An Unexpected January Light

Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies
in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape
to trick out in gilt, and then the shadow sweeps it away.
You know you’re alive.
You take huge steps,
trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God there was made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In a movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions – that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
~R.S. Thomas “The Moor”

After years of rarely paying attention,
too busy with whatever household,
work-place, or barnyard task needed doing,
I realized there are only a finite number
of sunrises and sunsets left to me.

Now I stop, take a deep breath,
sense the earth’s roundness
and feel lucky to be alive,
a witness to a moment of manna
falling from the sky.

Sometimes it is as plain and gray
as I am, but at times,
a fire is lit from above and beneath,
igniting the sky, overwhelming me.

I am swept away by light and shadow,
transfixed and transformed,
forever grateful to be fed
by heavenly bread broken over my head.

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Rainy Sundays Last Forever

I’m the child of rainy Sundays.
I watched time crawl
Like an injured fly
Over the wet windowpane.
Or waited for a branch
On a tree to stop shaking,
While Grandmother knitted
Making a ball of yarn
Roll over like a kitten at her feet.
I knew every clock in the house
Had stopped ticking
And that this day will last forever.
~Charles Simic “To Boredom”


Charles Simic died last week at the age of 84.

It has been an eternity since I’ve been bored.

My list of to-do’s
and want-to-do’s
and hope-to-do’s
and someday-maybe-if-I’m-lucky-to-do’s
is much longer than the years still left to me.

But I remember those days long ago
when the clock would stop,
time would suspend itself above me,
~dangling~
and the day would last forever
until it finally collapsed with a gasp.

No more.

Time races and skitters and skips by,
each heartbeat
a grateful reminder of my continued existence
as forever moves closer than ever.

Lying in my bed I hear the clock tick,
And think of you
Caught up in circles confusion –
Is nothing new
Flashback – warm nights –
Almost left behind
Suitcases of memories,
Time after –
Sometimes you picture me –
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me, I can’t hear
What you’ve said –
Then you say – go slow – I fall behind –
The second hand unwinds
If you’re lost you can look – and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you – I’ll be waiting
Time after time
After my picture fades and darkness has
Turned to gray
Watching through windows – you’re wondering
If I’m OK
Secrets stolen from deep inside
The drum beats out of time –
~Cyndi Lauper

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain’t nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we’re on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride.
The secret of love is in opening up your heart
It’s okay to feel afraid
But don’t let that stand in your way
’cause anyone knows that love is the only road
And since we’re only here for a while
Might as well show some style
Give us a smile.
Isn’t it a lovely ride
Sliding down
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride.
Now the thing about time is that time
Isn’t really real
It’s just your point of view
How does it feel for you
Einstein said he could never understand it all
Planets spinning through space
The smile upon your face
Welcome to the human race.
Some kind of lovely ride
I’ll be sliding down
I’ll be gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride.
Isn’t it a lovely ride
Sliding down
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride.
~James Taylor

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If You Must…

My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.

~Marilyn Nelson from “Dusting” from Magnificat

It comes equally to us all,
and makes us all equal when it comes.

The ashes of an oak in the chimney
are no epitaph of that oak,

to tell me how high or how large that was;
it tells me not what flocks it sheltered while it stood,
nor what men it hurt when it fell †
and when a whirlwind hath blown
the dust of the churchyard into the church,
and the man sweeps out
the dust of the church into the churchyard,
who will undertake
to sift those dusts again

~John Donne from “The Equality of Death”

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.
~Rose Milligan “Dust If You Must”

…we all look the same in our beginning
and again when the end comes…
we are sifted through His hands,
blown on with His breath,
bled on in His sacrifice–

As varied as we are now in life,
our bodies in death melt to a dustiness
made manifest in His image:
dust motes sprung to life forever.

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A Broken and Contrite Heart

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit:
a broken and contrite heart
Psalm 51:17

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart.
2 Corinthians: 6-12, 16

The great mystery of God’s love is that we are not asked to live as if we are not hurting, as if we are not broken. In fact, we are invited to recognize our brokenness as a brokenness in which we can come in touch with the unique way that God loves us. The great invitation is to live your brokenness under the blessing. I cannot take people’s brokenness away and people cannot take my brokenness away.  But how do you live in your brokenness? Do you live your brokenness under the blessing or under the curse? The great call of Jesus is to put your brokenness under the blessing.
~Henri Nouwen from a Lecture at Scarritt-Bennett Center

Every day, as the sun goes down,
I pause, broken, remembering how often
I messed up that day, in big and small ways.
I’m cracked open, my mistakes illuminated,
weighing down my heart, impossible to forget.
Yet, as I pray for mercy, there follows a peacefulness,
as my errors are blotted out.

My slate, one more time, is wiped clean.

This ceramic pot is meant specially for our kitchen table — handmade by a friend using the abstract artistry of mane hairs from our farm’s Haflinger horses burnt onto the sides.  But it hit the floor and broke into many pieces, looking completely beyond repair.

It is back on our table, repaired with love and care by another friend, using nothing more than copious amounts of Elmer’s Glue.  This is the glue of every child’s school desk, the glue of every mother’s junk drawer, the glue of every heart that needs mending.  Elmer’s is not the gold of the Japanese art of kintsugiwhere broken vessels are repaired with precious metals, creating an object even more valuable and beautiful than before, with streaks and tracks of gold highlighting their shattered history.

Yet this ceramic is now even more precious to me. Someone we love cared deeply enough to make it in the first place, and another we love cared deeply to repair it, making it more beautiful and blessed in its brokenness, highlighting ragged pieces made whole again.

Someone made us.
Someone repairs us when we fall apart.
Someone blesses our brokenness with a glued-together beauty that makes us whole.

Therefore do not lose heart…


~Allegri’s Miserere — setting of Psalm 51

Translation:
Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offenses.

Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight:
that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.

Behold, I was shaped in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.

Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness:
that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.

Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.

Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.

O give me the comfort of Thy help again: and establish me with Thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.

Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my health:
and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.

For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.

O be favorable and gracious unto Sion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness,
with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar.

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Sustained by Mystery

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
                                                        And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.
~Denise Levertov  “Primary Wonder” from Selected Poems

Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw upon itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom.
~N.T.Wright from The Crown and The Fire

When I’m embittered and overwhelmed by the bad news of the world and I am buried in my own troubles such as COVID visiting our household, I cling to the mystery of God’s magnetism for my weaknesses and flaws.

He willingly pulls evil onto Himself, out of each of us. Hatred and pain and shame and anger disappear into the vortex of His love and beauty, the mucky corners of my heart vacuumed spotless.

We are let in on a secret: God is not sullied by absorbing the dirty messes of our lives as He came here to do just that. God leaves no void behind; He fills all emptiness with Himself.

Created in His image, we are sustained and saved through Him, thus bound to reflect His glory – how can we not be transformed and healed by His Love?

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Where the Sun Never Sets

In this kingdom 
the sun never sets; 
under the pale oval 
of the sky 
there seems no way in 
or out, 
and though there is a sea here 
there is no tide.
For the egg itself 
is a moon 
glowing faintly 
in the galaxy of the barn, 
safe but for the spoon’s 
ominous thunder, 
the first delicate crack 
of lightning.
~Linda Pastan, “Egg”

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird:
it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly

while remaining an egg. 
We are like eggs at present. 
And you cannot go on indefinitely

being just an ordinary, decent egg. 
We must be hatched or go bad.
C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

I try hard to be the good egg-
smooth on the surface,
gooey inside, often a bit scrambled,
yet ordinary and decent,
indistinguishable from others,
blending in,
not making waves.

It’s not been bad staying just as I am.
Except I can no longer remain like this.

A dent or two have appeared in my outer shell
from bumps along the way,
and a crack up one side
extends daily.

It has come time to change or face inevitable rot.

Nothing can be the same again:
the fragments of shell left behind
must be abandoned as
useless confinement.

Newly hatched
and transformed:
now there is the wind beneath my wings.
I’ll soar toward an endless horizon
where the sun never sets.
and stretches beyond eternity.

I will no longer be merely ordinary.

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Pearls of Early Dew

October is the treasurer of the year,
And all the months pay bounty to her store;
The fields and orchards still their tribute bear,
And fill her brimming coffers more and more.
But she, with youthful lavishness,
Spends all her wealth in gaudy dress,
And decks herself in garments bold
Of scarlet, purple, red, and gold.

She heedeth not how swift the hours fly,
But smiles and sings her happy life along;
She only sees above a shining sky;
She only hears the breezes’ voice in song.
Her garments trail the woodlands through,
And gather pearls of early dew
That sparkle, till the roguish Sun
Creeps up and steals them every one.

But what cares she that jewels should be lost,
When all of Nature’s bounteous wealth is hers?
Though princely fortunes may have been their cost,
Not one regret her calm demeanor stirs.
Whole-hearted, happy, careless, free,
She lives her life out joyously,
Nor cares when Frost stalks o’er her way
And turns her auburn locks to gray.
~Paul Laurence Dunbar “October”

Frost arrives this week
as pearls of dew freeze into place, dangling –
strings of liquid gems transform to icy diamonds.

A rich and mellow October gives way
to crisp and colorless November –
a sorrowful undressing.

All fades to gray; so do I.

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A Cozy Rain

The best kind of rain, of course, is a cozy rain. This is the kind of rain that falls on a day when you’d just as soon stay in bed a little longer, write letters or read a good book by the fire, take early tea with hot scones and jam, and look out the streaked window with complacency.
~ Susan Allen Toth
from England for All Seasons

Cozy rains typically don’t happen on weekdays.  There are always things to do, places to be, people to impress, rain or shine.  On weekdays rain tends to be a drag-us-down,  smotheringly gray inconvenience of wet shoes, damp jackets, impossibly limp hair in school and work place.

But on a Saturday?  The same drops from the same cloudy skies become a comfy, tuck-me-in-once-again and snuggle-down kind of rain.  There is no schedule to follow, no structured day, no required attendance, no need to even poke my nose out the door (unless living on a farm with hungry critters in the barn).

This is why most northwest natives are rainophilics, anticipating this quiet time of year with great longing.  We are granted permission by precipitation to be complacent, slowed down, contemplative, and yes, even lazy…
*
*
*
Okay, enough of that.  Gotta get up, get going, laundry to do, house to clean, barn to muck out, bills to pay, meals to prepare.

Maybe in the morning the rain will still be falling and there will be a chance to sit with hot tea cup in hand after church, gazing through streaked windows. Cozy rain all day on a Sabbath Sunday.  With scones.  And jam.
Bliss…
that is, until Monday.

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Even Darkness Must Pass

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were.
And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end…
because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was
when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.”
~J.R.R.Tolkien
speaking through SamWise Gamgee in The Two Towers

shadow of the lone fir cast upon the woods at sunset

Of course, in life there are moments of darkness.
There are periods of discouragement.
There are times when we lose sight of the beauty of the sky for all the clouds.
You may have to bear severe sickness,
or deal with tremendous pain,
or you may be disappointed in this or that.
But remember, whatever difficulty you have to face,
it will not last.
It is only a cloud.
For God has made each of us with a purpose.

We are made for joy.
But this joy can never be fully experienced here on earth.
God’s joy is ultimately realized in eternity.
To be a Christian is to understand that the cross,
and the suffering of the cross, has meaning,
and that suffering is part of our state on this earth.
Don’t expect paradise on earth.
Don’t.
But there is meaning,
and this meaning is the love of God
and gratitude for life on this earth.
Whatever your state,
whatever your situation,
whatever your purpose,
always remember that you are made for joy.

~Alice Von Hildebrand “Made for Joy”

When I feel overwhelmed and discouraged,
when it seems all is in shadow,
I know we are part of a great story
and the plot progression is a mystery.

We are promised light and joy at the end.
We emerge through the shadows,
the clouds clear away
and the darkness passes over,
under and through us,
never to return,
never to surround us again.

Save me from all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared.
~The Book of Common Prayer

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The Warm Milk of Light

I sit with braided fingers
and closed eyes
in a span of late sunlight.
The spokes are closing.
It is fall: warm milk of light,
though from an aging breast.
I do not mean to pray.
The posture for thanks or
supplication is the same
as for weariness or relief.
But I am glad for the luck
of light. Surely it is godly,
that it makes all things
begin, and appear, and become
actual to each other.
Light that’s sucked into
the eye, warming the brain
with wires of color.
Light that hatched life
out of the cold egg of earth.
~May Swenson from “October”

portrait of Dan’s mom, Emma Gibson, praying, by granddaughter Sara Lenssen

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
~C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory

photo of Wiser Lake Chapel by Barbara Hoelle

I do mean to pray.

I will sit in an old wooden pew this Sabbath day, my fingers tightly braided together in gratitude for bathing in yet another feast of Light. I will be fed as surely as if I were being cradled at a warm breast, as if I were a newborn holding tightly with a mighty grip.

We were created to be nurtured like this, held close to beauty and stirred to life, immersed within a nest made for us out of cold dust.

So I drink deeply of the warm milk of beauty whenever offered.
Perhaps you can too.

Original Barnstorming artwork note cards available as a gift to you with a $50 donation to support Barnstorming – information here