As swimmers dare to lie face to the sky and water bears them, as hawks rest upon air and air sustains them, so would I learn to attain free fall, and float into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace, knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace. ~Denise Levertov “The Avowal”
I don’t like flying – at all. Human beings weren’t made with wings and I simply don’t think I belong up there. Then too is the feeling of the sudden drop which can happen with severe turbulence, the kind that leaves your stomach in your throat.
It is very much like the free-falling feeling that wakes you from a dream with an abrupt thud landing upon your pillow, your heart beating fast and your breath coming short, wondering what just happened.
It is good to know there is Someone there to hold me safely since I was born with no wings and own no parachute. There is nothing to be done but accept all-encompassing, all-embracing, all-surrounding grace that is pure gift. Such a rescue is not a reward, certainly not earned, nor does it arise out of my own skill or ingenuity.
God is simply there, ready to catch me as I fall.
This year’s Lenten theme: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4: 18
Down into the icy depths you plunge, The cold dark undertow of your depression, Even your memories of light made strange, As you fall further from all comprehension. You feel as though they’ve thrown you overboard, Your fellow Christians on the sunlit deck, A stone cold Jonah on whom scorn is poured, A sacrifice to save them from the wreck.
But someone has their hands on your long line, You sound for them the depths they sail above, One who takes Jonah as his only sign Sinks lower still to hold you in his love, And though you cannot see, or speak, or breathe, The everlasting arms are underneath. ~Malcolm Guite “The Christian Plummet”
Christians, like biblical Jonah, often struggle with living in obedience to God’s Word and plan. We become discouraged and depressed, filled with misgivings and a lack of understanding. This is complicated by our need to “put a good face on it,” especially among other Christians who seem to not feel the brokenness of the dark undertow.
Christ Himself becomes the sacrifice thrown overboard, as Jonah was, to plumb the depths and allow us to rise beyond peril and danger. He struggled too, He became discouraged and overwhelmed with the responsibility placed upon Him, but He remained obedient to His Father’s will.
We cannot fall lower than where He descended; He is there to lift us up. He knows how deep we might sink and He knows exactly what it takes to push us back up to the light.
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I couldn’t let it drown. I ripped off a piece of my sandwich bag, lifted it to safety. Its little legs reached behind its back to stroke its wings dry. I, too, have stretched my legs in strange positions. Is this a leap? What did you expect? For me to let the bug just be a bug. To leave it alone when it already planned on dying. To reach out and not imagine myself the God I wish would lift me from the water. ~Daniella Toosie-Watson “The Bug”
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. 1 Corinthians 6: 19b-20a
There is a well known story with a number of variations, all involving a scorpion that stings a good-souled frog/turtle/crocodile/person who tries to rescue it from drowning. Since the sting dooms the rescuer and as a result the scorpion as well, the scorpion explains “to sting is in my nature”. In one version, the rescuer tries again and again to help the scorpion, repeatedly getting stung, only to explain before he dies “it may be in your nature to sting but it is in my nature to save.”
This is actually a story originating from Eastern religion and thought, the purpose of which is to illustrate the “dharma”, or orderly nature of things. The story ends perfectly for the Eastern religions believer even though both scorpion and the rescuer die in the end, as the dharma of the scorpion and of the rescuer is realized, no matter what the outcome. Things are what they are, without judgment, and actualization of that nature is the whole point.
However, this story only resonates for the Christian if the nature of the scorpion is forever transformed by the sacrifice of the rescuer on its behalf. The scorpion is no longer its own so no longer slave to its “nature” – no longer just a scorpion with a need and desire to sting whatever it sees. It has been “bought” through the sacrifice of the Rescuer. It no longer is “just” a bug, planning on drowning.
So we too are no longer our own, no longer the helpless victim of our nature no longer the stinger no longer the stung no longer who we used to be before we were rescued.
We are bought at a price beyond imagining.
And our nature to hurt, to punish, to sting, even to die – shall be no more.
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? 1 Corinthians 15: 55
I didn’t stay for the closing hymns and prayers. I felt out of sorts, so I left.
Someone was before me at the door: a child, gazing at a spot on her wrist.
She said, “Can you help me?” “What is it?” “A ladybug,” she said.
So I opened the door, and she said, “It jumped off.” We stood looking around.
“It’ll be all right,” I said. She went in, and I left, taking care where I stepped. ~Louis Simpson “At the Church Door” from The Owner of the House.
Maker of All Things, including appetite, including stealth, including the fear that makes all of us, sometime or other, flee for the sake of our small and precious lives, let me abide in your shadow— let me hold on to the edge of your robe as you determine what you must let be lost and what will be saved.
I will try. I will step from the house to see what I see and hear and I will praise it…
But this too, I believe, is a place where God is keeping watch until we rise, and step forth again… ~Mary Oliver from “Red Bird”
Even when I am out of sorts, even though my mind is already out the door and the rest of me not far behind, even though I am supposed to have a smile on my face and encouraging words on my lips, even though I should be focusing on who needs my help rather than my own helplessness.
Then, somehow, there is solace.
I am plucked out of my doldrums and given a chance to reset and start over – God intervenes in the least likely way so that I see things differently, by watching where I am stepping to protect the defenseless rather than plunge, lurch, stumble, crush my way back to the world.
I am a rescuer rescued, encouraged by encouragement, ready to step forth in compassion.
God is keeping watch over the mere lady bug and merest me.
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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.
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.
A book of beauty in words and photography, available for order here: