Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing can be pleasing, how little in this hard world it takes to satisfy the mind and bring it to its rest.
Within the ongoing havoc the woods this morning is almost unnaturally still. Through stalled air, unshadowed light, a few leaves fall of their own weight.
The sky is gray. It begins in mist almost at the ground and rises forever. The trees rise in silence almost natural, but not quite, almost eternal, but not quite.
What more did I think I wanted? Here is what has always been. Here is what will always be. Even in me, the Maker of all this returns in rest, even to the slightest of His works, a yellow leaf slowly falling, and is pleased. ~Wendell Berry “VII”
What more did I think I wanted?
To know that as long as I’m able to hold on, I can be a spot of light in a dark and bleak world. Once I let go, it is finished and worthwhile, seeing His knowing smile.
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Horseback on Sunday morning, harvest over, we taste persimmon and wild grape, sharp sweet of summer’s end. In time’s maze over fall fields, we name names that went west from here, names that rest on graves. We open a persimmon seed to find the tree that stands in promise, pale, in the seed’s marrow. Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear, in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here. ~Wendell Berry “Wild Geese”from Collected Poems 1957-1982
I hear them coming before I see them: the wild geese flying overhead, noisily honking their way across an autumn sky, drawn to the harvested cornfields to glean after the machinery has left.
Soon they will leave altogether, pulled to be content somewhere else.
I remain as witness rather than move on, reminding myself, my heart quiet, my eye clear, what I need is here until it is my turn to leave.
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The summer ends, and it is time To face another way. Our theme Reversed, we harvest the last row To store against the cold, undo The garden that will be undone. We grieve under the weakened sun To see all earth’s green fountains dried, And fallen all the works of light. You do not speak, and I regret This downfall of the good we sought As though the fault were mine. I bring The plow to turn the shattering Leaves and bent stems into the dark, From which they may return. At work, I see you leaving our bright land, The last cut flowers in your hand. ~Wendell Berry “The Summer Ends” from A Timbered Choir.
I want to memorize it all before it changes as the light weakens from the sun shifting from north to south, balancing on the fulcrum of our country road at equinox.
The dying back of the garden leaves and vines reveals what lies unharvested beneath, so I gather in urgency, not wanting it to go to waste.
We part again from you, Summer – your gifts seemed endless until you ended – a reminder that someday, so must I.
I sit silenced and brooding, waiting for what comes next.
A book of beautiful words and photography, available to order here:
It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.The world, the truth, is more abounding, more delightful, more demanding than we thought. What appeared for a time perhaps to be mere dutifulness … suddenly breaks open in sweetness — and we are not where we thought we were, nowhere that we could have expected to be. ~Wendell Berry from “Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms,” in Standing By Words
Who among us knows with certainty each morning what we are meant to do that day or where we are to go?
Or do we make our best guess by putting one foot ahead of the other as we were taught until the day is done and it is time to rest?
For me, over four decades, I woke baffled each day that I was allowed to eavesdrop on heartbeats, touch tender bellies, sew up broken skin, set fractured bones, listen to and through tears.
I woke humbled with commitment and duty to keep going even when too tired, to offer care even when rejected. to keep striving even if impeded.
Doing that work, I learned that obstacles will slow but cannot stop the cascade of love and hope over the rocks of life.
My days overflow with the uncertainty of what comes next: finding my real work is to wade in deep, tumbling over the barriers and still keep singing.
Simply keep singing.
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The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. We cannot join ourselves to one another without giving our word. And this must be an unconditional giving, for in joining ourselves to one another we join ourselves to the unknown. ~Wendell Berry from “Poetry and Marriage” in Standing By Words
Our vows to one another forty years ago today:
Before God and this gathering, I vow from my heart and spirit that I will be your wife/husband for as long as we both shall live.
I will love you with faithfulness, knowing its importance in sustaining us through good times and bad.
I will love you with respect, serving your greatest good and supporting your continued growth.
I will love you with compassion, knowing the strength and power of forgiveness.
I will love you with hope, remembering our shared belief in the grace of God and His guidance of our marriage.
“And at home, by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be–and whenever I look up, there will be you.”
(our wedding vows for our September 19, 1981 wedding at First Seattle Christian Reformed Church — the last line adapted from Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd”)
Sometimes our life reminds me of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing and in that opening a house, an orchard and garden, comfortable shades, and flowers red and yellow in the sun, a pattern made in the light for the light to return to. The forest is mostly dark, its ways to be made anew day after day, the dark richer than the light and more blessed, provided we stay brave enough to keep on going in.
…Marriage… joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love, and trust one another brings them in the same breath into the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful, and joyful. The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to heaven and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds, and trust is its necessity. ~Wendell Berry from Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community
We married in our Seattle church with our pastor officiating, with a small group of family and friends as witnesses.
It was a wedding created by two frugal people with little to spend – I sewed my dress and Dan’s shirt from muslin, we grew our own flowers, our families helped potluck the lunch afterward and our tiered carrot cake was made by a friend.
Yet our vows to one another were not frugal and held nothing back. They were extravagant and comprehensive, coming from our hearts and spirits. The music we asked our amazing organist to play (versions below) inspired us by its simplicity and complexity – very much like the families that raised us and the God we worship.
Our vows have taken us from the city to the countryside, to the raising and rejoicing in three amazing children (each of whom wrote movingly to us today) and now four grandchildren. We served more than forty years as a public-employed attorney and physician, have laid down those responsibilities, and picked up the tools of farm and garden along with church and community service for as long as we are able.
We treasure each day of living together in faithfulness, respect, compassion and hope – knowing that how we love and find joy in one another mirrors how God loves and revels in His people.
We are praying for many more days to fill us with what endures.
A pot of red lentils simmers on the kitchen stove. All afternoon dense kernels surrender to the fertile juices, their tender bellies swelling with delight.
In the yard we plant rhubarb, cauliflower, and artichokes, cupping wet earth over tubers, our labor the germ of later sustenance and renewal.
Across the field the sound of a baby crying as we carry in the last carrots, whorls of butter lettuce, a basket of red potatoes.
I want to remember us this way— late September sun streaming through the window, bread loaves and golden bunches of grapes on the table, spoonfuls of hot soup rising to our lips, filling us with what endures. ~Peter Pereira from “A Pot of Red Lentils”
Here are versions of the organ music we selected for prelude, processional, recessional and postlude
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” fromThe Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
When our grandchildren visit our farm, I watch them rediscover what I know are the joys and sorrows of this world. I am reminded there is light beyond the darkness I fear, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness there is rest despite my restlessness, there is grace as old gives way to new.
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There is something mysterious about fog. It whispered to Sandburg as it crept into the harbor
on little cat feet. It settles over Admiralty Inlet, a down comforter of relief on a simmering summer day.
It moves in quickly, a cool mist that settles lightly on our faces and arms as we trudge up the hill
toward home. Then the stillness, how it tamps down sound, reminding us to honor silence and drift
through an inner landscape of ideas, enter into the ethereal magic of another world,
as if we were birds soaring in clouds that have come down to enfold us,
quieting the minor furies we create. ~Lois Parker Edstrom from Glint (MoonPath Press, 2019)
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the fear that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse.
I tend to forget: the moment just passed can never be retrieved and relived.
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than the latest viral scourge. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. I wish we could be vaccinated to protect us all from our unnamed fears.
I want to say to myself: Stop and acknowledge this moment in time. Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort. Stop fearing the next moment. Just stop. Instead, simply be, now and now and now.
I need to know: this moment, foggy or fine, is mine alone, a down comforter of relief~ this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light. I shout for joy in it even when sound is muffled in morning fog. It is to be celebrated. I mustn’t hold back.
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The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars… I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did…
I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come. ~Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow
Today, as always during the last weekend of May, we have a family reunion where most turn up missing. A handful of the living come together with a slew of the no-longer-living. Some, who have been caught napping for a century or more, are no-shows.
It is always on this day of cemetery visiting that I feel keenly the presence of their absence: the great greats I never knew, a great aunt who kept so many secrets, my alcoholic grandfather (who I remember as a very old man) who died of sudden cardiac arrest at the age I am now, my grandmother from whom I inherited inherent messiness and the love of things that bloom, my parents who divorced for ten years late in life, yet reunited long enough for their ashes to rest together for eternity.
These givers of my genes rest here in this beautiful place above Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountains with shining snow beside them. It is a peaceful spot to lay one’s dust for eternity.
It is good, as one of the still-for-now living, to approach these plots of grass with a wary weariness of the aging. But for the grace of God, there will I be sooner than I wish to be. There, thanks to the grace of God, will I one day be an absent presence for my children and grandchildren to ponder if they keep up this annual tradition of the cemetery-visit.
The world as it is…remembers the world that was.
The world to come calls us home in its time, where we all will be present and accounted for — our reunion celebration where we pray no one is missing.
All in good time. All in good time.
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They sit together on the porch, the dark Almost fallen, the house behind them dark. Their supper done with, they have washed and dried The dishes–only two plates now, two glasses, Two knives, two forks, two spoons–small work for two. She sits with her hands folded in her lap, At rest. He smokes his pipe. They do not speak, And when they speak at last it is to say What each one knows the other knows. They have One mind between them, now, that finally For all its knowing will not exactly know Which one goes first through the dark doorway, bidding Goodnight, and which sits on a while alone. ~Wendell Berry “They Sit Together on the Porch”
Over our multiple decades together, the more often we see others who sat together on the porches of their lives, and one has now already gone through that darkened doorway, bidding Goodnight.
The other remains sitting alone for a time.
We know what the other knows in our one mind together: we don’t know who will bid Goodnight before the other and who will sit on for awhile.
But we know it is okay either way because this is how it is and how it is meant to be. This is why we treasure up each porch-sitting, breathing the fresh evening air together, sighing wordlessly together, knowing, and not knowing, what will come next.
A new book from Barnstorming, available to order here:
Six days of work are spent To make a Sunday quiet That Sabbath may return. It comes in unconcern; We cannot earn or buy it. Suppose rest is not sent Or comes and goes unknown, The light, unseen, unshown. Suppose the day begins In wrath at circumstance, Or anger at one’s friends In vain self-innocence False to the very light, Breaking the sun in half, Or anger at oneself Whose controverting will Would have the sun stand still. The world is lost in loss Of patience; the old curse Returns, and is made worse As newly justified. In hopeless fret and fuss, In rage at worldly plight Creation is defied, All order is unpropped, All light and singing stopped ~Wendell Berry “Sabbath Poem V”
On the calendar, this past pandemic year contained just as many Sabbath days as any other year. Even so, we Christians allowed these fifty-plus precious days of rest to be broken by our own impatience and anger.
As a result of pandemic concerns and government regulations, many churches stopped meeting and even now continue to only worship virtually. Others blithely ignored the risks and continued to meet as they always had. Some tried to find an uneasy middle ground, meeting with restrictions on seating and indoor singing.
It felt like the Son Himself and His Light had been broken in half — the body of Christ divided.
The pandemic may be in its waning months but how will the church recover? Will friends find unity again after months of separation, disagreement and antipathy? Can healing reach into our pews and bond our prayers back together?
I have struggled to find rest on these Sabbath days, to look forward to meeting together with my brothers and sisters in the body. I am challenged by my tendency to fret and fuss. I need forgiveness for my attitude and I need to show forgiveness for those who see things differently.
The Lord knows what He is doing with His people, illuminating our divided hearts. Even in the darkest hour, He took on all our imperfections and failings and made them right.
May His broken Light be healed, our corrupted hearts be made whole and may our singing begin once again.