Two days of an icy prairie fog and every blade of grass, and twig, and branch, and every stretch of wire, barb, post and staple, is a knot or a threat in a lace of the purest white. To walk is like finding your way through a wedding dress, the sky inside it cold and satiny; no past, no future, just the now all breathless. Then a red bird, like a pinprick, changes everything. ~ Ted Kooser, “Hoarfrost” in Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems
When the landscape emerges in the morning light frost-bitten, all iced up and white-crisp, I yearn for color, any color, to reappear with the day’s thawing out. My breath hangs like a cloud in the dry air as I crunch my way to the barn, living proof that I breathe for another day even though too many others right now can not.
We are a breathless people, wondering what comes next, feeling frozen and suspended in a pandemic and smoke-filled burning world.
We are a breathless people, wondering who or what will choke our life from us.
We are a breathless people, dressed as a bride in frosted satin, waiting at the altar for the Groom who bleeds red to save us from our fate.
He will come like last leaf’s fall. One night when the November wind has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth wakes choking on the mould, the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost. One morning when the shrinking earth opens on mist, to find itself arrested in the net of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark. One evening when the bursting red December sun draws up the sheet and penny-masks its eye to yield the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come, will come like crying in the night, like blood, like breaking, as the earth writhes to toss him free. He will come like child. ~Rowan Williams “Advent Calendar”
How have we diminished the worth of a child?
More and more we resist humanity’s mandate to ensure a future for those who come after us.
Our excuse: the world is dying, the climate an emergency, how do we dare expose future generations to desolation and destruction?
Better to have no children at all. So many choose childlessness, doing whatever it takes to remain childless.
Yet all feel outrage at the images of children suffering and dying trying to escape poverty, homelessness, war and evil:
A toddler lying face down in the water on a Turkish beach, at first glance almost as if napping, but this sleep is forever. A father drowned in the Rio Grande protecting his daughter, also drowned, trying to bring her to a safe future in the States.
This is nothing new in the history of humanity. We kill unborn children every day in our own private wars that we justify without guilt or regret.
When confronted by images of dead children while eating breakfast, when millions cry out with the shame of it, so many tears falling like raindrops soaking deep on holy ground, ground we share with the poor and oppressed and homeless, ground we no longer can hoard.
These images change from one day to the next, birthing life, taking life, a child in the womb becomes ghost in the tomb, so we come undone, forced to unbuild walls we hide behind.
God Himself came like a child – bloody, broken, crying. The earth writhes in the reality that if conceived today, Jesus would likely be washed away before His birth, considered inconvenient and so unfortunate to be born to an impoverished refugee family. The world was much too harsh for Him to thrive.
So we would toss away the Son, the Light, the Hope and cling to our darkness.
What is the worth of such a Child? He answers clearly: He came because we are worthy of both His birth and His death.
I think of the story of the storm and everyone waking and seeing the distant yet familiar figure far across the water calling to them…
…so that when we finally step out of the boat toward them, we find everything holds us, and everything confirms our courage, and if you wanted to drown you could, but you don’t because finally after all this struggle and all these years you don’t want to any more you’ve simply had enough of drowning and you want to live and you want to love and you will walk across any territory and any darkness however fluid and however dangerous to take the one hand you know belongs in yours. ~David Whyte from “The Truelove” in The House of Belonging
Yesterday was the wrap-up to my thirtieth academic year working as a college health physician. Despite budget challenges, inadequate staffing, a higher severity of illness in a patient population with burgeoning mental health needs, our staff did an incredible job this year serving students and their families with the resources we do have.
Reaching the end of the school year is always poignant: we will miss the graduating students we have gotten to know so well over four or five (or six!) years, while we watch others leave temporarily for the summer, some to far away places around the globe.
We weep for those who have failed out, given up or fallen away from those who care deeply about them, some never to return to school again, and a few giving up on life itself. They did not take the hand offered to guide them through, even though they tired of drowning.
In my work I have tried to do what is needed when it is needed no matter what time of the day or night. There are obviously times when I fall short– too vehement when I need to be quiet, too urgent and pressured when I need to be patient, too anxious to do something/anything when it is best to simply do no harm.
I can only hold out my hand and wait.
Each year I learn enough from each patient to fill volumes, as they speak of their struggles, their pain, their stories and sometimes hearing, most tragically, their forever silence.
I honor you, our students, on this day, to confirm your courage stepping out from the safety of the boat — not to drown, never to drown — but wanting to live, wanting to love, wanting to move healthier, better equipped and joyful into the rest of your lives.
Just take the outreached Hand that belongs in yours.
“When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response:
‘Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely Yours, G. K. Chesterton.’
That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.” ~Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God
O lovely apple! beautifully and completely rotten hardly a contour marred–
perhaps a little shrivelled at the top but that aside perfect in every detail! O lovely
apple! what a deep and suffusing brown mantles that unspoiled surface! No one
has moved you since I placed you on the porch rail a month ago to ripen.
No one. No one! ~William Carlos Williams “Perfection”
I am what’s wrong with the world and so are you.
Not one of us escapes the rottenness that lies not-so-deep beneath our shiny surface. We are full of wormholes, inviting the worms of the world to eat us alive.
One look at the news headlines of the day is enough mar the most perfect surface. No one moves to save us from our over-ripening fate; we sit untouched, withering and shriveling.
We are the problem and the problem is us.
We need rescue by a Savior who is the one good apple among a barrel of contagiously bad apples. We are so tainted, it takes Someone who truly is Perfect to transform us from the inside out, from worm-holes back to wholeness and on to holiness.
May we fall to our knees, weeping and grateful, that Christ, who is the Leader of all in His Kingdom, will grant us a grace and sanctuary we emphatically don’t deserve.
May He pick us before the worms do. We are in this together.
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’
Sweet Jesus, talking his melancholy madness, stood up in the boat and the sea lay down,
silky and sorry. So everybody was saved that night… Nobody knows what the soul is.
It comes and goes like the wind over the water — sometimes, for days, you don’t think of it.
Maybe, after the sermon, after the multitude was fed, one or two of them felt the soul slip forth
like a tremor of pure sunlight before exhaustion, that wants to swallow everything, gripped their bones and left them
miserable and sleepy, as they are now, forgetting how the wind tore at the sails before he rose and talked to it —
tender and luminous and demanding as he always was — a thousand times more frightening than the killer storm.
~Mary Oliver from “Maybe”
I sleep through my diminishing days even more than I sleep through the nights, not nearly focused enough on each passing moment that never is to come again. Those moments crash to shore and then pull back to be lost forever.
There is a blindness in us all about what is inevitably coming, how we are tumbled over the years like waves, overcome by their passage.
He is tender and luminous and demanding and He talks to us, not just the relentless stormy destructive sea.
Peace be still!
And so I obey, forgiven, and am saved by grace,
so silky and sorry.
Do you know why this world is as bad as it is? It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrong-doers to light. My doctrine is this: that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing,
we make ourselves sharers in the guilt. ~Anna Sewell from Black Beauty
As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression.
In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged.
And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air
– however slight –
lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
~William O. Douglas
We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame
for every social injustice,
the downgrading of others
and the injury that man does to man,
whether personal or on a broader plane.…
God must intervene with his spirit and his justice and his truth.
The present misery, need, and decay must pass away
and the new day of the Son of Man must dawn.
This is the advent of God’s coming.
~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
Be careful whom you choose to hate. The small and the vulnerable own a protection great enough,
if you could but see it,
to melt you into jelly. ~Leif Enger from Peace Like a River
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question
the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
On the one hand, we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside;
but that will be only an initial act.
One day the whole Jericho road must be transformed
so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed
as they make their journey through life.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar;
it understands that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world,
can well lead the way in this revolution of values.
There is nothing, except a tragic death wish,
to prevent us from reordering our priorities… ~Martin Luther King, Jr. from a speech April 4, 1967
As we walk this life, this Jericho Road together,
we cannot pass by the brother, the sister, the child
who lies dying in the ditch.
We must stop and help.
By mere circumstances of our place of birth,
it could be you or me there bleeding, beaten, abandoned
until Someone, journeying along that road,
comes looking for us,
sent to take our place,
so we can get up, made whole again,
and walk Home.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2: 13-14
In the quiet of this place in the dark of the night I wait and watch. In the stillness of my soul and from its fathomless depths the senses of my heart are awake to You. For fresh soundings of life for new showings of light I search in the silence of my spirit, O Blessing God. — J. Philip Newell from Celtic Benediction: Morning and Night Prayer
Glory comes first, first before anything else.
Glory is God reaching down: it emanates from God, is the essence of God, is our hope and joy to witness through God coming to earth to dwell among us. We too easily forget that His glory is the reason for which we and everything else was created, that we God breathed his glory into us with that first breath we take.
The world will know no peace, man can know no good will until we glorify God first and foremost. We are here because He created us in His image to reflect that bright and shining light.
Our stubborn choices, our faults and sins sully that reflection. We fail to respond with gratitude to the grace we are given, we are self-centered, less humble and forgiving than He designed us to be, we defy His intentions by denying our existence has a glorifying purpose. We are in sore need of a Savior to set us straight again to reflect His glory, to breathe it in and sing it out with every word we utter.
The heavenly host makes it overwhelmingly clear: we are to glorify God first, first before anything else. Then all else good and wonderful will come to pass.
And to think the shepherds got a peek of what he looked like that night in a manger.
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this. ~A.A. Milne
It is the final week of a very long academic year and tension is running high.
Among those students to whom I provide care,
there are many who dwell deeply in “what if?” mode,
immobilized in their anticipation of impending disaster.
I understand this line of thinking,
particularly in this day and age of
“in the moment” tragedy
played out real-time in the palm of our hand
and we can’t help but watch as it unfolds.
Those who know me well
know I can fret and worry
better than most.
Medical training only makes it worse.
It teaches one to think catastrophically.
That is what I do for a living,
to always be ready for the worse case scenario.
When I rise, sleepless,
to face a day of uncertainty
as we all must do at times~
after careful thought,
I reach for the certainty I am promised
over the uncertainty I can only imagine:
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong —body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
One evening, when our daughter was only a toddler,
just learning the words to tell us what she needed,
I was preparing dinner, humming to
a choral music piece playing in the background.
She sat on the kitchen floor, looking up at me,
her eyes welling full with tears
like pools of reflected light spilling over
from some deep-remembered reservoir of sorrow.
At first I thought she was hurt or upset
but then could see she was feeling an ache a desolation deep as a homesickness as she wept for wonder
at the sad beauty of the music
that spoke for her
the words she could not express:
Of the One who waits for us Who will always wait for us In those radiant meadows
Yet also came to live with us And wanders where we wander.
Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars.
~James Agee “Sure on this Shining Night” from Permit Me Voyage