Have you ever seen anything in your life more wonderful
than the way the sun, every evening, relaxed and easy, floats toward the horizon
and into the clouds or the hills, or the rumpled sea, and is gone– and how it slides again
out of the blackness, every morning, on the other side of the world, like a red flower
streaming upward on its heavenly oils, say, on a morning in early summer, at its perfect imperial distance– and have you ever felt for anything such wild love– do you think there is anywhere, in any language, a word billowing enough for the pleasure
that fills you, as the sun reaches out, as it warms you
as you stand there, empty-handed– or have you too turned from this world–
or have you too gone crazy for power, for things? ~Mary Oliver “The Sun”
Today we stand, wavering, on the cusp of light and shadow~ this knowledge of what’s to come rests deep in our bones.
We’ve been here before, empty-handed, bidding the sun to return.
We can not forget: as darkness begins to claim our days again, lest we be swallowed up by our hunger for power and things.
We must remember: He promised to never let darkness overwhelm us again and it won’t.
It is possible, I suppose that sometime we will learn everything there is to learn: what the world is, for example, and what it means. I think this as I am crossing from one field to another…
At my feet the white-petalled daisies display the small suns of their center piece, their – if you don’t mind my saying so – their hearts. Of course I could be wrong, perhaps their hearts are pale and narrow and hidden in the roots. What do I know? But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given, to see what is plain; what the sun lights up willingly; for example – I think this as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch – the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the daisies for the field. ~Mary Oliver from “Daisies”
I am content realizing I won’t understand what this world means, (and why any of us matter when we are all made up of the same atoms as everything else in existence);
No, I will remain in the dark until I cross from this field to the next. I have to wait for heaven itself to see how the Sun illuminates what matters.
It is all mystery in the meantime, and sometimes a mean and joyless mystery – with pain and heartbreak and suffering, but just enough loving sacrifice to make it worthwhile.
How are our atoms different from that stone, or that tree or that daisy?
We are breathed on. As God’s breath surges within us, we laugh out loud, weep mightily and sing out His Words – struggling to be suitable for this field, so often trampled and broken, but with plans to flourish plentiful in the Sun of heaven.
I had a dog who loved flowers. Briskly she went through the fields,
yet paused for the honeysuckle or the rose, her dark head
and her wet nose touching the face of every one
with its petals of silk, with its fragrance rising
into the air where the bees, their bodies heavy with pollen,
hovered— and easily she adored every blossom,
not in the serious, careful way that we choose this blossom or that blossom—
the way we praise or don’t praise— the way we love or don’t love— but the way
we long to be— that happy in the heaven of earth— that wild, that loving. ~Mary Oliver “Luke” from Dog Songs
Why do we not feel the joiede vivre, the ebullience and fullness of every moment? What makes us hide our nakedness rather than join in the walk in the garden in the cool of the day? What makes us choose this blossom or that, this tree or that, this fruit or that, judging for ourselves what is good, better and best?
What has happened to wild loving appreciation of the heaven of earth?
We gave it up for one taste; we lost heaven and regretted it immediately.
Even so, joiede vivre awaits, beyond this, above this. We are invited, all expenses paid, yet unearned, to go back to the way we long to be:
The incredible grace of loving wildly what we’re given.
So I tell you to stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? — Matthew 6:25-27
Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be so busy with worldly affairs. He does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives. He does not tell us that what we do is unimportant, valueless, or useless. Nor does he suggest that we should withdraw from our involvements and live quiet, restful lives removed from the struggles of the world.
Jesus’ response to our worry-filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the “many things” to the “one necessary thing.”
It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things. Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace.
He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. This is the meaning of “Set your hearts on his kingdom first…and all these other things will be given you as well.”
What counts is where our hearts are. When we worry, we have our hearts in the wrong place. Jesus asks us to move our hearts to the center, where all other things fall into place. — Henri Nouwen from Making All Things New
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not how shall I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang. — Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
I must confess I am a skilled and well-practiced worrier. It’s deep in my DNA: my mother had truly exceptional worrying capability, awake or asleep. I’m glad she is safe in the arms of Jesus during these uncertain times as she would be beside herself.
As a novel virus passes, person to person to person, from a market in Wuhan, China, to the farthest corners of the earth in a matter of weeks, I find plenty to keep me awake, personally and professionally.
Yet I know my worry is wasted energy, and worse than that, it pulls me away from the center of all I really need to know: all will be well. It may take time to get there, but eventually all will be well.
Jesus wants my heart, not my worry.
This year’s Lenten theme on Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh, When the bird waketh and the shadows flee; Fairer than morning, lovelier than the daylight, Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee! When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber, Its closing eye looks up to Thee in prayer; Sweet the repose beneath the wings o’ershading, But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there. So shall it be at last, in that bright morning When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee; O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning, Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee! ~Harriet Beecher Stowe
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response.
That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” ~Mary Oliver
Everyone needs a reminder about the privilege of waking up still alive. Having had that opportunity this morning, I’d like to make a comment.
This has happened at least two times over seven decades, and yesterday provided a third reminder. The common theme is that each involved my driving to work in the morning.
Maybe that alone should tell me something.
Yesterday, my 200,000 + mileage 14 year old hybrid suddenly died while I was going 60 mph on the busy interstate on my way to work. There are not many options for a driver in such a scenario: no power steering to help navigate out of traffic, nothing but coasting to a stop in the safest place available. God’s hand controlled that moment as there was no car to the right of me, so I was able to ease over to an exit that I could roll down, with a spot at the bottom where I could sit with my hazard lights blinking until a very kind policeman pushed me with his car onto a quieter residential side street to wait over two hours for a two truck. Needless to say, I was very late for my clinic day but very grateful to show up at all.
My car awaits diagnosis and prognosis. I can tell you my diagnosis is “gratefully still alive.” My prognosis is: “still alive enough to make a comment.“
My first “dead car in the middle of a busy city street” story was forty years ago during morning rush hour when my ancient Oldsmobile decided to drop its drive train on a rainy steep hill in Seattle as I was driving to my neurology rotation at Harborview Hospital. God’s hand managed to hold my emergency brake in place until a police car with protective flashing lights appeared within seconds to park behind me while streams of highly annoyed traffic passed by. It took a tow truck only 15 minutes to remove me and my car from what could well have been a much bigger mess. Yes, I showed up late and grateful to my work day.
My most dramatic near miss was twenty years ago. I was driving into work on one of our county’s rural two lane roads, going the speed limit of 50 mph, all while in a grumbly mood and wishing I was heading somewhere else on a bright and sunny day. My mind was busy with the anticipation of my workday when I noticed a slight shift to the right by the driver in the car ahead of me. It inexplicably moved over the fog line and then suddenly I realized why, in a moment of stark clarity. A huge empty gravel truck and trailer rig was heading north, moving at the speed limit, the driver seemingly oblivious to the fact his huge trailer was starting to whip back and forth. As he approached me much too quickly, his trailer was whipping back to the center line, approaching me full force at a ninety degree angle from the truck, filling up the entire lane in front of me. I had no choice but to run my car off the road into a grassy field to avoid being hit head on by the still attached but runaway trailer. Only by God’s hand were there no deep ditches, telephone poles or trees at that particular point in the road. My car dove right into tall grass, which enfolded me, like a shroud of green, shielding me from a tangle of metal and certain death. It was a near miss, but a miss nonetheless.
I sat still, gripping the steering wheel, gathering my wits and picking up what was left of my frayed nerves from where they had been strewn, feeling my heart race from the sheer relief of still being alive.
I was able to drive out of the field and happily headed to work to do what I initially planned to do that day, abruptly made aware of the privilege of having a life to live, a job to go to, and a grassy field that rescued me.
It was only later, while calling my husband about what had just taken place, that I cried. Until then, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Now, I don’t feel the need for any more such events to remind me to make comments, other than: Here I am, still alive.
Seven-thirty. Driving northwest out of town, the snowscape dusky, sky tinted smoky peach. In the rear view mirror, a bright orange glow suffuses the stubbly treeline. Suddenly a column of brightness shoots from the horizon, a pillar of fire! One eye on the road, I watch behind me the head of a golden child begin to push up between the black knees of the hills. Two weeks out from Solstice, the sun so near winter it seems to rise in the south. A fiery angel stands over his cradle of branches. And what strange travelers come to honor him? And what gift will I bring to him this day? ~Thomas Smith “Advent Dawn” from The Glory.
In trees still dripping night some nameless birds Woke, shook out their arrowy wings, and sang, Slowly, like finches sifting through a dream. The pink sun fell, like glass, into the fields. Two chestnuts, and a dapple gray, Their shoulders wet with light, their dark hair streaming, Climbed the hill. The last mist fell away.
And under the trees, beyond time’s brittle drift, I stood like Adam in his lonely garden On that first morning, shaken out of sleep, Rubbing his eyes, listening, parting the leaves, Like tissue on some vast, incredible gift. ~ Mary Oliver – “Morning In a New Land”
I want to wake each morning as if it were my first look at the world: to be astonished at the slow advance of the light and how the detail of the landscape begins to emerge from the mist of darkness.
As it is, I emerge from night covering my eyes, barely willing to look through my fingers to see what the day may hold. It is not the my first look at morning after all; I’m too aware there is heavy baggage to carry from the day before, and the day before that. The freshness of a new start is fermented by my history.
What gift can I bring to each new day? What gift can I bring to the God who came down to dwell in this weedy garden alongside me, help me carry my baggage and shoulder my load – indeed to carry me to my rest?
I will open my eyes and take in the morning, unwrapping it like the precious gift it is.
The best gift we can give to God is to receive the gift of Him with the astonishment it deserves.
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?
I’d like to make a comment this morning. Here we are, alive.
Too much time is spent trudging through the hours, unaware of the privilege of each breath.
The just-born and the nearly-dying know the preciousness of each moment. The rest of us need regular reminders each day- being alive is the responsibility to not waste a single minute.
As I look in the eyes of this new little soul, I am struck dumb and all my senses wrung dry: we are like bells pealing our witness of Glory. We are meant to respond.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave, He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave, So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave, Our God is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! While God is marching on. ~Julia Ward Howe — final original verses of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
We are Your lilies, the glory of this Sabbath morning. Consider us, Oh Lord, Consider us the tears borne of love from Your eyes, So brief and so beautiful.