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.
The crow’s voice filtered through the walls of the farmhouse makes sounds of a rusty car engine turning over. Clouds on a north wind that whistles softly and cold. Spruce trees planted in a line on the south side of the house weave and scrape at the air. I’ve walked to a far field to a fence line of rocks where I am surprised to see soft mud this raw day. No new tracks in the mud, only desiccated grass among the rocks, a bare grove of trees in the distance, a blue sky thin as an eggshell with a crack of dark geese running through it, their voices faint and almost troubled as they disappear in a wedge that has opened at last the cold heart of winter. ~Tom Hennen, “Early Spring in the Field” from Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems.
I shouldn’t be turning on the heat in the house on a late May morning but there is still an undeniable chill, even at this point in spring. The flowers outside are lush, but we’re still two or three weeks behind our usual bloom schedule.
We’re all impatient to be done with the coldness of a winter that has driven a wedge between people and politics, families and friends, well and ill.
We seek warmth and renewal and hugs and handshakes.
Instead we are asked for patience, to continue to practice the art of waiting for a safe reentry to spring and summer. No one wants to be tossed brutally back to the winter we just crawled away from.
May we emerge together, muddied but whole, ready to face whatever comes next.
We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in. ~C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory
We are wounded by the grime of this world, no question about it. Just one look at the headlines shows how tainted and sullied we’ve become, so long separated from the beauty and perfection for which we were created.
The wounds we bear are from beauty banished when we desperately wish to bathe in it. We’re offered just such a cleansing when we offer up our soiled selves.
Autumn in my part of the world is a season of bounty and beauty. It’s also a season of steady decline—and, for some of us, a slow slide into melancholy. The days become shorter and colder, the trees shed their glory, and summer’s abundance starts to decay toward winter’s death.
I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about fall and its sensuous delights.
Then I began to understand a simple fact: All the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as Earth prepares for yet another uprising of green. ~ Parker J. Palmer from On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old
A fine rain was falling, and the landscape was that of autumn. The sky was hung with various shades of gray, and mists hovered about the distant mountains – a melancholy nature. Every landscape is, as it were, a state of the soul, and whoever penetrates into both is astonished to find how much likeness there is in each detail. ~Henri Frederic Amiel
A melancholic first glance~ rain droplets glisten bejeweled when studied up close.
It isn’t all sadness~ there is solace in knowing the landscape and I share an inner world of change: both promises and tears.
O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall; To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all.
O hushed October morning mild, Begin the hours of this day slow, Make the day seem to us less brief. Hearts not averse to being beguiled, Beguile us in the way you know; Release one leaf at break of day; At noon release another leaf; One from our trees, one far away… ~Robert Frost “October”
These mornings I wander stunned by light and mist to see trees tremble inside their loosening cloaks, a pulsing palette of color ready to detach, revealing mere bones and branches.
I want it all to be less brief, leave the leaves attached like a fitted mosaic rather than randomly falling away.
Their release is not their choosing: the trees know it is time for slowly letting go~ readying for sleep, for sprouts and buds, for fresh tapestry to be woven from October’s leaves lying about their feet.
To what purpose, April, do you return again? Beauty is not enough. You can no longer quiet me with the redness Of little leaves opening stickily. I know what I know. The sun is hot on my neck as I observe The spikes of the crocus. The smell of the earth is good. It is apparent that there is no death. But what does that signify? Not only under ground are the brains of men Eaten by maggots. Life in itself Is nothing, An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs. It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, April Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. ~Edna St. Vincent Millay “Spring”
I know that we cannot depend on the return of Spring to heal us~ it is balm not cure.
I know that none of its beauty can bloom without it dying before~ it is a shroud thrown over to cover our decay.
I know I cannot be transformed by the warmth of the sun~ it is not enough for my skin to sweat when my heart lies still and cold.
I know I must dig deeper in holy ground for the truth~ it does not lie in perfumed blossoms and sweet blue skies.
I know what I know~ life in itself is nothing unless death is overcome yet again and our hearts, once broken, begin to pulse red once more.
.…you mustn’t be frightened … if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? ~Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet
…difficulties are magnified out of all proportion simply by fear and anxiety. From the moment we wake until we fall asleep we must commend other people wholly and unreservedly to God and leave them in his hands, and transform our anxiety for them into prayers on their behalf: With sorrow and with grief… God will not be distracted. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Letters from Prison
Every day I see college students who are so consumed by anxiety they become immobilized in their ability to move forward through the midst of life’s inevitable obstacles and difficulties. They become so stuck in their own overwhelming feelings they can’t sleep or eat or think clearly, so distracted are they by their symptoms. They self-medicate, self-injure and self-hate. Being unable to nurture themselves or others, they wither like a young tree without roots deep enough to reach the vast reservoir that lies untapped beneath them. In epidemic numbers, some decide to die, even before life really has fully begun for them.
I grieve for them in their distress. My role is to help find healing solutions, whether it is counseling therapy, a break from school, or a medicine that may give some form of relief. My heart knows the ultimate answer is not as simple as the right prescription.
We who are anxious must depend upon a Creator who does not suffer from attention deficit disorder and who is not distracted from His care for us even when we turn away in worry and sorrow. We magnify our difficult circumstances by staying so tightly into ourselves, unable to look beyond our own eyelashes. Instead we are to reach higher and deeper, through prayer, through service to others, through acknowledging there is power greater than ourselves.
So we are called to pray for ourselves and for others, disabling anxiety and fear and transforming it to gratitude and grace. No longer withering, we just might bloom.
How strange this fear of death is! We are never frightened at a sunset. George MacDonald
In our modern world that never seems to rest, a sunrise can feel more daunting than a sunset. We are unprepared for the day to start: the ready-set-go of a sunrise can be overwhelming to a tired soul.
There are mornings when the new light of dawn penetrates right through our closed eyelids, enough to wake the dead, if not the sleeping. It cannot be ignored in its urgency to rouse us to action.
In contrast, the end of the day requires little preparation. Sunsets signal a slowing-down unraveling of tension, a deep cleansing breath, a letting-go of the light for another night. It eases over us, covering us like a comfortable quilt, tucking us in for the night with a kiss and hug and promise of sweet dreams.
The reason we do not fear the sunset is that we know it isn’t all there is. The black nothingness of night would be petrifying if we didn’t understand and trust that the light will return, as startling as it may be in its brightness. It is the rerunning cycle of the light and dark that reassures. It is as it was created to be, over and over.
Let the sunset tuck us in. Let the sunrise ready us for a new day.