Nothing approaches a field like me. Hard gallop, hard chest – hooves and mane and flicking tail. My love: I apprehend each flower, each winged body, saturated in a light that burnishes. I would make a burnishing of you, by which I mean a field in flower, by which i mean, a breaching – my hands making an arrow of themselves, rooting the loosened dirt. I would make for you the barest of sounds, wing against wing, there, at the point of articulation. Love, I pound the earth for you. I pound the earth. ~Donika Kelly (2017) “Love Poem: The Centaur” from Bestiary
When Haflingers gallop in the field, it sounds like thunder as their hooves pound the earth. It can be a particularly ominous sound, especially in the middle of the night when the pounding hooves are going past our bedroom window which means only one thing: their field gate or the barn door has been breached. Haflingers are also Houdinis.
Their hooves may hug the ground, treading clover blossoms and blades of grass but I can see invisible wings as I watch them run. Their manes and tails float free even when the rest of their bodies are entirely earth-bound.
I know most of the time I move ponderously over the earth as well leaving my footprints behind. Some days I feel literally tethered to the ground, with no lightness of being whatsoever.
But once I breach the gate, I grow wings. The ground cannot hold me any longer and it rises to meet me as I fly.
Sometimes, I am startled out of myself, like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking, flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek across the sky made me think about my life, the places of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling, the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place. Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold for a brief while, then lose it all each November. Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields, land on the pond with its sedges and reeds. You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks. All we do is pass through here, the best way we can. They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again. ~Barbara Crooker, from Radiance
We’ve lived long enough – now over three decades – in one place so things here on the farm are starting to break and fall apart, or stop working and simply give up. Over the last several weeks we’ve been busy fixing everything from barns to lawnmowers and old pick up trucks to leaking comfy air mattresses, not to mention various appliances threatening to give up the ghost.
We wonder what will break next, or whether all this is just preparing us for our own turn to fall apart, so I’m looking around with a renewed perspective of running out of time.
Like most people who have been stuck at home over the last several months, quarantine has been a good opportunity to clean up around here, including untouched boxes of things moved from our parents’ homes when they had to move into extended care before their deaths. We’ve packed up outdated possessions and no-longer-fitting clothing, scads of magazines and books never read and not-likely-to-be, and anything else that simply isn’t needed any longer.
The older I get, the more I feel I am merely passing through. No one else should have to pick up my messes after me.
Though this will be the summer of the purge of the old and used up, some things are always fixable, and that includes me. Like a seam with missing thread or a broken zipper or a dangling button, it is possible to be carefully stitched back into place once again and thus remain, forever, hopeful and whole.
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”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Luke 13:34
…for him to see me mended, I must see him torn… ~Luci Shawfrom “Mary’s Song”
Today marks the crushing of Christ in the Garden of the Oil Press, Gethsemane.
“Gethsemane” means “oil press” –a place of olive trees treasured for the fine oil delivered from their fruit. And so, on this Thursday night, the pressure is turned up high on the disciples, not just on Jesus.
The disciples are expected, indeed commanded, to keep watch alongside the Master, to be filled with prayer, to avoid the temptation of the weakened flesh thrown at them at every turn.
But they fail pressure testing and fall apart.
Like them, I am easily lulled by complacency, by my over-indulged satiety for material comforts that do not truly fill hunger or quench thirst, by my expectation that being called a follower of Jesus is enough.
It is not enough. I fail the pressure test as well.
I fall asleep through His anguish. I dream, oblivious, while He sweats blood. I might even deny I know Him when pressed hard.
Yet, the moment of betrayal becomes the moment He is glorified, thereby God is glorified.
Crushed, bleeding, poured out over the world — from wings that brood and cover us — He becomes the sacrifice that anoints us.
Incredibly, indeed miraculously, He loves us, bent as we are, anyway.
VERSE 1 Let us praise Jesus, the Washer of Feet; Jesus, the Lordly who gave up his Seat; Jesus, the Maker of all that there is; Jesus, the Servant to all who are his.
REFRAIN We praise Jesus We praise Jesus
VERSE 2 Let us praise Jesus, the Blesser of Bread; Jesus, the Off’ring who suffered and bled; Jesus, the Royal who knelt in the dust; Jesus, the Priest in whose Blessing we trust.
VERSE 3 Let us praise Jesus, the Shepherd alone; Jesus, the Lover who gathers His own; Jesus, the Wounded who died for us all; Jesus, the Christ on whose goodness we call.
VERSE 4 Let us praise Jesus, the Savior adored; Jesus, the Sonnet of praise to our Lord; Jesus, the Gracious whose own life He gave; Jesus, the Lowly who came down to save.
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. ~C.S.Lewis from Mere Christianity
There is certain comfort in incubating in the nest, snuggled warm under a fluffy breast, satisfied with the status quo. I tend toward perpetual nesting myself, preferring home to travel, too easily contented with the familiar rather than stretching into uncharted territory.
But eventually the unhatched egg gets the boot, even by its parents. When there are no signs of life, no twitches and wiggles and movement inside, it is doomed to rot.
And we all know nothing is worse than a rotten egg. Nothing.
So it is up to us: we must chip away and crack open our comfy shell, leaving the fragments behind. Feeble, weak and totally dependent on the grace of others to feed and protect us, we are freed of the confinement of the sterility of the commonplace and loosed upon an unsuspecting world.
God does not leave us where we are. We are created to fly, the breath of God beneath our wings.
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
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
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
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 actually muffled weeping.
For hours, the flowers were enough. Before the flowers, Adam had been enough. Before Adam, just being a rib was enough. Just being inside Adam’s body, near his heart, enough. Enough to be so near his heart, enough to feel that sweet steady rhythm, enough to be a part of something bigger was enough. And before the rib, being clay was enough. And before clay, just being earth was enough. And before earth, being nothing was enough. But then enough was no longer enough. The flowers bowed their heads, as if to say, enough, and so Eve, surrounded by peonies, and alone enough, wished very hard for something, and the wish was enough to make the pinecone grow wings; the wish was enough to point to the sky, say bird, and wait for something to sing. ~Nicole Callihan “The Origin of Birds”
We were created to be enough, but for us enough was no longer enough so we reached for more.
We ended up stripped and stark — as if fall and winter would be the ending of all things, but of course they are not. We will not sleep forever.
When I am down to my bare and broken essentials — the bleak and muddy and the too-early dark — I am the pinecone in the dirt wishing for the strength of wings and miraculously granted the gift of flight and a voice to sing.
I know this darkness is not the ending.
Never has been. Never will be.
Whence comes this rush of wings afar Following straight the NoÎl star? Birds from the woods, in wondrous flight Bethlehem seek this Holy Night
“Tell us, ye birds, why come ye here Into this stable, poor and drear?” “Hast’ning, we seek the new-born King And all our sweetest music bring.”
Hark! how the greenfinch bears his part Philomel, too, with tender heart Chants from her leafy dark retreat Re, mi, fa, sol, in accents sweet
Angels and shepherds, birds of the sky Come where the Son of God doth lie; Christ on earth with man doth dwell Join in the shout, “Noël, Noël!” ~French Carol
O! for a horse with wings! ~William Shakespeare from Cymbeline
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 will simply hang out with us, helping to keep the biting flies away by gobbling them up before they draw blood.
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 free.
Birds afloat in air’s current, sacred breath? No, not breath of God, it seems, but God the air enveloping the whole globe of being. It’s we who breathe, in, out, in, in the sacred, leaves astir, our wings rising, ruffled — but only the saints take flight. We cower in cliff-crevice or edge out gingerly on branches close to the nest. The wind marks the passage of holy ones riding that ocean of air. Slowly their wake reaches us, rocks us. But storms or still, numb or poised in attention, we inhale, exhale, inhale, encompassed, encompassed. ~Denise Levertov “In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being“
God reminds us when we are at our most anxious and needy: He cares for the birds and feeds them, lifts their wings in the wind and their feathered down keeps them warm. He gives them air to ride upon and air to breathe.
If them, then He cherishes us as well.
We too breathe in, breathe out, ruffled and fluffed, surrounded by the air we need and the air that lifts us. Lacking down, it is His breath keeping us warm.
Now we must look about us. Near at hand cloud like a fist has closed on all the hills and by this meager daylight on our land wesee just this, and this, and not beyond.
The sodden trees emerge and stand revealed; we must acknowledge each one as it is, stripped and stark, its basic structure clear, the last leaves fallen, summer’s season dead.
And day on day the soft mist softly falls as the long rain drives across the field and all the while what we had seen beyond is lost and shut as if it never were.
And we look closely at each other now, the bleak roots, black grass, and the muddy road, the litter that we never cleared away, the broken flowers from a summer’s day –
Oh, stark and clearly we must look within to weigh at last our purity and sin.
Oh, lovely hills in sunlight far away, Oh, curving valley where the river sings! Remembering, we live this discipline, and hope still beats about us with strong wings. ~Jane Tyson Clement “November Rain” from No One Can Stem The Tide.
Stripped and stark — if fall and winter were the ending of all things, there would be no hope.
There would be no sun shining on the hills far beyond me to reflect back what is coming, and what has been.
When I am down to the bare and broken essentials — so bleak and muddy and the too-early dark — I seek the strength of the wings whooshing through air above me, alive, vibrant, purposeful.
I know this resting pause is not the end. Never has been. Never will be.
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity
I reveled in being the good egg.
Smooth on the surface,
gooey inside, often a bit scrambled,
ordinary and decent,
indistinguishable from others,
not making waves.
It’s not been bad staying just as I am.
Except I can no longer remain like this.
A dent or two appeared in my outer shell
from bumps along the way,
and a crack up one side
It has come time to change or face rot.
Nothing will be the same again:
the fragments of shell
as useless confinement.
my home becomes
the wind beneath my wings
soaring an endless horizon
that stretches beyond eternity.