Two days of an icy prairie fog and every blade of grass, and twig, and branch, and every stretch of wire, barb, post and staple, is a knot or a threat in a lace of the purest white. To walk is like finding your way through a wedding dress, the sky inside it cold and satiny; no past, no future, just the now all breathless. Then a red bird, like a pinprick, changes everything. ~ Ted Kooser, “Hoarfrost” in Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems
When the landscape emerges in the morning light frost-bitten, all iced up and white-crisp, I yearn for color, any color, to reappear with the day’s thawing out. My breath hangs like a cloud in the dry air as I crunch my way to the barn, living proof that I breathe for another day even though too many others right now can not.
We are a breathless people, wondering what comes next, feeling frozen and suspended in a pandemic and smoke-filled burning world.
We are a breathless people, wondering who or what will choke our life from us.
We are a breathless people, dressed as a bride in frosted satin, waiting at the altar for the Groom who bleeds red to save us from our fate.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you. ~David Wagoner “Lost”
I’m frequently lost in the figurative forest of my days on this earth, unsure where I’m heading and struggling to figure out where I’ve been. It seems I have been following a path laid out before me, keeping my head down to make sure I don’t trip over a root or stumble on a rock, when around and above me are the clues to where I am and where I’m going.
So I stand still and breathe deeply of the forest and let it tell me where I am. It can tell when my focus is misdirected.
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. ~Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking in Beyond Words
What is it that goes on within the soul, that it takes greater delight if things it loves are found or restored to it than if it had always possessed them? …The storm tosses seafarers about and threatens them with shipwreck: they all grow pale at their coming death. Then the sky and the sea become calm, and they exult exceedingly, just as they had feared exceedingly. Or a dear friend is ill.… All those who long to see him in good health are in mind sick along with him. He gets well again, and although he does not yet walk with his former vigor, there is joy such as did not obtain before when he walked well and strong.…everywhere a great joy is preceded by a greater suffering. ~Augustine of Hippo from Confessions
The ghosts swarm. They speak as one person. Each loves you. Each has left something undone.
Today’s edges are so sharp they might cut anything that moved. ~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”
(written 19 years ago today on the evening of 9/11/01 – with the ongoing events of this year, I find I need to remind myself yet again)
Tonight was a moment of epiphany in my life as a mother and farmer. This world suddenly feels so uncertain after the horrific and tragic events today, yet simple moments of grace-filled routine offer themselves up unexpectedly. I know the Lord is beside us no matter what has happened.
For me, the routine is tucking the horses into bed, almost as important to me as tucking our children into bed. In fact, my family knows I cannot sit down to dinner until the job is done out in the barn–so human dinner waits until the horses are fed and their beds prepared.
My work schedule is usually such that I must take the horses out to their paddocks from their cozy box stalls while the sky is still dark, and then bring them back in later in the day after the sun goes down. We have quite a long driveway from barn to the paddocks which are strategically placed by the road so the horses are exposed to all manner of road noise, vehicles, logging, milk and hay trucks, school buses, and never blink when these zip past their noses. They must learn from weanling stage on to walk politely and respectfully alongside me as I make that trek from the barn in the morning and back to the barn in the evening.
Bringing the horses in tonight was a particular joy because I was a little earlier than usual and not needing to rush: the sun was setting golden orange, the world had a glow, the poplar, chestnut and maple leaves carpeting the driveway and each horse walked with me without challenge, no rushing, pushing, or pulling–just walking alongside me like the partner they have been taught to be.
I enjoy putting each into their own box stall bed at night, with fresh fluffed shavings, a pile of sweet smelling hay and fresh water. I see them breathe a big sigh of relief that they have their own space for the night–no jostling for position or feed, no hierarchy for 12 hours, and then it is back out the next morning to the herd, with all the conflict that can come from coping with other individuals in the same space. My horses love their stalls, because that is their safe sanctuary where peace and calm is restored, that is where they get special scratching and hugs, and visits from a little red haired girl who loves them and sings them songs.
Then comes my own restoration of returning to the sanctuary of our house, feeding my human family and tucking three precious children into bed, even though two are now taller than me. The world feels momentarily predictable within our walls, comforting us in the midst of devastation and tragedy elsewhere. Hugging a favorite pillow and wrapping up in a familiar soft blanket, there is warmth and safety in being tucked in.
I’ll continue to search for these moments of restoration whenever I’m frightened, hurting and unable to cope. I need a quiet routine to help remind me how blessed we are to be here to wake each morning to regroup, renew and restore when it seems even the ground has given way.
The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock —more than a maple— a universe. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I think there is a yawning gaping separation threatening us right now.
I feel a fissuring gap in my life. People who have eaten at our table, shared our home, who we have worshiped alongside – are now estranged, no longer trusting. This separation is buoyed by the chill wind of politics blowing bitterly where once there was warmth and nurture and caring.
We no longer understand one another. We no longer listen to one another. The argument has become more important than the connection.
How can we even allow these gaps between us to develop? How do we fill these fissures with enough of ourselves so something new and vital can grow? How can we stalk the gaps together, knowing how we are all exposed?
Not one of us has the corner on the Truth; if we are honest with ourselves and each other, we cower together for safety in the cracks of this world, watching helplessly as the backside of God passes by too holy for us to gaze upon. He places us there together for our own good. I see you there alongside me.
We are weak together. We are dependent together. We need each other.
Only His Word – nothing else – can fill the open gaping hollow between us. His Grace is great enough to fill every hole bridge every gap bring hope to the hopeless plant seeds for the future and restore us wholly to each other.
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
The day starts with the promise of beauty lit across the sky and concludes with the same light on the other side of the horizon. Yet everything in between can be darkness with no relief or stark brightness leaving no place to hide.
We can endure both if we endure it together. We can travel this long road if we have each other alongside in case we stumble. We can live out our days in gratitude even through our tears.
To pull the metal splinter from my palm my father recited a story in a low voice. I watched his lovely face and not the blade. Before the story ended, he’d removed the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale, but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer. And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness he laid against my face, the flames of discipline he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man planting something in a boy’s palm, a silver tear, a tiny flame. Had you followed that boy you would have arrived here, where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down so carefully she feels no pain. Watch as I lift the splinter out. I was seven when my father took my hand like this, and I did not hold that shard between my fingers and think, Metal that will bury me, christen it Little Assassin, Ore Going Deep for My Heart. And I did not lift up my wound and cry, Death visited here! I did what a child does when he’s given something to keep. I kissed my father. ~Li-Young Lee, “The Gift”
Your father enters the poem early, storying past the metal splinter in your palm.
I set your paternity —and the poem— aside, to reach back for my mother and try to remember
what kind of day it was when I played by the barn where, it is said, my own father raised pigs (I do not remember this).
And what kind of day it was when I found the barn, door open, silent
and tried to pluck silver lines from silver webs long-left, then tendered my hand on noiseless silvered wood
until my palms were rife with the evidence of my trying,
and mother spent the night with a silver tweezer, counting as she went… ninety-eight ninety-nine one hundred—
a ritual for my tears.
And now I wonder, Li-Young—did you cry, and who was in the story, and how many times have you counted it since, to forget, and to remember. ~L. L. Barkat, “Li-Young Lee’s Splinter” from Love, Etc.
I did, without ever wanting to, remove my child’s splinter, lance a boil, immobilize a broken arm, pull together sliced skin, clean many dirty wounds. It felt like I was always crossing the line between mommy and doctor. But someone had to do it, and a four hour wait in the emergency room didn’t seem warranted.
My own child learned to cope with hurt made worse by someone they trusted to be comforter. I dealt with inflicting pain, temporary though it may be, to flesh that arose from my own flesh. It hurt as much as if it were my own wound needing cleansing, not theirs.
Our wounds are His – He is constantly feeling our pain as He performs healing surgeries in our lives, not because He wants to but because He must, to save us from our own destruction.
Too often we yell and kick and protest in our distress, wanting it our way, not His way, making it all that much more difficult for both of us.
If only we can come to acknowledge His intervention is our salvage: our tears to flow in relief, not anguish, we cling to His protection rather than pushing Him away, we kiss Him in gratitude as we are restored again and yet again.
Mo sheasamh ort lá na choise tinne You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore. ~Irish saying translated by poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama
We need strong feet to carry us through the hardest pathways of life, stumbling into holes, treading carefully over sharp rocks, scrambling up steep climbs and through the muddiest mire.
Our feet get sore: blistered and calloused, develop tendonitis and fasciitis, suffer bruised toes and fallen arches. When every step is a reminder of our failures and frailty, we beg for a soft landing with each stride.
But more than comfort, we need a stable place of trust to put our feet, to stand firm when standing feels impossible.
Lord, be our landing place when we hurt. May your gentle road rise to meet our sore feet.
The cold grows colder, even as the days grow longer, February’s mercury vapor light buffing but not defrosting the bone-white ground, crusty and treacherous underfoot. This is the time of year that’s apt to put a hammerlock on a healthy appetite, old anxieties back into the night, insomnia and nightmares into play; when things in need of doing go undone and things that can’t be undone come to call, muttering recriminations at the door, and buried ambitions rise up through the floor and pin your wriggling shoulders to the wall; and hope’s a reptile waiting for the sun. ~Bill Christopherson “February”
Just when you think it is safe to go out in shirt sleeves and sweats, subzero wind chill blasts through your bravado and reminds you February is still WINTER on the calendar and in reality.
February can be a month of regret and recriminations, of “should-haves” and “should-not-haves” while waiting, frozen and immobile, for spring to bring us back to life. Like cold-blooded creatures, we need the sun to warm us up so we can move again. This sun today, bright as it is, only lights up our flaws and holes – no warmth whatsoever.
And it’s not just me struggling to stay upright in the storm. Our old red barn, waiting for its spring date with a talented rehab carpenter, hasn’t many roof shingles left after this latest blow, and a recent partial wall collapse in the wind prompted a neighbor to ask if we had meant to create a new door into our barn.
The old barn is kind of like how I feel at times: lacking a decent foundation, a bit shaky on my underpinnings, a lot sagging in the middle, broad in the beam and drafty where I shouldn’t be.
So much to be shored up, fixed, patched and restored. So much need for a talented Carpenter who knows how to mend and strengthen the broken and fallen.