Dry is all food of the soul if it is not sprinkled with the oil of Christ. When thou writest, promise me nothing, unless I read Jesus in it. When thou conversest with me on religious themes, promise me nothing if I hear not Jesus’ voice. Jesus—melody to the ear, gladness to the soul, honey to the taste. ~Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
The world, to our limited vision, exists as light and shadow. Without shadow, nothing has depth or detail. Without light, there will be no shadow.
There is no flower that blooms, no story told, no song sung, no food eaten that doesn’t bear the color and melody and sweetness of Jesus himself.
He infiltrates all because He encompasses all. He is shadow, He is light, He is why we are at all. Our eyes, our ears, our tongues fill with gladness whose Name is Jesus.
I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you. ~R.S. Thomas “A Bright Field”
The secret of seeing is, then the pearl of great price. If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all. But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought.
The literature of illumination reveals this above all: although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise.
I return from one walk knowing where the killdeer nests in the field by the creek and the hour the laurel blooms. I return from the same walk a day later scarcely knowing my own name.
Litanies hum in my ears; my tongue flaps in my mouth. Ailinon, alleluia! ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside. ~Flannery O’Connor from A Prayer Journal
Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God… ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The hardest thing is to step out of the way so that my own shadow no longer obscures what provides illumination. I am regularly so blinded by discouragement, busyness and distraction that I lose sight of God Himself.
Surprise me, dear Lord. Cram this common bush with heaven.
Though I regularly lament in the shadows, help me lift my voice in praise and gratitude for your gift, the pearl of great price you generously hold out for me to take each day.
However just and anxious I have been I will stop and step back from the crowd of those who may agree with what I say, and be apart. There is no earthly promise of life or peace but where the roots branch and weave their patient silent passages in the dark; uprooted, I have been furious without an aim. I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods. Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet berries in a cup. ~Wendell Berry “A Standing Ground”from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
This is an age of argument: silence is labeled violence so we’re induced to have our say and look for others to listen and support our point of view. Without mutual agreement, there is plenty of fodder for argument with a duel-to-the-death determination to win others over to our way of thinking.
Agreeing to disagree doesn’t seem to be an option any longer. Why can’t our debates simply settle down to get on with life and find a way to live alongside each other? Instead, if I don’t see it your way, I’m morally deficient or hostile or worst of all I’m not an ally, so by modern definition, I’ve become the enemy.
But I’m not the enemy and never want to be.
It’s enough to make one retreat from the fray altogether. Those of us who have been around awhile know: anger puts a match to feelings that burn hot inside and outside. Initially debate is energizing with a profound sense of purpose and direction, yet too soon it becomes nothing but ashes.
I refuse to be furious for the sake of fury and indignation. Arguments, tempting as they may be in the heat of the moment, don’t hold a candle to the lure of sharing sweet fruit of the garden and the cool shadows of the forest with those who need it most.
So come in and help me eat berries and cherries but leave your arguments at the door. You can pick them up later on your way out if you wish, but most likely they will have forgotten all about you and wandered away while you were busy living life.
Fickle things, arguments – they tend to fizzle out until someone decides to light a match to them again.
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. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” ~J.R.Tolkien from The Two Towers
“Save me from all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared.” ~The Book of Common Prayer
It used to be that people feared a sudden, unprepared death, because they feared meeting God sudden and unprepared. Now, we only fear death — because we don’t fear God. Turn on any street corner, walk through any airport, sit on the edge of any hospital bed, and you can see the glorious wonder of it: All the faces of humanity carry the image of God. ~Ann Voskamp from “A Holy Experience”
What is man that He is mindful of us – no matter who we are, where we are – we are His reflection.
His face is mirrored in ours: the old and dried up and wrinkled beyond recognition, or the mere floating conceptus, yet to implant and thrive.
When we are overwhelmed by the events of the world, when it seems all is in shadow, we must remember, whether old and feeble or as yet unborn, we are part of a great story and our plot progression is a mystery. We keep going because we are holding on to something better than any treasure.
We are promised light and joy at the end, no question about it. We will pass through the shadows and through His grace, the darkness will pass right through us, never to dwell within or surround us again.
This year’s Barnstorming theme for the season of Lent:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
Glory be to God for dappled things – For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Pied Beauty”
The unconventional and unnoticed beauty, freckled, spare and strange– helps me feel beautiful too. The interplay of light and shadow within every moment of our existence, some moments darker than others, some brilliant and dazzling.
I try to find the sweet and sour, knowing I’m capturing my own dappled essence – a reflection of the Fathering that loves us even in our fickleness, who possibly could know how?
There is no perfection outside of Him; His reflected beauty has no uniformity. We give Him glory in our imperfection, the defects and blemishes which only He can make whole. Who knows why He does this? Yet He does.
The city orbits around eight million centers of the universe and turns around the golden clock at the still point of this place. Lift up your eyes from the moving hive and you will see time circling under a vault of stars and know just when and where you are. ~Billy Collins “Grand Central”
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; ~William Butler Yeats from “The Second Coming”
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline.
Here is a place of disaffection Time before and time after In a dim light: neither daylight Investing form with lucid stillness Turning shadow into transient beauty With slow rotation suggesting permanence Nor darkness to purify the soul Emptying the sensual with deprivation Cleansing affection from the temporal. Neither plentitude nor vacancy. ~T.S. Eliot from “Burnt Norton” The Four Quartets
Millions orbiting the center or the center orbiting its millions: we’ve been to Grand Central Station, a relaxed rest stop compared to the moving hive we navigated at Shinjuku Station and Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo, a city four times the size of New York.
Try as I might to picture train stations constituting a “center” holding the city together, I feel these works of man have only a tenuous hold on those who come and go. There is no glue; things fall apart.
The center only holds when it constitute the Source itself- the origin, the beginning and the end and everything in between. Starting from there, no matter how far from the Center, you have no doubt about where and when you are.
Sometimes the mountain is hidden from me in veils of cloud, sometimes I am hidden from the mountain in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue, when I forget or refuse to go down to the shore or a few yards up the road, on a clear day, to reconfirm that witnessing presence. ~Denise Levertov “Witness”
Even on the days when the mountain is hidden behind a veil of clouds, I have every confidence it is there. In the off-chance that it might be visible if we took the time to drive up the highway to the foot of it, we did just that last night, risking seeing nothing but pea soup clouds at the higher elevation. Mount Baker remained behind its impenetrable veil, unseen.
A bit lower, at the foot of Mount Shuksan, initially massive clouds obscured it completely – invisible to us except the knowledge that we knew it was there as we had been in that exact spot before and witnessed it first hand. Yet due to powerful winds that blow in the Cascades, over the course of a few minutes Shuksan was exposed before our eyes in all its glory, first in shadowy profile and then crystal clear reality: it was there, movingly unmoved, a revelation of constancy.
No, it had not vanished overnight, gone to another county, blown up or melted down. My vision isn’t always penetrating enough to see it through cloud cover, but it is still there.
I know this and have faith it is true even when, within a few minutes, the clouds blew back over the mountain’s face and veiled it completely again.
Some days I simply don’t bother to look for the mountains, so preoccupied I walk right past their obvious grandeur and presence. Then they reach out to me and call me back. There are times when I turn a corner on the farm and glance up, and there Baker is, a silent and overwhelming witness to beauty and steadfastness. I literally gasp at not noticing before, at not remembering how I’m blessed by it being there even at the times I can’t be bothered.
The mountains confirm my lack of witness and still stay put to hold me fast yet another day. And so I keep coming back to gaze, sometimes just at clouds, yearning to lift the veil, and lift my own veil, just one more time.
… having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:12
The night sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
The star represented a hope too long elusive; so weary and with so much need they headed out for unknown lands to follow a light seemingly beyond their reach.
When they found its source they could touch His earthliness. No shadow cast of darkness, and no iron nails could quell the beauty of its brilliance.
Having been so illumined they could only return home another way~ No longer could they be who they had been.
Praise the wet snow falling early. Praise the shadow my neighbor’s chimney casts on the tile roof even this gray October day that should, they say, have been golden. Praise the invisible sun burning beyond the white cold sky, giving us light and the chimney’s shadow. Praise god or the gods, the unknown, that which imagined us, which stays our hand, our murderous hand, and gives us still, in the shadow of death, our daily life, and the dream still of goodwill, of peace on earth. Praise flow and change, night and the pulse of day. ~Denise Levertov from “Gloria”, an excerpt from Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus
Yes. It is true.
Our murderous hand
is not stayed nearly enough.
We continue to witness the deaths of innocents,
so many homeless cast aside,
and what to do for refugees seeking sanctuary
who may not believe as we do,
who do not look or talk or act like
We are not them. They are not us.
But all image bearers.
Yet shadows are cast on the grayest of days
only because there is light still there,
hidden though it may be.
Be illuminated by mercy without the shadow cast.
Be stilled by the pulse of life in others who are not us.