What’s incomplete in me seeks refuge in blackberry bramble and beech trees, where creatures live without dogma and water moves in patterns more ancient than philosophy. I stand still, child eavesdropping on her elders. I don’t speak the language but my body translates best it can, wakening skin and gut, summoning the long kinship we share with everything. ~Laura Grace Weldon, “Common Ground” from Blackbird
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things”
Nearly thirty months of pandemic separation and I long to share our farm with our far-flung grandchildren who live across the ocean, to watch them discover the joys and sorrows of this place we inhabit. I will tell them there is light beyond this darkness, there is refuge amid the brambles, there is kinship with what surrounds us, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness, there is rescue when all seems hopeless, there is grace as the old gives way to new.
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“I have noticed,” she said slowly, “that time does not really exist for mothers, with regard to their children. It does not matter greatly how old the child is – in the blink of an eye, the mother can see the child again as she was when she was born, when she learned to walk, as she was at any age — at any time, even when the child is fully grown….” ~Diana Gabaldon from Voyager
May the wind always be in her hair May the sky always be wide with hope above her And may all the hills be an exhilaration the trials but a trail, all the stones but stairs to God.
May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts… ~Ann Voskamp from “A Prayer for a Daughter”
Your rolling and stretching had grown quieter that stormy winter night twenty nine years ago, but still no labor came as it should. Already a week overdue post-Christmas, you clung to amnion and womb, not yet ready. Then as the wind blew more wicked and snow flew sideways, landing in piling drifts, the roads became more impassable, nearly impossible to traverse.
So your dad and I tried, concerned about your stillness and my advanced age, worried about being stranded on the farm far from town. So a neighbor came to stay with your brothers overnight, we headed down the road and our car got stuck in a snowpile in the deep darkness, our tires spinning, whining against the snow. Another neighbor’s earth mover dug us out to freedom.
You floated silent and still, knowing your time was not yet.
Creeping slowly through the dark night blizzard, we arrived to the warm glow of the hospital, your heartbeat checked out steady, all seemed fine.
I slept not at all.
The morning’s sun glistened off sculptured snow as your heart ominously slowed. You and I were jostled, turned, oxygenated, but nothing changed. You beat even more slowly, threatening to let loose your tenuous grip on life.
The nurses’ eyes told me we had trouble. The doctor, grim faced, announced delivery must happen quickly, taking you now, hoping we were not too late. I was rolled, numbed, stunned, clasping your father’s hand, closing my eyes, not wanting to see the bustle around me, trying not to hear the shouted orders, the tension in the voices, the quiet at the moment of opening when it was unknown what would be found.
And then you cried. A hearty healthy husky cry, a welcomed song of life uninterrupted. Perturbed and disturbed from the warmth of womb, to the cold shock of a bright lit operating room, your first vocal solo brought applause from the surrounding audience who admired your purplish pink skin, your shock of damp red hair, your blue eyes squeezed tight, then blinking open, wondering and wondrous, emerging and saved from a storm within and without.
You were brought wrapped for me to see and touch before you were whisked away to be checked over thoroughly, your father trailing behind the parade to the nursery. I closed my eyes, swirling in a brain blizzard of what-ifs.
If no snow storm had come, you would have fallen asleep forever within my womb, no longer nurtured by my aging and failing placenta, cut off from what you needed to stay alive. There would have been only our soft weeping, knowing what could have been if we had only known, if God had provided a sign to go for help.
So you were saved by a providential storm and dug out from a drift: I celebrate when I hear your voice singing, and when your students love you as their teacher, knowing you are a thread born to knit and mend hearts, all because of blowing snow.
My annual retelling of the most remarkable day of my life when our daughter Eleanor (“Lea”) Sarah Gibson was born, hale and hearty because the good Lord sent a snow and wind storm to blow us into the hospital in time to save her. She is now married to her true love Brian who is another gift sent from the Lord; someday their hope for parenthood will come true for them as well.
And God held in his hand A small globe. Look he said. The son looked. Far off, As through water, he saw A scorched land of fierce Colour. The light burned There; crusted buildings Cast their shadows: a bright Serpent, A river Uncoiled itself, radiant With slime. On a bare Hill a bare tree saddened The sky. many People Held out their thin arms To it, as though waiting For a vanished April To return to its crossed Boughs. The son watched Them. Let me go there, he said. ~R.S. Thomas “The Coming”
You have answered us with the image of yourself on a hewn tree, suffering injustice, pardoning it; pointing as though in either direction; horrifying us with the possibility of dislocation. Ah, love, with your arms out wide, tell us how much more they must still be stretched to embrace a universe drawing away from us at the speed of light. ~R.S.Thomas “Tell Us”
Ah, Love~ You the Incarnate, stretched and fettered to a tree
arms out wide embracing us who try to grasp a heaven which eludes us.
This heaven, Your heaven You brought down to us knowing our pain and weakness.
You wanted to come here, knowing all this.
Holding us firmly within your wounded grip, You the Son handed us heaven.
There was a fire in the wide hearth before them, and it was burning with a sweet smell, as if it were built of apple-wood. When everything was set in order, all the lights in the room were put out, except one lamp and a pair of candles at each end of the chimney-shelf. Then Goldberry came and stood before them, holding a candle; and she wished them each a good night and deep sleep.
“Have peace now,” she said, “until the morning! Heed no nightly noises! For nothing passes door and window here save moonlight and starlight and the wind off the hill-top. Good night!” She passed out of the room with a glimmer and a rustle. The sound of her footsteps was like a stream falling gently away downhill over cool stones in the quiet of night.
Tom sat on a while beside them in silence, while each of them tried to muster the courage to ask one of the many questions he had meant to ask at supper. Sleep gathered on their eyelids. At last Frodo spoke:“Did you hear me calling, Master, or was it just chance that brought you at that moment?”
Tom stirred like a man shaken out of a pleasant dream. ‘Eh, what?’ said he. ‘Did I hear you calling? Nay, I did not hear: I was busy singing. Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it. It was no plan of mine, though I was waiting for you. We heard news of you, and learned that you were wandering.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings
We wander through this life, sometimes with a destination in mind, but too often lost and surrounded by a darkness threatening to swallow us whole.
It isn’t by chance that we have been rescued and brought to safety.
Our Savior has been waiting for us, hearing us call out for help. Our rescue begins again tomorrow with the Advent of the Light that comes into pitch dark to illuminate our way to becoming un-lost.
No longer do we need to fear the noises of the night or where we take our next step. We are reassured we have been found, as T.S. Eliot wrote of Advent: “the beginning shall remind us of the end and the first coming of the second coming.”
May the coming weeks be a time of peace and reflection: For nothing passes door and window here save moonlight and starlight and the wind off the hill-top…
In the years to come they will say, “They fell like the leaves In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.” November has come to the forest, To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen. The year fades with the white frost On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows, Where the deer tracks were black in the morning. Ice forms in the shadows; Disheveled maples hang over the water; Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream. Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold. The yellow maple leaves eddy above them, The glittering leaves of the cottonwood, The olive, velvety alder leaves, The scarlet dogwood leaves, Most poignant of all.
In the afternoon thin blades of cloud Move over the mountains; The storm clouds follow them; Fine rain falls without wind. The forest is filled with wet resonant silence. When the rain pauses the clouds Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls. In the evening the wind changes; Snow falls in the sunset. We stand in the snowy twilight And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud. Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight, Glimmering with floating snow. An owl cries in the sifting darkness. The moon has a sheen like a glacier. ~Kenneth Rexroth, “Falling Leaves and Early Snow” from The Collected Shorter Poems.
These photos of our farm are from last week, before an atmospheric river fell in torrents from the sky. The downpour precipitated melting of new-fallen snow in the nearby Cascade mountains and foothills, with subsequent cresting of the rivers and streams in lower mainland British Columbia and our local counties over the weekend.
Before the storm hit us, these pictures depict a flood of golden sunshine in the late afternoon. It was the kind of saturation of light we all were needing, unaware that our skies and ground would soon be over-saturated with far too much water in a few days.
Our communities, both north and south of our nearby Canadian border, continue to reel from this unprecedented flood event, with roads impassable due to standing water and landslides, as well as whole towns evacuated by boat and homes and businesses will be uninhabitable for weeks, if not months.
The sun has returned now that the river in the sky has dried up, having dumped its load. We now wait for the waters and the misery to recede.
The scarlet red of the dying dogwood leaves are poignant indeed, but nothing like the poignancy of communities pulling together to restore normalcy after disaster. Churches have quickly become places of refuge for those who have no home this week and in the weeks to come.
Bless those who are able to help, if not with boats and muscle, then with donations:
The Whatcom Community Foundation Resilience Fund is targeting the local efforts as well as support of the Red Cross, critical in meeting all disaster needs everywhere.
Thank you for reading and praying for restoration for the affected Canadians and Americans.
A gracious Sabbath stood here while they stood Who gave our rest a haven. Now fallen, they are given To labor and distress. These times we know much evil, little good To steady us in faith And comfort when our losses press Hard on us, and we choose, In panic or despair or both, To keep what we will lose.
For we are fallen like the trees, our peace Broken, and so we must Love where we cannot trust, Trust where we cannot know, And must await the wayward-coming grace That joins living and dead, Taking us where we would not go– Into the boundless dark. When what was made has been unmade The Maker comes to His work. ~Wendell Berry “Sabbaths, II”
This day, our community is recovering from yesterday’s devastating flooding with landslides and trees having fallen over power lines and roads.
Our local folks are miserable on top of the misery imposed by nearly two years of pandemic restrictions, supply chain issues, and now damage to homes, businesses and land.
Front line responders and health care workers step up yet again when needed but they are exhausted too – their branches torn away, their roots weakened by summer drought and now tested in the wind and storm water swirling about them.
So many fallen, so many broken, so many who feel they cannot trust their footing any longer. We feel our foundations slip away; we are unmade.
The Maker sets to work. He holds together what is asunder. He props up and restores with Love, through His people and through His Spirit within them.
Once again, we can Love when we cannot Trust. We can Trust what we cannot Know.
The trees are undressing, and fling in many places— On the gray road, the roof, the window-sill— Their radiant robes and ribbons and yellow laces; A leaf each second so is flung at will, Here, there, another and another, still and still.
A spider’s web has caught one while downcoming, That stays there dangling when the rest pass on; Like a suspended criminal hangs he, mumming In golden garb, while one yet green, high yon, Trembles, as fearing such a fate for himself anon. ~Thomas Hardy “Last Week in October”
You may feel you are the only one to fall until you land in a cushion of others comforted.
But maybe you dangle suspended twisting and turning in the slightest breeze not knowing when the fall will come.
I know I’m both~ one alone suspended by faith, hoping for rescue while others pass me by ~~ another and another, still and still.
Held by a slender silken thread until the moment comes when I too am let go.
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I do remember darkness, how it snaked through the alders, their ashen flanks in our high-beams the color of stone. That hollow slap as floodwater hit the sides of the car. Was the radio on? Had I been asleep? Sometimes you have to tell a story your entire life to get it right.
Twenty-two and terrified, I had married you but barely knew you. And for forty years I’ve told this story wrong. In my memory you drove right through it, the river already rising on the road behind us, no turning around. But since your illness I recall it differently. Now that I know it’s possible to lose you, I’m finally remembering it right. That night, you threw that car in reverse, and gunned it. You found us another way home. ~Emily Ransdell, “Everywhere a River,” from New Letters
When life gets scary, we long for rescue as the world threatens to overwhelm us. And eventually it is true, this world will overwhelm us, and we’ll wonder how we will escape.
Where does our help come from?
It doesn’t always come from the direction we expect. Most often, we keep staring ahead, hoping somehow salvation lies just around the corner.
But salvation has been behind us all the while. We were created saved but need to believe it, live it out, share it with anyone open to listen.
We all need to trust in the Rescuer when we are stuck and flooded with life. It takes courage, faith and grace to be led home, either straight ahead or back the way we came.
Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 1:
What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I am not my own, 1 but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, 2to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 3He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, 4and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 5He also preserves me in such a way 6that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; 7indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. 8Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life 9and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him
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What a slow way to eat, the butterfly is given by Nature, sipping nectar one tiny blue flower at a time. Though a Monarch in name, she’s made to scavenge like the poorest of the poor, a morsel here, a morsel there. A flutter of ink- splattered orange wings. We don’t want to see the struggle that undergirds the grace: the ballerina’s sweat, or her ruined feet hidden by tights and toe-shoes. She knows her career will be as brief as it was hard to achieve. Pollinated, the tiny blue flowers are sated. The butterfly flits away, hoping to live one more day. ~Barbara Quick, “The Struggle That Undergirds the Grace.”
You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that. ~E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web
…And when the sun rises we are afraid it might not remain when the sun sets we are afraid it might not rise in the morning when our stomachs are full we are afraid of indigestion when our stomachs are empty we are afraid we may never eat again when we are loved we are afraid love will vanish when we are alone we are afraid love will never return and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid
We are here so briefly. We were never designed to survive forever on this earth yet we try to run the clock out as long as we can.
Just one day more.
We are here because of struggle – the pain of our birth, whether the cry of our laboring mother, or our own wrestling free of the cocoon or the shell, our daily work to find food to feed ourselves and our young, the upkeep and maintenance of our frail and failing bodies, our ongoing fear we’ll be taken before we can make a difference in another’s life.
If there is a reason for all this (and there is): our struggle forms the grace of another’s salvation. The flowers bloom to feed the butterfly, the butterfly pollinates the flower, ensuring the next generations of both. The silent and weakened find their voice so that the next generation can thrive.
Heaven knows, anyone’s life can stand a little of that.
Just one day more, Lord. Please – one day more.
Tomorrow we’ll discover What our God in Heaven has in store One more dawn One more day One day more… ~from Les Miserable
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It must have come in with the morning paper, still being delivered to those who shelter in place.
A morning paper is still an essential service.
I am not an essential service.
I have coffee and books, time, a garden, silence enough to fill cisterns.
It must have first walked the morning paper, as if loosened ink taking the shape of an ant.
Then across the laptop computer — warm — then onto the back of a cushion.
Small black ant, alone, crossing a navy cushion, moving steadily because that is what it could do.
Set outside in the sun, it could not have found again its nest. What then did I save?
It did not move as if it was frightened, even while walking my hand, which moved it through swiftness and air.
Ant, alone, without companions, whose ant-heart I could not fathom— how is your life, I wanted to ask. I lifted it, took it outside.
This first day when I could do nothing, contribute nothing beyond staying distant from my own kind, I did this. ~Jane Hirschfield “Today When I Could Do Nothing”
Nine months into social distancing one from another, with COVID spreading wider and faster than ever, I feel helpless to be a helper without the virus becoming a potentially deadly attachment to my efforts.
So I look for little ways to try to make a difference, as inadequate as they seem. I can no serve meals after evening church service. I can’t visit vulnerable people in their homes so have to be satisfied with screen visits. I can’t go where I wish when I wish because, by definition of age and medical risk, I am one of the vulnerable too.
So I look for words to express that may bring you a smile or maybe a knowing tear. I look for images to share that remind you of something from your past experience. I look for ways to make sense of the senseless when there can be so much disagreement and anger and bitterness. I look for where our common ground exists: how can we deepen and broaden our connection to one another in this time of painful and empty separation?
I want to ask and I want to hear: how is your life?
When we feel we can do nothing, we can do this: rescuing one another from isolation and loneliness. It will be the most important thing we do today.