Every time I turn to peer at my reflection in the mirror,
a cruel bargain comes in play: the glass takes off another day
from my expected living span. It’s vanity’s fair payment plan.
Each time I look I pay, alas. I see already how the glass
has laced its silver in my hair, my youth was stolen unaware.
The real me just fades away, glance by glance, day by day,
until too late I’ll turn to see the mirror has stolen off with me! ~John Thornberg “Stolen Glances”
Reflections sometimes are blurred and not altogether an accurate representation of the real thing.
When I look at how I’ve changed over the years, as I pass by, just catching a glance in the mirror, I marvel at how the same brain and heart can exist in such a changing shell. I am still me, but the mirror seems to be stealing away the girl and young woman that I was.
And it is as it must be: no fountain of youth on this soil.
I tell myself softly, this is how love begins— the air alive with something inconceivable, seeds of every imaginable possibility floating across the wet grasses, under the thin arms of ferns. It drifts like snow or old ash, settling on the dust of the roadways as you and I descend into thickets, flanked by the fragrance of honeysuckle and white primrose.
I recall how my grandmother imagined these wanderers were living beings, some tiny phylum yet to be classified as life. She would say they reminded her of maidens decked in white dresses, waltzing through air. Even after I showed her the pods from which they sprang, blossoming like tiny spiders, she refused to believe.
Now, standing beside you in the crowded autumn haze, I watch them flock, emerge from brittle stalks, bursting upon the world as young lovers do—trysting in the tall grasses, resting fingers lightly in tousled hair. Listen, and you can hear them whisper in the rushes, gazing out at us, wondering— what lives are these? ~Bradford Tice, “Milkweed,” from Rare Earth
We all need to recall the wonder of love – how it forms, how it grows hidden away in a pod of potential until the right moment of emergence.
Then love looks around shyly, wondering at the world it is meant to transform by simply overwhelming it.
I knew you were not poisonous when I saw you in the side garden; even your name—milk snake— sounds harmless, and yet your pattern of copper splotches outlined in black frightened me, and the way you were curled in loops; and it offended me that you were so close to the house and clearly living underneath it if not inside, in the cellar, where I have found your torn shed skins.
You must have been frightened too when I caught you in the webbing of the lacrosse stick and flung you into the woods, where you landed dangling from a vine-covered branch, shamelessly twisted. Now I am the one who is ashamed, unable to untangle my feelings, braided into my DNA or buried deep in the part of my brain that is most like yours. ~Jeffrey Harrison “To a Snake” from Into Daylight.
Cast off on a sunny spring day onto a warm manure pile, a wriggled-free fresh snakeskin, almost covered by my fresh load~ lay blended with old hay, horse hair, shavings, tucked among what is already digested, dumped and discarded.
This, an intact hollowed shadow of a still living creature who has moved on: I too need to leave my old self shrugged off onto the manure pile, shed when it no longer fits the ways I’ve grown more hallowed, a fitting remembrance of my entangled feelings about who I once was, yet now left behind.
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body. ~Walt Whitman from his preface to “Leaves of Grass”
Time, in so many ways, has been standing still for us over the last few months, fueled by an unprecedented quarantine and social isolation. We anticipate “when things return to normal” but the reality is there will be no “normal” for those who have lost jobs and businesses and family members or their own robust health since February.
And now society finds itself in the midst of anger and argument, marching and shouting to defend those who have lived for generations with injustice and oppression, and continue to face that reality every day, and the majority of us were oblivious.
“Normal” holds no appeal when “normal” is living under a tyrant’s thumb or dying under a knee.
So how do we approach a change in seasons as we ourselves are irrevocably changed?
What shall we do?
We are our flesh: all colors, flawed and fragile. We must look beyond the lashes of our eyes to see and understand the fluency of the poetry found in our bodies. We, each one of us, deserve the patience of being heard.
This summer will stand on its own in all its extravagant abundance of light and warmth and growth and color stretching deep within the rising and setting horizons. Each long day will feel like it must last forever, never ending, yet, like the unpredictable length of our fleshy days on earth, it will eventually wind down, spin itself out, darkening gradually into shadow.
That is the “normal” of our existence because summer always, always ends.
Yet another will reappear, somehow, somewhere, someday. The very poetry of our flesh, the very survival of our souls, depends on it. We will then see beyond our own eyelashes.
Surely a never-ending summer is what heaven itself will be. We shall all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye…
God keep my jewel this day from danger; From tinker and pooka and bad-hearted stranger. From harm of the water, from hurt of the fire. From the horns of the cows going home to the byre. From the sight of the fairies that maybe might change her. From teasing the ass when he’s tied to the manger. From stones that would bruise her, from thorns of the briar. From evil red berries that wake her desire. From hunting the gander and vexing the goat. From the depths o’ sea water by Danny’s old boat. From cut and from tumble, from sickness and weeping; May God have my jewel this day in his keeping. ~Winifred Lett (1882-1973) Prayer for a Child
This prayer has hung in our home for almost three decades, purchased when I was pregnant with our first child. When I first saw it with its drawing of the praying mother watching her toddler leave the safety of the home to explore the wide world, I knew it addressed most of my worries as a new mother, in language that helped me smile at my often irrational fears. I would glance at it dozens of time a day, and it would remind me of God’s care for our children through every scary thing, real or imagined.
And I continue to pray for our grown children, their spouses, and now for three precious grandchildren who live far from us. I do this because I can’t help myself but do it, and because I’m helpless without the care and compassion of our sovereign God.
Right now, this week, I pray for all children who are growing up in an increasingly divisive and conflicted world, who cannot understand why skin color should make a difference to one’s hopes and dreams and freedom to walk anywhere without feeling threatened.
May I be changed in my prayers. May we all be changed, in a twinkling of an eye.
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God — it changes me. ~C.S. Lewis
April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water.
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. ~T.S. Eliot from “The Wasteland“
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2
We do not want to think of ourselves as the dust we were and the dust we will become but the last several months have changed that. We have become hosts to a virus that can transform us to dust.
We thought we were living fully before; now, in our isolation, we have to examine what a full life really means, mixing our memories and desires.
Dust, like the relentless emerging life of April, is so cruel~ it reminds us of what could have been, as life rises miraculous from the dead.
We become nothing more than a handful of dust… yet the Creator lifts us up in the palm of His hand, and blows on us: we then breathe and pulse and weep and bleed.
We shall be like Him, part of his Hand, breath of His breath, for we shall see Him as He is.
There is a fragrance in the air, a certain passage of a song, an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book, the sound of somebody’s voice in the hall that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears. Who can say when or how it will be that something easters up out of the dimness to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?
God himself does not give answers. He gives himself. ~Frederick Buechner from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale
“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.” ― Gerard Manley Hopkinsfrom “The Wreck of the Deutschland”
All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. ~William Butler Yeats from “Easter, 1916”
It has been a slow coming of spring this year, seeming in no hurry whatsoever as we all shelter in place, isolated and lonesome for one another.
Snow remains in the foothills and the greening of the fields has only begun. The flowering plum and cherry trees finally have burst into bloom despite a continued chill. It feels like winter at night yet the perfumed air of spring now permeates the day.
Such extreme variability is disorienting when we are desperate for something – anything – that feels routine and normal. It is almost like standing blinded in a spotlight in a darkened room.
This is exactly what eastering is like. It is awakening out of a restless sleep, opening a door to let in fresh air, and the stone that locked us in the dark rolled back.
Overnight all has changed, changed utterly. We, who have been wintering and weathered, weary and withered, are transformed by the Light.
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. ~C.S.Lewis from Mere Christianity
There is certain comfort in incubating in the nest, snuggled warm under a fluffy breast, satisfied with the status quo. I tend toward perpetual nesting myself, preferring home to travel, too easily contented with the familiar rather than stretching into uncharted territory.
But eventually the unhatched egg gets the boot, even by its parents. When there are no signs of life, no twitches and wiggles and movement inside, it is doomed to rot.
And we all know nothing is worse than a rotten egg. Nothing.
So it is up to us: we must chip away and crack open our comfy shell, leaving the fragments behind. Feeble, weak and totally dependent on the grace of others to feed and protect us, we are freed of the confinement of the sterility of the commonplace and loosed upon an unsuspecting world.
God does not leave us where we are. We are created to fly, the breath of God beneath our wings.
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
I am a breath Of fresh air for you, a change By and by.
Black March I call him Because of his eyes Being like March raindrops On black twigs.
But this friend Whatever new names I give him Is an old friend. He says:
Whatever names you give me I am A breath of fresh air, A change for you. ~Stevie Smith from “Black March”
Suddenly, in the last week, buds are forming everywhere.
From seemingly dead wood that stands cold and dormant in late March, comes new life, returning like an old friend.
Transforming what seems lifeless, as if fresh air has been breathed into a corpse.
What could be more lifeless than a cross piece of timbers built specifically for execution?
Yet life sprung from that death tree, an unexpected and glorious bud, ready to burst into most fragrant blossom.
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
O Deus, ego amo te, O God I love Thee for Thyself Nec amo te ut salves me, and not that I may heaven gain Nec quod qui te non diligent, nor yet that they who love Thee not Æterno igne pereunt. must suffer hell’s eternal pain.
Ex cruces lingo germinat, Out of the bud of the wood of the Cross Qui pectus amor occupant, wherefore hearts’ love embraces Ex pansis unde brachiis, whence out of extended arms Ad te amandum arripes. Amen. you lovingly take us. Amen. ~Prayer of St. Francis Xavier “O Deus Ego Amo Te” 18th Century Traditional