From the place where we are right Flowers will never grow In the spring.
The place where we are right Is hard and trampled Like a yard.
But doubts and loves Dig up the world Like a mole, a plow. And a whisper will be heard in the place Where the ruined House once stood. ~Yehuda Amichai “The Place Where We Are RIght” from A Touch of Grace
Sometimes I am so certain I am right, remaining firm in my convictions no matter what. Yet when there is no movement, the ground beneath my feet hardens with my stubborn trampling. Nothing new can grow without my crushing it underfoot; any possibility becomes impossible.
Sometimes I harbor doubts and uncertainties, digging and churning up the ground upon which I stand. When things are turned over, again and again, new weeds and seeds will take root. Sorting them out becomes my challenge, determining what to nurture and what is worthless.
As I look ahead to this coming week, treading the familiar ground of the events of Holy Week, I cannot help but question and wonder: how can this impossible Love save those, who like me, feel dry and hard and devoid of possibility or who unwittingly allow weeds to proliferate?
Then I hear it, like a whisper. Yes, it is true. Loved despite sometimes being hard ground, or growing weeds or lying fallow as a rocky path.
I too will rise again from the ruins. I too will arise.
The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal. ~C.S. Lewis from A Grief Observed
For thus says the LORD of hosts, Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. Haggai 2:6-7
She recognizes its crest in the way he looks at her. The wave is as vast as the roiling mass in the Japanese Print they had paused in front of at the museum, Capped with ringlets of foam, all surging sinew. That little village along the shore would be Totally lost. There is no escaping this. The wave is flooding his heart, And he is sending the flood Her way. It rushes Over her.
In March 2012, we stayed with our friends Brian and Bette Vander Haak at their cabin on a bluff just above the beach at Sendai, Japan, just a few dozen feet above the devastation that wiped out an entire fishing village below during the 3/11/11 earthquake and tsunami. We walked that stretch of beach, learning of the stories of the people who had lived there, some of whom did not survive the waves that swept their houses and cars away before they could escape. We walked past the footprints of foundations of hundreds of demolished homes, humbled by the rubble mountains yet to be hauled away to be burned or buried and scanned acres of wrecked vehicles now piled one on another, waiting to become scrap metal. It was visual evidence of life suddenly and unexpectedly disrupted.
This was a place of recreation and respite for some who visited regularly, commerce and livelihood for others who stayed year round and then, in ongoing recovery efforts, was struggling to be restored to something familiar. Yet it looked like a foreign ghostly landscape. Even many trees perished, lost, broken off, fish nets still stuck high on their scarred trunks. There were small memorials to lost family members within some home foundations, with stuffed animals and flowers wilted from the recent anniversary observance.
It was a powerful place of memories for those who lived there and knew what it once was, how it once looked and felt, and painfully, what it became in a matter of minutes on 3/11. The waves swept in inexplicable suffering, then carried their former lives away. Happiness gave ground to such terrible pain. It could never have hurt as much without the joy that preceded it.
We want to ask God why He doesn’t do something about the suffering that happens anywhere a disaster occurs –but if we do, He will ask us the same question right back: why don’t you do something about the suffering you see around you?
We need to be ready with our answer and our action.
God knows suffering, far more than we do. He took it all on Himself, feeling His pain amplified, as it was borne out of His love and joy in His creation.
Now ten years later, on March 11, beautiful Tohoku and Sendai, and its dedicated survivors have mostly recovered, but their inner and outer landscape is forever altered. What remains the same is the tempo of the waves, the tides, and the rhythm of the light and the night, happening just as originally created.
In that realization, our pain gives way as God soars above the storm. Pain cannot stand up to His love, His joy, and His sacrifice on our behalf.
Hide me now Under Your wings Cover me Within Your mighty hand
When the oceans rise and thunders roar I will soar with You above the storm Father, you are King over the flood I will be still, know You are God
Find rest, my soul In Christ alone Know His power In quietness and trust
There’s a certain Slant of light On winter afternoons — That oppresses, like the Heft of cathedral tunes. When it comes, the Landscape listens — Shadows hold their breath — When it goes, ’tis like the Distance On the look of Death. ~Emily Dickinson
How valuable it is in these short days, threading through empty maple branches, the lacy-needled sugar pines.
Its glint off sheets of ice tells the story of Death’s brightness, her bitter cold.
We can make do with so little, just the hint of warmth, the slanted light... ~Molly Fisk, “Winter Sun” from The More Difficult Beauty
Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth’s superb surprise As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind — ~Emily Dickinson
I like the slants of light; I’m a collector. That’s a good one, I say… ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
During our northwest winters, there is usually so little sunlight on gray cloudy days that I routinely turn on the two light bulbs in the big hay barn any time I need to fetch hay bales for the horses. This is so I avoid falling into the holes that inevitably develop in the hay stack between bales. Winter murky lighting tends to hide the dark shadows of the leg-swallowing pits among the bales, something that is particularly hazardous when carrying a 60 pound hay bale.
Yesterday when I went to grab hay bales for the horses at sunset, before I flipped the light switch, I could see light already blazing in the big barn. The last of the day’s sun rays were at a precise winter slant, streaming through the barn slat openings, ricocheting off the roof timbers onto the bales, casting an almost fiery glow onto the hay. The barn was ignited and ablaze without fire and smoke — the last things one would even want in a hay barn.
I scrambled among the bales without worry.
In my life outside the barn I’ve been falling into more than my share of dark holes lately. Even when I know where they lie and how deep they are, some days I will manage to step right in anyway. Each time it knocks the breath out of me, makes me cry out, makes me want to quit trying to lift the heavy loads. It leaves me fearful to venture where the footing is uncertain.
Then, on the darkest of days, light comes from the most unexpected of places, blazing a trail to help me see where to step, what to avoid, how to navigate the hazards to avoid collapsing on my face. I’m redirected, inspired anew, granted grace, gratefully calmed and comforted amid my fears. Even though the light fades, and the darkness descends again, it is only until tomorrow. Then it reignites again.
There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. ~Will Rogers
Learning is a universal human experience from the moment we take our first breath. It is never finished until the last breath is given up. With a lifetime of learning, one would think eventually we should get it right.
But we don’t. We tend to learn the hard way especially when it comes to matters having to do with our (or others’) health.
As physicians in training, we “see one, do one, teach one.” That kind of approach doesn’t always go so well for the patient. As patients, we like to eat, drink, and live how we wish, demanding what interventions we want only when we want them – this also doesn’t go so well for the patient. You’d think we’d know better, but as fallible human beings, we may impulsively make decisions about our health without actually using our heads (is it evidence-based or simply an anecdotal story about what “worked” for someone else?).
The cows and horses on our farm need to touch an electric fence only once when reaching for greener grass on the other side. That moment provides a sufficient learning curve for them to make an important decision. They won’t try testing it again no matter how alluring the world appears on the other side. Humans are smarter sentient beings who should learn as quickly as animals but unfortunately don’t. I know all too well what a shock feels like and I want to avoid repeating that experience. Even so, in unguarded careless moments of feeling invulnerable (it can’t happen to me!), and yearning to have what I don’t necessarily need, I may find myself reaching for the greener grass (or another cookie) even though I know better. I suspect I’m not alone in my surprise when I’m jolted back to reality when I continually indulge myself and climb on the scale to see the results.
Many great minds have worked out various theories of effective learning, but, great mind or not, Will Rogers confirms a common sense suspicion: an adverse experience, like a “bolt out of the blue,” can be a powerful teacher. As clinicians, we call it “a teachable moment.” None of us want to experience a teachable moment — none of us, and we resent it when someone points it out to us.
When physicians and patients learn the hard way, we need to come along aside one another rather than work at cross-purposes.
From the tawny light from the rainy nights from the imagination finding itself and more than itself alone and more than alone at the bottom of the well where the moon lives, can you pull me
into December? a lowland of space, perception of space towering of shadows of clouds blown upon clouds over new ground, new made under heavy December footsteps? the only way to live?
The flawed moon acts on the truth, and makes an autumn of tentative silences. You lived, but somewhere else, your presence touched others, ring upon ring, and changed. Did you think I would not change?
The black moon turns away, its work done. A tenderness, unspoken autumn. We are faithful only to the imagination. What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth. What holds you to what you see of me is that grasp alone. ~Denise Levertov “Everything that Acts is Actual”
Within these days of early winter is disappearance of our familiar world, of all that grows and thrives, of new life and freshness, of hope slipping away in a scurry for survival.
Then there comes this moment of softness amid the bleak, a gift of grace and beauty, a glance of sunlight on a snowy hillside, a covering of low misty puffs in the valley, a moon lit landscape, a startling sunrise, clouds upon clouds and then I know the actual world is seized with Your Truth because You have grasped hold of it and won’t let go.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. John 1:9-10
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.
“Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” “A great Shadow has departed…”
And is it true? And is it true, This most tremendous tale of all, Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue, A Baby in an ox’s stall? The Maker of the stars and sea Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true? For if it is, No loving fingers tying strings Around those tissued fripperies, The sweet and silly Christmas things, Bath salts and inexpensive scent And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells, No caroling in frosty air, Nor all the steeple-shaking bells Can with this single Truth compare – That God was man in Palestine And lives today in Bread and Wine. ~John Betjeman from “Christmas”
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us O long-sought With-ness for a world without, O secret seed, O hidden spring of light. Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame, O quickened little wick so tightly curled, Be folded with us into time and place, Unfold for us the mystery of grace And make a womb of all this wounded world. O heart of heaven beating in the earth, O tiny hope within our hopelessness Come to be born, to bear us to our birth, To touch a dying world with new-made hands And make these rags of time our swaddling bands. ~Malcolm Guite “O Emmanuel”
The holiest of all holidays are those Kept by ourselves in silence and apart; The secret anniversaries of the heart, When the full river of feeling overflows;— The happy days unclouded to their close; The sudden joys that out of darkness start As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart Like swallows singing down each wind that blows! ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “Holidays”
And is it true?
Is it possible the darkness is set aside by His Light?
His flame springs from ashes, His wick quickened, the shadows banished.
It is true. It is true. The full river of grace overflows.
He is the Truth.
One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem Two for the hands that will rock him to sleep Three for the kings bringing gold, brining myrrh, bringing incense Four for the angels that watch over his bedside Blue for the robe of the sweet Virgin Mary White for the dawn of the first Christmas day Red for the blood that he shed for us all on Good Friday Black for the tomb where he rested ‘till Easter
Lullaby, see Jesus asleep. Angels and shepherds their watch on him keep Lullaby he soon will awake for the oxen are stirring and morning with break
One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem Two for the hands that will rock him to sleep Three for the kings bringing gold, brining myrrh, bringing incense Four for the angels that watch over his bedside And one for the heart, one for the heart, One for the heart that I give as my offering to Jesus!
…Christmas will come once again. The great transformation will once again happen. God would have it so. Out of the waiting, hoping, longing world, a world will come in which the promise is given. All crying will be stilled. No tears shall flow. No lonely sorrow shall afflict us anymore, or threaten. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a sermon to a church in Havana, Cuba December 21, 1930
when this blessing comes, take its hand. Get up. Set out on the road you cannot see.
This is the night when you can trust that any direction you go, you will be walking toward the dawn. — Jan Richardson (author of Circle of Grace)
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” ~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings when Samwise Gamgee wakes to find his friends all around him
“The answer is yes. And the answer of the Bible is yes. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue.” ~Pastor Tim Keller’s response in a sermon given in an ecumenical prayer service memorial in Lower Manhattan on the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11.
In our minds, we want to rewind and replay the events of a tragedy in a way that would prevent it from happening in the first place. We want to bring the dead and injured back to health again. The pandemic virus fizzles out on its own, the devastating earthquake becomes a mere tremor, the flooding tsunami is only one foot, not thirty feet tall, the terrorist hijackers are prevented from ever boarding a plane, the shooter changes his mind at the last minute, lays down his arms, disables his booby trap bombs and calls someone for help with his distress and anger.
We want so badly for it all to be untrue, especially the events of this year. The bitter reality of horrendous suffering and sadness daily all over the earth is too much for us to absorb. We plead for relief, beg for a better day.
Our minds may play mental tricks like this, but God does not play tricks. He knows and feels what we do. He too wants to see it rewound and replayed differently. He has known grief and sadness, He has wept, He has suffered, He too died. And because of this, because of a God who came to dwell with us, was broken, died and then rose again whole and holy, we are assured, in His time, everything sad is going to come untrue.
Our tears will be dried, our grief turned to joy, our pain nonexistent, not even a memory. It will be a new day, a better day–as it is written, trustworthy and true.
May it come.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. Revelation 21: 4-5
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
For me it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified. ~Flannery O’Connor in a letter written in 1955
Good is the flesh that the Word has become, good is the birthing, the milk in the breast, good is the feeding, caressing and rest, good is the body for knowing the world, Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Good is the body for knowing the world, sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground, feeling, perceiving, within and around, good is the body, from cradle to grave, Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Good is the body, from cradle to grave, growing and aging, arousing, impaired, happy in clothing, or lovingly bared, good is the pleasure of God in our flesh, Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh, longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell, glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell, good is the body, for good and for God, Good is the flesh that the Word has become. ~Brian Wren Good is the Flesh: Body, Soul, and Christian Faith
The Word was made flesh. This one verse in John is the crux, the heart, the center point of the Gospel. Without God putting on flesh to become like us, He is not one of us. He is fully God and fully man — both.
He comes from the body of a mother, born a baby frail and weak, just like us. He hurts, He thirsts, He hungers, He stumbles, He falls, He weeps. And He dies as we do.
Yet this God, our God, rises again to walk, speak, eat, and be touched so that we too may rise as He does. The Word was made flesh so our flesh, weak and frail though we are, becomes His body glorified.
The word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. We beheld the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth. In the beginning was the Word, The Word was with God. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. He came to his own, and his own received him not.