When I take the chilly tools from the shed’s darkness, I come out to a world made new by heat and light.
Like a mad red brain the involute rhubarb leaf thinks its way up through loam. ~Jane Kenyon from “April Chores”
Over the last two weeks, the garden is slowly reviving, and rhubarb “brains” have been among the first to appear from the garden soil, wrinkled and folded, opening full of potential, “thinking” their way into the April sunlight.
Here I am, wishing my own brain could similarly rise brand new and tender every spring from the dust rather than leathery and weather-toughened, harboring the same old thoughts and patterns.
Indeed, more wrinkles seem to be accumulating on the outside of my skull rather than the inside.
Still, I’m encouraged by my rhubarb cousin’s return every April. Like me, it may be a little sour that necessitates sweetening, but its blood courses bright red and it is very very much alive.
A brief and unexpected Palm Sunday storm blew through yesterday afternoon with gusts of southerly winds, horizontal rain and noisy hale. I had left the north/south center aisle doors wide open after morning chores, so the storm also blew through the barn. Hay, empty buckets, horse halters and cat food were strewn about. The Haflinger horses stood wide-eyed and fretful in their stalls as the hail on the metal roof hammered away.
Once I got the doors closed and secured, all was soon made right. The horses relaxed and got back to their meals and things felt normal again.
Today, Holy Monday morning, all seems calm. The barn is still there, the roof still on, the horses where they belong and all seems to be as it was before the barnstorming wind. Or so it might appear.
This wind heralds another storm beginning this week that hits with such force that I’m knocked off my feet, blown away, and left bruised and breathless. No latches, locks, or barricades are strong enough to protect me from what will come over the next few days.
Yesterday he rode in on a donkey softly, humbly, and wept at what he knew must come.
Today, he overturns the tables in his fury.
Tomorrow he describes the destruction that is to happen, yet no one understands.
Wednesday, a woman boldly anoints him with precious oil, as preparation.
On Thursday, he kneels before his friends, pours water over their dusty feet, presides over a simple meal, and later, abandoned, sweats blood in agonized prayer.
By Friday, all culminates in a most perfect storm, transforming everything in its path, leaving nothing untouched, the curtain torn, the veil removed.
The silence on Saturday is deafening.
Next Sunday, the Son rises, sheds his shroud and neatly folds was is no longer needed. He is nearly unrecognizable in his glory.
He calls my name, my heart burns within me at his words and I can never be the same again.
I am, once again, barnstormed to the depths of my soul. Doors flung open wide, my roof pulled off, everything of no consequence blown away and now replaced, renewed and reconciled.
May it be done this week as he has said, again and yet again, year after year, life after life.
1. Courage, my soul, and let us journey on, Tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long. Thanks be to God, the morning light appears, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
Chorus: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
2. Billows rolling high, and thunder shakes the ground, Lightnings flash, and tempest all around, Jesus walks the sea and calms the angry waves, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah! [Chorus]
3. The stars have disappeared, and distant lights are dim, My soul is filled with fears, the seas are breaking in. I hear the Master cry, “Be not afraid, ’tis I,” And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah! [Chorus]
4. Soon we shall reach the distant shining shore, Free from all the storms, we’ll rest forevermore. Safe within the veil, we’ll furl the riven sail, And the storm will all be over, Hallelujah! [Chorus]
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age, God’s breath in man returning to his birth, The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r, Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, The six-days world transposing in an hour, A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, Exalted manna, gladness of the best, Heaven in ordinary, man well drest, The milky way, the bird of Paradise, Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood, The land of spices; something understood. ~George Herbert “Prayer”
Prayer is my refuge – a renewal, refreshment, reconciliation, reassurance. My time to weep. My time for awe. My time to praise. My time for gratitude:
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, Exalted manna, gladness of the best, Heaven in ordinary…
How else can I know I have the ear of God who puts heaven within my reach of my voice and my words– I am understood by the Creator of the Universe, no less than He.
May you see God’s light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark. May you always hear even in your hour of sorrow the gentle singing of the lark. When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone. May you always remember when the shadows fall– You do not walk alone. ~Traditional Irish Blessing
Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before– more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. ~Charles Dickens as “Pip” in Great Expectations
Jesus wept. ~John 11:35
Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent (an old English word for “lengthening”).
This six week observance humbles the hardest of hearts by readying us to walk through the dusty wilderness of our sin and brokenness.
Over the coming weeks, I learn again of Christ’s traveling the parched road to the cross. His tears become a cleansing rain — tears of sorrow and sacrifice meant to renew and restore the earthly dust beneath His feet – the dust from which His Father formed us and to which we will return.
This journey leads us through the ashes of our bitterness, pride, and ingratitude. We follow this difficult and arduous wilderness road, fitting our foot to each tear-stained print He left behind, knowing where ultimately it must take us.
VERSE 1 It is Ash Wednesday’s early morn. The old, the young, the newly born Await the mark of Adam’s dust To seal their wills in Jesus’ trust.
VERSE 2 Prepared to walk the Lenten trail They face death’s dark and shadowed vale. Rememb’ring Christ who led the way They bravely march beneath his sway.
VERSE 3 You came from dust and dust would be Without the Great Son’s victory. The gift is free yet must be claimed By goodness lived and evil tamed.
VERSE 4 It is Ash Wednesday’s early morn. The old, the young, the newly born Await the mark of Adam’s dust To seal their wills in Jesus’ trust.
We are waiting for snow the way we might wait for a train to arrive with its cold cargo— it is late already, but surely it will come. We are waiting for snow the way we might wait for permission to breathe again.
For only the snow will release us, only the snow will be a letting go, a blind falling towards the body of earth and towards each other.
And while we wait at this window whose sheer transparency is clouded already with our mutual breath,
it is as if our whole lives depended on the freezing color of the sky, on the white soon to be fractured gaze of winter. ~Linda Pastan “Interlude” from Queen of a Rainy Country
This poem by Linda Pastan was published in 2008 — it wasn’t written about waiting our turn for the new COVID vaccine, but it could have been.
Most of us are waiting for the vaccine like we wait for the relief of a winter snow storm. It’s as if we are all stuck inside, watching at the window, our noses pressed to the glass, our breath fogging the pane, gazing at the sky and trying to predict when and if the snow will come. We long to see the world clean and smooth and magical again with all its messy, grimy, muddy parts covered up, at least for awhile.
We want to play again and go where our heart wishes and be together with our friends and family. We want permission to breathe deeply, to show off our smiles and sing with gusto.
This second winter of COVID is crueler than the first because we know more now than a year ago: we know what we could have done and should have done but didn’t. We know we’ve lost far more lives than we should have and thousands more struggle to recover.
In order to fracture this COVID winter, to break open this frozen sky of our suspended lives, we seek the vaccine to arrive like the snow, covering all, protecting all, inviting all.
Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt, and then the shadow sweeps it away.
You know you’re alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
It was like a church to me. I entered it on soft foot, Breath held like a cap in the hand. It was quiet. What God there was made himself felt, Not listened to, in clean colours That brought a moistening of the eye, In a movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness Of the heart’s passions – that was praise Enough; and the mind’s cession Of its kingdom. I walked on, Simple and poor, while the air crumbled And broke on me generously as bread. ~R.S. Thomas “The Moor”
There are January days when I am surrounded by mist and fog and partly cloudies- a brief gift of blue sky and gilt light.
God is felt on days like this, neither seen or heard, His stilling presence overtaking me with each breath I draw, following the path of each glistening tear, becoming the arcing ground reaching to meet my foot with each bold step I take.
The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. – G.K. Chesterton
… we can make a house called tomorrow. What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,
Is ourselves. And that’s all we need To start. That’s everything we require to keep going.
Look back only for as long as you must, Then go forward into the history you will make.
Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease. Make us proud. Make yourself proud.
And those who came before you? When you hear thunder, Hear it as their applause. ~Albert Rios from “A House Called Tomorrow”
All days are sacred days to wake New gladness in the sunny air. Only a night from old to new; Only a sleep from night to morn. The new is but the old come true; Each sunrise sees a new year born. ~Helen Hunt Jackson from “New Year’s Morning”
Let other mornings honor the miraculous. Eternity has festivals enough. This is the feast of our mortality, The most mundane and human holiday.
The new year always brings us what we want Simply by bringing us along—to see A calendar with every day uncrossed, A field of snow without a single footprint. ~Dana Gioia, “New Year’s” from Interrogations at Noon
Now that all the Advent anticipation is spent and New Year’s Day 2021 is here, I find my energy waning just as the work of Christmas must begin.
Instead of the Twelve Days of Christmas it should be the Twelve Weeks, or better yet, Twelve Months of Christmas – maybe the lights should stay up until St. Patrick’s Day at least, just to keep us out of the shadows, inertia and doldrums of this pandemic winter – anything to push aside the dark.
As I swept up the last of the fir needles left on the floor from the Christmas tree, I realized I too have been drying up. I feel helpless in sweeping up the pandemic of suffering of the past year: the grief and loss, homelessness, hunger, disease, conflict, addictions, depression and pain.
It is overwhelming.
As a broken part of this broken world, I am called to the year-long work of Christmas begun by an infant in a manger, being swaddled into a new soul and a new life in Him.
Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. ~Blaise Pascal from Pensées
We yearn for perfection, to be flawless and faultless, aiming for symmetry, straight and smooth.
Life serves up something far different and our eye searches for whatever is flawed like us: we find the cracks, the scratches and damage, the faults and frailties.
Somehow Christ bridges Himself between God and us — becoming a walkway for the wretched to redemption and renewal.
In the beginning we were created unblemished, image bearers of perfection. No longer. We bear witness to brokenness with our shattered lives, fragile minds and weakening bodies.
To restore our lost relationship with Him, Christ strikes the balance; He hung broken to mend us, a bridge to carry us across the gap, binding us to Him forever.
Refrain Jesus, Jesus, rest your head. You has got a manger bed. All the evil folk on earth Sleep in feathers at their birth. Jesus, Jesus, rest your head. You has got a manger bed.
1. Have you heard about our Jesus? Have you heard about his fate? How his mammy went to the stable On that Christmas Eve so late? Winds were blowing, cows were lowing, Stars were glowing, glowing, glowing. Refrain
2. To the manger came the Wise Men. Bringing from hin and yon, For the mother and the father, And the blessed little Son. Milkmaids left their fields and flocks And sat beside the ass and ox. Refrain
After all the false dawns, who is this who unerringly paints the first rays in their true colours? We have kept vigil with owls when the occult noises of the night fell tauntingly silent and a breeze got up as if for morning. This time the trees tremble. Is it with a kind of reckless joy at the gentle light lapping their leaves like the very first turn of a tide? Timid creatures creep out of burrows sensing kindness and the old crow on the cattle-shed roof folds his wings and dreams. ~Richard Bauckham “First Light”
Who is this who has come to change everything in my life and everything within my heart?
Who is this who paints the skies to speak to me from His creation?
Who is this who wraps me firmly within His grasp and holds me tenderly when I am trembling afraid?
There will be no more false dawns. He brings the sun with Him and I am here, a witness, standing before Him.
If I am alive this time next year Will I have arrived in time to share? And mine is about as good this far And I’m still applied to what you are And I am joining all my thoughts to you And I’m preparing every part for you And I heard from the trees a great parade And I heard from the hills a band was made And will I be invited to the sound? And will I be a part of what you’ve made? And I am throwing all my thoughts away And I’m destroying every bet I’ve made And I am joining all my thoughts to you And I’m preparing every part for you For you ~Sufjan Stevens