He Does Not Leave Us Where We Are: Between Heaven and Earth

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs–

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.
~Rainer Maria Rilke “Sunset” (Trans. by Robert Bly) from The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy


We, frail people that we are, live out our lives between heaven and earth, sometimes in an uneasy tug-of-war between the two. We feel not quite ready for heaven as our roots go deep here, yet the challenges of daily life on this soil can seem overwhelmingly difficult and we seek relief, begging for mercy.

As we struggle to stay healthy during a spreading pandemic, it is frightening to watch others suffer as death tolls rise. We pray for safety for ourselves and those we love, knowing we are living “in between” where we are now and where we soon will be.

Shall we remain stones on the ground, still and lifeless, or are we destined to become a star glistening in the firmament?

Or are we like a tree stretching between soil and sky trying to touch both and remain standing while buffeted by forces beyond our control?

Christ the Son, on earth and in heaven, maintains an eternal connection to above and below. In His hands and under His protection, we are safe no matter where we are and where He takes us.

We can be mere stones no more.

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

Clumsy Clusters of Grace

irisrain

 

irispotential

 

 

I have a small grain of hope–
one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.

I need more.

I break off a fragment
to send you.

Please take
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink.

Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow.

Only so, by division,
will hope increase,

like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source–
clumsy and earth-covered–
of grace.
~Denise Levertov “For the New Year, 1981”

 

 

irisinnard

 

 

irischance2

 

 

irisrain5137

 

 

One autumn years ago,  my sister-in-law brought several paper bags full of iris roots resting solemnly in earth-covered clumps: dirt–dry misshaped feet and fingers crippled with potential. Her garden had become overcrowded and for her iris to continue to thrive, she needed to divide and share the roots.

We were late getting them into the ground but their clustered grace rose up forgiving us our clumsiness. They took hold and transformed our little courtyard into a Van Gogh landscape.

These iris will continue to gladden our hearts until we too must divide them to pass on their gift of beauty to another garden. This act– “by division, will hope increase”–feels radical yet that is exactly what God did in sending His Son to become earth-covered.

A part of God was broken off to put down roots, grow, thrive and be divided, over and over and over again to increase the beauty and grace for those of us limited to this soil.

Each spring our garden blooms so all can see and know: hope lives here —
even in the last few hours of an old and tired year
passing haltingly, hesitantly
into something brand new.

 

 

irischance1

 

irisrain5121

 

iriscenter5

 

 

iris514152

This Trembling Globe

dandyyellow

 

dandelion close

 

How I loved those spiky suns, 
rooted stubborn as childhood 
in the grass, tough as the farmer’s 
big-headed children—the mats 
of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe. 
How sturdy they were and how 
slowly they turned themselves 
into galaxies, domes of ghost stars 
barely visible by day, pale 
cerebrums clinging to life 
on tough green stems.   Like you. 
Like you, in the end.   If you were here, 
I’d pluck this trembling globe to show 
how beautiful a thing can be 
a breath will tear away. 
~Jean Nordhaus “A Dandelion for My Mother” from Innocence
dandy42615
dandybud
This is how I remember my mom at the end:
fragile, trembling,
a wispy white crown of hair,
clinging stubbornly to what was left of life
with roots that went so deep
there was no pulling them out.
Yet it only took that one last breath,
one quiet will-there-be-another
breath
to blow her away.
And she left us behind,
clinging stubbornly to those roots.
dandysunset5116
noahgrandma
dandysunset4

Root and All in All

antazalea

 

iris519182

 

whiteclover2

 

irispotential

 

Little flower,
but if I could understand what you are,
root and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
~  Tennyson

 

heart1

 

redredrose

 

fuschiaevening

 

Am I root, or am I bud?
Am I stem or am I leaf?
All in all, I am
but the merest image
of God’s fruiting glory,
the tears shed
as He broke
into blossom.

 

fuschiaeveningbud

 

whiteclover3

 

raindropsonroses3

 

fuschia1

A Handful of Dust

lilacsunrise2

 

rootballsam

 

April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain…

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. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

~T.S.Eliot from “The Wasteland”

 

rockvine2

 

shadowself

 

We do not want to think of ourselves as the dust we were and the dust we will become.  We are living fully right now; we cast shadows before and behind us depending on the time of day and time of life, mere ephemeral reflections of our presence on earth.

Yet the dust we were and the dust we become is as fearful a thing as our transient shadow.

Dust so cruel~
it reminds us
of what could have been,
how life once rose miraculous
from the dead.

We are nothing but a handful of dust…
until the Creator lifts us up in the palm of His hand, and blows on us.
We breathe and pulse and weep and bleed.

We become more than mere shadow.

We are His, part of his Hand, breath of His breath.

 

jaws

 

birchcatkin

Preparing Through Parable: The Seed Sprouts and Grows, He Knows Not How

steptoe7

 

butte4

 

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Mark 4:26-29

 

rows

 

This parable “supplies an admirable antidote to overcarefulness and despondency. Our principle work is to sow the seed. That done, we may wait with faith and patience for the result.”
~J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) Bishop of Liverpool

 

evening612163

 

In Galatians, Paul refers to God sending forth His Son “in the fullness of time.” It is one of my favorite expressions to remind myself that God’s timing is not linear so much as it is spherical – we find ourselves in the midst of His plans, surrounded by time rather than journeying from point A to point B.

The sowing of the seed,
its hidden growth underground,
its taking root and sprouting,
its dependency on the soil and water and sun to rise above the earth,
its development and maturation and fruition,
its harvest and completion
to feed and seed yet again.

It is a circle, not a line.

Such fullness we cannot understand when we are in the midst of it; such assurance we can feel surround us as we wait patiently for the harvest.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

396747_496652663682556_1002398142_n
Photo of Aaron Janicki haying with his Oberlander team in Skagit County courtesy of Tayler Rae

 

314753_496651617015994_783180103_n
photo by Tayler Rae

An Everyday Epiphany

woods24

 

septembermapleleaves

 

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies,
those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
~ John Milton

 

frontyardnov141

 

walnutyard

 

Our farm looked like it had a remodel update this past week by the winds and rain, covering the yard with a yellow brown shag carpet of leaves thicker than ever I remember in our two 25 years here.   This transformation is temporary until the leaves start to rot under the burden of endless days of wintry drizzle and freezing weather, but transcendent over plain green sod nevertheless.

I need to remind myself that only 8 months ago, none of these leaves even existed.  They were mere potential in bud form, about to burst and grow in a silent awesome explosion of green and chlorophyll.   After their brief tenure as shade and protection and fuel factory for their tree, last week they rained to the ground in torrents, letting go of the only security they had known.

Now they are compost, returning to the soil to feed the roots of the trees that gave them life to begin with.

Transcendent death.

 

octoberyard4

 

mapleleaves

The Black Walnut

walnutoctober2017

 

walnuthull5

 

frontyard2915

 

My mother and I debate:
we could sell
the black walnut tree
to the lumberman,
and pay off the mortgage.
Likely some storm anyway
will churn down its dark boughs,
smashing the house. We talk
slowly, two women trying
in a difficult time to be wise.
Roots in the cellar drains,
I say, and she replies
that the leaves are getting heavier
every year, and the fruit
harder to gather away.
But something brighter than money
moves in our blood – an edge
sharp and quick as a trowel
that wants us to dig and sow.
So we talk, but we don’t do
anything.

What my mother and I both know
is that we’d crawl with shame
in the emptiness we’d made
in our own and our fathers’ backyard.
So the black walnut tree
swings through another year
of sun and leaping winds,
of leaves and bounding fruit,
and, month after month, the whip-
crack of the mortgage.
~Mary Oliver from “The Black Walnut Tree” from Twelve Moons

 

frontyard1

 

april2frontyard
photo by Dan Gibson

 

walnuthulls2

 

We bought this old farm twenty five years ago:
the Lawrence family “Walnut Hill Farm”~
a front yard lined with several tall black walnut trees
brought as seedlings in a suitcase from Ohio
in the ought-1900’s.

These trees thrived for 80 years on this hilltop farm
overlooking the Canadian mountains to the north,
the Nooksack River valley to the west,
the Cascade peaks to the east,
each prolific in leaves
and prodigious in fruit.

The first year we were here,
a windstorm took one tree down.
A neighbor offered
to mill the twisted trunk for shares
so the fallen tree became planks
of fine grained chocolate hued lumber.

This old tree lines our kitchen cupboards,
a daily reminder of an immortality
living on in a legacy left behind~
sturdy while imperfect,
so beautiful to the eye and the heart.

 

treehouse5

 

novtreehouse

 

blackwalnut

An Old Acquaintance

winterpine

 

pine

 

I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
~Henry David Thoreau

 

frozenpineneedles

 

You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night. 
~Denise Levertov

 

silverthawpine

 

I hear you call, pine tree, I hear you upon the hill, by the silent pond
where the lotus flowers bloom, I hear you call, pine tree.
What is it you call, pine tree, when the rain falls, when the winds
blow, and when the stars appear, what is it you call, pine tree?
I hear you call, pine tree, but I am blind, and do not know how to
reach you, pine tree. Who will take me to you, pine tree?
~Yone Noguchi “I Hear You Call, Pine Tree”

 

pinecurls

 

pinecones

Our wet side of the state is not pine tree country — they prefer the dry climate east of the mountains.  Once planted here, however, they take hold and make the best of their wet feet.

The tall pine along our barn driveway must be at least sixty years old — it is starting to look its age, as am I.  Sure, there are some bare branches, a few brown needles, yet it still drops cones in the hope of a future generation of pine seedlings.  The squirrels are too fast and whisk the seeds to their hideaways before they can sprout and take hold.

This old acquaintance of mine, this venerable pine and I, we may sway in the breeze and be bent by ice and snow, but we weather the years together. After all, our roots go deep and our arms reach to the sky.

 

japanpine

 

japanpine2

Turn Aside and Look: Seeds of Hope

variegated4

sakura217

If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?
—G.K. Chesterton

pinkdouble

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus,  it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
Isaiah 35:1-3

variegated1

We are mere seeds lying dormant, plain and simple, with nothing to distinguish us one from the other until the murmurs of spring begin, so soft, so subtle.  The soil shakes loose frosty crust as the thawing warmth begins.   Sunlight makes life stir and swell, no longer frozen but animate and intimate.

We will soon wake from our quiescence to sprout, bloom and fruit.  We will reach as far as our tethered roots will allow, beyond earthly bounds to touch the light and be touched.
There is renewed hope seeded in the heart of man, ready and waiting to unfurl, with a precious fragrance that lingers, long after the petal has dried, loosened, and fallen to freedom.

  1. variegated2