Of course there are no guarantees — no matter how selfless we are, how devout our practices, how righteous we appear in others’ eyes.
The natural disaster still happens, the illness progresses, the unexpected still happens because there is no warranty on how things must go while we’re here.
What is guaranteed is our vision of God’s glory as portrayed through His infinite sacrifice, His infinite worth, His infinite value, His infinite presence and transcendence. We glorify him through our enjoyment of Him — right now, right here — the bonus of another morning, another noon, another evening. It is bonus, not anything we are owed.
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.
Try as we might to find common ground with those so unlike ourselves, it is the differences we focus on despite our efforts to understand and befriend. Whether it is cranky politicians sparring in the headlines, or the perpetual struggle between weak and strong, we miss seeing Creation’s intended balance all around us.
We can dwell compatibly, lion and lamb, without one becoming a meal for the other. Indeed, prey transforms the predator.
Even the barbed and bloody thistle releases its seeds in the cushion of thistledown, drifting gently where the wind will take it next, at once forgiven for the scars it inflicted.
May I strive to be comforting rather than prickly, healing rather than inflicting, wherever I may land.
In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls. This is the great reward of service. To live, far out and on, in the life of others; this is the mystery of the Christ, –to give life’s best for such high sake that it shall be found again unto life eternal. ~Major-General Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 1889
For Memorial Day 2019~
~standing in gratitude and reverence for the few who have suffered great loneliness and loss to secure the future and well-being of many, including unknown generations to come…
I hear the mountain birds The sound of rivers singing A song I’ve often heard It flows through me now So clear and so loud I stand where I am And forever I’m dreaming of home I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home
It’s carried in the air The breeze of early morning I see the land so fair My heart opens wide There’s sadness inside I stand where I am And forever I’m dreaming of home I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home
This is no foreign sky I see no foreign light But far away am I From some peaceful land I’m longing to stand A hand in my hand …forever I’m dreaming of home I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home ~Lori Barth and Philippe Rombi “I’m Dreaming of Home”
In a daring and beautiful creative reversal, God takes the worse we can do to Him and turns it into the very best He can do for us. ~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness
Sam does barn chores with me, always has. He runs up and down the aisles as I fill buckets, throw hay, and he’ll explore the manure pile out back and the compost pile and check out the dove house and have stand offs with the barn cats (which he always loses). We have our routine. When I get done with chores, I whistle for him and we head to the house.
We always return home together.
Except this morning. I whistled when I was done and his furry little fox face didn’t appear as usual. I walked back through both barns calling his name, whistling, no signs of Sam. I walked to the fields, I walked back to the dog yard, I walked the road (where he never ever goes), I scanned the pond (yikes), I went back to the barn and glanced inside every stall, I went in the hay barn where he likes to jump up and down on stacked bales, looking for a bale avalanche he might be trapped under, or a hole he couldn’t climb out of. Nothing.
I’m really anxious about him at this point, fearing the worst. He was nowhere to be found, utterly lost.
Passing through the barn again, I heard a little faint scratching inside one Haflinger’s stall, which I had just glanced in 10 minutes before. The mare was peacefully eating hay. Sure enough, there was Sam standing with his feet up against the door as if asking what took me so long. He must have scooted in when I filled up her water bucket, and I closed the door not knowing he was inside, and it was dark enough that I didn’t see him when I checked. He and his good horse friend kept it their secret.
Making not a whimper or a bark when I called out his name, passing that stall at least 10 times looking for him, he just patiently waited for me to open the door and set him free.
It’s a Good Friday.
The lost is found even when he never felt lost to begin with.
Yet he was lost to me. And that is all that matters. We have no idea how lost we are until someone comes looking for us, doing whatever it takes to bring us home.
Sam was just waiting for a closed door to be opened. And today, of all days, that door is thrown wide open.
Though you are homeless Though you’re alone I will be your home Whatever’s the matter Whatever’s been done I will be your home I will be your home I will be your home In this fearful fallen place I will be your home When time reaches fullness When I move my hand I will bring you home Home to your own place In a beautiful land I will bring you home I will bring you home I will bring you home From this fearful fallen place I will bring you home I will bring you home ~Michael Cardh
She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Mark 14:8-9
We naturally wonder if our actions on this earth are pleasing to God, though we understand our faith, rather than good works we do, is the key to salvation. Jesus’ response to Mary of Bethany’s anointing of His feet the day before He enters Jerusalem is provocative on a number of levels. However, her story parallels the passion of this Passion week:
Mary acts out of faith even when she confronts a painful reality. She acknowledges Jesus’ predictions of His death and burial. Mary believes what His disciples refuse to hear.
Jesus prays a few days later to have the reality of suffering lifted from Him, but in obedience, He perseveres out of faith and love for the Father.
Mary acts out of her steadfast love for the Master–she is showing single-minded devotion in the face of criticism from the disciples.
Jesus, on the cross, shows forgiveness and love even to the men who deride and execute Him.
Mary acts out of significant personal sacrifice–pouring costly perfume worth a full year’s wages–showing her commitment to Christ.
Jesus willingly gives the ultimate sacrifice of Himself–there is no higher price to pay.
Mary responds to His need–she recognizes that this moment is her opportunity to anoint the living Christ, and His response clearly shows He is deeply moved by her action.
Jesus, as man Himself, recognizes humanity’s need to be saved, and places Himself in our place. We must respond, incredulous, with gratitude.
Jesus tells Mary of Bethany (and us), in response to the disciples’ rebukes, that it is her action that will be told and remembered. She did what she could at that moment to ease His distress at what He would soon confront. She did what she could for Him–humbly, beautifully, simply, sacrificially–and He is so grateful that He Himself washes the feet of His disciples a few days later in a personal act of devotion and servanthood.
And today we remember this Mary as the harbinger of His suffering and death, just as He said we would.
Jesus, Apple of God’s eye, dangling solitaire on leafless tree, bursting red.
As he drops New Eden dawns and once again we Adams choose: God’s first fruit or death. ~Christine F. Nordquist “Eden Inversed”
It has always been a choice no longer forbidden we are invited to first fruit
He offers Himself broken open
so our hearts might burst red with Him
The tree of life my soul hath seen Laden with fruit and always green The tree of life my soul hath seen Laden with fruit and always green The trees of nature fruitless be Compared with Christ the apple tree
His beauty doth all things excel By faith I know but ne’er can tell His beauty doth all things excel By faith I know but ne’er can tell The glory which I now can see In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought And pleasure dearly I have bought For happiness I long have sought And pleasure dearly I have bought I missed of all but now I see ‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil Here I will sit and rest a while I’m weary with my former toil Here I will sit and rest a while Under the shadow I will be Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit does make my soul to thrive It keeps my dying faith alive This fruit does make my soul to thrive It keeps my dying faith alive Which makes my soul in haste to be With Jesus Christ the apple tree.