Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. ~ Henri Nouwen
When the slings and arrows are directly aimed at me, hit their mark and open a wound, I can choose to pick at the scab, maybe even cause it to get infected and make the scar worse, or I can marvel I’m still standing, still capable of doing what I do best, and able to fully heal.
I see beauty in recovery and becoming whole again. I see goodness in those who come alongside even if it means they become a target along with me.
Even when my heart bleeds from its inflicted wounds, I choose forgiveness arising from grace and gratitude. I hope I too will be forgiven for any wounds I inflict.
All becomes grace, the gift that never stops giving.
We thought we were the perfect family— loyal, stable, a brick wall you couldn’t topple with a wrecking ball. Parents dependable as the frozen Minute Maid juice we squeezed from cardboard cans and drank mornings, reconstituted.
We’d come to this place just to be together. October in Ogunquit, record heat, no need for the sweaters we’d packed. Dad had died but Mom, in her 80s, sat pouring green tea, our wicker chairs on the small porch, six sets of knees touching.
She didn’t mean to mention Dad’s first wife.
To our collective what? she sputtered lasted a year, before the war, her name: Phyllis. Remember that chest in the basement? It was hers.
Some moments passed, then mutely we agreed to let it go. Radium glowed green in our brains but didn’t burn. The knowing, a relief: We didn’t have to be perfect.
The August-warm wind felt pleasant and odd. We sat on that porch, orange leaves pinwheeling down the street. ~Karen Paul Holmes “Rental Cottage, Maine” from No Such Thing as Distance
Surfacing to the street from a thirty two hour hospital shift usually means my eyes blink mole-like, adjusting to searing daylight after being too long in darkened windowless halls. This particular day is different. As the doors open, I am immersed in a subdued gray Seattle afternoon, with horizontal rain soaking my scrubs.
Finally remembering where I had parked my car in pre-dawn dark the day before, I start the ignition, putting the windshield wipers on full speed. I merge onto the freeway, pinching myself to stay awake long enough to reach my apartment and my pillow.
The freeway is a flowing river current of head and tail lights. Semitrucks toss up tsunami waves cleared briefly by my wipers frantically whacking back and forth.
Just ahead in the lane to my right, a car catches my eye — it looks just like my Dad’s new Buick. I blink to clear my eyes and my mind, switching lanes to get behind. The license plate confirms it is indeed my Dad, oddly 100 miles from home in the middle of the week. I smiled, realizing he and Mom, the best parents ever, have probably planned to surprise me by taking me out for dinner.
I decide to surprise them first, switching lanes to their left and accelerating up alongside. As our cars travel side by side in the downpour, I glance over to my right to see if I can catch my Dad’s eye through streaming side windows. He is looking away to the right at that moment, obviously in conversation. It is then I realize something is amiss. When my Dad looks back at the road, he is smiling in a way I have never seen before. There are arms wrapped around his neck and shoulder, and a woman’s auburn head is snuggled into his chest.
My mother’s hair is gray.
My initial confusion turns instantly to fury. Despite the rivers of rain obscuring their view, I desperately want them to see me. I think about honking, I think about pulling in front of them so my father would know I have seen and I know. I think about ramming them with my car so that we’d perish, unrecognizable, in an explosive storm-soaked mangle.
At that moment, my father glances over at me and our eyes meet across the white line separating us. His face is a mask of betrayal, bewilderment and then shock, and as he tenses, she straightens up and looks at me quizzically.
I can’t bear to look any longer.
I leave them behind, speeding beyond, splashing them with my wake. Every breath burns my lungs and pierces my heart. I can not distinguish whether the rivers obscuring my view are from my eyes or my windshield.
Somehow I made it home to my apartment, my heart still pounding in my ears. The phone rings and remains unanswered.
I throw myself on my bed, bury my wet face in my pillow and pray — for a sleep without dreams, without secrets, without lies, without the burden of knowing the truth I alone now knew and wished I didn’t.
What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs, And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. ~W.H. Davies “Leisure”
This would be a poor life indeed if we didn’t take time to stand and stare at all that is displayed before us – whether it is the golden cast at the beginning and endings of the days, the light dancing in streams and stars or simply staring at God’s creatures staring back at us.
People living in mighty cities may have more gratifying professional challenges, or greater earning potential, or experience the latest and greatest opportunities for entertainment. But they don’t have these sunrises and sunsets and hours of contentment as we watch time pass unclaimed and unencumbered.
Oh give me a home where the Haflingers roam, where the deer and the corgi dogs play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day…
Here, on this surge of hill, I find myself not as I am or will be or once was, not as the measure of days defines my soul; beyond all that a being of breath and bone, partaker of wind and sun and air and earth, I stand on the surge of hill and know myself Below, the stars sink landward, and above I breathe with their slow glimmer; fields are gone, the woods are fallen into the speechless dark; no claim, no voice, no motion, no demand. It is alone we end then and alone we go, creatures of solitary light; the finger of truth is laid upon my heart: See and be wise and unafraid, a part of stars and earth-wind and the deepening night. ~Jane Tyson Clement “Here On This Surge of Hill”
The world feels like a fearsome place with endless stories of tragedy and loss, too much pain and suffering, blinding me in its darkness.
Yet I listen to my risen Creator and Savior: Be not afraid Come have breakfast Touch and see Follow me Peace be with you
As I am but mere breath and bone, a wisp in a moment of time, this truth anchors my heart: I am called by His solitary light.
[The Incarnation is like] a wave of the sea which, rushing up on the flat beach, runs out, even thinner and more transparent, and does not return to its source but sinks into the sand and disappears. ~Hans Urs von Balthasar from Origen: Spirit and Fire
And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life? ~Frederick Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat
Halfway through the weeks of Lent, we look forward to the fullness of Easter morning. Many of us feel hollowed out and emotionally drained, our empty spaces waiting to be filled to the brim with grace.
More over, through commemoration of the historical events leading to the Resurrection, God on earth once again sinks deeply into our lives, pours Himself onto our earthly soil and into our fleshly souls. He washes our dirty feet, feeds us at His table, and pleads on our behalf for forgiveness when we deserve none of it.
He loses Himself into us. Through Him, we are renewed and refilled, welcomed home, whole and holy.
If that’s what he means,’ says the student to the poetry teacher, ‘why doesn’t he just say it?’
‘If God is real,’ says the parishioner to the preacher, ‘why doesn’t he simply storm into our lives and convince us?’
The questions are vastly different in scale and relative importance, but their answers are similar.
A poem, if it’s a real one, in some fundamental sense means no more and no less than the moment of its singular music and lightning insight; it is its own code to its own absolute and irreducible clarity.
A god, if it’s a living one, is not outside of reality but in it, of it, though in ways it takes patience and imagination to perceive.
Thus the uses and necessities of metaphor, which can flash us past our plodding resistance and habits into strange new truths.
We are an impatient and unimaginative people; we want proof of God and we want it now. Yet we plod through our days blind and deaf to His presence in our lives, with little awareness of Him walking beside us.
So each day I try to take the blinders off and look for Him, listen for Him and wait on Him to make His presence known.
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer.
But a rather special sort of “No answer.”
It is not the locked door.
It is more like a silent,
certainly not uncompassionate,
As though he shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question.
Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable?
Quite easily, I should think.
All nonsense questions are unanswerable.
How many hours are there in a mile?
Is yellow square or round?
Probably half the questions we ask –
half our great theological and metaphysical problems –
are like that. ~C.S. Lewis from A Grief Observed
I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. ~C.S. Lewis from Till We Have Faces
And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?
~Frederich Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” ~Mary Oliver from Long Life
Some mornings it is impossible to stay a silent observer of the world. I demand answers to the unanswerable.
Overnight, wind and rain have pulled down nearly every leaf, the ground carpeted with the dying evidence of last spring’s rebirth, dropping temperatures robing the surrounding foothills and peaks in a bright new snow covering.
There can be no complacency in witnessing life in progress.
It blusters, rips, drenches, encompasses, buries.
Nothing remains as it was.
And here I am, alive.
Called to comment.
Dying to hear a response.