Born to Witness What I Can

(Laryx lyallis)

A few weeks after my mother died,
I dreamed that she was waiting for me
in a ravine of spring-green larches.
There was no worry in her eyes, and
she sat there with her knees drawn up,
content to be in the filtered sunlight.
Funny, because she never lived
among larch trees–my mom grew up
on an orange grove and raised us
in the Douglas fir. I do not live
among them either, apart from my rare
visits to the North Cascades. But when
I’m there, as now I am, sitting barefoot
on Cutthroat Pass among amber larches
bathing every bowl and basin,
I have a sense that she’s okay,
and that I am too, born to witness what
I can within this green and golden world
which still persists, with or without us,
but mostly with us, I’ve come to believe.
Things and people pass away–
but that’s when they become themselves.
There’s a new heaven, a new earth,
around and about us–and not much
different from the better parts of the old.
We don’t live there very often,
but when we do, eternity
ignites in a moment, light in the larches
that shines. And shines.

~Paul J. Willis “Sustainability” from Between Midnight and Dawn

We are promised all will be new.

When I imagine a new heaven and a new earth, I can only think of the moments in my life when eternity has been ignited momentarily – the light shining just so – when I realize what it will be like forever, not just for a moment.

Forever is more than I can fathom; we were put here to witness this green and golden world, while being loved by its infinite eternal Creator.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. 
And there shall be no more death neither sorrow nor crying,
Neither shall there be any more pain,
For the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)


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Keeping Watch in the New Year

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. 
~G.K.Chesterton “A Chesterton Calendar”

All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.
~Helen Hunt Jackson from “New Year’s Morning”

On this New Year’s Day, I resolve to adopt better coping skills based on observing my horses’ adaptation to change.

As a horse keeper, I know how important a predictable routine is to my animals. They thrive on a schedule, with meal times at the same time every day and familiar people feeding and handling them. But it doesn’t always work out to keep things comfortably identical day to day.

Some days I have to feed early before the sun is up, so I’m flipping lights on in the barn when it is still night outside. The horses blink in their adjustment to the sudden light, leaping up from their shavings beds to shake off the sawdust remnants that cling to their coats. Some days I don’t get out to the barn quite when I’m expected, and I can hear them bouncing their empty water buckets and knocking the sides of their stalls with their hoofs, declaring their impatience at my tardiness.

On the days when the weather is terribly windy, wet and cold, the routine of going outside for the day is changed, and the horses must adapt to a day inside their stalls.  After several days of establishing their indoor routine, the weather brightens and they are able to go back outside again. I vary their stalls so they become used to going in and out of any stall I ask them to use. I vary the walk to their outdoor enclosure as much as I’m able, to get them accustomed to a new path with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells, and to trust me that I will get them safely to their destination even if it isn’t the way we took yesterday.

And I expect obedience even if things aren’t the same. Sometimes there is a subtle change in the scenery that I haven’t noticed but the horses always do. If something is a bit out of place from the previous day, or there is something new that wasn’t there before, the horse I’m leading often stops, gives a soft snort, and takes in the new configuration, trying to absorb it and accept it. Once settled, then the horse will move on, satisfied that all is well, even if everything is not the same.

One day, I moved one of our garden gnomes to a new outpost in the yard. The horses were not amused.  In their minds, he was not where he belonged and seeing him someplace unfamiliar undid them one by one. Once they accepted him in his new home, it was no longer a problem for them–until I moved him again just to keep them on their toes.

Today, I feel I’m too often like my horses in my reluctance to gracefully accept change.  I prefer things familiar, safe and comfortable. Life rarely serves that up tidily, and in fact, most days are a jumble of coping with the unexpected. I’m not always sure the path I’m on is the straightest one, or the one with the fewest potholes, nor am I that confident that I’ve chosen the best path. I may stop, pull back, try to turn around, even snort a bit.  Sometimes I may refuse to take another step.

But there is no turning back. Time leads irrevocably forward, with us in tow, and we must follow, however reluctant we may be. I’m grateful for the gentle flow of the hours and days into years, all too aware of the quickening pace as far more of my life has been lived out than lies ahead of me.

Perhaps what I’m needing most this new year is a slower walk – taking the time to look at all things with new eyes – breathing each breath appreciatively, to become keenly aware it was not my last.


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He Does Not Leave Us Where We Are: A Bud on Dead Wood

I am a breath
Of fresh air for you, a change
By and by.

Black March I call him
Because of his eyes
Being like March raindrops
On black twigs.

But this friend
Whatever new names I give him
Is an old friend. He says:

Whatever names you give me
I am
A breath of fresh air,
A change for you.
~Stevie Smith from “Black March”

Suddenly, in the last week, buds are forming everywhere.

From seemingly dead wood
that stands cold and dormant in late March,
comes new life, returning like an old friend.

Transforming what seems lifeless,
as if fresh air has been breathed into a corpse.

What could be more lifeless than a cross piece of timbers
built specifically for execution?

Yet life sprung from that death tree,
an unexpected and glorious bud,
ready to burst into most fragrant blossom.

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

O Deus, ego amo te,
O God I love Thee for Thyself
Nec amo te ut salves me,
and not that I may heaven gain
Nec quod qui te non diligent,
nor yet that they who love Thee not
Æterno igne pereunt.
must suffer hell’s eternal pain.

Ex cruces lingo germinat,
Out of the bud of the wood of the Cross
Qui pectus amor occupant,
wherefore hearts’ love embraces
Ex pansis unde brachiis,
whence out of extended arms
Ad te amandum arripes. Amen.
you lovingly take us. Amen.
~Prayer of St. Francis Xavier  “O Deus Ego Amo Te” 18th Century Traditional

He Sees Us As We Are: Shedding the Fluff

In the morning I take out
most of what I put in last night.

I cross out everything that seems
excessive, every frill and fandango,

anything fluffy—a word that should
never again appear in a poem,

along with blossom and awesome.
Once I have deleted everything

except the title—which now seems
to have been written by a poet

who knows something I don’t,
I delete that as well and turn

the page. All that empty space
is waiting. What will I say?

~Joyce Sutphen “The Art of Revision”

It is shedding season on the farm. Suddenly it feels like everything is being purged, leaving a blank slate, an empty canvas, a wordless page.

Someone who knows something that I don’t is directing all this dropping of the burdensome to make space for the shiny and new.

I wish my own extra insulation could just be brushed out and thrown away like horse and dog hair.  Mine clings to me through cold weather and warm, padding my hips and my middle and a few other spots I’d rather not disclose.  I know I don’t really need all this extra fluff, and I know what I must do to shed it, but somehow knowing and doing are not always in synch.

In fact I hang on to a lot that I don’t need, some of which only makes me more miserable, as it is no longer useful and is downright detrimental.    Some of it is tangible accumulation, in not-just-a-few piles and closets.  Some is not visible but is deeply seeded nevertheless.  The excess hurts to have it pulled out by the roots.

Yes, it is time to revise, start fresh, and figure out what is next.

I have an undercoat that I cling to because it guards my heart,  providing an insulated layer buffering against the chill and sharp edges of life.  I need a good stiff brushing from a strong arm.  The time has come for the coat to blow.  I’ll be smooth and free once again, feeling the breezes right through my skin, all the way to my heart.

I remain fluffy at my peril. It is time to figure out what comes next.

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

We Bring Ourselves

… we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,

Is ourselves.  And that’s all we need
To start.  That’s everything we require to keep going.

Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.

Be good, then better.  Write books.  Cure disease.
Make us proud.  Make yourself proud.

And those who came before you?  When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.

~Albert Rios from “A House Called Tomorrow”

All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.
~Helen Hunt Jackson from “New Year’s Morning”

We awake glad this morning,
breathing deeply of the sacred that
glistens in the light of a soft sunrise.
Each day is a fresh start,
a gift from those who have gone before.
We bring ourselves to His table,
renewing our covenant
with God and each other.
And the trees of the field will clap their hands…

Beautiful and Strange

There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free—
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.

Your heart’s in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You’d have sworn no one knew you more than you.

How many people thought you’d never change?
But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.
~Kate Light from “There Comes the Strangest Moment” in
 Open Slowly

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being,…
~Omid Safi from The Disease of Being Busy

Now that I have officially committed to reduce to part-time clinic work nine months out of the year with summers off, I’m struggling with the strangeness of waking up with no job to go to. I’m no longer paid to be busy. It feels a bit like I’m vigorously treading water but with no destination in mind other than to stay afloat. Maybe that’s enough to just move and breathe but until I get my feet on this new uncertain ground, I won’t make much progress.

With no little trepidation, I have decided this is the time to start backing off from all-consuming clinic responsibilities, knowing I was becoming less effective due to diminishing passion and energy for the work. I’ve worked in some capacity for over fifty years, throughout school and graduate school. Not working feels, well… very strange. It makes me question who I really am and how not leaving home for a job changes me. I can barely remember who I was before I became a physician.

So here I am — changing — whether it is taking on new color or shape, exercising a different part of my brain, or simply praying I will make good use of this time to do something as worthwhile as what I have been doing.

And once again my days … will be … strangely beautiful.

Preparing Through Parable: Bursting at the Seams



…no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’
Luke 5:36-39




Sometimes one good metaphor leads us to another good metaphor. That’s why parables are well remembered as we can link them to our personal experience, even across millenia.

Unfortunately there are no new or old, full or empty wineskins lying around on the farm to help this illustration — all the animal bladders here are in full use by warm and furry  critters.

However, on the farm I have found skins that burst when the new breaks through the old.  The old skin becomes so tight and inflexible that new vibrant life can no longer be held within.  It is left behind, a useless shell:  still interesting, worthy of study, but in no way alive like the new skin.

Lord, help me wriggle free of my old skin even when I want to cling to it and help me celebrate the new way you have reinvented me.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.







Preparing Through Parable: New Patch on an Old Tear



He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.
~Luke 5:36-37




…awakening the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand…
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, Vol. II




My life brims with holes and tears that I attempt to mend by slapping on bandaids that don’t stick to the sides of the wounds.  I try fixing what is gaping with iron-on patches, or darning until midnight, or whipping stitches through frayed cloth.

My efforts are futile. The edges cannot hold no matter how I try to bring them together myself.  I am dust, as is what I’m trying to repair.

Jesus tells me to quit trying to save the old – the dusty old laws, the old rituals, the old ways of doing things – and to embrace the brand new life that He offers, not use it as superglue to patch up the old life.

What I’m trying to hold on to ~ the comfortable, the familiar, the traditional ~ is no match with what is to come.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.






Turn Aside and Look: Exulting in Monotony



Because children have abounding vitality,
because they are in spirit fierce and free,
therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.
They always say, “Do it again”;
and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.
For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.
It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun;
and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.
It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike;
it may be that God makes every daisy separately,
but has never got tired of making them.
It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy;
for we have sinned and grown old,
and our Father is younger than we.

~G.K. Chesterton from Orthodoxy



To an infant, nothing is monotonous — it is all so new.  The routine of the day is very simple and reassuring: sleep, wake, cry, nurse, clean up, gaze out at the world, turn on the smiles –repeat.

The routine becomes more complex as we age until it no longer resembles a routine, if we can help it. We don’t bother getting up to watch the sun rise yet again and don’t notice the sun set once more.

Weary as we may be with routine, our continual search for the next new thing costs us in time and energy.   We age every time we sigh with boredom or turn away from the mundane and everyday, becoming less and less like our younger purer selves.

Who among us exults in monotony and celebrates predictability and enjoys repetition, whether it is sunrise or sunset or an infinite number of daisies?

God does on our behalf.  He is consistent, persistent and insistent because we are no longer are.

Do it again, God.  Please, please do it again.