The room darkened, darkened until our nakedness became a form of gray; then the rain came bursting, and we were sheltered, blessed, upheld in a world of elements that held us justified. In all the love I had felt for you before, in all that love, there was no love like that I felt when the rain began… ~John Updike from “The Blessing” from Collected Poems.
As the rains return, we shelter together, blessed by years and miles, our unknown become known, our understanding breathed in silence. Though we be gray as the clouds above, our hearts beat in synchrony each pulsing moment more sacred than the last.
This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready to break my heart as the sun rises, as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers
and they open — pools of lace, white and pink —
and all day under the shifty wind, as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies, and tip their fragrance to the air, and rise, their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness gladly and lightly, and there it is again — beauty the brave, the exemplary,
blazing open. Do you love this world? Do you cherish your humble and silky life? Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden, and softly, and exclaiming of their dearness, fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling, their eagerness to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever? ~Mary Oliver fromNew And Selected Poems
It is not about love or sacrifice, nothing vestal or sacred. The light comes from an open window, and perhaps a breeze too that has caused the white peony to drop three delicately curved petals on the red jacquard. They cast purple shadows. The eye must seek them out, must avert itself from the ceaseless action in the midst of other objects: a runcible spoon, a quill, a tankard, two ripe quince. Athena Kildegaard, “Still Life with Beating Heart” from Ventriloquy
White peonies blooming along the porch send out light while the rest of the yard grows dim. Outrageous flowers as big as human heads! They’re staggered by their own luxuriance: I had to prop them up with stakes and twine. The moist air intensifies their scent, and the moon moves around the barn to find out what it’s coming from. In the darkening June evening I draw a blossom near, and bending close search it as a woman searches a loved one’s face. ~Jane Kenyon “Peonies at Dusk”
At the end of May, I bring our peonies to the graves of those from whom I came, to lay one after another exuberant head upon each headstone, a moment of connection between those in the ground and me standing above, acknowledging its thin space before one more humble and silky life shatters and becomes nothing, its petals perfectly scattered, lush and trembling, to the wind.
Beauty, to the Japanese of old, held together the ephemeral with the sacred. Cherry blossoms are most beautiful as they fall, and that experience of appreciation lead the Japanese to consider their mortality. Hakanai bi (ephemeral beauty) denotes sadness, and yet in the awareness of the pathos of life, the Japanese found profound beauty.
For the Japanese, the sense of beauty is deeply tragic, tied to the inevitability of death.
Jesus’ tears were also ephemeral and beautiful. His tears remain with us as an enduring reminder of the Savior who weeps. Rather than to despair, though, Jesus’ tears lead the way to the greatest hope of the resurrection. Rather than suicide, Jesus’ tears lead to abundant life. ~Makoto Fujimura
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” John 11:33-36
Daily I see patients in my clinic who are struggling with depression, who are contemplating whether living another day is worth the pain and effort. Most describe their feelings completely dry-eyed, unwilling to let their emotions flow from inside and flood their outsides. Others sit soaking in tears of hopelessness and despair.
This weeping moves and reassures me — it is a raw and honest spilling over when the internal dam is breaking. It is so deeply and plainly a visceral display of humanity.
When I read that Jesus weeps as He witnesses the tears of grief of His dear friends, I am comforted. He understands and feels what we feel, His tears just as plentiful and salty, His feelings of love brimming so fully they must be let go and cannot be held back. He too is overwhelmed by the pathos of His vulnerable and visceral humanity.
Our Jesus who wept with us becomes a promise of ultimate joy.
There is beauty in this: His rain of ephemeral tears.
The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears reveal only…a gardener, a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with all our being and imagination.. what we may see is Jesus himself. ~Frederick Buechner
We can be blinded by the everyday-ness of Him: A simple loaf of bread is only that. A gardener crouches in a row of weeds, restoring order to chaos. A wanderer along the road engages in conversation.
Every day contains millions of everyday moments lost and forgotten, seemingly meaningless.
We would see Jesus if we only opened our eyes and listened with our ears. At the table, on the road, in the garden.
The miracle of Him abiding with us is that it truly is every day.
You come and go. The doors swing closed ever more gently, almost without a shudder Of all who move through the quiet houses, you are the quietest.
We become so accustomed to you, we no longer look up when your shadow falls over the book we are reading and makes it glow. For all things sing you: at times we just hear them more clearly. ~Rainer Maria Rilke from The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
God can be so quiet around us we scarcely think of Him tiptoeing around our distractions.
But then a moment of flash, a rainbow glow, a subtle sacred song in our ears
and we remember: He’s here watching knowing holding on to us reeling us back in when we drift away.
From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention… pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.
Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.
Is it too much to say that Stop, Look, and Listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to history is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power-plays, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.
And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.
In a letter to a friend Emily Dickinson wrote that “Consider the lilies of the field” was the only commandment she never broke. She could have done a lot worse. Consider the lilies. It is the sine qua non of art and religion both. ~Frederick Buechner from Whistling in the Dark
I have broken the commandment to “consider the lilies” way too many times. In my daily life I am considering almost anything else: my own worries and concerns as I walk past so much beauty and meaning and holiness. My mind dwells within, blind and deaf to what is outside.
It is necessary to be reminded every day that I need to pay attention beyond myself, to be reminded to love my neighbor, to remember what history has to teach us, to search for the sacred in all things.
Stop, Look, Listen, Consider: all is grace, all is gift, all is holiness brought to life – stunning, amazing, wondrous.
My mind lets go a thousand things Like dates of wars and deaths of kings, And yet recalls the very hour— ‘T was noon by yonder village tower, And on the last blue noon in May— The wind came briskly up this way, Crisping the brook beside the road; Then, pausing here, set down its load Of pine-scents, and shook listlessly Two petals from that wild-rose tree. ~Thomas Bailey Aldrich, more The Poems of Thomas Bailey Aldrich: Revised and Complete Household Edition with Illustrations
My mind plays tricks on me these days~
what I should remember,
I struggle to recall
and what I wish I could forget
sticks with me
yet always relieved to realize
when life happens around me
I simply need to be present.