I go to the mountain side of the house to cut saplings, and clear a view to snow on the mountain. But when I look up, saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in the uppermost branches. I don’t cut that one. I don’t cut the others either. Suddenly, in every tree, an unseen nest where a mountain would be. ~Tess Gallagher “Choices” from Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems.
Am I capable of such tenderness, such recognition of the well-being of others, by saving the nest and all future potential nests rather than exercise my freedom to have an unimpeded world view when and where I want it?
I must not forget: my right to choose can only mean choosing to do right by those who have no choice.
The shadow’s the thing. If I no longer see shadows as “dark marks,” as do the newly sighted, then I see them as making some sort of sense of the light. They give the light distance; they put it in its place. They inform my eyes of my location here, here O Israel, here in the world’s flawed sculpture, here in the flickering shade of the nothingness between me and the light. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Be comforted; the world is very old, And generations pass, as they have passed, A troop of shadows moving with the sun; Thousands of times has the old tale been told; The world belongs to those who come the last, They will find hope and strength as we have done. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “A Shadow”
A shadow is hard to seize by the throat and dash to the ground. ~Victor Hugo from Les Miserables
We are dealing and dueling with shadows, our flawed imperfect darkness rather than one another. We write things on a screen that we would never say to another’s face. We assume motives, predict behavior, ponder reactions but all is smoke and mirrors.
Such is the cost of feeling fear and distrust.
As the sun moves and time passes, the shadows shift and play with the Light from a different angle, so shall we shift and pray.
Rather than holding the Light at a distance while trying to wrestle shadows to the ground, we’ll embrace it and make sense of it, yearning for the illuminating hugs we’ve been denied for so long.
In Sleeping Beauty’s castle the clock strikes one hundred years and the girl in the tower returns to the world. So do the servants in the kitchen, who don’t even rub their eyes. The cook’s right hand, lifted an exact century ago, completes its downward arc to the kitchen boy’s left ear; the boy’s tensed vocal cords finally let go the trapped, enduring whimper, and the fly, arrested mid-plunge above the strawberry pie, fulfills its abiding mission and dives into the sweet, red glaze.
As a child I had a book with a picture of that scene. I was too young to notice how fear persists, and how the anger that causes fear persists, that its trajectory can’t be changed or broken, only interrupted. My attention was on the fly; that this slight body with its transparent wings and lifespan of one human day still craved its particular share of sweetness, a century later. ~Lisel Mueller “Immortality” from Alive Together
Little fly, Thy summer’s play My thoughtless hand Has brushed away.
Am not I A fly like thee? Or art not thou A man like me?
For I dance And drink and sing, Till some blind hand Shall brush my wing.
If thought is life And strength and breath, And the want Of thought is death,
Then am I A happy fly, If I live, Or if I die. ~William Blake “The Fly”
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm –…. ~Emily Dickinson
A fly made the news this past week. It became more important than the issues being discussed in the room in which it buzzed and landed. Maybe it has come to symbolize our helplessness in the face of our anger toward one another, which has become just another way for our fear to express itself.
There is nothing more humbling than a wayward fly buzzing in the room or landing uninvited on my head. No matter whether I live in a slum or a castle, a fly will find its way to me, just because it can. I must learn to coexist with what I can’t control; this is no time for frustration nor fear nor anger to raise my hand, ready to kill the offender.
When I’m feeling bugged, which happens all too often these days, the buzzing may overwhelm my stillness but I won’t let it overwhelm me. I will put down the swatter. I will breathe deeply and admire the ingenuity of such a brief life powered miraculously by two transparent wings.
Unexpected God, your coming advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your coming, and bend our angers into your peace. Amen. ~Revised Common Lectionary
Sometimes the very walls of our churches separate us from God and each other. In our various naves and sanctuaries we are safely separated from those outside, from other denominations, other religions, separated from the poor, the ugly, the dying.… The house of God is not a safe place. It is a cross where time and eternity meet, and where we are – or should be – challenged to live more vulnerably, more interdependently. ~Madeleine L’Engle, from A Stone for a Pillow
Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. ~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk
Today, after weeks of worshipping outdoors, we move back inside for fall and winter, all wearing masks while separated into four different spaces with social distancing. It may be this way well into next year: nobody knows.
No one is happy that the singing will be limited, there will be no handshakes or hugs and some of us will be watching a live feed on a screen. Some are flat out angry at having to worship this way and will opt to stay away. Yet we are called to come together, to raise our voices corporately in praise, prayer and thanksgiving, despite the risks and unfamiliarity of how these changes look and feel while we try to protect one another from infection.
We tend to forget that walking into church on any Sabbath, not just during a pandemic, takes courage and commitment as we automatically become vulnerable to one another. What one of us says and does can bless or hurt us all. This can be no drowsy worship: we are the poor, the ugly and the dying.
When I hear the secular folks in society scoff at attending church as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate what it means to admit a desperate need for salvation and grace that can only be found inside those doors. We who sit in a pew in the sanctuary cling to the life preserver found in the Word. We are lashed to our seats and must hang on. It is only because of God’s grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt in order to let go of our own anger at the state of the world and the state of our own souls.
Exposing ourselves to the radical mystery and immense power of the living God is not for the faint of heart, yet all of us on the verge of heart failure need God’s deep roots to thrive and grow in our rocky soul soil.
So today, and every day, we must not forget our crash helmets… or our masks.
My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation. I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing It sounds an echo in my soul How can I keep from singing?
While though the tempest round me roars, I know the truth, it liveth. And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
I Lift my eyes. The cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it. And day by day, this pathway smooths, since first I learned to love it. No storm can shake my inmost calm, I hear the music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing? ~Robert Lowry
We are spending a few precious days with our grandson in Colorado before his first birthday. He loves being sung to – he rocks and bops to the melodies and rhythms and then relaxes to sleep listening to us sing the quiet evening hymns we sang to his father at night.
He will see so much in his lifetime that we can’t even imagine. Already in his short time on earth there have been plenty of cataclysmic events, and without a doubt, more are in store.
No matter what comes, we pray he will always hear his parents’ and four grandparents’ voices resounding inside his head when things get rough. The hymns and the prayers said over him will give him calm and confidence in the face of trouble.
God’s reality and truth are shared with him in songs and words every day, and as he someday raises children of his own, how can he keep from singing that out when it is most needed?
The cat calls for her dinner. On the porch I bend and pour brown soy stars into her bowl, stroke her dark fur. It’s not quite night. Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky. Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent moon, a pink rag of cloud. Inside my house are those who love me. My daughter dusts biscuit dough. And there’s a man who will lift my hair in his hands, brush it until it throws sparks. Everything is just as I’ve left it. Dinner simmers on the stove. Glass bowls wait to be filled with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley on the cutting board. I want to smell this rich soup, the air around me going dark, as stars press their simple shapes into the sky. I want to stay on the back porch while the world tilts toward sleep, until what I love misses me, and calls me in. ~Dorianne Laux “On the Back Porch” from Awake
If just for a moment, when the world feels like it is tilting so far I just might fall off, there is a need to pause to look at where I’ve been and get my feet back under me.
The porch is a good place to start: a bridge to what exists beyond without completely leaving the safety of inside.
I am outside looking square at uncertainty and still hear and smell and taste the love that dwells just inside these walls.
What do any of us want more than to be missed if we were to step away or be taken from this life?
Our voice, our words, our heart, our touch never to be replaced, its absence a hole impossible to fill?
When we are called back inside to the Love that made us who we are, may we leave behind the outside world more beautiful because we were part of it.
What words or harder gift does the light require of me carving from the dark this difficult tree?
What place or farther peace do I almost see emerging from the night and heart of me?
The sky whitens, goes on and on. Fields wrinkle into rows of cotton, go on and on. Night like a fling of crows disperses and is gone.
What song, what home, what calm or one clarity can I not quite come to, never quite see: this field, this sky, this tree. ~Christian Wiman, “Hard Night”
Even the darkest night has a sliver of light left, if only in our memories. We remember how it was and how it can be — the promise of better to come.
While the ever-changing sky swirls as a backdrop, a tree on a hill became the focal point, as it must, like a black hole swallowing up all pain, all suffering, all evil threatening to consume our world.
What clarity, what calm, what peace can be found at the foot of that tree, where our hearts can rest in this knowledge: our sin died there, once and for all and our names are carved into its roots for all time.
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body. ~Walt Whitman from his preface to “Leaves of Grass”
Time, in so many ways, has been standing still for us over the last few months, fueled by an unprecedented quarantine and social isolation. We anticipate “when things return to normal” but the reality is there will be no “normal” for those who have lost jobs and businesses and family members or their own robust health since February.
And now society finds itself in the midst of anger and argument, marching and shouting to defend those who have lived for generations with injustice and oppression, and continue to face that reality every day, and the majority of us were oblivious.
“Normal” holds no appeal when “normal” is living under a tyrant’s thumb or dying under a knee.
So how do we approach a change in seasons as we ourselves are irrevocably changed?
What shall we do?
We are our flesh: all colors, flawed and fragile. We must look beyond the lashes of our eyes to see and understand the fluency of the poetry found in our bodies. We, each one of us, deserve the patience of being heard.
This summer will stand on its own in all its extravagant abundance of light and warmth and growth and color stretching deep within the rising and setting horizons. Each long day will feel like it must last forever, never ending, yet, like the unpredictable length of our fleshy days on earth, it will eventually wind down, spin itself out, darkening gradually into shadow.
That is the “normal” of our existence because summer always, always ends.
Yet another will reappear, somehow, somewhere, someday. The very poetry of our flesh, the very survival of our souls, depends on it. We will then see beyond our own eyelashes.
Surely a never-ending summer is what heaven itself will be. We shall all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye…
I hope my life was penned in such a way that when time comes to write my epitaph someone might think to say not that I was good so much as kind and that I wrote quite well beyond my means because it was the wind of grace blown down that gave me words and moved my sluggish hands, and that I always sought to know the unseen things and though I loved the breadth of language for my art, my heart always seemed fixed on a day when all the sound and words would fall away, and that I was quite hopeful to the last if anyone would choose one line to inscribe my memory in stone it surely should be the simple supposition I know right: there merely is no synonym for light. ~Margaret Ingraham “Epitaph” from Exploring This Terrain
The world can feel like a fearsome place with endless stories of tragedy and loss, so much pain and suffering, blinding me in darkness so I fail to see the light all around me.
How to describe a Light that transforms all that is bleak?
With these Words:
Be not afraid Come have breakfast Touch and see Follow me Do you love me? Feed my sheep Peace be with you
As I am mere breath and bone, a wisp in a moment of time, His truth anchors my heart and illuminates my soul: I am called forth into His Light.