Here dies another day During which I have had eyes, ears, hands And the great world round me; And with tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two? ~G.K. Chesterton
Any number of times a day I ask a patient who is weary worn and sad: can tell me about your thoughts about ending your life?
Most days I’m amazed I’m allowed another day to continue to be present and listening. I pray as this day dies there will come yet another so I might help the weary worn and sad find gladness: they too are given the gift to live another day.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me and rest; Lay down, thou weary one, lay down Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, Weary and worn and sad; I found in Him a resting place, And He has made me glad.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give The living water; thirsty one, Stoop down, and drink, and live.” I came to Jesus, and I drank Of that life-giving stream; My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, And now I live in Him.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s Light; Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise, And all thy day be bright.” I looked to Jesus, and I found In Him my Star, my Sun; And in that light of life I’ll walk, Till trav’ling days are done.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “My Father’s house above Has many mansions; I’ve a place Prepared for you in love.” I trust in Jesus—in that house, According to His word, Redeemed by grace, my soul shall live Forever with the Lord. ~Horatius Bonar
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”
Imagine the illumination which can transform sorrows, which banishes the night so darkness flees. It is that of which I sing, that about which I rejoice, that which bought me and set me free. His love is all. That which was, is and will be will rise again.
Peace be to you and grace from Him Who freed us from our sin Who loved us all, and shed his blood That we might saved be.
Sing holy, holy to our Lord The Lord almighty God Who was and is, and is to come Sing holy, holy Lord.
Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein Rejoice on earth, ye saints below For Christ is coming, Is coming soon For Christ is coming soon.
E’en so Lord Jesus quickly come And night shall be no more They need no light, no lamp, nor sun For Christ will be their All! ~Paul Manz and Ruth Manz, written when their three year old son was critically ill
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
I laughed in the morning’s eyes. I triumphed and I saddened with all weather, Heaven and I wept together, and its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine. Against the red throb of its sunset heart, I laid my own to beat And share commingling heat.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come. Halts by me that Footfall. Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest, I am He whom thou seekest. Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me. ~Francis Thompson from “The Hound of Heaven”
My days are filled with anxious and sad patients, one after another after another. They sit in front of their screen and I in front of mine, so close yet so far from each another – a wilderness of unexpressed emotions.
They struggle to hold back the flood from brimming eyes. Each moment, each breath, each heart beat overwhelmed by questions: How to take yet another painful breath of this sad life? must there be another breath? Must things go on like this in fear of what the next moment will bring?
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the knowledge that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse. There is no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived. There is only fear of the next and the next so that now and now and now is lost forever.
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than any viral pandemic. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. I wish there was a vaccine to protect us all from our unnamed fears in the wilderness.
I want to say to them and myself: Stop this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop. Stop expecting this feeling must be “fixed.” Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort. Stop resenting the gift of each breath. Just stop. Instead, simply be in the now and now and now.
I want to say: this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone, this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light. Shout for joy in it. Celebrate it. Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips and stop holding them back.
Stop me before I write, out of my own anxiety over you, yet another prescription you don’t really need.
Just be– and be blessed– in the now and now and now.
Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before– more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. ~Charles Dickens as “Pip” in Great Expectations
Jesus wept. ~John 11:35
Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent (an old English word for “lengthening”).
This six week observance humbles the hardest of hearts by readying us to walk through the dusty wilderness of our sin and brokenness.
Over the coming weeks, I learn again of Christ’s traveling the parched road to the cross. His tears become a cleansing rain — tears of sorrow and sacrifice meant to renew and restore the earthly dust beneath His feet – the dust from which His Father formed us and to which we will return.
This journey leads us through the ashes of our bitterness, pride, and ingratitude. We follow this difficult and arduous wilderness road, fitting our foot to each tear-stained print He left behind, knowing where ultimately it must take us.
VERSE 1 It is Ash Wednesday’s early morn. The old, the young, the newly born Await the mark of Adam’s dust To seal their wills in Jesus’ trust.
VERSE 2 Prepared to walk the Lenten trail They face death’s dark and shadowed vale. Rememb’ring Christ who led the way They bravely march beneath his sway.
VERSE 3 You came from dust and dust would be Without the Great Son’s victory. The gift is free yet must be claimed By goodness lived and evil tamed.
VERSE 4 It is Ash Wednesday’s early morn. The old, the young, the newly born Await the mark of Adam’s dust To seal their wills in Jesus’ trust.
Chunky and noisy, but with stars in their black feathers, they spring from the telephone wire and instantly
they are acrobats in the freezing wind. And now, in the theater of air, they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising; they float like one stippled star that opens, becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again; and you watch and you try but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it with no articulated instruction, no pause, only the silent confirmation that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin over and over again, full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us, even in the leafless winter, even in the ashy city. I am thinking now of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots trying to leave the ground, I feel my heart pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings. ~Mary Oliver “Starlings in Winter” from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared, then another, and another. It was the starlings going to roost. They gathered deep in the distance, flock sifting into flock, and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke. They seemed to unravel as they flew, lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. I didn’t move;they flew directly over my head for half an hour.
Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced. The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye. Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff. Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig, right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.
Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now, birds winging through the gaps between my cells, touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet? ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
…yesterday I heard a new sound above my head a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward I saw a flock of blackbirds rounding a curve I didn’t know was there and the sound was simply all those wings, all those feathers against air, against gravity and such a beautiful winning: the whole flock taking a long, wide turn as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
If we lived only in human society what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being here, in this curving and soaring world that is not our own so when mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives and when, even more rarely, we unite and move together toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub from “Blackbirds” from Wing Over Wing
Watching a winter starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me. I can get queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.
Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions. It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t. It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t. They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound.
We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA. Yet we don’t exercise such unity from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks. We are frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, going our own way bumping and crashing without care, leaving so much body and spiritual wreckage behind.
To where has flown our mercy and tenderness? We have corporately lost our internal moral compass.
We figuratively and literally shoot each other in the back, trampling over and suffocating one another, in a reach for justice that seems right in our own eyes.
We even watch the daily death count rise in ever-increasing numbers, and still some resist doing what it takes to protect themselves and one another.
The sound of silence is muffled weeping.
There comes a time in every fall before the leaves begin to turn when blackbirds group and flock and gather choosing a tree, a branch, together to click and call and chorus and clamor announcing the season has come for travel.
Then comes a time when all those birds without a sound or backward glance pour from every branch and limb into the air, as if on a whim but it’s a dynamic, choreographed mass a swoop, a swerve, a mystery, a dance
and now the tree stands breathless, amazed at how it was chosen, how it was changed. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub “Turning” from Wing Over Wing
When the cold air comes on in, it kicks the furnace on, and the furnace overwhelms the cold. As the sorrow comes into the heart of a Christian, it kicks on more of the joy. It gets you closer to him, it helps you dig down deeper into him, and the joy kicks up, you might say, like a furnace, and overwhelms the sorrow. That is a picture of a solid Christian. Not a sorrow-less person who is happy, happy, happy, all the time. That’s not the picture. A picture of a real Christian is a person who has a furnace of joy in there that kicks up as the sorrow comes in and overwhelms the sorrow. But the sorrow is there. It is there. ~Pastor Tim Keller (1990), now in treatment for pancreatic cancer
The Cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us. ~John Stott
I have listened to criticism at times in my faith life that I don’t exhibit enough joy and happiness in my Christian walk. It is true that I tend toward lamenting the state of the world and the state of my own soul. I could use more balance in my expressions of gratitude. So what I hear from others is fair feedback.
My faith furnace thermostat is now set so high that it rarely kicks on and I dwell too much in the cold.
Especially in the last year of COVID-time, I have been especially feeling the chill as I watch so many dealing with immense sorrow and loss. So much has changed, particularly in how we can safely gather and worship together, resulting in finger pointing among Christians about who is showing more righteous dedication to the Word of God.
So the nit-picking begins.
If we don’t sing together in worship as commanded by our Lord but temporarily restricted by state regulations, do we lack conviction in our faith, allowing fear and earthly authorities to rule over us? If we sing outside, even in the cold dark rain and snow, is that sufficient compromise and does it truly “turn on” the furnace of our joy?
Or wearing a mask shows fear and a lack of faith that God is ultimately in charge as only He determines how many days we dwell on this earth. Yet by wearing a mask at all times when together we are showing compassion for others by loving them enough to try to protect them from any infection we may unknowingly harbor.
These feel like irreconcilable differences in perspective among people who purportedly love one another in the name of Christ. So we all end up in the cold, waiting on the furnace of our love and joy to kick on.
In my self-absorption, I tend to forget that the fire has always been there, lit by Christ’s sacrifice, despite His own mortal fear and hesitation and tears, yet fueled solely by His divine desire to save His children. I need to come closer to feel the heat of His love, and feel those sparks landing on my earthly skin to remind me there can be no love without pain.
Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt, and then the shadow sweeps it away.
You know you’re alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
It was like a church to me. I entered it on soft foot, Breath held like a cap in the hand. It was quiet. What God there was made himself felt, Not listened to, in clean colours That brought a moistening of the eye, In a movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness Of the heart’s passions – that was praise Enough; and the mind’s cession Of its kingdom. I walked on, Simple and poor, while the air crumbled And broke on me generously as bread. ~R.S. Thomas “The Moor”
There are January days when I am surrounded by mist and fog and partly cloudies- a brief gift of blue sky and gilt light.
God is felt on days like this, neither seen or heard, His stilling presence overtaking me with each breath I draw, following the path of each glistening tear, becoming the arcing ground reaching to meet my foot with each bold step I take.
The thing is to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again. ~Ellen Bass, “The Thing Is” from Mules of Love
There is so much grief these days so much loss of life so much weeping.
How can we withstand this? How can we know, now, when we are barely able to breathe that we might know – at some point – we might love life again?
Let us step outside for a moment As the sun breaks through clouds And shines on wet new fallen snow, And breathe the new air. So much has died that had to die this year. We are dying away from things. It is a necessity—we have to do it Or we shall be buried under the magazines, The too many clothes, the too much food.
Let us step outside for a moment Among ocean, clouds, a white field, Islands floating in the distance. They have always been there. But we have not been there.
Already there are signs. Young people plant gardens. Fathers change their babies’ diapers And are learning to cook.
Let us step outside for a moment. It is all there Only we have been slow to arrive At a way of seeing it. Unless the gentle inherit the earth There will be no earth. ~May Sarton from “New Year Poem”
Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next. ~Frederick Buechnerfrom Beyond Words
This year I have been paying close attention to what makes me weep. During 2020, I have had more than ample opportunity to find out — from my tears — the secret of who I am, where I have come from, and for the salvation of my soul, where I am to be next.
My pockets contain hand sanitizer and kleenex, stowed right next to my mask.
In previous years, my tears flowed while spending time with far-flung children and grandchildren for the holidays — reading books and doing puzzles together and reminiscing about what has been and what could be. It was about singing grace together before a meal and my voice breaking with precious words of gratitude. My tears certainly had to do with bidding farewell until we meet again — gathering them in for that final hug and then that difficult letting-go and waving goodbye as they round the corner and disappear.
This year, that had to happen on a screen or from behind masks. No hugs hello or goodbye. None of the usual ways we celebrate together. I feel bereft as have countless other families around the globe. Some never had opportunity to say their final goodbye – too much has died this year.
As our children grew up, we encouraged them to go where their hearts told them they were needed and called to go, even if thousands of miles away from their one-time home on this farm. And so they went.
I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I learned to set my face toward the future, seeking how the sun might break through the clouds in my life. It led me to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, this church, to more tears and heartbreak, to more letting go. And it will continue if I’m granted more years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.
This year my tears flow for what could not be. For too many families, their tears flow for who now is missing and will never return. My tears flow for the pain and sadness of disagreement and angry words.
Spreading faster than COVID is the viral expansion of toxic misinformation and conspiracy theories sowing doubt and distrust. Masks are useless to protect people exposed to a deficiency of simple common sense.
So this is where I must go next: to love so much and so deeply that my tears might make a small difference to those around me, like the sun breaking through the clouds.
There is nothing I can give you that you do not already have, but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us Unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven.
No peace lies in the future Which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. Take joy.
And so, at this Christmastime, I greet you with the prayer that for you, Now and forever, The day breaks and the shadows flee away. – Fra Giovanni Giocondo letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, Christmas Eve 1513
We are reminded in hundreds of self-help books, both secular and faith-based, to count our blessings in order to find happiness in our daily existence. The point is to peer out from under the shadow of gloom and grumbles to where light and hope is unimpeded.
It’s good advice as old as the Psalms, even if some folks don’t want to associate gratitude and blessings with Someone who actually bestows them.
There are some days when the shadows overpower all feelings of thanksgiving: seeing the tent and box cities of the homeless expanding, watching the numbers of sick and dying rise exponentially, witnessing the suffering of the lonely and isolated among us. How is it possible for us to grasp heaven or feel peace when all seems so bleak?
That is exactly why the Babe was born so many years ago, bringing with Him the Light and Hope so sorely needed by the world then and the world now. With His dawning, shadows flee away; we only need to take the joy and peace He offers.
Oh little child it’s Christmas night And the sky is filled with glorious light Lay your soft head so gently down It’s Christmas night in Bethlehem town.
Chorus: Alleluia the angels sing Alleluia to the king Alleluia the angels sing Alleluia to the king.
Sleep while the shepherds find their way As they kneel before you in the golden hay For they have brought you a woolly lamb On Christmas night in Bethlehem. Chorus
Sleep till you wake at the break of day With the sun’s first dawning ray You are the babe, who’ll wear the crown On Christmas morn in Bethlehem town. Chorus