Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you. ~David Wagoner “Lost”
I’m frequently lost in the figurative forest of my days on this earth, unsure where I’m heading and struggling to figure out where I’ve been. It seems I have been following a path laid out before me, keeping my head down to make sure I don’t trip over a root or stumble on a rock, when around and above me are the clues to where I am and where I’m going.
So I stand still and breathe deeply of the forest and let it tell me where I am. It can tell when my focus is misdirected.
Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air- Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches. Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches, Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes 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 Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone! Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark Is any of him at all so stark 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, and This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, Is immortal diamond. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection”
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye; at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed, For this corruptible must put on immortality 1Corinthians 15:51-53
In a matter of minutes this morning, mere clouds changed above the rising sun; its fire started low, sparked into dazzling flames, then became a beacon, lit from within and without and all around thus transformed.
So we are spared from our destiny with ashes by such Light.
So Christ, becoming man and rising — as He did, and risen as He is, changes us forever, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye.
Further in Summer than the Birds Pathetic from the Grass A minor Nation celebrates Its unobtrusive Mass.
No Ordinance be seen So gradual the Grace A pensive Custom it becomes Enlarging Loneliness.
Antiquest felt at Noon When August burning low Arise this spectral Canticle Repose to typify
Remit as yet no Grace No Furrow on the Glow Yet a Druidic Difference Enhances Nature now ~Emily Dickinson
“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time. The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world. She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:
So gradual the Grace A pensive Custom it becomes Enlarging Loneliness.
But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others. The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state. Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.” ~N. Scott Momaday from The Man Made of Words
On the first day I took his class on Native American Mythology and Lore in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this Dickinson poem on the blackboard. He told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written — this in a class devoted to Native American writing and oral tradition. In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a white New England recluse poet — someone as culturally distant from him and his people as possible.
But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences, and Scott knew this as he led us, mostly white students, through this poem. What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our understanding of nature and the world in which we, its creatures, find ourselves.
As summer begins its descent into the dark death of winter, we, unlike the crickets, become all too aware we too are descending. Not only are the skies are filled with smoke from uncontrolled wildfires, but the streets are filled with protesters and counter-protesters who loot and shoot rather than meet to ask questions, and our future is filled with the uncertain timeline of ongoing pandemic destruction as nature has the upper hand yet again.
There is no one as lonely as an individual facing their mortality and no one as lonely as a poet facing the empty page, in search of words to describe the sacrament of sacrifice and perishing.
Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone. The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man who shall emerge transformed.
There is no furrow on the glow. There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already lovingly planted and nurtured by our Creator God, yielding a fruited plain.
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper?
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
I’m reminded daily of how short our time on earth is – the evidence is everywhere. Yesterday it was the stark finality of discovering a beetle-cleaned bighorn sheep skull in the woods, in addition to the bold reality of a black bear paw print on the car sitting next to our cabin.
Each day I receive an email from the local hospital where I’ve had clinical privileges for 35 years – it innumerates the number of admitted COVID-19 cases and deaths, the number of ICU beds filled and the number of ventilators in use. Reading those numbers is like scanning the obituaries for names and ages and causes of death in the newspaper, the only consistent thing I read in the paper anymore. The deaths are reported dispassionately, as if they are inevitable, which they are, yet each happens too soon.
Much too soon.
So the admonition is to pay attention to each living thing and witness each moment, falling onto the grass in worship of this “wild and precious life” I’ve been given rather than dwell on the future when I’ll be buried under the grass.
I shall celebrate being a consumer of this precious life, overjoyed by these sweet weeds and colorful wildflowers. There is still much that awaits me on this earth before, inevitably, I too become the consumed.
What I didn’t know before was how horses simply give birth to other horses. Not a baby by any means, not a creature of liminal spaces, but already a four-legged beast hellbent on walking, scrambling after the mother.
A horse gives way to another horse and then suddenly there are two horses, just like that.
That’s how I loved you. You, off the long train from Red Bank carrying a coffee as big as your arm, a bag with two computers swinging in it unwieldily at your side. I remember we broke into laughter when we saw each other.
What was between us wasn’t a fragile thing to be coddled, cooed over. It came out fully formed, ready to run. ~Ada Limón “What I Didn’t Know Before”
It felt fully formed and meant to be right from the beginning, now over forty years ago. We both recognized we were ready to run unafraid, trusting our legs were strong enough to take us wherever life would lead.
We don’t need to run as often now, but we are hellbent on walking through this world together as long and far as possible, laughing and loving as often as we can.
We didn’t know it could be like this. We just needed to wait for it to be born fully formed when the time was right.
Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and to the storm within. ~Frederick Buechner – from Telling the Truth
We are so complicit and compliant in pleasant and peaceful appearance, sitting in silence allowing our inner storm to stay well hidden; if called and compelled to face wrongs boldly, the tempest can no longer be contained. Silence in the face of evil must itself be shattered, even the rocks will cry out, as our storm spills forth speaking the truth.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We all are feeling the unpredictability of the state of the climate all around us:
heavy damaging winds, devastating hale storms, thunder and lightening, sweaty sunny middays, torrential unpredictable showers, ankle-deep mud, horrible forest fires.
Protests, violence, conspiracy theories, people distrusting and disrespecting others, name-calling, and plenty of deafening silence.
And inside my own cranium:
words that fly out too quickly, anxiety mixed with a hint of anger, too easy tears, searing frustration, feeling immobilized by the daily muck and mire of the state of the world today.
I have no excuse for acting like moody March, October, December and August within a span of a few hours. I should not be so easily forgiven or unburdened. I end up lying awake at night with regrets, composing apologies, and wanting to hide under a rock until the storms inside and outside blow over.
But in the midst of all the extremes, while the pandemic, the climate change, the racial injustice storms keep raging, a miracle is wrought: it can only happen when brilliant light exposes weeping from heavy laid clouds, like the rainbow that dropped from heaven last week to touch the earth right in our backyard, only a few feet from our barn.
God cries too. His wept tears light the sky in a promise of forgiveness while we tear each other apart. He assures us: this storm too will pass.
He assures us because He knows all too well our desperate need for it.
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles, Whether I walk city streets, Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky, Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water, Or stand under trees in the woods, Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love, Or sit at table at dinner with the rest, Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon, Or animals feeding in the fields, Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air, Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright, Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring; These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles, The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, Every cubic inch of space is a miracle, Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same, Every foot of the interior swarms with the same. Every spear of grass — the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women, and all that concerns them…
Everywhere I turn, there is a miracle in the making. I know this deep in my bones, even when our days on this earth are short. I turn my camera to try to preserve it; I search for words to do it justice.
The strange miracle is that we are here at all: in an instant we are formed in all our unique potential, never having happened before and never to happen again—to become brain and heart and skin and arms and legs. We were allowed to be born, a miracle in itself in this modern age of conditional conception.
Now precious lives are being prematurely lost in this pandemic of spreading virus as well as the societal pandemic of divisiveness, when we need unified meeting of the minds more than anything else. I am trying not to get infected: a mask may cover my face and my hands can be washed, but how do I shield my ears and eyes from the barrage of words and images that spread distrust more effectively than a cough or sneeze?
The strangest miracle of all is that we are still loved, corrupted as we are. We are still offered salvage, undeserving as we are. We are still gifted with the miracle of grace until our last breath.
May you see God’s light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark. May you always hear even in your hour of sorrow the gentle singing of the lark. When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone. May you always remember when the shadows fall– You do not walk alone. ~Traditional Irish Blessing
The day starts with the promise of beauty lit across the sky and concludes with the same light on the other side of the horizon. Yet everything in between can be darkness with no relief or stark brightness leaving no place to hide.
We can endure both if we endure it together. We can travel this long road if we have each other alongside in case we stumble. We can live out our days in gratitude even through our tears.