A Stranger to Nothing

Contorted by wind,
mere armatures for ice or snow,
the trees resolve
to endure for now,

they will leaf out in April.
And I must be as patient
as the trees—
a winter resolution

I break all over again,
as the cold presses
its sharp blade
against my throat.

~Linda Pastan “January” from The Months

A year has come to us as though out of hiding
It has arrived from an unknown distance
From beyond the visions of the old
Everyone waited for it by the wrong roads
And it is hard for us now to be sure it is here
A stranger to nothing
In our hiding places
~W. S. Merwin “Early January” from  The Lice 

January can be a rough month for most of us: the beginning-of-winter doldrums can be fierce after the hubbub of holidays. It doesn’t help the new year I hoped for is nothing like the unfamiliar road I find myself following – full of twists and turns and switchbacks, as well as being stalled at times, iced firmly in place, a stranger to myself.

So resolutions have been set aside, travel plans postponed, priorities changed; what I need most is the patience to endure, trusting things do change over time, like the seasons.

Winter will not last forever.
I will, like the bare trees around me, leaf out again.

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The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: We Wait For We Have Seen His Footsteps

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
 My soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents

Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.
But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.
It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts
that makes already present what we are waiting for.

We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.
We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit,
and after the ascension of Jesus
we wait for his coming again in glory.

We are always waiting,
but it is a waiting in the conviction that
we have already seen God’s footsteps.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come. 
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

~R.S. Thomas “The Absence”

To wait is hard when we know the value of the gift that awaits us. We know exactly what is in the package since we have watched it being carefully chosen, wrapped and presented to us to open.

We have seen His footprints on our landscape: in the hottest dessert, in the deepest snow, in the meadows and in the forests, in the mud and muck and mire of our lives; we know He has been here and wait for His return.

Not yet though, not quite yet.  So we wait, and continue to wait.

Even more so, we wait and hope for what we do not see but know is coming, like a groaning in the labor of childbirth.

The waiting is never easy; it is painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted, barely able to function.  Others won’t understand why we wait,  nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for when it remains unseen, with only the footprints left behind to remind us.

Yet we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping, like Mary and Joseph, like Elizabeth and Zechariah, like the shepherds, like the Magi of the east, like Simeon and Anna in the temple.

This is the meaning of Advent:
we are a community groaning together in sweet anticipation and expectation of the gift of Morning to come.

photo by Josh Scholten

I pray my soul waits for the Lord
My hope is in His word
More than the watchman waits for dawn
My soul waits for the Lord

1) Out of the depths I cry to You;
From darkest places I will call.
Incline Your ear to me anew,
And hear my cry for mercy, Lord.
Were You to count my sinful ways
How could I come before Your throne?
Yet full forgiveness meets my gaze –
I stand redeemed by grace alone.

CHORUS I will wait for You, I will wait for You,
On Your word I will rely.
I will wait for You, surely wait for You
Till my soul is satisfied.

2) So put Your hope in God alone,
Take courage in His power to save;
Completely and forever won
By Christ emerging from the grave.

3) His steadfast love has made a way,
And God Himself has paid the price,
That all who trust in Him today Find healing in his sacrifice.

I will wait for You, I will wait for You
Through the storm and through the night.
I will wait for You, surely wait for You,
For Your love is my delight.

Wait for the Lord, his day is near
Wait for the Lord, be strong take heart
Prepare the way for the Lord
Make a straight path for Him
The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed
All the Earth will see the Lord
Rejoice in the Lord always
He is at Hand
Joy and gladness for all who seek the Lord

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

When August Weather Breaks

My mother, who hates thunder storms,
Holds up each summer day and shakes
It out suspiciously, lest swarms
Of grape-dark clouds are lurking there;
But when the August weather breaks
And rains begin, and brittle frost
Sharpens the bird-abandoned air,
Her worried summer look is lost,

And I her son, though summer-born
And summer-loving, none the less
Am easier when the leaves are gone
Too often summer days appear
Emblems of perfect happiness
I can’t confront: I must await
A time less bold, less rich, less clear:
An autumn more appropriate.

~Philip Larkin “Mother, Summer, I”

August weather has broken to clouds,
sprinkles, nights with chill breezes,
and leaves landing on brown ground.

This summer ended up being simply too much –
an excess of everything meant to make us happy
yet overwhelming and exhausting.

From endless hours of daylight,
to high rising temperatures,
to palettes of exuberant clouds
to fruitfulness and abundant blooms.

While summer always fills a void left empty
after enduring the many cold bare dark days
of the rest of the year,
I depend on winter days returning all too soon.

I will welcome them back, realizing
how much I miss that longing
for the fullness of summer.

If you enjoy Barnstorming posts, consider this new book available to order here:

Standing Guard, Waiting

For as a cloud received Him from their sight,
So with a cloud will He return ere long:
Therefore they stand on guard by day, by night,
Strenuous and strong.

They do, they dare, they beyond seven times seven
Forgive, they cry God’s mighty word aloud:
Yet sometimes haply lift tired eyes to Heaven–
“Is that His cloud?”
~Christina Rossetti from “Ascension Day”

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents

Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.
But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.
It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts
that makes already present what we are waiting for.
We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.
We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit,
and after the ascension of Jesus
we wait for his coming again in glory.
We are always waiting,
but it is a waiting in the conviction that
we have already seen God’s footsteps.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

To wait is a hard sweet paradox in the Christian life.  It is hard not yet having what we know will be coming.  But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming because of the footprints we have seen: He has been here among us. 

Like the labor of childbirth, we groan knowing what it will take to get there, and we are full to brimming already.

The waiting won’t be easy; it will often be painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted, barely able to function.  Others won’t understand why we wait, nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for. 

We persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping; we are a community groaning together in sweet expectation of the morning.

A new book from Barnstorming available to order here

Leaving the Wilderness: For Love of Our Love

May the power of your love, Lord Christ, 
fiery and sweet as honey, 
so absorb our hearts 
as to withdraw them 
from all that is under heaven. 
Grant that we may be ready to die 
for love of your love, 
as you died for love of our love. 
~St. Francis of Assisi

Maundy Thursday is a day of letting go while still holding on.

If I am to see Jesus and know the power of His love,
I must let go of this life and walk with Him with every step to the cross.
I have only a tenuous grip on this world, utterly dependent on the Lord taking care of me.

This day, I am reminded of a few basics:
No arguing over who is best.
No hiding my dirty feet.
No holding back on the most precious of gifts.
No falling asleep.
No selling out.
No turning and running away.
No covering my face in denial.
No looking back.
No clinging to the comforts of the world.

But of course I fail again and again.
My heart resists leaving behind what I know.

Plucked from the crowd,
I must grasp and carry His load (which is, of course, my load) alongside Him.
Now is my turn to hold on and not let go, as if life depends on it.
Which it does — requiring no nails.

The fire of His love leaves my sin in ashes.
The food of His body nurtures my soul.
From that soul and ashes rises new life.
Love of His love of our love.

Waiting in Wilderness: Already Not Yet

For in this hope we were saved.
But hope that is seen is no hope at all.
Who hopes for what they already have?
But if we hope for what we do not yet have,
we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:24-25

Morning of buttered toast;
of coffee, sweetened, with milk.

Out the window,
snow-spruces step from their cobwebs.
Flurry of chickadees, feeding then gone.
A single cardinal stipples an empty branch—
one maple leaf lifted back.

I turn my blessings like photographs into the light;
over my shoulder the god of Not-Yet looks on:

Not-yet-dead, not-yet-lost, not-yet-taken.
Not-yet-shattered, not-yet-sectioned,
not-yet-strewn.

Ample litany, sparing nothing I hate or love,
not-yet-silenced, not-yet-fractured; not-yet-

Not-yet-not.

I move my ear a little closer to that humming figure,
I ask him only to stay.
~Jane Hirshfield “Not Yet” from The Lives of the Heart.

To wait for the “not yet” is a hard sweet tension.

There is tension in knowing that something profound is happening–a vanishing sunset, a vernal equinox, a life change or transition, but the transformation is not yet complete, and I’m not sure when it will be.

I am still unfinished business.

In two weeks I will be reminded of what is yet to come. I will know the shock of the empty tomb. My heart will burn within me as more is revealed, through the simple act of bread breaking.

It is hard not yet having what I know will be coming.
But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming
because of what we have already been given.
Like the labor of childbirth,
I groan knowing what it will take to get there,
and I am full to brimming already.

The waiting won’t be easy;
it will often be painful to be patient,
staying alert to possibility and hope when I am exhausted,
barely able to function.
Others won’t understand why I wait,
nor do they comprehend what I could possibly be waiting for.

Yet we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping –
a community groaning together in expectation of what is to come in the morning.

It has been finished on our behalf, while we wait, while we wait.

It is up to me to be all-ready.

To Be Seen and Heard

If we want to support each other’s inner lives,
we must remember a simple truth:
the human soul does not want to be fixed,
it wants simply to be seen and heard.

If we want to see and hear a person’s soul,
there is another truth we must remember:
the soul is like a wild animal –
tough, resilient, and yet shy.

When we go crashing through the woods
shouting for it to come out so we can help it,
the soul will stay in hiding.
But if we are willing to sit quietly
and wait for a while,
the soul may show itself.
~Parker Palmer from The Courage to Teach

I tend to be a crash-through-the-woods kind of person, searching out those in hiding needing help whether they want it or not. Part of this is my medical training: I’m not subtle, I can be brash and bold as I go where no one else wants to go.

Friends have reminded me this actually isn’t helpful much of the time and certainly doesn’t translate well in non-clinical settings. They have a good point. Undoing what I’ve learned isn’t easy, but I’m trying.

Before I trained in clinical medicine, I knew how to blend into my surroundings, to simply wait and listen and take note of what I observe. I never would have been part of a research team observing wild chimpanzee behavior without being born with that skill. The wild and shy around me eventually did show themselves, but it took time and patience and a willingness to let things happen without my making it happen.

I’m trying to relearn what I knew intuitively fifty years ago and unlearn what I was trained to do forty years ago as a “fix-it” clinician. It helps when people remind me to tone it down, back off and simply “be.”

I just might see and hear and understand more than I ever have before.

Turning Darkness Into Light: Somewhere Along the Road

when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.
— Jan Richardson (author of Circle of Grace)

…the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us.
In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming;
when we are lost, when our world has come undone,
when we cannot see the next step on the path;
in all the darkness that attends our life,
whether hopeful darkness or horrendous,
God meets us.
~Jan Richardson

When things feel like they can’t get any darker, we are joined by a living breathing God walking beside us on the road to Emmaus. He feeds us from His word, making us hunger for even more, our hearts burning within us.  

Jesus makes plain how He Himself addresses my most basic needs:
He is the bread of life so I am fed.
He is the living water so I no longer thirst.
He is the light so I am never left in darkness.
He shares my yoke so my burden is easier.
He clothes me with righteousness so I am never naked.
He cleanses me when I am at my most soiled and repugnant.
He is the open door–always welcoming, with a room prepared for me – even me, the poor ornery person I am.

So when I encounter Him along the road of my life, I need to recognize him, listen, invite Him in to stay, share whatever I have with Him.  When He breaks bread and hands me my share, I want to accept it with open eyes of gratitude, knowing the gift He hands me is nothing less than Himself, my forever Companion who leads me out of darkness into the Light.

Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me
Beyond these present storms that blow
Waiting patiently
No secrets held in an open heart
A spirit that soars over mountains
Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me

Somehow a guiding light
Always shows the way
To those who lose their way by night
Searching for the day
A day away from happiness
Tomorrow will bring a new sunrise
Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me

Sometime when winds are still
Unexpectedly
Perhaps beyond this silent hill
A voice will call to me
Raise your eyes to see my world
Raise your voice and sing out
Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me

The Narrow Way

 

O Lord,
The house of my soul is narrow;
enlarge it that you may enter in.
~Augustine of Hippo

 

passage

…the miracle of God comes not only from above;
it also comes through us; 
it is also dwelling in us.  
It has been given to every person,
and it lies in every soul as something divine, 
and it waits.
Calling,
it waits for the hour when the soul shall open itself,

having found its God and its home.  
When this is so,
the soul will not keep its wealth to itself, 
but will let it flow out into the world.
~Eberhard Arnold

 

dansouterrain2

…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life,
and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:14

When I feel squeezed through a narrow passage,
compressed by the pressures of life from all sides,
discouraged by limitations,
unable to clearly see ahead or behind,
longing for wide open spaces,
of being able to once again do anything,
go anywhere,
feel anything I please~

I remember how this path was a choice,
it is the way I will go, one step at a time.
No one, certainly not God,
promised an easy journey.

Yet He promised He would light the way
to walk alongside me
so I do not dwell in darkness.

Because You Matter to Me…

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
~Emily Dickinson

So if there is any encouragement in Christ,
any comfort from love,

any participation in the Spirit,
any affection and sympathy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind,
having the same love,
being in full accord and of one mind.
…. in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
~Philippians 2: 1-4

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling
to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness,
with patience,
bearing with one another in love,
eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4: 1-3

By wearing a mask…

If I can stop one person from infection,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease another’s worry,
Though masking goes against the grain,
Or help a divided country be
Restored to health again,
I shall not live in vain.

I wear a mask because you matter to me…