A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter—winged, horned, and spined—
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While 'mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands...
Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space.
—My guests besmear my new-penned line,
Or bang at the lamp and fall supine.
"God's humblest, they!" I muse. Yet why?
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.~Thomas Hardy "An August Midnight"
There are so many more of them than us. Yes, insects appear where we don’t expect them, they sting and bite and crawl and fly in our mouths and are generally annoying. But without God’s humblest knowing the secrets of the inner workings of the soil, the pollinator and the blossom, we’d have no fruit, no seeds, no earth as we know it.
Even more humble are our microscopic live-in neighbors — the biome of our skin and gut affecting, managing and raising havoc with our internal chemistry and physiology in ways we are only beginning to understand.
God created us all, each and every one, from the turning and cycles of smallest of atoms and microbes to the expanding swirl of galaxies far beyond us.
Perhaps the humblest of all, found smack-dab in the middle of this astounding creation, would be us: the intended Imago Dei.
Two legs not six or eight, two eyes not many, no wings with which we might fly away, no antennae, no stinger.
Just us with our one fragile and loving heart.
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When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2: 1-4
Today we feel the wind beneath our wings Today the hidden fountain flows and plays Today the church draws breath at last and sings As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise. This is the feast of fire, air, and water Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth. The earth herself awakens to her maker And is translated out of death to birth. The right words come today in their right order And every word spells freedom and release Today the gospel crosses every border All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace Today the lost are found in His translation. Whose mother tongue is Love in every nation. ~Malcolm Guite “Pentecost” from Sounding the Seasons
Love flows from God into man, Like a bird Who rivers the air Without moving her wings. Thus we move in His world, One in body and soul, Though outwardly separate in form. As the Source strikes the note, Humanity sings– The Holy Spirit is our harpist, And all strings Which are touched in Love Must sound. ~Mechtild of Magdeburg 1207-1297 “Effortlessly” trans. Jane Hirshfield
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated Of dead and living. Not the intense moment Isolated, with no before and after, But a lifetime burning in every moment
Love is most nearly itself When here and now cease to matter. ~T.S. Eliot from “East Coker”
When we feel we are without hope, when faith feels frail, when love seems distant, if we feel abandoned… we wait, stilled, for the moment we are lit afire~
when the Living God is seen, heard, named, loved, known, forever burning in our hearts in this moment and for a lifetime.
As we are consumed, carried as His breath and words into multicolor clouds to the ends of the earth, here and now ceases to matter.
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White egret glided over grasses, fiddlehead and fern, then landed, as I was caring for young children by a pond.
Angelic, her wing span fanned its gentle wave across the shore
and no one noticed. No one applauded or knelt upon the grass.
But the children, eyes and mouths as round as moons, stopped and held her for that moment,
watched as she preened her wings, leaving them one feather in the midst of spring green. ~Jesse LoVasco, from Native
Every day, there is so much I miss seeing, sounds I fail to hear, a nurturing softness that eludes me, all because I am wrapped in my own worries.
The wonders I miss may never come my way again, so Lord, give me the eyes and ears and hands of a child seeing and hearing and touching everything for the first time.
To notice the beauty that surrounds me, let me marvel at a Creation that started as mere Word and Thought and Hope, left behind like a feather for me to hold on to.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard – And sore must be the storm – That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land – And on the strangest Sea – Yet – never – in Extremity, It asked a crumb – of me. ~Emily Dickinson
Deep in the tarn the mountain A mighty phantom gleamed, She leaned out into the midnight, And the summer wind went by, The scent of the rose on its silken wing And a song its sigh. And, in depths below, the waters Answered some mystic height, As a star stooped out of the depths above With its lance of light.
And she thought, in the dark and the fragrance, How vast was the wonder wrought If the sweet world were but the beauty born In its Maker’s thought. ~Harriet Prescott Spofford
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For you have been the help of my life; you take and keep me under your wing… ~from Psalm 63
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
Next week we read of the crushing of Christ in the Garden of the Oil Press, Gethsemane.
Even there, the moment of betrayal is the moment He is glorified, as He glorifies God. Crushed, bleeding, pouring out over the world — He becomes the wings that brood and cover us.
Jesus is the sacrifice that anoints us.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming is a daily selection from songs and hymns about Christ’s profound sacrifice on our behalf.
If we remain silent about Him, the stones themselves will shout out and start to sing (Luke 19:40).
In His name, may we sing…
1 O God eternal, you are my God!
for you I long in body and soul;
as in a dry and waterless land
I search, I thirst, I faint for you.
2 On holy ground your glory I saw;
your steadfast love is better than life;
I'll bless your name as long as I live
and lift my hands to you in prayer.
3 You feed my soul as if with a feast
I sing your praise with jubilant lips;
upon my bed I call you to mind
and meditate on you at night.
4 For you have been the help of my life;
you take and keep me under your wing;
I cling to you, and find your support;
O God my joy, you are my God!
Oh God, you are my God Earnestly I seek you My Soul thirsts for you, My flesh yearns for you In a dry and weary land Where there is no water
I remember you at night Through the watches of the night in the shadow of your wings I sing because you helped me My soul clings to you And your hand upholds me You alone
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Cold morning. November, taking a walk, when up ahead, suddenly, the trees unleave, and thousands of starlings lift off, an immense river of noise; they braid and unbraid themselves over my head, the gray silk sky embroidered with black kisses, the whoosh of their wings, their chattering clatter, patterns broken/formed/ reformed, a scarf of ragged ribbons. Dumb- struck, mouth open, I say holy and I say moley, And then, they’re gone. ~Barbara Crooker, “Murmuration” from Some Glad Morning.
Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared, then another, and another. It was the starlings going to roost. They gathered deep in the distance, flock sifting into flock, and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke. They seemed to unravel as they flew, lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. I didn’t move; they flew directly over my head for half an hour.
Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced. The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye.Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff.Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig,right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.
Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now, birds winging through the gaps between my cells, touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet? ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
There comes a time in every fall before the leaves begin to turn when blackbirds group and flock and gather choosing a tree, a branch, together to click and call and chorus and clamor announcing the season has come for travel.
Then comes a time when all those birds without a sound or backward glance pour from every branch and limb into the air, as if on a whim but it’s a dynamic, choreographed mass a swoop, a swerve, a mystery, a dance
and now the tree stands breathless, amazed at how it was chosen, how it was changed. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub “Turning” from Wing Over Wing
…yesterday I heard a new sound above my head a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward I saw a flock of blackbirds rounding a curve I didn’t know was there and the sound was simply all those wings, all those feathers against air, against gravity and such a beautiful winning: the whole flock taking a long, wide turn as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
If we lived only in human society what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being here, in this curving and soaring world that is not our own so when mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives and when, even more rarely, we unite and move together toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub from “Blackbirds” from Wing Over Wing
Watching the starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me. I feel queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.
Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions. It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t. It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t. They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound of air rushing past wings.
We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA. Yet we don’t learn from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks. We have become frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, each going our own way bumping and crashing without care.
We have lost our internal moral compass for how it is meant to be.
The rustling ruffling quiet of wings in the air is like muffled weeping.
One reason why birds and horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses. ~Dale Carnegie
When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; ~William Shakespeare from Henry V
We all should have a buddy who is along for the ride and blesses us with their company.
There is always a need for a precious friend who has our back – helping to keep the biting flies away by gobbling them.
It is symbiosis at its best: a relationship built on mutual trust and helpfulness. In exchange for relief from annoying insects that a tail can’t flick off, a Haflinger serves up bugs on a smorgasbord landing platform located safely above farm cats and marauding coyotes.
Thanks to their perpetual full meal deals, these birds do leave “deposits” behind that need to be brushed off at the end of the day. Like any good friendship, having to clean up the little messes left behind is a small price to pay for the bliss of companionable comradeship.
We’re buds after all – best forever friends.
And this is exactly what friends are for: one provides the feast and the other provides the wings.
We’re fully fed and we’re fully free – together.
A new Barnstorming book is available for order here:
No speed of wind or water rushing by But you have speed far greater. You can climb Back up a stream of radiance to the sky, And back through history up the stream of time. And you were given this swiftness, not for haste Nor chiefly that you may go where you will, But in the rush of everything to waste, That you may have the power of standing still- Off any still or moving thing you say. Two such as you with such a master speed Cannot be parted nor be swept away From one another once you are agreed That life is only life forevermore Together wing to wing and oar to oar ~Robert Frost “Master Speed”
All at once I saw what looked like a Martian spaceship whirling towards me in the air. It flashed borrowed light like a propeller. Its forward motion greatly outran its fall. As I watched, transfixed, it rose, just before it would have touched a thistle, and hovered pirouetting in one spot, then twirled on and finally came to rest. I found it in the grass; it was a maple key, a single winged seed from a pair. Hullo. I threw it into the wind and it flew off again, bristling with animate purpose, not like a thing dropped or windblown, pushed by the witless winds of convection currents hauling round the world’s rondure where they must, but like a creature muscled and vigorous, or a creature spread thin to that other wind, the wind of the spirit which bloweth where it listeth, lighting, and raising up, and easing down. O maple key, I thought, I must confess I thought, o welcome, cheers.
And the bell under my ribs rang a true note, a flourish as of blended horns, clarion, sweet, and making a long dim sense I will try at length to explain. Flung is too harsh a word for the rush of the world. Blown is more like it, but blown by a generous, unending breath. That breath never ceases to kindle, exuberant, abandoned; frayed splinters spatter in every direction and burgeon into flame. And now when I sway to a fitful wind, alone and listing, I will think, maple key. When I see a photograph of earth from space, the planet so startlingly painterly and hung, I will think, maple key. When I shake your hand or meet your eyes I will think, two maple keys. If I am a maple key falling, at least I can twirl. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
(Happy birthday to Annie today — her 76th !)
I think a lot about wings — particularly when I’m sitting belted in a seat looking out at them bouncing in turbulence, marveling at how they keep hundreds of people and an entire aircraft miles above ground.
Wings, no matter what they belong to, are marvelous structures that combine strength and lift and lightness and expanse and mobility, with the ability to rise up and ease back to earth.
And so ideally I am blown rather than flung through my fitful windy days, rising and falling as those thin veined wings guide me, twirling, swirling as I fall, oh so slowly, to settle, planted.
We came, out of nothing, from Him, not randomly, not by chance, not a cosmic accident but an intentional act.
That first day -“and there was evening and there was morning, the first day” – is built within our very DNA. We are created with everything we need to support our freedom, our wings bearing our hearts aloft.
Our choice to fall is ours alone; it was not what God intended for us.
From nothing, God might yet make something of us – let our wings bear our hearts to Him who made us.
And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings Bear you on the breath of dawn Make you to shine like the sun And hold you in the palm of His hand… ~Michael Joncas
In Sleeping Beauty’s castle the clock strikes one hundred years and the girl in the tower returns to the world. So do the servants in the kitchen, who don’t even rub their eyes. The cook’s right hand, lifted an exact century ago, completes its downward arc to the kitchen boy’s left ear; the boy’s tensed vocal cords finally let go the trapped, enduring whimper, and the fly, arrested mid-plunge above the strawberry pie, fulfills its abiding mission and dives into the sweet, red glaze.
As a child I had a book with a picture of that scene. I was too young to notice how fear persists, and how the anger that causes fear persists, that its trajectory can’t be changed or broken, only interrupted. My attention was on the fly; that this slight body with its transparent wings and lifespan of one human day still craved its particular share of sweetness, a century later. ~Lisel Mueller “Immortality” from Alive Together
Little fly, Thy summer’s play My thoughtless hand Has brushed away.
Am not I A fly like thee? Or art not thou A man like me?
For I dance And drink and sing, Till some blind hand Shall brush my wing.
If thought is life And strength and breath, And the want Of thought is death,
Then am I A happy fly, If I live, Or if I die. ~William Blake “The Fly”
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm –…. ~Emily Dickinson
A fly made the news this past week. It became more important than the issues being discussed in the room in which it buzzed and landed. Maybe it has come to symbolize our helplessness in the face of our anger toward one another, which has become just another way for our fear to express itself.
There is nothing more humbling than a wayward fly buzzing in the room or landing uninvited on my head. No matter whether I live in a slum or a castle, a fly will find its way to me, just because it can. I must learn to coexist with what I can’t control; this is no time for frustration nor fear nor anger to raise my hand, ready to kill the offender.
When I’m feeling bugged, which happens all too often these days, the buzzing may overwhelm my stillness but I won’t let it overwhelm me. I will put down the swatter. I will breathe deeply and admire the ingenuity of such a brief life powered miraculously by two transparent wings.
I am stirring at the sink, I am stirring the amount of dew you can gather in two hands, folding it into the fragile quiet of the house. Before the eggs, before the coffee heaving like a warm cat, I step out to the feeder— one foot, then the other, alive on wet blades. Air lifts my gown—I might fly—
This thistle seed I pour is for the tiny birds. This ritual, for all things frail and imperiled. Wings surround me, frothing the air. I am struck by what becomes holy.
A woman who lost her teenage child to an illness without mercy, said that at the end, her daughter sat up in her hospital bed and asked: What should I do? What should I do?
I carry the woman with the lost child in my pocket, where she murmurs her love song without end: Just this, each day: Bear yourself up on small wings to receive what is given. Feed one another with such tenderness, it could almost be an answer. ~Marcia F. Brown from “Morning Song”
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend. ~Naomi Shihab Nye from “Kindness”
It is the gentle tenderness I miss most – this world aflame with anger, distrust and bitterness, resentment, suspicion and cussed stubbornness. There seems no relief in sight; we must find a way through.
It is time to accept help when needed. It is time to receive mercy without shame or scorn. It is time to be lifted up with soft small wings.
We are saved by kindness, by grace given freely, thrown like a lifeline to us when we are overwhelmed. Such love can never be as ephemeral as a morning dew gone by noon.