Listening for Hoof Beats

Every night, no matter where I am
when I lie down, I turn
my back on half the world.

At home, it’s the east I ignore,
with its theatres and silverware,
as I face the adventurous west.

But when I’m on the road
in some hotel’s room 213 or 402
I could be pointed anywhere,

yet I hardly care as long as you
are there facing the other way
so we are defended in all degrees

and my left ear is pressing down
as if listening for hoof beats in the ground.

~Billy Collins “Sleeping on My Side” from Whale Day and Other Poems

It seems amazing we can actually sleep at all, knowing all the hazards out there beyond the bedroom walls

– whether it is pandemic viral particles floating in the air, or pollution from wildfires, or ozone layer depletion or “the-big-one-any-moment” earthquake, or an errant nuclear missile launch, or bands of roving bandits –

it is a wonder we can quiet our minds at all.

When I was about 8 years old, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I didn’t sleep for several days, fearful if I slept, then the world would end and me with it, without even knowing the bomb had hit. Somehow, my staying awake saved the world from destruction and no one, not one single person, ever thanked me for it.

There is always so terribly much to fear if you really think about it. We are constantly lying with our ears to the ground, listening for the hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, wondering how close they have come to our bedside.

These days I take comfort in knowing I don’t always need to be on high alert. I know, in fact, His eye is on the sparrow and He watches over me.

So I can sleep.

Watching the Mountain

…I am watching the mountain. And the second I verbalize this awareness in my brain, I cease to see the mountain…. I am opaque, so much black asphalt.

I look at the mountain, which is still doing its tricks, as you look at a still-beautiful face belonging to a person who was once your lover in another country years ago: with fond nostalgia, and recognition, but no real feeling save a secret astonishment that you are now strangers. Thanks. For the memories. It is ironic that the one thing that all religions recognize as separating us from our creator — our very self-consciousness — is also the one thing that divides us from our fellow creatures. It was a bitter birthday present from evolution, cutting us off at both ends. I get in the car and drive home.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

We drive up the highway an hour or so to lose ourselves rather than become more self-conscious. We want to be witness to grander things.

Once we turn the bend into Heather Meadows, Mount Shuksan suddenly appears, overwhelming the landscape. There is simply nothing else to look at so I stand there gawking, forgetting to breathe.
Then I realize that I have become more self-conscious rather than less: here am I at the foot of this incredible creation, wondering at how blessed I am to be there, and it becomes all about me. The mountain has been here for eons and will continue to be here for eons, and we’re merely passing through, bubbles floating on the unending stream of time.

Yesterday we were completely alone in what typically is a place of many gawkers, all setting up tripods and clicking cameras. It was absolutely silent – even the birds had abandoned the chilly hills for warmer climes lower down.

Most remarkable yesterday was the stillness meant there was a double delight: two mountains, reflection and the real thing herself. It is the most glass-like the lakes have been on our many visits.

We had to finally climb in the car and head back down the highway to home. I carry these images back with me to remember that moment of awestruck witness. The image isn’t the real thing, it isn’t even the real reflection. Yet it is me watching the mountain watching me back.

It just might be about me after all.

An Advent Paradox: Waiting For What We Cannot See

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I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
 My soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents

 

 

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Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

 

 

 

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To wait is hard when we know the value of the gift that awaits us. We know exactly what is in the package since we have watched it being carefully chosen, wrapped and presented to us to open.

Not yet though, not quite yet.  So we wait.

Even more so, we wait and hope for what we do not see but know is coming, like a groaning in the labor of childbirth.

The waiting is never easy; it is painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted, barely able to function.  Others won’t understand why we wait,  nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for when it remains unseen.

Yet we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping, like Mary and Joseph, like Elizabeth and Zechariah, like the shepherds, like the Magi of the east, like Simeon and Anna in the temple.

This is the meaning of Advent:
we are a community groaning together in sweet anticipation and expectation of the gift of Morning to come.

 

 

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For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Romans 8:24-25

 

 

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We are waiting, we are trusting
We are longing for Your blessings,
Lord And our faith is firmly anchored
On Your never-changing Word

Spirit fall down, fill our souls now 


Lord, we gather in Your name
Your power
All Your promises we claim
Together bind us with grace
The body of Christ
All for Your presence we wait

We are waiting we are trusting
We are longing,
Lord descend
Let a flame of love be kindled
While before Your throne we bend
Spirit fall down, fill our souls now

Lord, we gather in Your name Your power
All Your promises we claim
Together bind us with grace
The body of Christ
All for Your presence we wait

We are waiting, we are trusting
We are longing,
Lord revive
Death is fading, hope is rising
In Your Spirit we’re alive

Lord, we gather in Your name Your power
All Your promises we claim
Together bind us with grace
The body of Christ
All for Your presence we wait

Lord, we gather in Your name Your power
All Your promises we claim
Together bind us with grace
The body of Christ

All for Your presence we wait
All for Your presence we wait
All for Your presence we wait
~All Sons & Daughters

 

The Sun Got Round Behind You

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… if you ran, time ran. You yelled and screamed and raced and rolled and tumbled and all of a sudden the sun was gone and the whistle was blowing and you were on your long way home to supper. When you weren’t looking, the sun got around behind you! The only way to keep things slow was to watch everything and do nothing! You could stretch a day to three days, sure, just by watching!
~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine

 

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Late summer is a time to slow down and just watch, to stretch the days out as long as possible.

I have a tendency to race through the hours granted to me, heedless of the sun settling low behind me; I don’t want to surrender the day to the advancing march of darkness.

So I choose for now to be observer and recorder rather than runner and racer, each moment preserved like so many jars of sweet jam on a pantry shelf.

The sun may be setting, but I want it to take its time.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Keep Watch

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35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.
36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.
37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’
Mark 13:35-37

 

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Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,
The future futureless, before the morning watch
When time stops and time is never ending;
And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning,
Clangs
The bell.
~T.S. Eliot from “The Dry Salvages”

 

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I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
 My soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents

 

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We can tend to suffer from Attention Deficit when it comes to waiting and watching for the Lord.  Our focus wanders as we want what we want when we want it.  Sitting in worshipful watching is hard work for us when all we can think about is recess or a nap.

He must not catch us sleeping.  We must keep our eyes wide open to not miss His coming.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Begging To Be Cloaked

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I waited. I don’t know for what.
Sometimes I’d sit so long the sun would sink,
a fiery stare blinking shut beneath the horizon,
and the drooping electric wires would borrow the dark
until the dark seeped back into the sky. And when stars

surfaced like needles piercing through velvet,
I’d hold myself back just a moment more.
What made me feel watched in the naked field?
I was paying close attention and could discern only
a begging to be cloaked and a begging to be released.
~Jennifer Grotz  from “The Field”

 

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As I age I observe the world in a new way,
my eyes scanning for the unnoticed and plain,
not just the dramatic and majestic,
sometimes just sitting still as witness to each moment.

I preserve that which will keep for another day,
like a jar of canned peaches in my root cellar,
so I won’t forget, and in a darker time be cloaked once again
when I taste its sweetness.

 

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The Sun Behind You

sunsetpeter

sunsethill

… if you ran, time ran. You yelled and screamed and raced and rolled and tumbled and all of a sudden the sun was gone and the whistle was blowing and you were on your long way home to supper. When you weren’t looking, the sun got around behind you! The only way to keep things slow was to watch everything and do nothing! You could stretch a day to three days, sure, just by watching!
~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine

This is a time to slow down and just watch, in order to stretch the days out as long as possible.  I have a tendency to race through the hours given to me, heedless of the sun settling low behind me surrendering the day to the advancing march of darkness.

So I choose for now to be observer and recorder rather than runner and racer, each moment preserved like so many jars of sweet jam on a pantry shelf.   The sun may be setting, but it is taking its time.

tammingasunset

sunsetkids

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Called to Advent–watching

photo by Nate Gibson

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Luke 2:8-9

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.

Luke 12-35-38

The shepherds weren’t ready, yet they kept watch around the clock because it was their job to do so. They were understandably terrified at the unexpected announcement coming out of the blue. Interpreting glory-filled praise from a heavenly host was definitely not in their job description.

We, like the shepherds, are to be watching and prepared for the second advent. It is in our job description–even in the middle of the night, we are to be poised to answer the knock on the door in an instant, in order to joyfully welcome Him back. The message clearly is: be ready. Keep watch.

We’re keeping the lights on for You.


Christ is the sun, and all the watches of our lives should be set by the dial of his motion.

Thomas Brooks