In spring there’s hope, in fall the exquisite, necessary diminishing, in winter I am as sleepy as any beast in its leafy cave, but in summer there is everywhere the luminous sprawl of gifts, the hospitality of the Lord and my inadequate answers as I row my beautiful, temporary body through this water-lily world. ~Mary Oliver from “Six Recognitions of the Lord”
what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled— to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery. ~Mary Oliver from “The Ponds”
I admit to being oblivious to the wonders going on beneath my feet, around my middle and above my head. My nose is to the grindstone, doing what needs to be done.
When a moment comes out of nowhere and I’m dazzled by something I’ve seen or heard or smelled, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It has always been there; I’m simply waking to it.
Lord, lift my head in the midst of my blind hunger to see what you have already prepared for me.
Translation from Icelandic:
Hear, smith of heavens. The poet seeketh. In thy still small voice Mayest thou show grace. As I call on thee, Thou my creator. I am thy servant, Thou art my true Lord.
God, I call on thee; For thee to heal me. Bid me, prince of peace, Thou my supreme need. Ever I need thee, Generous and great, O’er all human woe, City of thy heart.
Guard me, my savior. Ever I need thee, Through ev’ry moment In this world so wide. Virgin–born, send me Noble motives now. Aid cometh from thee, To my deepest heart.
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Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed. ~G.K. Chesterton from Tremendous Trifles
But a dragon lies in ambush for the traveler; take care he does not bite you and inject you his poison of unbelief. Seeing this numerous company winning salvation, he selects and stalks his prey. In your journey to the Father of souls, your way lies past that dragon. How shall you pass him? You must have “your feet stoutly with the gospel of peace,” so that, even if he does bite you, he may not hurt you. ~St. Cyril of Jerusalem
<regarding St. Cyrus’s story>: No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller. ~Flannery O’Connor from A Good Man is Hard to Find
<Here be dragons> was any place on the ancient maps that was unknown and unexplored- a place to avoid at all costs, or — for the daring and carefree, exactly the place to explore.
Here be dragons marks the remainder of our days that dwell at the edge of life’s roadmap ~ unknown and unexplored ~ and too often full of peril.
So many dragons to pass by, ready to swallow us whole if we make a wrong turn, or singe our britches if we stray off the map.
So many dark valleys and impenetrable forests to pass through. so many mysteries unsolved, so many stories of fateful journeys told, and above all, we must listen to what they have to teach us: try not to stray from the well-worn lighted path of the faithful who have managed to stay out of the jaws of the dragons just so they could tell their story and save our souls.
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Gardens are also good places to sulk. You pass beds of spiky voodoo lilies and trip over the roots of a sweet gum tree, in search of medieval plants whose leaves, when they drop off turn into birds if they fall on land, and colored carp if they plop into water.
Suddenly the archetypal human desire for peace with every other species wells up in you. The lion and the lamb cuddling up. The snake and the snail, kissing. Even the prick of the thistle, queen of the weeds, revives your secret belief in perpetual spring, your faith that for every hurt there is a leaf to cure it. ~Amy Gerstler “Perpetual Spring” from Bitter Angel
We all want to fix what ails us: that was the point of my many years of medical training and over 40 years “practicing” that art. We want to know there is a cure for every hurt, an answer for every question, a resolution to every mystery, or peace for every conflict.
And there is. It just isn’t always on our timeline, nor is it always the answer we expect, nor the conflict magically dissolved. The mystery shall remain mystery until every tear is dried, as we stand before the Face of our Holy God who both loves and judges our hearts.
Sometimes this life hurts – a lot – but I believe in the perpetual Spring and Resurrection that guarantees our complete healing.
There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize Him or not…
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden art of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments….. and Life itself is Grace. ~Frederick Buechner from Now and Then- Listening to Your Life
The locus of the human mystery is perception of this world. From it proceeds every thought, every art. I like Calvin’s metaphor—nature is a shining garment in which God is revealed and concealed. ~Marilynne Robinson from her “Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred” essay
Perhaps it is the mystery of His life that brings us back, again and again, to read His story, familiar as it is, at first wrapped in the shining garment of swaddling clothes, then a plain robe to be gambled away beneath His nailed feet and finally a shroud left carefully folded and empty.
How can this mystery be? God appearing on earth, hidden in the commonplace, rendering it sacred and holy by His spilled blood.
How can it be? Through the will of the Father and the breath of the Spirit, this Son was born, died, then rose again and still is, and yet to be, forever and ever.
As the deer pants for the water so my soul pants for you, God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” from Psalm 42
Why no! I never thought other than That God is that great absence In our lives, the empty silence Within, the place where we go Seeking, not in hope to Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices In our knowledge, the darkness Between stars. His are the echoes We follow, the footprints he has just Left. We put our hands in His side hoping to find It warm. We look at people And places as though he had looked At them, too; but miss the reflection. ~R.S. Thomas “Via Negativa”
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6: 8b-10
The way of negation (via negativa) – describing who God is by describing who He is not — is like describing the interstitial spaces between my cells rather than the cells themselves, or the blackness between stars rather than the light that emanates from them.
It is impossible to understand God unless I absorb what He says about Himself. Yet I am too finite and He is too infinite to grasp fully.
So, like a deer panting for water, I thirst for Him, seeking more than a reflection of water for my real thirst. I want Him tangible and warm before me like Thomas thrusting his hand into Jesus’ wound, crying “My Lord and My God!”
The mystery of God is how He is so much more than mere reflection and the spaces in between what I see and feel in this existence. He is all things, all at once.
At the soft place in the snowbank Warmed to dripping by the sun There is the smell of water. On the western wind the hint of glacier. A cottonwood tree warmed by the same sun On the same day, My back against its rough bark Same west wind mild in my face. A piece of spring Pierced me with love for this empty place Where a prairie creek runs Under its cover of clear ice And the sound it makes, Mysterious as a heartbeat, New as a lamb. ~Tom Hennen, “In the Late Season” from Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems.
While walking the sloping hillside of our farm, if I listen carefully, I can hear trickling under the snow. I can’t see it but I can hear and feel and smell the water; as a hidden and mysterious melt happens. Thawing under my feet- as winter drains away, spring is on the move.
I witness that which I have no control over, this subtle softening of frozen ground- unseen, yet as evident as the steady beating of my heart as I too begin to thaw and melt through the miracle of flowing grace into whatever comes next.
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
We lose light so quickly by mid to late afternoon these days. There is no wistful lingering within the descent of evening; the curtain is pulled closed and it is dark — just like that.
I don’t know about you, but I’m having more difficulty adjusting to the loss of daylight this year than any year previously. This is perplexing as the change of seasons is no mystery to me. Somehow I’m feeling a new deprivation beyond the fact that shorter days are simply a part of the annual autumnal routine.
As if – something precious has been stolen away
as if – I had any claim to the light to begin with
as if – I exist only to notice what ceases to exist.
I’m ready for more than just feeling loss. I’m ready to break into blossom; to be the light instead of grumbling in the dark.