Born Out of Nothing

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings
was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.
~Li-Young Lee “One Heart”

I.
What banged?

II.
Before banging
How did it get there?

III.
When it got there
Where was it?
~Wendell Berry “On the Theory of the Big Bang as the Origin of the Universe” from Leavings

Creation ex nihilo is a way of saying that although we are nothing, in our natural capabilities, God might yet make something of us…
~Dr. Nathan Chambers from Reconsidering Creation Ex Nihilo in Genesis 1

“In the beginning, God…”

We came, out of nothing, from Him, not randomly, not by chance, not a cosmic accident but an intentional act.

That first day -“and there was evening and there was morning, the first day” – is built within our very DNA. We are created with everything we need to support our freedom, our wings bearing our hearts aloft.

Our choice to fall is ours alone; it was not what God intended for us.

From nothing, God might yet make something of us – let our wings bear our hearts to Him who made us.

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His hand

~Michael Joncas

Everything Dies Too Soon

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~Mary Oliver from “A Summer Day”

It doesn’t take much to remind me
what a mayfly I am,
what a soap bubble floating over the children’s party.

Standing under the bones of a dinosaur
in a museum does the trick every time
or confronting in a vitrine a rock from the moon…

And the realization that no one
who ever breasted the waters of time
has figured out a way to avoid dying

always pulls me up by the reins and settles me down
by a roadside, grateful for the sweet weeds
and the mouthfuls of colorful wild flowers.

~Billy Collins from “Memento Mori“

I’m reminded daily of how short our time on earth is – the evidence is everywhere. Yesterday it was the stark finality of discovering a beetle-cleaned bighorn sheep skull in the woods, in addition to the bold reality of a black bear paw print on the car sitting next to our cabin.

Each day I receive an email from the local hospital where I’ve had clinical privileges for 35 years – it innumerates the number of admitted COVID-19 cases and deaths, the number of ICU beds filled and the number of ventilators in use. Reading those numbers is like scanning the obituaries for names and ages and causes of death in the newspaper, the only consistent thing I read in the paper anymore. The deaths are reported dispassionately, as if they are inevitable, which they are, yet each happens too soon.

Much too soon.

So the admonition is to pay attention to each living thing and witness each moment, falling onto the grass in worship of this “wild and precious life” I’ve been given rather than dwell on the future when I’ll be buried under the grass.

I shall celebrate being a consumer of this precious life, overjoyed by these sweet weeds and colorful wildflowers. There is still much that awaits me on this earth before, inevitably, I too become the consumed.

Wave Follows Wave

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Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver from The Swan

 

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This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Swan”

 

 

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This is the time of year when we look at making changes in how we live our lives. We want to start fresh as the calendar turns over; we want to become “new” too.  Maybe it is giving up an old destructive habit or adopting a new healthier routine, but it means giving up something familiar and becoming uncomfortable, at least for a while.

I seek out the graceful gliding part of life and not the lumbering awkward part.  I’d like to say I live out equal measures of both, but I don’t – I’m lumbering and awkward too much of the time due to my own choices.   It is difficult to navigate the waves of life when in “lumbering” and “laboring” mode, as wave follows wave, some gentle and lapping, others overwhelming and crashing.

I know what grace looks and feels like,  floating atop whatever wave hits me, to stay on the surface and not get soaked through.

I pray that whatever comes, this stretching light over the waves, will fill me with its beauty and grant me grace to glide.

 

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My Heart in Hiding

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High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins from  “The Windhover – For Christ Our Lord”

 

 

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And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver from “The Swan”

 

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I hold my heart in hiding, trying to protect that tender core of who I am from being pierced and shredded by the slings and arrows of every day life.

Yet to live fully as I am created to live, I must fling myself into the open, wimpling wings spread, the wind holding me up hovering.  I must change my life as the wind changes.

I take my chances, knowing the fall has come.  My wounds shall be healed, even as they bleed.

There is no wonder of it.  So stirred. So much beauty to behold.

Ah…  Ah, my dear.

 

 

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A Stretching Light

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Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver from “Swan”

 

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This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Swan”

 

And could it be that I too,
awkward and lumbering through my days
may glide and soar when afloat or aloft.Could it be there is beauty hidden away and within
until I change how I look at life,
how I move in the air that I’m given to breathe
and how I am stretched by the Light that illuminates me?
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But now they drift on the still water,   
Mysterious, beautiful;   
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day   
To find they have flown away?
~William Butler Years from “The Wild Swans at Coole”
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Between Midnight and Dawn: Blowing Open My Heart

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photo by Gilbert Lennox, Ireland

 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:  If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
1 John 3: 18-20

 

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
~Seamus Heaney “Postscript” from The Spirit Level

 

…they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
~James Wright from “The Blessing”

 

‘Tis strange that death
should sing.
I am the cygnet to this pale faint swan,
Who chants a doleful hymn to his own death,
And from the organ-pipe of frailty sings
His soul and body to their lasting rest.
~William Shakespeare from “King John”

 

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,   
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   
Trod with a lighter tread.
~William Butler Yeats from “The Wild Swans at Coole”
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Working outside before the sun was up on a recent rainy morning,  I heard overhead the swishing hush of wings in flight and the trumpeter swan doleful hymn called out as dozens passed above me in a long meandering line against the early dawn grayness.

The swan flocks predictably arrive here in late autumn to eat their fill, feasting in the harvested cornfields surrounding our farm, their bright white plumage a stark contrast to the dulling muddy soil.  In mild winters, they tend to stick around awhile, but soon they will lift their long graceful necks and fan out their wings to be picked up the wind, leaving us behind and beneath, moving on to their next feeding and breeding grounds.

These incredible creatures bring such joy with their annual arrival and brief stay, their leave-taking a metaphor for this dying time of year, reminding me once again nothing on earth can last, that God is greater than our earthly hearts.

“‘Tis strange that death should sing…” but in fact,  ’tis strange that death should fly in and out on silken wings.

I give myself over to their beauty, and walk with lighter tread, singing a new song:
I am grateful my sore heart still soars beyond this soil.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

 

All’s Changed

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The trees are in their autumn beauty,   
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water   
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones   
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me   
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings   
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,   
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;   
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,   
Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,   
Mysterious, beautiful;   
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day   
To find they have flown away?
~William Butler Yeats “The Wild Swans at Coole”
All’s changed
yet even though
my pace has slowed
from younger days,
my heart still sings
of such mysterious beauty
beheld
when I no longer
need to hurry.
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Awaiting His Arrival: From Silence to Time Suspended

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 Immediately his (Zechariah’s) mouth was opened and his tongue set free,
and he began to speak, praising God:
because of the tender mercy of our God,

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

~Luke 1: 64, 78-79

 

Upon the darkish, thin, half-broken ice
There seemed to lie a barrel-sized, heart-shaped snowball,
Frozen hard, its white
identical with the untrodden white
of the lake shore. Closer, its somber face—
Mask and beak—came clear, the neck’s
Long cylinder, and the splayed feet, balanced,
Weary, immobile. Black water traced, behind it,
An abandoned gesture. Soft in still air, snowflakes
Fell and fell. Silence
Deepened, deepened. The short day
Suspended itself, endless.
~Denise Levertov “Swan in Falling Snow”

And we are silenced too by our questioning the motives of God, by trying to be God ourselves, and so sit suspended, immobile, in the darkening quiet, waiting, waiting.
We are met by the tender mercy of His light illuminating our deepening, raised to the eternal, suspended, forgiven endlessly.

 

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Twilight Mirrors

swantokyo4Swan photos taken in late afternoon light in a moat in downtown Tokyo, Japan, with reflection of the surrounding highrise buildings coloring the water

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Oh cracked and twilight mirrors ever to catch
One color, one glinting flash, of the splendor of things…
At least
Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
Hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.
~Robinson Jeffers from “Love the Wild Swan”
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But now they drift on the still water,   
Mysterious, beautiful;   
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day   
To find they have flown away?
~William Butler Years from “The Wild Swans at Coole”
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The Stretching Light

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Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver from “The Swan”

This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Swan”