Secret Purple Wisdom

There’s always an iris
amusing and amazing.
Today, wildly purple stretching
to search dark colors,
open and about to reach.
Reach.

Even the vase holds on,
shows courage for both
who touch the beautiful,
alive and color to color,
evoking how one can love another.
Longer to live, shorter to die.
~Eloise Klein Healy “Iris”

What word informs the world,
and moves the worm along in his blind tunnel?

What secret purple wisdom tells the iris edges
to unfold in frills? What juiced and emerald thrill

urges the sap until the bud resolves
its tight riddle? What irresistible command

unfurls this cloud above this greening hill,
or one more wave — its spreading foam and foil —

across the flats of sand? What minor thrust
of energy issues up from humus in a froth

of ferns? Delicate as a laser, it filigrees
the snow, the stars. Listen close — What silver sound

thaws winter into spring? Speaks clamor into singing?
Gives love for loneliness? It is this

un-terrestrial pulse, deep as heaven, that folds you
in its tingling embrace, gongs in your echo heart.

~Luci Shaw “What Secret Purple Wisdom”  The Green Earth: Poems of Creation 

He gave Himself to us
to wrest joy from our misery-

A mystery is too much to accept
such sacrifice is possible.

We are blind-hearted to the possibility:
He who cannot be measured unfolds before us
to reach us, overwhelming our darkness. 

I prefer remaining closed in my bud,
hidden in the little room of my heart
rather than risk opening by loving another
in full blossom and fruitfulness.

Lord, give me grace to open my tight fist of a bud.

Prepare me for embracing your mystery. 
Prepare me to unfurl,
to reach out beyond myself.
Prepare me to bloom wildly purple.

What is the crying at Jordan?
Who hears, O God, the prophecy?
Dark is the season, dark
our hearts and shut to mystery.

Who then shall stir in this darkness
prepare for joy in the winter night?
Mortal in darkness we
lie down, blind-hearted, seeing no light.

Lord, give us grace to awake us,
to see the branch that begins to bloom;
in great humility
is hid all heaven in a little room.

Now comes the day of salvation,
in joy and terror the Word is born!
God gives himself into our lives;
Oh, let salvation dawn!
~Carol Christopher Drake

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A Life Only Just Begun

As once a Child was planted in a womb
(and later, erected on a hill, a wooden cross)
one year we dug a hole to plant a tree.
Our choice, a Cornus Kousa with its fine,
pink, four-petaled bracts, each curving lip
touched with a red as deep as human blood.
It rooted well, and every year it grows
more glorious, bursting free in Spring—bud
into full flower, flame-colored, flushed as wine.
Even the slim sapling’s roughened bark
speaks of that tree, nail-pierced and dark.
Now, each new year, fresh blossoms shine
radiant, and each cross-blessed,
as if all love and loveliness has been compressed
into a flower’s face, fresh as the Son’s
new-born presence, a life only just begun.

The dogwood leaves turn iron red in Fall,
their centers fully ripening—into small seeded balls,
each one a fruit vivid as Mary’s love, and edible.
The sciontree, once sprung from Jesse’s root,
speaks pain and life and love compressed
and taken in, eye, mouth, heart. Incredible
that now all Eucharists in our year suggest
the living Jesus is our Christmas guest.
~Luci Shaw “Dogwood Tree” from Eye of the Beholder

God is in the manger, wealth in poverty,
light in darkness, succor in abandonment.
No evil can befall us;

whatever men may do to us,
they cannot but serve the God
who is secretly revealed as love
and rules the world and our lives.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer from God Is in the Manger

I ponder the paradox of Christ, the Son of God,
coming to the world through the womb of a woman,
born homeless in order to bring us home with Him.

The uncontainable contained
the infinite made finite
the Deliverer delivered
the Eternal dwelling here and now
already but not yet.

As only one child of many of the
Very God of Very God,
(He is and was and always will be)
I am cross-blessed to realize
my life feels fresh-born – only just begun –
yet we all have been known to the Creator
from the start of time.

(If you are interested in hearing an old old story about the dogwood tree in song, and you don’t mind old-timey honky-tonk music, there is this….)

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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: The Rose Among the Thorns

…Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you
Ezekiel 2:6

<The ground> will produce thorns and thistles for you.
Genesis 3:18

Perched on the high end of its
spinal stalk the brain blooms
like a pink cabbage rose
Peel back the blunt bone like a bud—
it will be meaty to touch, the
corolla folding in, folding in to echo
within the sepal skull
a blink of light, logarithms, a view
of ships in harbor, a word just now
rescued by memory, clipped arbor vitae
how it smells—spiced
Here God lives, burrowing among
the petals, cross-
pollinating. Here is Christ’s mind
juiced, joined, fleshed, celled.
Here is the clash,
the roil, an invasion, not gentle
as dew; the rose is unfurled
violently until the scent explodes
and detonates in the air
And oh, it trembles—
thousands of seeds ripen in it as
it reels in the wind
~Luci Shaw “Flower head”  

Christ … is a thorn in the brain. 
Christ is God crying I am here, 
and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you, 
but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you, 
here in what activates and exacerbates

all that you would call not-God. 
To walk through the fog of God 
toward the clarity of Christ is difficult 
because of how unlovely, 
how ungodly that clarity often turns out to be.
~Christian Wiman from Image Journal essay “Varieties of Quiet”

It was gardener/author Alphonse Karr in the mid-19th century who wrote that even though most people grumble about roses having thorns,  he was grateful that thorns have roses.  After all, there was a time when thorns were not part of our world, when we knew nothing of suffering and death, but pursuing and desiring more than we were already generously given, we received a bit more than we bargained for.

We continue to reel under the thorns our choices produce — indeed every day there is more bloodletting.

So a rose was sent to adorn the thorns and even then we chose thorns to make Him bleed. Yes, a fragrant rose blooms beautiful, bleeding amid the thorns, and will to the endless day.

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

1. Maria walks amid the thorn,
Kyrie eleison.
Maria walks amid the thorn,
Which seven years no leaf has born.
Jesus and Maria.

2. What ‘neath her heart doth Mary bear?
Kyrie eleison.
A little child doth Mary bear,
Beneath her heart He nestles there.
Jesus and Maria.

3. And as the two are passing near,
Kyrie eleison,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear.
Jesus and Maria.

A spotless Rose is blowing, sprung from a tender root,
Of ancient seers’ foreshowing of Jesse promised fruit;
Its fairest bud unfolds to light
Amid the cold, cold winter; and in the dark midnight.

The Rose which I am singing, whereof Isaiah said,
Is from its sweet root springing in Mary, purest Maid;
For, through our God’s great love and might,
The blessed Babe she bare us in a cold, cold winter’s night.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendour the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us, and lightens every load.

O Jesus, by being born out of this vale of tears,
Let Thy help guide us to the hall of joy In your father’s kingdom,
As we praise You eternally; O God, give us that.

When Jesus Christ was yet a child
He had a garden small and wild
Where-in he cherished roses fair
And wove them into garlands there

Now as the summertime drew nigh
There came a troop of children by
And seeing roses on the tree
With shouts they plucked them merrily

“Do you bind roses in your hair?”

They cried in scorn to Jesus there
The boy said humbly “Take I pray
All but the naked thorns away”

Then of the thorns they made a crown
And with rough fingers pressed it down
Till on his forehead fair and young
Red drops of blood like roses sprung
~Plechtcheev, melody by Tchaikovsky

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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: Came Down and Disappeared Into Us

[The Incarnation is like] a wave of the sea which,
rushing up on the flat beach,
runs out, even thinner and more transparent,
and does not return to its source but sinks into the sand and disappears.
~Hans Urs von Balthasar from Origen: Spirit and Fire

The Word became flesh.
Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed.

Incarnation.
It is not tame.
It is not beautiful.
It is uninhabitable terror.
It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light.


Agonized laboring led to it,
vast upheavals of intergalactic space,

time split apart,
a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself.
You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this:
“God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God… who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down.

Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see.
It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms.
It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.
~Frederick Buechner from Whistling in the Dark

Down he came from up,
and in from out,
and here from there.
A long leap,
an incandescent fall
from magnificent
to naked, frail, small,
through space,
between stars,
into our chill night air,
shrunk, in infant grace,
to our damp, cramped
earthy place
among all
the shivering sheep.

And now, after all,
there he lies,
fast asleep.
~Luci Shaw “Descent” from Accompanied By Angels

Perhaps it is the mystery of the thing that brings us back,
again and again, to read the story of 
how God came down and disappeared into us.

How can this be?
God appearing on earth first to animals,
then the most humble of humans.

How can He be?
Through the will of the Father and the breath of the Spirit,
the Son was, and is and yet to be.

O great mystery beyond all understanding.

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo,
cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum.
Alleluia!

O great mystery and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord lying in their Manger!
Blessed is the Virgin
whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: God Magnified


These still December mornings…
Outside everything’s tinted rose, grape, turquoise,
silver–the stones by the path, the skin of the sun

on the pond ice, at the night the aureola of
a pregnant moon, like me, iridescent,
almost full term with light.

~
Luci Shaw from “Advent Visitation in Accompanied by Angels

And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord”…
Luke 1:46

The Incarnation allows us
to see and hear and touch
what before we could only glimpse
in a pillar of smoke,
a tabernacle,
a burning bush,
a still small voice.

God becomes magnified in the manger
with unmistakable clarity and focus.
He is remarkably tangible:
rocked and fed,
comforted when crying,
cleansed when soiled,
mourned when dying.

What was once remote is now up close,
magnified like a setting moon
so huge on the horizon at dawn.

He has settled among us
as He becomes us.

Softly the light is stealing, sweetly a maiden sings
ever wakeful, ever wistful
watching faithfully, thankfully, tenderly
her king of kings

My soul doth magnify, doth magnify the Lord
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour
Mary sang to Jesus, softly the Lady sings,
I will love you, I will serve you, make my lullaby
glorify, magnify the King of Kings
Lullaby, lullaby, lullaby
~Andrew Carter

1. Magnificat, anima mea, Dominum
My soul doth magnify the Lord

2. et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo, salutari meo.
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

3. Quia respexit humilitatem ancillæ suæ: ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
For he hath regarded: the lowliness of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed.

4. Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est, et sanctum nomen eius,
For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his Name,

5. et misericordia eius a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.
and his mercy is on them that fear him: throughout all generations.

6. Fecit potentiam in brachio suo, dispersit superbos mente cordis sui. He hath showed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

7. Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles;
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek;

8. esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes.
he hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.

9. Suscepit Israel puerum suum recordatus misericordiæ suæ,
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel,

10. sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini eius in sæcula.
as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed, for ever.

11. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost:

12. sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen. as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: The Tree Bowed Down

Who has not considered Mary
And who her praise would dim,
But what of humble Joseph
Is there no song for him?

If Joseph had not driven
Straight nails through honest wood
If Joseph had not cherished
His Mary as he should;

If Joseph had not proved him
A sire both kind and wise
Would he have drawn with favor
The Child’s all-probing eyes?

Would Christ have prayed, ‘Our Father’
Or cried that name in death
Unless he first had honored
Joseph of Nazareth ?
~Luci Shaw “Joseph The Carpenter”

It was from Joseph first I learned
of love. Like me he was dismayed.
How easily he could have turned
me from his house; but, unafraid,
he put me not away from him
(O God-sent angel, pray for him).
Thus through his love was Love obeyed.

The Child’s first cry came like a bell:
God’s Word aloud, God’s Word in deed.
The angel spoke: so it befell,
and Joseph with me in my need.
O Child whose father came from heaven,
to you another gift was given,
your earthly father chosen well.

With Joseph I was always warmed
and cherished. Even in the stable
I knew that I would not be harmed.
And, though above the angels swarmed,
man’s love it was that made me able
to bear God’s love, wild, formidable,
to bear God’s will, through me performed.
~Madeleine L’Engle O Sapientia in A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation edited by Luci Shaw

The hero of the story this season is the man in the background.

He is the adoptive father
who does the right thing rather than what he has legal right to do,
who listens to his dreams and believes,
who leads the way over dusty roads to be counted,
who searches valiantly for a suitable place to stay,
who does whatever he can to assist her labor,
who stands tall over a vulnerable mother and infant
while the poor and curious pour out of the hills,
the wise and foreign appear bringing gifts,
who takes his family to safety when the innocents are slaughtered.

He is only a carpenter, not born for heroics,
but steps up when called.
He is a humble man teaching his son a living,
until his son leaves to save the dying.
He is strong and obedient,
a tree bowing low to give up his fruit.

This man Joseph is the Chosen father,
the best Abba a God could hope for.

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he
He courted Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee

Joseph and Mary were walking one day
Here is apples and cherries so fair to behold

Mary said to Joseph, so meek and so mild:
Joseph, gather me some cherries, for I am with child

Then Joseph flew in anger, in anger he flew
Let the father of the baby gather cherries for you!

Well, the cherry-tree bowed low down, bowed down to the ground,
And Mary gathered cherries while Joseph stood down.

Then Joseph took Mary all on his right knee,
Crying, “Lord, have mercy for what I have done.”

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he,
He courted Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee.

Don’t be afraid
To take Mary as your wife
For the child in her
Is of the Spirit
Don’t be afraid
To take Mary as your wife
For the child in her
Is of the Spirit
Don’t be afraid

[Chorus]
She will bear a son
And you shall call this one “Jesus”
She will bear a son
And you shall call this one “Jesus”

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The Beginning That Reminds Us of the End: Open Wide Then

What next, she wonders,
with the angel disappearing, and her room
suddenly gone dark.

The loneliness of her news
possesses her. She ponders
how to tell her mother.

Still, the secret at her heart burns like
a sun rising. How to hold it in—
that which cannot be contained.

She nestles into herself, half-convinced
it was some kind of good dream,
she its visionary.

But then, part dazzled, part prescient—
she hugs her body, a pod with a seed
that will split her.
~Luci Shaw “Mary Considers Her Situation”

What matters is what occurs occurs
Between them, not to them. It’s only that
The angel doesn’t matter, nor the virgin.
A blade of light scissors the air

Between them. To them it’s only that:
A glancing blow, or a kind of cleaving,
A blade of light. Scissor the air
Wide open, then it happens:

A glance, a blow, error a kind of cleaving—
Of? Or to? So something else can enter.
Open wide then. It happens
Those two forget themselves, not knowing—

What, or who?—so something else can enter
And, in entering, replace them.
We can’t forget ourselves. Knowing
Carelessness has brought us to the point

Where in entering we replace them.
The angel doesn’t matter, nor the virgin.
Carelessness has brought us to the point.
What is matters. What occurs occurs.
~Katherine Coles “Annunciation”

Sometimes
for the light to illuminate
where darkness thrives,
there must be wounding,
that tears us open;
there is a crack in everything,
cleaving us so joy can infiltrate and heal
where we hurt the most.

When time sweeps yesterday away,
It leaves behind an empty heart,
Weeping through the night so dark and long.
When words are lost among the tears,
When sadness steals another day,
God hears our cries and turns our sighs into a song.

Sing to the One who mends our broken hearts with music.
Sing to the One who fills our empty hearts with love.
Sing to the One who gives us light to step into the darkest night.
Sing to the God who turns our sighs into a song.

From heaven falls a mercy sweet,
The time for weeping now is gone;
God hears our sighs and gives us His eternal song.

Sing to the One who mends our broken hearts with music.
Sing to the One who fills our empty hearts with love.
Sing to the One who gives us light to step into the darkest night.
Sing to the God who turns our sighs into a song.

Sing to the One who mends our broken hearts with music.
Sing to the One who fills our empty hearts with love.
Sing to the One who gives us light to step into the darkest night.
Sing to the God who turns our sighs into a song.
~Susan Boersma

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be

Ah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen from “Anthem”

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: Tenderness Begins to Form

This is the honest grace of her body:
that she is afraid, and in this moment does not
hide her fear...
Until in the cave of her body
she might feel without willing it a tenderness
begin to form. Like the small, ghostly
clover of the meadow; the deer hidden
in the hills. A tenderness like mourning.
The source of love, she thinks, is mourning.
…the child that will soon form
inside her body, this loss by which we come
to bend before the given, its arms that open
unexplained, and take us in.
~Laurie Sheck from “The Annunciation”

Like Mary, we have no way of knowing… We can ask for courage, however, and trust that God has not led us into this new land only to abandon us there.
~Kathleen Norris from God With Us

As if until that moment
nothing real
had happened since Creation

As if outside the world were empty
so that she and he were all
there was — he mover, she moved upon

As if her submission were the most
dynamic of all works: as if
no one had ever said Yes like that

As if one day the sun had no place
in all the universe to pour its gold
but her small room
~Luci Shaw “Virgin”

Like most people, I want my life to be the way I want it:
my plans, my timing, my hopes and dreams first and foremost.

And then stuff happens and suddenly nothing looks the way it was supposed to be. I feel emptied of the future I had envisioned.

Yet only then, as an empty vessel, can I be filled.

In the annunciation of the angel, Mary’s response to this overwhelming circumstance is a model for us all when we are hit by a wave of circumstances we didn’t expect and had not prepared for.

She is prepared; she has studied and knows God’s Word and His promise to His people, even in the midst of trouble. She is able to articulate it beautifully in the song she sings as her response. She gives up her so-carefully-planned-out life to give life to God within her.

Her resilience sings through the ages and to each one of us in our troubles:
may it be to me as you say.

May it be.
Your plans, Your purpose, Your promise.
Let it be.
Even if it may pierce my soul as with a sword.
You are there with your exquisite tenderness to stem the bleeding so I sing through my fear, through my weariness, and through my tears.

The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
“All hail” said he “thou lowly maiden
Mary, Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

“For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.”
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
“Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

In My Hunger

I made for grief a leaden bowl
and drank it, every drop.
And though I thought I’d downed it all
the hurting didn’t stop.

I made of hope a golden sieve
to drain my world of pain.
Though I was sure I’d bled it dry
the void filled up again.

I made of words a silver fork
and stabbed love in the heart,
and when I found the sweetness gone
I chewed it into art.
~Luci Shaw “What I Needed to Do”

How can I stow away our hurt and grief
when it keeps refilling, leaking everywhere?
Where can hope be found when all feels hopeless?
When I have been loved beyond all measure,
with bleeding hands and feet and side;
why not turn to the Word,
its sweetness never exhausted
no matter how often I chew through it
in my hunger.

A book of art in words and photography, available to order here:

Stitching Broken Pieces Together

“I make them warm to keep my family from freezing;
I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking.”
–From the journal of a prairie woman, 1870

To keep a husband and five children warm,
she quilts them covers thick as drifts against
the door. Through every fleshy square white threads
needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours
count each small suture that holds together
the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life.
She pieces each one beautiful, and summer bright
to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers
the scraps grow to green birds and purple
improbable leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter
mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold
between the double stars, the wedding rings.
~Luci Shaw “Quiltmaker”

Perhaps the world was made this way:
piecemeal, the parts fitting together exactly
as if made for one another~
the unique, disparate and separate
coming together in a glorious harmony.

The point of its creation is
forever functional and full of love –
a blanket of warmth and security
for generations to come.
Our legacy is to preserve this
beauty arising from scraps,
this broken stitched to broken
in a tapestry holy and whole.

all quilts here are on display this week at the Northwest Washington Fair
see previous year’s artwork here and here and here and here

This new Barnstorming book is like a quilt made of pieces of poetry and photographs – available for order here: