Contorted by wind, mere armatures for ice or snow, the trees resolve to endure for now,
they will leaf out in April. And I must be as patient as the trees— a winter resolution
I break all over again, as the cold presses its sharp blade against my throat. ~Linda Pastan “January”from The Months
A year has come to us as though out of hiding It has arrived from an unknown distance From beyond the visions of the old Everyone waited for it by the wrong roads And it is hard for us now to be sure it is here A stranger to nothing In our hiding places ~W. S. Merwin “Early January” from The Lice
January can be a rough month for most of us: the beginning-of-winter doldrums can be fierce after the hubbub of holidays. It doesn’t help the new year I hoped for is nothing like the unfamiliar road I find myself following – full of twists and turns and switchbacks, as well as being stalled at times, iced firmly in place, a stranger to myself.
So resolutions have been set aside, travel plans postponed, priorities changed; what I need most is the patience to endure, trusting things do change over time, like the seasons.
Winter will not last forever. I will, like the bare trees around me, leaf out again.
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I don’t know why it made me happy to see the pond ice over in a day, turning first hazy, then white. Or why I was glad when the thermometre read twenty-four below, and I came back to bed – the pillows cold, as if I had not been there two minutes before. ~Jane Kenyon “The Cold”
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? Matthew 25:44
A jay settled on a branch, making it sway. The one shriveled fruit that remained gave way to the deepening drift below. I happened to see it the moment it fell. . Dusk is eager and comes early. A car creeps over the hill. Still in the dark I try to tell if I am numbered with the damned, who cry, outraged, Lord, when did we see You? ~Jane Kenyon “Apple Dropping Into Deep Early Snow”
I have reservoirs of want enough to freeze many nights over. ~Conor O’Callaghan from “January Drought”
Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice. ~Robert Frost “Fire and Ice”
How sad to think we have a choice of destruction – between the ashes of a cataclysmic fire or the frozen immobility of a block of ice with breath trapped in bubbles rather than lungs.
There is nothing left from charred remains nor can life exist in a safe suspension awaiting melt.
How outrageous we forget – others matter to God, He who embodies the least of these: the hungry, the thirsty, the ill, the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned.
We’re called to thaw without scorching, give ourselves without resentment, find God present even when we wish to hide from him.
May it be we breathe deeply when the ice around us melts.
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I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.” ~Danusha Laméris “Small Kindnesses”
There is true holiness in moments of kindness: I notice it now more than ever. I am given infinite daily opportunities to show kindness to others and when I’m preoccupied, too inside my own head, or feeling too injured myself, I usually walk by without even trying.
Yet when kindness is shown to me, I don’t forget it – it permeates me like a homespun apple pie fragrance that lingers around me, comforting and welcoming me home when I feel alone and a stranger in the world.
I remember all the kindnesses shown to me over the years and always carry them with me. When I have an opportunity in a brief encounter to show kindness, I want to help make someone else feel noticed and special. I want them feel like they belong, right in that moment.
This daily sharing of words and photos is one way I try to give back what I have been gifted over the years. During the two or three minutes of someone looking at what I offer here daily, I want you to know:
you belong here I am forever grateful for you your words enrich me with your gift of kindness.
Thank you for being here.
(today I am sharing all the different stages of one special hydrangea bush on our farm)
Every time you leave home, Another road takes you Into a world you were never in.
New strangers on other paths await. New places that have never seen you Will startle a little at your entry. Old places that know you well Will pretend nothing Changed since your last visit.
When you travel, you find yourself Alone in a different way, More attentive now To the self you bring along, Your more subtle eye watching You abroad; and how what meets you Touches that part of the heart That lies low at home:
How you unexpectedly attune To the timbre in some voice, Opening in conversation You want to take in To where your longing Has pressed hard enough Inward, on some unsaid dark, To create a crystal of insight You could not have known You needed To illuminate Your way.
When you travel, A new silence Goes with you, And if you listen, You will hear What your heart would Love to say.
A journey can become a sacred thing: Make sure, before you go, To take the time To bless your going forth, To free your heart of ballast So that the compass of your soul Might direct you toward The territories of spirit Where you will discover More of your hidden life, And the urgencies That deserve to claim you.
May you travel in an awakened way, Gathered wisely into your inner ground; That you may not waste the invitations Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed, And live your time away to its fullest; Return home more enriched, and free To balance the gift of days which call you. ~ John O’Donohue from To Bless The Space Between Us
We are out of the habit of traveling after remaining home for over a year waiting out the pandemic. So a two-day road trip to visit a grandchild takes on nearly mythic proportions: all senses on alert – wondering at new sights and sounds and smells, traveling in “an awakened way.”
One doesn’t have to journey beyond borders to feel like the “other” – a grocery store in rural Wyoming can seem just as foreign when we are perceived as the strangers by our appearance. Clearly we were “out of towners” – driving a Japanese-made hybrid sedan, not a F150 pickup, wearing Keen shoes, not cowboy boots, wearing COVID masks even though fully vaccinated out of respect for others while everyone else is unmasked and clearly suspicious of our apparent “virtual signaling.”
When others see me as a stranger, I in turn see myself differently when I’m not at home. Out “there,” I am seen as a gray-haired senior citizen who isn’t completely comfortable with where I am going or where I’ve been; nothing is familiar so I am slightly disoriented and unsure of myself and what might happen next.
At home, I’m still young in my head if not considerably older and fluffier in body, usually confident about what will happen next in my day. Traveling takes me out of myself and my precious routine, picks me up and puts me where I don’t expect to be. I’m transformed and enlightened even when feeling a bit out of time and place.
It is a good thing to see oneself with different eyes and not always know what will happen next. An adventure around every corner is just fine for a week or so. But coming home from a journey is the truest gift. I look to the east and to the west on our rural country road and think about who and what lies beyond our farm on a hill, knowing that I’m always better for having ventured out to see what I could see.
And even better for having this place to come home to.
A new book from Barnstorming – more information here:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10: 30-37
No parable is as well known in secular circles as that of the good Samaritan – it has become law, under that very name, to protect those who would stop to help someone who is injured or needs assistance, without fear of legal reprisal.
That isn’t exactly why the Good Samaritan story was told: the purpose was not to promote legal protection for the helper, who needed no such protection. It was to point out that the only one to bother to help was someone who was “other” – someone from Samaria of all places. Someone of different ethnicity, from a different culture, having different beliefs, worshipping a God in a way considered “corrupted” – this was the person to show compassion, to give richly of himself: his time, his money, his care, his mercy. He was the neighbor and friend to the man lying beaten and robbed alongside the road, not the ones who might well have lived next door or who worked in the temple, or who looked like and believed as he did.
As Mr. Rogers once wrote: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
Sadly, in this day and age, we have far too many opportunities to recognize the helpers who will assist anyone, no matter who they are, the color of their skin or what they believe.
What a comfort that is!
May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.