If we could, like the trees, practice dying, do it every year just as something we do— like going on vacation or celebrating birthdays— it would become as easy a part of us as our hair or clothing.
Someone would show us how to lie down and fade away as if in deepest meditation, and we would learn about the fine dark emptiness, both knowing it and not knowing it, and coming back would be irrelevant.
Whatever it is the trees know when they stand undone, surprisingly intricate, we need to know also so we can allow that last thing to happen to us as if it were only any ordinary thing,
leaves and lives falling away, the spirit, complex, waiting in the fine darkness to learn which way it will go. ~Grace Butcher, “Learning from Trees” from Poetry of Presence
If I were to die as a leaf, I would want to change my clothes just bit by bit, overnight oozing gradually to scarlet, bleeding into the green a little bit more, until I’m so unrecognizable, I’ll seem brand new.
That would be ideal.
The reality is a fading to grey and brown, my edges withered and torn, bug-bitten with holes and weather-beaten bruised, dangling and fearful of letting go and so forgotten.
So I remember: no one, not one, falls without its Maker knowing. No one, not one, dies without being made brand new.
O gather up the brokenness And bring it to me now The fragrance of those promises You never dared to vow
The splinters that you carry The cross you left behind Come healing of the body Come healing of the mind
And let the heavens hear it The penitential hymn Come healing of the spirit Come healing of the limb
Behold the gates of mercy In arbitrary space And none of us deserving The cruelty or the grace
O solitude of longing Where love has been confined Come healing of the body Come healing of the mind
O see the darkness yielding That tore the light apart Come healing of the reason Come healing of the heart
O troubled dust concealing An undivided love The heart beneath is teaching To the broken heart above
Let the heavens falter Let the earth proclaim Come healing of the altar Come healing of the name
O longing of the branches To lift the little bud O longing of the arteries To purify the blood
And let the heavens hear it The penitential hymn Come healing of the spirit Come healing of the limb ~Leonard Cohen “Come healing”
We are all in need of healing, none more so than those who have been affected by the pandemic, either dealing themselves with the illness and its long-lasting effects, or grieving the untimely loss of family and friends.
There is need for healing in relationships, either because of too much proximity or not nearly enough due to quarantine.
There is need for a sense of purpose without a schedule of regular employment or schooling to occupy our days.
There is need for healing for the wrongs we do, intentionally or unintentionally.
Our hardships are meager compared to the plagues of the past but they are nevertheless real and undeserved, so we pray for relief, we pray for grace and mercy, we pray for healing of mind, body and spirit.
Even a tiny blue forget-me-not blossom reminds us: we need to seek the fragrance of promises made and harvest the fruit of promises kept.
God does not make promises to please us, like a politician in an election year. He keeps promises because He knows we need to believe they will happen according to His plan— He forgets-us-not because we are the troubled dust upon which He has blown sweet and fragrant breath.
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.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed with the news of the day, so much of which is depressingly dismal, I remind myself that there is still an infiniteness to life beyond this challenging year. Time passes like an ever-flowing stream: months dissolve into months, years exhale into years.
I flow right along with it, carried by the current though sometimes futilely fighting against it, trying to keep my nose above water.
No matter what may happen, no matter my frustration or sadness at the state of the world, things are beautiful in the moment now.
Forever is made up of nows — lots and lots and lots of nows. May the Year of our Lord be now and evermore into the infinite.
We grow accustomed to the Dark — When Light is put away — As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp To witness her Good bye —
A Moment — We Uncertain step For newness of the night — Then — fit our Vision to the Dark — And meet the Road — erect —
And so of larger — Darknesses — Those Evenings of the Brain — When not a Moon disclose a sign — Or Star — come out — within —
The Bravest — grope a little — And sometimes hit a Tree Directly in the Forehead — But as they learn to see —
Either the Darkness alters — Or something in the sight Adjusts itself to Midnight — And Life steps almost straight. ~Emily Dickinson
So few grains of happiness measured against all the dark and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us only the strength we have and we give it. Then it asks more, and we give it. ~Jane Hirschfield from “The Weighing”
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
We live in a time where the groaning need and dividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized. Countless people are subjected to hatred, violence and oppression which go unchecked. The injustice and corruption which exist today are causing many voices to be raised to protest and cry out that something be done. Many men and women are being moved to sacrifice much in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace. There is a movement afoot in our time, a movement which is growing, awakening.
We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for every social injustice,every oppression, 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)
I weep to see such bitter divisions still exist in our country, an echo of over fifty years ago as we fail again and again to learn from past errors.
Here we are, groaning divided once more, walking this Jericho Road together. We cannot pass by our brother, our sister, our child~ anyone who lies dying in the ditch. We must stop and help.
The world asks only for the strength we have and so we give it, but then we are asked to give more and so we will.
We must illuminate the advance of darkness even when, blinded as we are, we run forehead-first into the Tree which has always been there and always will be because of who we are and Who loves us.
It could be you or me bleeding, beaten, abandoned, dying until Someone takes our place so we can get up, free and forgiven, and walk Home.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
…the sudden angel affrighted me––light effacing my feeble beam, a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying: …as that hand of fire touched my lips and scorched by tongue and pulled by voice into the ring of the dance. ~Denise Levertov from “Caedmon” in Breathing the Water
Unless the eye catch fire, Then God will not be seen. Unless the ear catch fire Then God will not be heard. Unless the tongue catch fire Then God will not be named. Unless the heart catch fire, Then God will not be loved. Unless the mind catch fire, Then God will not be known. ~William Blake from “Pentecost”
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. Yours are the only hands with which he can do his work. yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world. Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. ~Teresa of Avila
Today, when we feel we are without hope, when the bent world reels with a troubled sickness of shedding blood and spreading violence, when faith feels frail, when love seems distant, we wait, stilled, for the moment we ourselves – not our cities – are lit afire ~ when the Living God is seen, heard, named, loved, known forever burning in our hearts deep down, brooded over by His bright wings~ we are His dearest, His freshest deep down things, in this moment and for eternity.
What stood will stand, though all be fallen, The good return that time has stolen. Though creatures groan in misery, Their flesh prefigures liberty To end travail and bring to birth Their new perfection in new earth. At word of that enlivening Let the trees of the woods all sing And every field rejoice, let praise Rise up out of the ground like grass. What stood, whole in every piecemeal Thing that stood, will stand though all Fall–field and woods and all in them Rejoin the primal Sabbath’s hymn. ~Wendell Berry, from “Sabbaths” (North Point Press, 1987).
We live in a time where the groaning need anddividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized…
Yet this terrific human need and burden of the times causes us to see how weak and powerless we are to change this. Then we must see that if we are to advocate change, we must start with ourselves. We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for social injustice, oppression, and the downgrading of others, whether personal or on a broader plane. We must see that a revolution must take place against all that destroys life. This revolution must become a revolution different from any the world has ever seen. God must intervene and lead such a revolution with his Spirit and his justice and his truth. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8: 22-26
We are groaning in anticipation of what might come next – so many ill, so many lost. What can we make of this, how can we make sense of it?
We could groan together in the hard labor of birthing a newly unified people all facing the same viral enemy. Instead we groan angry and bitter, irritable with one another, wanting to find someone else, anything to blame for our misery.
God willingly pulls our groanings onto Himself and out of us. He understands even when we are too inarticulate to form the words we want Him to hear.
We must cling tenaciously to the mystery of God’s magnetism for our weakness and suffering and allow His healing us to begin.
By His Spirit we will be forever changed and our groanings will be no more.
Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection.
If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.
They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.
Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die? ~C.S. Lewis- Mere Christianity
As society becomes more divided about how to manage continued COVID pandemic spread with new long-term medical complications among young and old — I wonder what is it that is truly infecting us aside from a tiny packet of RNA?
We are willing to believe almost anything without verification if it suits our previously held viewpoints; we can’t discern truth from fiction if it appears in a youtube video or a clickable headline.
The forces of evil are using a virus to divide and conquer good and well- meaning people who become infected without realizing it, spreading a contagion of suspicion, distrust and conspiracy theories.
Out of caution, as I’ve done for forty years inside the walls of my clinic, I now glove and mask outside the clinic to prevent me from inadvertently infecting others. Just as it has been during my whole professional career, taking those precautions doesn’t infringe on my rights nor does it harm me. It simply shows my careful consideration for others around me. Yet, more than ever, I am unwillingly exposed to the sad reality of this fallen fragile world through the angry words and deeds of others.
Instead, I want to be infected and contagious with the reality of God. I seek out the life-saving vaccination of God’s Word: eternal, unchanging and 100% effective.
If I’m to be contagious to others, let it be because I’m overwhelmed with the Spirit, not dangling helplessly by a mere thread in a pandemic spread of suspicion and distrust.
I remember my grandfather as a somber quiet man who used to slowly rock in a wooden chair that now sits empty in our house.
Not too long before, my Grandpa drank heavily but he wasn’t just any drunk. He was a mean drunk. Surly, cursing, prone to throwing things and people, especially at home.
Grandma used to say he learned to drink in the logging camps and I suspect that is true. He started working as a logger before he was fully grown, dropping out of school, leaving home around age sixteen and heading up to the hills where real money could be made. He learned more than how to cut down huge old growth Douglas Fir trees, skid them down the hills using a team of horses, and then roll them onto waiting wagons to be hauled to the mills. He learned how to live with a group of men who surfaced once or twice a month from the hills to take a bath and maybe go to church with their womenfolk. Mostly he learned how to curse and drink.
He headed home to the farm with muscles and attitude a few years later, and started the process of felling trees there, creating a “stump farm” that was a challenge to work because huge stumps dotted the fields and hills. He slowly worked at blasting them out of the ground so the land could be tilled. It proved more than he had strength and motivation to do, so his fields were never very fruitful, mostly growing hay for his own animals. He went to work in the local saw mill to make ends meet.
He cleaned up some when he met my grandmother, who at eighteen was twelve years younger, and eager to escape her role as chief cook and bottle washer for her widowed father and younger brother. She was devout, lively and full of energy and talked constantly while he, especially when sober, preferred to let others do the talking. It was an unusual match but he liked her cooking and she was ready to escape the drudgery of her father’s household and be wooed.
They settled on the stump farm and began raising a family, trying to eke out what living they could from the land, from the sporadic work he found at the saw mill, and every Sunday, took the wagon a mile down the road to the Bible Church where they both sang with gusto.
He still drank when he had the money, blowing his pay in the local tavern, and stumbling in the back door roaring and burping, falling into bed with his shoes on. Grandma was a teetotaler and yelled into his ruddy face about the wrath of God anytime he drank, their four children hiding when the dishes started to fly, and when he would whip off his belt to hit anyone who looked sideways at him.
When their eldest daughter took sick and died quickly of lymphoma at age eight despite the little doctoring that was available, Grandpa got sober for awhile. He saw it as punishment from God, or at least that is what Grandma told him through her sobs as she struggled to cope with her loss.
Over the years, he relapsed many times, losing fingers in his work at the mill, and losing the respect of his wife, his children and the people in the community. Grandma left with the kids for several months to cook in a boarding house in a neighboring town, simply to be able to feed her family while Grandpa squandered what he had on drink. Reconciled over and over again, Grandma would come back to him, sending their growing son to fetch him from the tavern for the night. My Dad would bicycle to that dark and smoky place, stand Grandpa up and guide him staggering out to their truck for the weaving drive home on country roads. On more than one occasion, Grandpa, belligerent as ever, would resist leaving and throw a punch at his boy, usually missing by a mile.
But once the boy grew taller and strong enough to fight back, managing to knock Grandpa to the ground in self-defense, the punching and resistance stopped. The boozing didn’t.
Grandpa sobered up for good while his boy fought in the war overseas in the forties, striking a bargain with God that his boy would come home safe as long as Grandpa left alcohol alone. It stuck and he stayed sober. His boy came home. Grandpa saw it as a promise kept and became an elder in his Bible Church, taught Sunday School and gave his extra cash to the church rather than the tavern.
Sitting in a Christmas Sunday School program one Christmas Eve, Grandpa leaned toward Grandma and she noticed his face broken out in sweat, his face ashen.
“It’s hot in here, “ he said and collapsed in her lap. He was gone, just like that, and he left the rest of his family behind while sitting in church, sober as can be, on the day before Christmas.
Finally everlastingly forgiven, he headed one more time, not weaving or swerving but on the straight and narrow, home.