God is the fire my feet are held to. ~Charles Wright, from “Ars Poetica II” in Appalachia
If we think we’re going to get off easy in this life because we do what we’re told to do: keeping the Sabbath and our noses clean, saying what we ought to say when we should say it and keeping our mouths shut when it is best to say nothing at all.
If we think our good deeds and relative lack of bad deeds will save us, we have another think coming and a lot of explaining to do.
We walk through fire because nothing about God’s glory is easy. We are hidden in the cleft because He is too much for our eyes to behold. We remove our sandals to feel the hot coals of holy ground. He burns without being consumed so our hearts are scorched in His presence.
Yet His feet are blistered too. He knows exactly how this feels.
Broad August burns in milky skies, The world is blanched with hazy heat; The vast green pasture, even, lies Too hot and bright for eyes and feet.
Amid the grassy levels rears The sycamore against the sun The dark boughs of a hundred years, The emerald foliage of one.
Lulled in a dream of shade and sheen, Within the clement twilight thrown By that great cloud of floating green, A horse is standing, still as stone.
He stirs nor head nor hoof, although The grass is fresh beneath the branch; His tail alone swings to and fro In graceful curves from haunch to haunch.
He stands quite lost, indifferent To rack or pasture, trace or rein; He feels the vaguely sweet content Of perfect sloth in limb and brain. ~William Canton “Standing Still”
Sweet contentment is a horse dozing in the summer field, completely sated by grass and clover, tail switching and skin rippling automatically to discourage flies.
I too wish at times for that stillness of mind and body, allowing myself to simply “be” without concern about yesterday’s travails, or what duties await me tomorrow. Sloth and indifference sounds almost inviting. I’m an utter failure at both.
The closest I come to this kind of stillness is my first moments of waking from an afternoon nap. As I slowly surface out of the depths of a few minutes of sound sleep, I lie still as a stone, my eyes open but not yet focused, my brain not yet working overtime.
I simply am.
It doesn’t stay simple for long. But it is good to remember the feeling of becoming aware of living and breathing.
I want to use my days well. I want to be worthy. I want to know there is a reason to be here beyond just warning the flies away.
It is absolutely enough to enjoy the glory of it all.
If grace is so wonderful, why do we have such difficulty recognizing and accepting it?
Maybe it’s because grace is not gentle or made-to-order.
It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change. For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go. ~Kathleen Norris from Acedia and Me
I’ve been salvaged when I didn’t even know I needed saving. I’ve been given what I didn’t think I needed so never had asked. I’ve been taken places I never planned to be when I was sure things were fine right where I was.
Grace is not about giving me what I think I want; it is not a reward for good behavior.
It is giving me exactly what I need when I deserve nothing.
It is the thorny landing that catches me when I fall. It is the tiny drop that spares me in drought. It is scars formed as proof that healing happens to the deepest wounds. It is being scattered when I planned to remain whole.
I am grateful, so very grateful, for what I didn’t know. I am grateful, so very grateful, for grace disguised.
Try as we might to find common ground with those so unlike ourselves, it is the differences we focus on despite our efforts to understand and befriend. Whether it is cranky politicians sparring in the headlines, or the perpetual struggle between weak and strong, we miss seeing Creation’s intended balance all around us.
We can dwell compatibly, lion and lamb, without one becoming a meal for the other. Indeed, prey transforms the predator.
Even the barbed and bloody thistle releases its seeds in the cushion of thistledown, drifting gently where the wind will take it next, at once forgiven for the scars it inflicted.
May I strive to be comforting rather than prickly, healing rather than inflicting, wherever I may land.
Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from The Cost of Discipleship
On this Maundy Thursday we are called to draw near Him, to gather together among the hungry and thirsty to the Supper He has prepared. He washes the dirt off our feet; we look away, mortified. He serves us from Himself; we fret about whether we are worthy.
We are not.
Starving and parched, grimy and weary, hardly presentable to be guests at His table, we are made worthy only because He has made us so.
The cup and the loaf You beckon me close to commune Like fruit on the vine crushed into wine You were bruised Broken and torn crowned with scorn Poured out for all
Chorus: All my sin All my shame All my secrets All my chains Lamb of God Great is your love Your blood covers it all
I taste and I drink You satisfy me With your love Your goodness flows down and waters dry ground like a flood Let mercy rain Saving grace Poured out for all
My sin, not in part You cover it all, You cover it all Not in part, But the whole You cover it all, You cover it all It’s nailed to the cross. You cover it all You cover it all And I bear it no more You cover it all. ~Allie LaPointe and David Moffitt
I imagine the dead waking, dazed, into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time. It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned and redeemed.
It is Hell until it is Heaven.
Seeing themselves in that light, if they are willing, they see how far they have failed the only justice of loving one another; it punishes them by their own judgment. And yet, in suffering that light’s awful clarity, in seeing themselves in it, they see its forgiveness and its beauty, and are consoled. In it they are loved completely, even as they have been, and so are changed into what they could not have been but what, if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be. ― Wendell Berry, A World Lost
When the merciless light contains a rainbow, we know we will be all right.
Even if we deserve no mercy Even if the heaven we have reached for feels unattainable Even if it is unimaginable we can be changed to what we wish we could be
Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, wherever an elm arches, Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long ashes lace, lance, and pair. Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches Squandering ooze to squeezed dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches Squadroned masks and manmarks treadmire toil there Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
But vastness blurs and time beats level. Enough! the Resurrection, A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection. Across my foundering deck shone A beacon, an eternal beam. Flesh fade, and mortal trash Fall to the residuary worm; world’s wildfire, leave but ash: In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am… ~Gerard Manley Hopkins, from “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection”
A day of wandering through peerless beauty vanquishes the darkness of our times. When surrounded by the hope that comes with emerging spring, it is possible to push aside grief and discouragement to welcome a promised resurrection.
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am…
He came and saw how desperate we were and His mercy was abundant. He turned night into day, dark into light, dust into living flesh, flesh into bread and wine in remembrance.
We will remember he sent grief away. Oh, we will remember.