing embrace.
With unexpected restoration when we’ve done nothing to deserve it- we leap and shout with unsurpassed joy, the world without form and void made whole again.
Spread between rows of beans, last year’s rusty leaves tamp down weeds. Coffee grounds and banana peels foster rose blooms. Bread crumbs scattered for birds become song. Leftovers offered to chickens come back as eggs, yolks sunrise orange. Broccoli stems and bruised apples fed to cows return as milk steaming in the pail, as patties steaming in the pasture.
Surely our shame and sorrow also return, composted by years into something generative as wisdom. ~Laura Grace Weldon, “Compost Happens” from Blackbird
As a farmer, I spend over an hour a day cleaning my barn, and wheel heavy loads of organic material to a large pile in our barnyard which composts year round. Piling up all that messy stuff that is no longer needed is crucial to the process: it heats up quickly to the point of steaming, and within months, it becomes rich fertilizer, ready to help the fields to grow grass, or the garden to produce vegetables, or the fragrant blooms in the flower beds. It becomes something far greater and more productive than what it was to begin with.
That’s what my past clinical work in detox and treatment of addictions was like.
As a physician, I helped patients “clean up” the parts of their lives they can’t manage any longer, that are causing problems with their health, their families and jobs, and most of all, their relationship with their Creator. There isn’t a soul walking this earth who doesn’t struggle in some way with things that take over our lives, whether it is work, computer use, food, gambling, you name it. For the chemically dependent, it comes in the form of smoke, a powder, a bottle, a syringe or a pill. There is nothing that has proven more effective than “piling up together” learning what it takes to walk the road to health and healing, “heating up”, so to speak, in an organic process of transformation that is, for lack of any better description, primarily a spiritual treatment process.
When a support group becomes a crucible for the “refiner’s fire”, it does its best work melting people down to rid the impurities before they can be built back up again, stronger than ever. They become compost, productive, with the wisdom and readiness to grow others.
This work with a spectrum of individuals of all races, professional and blue collar, rich and homeless, coming from all over the state for help, was transforming for me. I worked with incredibly gifted nursing and counseling staff, some recovering themselves, who dedicated their careers to this work.
As Jesus says in Matthew 25: 40–‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Nature teaches that nothing is lost.
God teaches we seek out the lost until they are found and then and only then, the work of transformation begins.
In a daring and beautiful creative reversal, God takes the worse we can do to Him and turns it into the very best He can do for us. ~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness
Sam does barn chores with me, always has. He runs up and down the aisles as I fill buckets, throw hay, and he’ll explore the manure pile out back and the compost pile and check out the dove house and have stand offs with the barn cats (which he always loses). We have our routine. When I get done with chores, I whistle for him and we head to the house.
We always return home together.
Except this morning. I whistled when I was done and his furry little fox face didn’t appear as usual. I walked back through both barns calling his name, whistling, no signs of Sam. I walked to the fields, I walked back to the dog yard, I walked the road (where he never ever goes), I scanned the pond (yikes), I went back to the barn and glanced inside every stall, I went in the hay barn where he likes to jump up and down on stacked bales, looking for a bale avalanche he might be trapped under, or a hole he couldn’t climb out of. Nothing.
I’m really anxious about him at this point, fearing the worst. He was nowhere to be found, utterly lost.
Passing through the barn again, I heard a little faint scratching inside one Haflinger’s stall, which I had just glanced in 10 minutes before. The mare was peacefully eating hay. Sure enough, there was Sam standing with his feet up against the door as if asking what took me so long. He must have scooted in when I filled up her water bucket, and I closed the door not knowing he was inside, and it was dark enough that I didn’t see him when I checked. He and his good horse friend kept it their secret.
Making not a whimper or a bark when I called out his name, passing that stall at least 10 times looking for him, he just patiently waited for me to open the door and set him free.
It’s a Good Friday.
The lost is found even when he never felt lost to begin with.
Yet he was lost to me. And that is all that matters. We have no idea how lost we are until someone comes looking for us, doing whatever it takes to bring us home.
Sam was just waiting for a closed door to be opened. And today, of all days, that door is thrown wide open.
Though you are homeless Though you’re alone I will be your home Whatever’s the matter Whatever’s been done I will be your home I will be your home I will be your home In this fearful fallen place I will be your home When time reaches fullness When I move my hand I will bring you home Home to your own place In a beautiful land I will bring you home I will bring you home I will bring you home From this fearful fallen place I will bring you home I will bring you home ~Michael Cardh
The fence was down. Led by their bellwether bellies, the sheep had toddled astray. The neighbor farmer’s woods or coyotes might have got them, or the far road. I remember the night, the moon-colored grass we waded through to look for them, the oaks tangled and dark, like starting a story midway. We gazed over seed heads to the barn toppled in the homestead orchard. Then we saw the weather of white wool, a cloud in the blue moving without sound as if charmed by the moon beholding them out of bounds. Time has not tightened the wire or righted the barn. The unpruned orchard rots in its meadow and the story unravels, the sunlight creeping back like a song with nobody left to hear it. ~David Mason from “Mending Time” in The Sound: New and Selected Poems
How often do we, like sheep, wander astray – out of the broken down barn, or through the fallen fence, into the orchards of rotting delights?
And Someone, always Someone, comes looking for us, lost and always hungering and endangered.
We need our Shepherd and we know His voice. May we be ready to be led home.