The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: A Rare Radiant Descent

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.
~Sylvia Plath “Black Rook in Rainy Weather”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?
Luke 1:18

“How will this be?” Mary asked the angel…
Luke 1:34

Zechariah asks:
How can I be sure of what I’m told?
How can I trust this is true
even when it doesn’t make sense in my every day world?
How can the mundane be made divine?
How can I trust God to accomplish this?

These are not the questions to be asked
– this lack of trust for God’s sovereignty –
so he was struck mute,
speechless until immersed in the miracle of impossibility
and only then assured by the Lord and released from silence,
he sang loudly with praise for God’s tender mercy.

Instead, we should ask, like Mary:
How can this be?
How am I worthy?
How am I to be calm comprehending
this ineffable mystery?
How will I be different than I was before?

It is when we are most naked,
in our most vulnerable and emptiest circumstance –
then we are clothed and filled with God’s glorious assurance.
We do not need to know the details
to accept the moment of radiance He has brought upon us.
We just need willingness to be…
changed.

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”

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The Most Feeble Thing

photo by Josh Scholten

Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed.
Blaise Pascal

I’m not sure which is getting flabbier faster–my biceps or my brain.  As I advance in middle age I tend to avoid overworking both to just get by with only occasional heavy lifting:  a hay bale here, a challenging abstract philosophical commentary there.   Hard work, whether physical or mental, is getting harder.  As a naturally lazy person, I have to be forced into manual and central nervous system labor out of necessity.  Necessity happens less and less often unless I go looking for it.

Given the choice between a physical task and a thinking task, I’ll opt for thinking over lifting any day.  Even so, I find my mental strengths are ebbing.  My brain is less flexible, I can tend to be stiff headed when trying something new, it starts to feel strained if I push it too fast.   There are times when it feels like it just goes into spasm and I need to sit down and rub it for awhile.  Feeble suddenly doesn’t sound like it just belongs to the aged and infirm.

The only remedy is to use it or lose it, whether muscles or gray matter.   So I dig a little deeper each day, even when it hurts to do so.   I purposely stretch beyond the point of comfort, just so I know it can still be done.  I lift a little higher, heft a little heavier, push a little harder.  Being the most feeble thing in nature may mean being easily broken by the smallest effort, but at least I’ll have thought my reedy limitations through thoroughly, chewed on it until there was nothing left and digested what I could.

Eventually I’ll come to accept that my greatest strength is to know what I don’t know.

“I have come to think that if I had the mind, I have not the brain and nerves for a life of pure philosophy. A continued search among the abstract roots of things, a perpetual questioning of all that plain men take for granted, a chewing the cud for fifty years over inevitable ignorance and a constant frontier watch on the little tidy lighted conventional world of science and daily life–is this the best life for temperaments such as ours? Is it the way of health or even of sanity?” C. S. Lewis (in a letter to his father, Aug. 14, 1925)