To Live in the Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?


Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:

“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.

I am not done with my changes.
~Stanley Kunitz from “The Layers”

A child is asleep. Her private life unwinds inside skin and skull; only as she sheds childhood, first one decade and then another, can she locate the actual, historical stream, see the setting of her dreaming private life—the nation, the city, the neighborhood, the house where the family lives—as an actual project under way, a project living people willed, and made well or failed, and are still making, herself among them.

I breathed the air of history all unaware, and walked oblivious through its littered layers.
~Annie Dillard from An American Childhood

photo of Wiser Lake and Mt. Baker by Joel de Waard

…we become whole by having the courage to revisit and embrace all the layers of our lives, denying none of them, so that we’re finally able to say, “Yes, all of this is me, and all of this has helped make me who I am.”

When we get to that point, amazingly, we can look at all the layers together and see the beauty of the whole.
~Parker Palmer from “Embracing All the Layers of Your Life” in On Being

My favorite scenes are ones where there are several “layers” to study, whether it is a still life of petals or a deep landscape with a foreground, middle and backdrop. The challenge is to decide where to look first, what to draw into sharp focus, and how to absorb it all as a whole. In fact, if I only see one aspect, I miss the entire point of the composition. It is wonderfully multi-faceted and multi-layered because that is how my own life is – complex with so much diverse and subtle shading.

If I try to suppress some darker part of my own life I wish to forget and blur out, I ignore the beauty of the contrast with the light that illuminates the rest.

The layers reflect who I was created to be as an image-bearer – complex, nuanced, illuminated in the presence of dark.

Beautifully composed and ultimately transformed.

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Buds So Subtle

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I see buds so subtle
they know, though fat, that this is no time to bloom.
~John Updike from “December, Outdoors”

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Yesterday, our farm trees and bushes filled with buds of ice reflecting a bright and crisp Christmas sunlight.  It was a crystalline wonderland celebrating the subtle beauty of winter.

Yet even today at the local grocery store garden centers, there will no longer be buyers for “winter” products — overnight, Christmas completely disappears except for the “remainder” and “two-for-one” tables. Unsold poinsettias and fresh evergreen wreaths are hauled away along with the oddly shaped and drying Christmas trees to make way for containers of unbearably cheerful primroses and early forced narcissus and hyacinth plants.  Barely a week into winter, Valentine’s Day and spring will be right in our faces as we wheel past with the grocery cart, a seductive lure to effectively skip a whole season of restorative watch-and-wait.  Color and fragrance and lush blooms are handed to us without even taking a breather.

Dormant plants and hibernating animals have the right idea this time of year: “already, but not yet.”  Rather than slogging daily through the burden of mud, skittering precariously across icy fields or reaching up out of snow drifts, they quietly rest up.  Well fed and pregnant with potential, they are alive and well beneath a facade of sleep.  Come out too early and risk starvation and frostbite.

So it’s not yet time to bloom — being a subtle bud is exactly what is needed.  Out-of-season blossoms need not apply.

We swell with potential to dream dreams of a glorious growth to come.

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No Time to Bloom

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

I see buds so subtle
they know, though fat, that this is no time to bloom.
~John Updike from “December, Outdoors”

Our local grocery store garden center does not do a brisk business selling buds. There is no market for the subtlety of potential.

Overnight unsold poinsettias and fresh evergreen wreaths were hauled away with the oddly shaped and drying Christmas trees to make way for containers of unbearably cheerful primroses and early forced narcissus and hyacinth plants.  Now just a week into winter, spring is right in our faces as we wheel past with the grocery cart, a seductive lure to effectively skip a whole season of restorative quiet.  Color and fragrance and lush blooms are handed to us without taking a breather and simply waiting a couple months for them.

Dormant plants and hibernating animals have the right idea this time of year.   Rather than slogging daily through the daily burden of mud, skittering precariously across icy pavement or reaching up out of snow drifts, they are staying busy taking a break.  Well fed and pregnant with potential, they remain alive and well beneath a facade of sleep.  Come out too early and risk frostbite.

It’s no time to bloom right now — being a bud is exactly what is needed, no out of season blossoms need apply.
We can stay busy swelling with potential and dreaming dreams of the glorious growth to come.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten