Flowers Preach

Flowers preach to us if we will hear:
The rose saith in the dewy morn:
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.
~Christina Rossetti from Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems

Some sermons are written bold with color, illustrated with powerful gospel stories of righteousness and redemption in the face of our sin.

Some sermon passages are fragrant with the scent of grace and forgiveness, lingering long after the words are spoken.

Some sermon stories remain subtle and hidden, cryptic messages like the blooms that grow close to the ground, barely visible.

We need to hear them all preached, but most of all we need those every day plain-to-the-bone sermons which are trampled and tread upon, springing back up to guide our feet to the best pathway home. No color, no fragrance, no hiding: just celebrating the ubiquitous lichens, mosses and grasses and weeds which exist solely to help cushion our inevitable fall and help us rise up again.

Fir Fingers Touching

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A visit to a temperate rain forest (Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park only a ferry-ride and short drive away from where we live) reminds me of how glued we are to this place we live and to each other.  We wander paths past 300 year old trees that cling to one another and will for many more generations, hanging with the crepe of dangling moss.  They are closely tethered together, taking others down with them when they eventually fall to the wind and then nurse the sprouting and growth of the next generation’s seeds from their long rotting trunks.

Among their midst, the streams flow clear and pristine, feeding the roots and shoots of all growing things.

Our hearts are too often harder than this firm and weathered bark covered in the drapery of moss.  How willingly do I give myself up for the next generation?  How silently do I reach out to touch the ones next to me and hang on steady through the strong and destructive winds of time?

May we know this Alpha and Omega who lay down for us, our beginning and ending, our nurture and our protector.

May our hearts soften in response.

 

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The Power To Break Rocks

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“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.”
~Tennessee Williams in “Camino Real”
(These words became his epitaph)

 

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Some beginnings in this life commence on inhospitable ground:
no soil, no protection, no nurture, barely enough water.

Here lies a drive to thrive and transcend: forcing through a crack in the pavement while exposed to relentless heat.

Such delicate beauty comes from nothing but a seed packed with the potential to transform its circumstances through perseverance.  We all are created with the potential power to break through rocks and change the world.

Forever and ever.

Amen.

 

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At This Moment

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In a hundred trillion years—
an actual number
though we can’t begin
to grasp it—the last traces
of our universe will be not
even a memory
with no memory to lament it.

The last dust of the last star
will not drift in the great nothing
out of which everything we love
or imagine eventually comes.

Yet every day, every four hours
around the clock, Debbie prepares
her goat’s-milk mix
for the orphaned filly
who sucks down all three liters of it,
gratefully, it seems,
as if it matters more
than anything in the universe—
and it does—at this moment
while the sun is still
four hours from rising
on the only day that matters.
~ Dan Gerber “Only This Morning” from Particles

 

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For an orphan to survive, he or she must be adopted by surrogate parents whose love and dedication is fertilized by more than a cascade of post-partum maternal hormones.

This is a heart adoption, clean and pure and simple, a 24/7 commitment where each moment of nurture is about keeping this newest of God’s vulnerable and helpless creations alive.
Nothing else matters and nothing else should.

We too, each one of us, in a way we don’t always understand, are born orphans in need of adoption; we long to be found, rescued, fed, nurtured and loved.
We will never be set adrift in nothingness — Someone takes us to His heart.

Nothing else matters and nothing else should.

 

 

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thank you to Emily Vander Haak and Lea Gibson for taking a few of these BriarCroft foal photos.

 

Preparing Through Parable: All Kinds of Fish

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Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 
Matthew 13: 47-48

 

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I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. 
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
– It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
– if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels- until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! 
And I let the fish go. 

~Elizabeth Bishop  from “The Fish”
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All my life, I’ve taken care of a variety of fish in tanks.  As a child, I would watch, mesmerized, as our tropical fish glided around, happily exploring their little ten gallon world.  I willingly cleaned away the algae, rinsed the gravel and changed the filter. As a teenager, I boasted at least three different tanks aerating away in my bedroom, my own little aquacultural world.

During college and medical school, I chose to share my room with goldfish and bettas, thriving on their contentment within a clear glass bowl.  I didn’t think of them as emotional support animals, but there was a joy obvious in their albeit limited existence: they still thrived when I was away, not missing me, but were always thrilled when I fed them, and tolerated my messing with their home maintenance.

My current aquarium is over thirty years old and boasts over two dozen fish and plenty of furry algae and plants. Some of my watery friends have lived a decade or more and when they pass, I miss them.  Even the dozen koi and goldfish in our farm pond have expressive faces and individual personalities that I’ve gotten to know well as they come when I call.

I’m not a fisherman so can’t imagine sorting these finned friends good from bad as the parable suggests will happen in the kingdom of God.  I know the heart of compassion I feel for these animals I’m responsible for, as I know and have experienced the compassion of our Creator.

I would hope when the time comes that I end up in His net, that He’ll look at me, at my blemishes and wounds and the number of hooks in my mouth from the times I’ve been caught and escaped, and if He’s not yet ready to take me home, or deems me not yet ready to leave this world, He’ll throw me back to keep trying to get it right.

He has promised us that.

Rainbows, rainbows, rainbows.

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

tanks

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Like a Mustard Seed

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30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
Matthew 17:20

 

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When I was eight years old, I spent my hard-earned chores allowance on a little round glass ball necklace containing a mustard seed at the front and a scripture verse on the back.  At that tender age, I considered my faith very tiny indeed, so the necklace gave me courage and confidence that it (and I ) could somehow grow and flourish.

As was true of most things I said or did in grade school, I was teased about wearing the necklace, so I decided to hide it under my blouses and sweaters, tucked safely away over my heart, right where it belonged.  It was simply enough for me to know it was there, even if no one else did.

My faith became tinier as it became hidden away, eventually to end up in my little jewelry box along with my banished necklace, locked away with a little key and nearly forgotten over the years.

No seed grows without nurture and care.  No faith grows when invisible to others.  Yet the Kingdom of God thrives in such inauspicious places as our shriveling hearts, growing large and protective for those of us with the tiniest of faiths.

Nothing is impossible in the Lord, only because of the Lord.

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

 

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Mission Accomplished

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And on those hot afternoons in July,
when my father was out on the tractor
cultivating rows of corn, my mother
would send us out with a Mason jar
filled with ice and water, a dish towel
wrapped around it for insulation.

Like a rocket launched to an orbiting
planet, we would cut across the fields
in a trajectory calculated to intercept—
or, perhaps, even—surprise him
in his absorption with the row and the
turning always over earth beneath the blade.

He would look up and see us, throttle
down, stop, and step from the tractor
with the grace of a cowboy dismounting
his horse, and receive gratefully the jar
of water, ice cubes now melted into tiny
shards, drinking it down in a single gulp,
while we watched, mission accomplished.
~Joyce Sutphen “Carrying Water to the Field”

 

 

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It was a special responsibility to carry cold water out to my father when he was on the tractor.  Yes, he could have carried a thermos-full along with him all day but then he would not have seen his daughter walking carefully from the house over the fresh-turned dirt, he would not have an excuse for a short break to wipe the sweat from his face or survey the straightness of the furrows, he would not have lifted her up to sit beside him on the tractor and allowed her to “drive”, steering down the rows, curving around the killdeer nests so their young are spared.

Such a special responsibility to nurture someone hard at work who doesn’t stop to refill themselves. It happens rarely any more – whether field or factory or the family home. What wondrous love to carry water to those who thirst; what wondrous grace fills furrowed lives.

 

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All Things Frail and Imperiled

 

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Here, I place
a blue glazed cup
where the wood
is slightly whitened.
Here, I lay down
two bright spoons,
our breakfast saucers, napkins
white and smooth as milk.

I am stirring at the sink,
I am stirring
the amount of dew
you can gather in two hands,
folding it into the fragile
quiet of the house.
Before the eggs,
before the coffee
heaving like a warm cat,
I step out to the feeder—
one foot, then the other,
alive on wet blades.
Air lifts my gown—I might fly—

This thistle seed I pour
is for the tiny birds.
This ritual,
for all things frail
and imperiled.
Wings surround me, frothing
the air. I am struck
by what becomes holy.

A woman
who lost her teenage child
to an illness without mercy,
said that at the end, her daughter
sat up in her hospital bed
and asked:

What should I do?
What should I do?

Into a white enamel bath
I lower four brown eggs.
You fill the door frame,
warm and rumpled, kiss
the crown of my head.
I know how the topmost leaves
of dusty trees
feel at the advent
of the monsoon rains.

I carry the woman with the lost child
in my pocket, where she murmurs
her love song without end:
Just this, each day:
Bear yourself up on small wings
to receive what is given.

Feed one another
with such tenderness,
it could almost be an answer.
~Marcia F. Brown “Morning Song”

 

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I am comforted by rituals, as are we all.
The feeding, the cleaning,
the washing, the nurture,
the smoothing of the wrinkled and ruffled,
the sacred time of rest.

It is those small things that get us through the day,
that create holiness in each breath, each moment.

What should I do next? What should I do?

No need to wonder. I am led to what is needed.

 

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The Art of Showing Up

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I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.
~Julie Kasdorf– “What I Learned from my Mother”

 

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Usually a mom knows best about these things — how to love others when and how they need it.  Showing up with food you’ve made yourself is always a good thing but it is the showing up part that is the real food;  bringing along a cake is simply the icing.

This is a good reminder that as a doctor, my usefulness is completely dependent on others’ suffering. No illness, no misery, no symptoms and I’m out of a job.

If only.
What a world that would be.
And then I can still be a mom even if there is no more doctor work:

….if I’d known it could help, I’d have baked a cake…

 

 

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Damp All Through

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Early morning, everything damp all through.
Cars go by. A ripping sound of tires through water.
For two days the air
Has smelled like salamanders.
The little lake on the edge of town hidden in fog,
Its cattails and island gone.
All through the gloom of the dark week
Bright leaves have been dropping
From black trees
Until heaps of color lie piled everywhere
In the falling rain.
~Tom Hennen “Wet Autumn” from Darkness Sticks to Everything.

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There is no one home but me—
and I’m not at home; I’m up here on the hill,
looking at the dark windows below.
Let them be dark…

…The air is damp and cold
and by now I am a little hungry…
The squirrel is high in the oak,
gone to his nest , and night has silenced

the last loud rupture of the calm.
~Jane Kenyon from “Frost Flowers”

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Even when the load grows too heavy,
weariness rolling in like a fog to
dampen all that was once vibrant,
even then

~even then~

there awaits a nest of nurture,
a place of calm
where we are fed
when we are tired and hungry.

We will be filled;
we will be restored;
the load will lighten.

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