Lined with light the twigs are stubby arrows. A gilded trunk writhes Upward from the roots, from the pit of the black tentacles.
In the book of spring a bare-limbed torso is the first illustration.
Light teaches the tree to beget leaves, to embroider itself all over with green reality, until summer becomes its steady portrait and birds bring their lifetime to the boughs.
Then even the corpse light copies from below may shimmer, dreaming it feels the cheeks of blossom. ~May Swenson “April Light”
This April we are surrounded by corpse light: the threat of untimely death, so we distance ourselves one from the other, awaiting the “all clear” which may be a long time coming ~
We have already forgotten the unprecedented illumination that walked from the tomb on a bright Sabbath morning to guarantee that we people, we who are no more than bare twigs and stubs, we who feel hardly alive, are now begotten green, ready to burst into blossom, our cheeks pink with life, promising future fruitfulness.
April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water.
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. ~T.S. Eliot from “The Wasteland“
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2
We do not want to think of ourselves as the dust we were and the dust we will become but the last several months have changed that. We have become hosts to a virus that can transform us to dust.
We thought we were living fully before; now, in our isolation, we have to examine what a full life really means, mixing our memories and desires.
Dust, like the relentless emerging life of April, is so cruel~ it reminds us of what could have been, as life rises miraculous from the dead.
We become nothing more than a handful of dust… yet the Creator lifts us up in the palm of His hand, and blows on us: we then breathe and pulse and weep and bleed.
We shall be like Him, part of his Hand, breath of His breath, for we shall see Him as He is.
Sometimes as an antidote To fear of death, I eat the stars
Those nights, lying on my back, I suck them from the quenching dark Til they are all, all inside me, Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself Into a universe still young, Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space, The light of all the not yet stars Drifting like a bright mist, And all of us, and everything Already there But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough To lie down here on earth Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields Of our discarded skulls, Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis, Thinking: whatever left these husks Flew off on bright wings. ~Rebecca Elson “Antidotes to Fear of Death”
We live out our earthly lives within these shells we call bodies, aware we were made intentionally and uniquely by our Creator in His image. Every part of us has purpose and meaning, down to the smallest corpuscle and the longest bone. We are His treasure, so much so He came to walk with us to preserve us by looking like, feeling like and suffering like us.
Yet we weaken over time, as this is temporal housing only. Even a small packet of viral RNA can cause us to fade and become dry husks.
Easter means it isn’t over. Death is overcome, the tethers of earth are broken, these husks become bright wings that soar as treasures lit from within.
…nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24: 5-6
Since this moment (the resurrection), the universe is no longer what it was; nature has received another meaning; history is transformed and you and I are no more, and should not be anymore, what we were before.
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted.” ~Paul Tillich, American theologian
So what do I believe actually happened that morning on the third day after he died? …I speak very plainly here…
He got up. He said, “Don’t be afraid.”
Love is the victor. Death is not the end. The end is life. His life and our lives through him, in him.
Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream.
Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body; if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the moleculesreknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fall…
It was not as the flowers, each soft Spring recurrent; it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles; it was as His Flesh: ours. ~John Updike from “Seven Stanzas at Easter”
From the far star points of his pinned extremities, cold inched in—black ice and squid ink— till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void even for pain, he missed his splintered feet, the human stare buried in his face. He ached for two hands made of meat he could reach to the end of. In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart began to bang on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now
Our flesh is so weak, so temporary, as ephemeral as a dew drop on a petal yet with our earthly vision it is all we know of ourselves and it is what we trust knowing of Him.
He was born as our flesh, from our flesh. He walked and hungered and thirsted and slept as our flesh. He died, His/our flesh hanging in tatters, blood spilling freely breath fading to nought, speaking those last Words our ears can never forget.
Then He got up, to walk and hunger and thirst alongside us –flesh of His flesh– here among us He is risen –flesh of our flesh– married forever as the Church: a fragile, flawed and everlasting body that will rise, once again, as He did.
“Everything is made to perish; the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so. No, he thought. The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place. What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking?” ~Paul Hardingfrom Tinkers
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” Ezekiel 7: 1-11,14
And what persists?
There are times when all appears to perish, especially in a time of pandemic and earthquakes, wind storms and tsunamis, wild fires and flooding. The obituary pages predominate in the paper, bringing home the local stories of loss and grief.
All appears to be perish with no relief or hope.
But we are told in His word hopelessness is temporary and inevitably helpless; darkness can never overcome the light of all things made.
Life persists in the midst of perishing because of the cataclysm of a loving and bleeding God dying as sacrifice, breathing His Spirit into us so that we may build back muscle and sinew, reconnect ourselves bone to bone, person to person, thrive in the church rattling and singing. We are alive, living with Him forever.
Nothing, nothing can ever be the same; God does not leave us where we are now – dryest of bones.
“God goes where God has never gone before.” ~ Kathleen Mulhern in Dry Bones
This year’s Barnstorming theme for the season of Lent:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
I sometimes think the PussyWillows grey Are Angel Kittens who have lost their way, And every Bulrush on the river bank A Cat-Tail from some lovely Cat astray. ~Oliver Herford, from The Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten
Our little calico Nala has the bravado of a cat many times her size and age. She climbs the tallest trees, dangles over the house roof eaves to stare eyeball-to-eyeball with the birds picking at seeds in the feeders. She takes no guff from the dogs or from her bigger brother Simba.
One day last summer, a visitor to our farm knocked early in the morning on our front door to say our kitty was struggling to walk, dragging her hind legs behind her. I hurriedly dressed to go find her, thinking I needed to somehow gather her up in a blanket to take to the vet, but she was no where to be found. I looked everywhere in the bushes and the hidden-away spots I knew she enjoyed, but she had vanished. I put out bowls of food to entice her but no luck – after three days, I figured she had crawled away to die alone, as cats are wont to do. Even her brother didn’t seem to know where she had gone as I followed him on his farm excursions.
I tried to theorize what might had happened – had she fallen from a roof or tree and become paralyzed? Surely she could not survive such a devastating injury.
Nine days later, long after I assumed she had died of her injuries or starvation, she appeared on the front porch when I opened the door. She was thin, weak, with her hind legs moving and holding up her weight. She was hungry and extremely vocal and not just a little perturbed that there was an empty cat food bowl on the porch.
On closer inspection, she had healing wounds along either side of her spine, matching closely with what I assume were eagle talon marks that had grasped her, if only briefly, as a raptor tried to carry her away. I suspect, feisty as she was, she fought her predator so fiercely that she was dropped from a bit of a height, bruising her spine. For an eagle, in this land of plenty of prey, dining on a calico is never worth such aggravation and hassle.
What a cat – now minus at least one, if not more lives. Only eight to go.
She is indeed resurrected; completely healed up, her spine is working fine and the only marks left on her back are white patches of new hair growth over her former wounds.
We thought she was lost forever, but she had not lost her way back to us, only way-laid for a bit. Our angel kitten is now resident on the front porch and back to her farm life climbing trees and torturing little birds.
When trees have lost remembrance of the leaves
that spring bequeaths to summer, autumn weaves
and loosens mournfully — this dirge, to whom
does it belong — who treads the hidden loom?
When peaks are overwhelmed with snow and ice,
and clouds with crepe bedeck and shroud the skies —
nor any sun or moon or star, it seems,
can wedge a path of light through such black dreams — All motion cold, and dead all traces thereof:
What sudden shock below, or spark above,
starts torrents raging down till rivers surge —
that aid the first small crocus to emerge?
The earth will turn and spin and fairly soar,
that couldn't move a tortoise-foot before —
and planets permeate the atmosphere
till misery depart and mystery clear! —
Who gave it the endurance so to brave
such elements? — shove winter down a grave? —
and then lead on again the universe?
~Alfred Kreymborg from "Crocus"
To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that. Two thousand years are only a day or two by this [God’s] scale. A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says, ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’ Because we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. . . It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer. ~C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock
Whether late winter or autumn the ground yields unexpected crocus, surprising even to the observant.
Hidden beneath the surface, their incubation readily triggered by advancing or retreating light from above.
Waiting with temerity, to be called forth from earthly grime and granted reprieve from indefinite interment.
A luminous gift of hope and beauty borne from a humble bulb adorned with dirt.
Summoned, the harbinger rises from sleeping dormant ground in February or spent topsoil, exhausted by October.
These bold blossoms do not pause for snow and ice nor hesitate to pierce through a musty carpet of fallen leaves.
They break free to surge skyward cloaked in tightly bound brilliance, deployed against the darkness.
Slowly unfurling, the petals peel to reveal golden crowns, royally renouncing the chill of winter’s beginning and end, staying brazenly alive when little else is.
In the end, they wilt, deeply bruised purple a reflection of Light made manifest; returning defeated, inglorious, fallen, to dust.
Yet like the Sun, we know they will rise yet again.
Season of ripening fruit and seeds, depart; There is no harvest ripening in the heart.
Bring the frost that strikes the dahlias down In one cruel night. The blackened buds, the brown And wilted heads, the crippled stems, we crave – All beauty withered, crumbling to the grave. Wind, strip off the leaves, and harden, ground, Till in your frozen crust no break is found.
Then only, when man’s inner world is one With barren earth and branches bared to bone, Then only can the heart begin to know The seeds of hope asleep beneath the snow; Then only can the chastened spirit tap The hidden faith still pulsing in the sap. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh“No Harvest Ripening“
Things on the farm are slowing down and withering; it is the natural way of October for all to fall to the ground to become soil again.
I know it doesn’t mean the end – there is still the vital seed and sap that lies dormant, waiting for the right moment to re-emerge, resurrect and live again.
I know this too about myself. Yet the dying-time-of-year doesn’t get easier as I age. It only becomes more real-time and vivid. The colors fade, the skin wrinkles and dries, the fruit falls unused and softening.
Our beauty, so evident only a short time ago, thrives inward, ready to rise again when called.
Wither me to within me: Welt me to weal me common again: Withdraw to wear me weary: Over me to hover and lover again:
Before me to form and perform me: Round me to rill me liquid incisions: Behind me to hunt and haunt me: Down me to drown indecision:
Bury me to seed me: bloom me In loam me: grind me to meal me Knead me to rise: raise me to your mouth
Rive me to river me: End me to unmend me: Rend me to render me: ~Philip Metres “Prayer”
The truth is: though we prefer to gaze on fresh beauty, to ponder smooth youthful perfection rather than the pocked and wrinkled, the used-up and weary, our prayer desires His everlasting love even when we fall in frailty. We wither from the first day, readying for fruit to burst forth as we, torn and buried, are sown to rise again.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8
Oh that I once past changing were, Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither! Many a spring I shoot up fair, Offering at heaven, growing and groaning thither; Nor doth my flower Want a spring shower, My sins and I joining together.
And now in age I bud again, After so many deaths I live and write; I once more smell the dew and rain, And relish versing. Oh, my only light, It cannot be That I am he On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love, To make us see we are but flowers that glide; Which when we once can find and prove, Thou hast a garden for us where to bide; Who would be more, Swelling through store, Forfeit their Paradise by their pride. ~George Herbert from “The Flower”
As they are meant to do, the crocuses have melted back to earth the winter snowdrops long gone, the orchard tree blossoms have shed their petals to become burgeoning cherries, pears and apples, the daffodils have come and gone, the tulips are falling apart in slow motion.
Spring in full swing Exhaustion replaced by renewal and fresh air now filled with the sweetness of growth and fruitfulness.
Our fields grow lush and soft with the sun warm on our horses’ withers.
It isn’t enough to celebrate the defeat of winter by blooming where we are planted; when we do fall apart, may we find ourselves never withering again.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:23-25