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:
“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:
Not a color I’ve wanted to wear—too innocently girlish, and I’m not innocent, not a girl. But today the gnarled cherry trees along Alabama Street are decked out like bridesmaids—garlands in their hair, nosegays in their hands—extravagant,
finally the big spring wedding to splurge, and hang the cost. Each really wants to be the bride so she can toss her bouquet until, unaccustomed, the gutters choke with pink confetti that flies up and whirls in the wake of cars going west… ~Luci Shaw from “Pink” in What the Light Was Like
If you stand in an orchard In the middle of Spring and you don’t make a sound you can hear pink sing, a darling, whispery song of a thing. ~Mary O’Neill from Hailstones and Halibut Bones “Pink”
I have always avoided wearing anything pink other than the blush of my windblown cheeks on a brisk April morning. Yet how can I help but listen to pink as its blooms burst open all around me, bubbling with pastel ebullience, whispering me awake in the morning and gently bidding me goodnight.
As the days warm and lengthen, the grass is getting happy almost overnight. Under my window the first star of spring opens its eye on the front lawn. Yellow as butter, it is only one. But it is one, and in the nature of things, and like the multiple asterisks seeding the night sky, it will flourish and take over every grassy bank in town. I long to be prolific as the dandelion, spinning pale parachutes of words, claiming new territory by the power of fluff. The stars in their courses have bloomed an unending glory across the heavens, but here in my yard a local constellation prepares to launch multiple, short-lived, radiant coronas to proclaim the new-sprung season. ~Luci Shaw “Dandelion”
How I loved those spiky suns, rooted stubborn as childhood in the grass, tough as the farmer’s big-headed children—the mats of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe. How sturdy they were and how slowly they turned themselves into galaxies, domes of ghost stars barely visible by day, pale cerebrums clinging to life on tough green stems. Like you. Like you, in the end. If you were here, I’d pluck this trembling globe to show how beautiful a thing can be a breath will tear away. ~Jean Nordhaus “A Dandelion for My Mother”
We harbor a dandelion sanctuary, a safe haven from herbicides and trowels.
The lawn is filled with them now yellow spots in carpeted green which close tight at night, then open each morning as miniature reflections of the real dawn.
As a kid, I was paid a nickel to dig up each long dandelion root, restoring the blemished green yard to pristine perfection; no more yellow splotches, unruly stems, trembling transparent globes releasing scores of seedy offspring.
But it didn’t last.
The perfect lawn, like the perfect life ~unbesmirched~ is a myth.
A host of opportunistic seeds float innocently on the breeze or lie hidden deep in our soil ready to spring up again overnight.
Those spunky spiky suns and ghostly stars of fluff overwhelm my heart with joy: they take my breath away as my breath, in turn, blows them away.
because we are all betrayers, taking silver and eating body and blood and asking (guilty) is it I and hearing him say yes it would be simple for us all to rush out and hang ourselves
but if we find grace to cry and wait after the voice of morning has crowed in our ears clearly enough to break out hearts he will be there to ask us each again do you love me? ~Luci Shaw “Judas, Peter” from Polishing the Petoskey Stone
Like Peter, I know the guilt of denying Him when questioned by those who would hurt me too. Like Judas, I think I know a better way because His way costs so much.
The morning crows the truth.
Like any one of us capable of betrayal, He knows my breaking heart better than I know myself: He knows everything about me including how much I love Him despite my brokenness.
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.”
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: A Doubter’s Dictionary
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.
[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
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.
O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum. Ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, iacentem in praesepio: Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum Alleluia
Salvation to all that will is nigh; That All, which always is all everywhere, Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear, Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die, Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie In prison, in thy womb; and though He there Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear, Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother; Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother, Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb. ~John Donne “Annunciation”
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.
Marvelous Truth, confront us at every turn in every guise… Thrust close your smile that we know you, terrible joy. ~Denise Levertov from “Matins”
A child is born, crowned in blood, and we lighten up. Sure, we see it every day, and yet this day, tradition says, is unlike any, which is true. It has never happened, and never will again, over and over the will to be reborn, to gasp and cry forgiveness, that is, like birth, difficult, scared, insurgent, brave with the stranger, the winter child, that blossoms through the wound. ~Bruce Bond from “Advent”
In sleep his infant mouth works in and out. He is so new, his silk skin has not yet been roughed by plane and wooden beam nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.
He is in a dream of nipple found, of blue-white milk, of curving skin and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb of a warm heart’s repeated sound.
His only memories float from fluid space. So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door, broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash, wept for the sad heart of the human race. ~Luci Shaw “Kenosis”
To the end of the way of the wandering star, To the things that cannot be and that are, To the place where God was homeless And all men are at home. ~G.K. Chesterton from “The House of Christmas” (1915)
To think that the original Breath stirring the dust of man led to this?
This mystery of God becoming man, growing within woman, fed from her breast, wounded and bleeding to save her who delivered him, emptied himself completely to then deliver all of us as newborns, sliding slippery into our new life.
And we gasp for breath, our nostrils no longer breathing dust, but filled by the fragrance of forgiveness and grace.
We blossom through his wounds, bursting into bloom.
What we owned was piled on the bed and warmed the room with the smell of bodies, bleach, and dryer sheets. You, on one side, folded the colors and I, on the other, the whites. Between us, years, children, holes in the knees, stains.
What you folded became gifts, wrapped, too beautiful to open. I watched you work as I took sock after sock and married them. We knew that most of what we did would be undone, but it kept us coming back to the same bed, the same warm room. ~Jim Richards, “Laundry” from Mud Season Review #15
All day the blanket snapped and swelled on the line, roused by a hot spring wind…. From there it witnessed the first sparrow, early flies lifting their sticky feet, and a green haze on the south-sloping hills. Clouds rose over the mountain….At dusk I took the blanket in, and we slept, restless, under its fragrant weight. ~Jane Kenyon “Wash”
Twenty years ago the green square beyond our back door was webbed with lines on which I hung with wooden pegs my angels and my ghosts –white nightgowns winged in the wind, shrouds of tablecloths, shirts fluting their spooky sleeves, their dwindling tails — shadows of the lucid cloth moving like water on the grass.
Now we live over a basement dryer churning beneath a 40-watt bulb. The trap keeps filling with a gray lint as my cloths, my second skins, are dried out by the dialed minute. The air behind the house is empty of apparitions, epiphanies. Gone is the iron-fresh smell of damp linens praying their vapor to the sun. ~Luci Shaw “Evaporation” from Water Lines
We need to always be on the lookout for simple pleasures that keep us coming back for more again and again.
Clean laundry freshly dried on the clothesline is one of them. True, the towels and sheets are rougher when the wind has snapped them into shape rather than a rolling dryer drum with fabric softener sheets. The scent of the outdoors more than makes up for the sandpaper feel. I bury my face in the pile as I bring it inside to fold and put away.
Smoothing, folding, stacking, creating order- it will be undone and redone in merely a week, yet is such a comforting routine.
Even when there is disarray, when we are soiled and smelly, when we feel tossed into the dirty clothes hamper, we can be restored. Water and cleansing and wind bearing fresh air ready us to be folded and smoothed and stowed away until we are needed.
We don’t just keep coming back; we are called back. We are loved so much that dirty doesn’t matter because it always (always) can be made clean.