You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together
In your hands
The dog, the donkey, surely they know They are alive. Who would argue otherwise?
But now, after years of consideration, I am getting beyond that. What about the sunflowers? What about The tulips, and the pines?
Listen, all you have to do is start and There’ll be no stopping. What about mountains? What about water Slipping over rocks?
And speaking of stones, what about The little ones you can Hold in your hands, their heartbeats So secret, so hidden it may take years
When I myself go to the doctor, I am to trust I’m seeing someone who is meant to know me thoroughly enough that he or she will help me move out of illness into better health. This is how acceptance feels: trusting someone enough to come out of hiding.
As a physician myself, I am reminded by the amount of “noticing” I need to do in the course of my work. Each patient, and there are so many, deserves my full attention for the few minutes we are together. I start my clinical evaluation the minute we sit down together and I begin taking in all the complex verbal and non-verbal clues offered up, sometimes unwittingly, by another human being.
Now, during the COVID19 pandemic, my interactions with patients are all “virtual” so I don’t have the ability to observe as I usually do, so I need them to tell me outright what is going on in their lives, their minds and their hearts in spoken or written words. I can’t ‘see’ them, even on a screen, in the same way.
How might someone call out to me when their faces are hidden?
I can’t witness first hand the trembling hands, their sweatiness, the scars of self injury. Still, I am their audience and a witness to their struggle; even more, I must understand it in order to best assist them. My brain must rise to the occasion of taking in another person, accepting them for who they are, offering them the gift of compassion and simply be there for them, just them, right now.
God doesn’t struggle in His Holy work as I do in my clinical duties. He knows us thoroughly because He made us; He knows our thoughts before we put them into words. There is no point in staying hidden from Him.
He holds us, little pebbles that we are, in His Hand, and He discerns our secret heartbeats.
We, the hidden, are His.
This year’s Lenten theme for 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
I will search in the silence for your hiding place. In the quiet, Lord, I seek your face. Where can I discover the wellsprings of your love? Is my search and seeking in vain? How can I recover the beauty of your word? In the silence I call out your name. Where can I find shelter to shield me from the storm? To find comfort, though dark be the night? For I know that my welfare is ever in your sight. In the shadows I long for your light. Lead me in your footsteps along your ancient way. Let me walk in the love of the Lord. Your wisdom is my heart’s wealth, a blessing all our days. In the silence I long for Your world. ~Liam Lawton
…leave me a little love, A voice to speak to me in the day end, A hand to touch me in the dark room Breaking the long loneliness. In the dusk of day-shapes Blurring the sunset, One little wandering, western star Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow. Let me go to the window, Watch there the day-shapes of dusk And wait and know the coming Of a little love. ~Carl Sandburg from “At a Window”
Now close the windows and hush all the fields; If the trees must, let them silently toss; No bird is singing now, and if there is, Be it my loss.
I will be long ere the marshes resume, It will be long ere the earliest bird: So close the windows and not hear the wind, But see all wind-stirred. ~Robert Frost “Now Close the Windows”
Everything looks a little different framed by a window. We are set apart, looking out, rather than immersed within the landscape ourselves.
It is not unlike being in an art museum, walking past masterpieces that offer a framed view into another time and place, with people we don’t know and will never meet.
Let me go to the windows, moving through the house and peering out at the glory that awaits beyond the frame. But rather than simply admire the view, protected from the chill wind, I’ll walk out the door into the life that pulses continually beyond the glass.
Open your hands, lift them.—William Stafford, “Today”
The parking space beside the store when you were late. The man who showed up just in time to hold the door when you were juggling five big packages. The spider plant that grew— though you forgot to water it. The new nest in the tree outside your window. Chime of distant church bells when you’re lonely. Rhyme of friendship. Apples. Sky a trove of blue. And who’s to say these miracles are less significant than burning bushes, loaves and fishes, steps on water. We are blessed by marvels wearing ordinary clothes— how easily we’re fooled by simple dress— Oranges. Water. Leaves. Bread. Crows. ~Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “But You Thought You Knew What a Sign Looked Like” from Naked for Tea
It was a dark and stormy night. Leaves were strewn everywhere this morning, but more cling tightly to branches, waiting for another night, another storm to come, knowing it will be sooner rather than later.
I feel a bit strewn myself, bits and pieces of me flung here and there, while the rest of me remains clinging, hanging on for dear life, wondering what comes next.
Can I weather the weather of life, tossed and drenched?
Truly, marvels and miracles abound wherever I look, sometimes dressed so plainly I miss them first time around. In fact, they are so glorious, I am blinded by them. To see these signs, to know their significance, I must simply open my hands, lift up my eyes, quiet my troubled heart and be content.
Sometimes you don’t get a chance To pause and rest Even to just take it all in Sometimes life just goes too fast And if you halt, even for a moment You could get rolled over By the momentum of existence So, push yourself and keep going Because once you stop You may not get started again And if you need a breather Do it after the big stuff is done – I guarantee you the view Will be a whole lot better ~Eric Nixon “The Momentum of Existence” from Equidistant
Sunrise and sunset happen so reliably every day, but I’m often too busy to be there to witness them. I miss some great shows because I don’t get up early enough or get home from work in time or simply don’t bother to look out the window.
These are brilliant light and shadow shows that are free for the taking if only I pause, take a breather, and watch.
The view keeps getting better the older I get. The momentum of daily life is pausing purposely to allow me, breathless, to take it all in.
When summer’s end is nighing And skies at evening cloud, I muse on change and fortune And all the feats I vowed When I was young and proud.
The weathercock at sunset Would lose the slanted ray, And I would climb the beacon That looked to Wales away And saw the last of day.
From hill and cloud and heaven The hues of evening died; Night welled through lane and hollow And hushed the countryside, But I had youth and pride.
So here’s an end of roaming On eves when autumn nighs: The ear too fondly listens For summer’s parting sighs, And then the heart replies. ~A.E. Houseman from “XXXIX” from Last Poems
Mornings bring cooler air now, and there is haze hanging over lower ground where the previous day’s heat is rising. We are fast approaching the end of summer season, with its overabundance of constant activity, light and warmth. To be honest, I too am fried to a crisp; increasingly grateful for moisture, a bit of clinging mist, the reappearance of green shoots from parched ground. There is need for restoration after so much overproduction.
I don’t regret growing older, considering the alternative, but do feel sadness about not spending my younger years more aware of how quickly this all passes. I wish my eyes had been more open, my hearing more acute, my tongue devoted to silence, my skin sensitive to the slightest feather touch.
So I make up for it now as best I can – though my vision is cloudy at times, I strain to hear the quietest sounds, I talk when I should be listening, my skin wrinkling and dry. Each day brings new opportunity to finally get it right.
As the days end with foreshortened flare and our weather vane points from the north, I sigh deeply for all that has been.
There is a gold light in certain old paintings That represents a diffusion of sunlight. It is like happiness, when we are happy. It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light… ~Donald Justice from Collected Poems
Living in a place where golden light is scarce amidst the universal gray, I find myself watching out for it to capture it. Like happiness, I am grateful for its unexpected appearance, no matter how brief.
Having witnessed gilded light and known happiness, I know they will come again. It takes getting up early and being opened to joy coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Tonight at dusk we linger by the fence around the garden, watching the wound husks of moonflowers unclench themselves slowly, almost too slow for us to see their moving— you notice only when you look away and back, until the bloom decides, or seems to decide, the tease is over, and throws its petals backward like a sail in wind, a suddenness about this as though it screams, almost the way a newborn screams at pain and want and cold, and I still hear that cry in the shout across the garden to say another flower is about to break. I go to where my daughter stands, flowers strung along the vine like Christmas lights, one not yet lit. We praise the world by making others see what we see. So now she points and feels what must be pride when the bloom unlocks itself from itself. And then she turns to look at me. ~James Davis May “Moonflowers” from32 Poems Magazine, (Number 16.2, Winter, 2018)
Ever since I was a kid, I have had the need to share something special I’ve seen: a “hey, have you seen this too?” pointing it out to another to then witness it again through their eyes – that sharing can make it even sweeter. I guess that is much of what this blog is about.
Sometimes others can see what I see; sometimes not. Sometimes others wonder what has gotten into me.
I was an odd farm kid, no question: a summer twilight’s entertainment might be watching the evening primrose blossoms open at night. It, like the moonflower of the above poem, is one of a few night blooming plants meant to attract pollinating moths. Its tall stems are adorned by lance shaped leaves, with multiple buds and blooms per stem.
Each evening, and it was possible to set one’s watch by its punctuality, only one green wrapped bud per stem opens, revealing a bright yellow blossom with four delicate veined petals, a rosette of stamens and a cross-shaped stigma in the center, rising far above the blossom. The yellow was so vivid and lively, it seemed almost like a drop of sun was being left on earth to light the night. By morning, the bloom would begin to wither and wilt under the real sunlight, somehow overcome with the brightness, and would blush a pinkish orange as it folded upon itself, ready to die and drop from the plant in only a day or two, leaving a bulging seed pod behind.
I would settle cross-legged on our damp lawn at twilight, usually right before dusk fell, to watch the choreography of the opening of evening primrose blossoms. Whatever the trigger was for the process of the unfolding, there would be a sudden loosening of the protective green husk, in a nearly audible release. Then over the course of about a minute, the overlapping yellow petals would unfurl, slowly, gently, purposefully in an unlocking action that revealed their pollen treasure trove inside.
It was like watching time lapse cinematography, only this was an accelerated, real time flourish of sudden beauty, happening right before my eyes. It was magic. I always felt privileged to witness each unveiling as few flowers would ever allow us to behold their birth.
My brother wasn’t nearly as impressed when I tried to lure him into becoming audience with me. That’s okay; I was always underwhelmed by the significance of his favorite team’s touchdowns that he insisted in sharing with me.
It’s all praiseworthy as long as one among us notices.
We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.….A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish,’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves. ~Annie Dillard from Life Magazine’s “The Meaning of Life”
I can feel overwhelmed by the amount of “noticing” I need to do in the course of my work every day. Each patient deserves my full attention for the few minutes we are together. I start my clinical evaluation the minute I walk in the exam room and begin taking in all the complex verbal and non-verbal clues sometimes offered by another human being. What someone tells me about what they are feeling may not always match what I notice: the trembling hands, the pale skin color, the deep sigh, the scars of self injury. I am their audience and a witness to their struggle; even more, I must understand it in order to best assist them. My brain must rise to the occasion of taking in another person and offering them the gift of being noticed. It is distinctly a form of praise: they are the universe for a few moments and I’m grateful to be part of it.
Being conscious to what and who is around me at all times is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. I must reduce the expanse of creation to fit my limited synapses, so I can take it all in without exploding with the overload, to make sense of the “mess” around me and within me.
Noticing is only the beginning. It concludes with praise and gratitude.