Ordinary is Just Extraordinary That Happens Over and Over

…it’s easy to forget that the ordinary is just the extraordinary that’s happened over and over again. Sometimes the beauty of your life is apparent. Sometimes you have to go looking for it. And just because you have to look for it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

God, grant me the grace of a normal day.
~Billy Coffey

Now, at sunset, all I see are dandelions on fire in the field.

To think I’ve carelessly
walked through,
on top of,
over and around them
for nearly 70 years,
and only now I see what magic they contain
once I settle down at their level and look.
God grants me grace for my years of dandelion destruction.

They are so normal and ordinary: extraordinary happening over and over again.

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Walking Over the Threshold

I know for a while again,
the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valley side,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which I may even step
forth from myself and be free.
~ Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 2000

John O’Donohue gave voice to the connection between beauty and those edges of life — thresholds was the word he loved—
where the fullness of reality becomes more stark and more clear.

If you go back to the etymology of the word “threshold,” it comes from “threshing,” which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.

There are huge thresholds in every life.

You know that, for instance, if you are in the middle of your life in a busy evening, fifty things to do and you get a phone call that somebody you love is suddenly dying, it takes ten seconds to communicate that information.

But when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. Suddenly everything that seems so important before is all gone and now you are thinking of this. So the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we are on is so tentative.

And a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and very often how we cross is the key thing.

When we cross a new threshold worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere.
~John O’Donohue from an “On Being” interview with Krista Tippett on “Becoming Wise”

A decade ago, someone I respected told me that my writing reflects a “sacramental” life —  touching and tasting the holiness of everyday moments, as if they are the cup and bread that sustains me as God’s eternal grace and gift.

I allow that feedback to sit warmly beside me, like a welcome companion during the many hours I struggle with what to write here.

It is all too tempting to emphasize the sacrament over the sacrifice it represents.  As much as I love the world and the beauty in the moments I share here, my search should be for the entrance to the “thin places” between heaven and earth, through forgetting self and stepping forth through a holy threshold into something far greater.

I feel so unworthy — in fact, threshed to pieces most days, incapable of thinking of anything but how I feel reduced to fragments. Perhaps those fragments can be like the droplets coming from a farm sprinkler at sunset, sparkling and golden despite waning light, bringing something essential to anyone feeling dry, parched and dusty.

I may even step
forth from myself and be free
.

Only then we can walk each other home.

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The Shadow of the Mercy of Light

How long does it take to make the woods?
As long as it takes to make the world.
The woods is present as the world is, the presence
of all its past, and of all its time to come.
It is always finished, it is always being made, the act
of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction.
It is a part of eternity, for its end and beginning
belong to the end and beginning of all things,
the beginning lost in the end, the end in the beginning.

What is the way to the woods, how do you go there?
By climbing up through the six days’ field,
kept in all the body’s years, the body’s
sorrow, weariness, and joy. By passing through
the narrow gate on the far side of that field
where the pasture grass of the body’s life gives way
to the high, original standing of the trees.
By coming into the shadow, the shadow
of the grace of the strait way’s ending,
the shadow of the mercy of light.

Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come in among these trees you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.
~Wendell Berry, “Sabbath 1985 V”

We who live in the six day world, walking the six day path to the narrow gate forget too quickly about the seventh day Sabbath. The meaning of our existence is not defined by how much we accomplish in the week, or how capable we are at carrying our burdens.

We are invited to walk through the narrow way, where worries and heavy loads cannot fit the opening.

Passing through shadow is part of reaching the light. The mercy of the shadow is — then we know light exists.

Light beyond shadow, Joy beyond tears,
Love that is greater when darkest our fears;
deeper the Peace when the storm is around,
nearer the Hope to the lost who is found.
Light of the world, ever shining, shining!

Hope in our pain and our dying. in our darkness,
there is Light, in our crying, there is Love,
in the noise of life imparting Peace that passes understanding.

Light beyond shadow, Joy beyond tears,
Love that is greater when darkest our fears;
deeper the Peace when the storm is around,
nearer the Hope to the lost who is found.
-Paul Wigmore

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Astonished

It’s an early summer day, going to be a hot one.
I’m away from home, I’m working; the sky is solidly blue
with just a chalk smear of clouds. So why this melancholy?
Why these blues? Nothing I’ve done seems to matter; I
could leave tomorrow and no one would notice, that’s how
invisible I feel. But look, there’s a pair of cardinals
on the weathered table, pecking at sunflower seeds
which I’ve brought from home. They don’t seem
particularly grateful. Neither does the sky, no matter
how I transcribe it. I wanted to do more in this life,
not the elusive prizes, but poems that astonish. A big flashy jay
lands on the table, scattering seeds and smaller birds.
They regroup, continue to hunt and peck on the lawn.
~Barbara Crooker, “Melancholia” from Some Glad Morning

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 green 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” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

I lay awake last night worrying over our son and his family’s ten hour overnight flight from Tokyo. Our two young grandchildren arrive today after 30 months of pandemic separation – to them, we are just faces on a screen.

We go soon to collect them from half-way around the world where they said a sorrowful sayonara to grandparents and family there, arriving here to a new life, new language, new everything, with their worldly belongings in suitcases.

From the largest city in the world to our little corner of the middle of nowhere.

I will watch them discover for themselves
the joys and sorrows of this world.
When I look through their eyes,
I will be reminded there is light beyond the darkness I fear,
there is peace amid the chaos,
there is a smile behind the tears,
there is stillness within the noisiness
there is rest despite my restlessness,
there is grace as old gives way to new.

I do not need to do anything astonishing myself.
Astonishing happens all around me.

I need only notice and cherish it.

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To a Wild Rose

Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart,

suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose looming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before.

~Wendell Berry “The Wild Rose”


Due to past harsh winter weather, we have lost a couple of our hybrid rose bushes which were grafted to rootstock when we purchased them. The durable rootstock survives when the bush does not, sending up shoots and branches to thrive and bloom, opening a wild rose blossom with a fresh loveliness all its own, even if it is not the exact color, fragrance or type rose we intended originally. It is still a blessing.

Although Wendell Berry wrote “A Wild Rose” about his wife – about a moment of illumination within a long covenantal marriage – I have experienced “choosing” again “what I chose before” in a renewal of relationship and commitment with God.

I too often settle so thoroughly into routine, oblivious to the privilege of another day of living this life. I am unaware of the miracle of my own beating heart. When the scales do lift from my eyes, I see beauty emerge from the shadows, and I am renewed.

In my own marriage, our relationship has survived over four decades through good and difficult times. Yet we are grafted to a rootstock God who never gives up.

And so we bloom from and for Him – a wild and unforgettable blessing.

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A Heart I Cannot Fathom

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.

It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.

I have coffee and books,
time,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.

It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.

Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.

Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?

It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.

Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom —
how is your life, I wanted to ask.

I lifted it, took it outside.

This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.
~Jane Hirshfield from “Today, When I Could Do Nothing”

The other day, as I sat down in the grass to take pictures, I felt a tickle at the nape of my neck. I reached up, picked up something, and when I looked to see what it was, I found a tiny ant crushed in my fingers. Suddenly it felt like things were crawling everywhere on me, especially my scalp. I shook out my hair and clothes and found there weren’t any more ants. It was only one very unfortunate defenseless victim who chose the wrong place and time to inhabit me – unexpected, unwanted and unwelcome.

As a child, I was fascinated by the ant hills in the woods and fields of our small farm. I would track yards and yards of ant trails from the busy mounded colonies to tree trunks and other sources of food, watching the single file single-minded insects heading through all sorts of terrain to sustain their community. Having ants crawling on me wasn’t a problem then – they were part of my exploration of creation and sometimes they explored me.

How is your life, I wanted to ask.

Now as an adult, I confess I pay regularly for someone to come to the farm to spray around our house to prevent a resurgence of carpenter ants that threatened our foundation and walls some years ago. It works pretty well so I don’t have to deal with the reality of nature/creation invading my personal space. My wholistic acceptance of my co-existence with ants ends at my front door. No welcome mat for them, thou shalt not trespass.

I don’t seek to fathom their heart or a felt need to find food.

So now our country is embroiled in the polarizing issue of whether to protect the defenseless when they are unexpected, unwanted and unwelcome, especially when it may pose great personal risk to another. Many of those most upset by the judicial decision have a voice to protest today because their mother let them live, even though their conception was unexpected, unwanted and unwelcome. They were not prevented through prophylactic means, they were not squished in an intentional self-defensive move.

They were indeed part of creation.

They are living and whole and as angry and anxious as I was when I thought I was crawling with ants.

How is your life, I want to ask. How is it to feel what you are feeling right now?

I fathom your beating heart and that of a mother’s loving heart of selfless sacrifice.

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Go Help Your Dad

It was hard work, dying, harder
than anything he’d ever done.

Whatever brutal, bruising, back-
Breaking chore he’d forced himself

to endure—it was nothing
compared to this. And it took

so long. When would the job
be over? Who would call him

home for supper? And it was
hard for us (his children)—

all of our lives we’d heard
my mother telling us to go out,

help your father, but this
was work we could not do.

He was way out beyond us,
in a field we could not reach.

~Joyce Sutphen, “My Father, Dying” from Carrying Water to the Field: New and Selected Poems.

We will grieve not, rather find                     
Strength in what remains behind;                     
In the primal sympathy                     
Which having been must ever be;  
                   

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
~William Wordsworth from “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

Pouring the sidewalk by hand
Grouting the tile perimeter
In the very bottom, installing a drain
The best dive ever…

Nearly twenty-seven years ago
we watched at your bedside as you labored,
readying yourself to die and we could not help
except to be there while we watched you
move farther away from us.

This dying, the hardest work you had ever done:

harder than handling the plow behind a team of draft horses,
harder than confronting a broken, alcoholic and abusive father,
harder than slashing brambles and branches to clear the woods,
harder than digging out stumps, cementing foundations, building roofs,
harder than shipping out, leaving behind a new wife after only a week of marriage,
harder than leading a battalion of men to battle on Saipan, Tinian and Tarawa,
harder than returning home so changed there were no words,
harder than returning to school, working long hours to support family,
harder than running a farm with only muscle and will power,
harder than coping with an ill wife, infertility, job conflict, discontent,
harder than building your own pool, your own garage, your own house,
harder than your marriage ending, a second wife dying of cancer,
and returning home asking for forgiveness.

Dying was the hardest of all
as no amount of muscle or smarts or determination
could stop it crushing you,
taking away the strength you relied on for 73 years.

So as you lay helpless, moaning, struggling to breathe,
we knew your hard work was complete
and what you left undone was up to us
to finish for you.

Ben packaged in a paper bag by Grandpa Hank
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Let Them Be Left…

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them…
~A.A.Milne from Winnie the Pooh (Eeyore)

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Inversnaid”

A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic   

I’ve always identified with weeds more than cultivated blooms.  I too have undiscovered virtues – I’m fluffy, I thrive where I’m not necessarily wanted or needed, and tend to be resilient through frost, drought or flood.  

The persistence of weeds inspires me to just let them be. 
As their weedy wildness lies just beneath the surface,
I too flourish, a witness to a world bereft of softness.

O let them be left.
Let me be left.

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A Lavender Dusk

Twilight fell:
The sky turned to a light, dusky purple littered with tiny silver stars.

~J.K.Rowling from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

How strange this fear of death is!
We are never frightened at a sunset.
~George MacDonald

In our modern world that never seems to rest, a sunrise can feel more daunting than a sunset.  We are unprepared for the day to start:
the ready-set-go of a sunrise can be overwhelming to a tired soul. 

There are mornings when the new light of dawn penetrates right through our closed eyelids, enough to wake the dead, if not the sleeping.  It cannot be ignored in its urgency to rouse us to action.

In contrast, the end of the day requires little preparation.  Sunsets signal a slowing-down and unraveling of tension, a deep cleansing breath, a letting-go of the light for another night.  We hope twilight will ease over us, covering us like a comfortable quilt, tucking us in for the night with a kiss and hug and promise of sweet dreams.

The reason we do not need to fear the sunset is that we know it isn’t all there is. The black nothingness of night would be petrifying if we didn’t understand and trust that the light will return, as startling as it may be in its brightness.  It is the rerunning cycle of the light and dark that reassures.  It is as it was created to be, over and over.

Let the sunset tuck us in.  Let the sunrise prepare us for a new day. 

Now the day is over
night is drawing nigh,
shadows of the evening
steal across the sky.
Jesus, give the weary
calm and sweet repose;
with they tend’rest blessing,
may our eyelids close.

Approach the night with caution
It’s the best that you can do
Move quickly though the darkness
‘Til the daylight is renewed
Approach the night with caution
You will know it’s for the best
Once tomorrow’s morning
Quells the thumping in your chest
For evening is when all things dark can
Slide around with ease
And good things all get shoved in the shadows
By a wicked breeze
Approach the night with caution
No longer shall you roam
When darkness stains the eastern sky
Be sure that you are home
For night is the dividing line that
Blends the right and wrong
Spirits crossing freely over
Can hold you there too long

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A Frayed and Nibbled Survivor

I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world,
and I am getting along.
I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too.
I am not washed and beautiful,
in control of a shining world in which everything fits,
but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck
I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe delicate air,
whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections,
but overwhelmingly in spite of them…”
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.
~Herman Melville from Moby Dick

We all bear chew marks, some fresher or deeper than others. Maybe they came during childhood from the constant nibbles of a competitive sibling, or from the intentionally painful wounds left by a bully at school or work. Some folks grew up in home environments that continually gnawed away at their self-confidence rather than feeding their sense of value.

Somehow – despite our eating whatever we find tasty and being eaten because we ourselves are tasty – most of us continue to get along, frayed and fragmented as we are, searching for an eventual mending of our wounds and filling of our empty spots.

Like the marks in a trunk where a missing limb used to be, or the notch holes left by the springboards loggers stood on to saw down an immense tree for lumber, our scars represent the price of being a living sacrifice. We persist because nothing we endure are as deep and wide as the scars that were accepted by the Word made Flesh on our behalf, nor as wondrous as the Love that oozed from them, nor as amazing as the grace that abounds to this day because of the promise spelled out by them. 

Our scars have become beautiful as a result.

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