When I lay my head in my mother’s lap I think how day hides the stars, the way I lay hidden once, waiting inside my mother’s singing to herself. And I remember how she carried me on her back between home and the kindergarten, once each morning and once each afternoon.
I don’t know what my mother’s thinking.
When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder: Do his father’s kisses keep his father’s worries from becoming his? I think Dear God, and remember there are stars we haven’t heard from yet: They have so far to arrive. Amen, I think, and I feel almost comforted.
I’ve no idea what my child is thinking.
Between two unknowns, I live my life. Between my mother’s hopes, older than I am by coming before me. And my child’s wishes, older than I am by outliving me. And what’s it like? Is it a door, and a good-bye on either side? A window, and eternity on either side? Yes, and a little singing between two great rests. ~Li-Young Lee The Hammock
I’ve become the window bridging four generations, waiting for the door to reopen:
I remember my grandmother’s soft hands smoothing my hair when I was upset. I still see her tears when she said goodbye.
I remember my father carrying me on his shoulders when my legs grew weary and my patience short. I still feel his final breath as he finally gave up his struggle.
I remember my children needing me for nearly everything. Now, living so far away, I give so little as they soothe and comfort my grandchildren when I cannot.
I wonder what my grandmother, my father, my children, my grandchildren were thinking. I can only imagine, stuck as I am between the closed pandemic door and the someday-open window.
Once again I am the one in need: praying life and hugs might happen again.
Soon. Soon and very soon. I can almost hear the singing between us.
Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering. ~St. Augustine of Hippo
Our firstborn son turns thirty five years old today. Nate was born on a day very much like this: sunny, frosty, a not-yet-spring kind of early morning. He was so welcome and cherished after years of our struggling to have children. Nate seemed to come with a sense of wonder and enthusiasm for whatever life had in store for him.
First-time parents don’t think much about where their child’s path will lead in a mere twenty years – it seems so far off. We knew he was a home-body. Nate wanted to write and teach and settle into the small town life that he loved and understood.
But God had other plans. God asked him to wonder at himself in relation to the world beyond his small town. So Nate was called to teach in Japan within days of graduating with his teaching degree in 2008. He has remained there ever since, reaching the hearts and minds of well over a thousand individual students in his classroom during those years, while falling in love with his soulmate Tomomi and becoming father to their two beautiful children.
Nate has discovered the irony of moving from a town where the majority of his classmates were blonde to thriving where he is the only redhead among thousands in a train station throng. He has learned a new culture, a new language and a new way of thinking about what “home” in God’s kingdom really means.
When we visit Nate now, only virtually since the pandemic, we see a man who has traveled far, in miles and spiritually. He continues to wonder where God may call him, along with Tomomi and their family, next. We cherish them all, from so far away, no matter where their home may be, as they embody servant love wherever they are needed most.
Happy Birthday, Nate! Sending our love across the many miles of ocean that separates us but our shared hearts remain close.
The towering tree spreads his greening canopy — A veil between the soil and sky— Not in selfish vanity, But the gentle thrush to shade and shelter. So it is with love. For when we love, Simply love, Even as we are loved, Our weary world can be transformed. The busy thrush builds her nest below — A fortnight’s work to weave and set— Not for herself alone, But her tender brood to shield and cherish. And so it is with love. For when we love, Simply love, Even as we are loved, Our weary world can be transformed Into the Kingdom of God! ~Charles Silvestri
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.
For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.
It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. ~G.K. Chesterton from Orthodoxy
To an infant, nothing is monotonous — it is all so new. The routine of the day is very simple and reassuring: sleep, wake, cry, nurse, clean up, gaze out at the world, turn on the smiles –repeat.
The routine becomes more complex as we age until it no longer resembles a routine, if we can help it. We don’t bother getting up to watch the sun rise yet again and don’t notice the sun set once more. We truly flounder in the wilderness of our own making.
Weary as we may be with routine, our continual search for the next new thing costs us in time and energy. We age every time we sigh with boredom or turn away from the mundane and everyday, becoming less and less like our younger purer selves.
Who among us exults in monotony and celebrates predictability and enjoys repetition, whether it is sunrise or sunset or an infinite number of daisies?
God does. He sees our short attention spans. He alone remains consistent, persistent and insistent because we need someone to lead us out of our wilderness.
Do it again, God. Please — please do it again.
My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation. I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging
Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing? While though the tempest round me roars, I know the truth, it liveth. And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing? I Lift my eyes. The cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it. And day by day, this pathway smooths, since first I learned to love it.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, I hear the music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing? How Can I Keep from singing? Keep Singing.
Will you come and follow me If I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know And never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, Will you let me name be known, Will you let my life be grown In you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind If I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind And never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare Should your life attract or scare. Will you let me answer prayer In you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see If I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free And never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean, And do this as such unseen, And admit to what I mean In you and you in me?
Will you love the “you” you hide If I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside And never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found To reshape the world around, Through my sight and touch and sound In you and you in me?
Lord, your summons echoes true When you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you And never be the same. In your company I’ll go Where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow In you and you in me.
There were a few dozen who occupied the field across the road from where we lived, stepping all day from tuft to tuft, their big heads down in the soft grass, though I would sometimes pass a window and look out to see the field suddenly empty as if they had taken wing, flown off to another country.
Then later, I would open the blue front door, and again the field would be full of their munching or they would be lying down on the black-and-white maps of their sides, facing in all directions, waiting for rain. How mysterious, how patient and dumbfounded they appear in the long quiet of the afternoon.
But every once in a while, one of them would let out a sound so phenomenal that I would put down the paper or the knife I was cutting an apple with and walk across the road to the stone wall to see which one of them was being torched or pierced through the side with a long spear.
Yes, it sounded like pain until I could see the noisy one, anchored there on all fours, her neck outstretched, her bellowing head laboring upward as she gave voice to the rising, full-bodied cry that began in the darkness of her belly and echoed up through her bowed ribs into her gaping mouth.
Then I knew that she was only announcing the large, unadulterated cowness of herself, pouring out the ancient apologia of her kind to all the green fields and the gray clouds, to the limestone hills and the inlet of the blue bay, while she regarded my head and shoulders above the wall with one wild, shocking eye. ~Billy Collins “Afternoon with Irish Cows”
Most of my life I have lived surrounded by cows. I have great appreciation for their pastoral presence, and know well their nosiness and their noisiness.
There isn’t anything else that sounds like a cow in heat. Nothing. Especially in the middle of the night.
There is the fascination of following a meandering cow path through a field –where there is no such thing as a straight line.
And there isn’t anything quite as riveting to a cow than a human approaching the gate.
During our farm stays in Ireland and Scotland a few years back, we made a point to get to know the local bovines, just for comparison’s sake. At home we raised Scottish Highland cattle, so we felt we could speak their language, even if they were Belted Galloways rather than Highlanders. Sure enough, we were just as riveting to them as they were to us.
We have talked about getting a couple of furry cows again for the farm. It’s been awhile since we hosted some here. I’m nostalgic for their reassuring cud chewing, their soft flap of ear, their round transparent eyes, but most of all watching the acrobatics of a tongue that wraps itself around a clump of grass while grazing and can reach up and clean out a moist nose.
A wondrous creature — the bovine – true magnificence and mystery in their cowness.
Because Christmas is almost here Because dancing fits so well with music Because inside baby clothes are miracles. Gaudete Because some people love you Because of chocolate Because pain does not last forever… Gaudete Because of laughter Because there really are angels Because your fingers fit your hands Because forgiveness is yours for the asking Because of children Because of parents. Gaudete Because the blind see. And the lame walk. Gaudete Because lepers are clean And the deaf hear. Gaudete Because the dead will live again And there is good news for the poor. Gaudete Because of Christmas Because of Jesus You rejoice. ~Brad Reynolds from “Gaudete”
Perhaps it is the nature of what I do, but I never lack for opportunities for rejoicing even when I may not realize it. Every day, whether it is on the farm, within my family or in my doctoring, I am witness to wonders that can bring me to my knees.
I can find joy in dozens of ordinary daily events, whether it is a well-painted sunrise or sunset, a sprightly lichen on an ancient tree, a spontaneous note of encouragement, or a patient’s smile when they are find relief from their symptoms.
Why should I pay particular attention to the little things when this bleak year threatens to extend beyond the turn of the calendar page?
Because the little things can be extraordinary .
Because I don’t want to miss an opportunity to say so.
God loves to hear our rejoicing in the Gift He has given.
Was certainly not winter, scholars say, When holy habitation broke the chill Of hearth-felt separation, icy still, The love of life in man that Christmas day. Was autumn, rather, if seasons speak true; When green retreats from sight’s still ling’ring gaze, And creeping cold numbs sense in sundry ways, While settling silence speaks of solitude. Hope happens when conditions are as these; Comes finally lock-armed with death and sin, When deep’ning dark demands its full display. Then fallen nature driven to her knees Flames russet, auburn, orange fierce from within, And brush burns brighter for the growing grey. ~David Baird “Autumn”
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Watch for the Light
The shepherds were sore afraid. Why aren’t we?
The scholars say Christ was more likely born in the autumn of the year ~ so fitting, as the reds and oranges of fall fade fast as we descend into winter soon.
Murderous frosts have wilted down all that was flush with life and we are desperate for hope for renewal in the midst of the dying.
And so this babe has come like a refiner’s fire and we who have gotten too comfortable will feel the heat in the middle of the chill, no matter what time of year.
Hope happens when conditions are as these…
Deep in the cold of winter, Darkness and silence were eve’rywhere; Softly and clearly, there came through the stillness a wonderful sound, A wonderful sound to hear.
All bells in paradise I heard them ring, Sounding in majesty the news that they bring; All bells in paradise I heard them ring, Welcoming our Saviour, born on earth, a heavenly King.
Chorus: All bells in paradise, I heard them ring, ‘Glory to God on high’ the angel voices sing.
Lost in awe and wonder, Doubting I asked what this sign may be; Christ, our Messiah, revealed in a stable, A marvelous sight, a marvelous sight to see.
He comes down in peace, A child in humility, The keys to his kingdom belong to the poor; Before him shall kneel the kings with their treasures, Gold, incense, and myrrh.
Around December first, the summer people All have gone. Some had stayed to see the fall And some for hunting season—all have gone.
We walk deserted roads. The first snows came But dried away to traces in the ditch And snowy patches on the forest floor.
In town the Christmas lights are blinking bright, The tourists few. The locals are subdued, At peace with what some still call Advent time.
It’s dark by four. We light a fireplace fire. We have a drink and share a meal and read Until it’s time to go to early bed.
Outdoors to fetch tomorrow’s wood, I stand Beneath the stars. It’s moonless, clear and cold. The constellations reach like outspread hands.
Star bright but not at all a silent night, There seems to be a constant trembling— Someone surely there, someone almost here. ~Steven Peterson “Advent”
During these quiet quarantined days when we no longer share meals meeting on screens rather than living rooms, there is a sense of trembling anticipation, waiting and watching for the world to feel safer again.
We wander, wondering, looking for Someone who is almost here but not quite yet. Born to die for poor ornery people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky That Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky
I saw the tree with lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.
I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. ~Annie Dillardfrom Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Too much of the time I fixate on what I think I can control in life~ what I see, hear, taste, feel
Instead – how must I appear to my Maker as I begin each day? -my utter astonishment at waking up, -my true gratitude for each breathless moment, -my pealing resonance when struck senseless by life.
Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.
He loved mountains, or he has loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire. ~J.R.R. Tolkienfrom The Lord of the Rings
Yesterday afternoon we drove up the highway an hour or so to be witness to grander things than our own worries or the chaos of election season.
There is always that moment when we turn the bend into Heather Meadows and Mount Shuksan suddenly appears, overwhelming the landscape and everything and everyone else. 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 that moment becomes all about me. The mountain has been here for eons and will continue to be here for eons, and I’m merely a momentary witness.
We had left behind all the divisiveness and drama and talking heads: up in the mountains there was such sheer stillness all around us – nary a breeze or a bird call or even a bug making ripples on the lakes to spoil the perfect reflection.
I brought these images back with me to remember my moment of awestruck witness. The photographic image isn’t the real mountain, it isn’t even the pristine perfect reflection. Yet it means I was privileged to watch the mountain watching me back, welcoming me home.
The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. ~ C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
All men die. Not all men really live. ~William Wallace
Life — the temptation is always to reduce it to size. A bowl of cherries. A rat race. Amino acids. Even to call it a mystery smacks of reductionism. It is THE mystery.
After lecturing learnedly on miracles, a great theologian was asked to give a specific example of one. ‘There is only one miracle,’ he answered. “It is life.”
Have you wept at anything during the past year? Has your heart beat faster at the sight of young beauty? Have you thought seriously about the fact that someday you are going to die?
More often than not, do you really listen when people are speaking to you, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak? Is there anybody you know in whose place, if one of you had to suffer great pain, you would volunteer yourself?
If your answer to all or most of these questions is no, the chances are that you’re dead. ~Frederick Buechner from Listen to Your Life
I like mysteries if they are neatly solved between two book covers or contained within 90 minutes on a TV show.
Mysteries that don’t neatly resolve? Not so much. The uncertainty and unknowns can be paralyzing.
I am gifted the opportunity to witness miracles every day and the mystery is that I don’t often recognize them. I’m too “in my own head” to see.
If I weep, which I do more often than is comfortable to admit, am I weeping for something other than myself? If I listen, which I like to think I do well in my profession, but not as well in my personal life, do I really hear the perspective from another life and world view? If I become aware of someone’s suffering, am I willing to become uncomfortable myself to ease another’s pain?
I am being tested in these days of disrupted routines and potential threats to my health and well-being. Do I hunker down defensively or reach out unselfishly to make the best of the days that are left to me?
The mystery of when I will die can’t be solved until that moment comes, and I can’t be paralyzed by that unknown. But the everyday miracles of life are large and small and grand and plentiful and hidden in plain sight. I want to live every moment as their witness.