Day and night A fragrance of hope Day and night She pleads for the lost and broken Day and night Until He comes ~Keith and Kristyn Getty
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2: 36-38
What’s enough? Countless times I’ve watched the sun rise like God’s tender mercy to gently lift the dark blanket from the earth, and countless more times I’ve watched the sun set in such a splendiferous farewell that it must reflect the fringe on God’s robe. I’ve seen the sky define blue and endless. I’ve watched rivers run to the sea, full as life runs to God. I’ve felt the sea roll in on the eternal note of mystery and assurance.
I’ve scratched the ears of dogs, laughed at the ballet of cats. I’ve heard the cry and gurgle of the newborn, played with children, rocked with grandmothers, learned from hundreds of teachers, some of them homeless, poor, and uneducated.
I’ve been loved and forgiven beyond all deserving, and all breath to tell of it, by family and friends and God.
I’ve been shaken, changed, and blessed a thousand times — and still — by the prophets, and by Christ. I’ve felt the touch of God, each time before I realized that’s what it was. I’ve shared in the cantankerous yet remarkable family of faith called the church. I’m conscious of being conscious and alive. And all that’s just for starters.
How much does it take to praise God? I have a couple of trips around the Milky Way past enough for that, no matter if I never receive another thing.
So I best get on with it . . . and praise God that I can. — Ted Loder from The Haunt of Grace
Unlike Anna the prophet, I tend to forget, in my ever-inward focus, I was created for worship and to give all glory to God. I was given a mouth to sing, hands to clasp, eyes to witness His wonders, profound forgiveness through day and night, night and day.
Unlike Anna who waited so long, I’m not sure I would recognize the touch of God.
May I – praying alongside others who are also flawed and broken – be a fragrance of hope, praising God that we are able to praise Him.
What greater reason is there to exist?
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…
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Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? ~Robert Hayden “Those Winter Sundays”
As a child growing up, I was oblivious to the sacrifices my parents made to keep the house warm, place food on the table, teaching us the importance of being steadfast, to crack the door of opportunity open, so we could walk through to a better life and we did.
It was no small offering to keep dry seasoned fire and stove wood always at the doorstep, to milk the cows twice a day, to grow and preserve fruits and vegetables months in advance, to raise and care for livestock, to read books together every night, to sit with us over homework and drive us to 4H, Cub Scouts and Camp Fire, to music lessons and sports, to sit together for meals, and never miss a Sunday to worship God.
This was their love, so often invisible, too often imperfect, yet its encompassing warmth splintered and broke the grip of cold that can overwhelm and freeze a family’s heart and soul.
What did I know? What did I know? Too little then, so much more now yet still – never enough.
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Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock. “Now they are all on their knees,” An elder said as we sat in a flock By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where They dwelt in their strawy pen, Nor did it occur to one of us there To doubt they were kneeling then. So fair a fancy few would weave In these years!
Yet, I feel,If someone said on Christmas Eve, “Come; see the oxen kneel,“ In the lonely barton by yonder coomb Our childhood used to know, ”I should go with him in the gloom, Hoping it might be so.“ ~Thomas Hardy “The Oxen”
Says a country legend told every year: Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see what the creatures do as that long night tips over. Down on their knees they will go, the fire of an old memory whistling through their minds!
So I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold I creaked back the barn door and peered in. From town the church bells spilled their midnight music, and the beasts listened – yet they lay in their stalls like stone.
Oh the heretics! Not to remember Bethlehem, or the star as bright as a sun, or the child born on a bed of straw! To know only of the dissolving Now!
Still they drowsed on – citizens of the pure, the physical world, they loomed in the dark: powerful of body, peaceful of mind, innocent of history.
Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas! And you are no heretics, but a miracle, immaculate still as when you thundered forth on the morning of creation! As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me. Caught in its light, listening again to its story, I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me the best it could all night. ~Mary Oliver “Christmas Poem”from Goodness and Light
The winds were scornful, Passing by; And gathering Angels Wondered why
A burdened Mother Did not mind That only animals Were kind.
For who in all the world Could guess That God would search out Loneliness. ~Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B. “The Stable”
Beholding his glory is only half our job. In our souls too the mysteries must be brought forth; we are not really Christians till that has been done. A mystic says human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice— animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid— and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God. ~Evelyn Underhill“Light of the World” from Watch for the Light
Growing up on my childhood farm, remembering the magic of Christmas eve night, I bundled myself up to stay warm in our barn, to witness an unbelievable sight.
At midnight we knew the animals knelt down, speaking words we could all understand, to worship a Child born in Bethlehem town, in a barn, long ago in a far away land.
They were there that night, to see and to hear, the blessings that came from the sky. They patiently stood watch at the manger near, in a barn, while shepherds and kings stopped by.
My trips to the barn were always too late, our cows would be chewing, our chickens asleep, our horses breathing softly, cats climbing the gate, in our barn, there was never a neigh, moo or peep.
But I knew they had done it, I just missed it again! They were plainly so calm, well-fed and at peace in the sweet smelling straw, all snug in their pens, in a barn, a mystery, once more, took place.
Even now, I still bundle to go out Christmas eve, in the hope I’ll catch them just once more this time. Though I’m older and grayer, I still firmly believe in the barn, a Birth happened amid cobwebs and grime.
Our horses sigh low as they hear me come near, that tells me the time I hope for is now, they will drop to their knees without any fear in our barn, as worship, all living things bow.
I wonder anew at God’s immense trust for His creatures so sheltered that darkening night – the mystery of why of all places, His Son must begin life in a barn: a welcoming most holy and right. ~Emily Gibson “In the Barn” (written Christmas Eve 1999)
Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come. ~Jane Kenyon, from “Let Evening Come”
Latin text O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, iacentem in praesepio! Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Iesum Christum. Alleluia!
English translation O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia!
Sing O the wild wood, the green holly, The silent river and barren tree; The humble creatures that no man sees: Sing O the wild wood.
A weary journey one winter’s night; No hope of shelter, no rest in sight. Who was the creature that bore Mary? A simple donkey.
And when they came into Beth’lem Town They found a stable to lay them down; For their companions that Christmas night, An ox and an ass.
And then an angel came down to earth To bear the news of the Saviour’s birth; The first to marvel were shepherds poor, And sheep with their lambs.
Sing O the wild wood, the green holly, The silent river and barren tree; The humble creatures that no man sees: Sing O the wild wood. John Rutter
Jesus our brother, strong and good Was humbly born in a stable rude And the friendly beasts around him stood Jesus our brother, strong and good “I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown “I carried his mother up hill and down I carried his mother to Bethlehem town” “I, ” said the donkey, shaggy and brown “I, ” said the cow, all white and red “I gave him my manger for his bed I gave him my hay to pillow his head” “I, ” said the cow, all white and red “I, ” said the sheep with curly horn “I gave him my wool for his blanket warm He wore my coat on Christmas morn” “I, ” said the sheep with curly horn “I, ” said the dove from the rafters high “I cooed him to sleep so he would not cry We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I” “I, ” said the dove from rafters high Thus every beast by some good spell In the stable dark was glad to tell Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel
Well I know now the feel of dirt under the nails, I know now the rhythm of furrowed ground under foot, I have learned the sounds to listen for in the dusk, the dawning and the noon.
I have held cornfields in the palm of my hand, I have let the swaying wheat and rye run through my fingers, I have learned when to be glad for sunlight and for sudden thaw and for rain.
I know now what weariness is when the mind stops and night is a dark blanket of peace and forgetting and the morning breaks to the same ritual and the same demands and the silence. ~Jane Clement from No One Can Stem the Tide
Seven-thirty. Driving northwest out of town, the snowscape dusky, sky tinted smoky peach. In the rear view mirror, a bright orange glow suffuses the stubbly treeline. Suddenly a column of brightness shoots from the horizon, a pillar of fire! One eye on the road, I watch behind me the head of a golden child begin to push up between the black knees of the hills. Two weeks out from Solstice, the sun so near winter it seems to rise in the south. A fiery angel stands over his cradle of branches. And what strange travelers come to honor him? And what gift will I bring to him this day? ~Thomas Smith “Advent Dawn” from The Glory
And he shall be their peace. Micah 5:5
I tossed and turned last night — my thoughts too busy, my blankets twisted in turmoil, my muscles too tight.
The worries of the day required serious wrestling in the dark rather than settling silent and forgotten under my pillow after prayer.
Yet, as ever, morning dawns anew and once again I’m comforted by the rhythm of emerging light overwhelming the night. This ritual of starting fresh remembers the promises given to us again and again in His Word.
In the name of peace today, I will get my hands dirty digging a hole deep enough to hold the worries that kept me awake in the night.
And tomorrow, even if I try to remember, I will have forgotten where exactly I buried them.
A little aside from the main road, becalmed in a last-century greyness, there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal to the tourist to stop his car and visit it. The traffic goes by, and the river goes by, and quick shadows of clouds, too, and the chapel settles a little deeper into the grass.
But here once on an evening like this, in the darkness that was about his hearers, a preacher caught fire and burned steadily before them with a strange light, so that they saw the splendour of the barren mountains about them and sang their amens fiercely, narrow but saved in a way that men are not now. ~R.S. Thomas “The Chapel”
The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds. They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive 15 miles or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place…
For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God. They have been individuals, some white, some black, some poor, some rich, they have been the ‘natural’ world and a natural community. And now they have been called to “come together in one place,” to bring their lives, their very world with them and to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life.
We are already far beyond the categories of common worship and prayer. The purpose of this ‘coming together’ is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it ‘better’ – more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning. ~ Father Alexander Schmemann from For the Life of the World
Unexpected God, your coming advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your coming, and bend our angers into your peace. Amen. ~Revised Common Lectionary
Sometimes the very walls of our churches separate us from God and each other. In our various naves and sanctuaries we are safely separated from those outside, from other denominations, other religions, separated from the poor, the ugly, the dying.… The house of God is not a safe place. It is a cross where time and eternity meet, and where we are – or should be – challenged to live more vulnerably, more interdependently. ~Madeleine L’Engle, from A Stone for a Pillow
Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches arechildren playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. ~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk
Being a Christian during a pandemic is nothing new in the history of the world. We’ve been through this again and again, on the frontlines caring for others during the Black Death, dying while serving unselfishly through plague after plague, and most recently during the killing influenza of the early 20th century.
Somehow the last two years of COVID-time feel different …
No one is happy that congregational singing takes place through masks. There are fewer handshakes and hugs and some of us feel safer worshiping while streaming a live feed on a screen. Some are flat out angry at having to worship with any restrictions and opt to stay away or move to churches with no such rules. Yet Christians are called to come together to raise our voices corporately in praise, prayer and thanksgiving despite potential health risks and physical inconvenience.
We are to love one another when we are most unloveable.
We tend to forget that walking into church on any Sabbath, not just during a pandemic, takes courage and commitment as we automatically become emotionally and spiritually vulnerable to one another. What one of us says and does can bless or hurt us all. This can be no drowsy worship: we are the poor, the ugly and the dying.
When I hear the secular folks in society scoff at attending church as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate what it means to admit a desperate need for salvation and grace that can only be found inside those doors. We who sit in a pew in the sanctuary cling to the life preserver found in the Word. We are lashed to our seats and must hang on. It is only because of God’s grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt in order to let go of our own anger at the state of the world and the state of our own souls.
Exposing ourselves to the radical mystery and immense power of the living God is not for the faint of heart, yet all of us on the verge of heart failure need God’s deep roots to thrive and grow in our rocky soul soil.
So we must not forget our crash helmets… or our masks.
IV My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazedMy body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.V Although the summer Sunlight gild
Cloudy leafage of the sky,
Or wintry moonlight sink the field
In storm-scattered intricacy,
I cannot look thereon,
Responsibility so weighs me down.
Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.
~William Butler Yeats,Vacillation Parts IV and V
In this, the last trimester of my life, I find myself dwelling on how I continue to grow and change, as if I was gestating all over again, 68 years later. It is a time or preparation for what comes next, while not wanting to miss a moment of what is – right now.
I have plenty of opportunity to replay the many moments I’ve regretted what I said or did, or what I could have said or did….and didn’t. Recalling remorse is far easier and stickier than replaying joy that seems so fleeting in my memory.
There are times when I feel both weighed down by memories and freed at the same time. It almost always happens while sitting in worship in church, while silently confessing how I have wronged those around me or turned my face from God, yet in the next moment, I feel the embrace of a Creator who never forgets but still forgives. It is an overwhelming knowledge that brings me to tears every time.
It is in that moment that my joy no longer is fleeting; it lives deeply in my cells since I, like all around me, am created in His image.
And God saw what He had made, and it was, and still is, good. He made us for joy, not out of regret.
It’s strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you. ~John O’Donohue from Anam Cara
We must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. ~Wendell Berry from The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
How did we come here and how is it we remain?
Even when the wind blows mightily, the waters rise, the earth shakes, the fires rage, the pandemic persists…
~we are here, granted another day to get it right. And will we?
It is strange to be here, marveling at the mystery around us – recognizing we are the ultimate mystery of creation, placed here as its witnesses, worshiping in humility, with reverence and obedience.
We don’t own what we see; we only own our awe.
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…I’m taking the day off. Quiet as a feather. I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors into the temple. ~Mary Oliver from “Today” from A Thousand Mornings
Some days warrant stillness. On this Sabbath day of rest, seek to be quiet as a feather, silently in place, listening.
Maybe, hear each other again. Surely, hear the Word of God.
A funny thing about feathers: alone, each one is merely fluff and air. Together — feathers become lift and power, with strength and will to soar beyond the tether of gravity’s pull on our flawed humanity back to dust.
As quiet as a feather, joined and united, one overlapping another, rise above and fly as far as your life and breath can take you.
May peace be still.
Thank you, once again, to the chickens displayed at the NW Washington Fair in Lynden last week, who struggled to be still in their cages for these close-up feather photos….
More Barnstorming photos and poems from Lois Edstrom are available in this book from Barnstorming. Order here:
I find my greatest freedom on the farm. I can be a bad farmer or a lazy farmer and it’s my own business. A definition of freedom: It’s being easy in your harness. ~Robert Frost in 1954, at a news conference on the eve of his 80th birthday
The past was faded like a dream; There come the jingling of a team, A ploughman’s voice, a clink of chain, Slow hoofs, and harness under strain. Up the slow slope a team came bowing, Old Callow at his autumn ploughing, Old Callow, stooped above the hales, Ploughing the stubble into wales. His grave eyes looking straight ahead, Shearing a long straight furrow red; His plough-foot high to give it earth To bring new food for men to birth.
O wet red swathe of earth laid bare, O truth, O strength, O gleaming share, O patient eyes that watch the goal, O ploughman of the sinner’s soul. O Jesus, drive the coulter deep To plough my living man from sleep…
At top of rise the plough team stopped, The fore-horse bent his head and cropped. Then the chains chack, the brasses jingle, The lean reins gather through the cringle, The figures move against the sky, The clay wave breaks as they go by. I kneeled there in the muddy fallow, I knew that Christ was there with Callow, That Christ was standing there with me, That Christ had taught me what to be, That I should plough, and as I ploughed My Saviour Christ would sing aloud, And as I drove the clods apart Christ would be ploughing in my heart, Through rest-harrow and bitter roots, Through all my bad life’s rotten fruits.
Lo, all my heart’s field red and torn, And Thou wilt bring the young green corn, And when the field is fresh and fair Thy blessed feet shall glitter there, And we will walk the weeded field, And tell the golden harvest’s yield, The corn that makes the holy bread By which the soul of man is fed, The holy bread, the food unpriced, Thy everlasting mercy, Christ. ~John Masefield from The Everlasting Mercy
We shoulder much burden in the pursuit of happiness and freedom, worth every ounce of sweat, every sore muscle, every drop of blood, every tear.
Our heart land is plowed, yielding to the plowshare digging deep with the pull of the harness. The furrow should be straight and narrow.
We are tread upon yet still bloom; we are turned upside down yet still produce bread.
The plowing under brings freshness to the surface, a new face upturned to the cleansing dew, knots of worms now making fertile our simple dust.
Plow deep our hearts this day of celebrating freedom, Dear Lord. This is the day of rest You made for us and let us remember to worship You, and not ourselves.
May we plow, sow, grow, and harvest what is needed to feed your vast and hungry children everywhere.