When the heart Is cut or cracked or broken, Do not clutch it; Let the wound lie open. Let the wind From the good old sea blow in To bathe the wound with salt, And let it sting. Let a stray dog lick it, Let a bird lean in the hole and sing A simple song like a tiny bell, And let it ring. ~Michael Leunig “When the Heart”
The birds they sang At the break of day Start again I heard them say Don’t dwell on what Has passed away Or what is yet to be
You can add up the parts but you won’t have the sum You can strike up the march, there is no drum Every heart, every heart to love will come but like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in. ~Leonard Cohen from “Anthem”
Wounds come in various sizes and shapes, some hidden, some quite obvious to all.
How they are inflicted also varies– some accidental, others therapeutic and life-saving, and too many, as happened this week, intentionally and horrifically inflicted.
The most insidious are wounds so deep inside, no one can see or know they are there. Those can cause fear and anger that break a heart and mind with a desire to control one’s destiny by destroying others’.
These scars of living damaged, these horrific wounds that don’t heal, either lead to forever darkness or can sting in repair, bathed by a Light where before was none.
No wound is as deep and wide as what the Word made Flesh has borne for us: love oozes from them, grace heals from within.
Let the bells ring and never be silenced.
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There are names for what binds us: strong forces, weak forces. Look around, you can see them: the skin that forms in a half-empty cup, nails rusting into the places they join, joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly whenever they’ve been set down – and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back across a wound, with a great vehemence, more strong than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses, when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh, as all flesh is proud of its wounds, wears them as honors given out after battle, small triumphs pinned to the chest –
And when two people have loved each other, see how it is like a scar between their bodies, stronger, darker, and proud; how the black cord makes of them a single fabric that nothing can tear or mend. ~Jane Hirshfield “For What Binds Us”
Scars come in various sizes and shapes, some hidden, some quite obvious to all. How they are inflicted also varies–some accidental, others therapeutic, and too many intentional.
The most insidious are the ones so deep inside, no one can see or know they are there.
Back in our woodlot stands a sawed off stump of a cedar that was old growth in virgin forest over a hundred years ago. One day clearcut loggers came through and took every tree they could to haul to the local sawmills to become beams and lumber for the growing homesteading population in the region. This cedar once was grand and vast, covering an immense part of the forest floor, providing protection to trillium at its feet and finches’ nests and raptors hunting in its branches. It nurtured its environment until other plans were made, and one day, axes fell on its sides to cut out the notches for the springboards where two loggers stood either side of the proud trunk to man the saw which brought the tree down.
Where the wood went is anyone’s guess. It could be one of the mighty beams supporting our old hay barn roof or it could have become the foundation flooring of a nearby one room school house. It surely had a productive and meaningful life as part of a structure somewhere until rot or carpenter ants or fire brought it once again to its knees.
But this ghost of a stump remains, a tombstone of remembrance of a once grand tree, the notch scars embedded deep in its sides, nursing new seedlings from its center and moss, lichen and ferns from its sides.
I come from logger stock so I don’t begrudge these frontier settlers their hard scrabble living, nor minimize their dangerous work in order to feed themselves and their families. It’s just I’m struck by those scars over one hundred years later — such a visible reminder of what once was a vital living organism toppled for someone’s need and convenience.
Trees are not unique. It happens to people too. Everyday scars are inflicted for reasons hard to justify. Too often I see them self-inflicted in an effort to feel something other than despair. Sometimes they are inflicted by others out of fear or need for control.
Sometimes they are simply the scars of living – on our horses they are a dark tough scar of leathery “proud flesh”. These are the wounds that accumulate on our journey through our numbered days.
None of them are as deep and wide as the scars that were accepted on our behalf, nor as wondrous as the Love that oozed from them, nor as amazing as the Grace that abounds to this day because of the promise they represent.
These are scars from the Word made Flesh, a proud flesh that won’t give way, lasting forever.
The first time I saw him it was just a flash of gray ringed tail disappearing into autumn night mist as I opened the back door to pour kibble into the empty cat dish on the porch: just another stray cat among many who visit the farm.
A few stay.
So he did, keeping a distance in the shadows under the trees, a gray tabby with white nose and bib, serious yet skittish, watching me as I moved about feeding dogs, cats, birds, horses, creeping to the cat dish only when the others drifted away.
There was something in the way he held his head, an oddly forward ear; a stilted swivel of the neck. I startled him one day as he ate his fill at the dish.
He ran, the back of his head flashing red, scalp completely gone.
Not oozing, nor something new, but recent. A nearly mortal scar from an encounter with coyote, or eagle or bobcat. This cat thrived despite trauma and pain, tissue still raw, trying to heal.
He had chosen to live; life had chosen him.
My first thought was to trap him, to put him humanely to sleep to end his suffering, in truth to end my distress at seeing him every day, envisioning florid flesh even as he hunkered invisible in the shadowlands of the barnyard.
Yet the scar did not keep him from eating well or licking clean his pristine fur.
As much as I want to look away, to avoid confronting his mutilation, I always greet him from a distance, a nod to his maimed courage, through wintry icy blasts and four foot snow, through spring rains and summer heat with flies.
His wounds remain unhealed, a reminder of his inevitable fate.
I never will stroke that silky fur, or feel his burly purr, assuming he still knows how, but still feed his daily fill, as he feeds my need to know: the value of a life so broken, each breath taken filled with sacred air.
To pull the metal splinter from my palm my father recited a story in a low voice. I watched his lovely face and not the blade. Before the story ended, he’d removed the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale, but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer. And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness he laid against my face, the flames of discipline he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man planting something in a boy’s palm, a silver tear, a tiny flame. Had you followed that boy you would have arrived here, where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down so carefully she feels no pain. Watch as I lift the splinter out. I was seven when my father took my hand like this, and I did not hold that shard between my fingers and think, Metal that will bury me, christen it Little Assassin, Ore Going Deep for My Heart. And I did not lift up my wound and cry, Death visited here! I did what a child does when he’s given something to keep. I kissed my father. ~Li-Young Lee, “The Gift” from Rose
I did, without ever wanting to, remove my own children’s splinter, lanced a boil, immobilized a broken arm, pulled together sliced skin, cleaned many dirty wounds. It felt like I crossed the line between mommy and doctor. But someone had to do it, and a four hour wait in the emergency room didn’t seem warranted.
My own children learned to cope with hurt made worse by someone they trusted to be comforter.
I dealt with inflicting pain, temporary though it may be, to flesh that arose from my flesh. It hurt as much as if it were my own wound needing cleansing, not theirs.
Our wounds are His – He is constantly feeling our pain as He performs healing surgeries in our lives, not because He wants to but because He must, to save us from our own destruction. Too often we yell and kick and protest in our distress, making it all that much more difficult for both of us.
If only we can come to acknowledge His intervention is our salvage: our tears to flow in relief, not anguish, we cling to His protection rather than pushing Him away, we kiss Him in gratitude as we are restored again and yet again.
Salvation to all that will is nigh; That All, which always is all everywhere, Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear, Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die, Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie In prison, in thy womb; and though He there Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear, Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother; Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother, Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb. ~John Donne “Annunciation”
What next, she wonders, with the angel disappearing, and her room suddenly gone dark.
The loneliness of her news possesses her. She ponders how to tell her mother.
Still, the secret at her heart burns like a sun rising. How to hold it in— that which cannot be contained.
She nestles into herself, half-convinced it was some kind of good dream, she its visionary.
Marvelous Truth, confront us at every turn in every guise… Thrust close your smile that we know you, terrible joy. ~Denise Levertov from “Matins”
A child is born, crowned in blood, and we lighten up. Sure, we see it every day, and yet this day, tradition says, is unlike any, which is true. It has never happened, and never will again, over and over the will to be reborn, to gasp and cry forgiveness, that is, like birth, difficult, scared, insurgent, brave with the stranger, the winter child, that blossoms through the wound. ~Bruce Bond from “Advent”
In sleep his infant mouth works in and out. He is so new, his silk skin has not yet been roughed by plane and wooden beam nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.
He is in a dream of nipple found, of blue-white milk, of curving skin and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb of a warm heart’s repeated sound.
His only memories float from fluid space. So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door, broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash, wept for the sad heart of the human race. ~Luci Shaw “Kenosis”
To the end of the way of the wandering star, To the things that cannot be and that are, To the place where God was homeless And all men are at home. ~G.K. Chesterton from “The House of Christmas” (1915)
To think that the original Breath stirring the dust of man led to this?
This mystery of God becoming man, growing within woman, fed from her breast, wounded and bleeding to save her who delivered him, emptied himself completely to then deliver all of us as newborns, sliding slippery into our new life.
And we gasp for breath, our nostrils no longer breathing dust, but filled by the fragrance of forgiveness and grace.
We blossom through his wounds, bursting into bloom.
Why shouldn’t we go through heartbreaks? Through those doorways God is opening up ways of fellowship with His Son. Most of us fall and collapse at the first grip of pain; we sit down on the threshold of God’s purpose and die away of self-pity… But God will not. He comes with the grip of the pierced hand of His Son and says, “Enter into fellowship with Me, arise and shine.” If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart. ~Oswald Chambers from “Ye are not your own” from My Utmost for the Highest
The great mystery of God’s love is that we are not asked to live as if we are not hurting, as if we are not broken. In fact, we are invited to recognize our brokenness as a brokenness in which we can come in touch with the unique way that God loves us. The great invitation is to live your brokenness under the blessing. I cannot take people’s brokenness away and people cannot take my brokenness away. But how do you live in your brokenness? Do you live your brokenness under the blessing or under the curse? The great call of Jesus is to put your brokenness under the blessing. ~Henri Nouwen from a Lecture at Scarritt-Bennett Center
There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus. ~ Blaise Pascal
Everyone is created with a hole in their heart that has no murmur, doesn’t show up on scans or xrays nor is it visible in surgery. Yet we feel it, absolutely know it is there, and are constantly reminded of being incomplete. Billions of dollars and millions of hours are spent trying to fill that empty spot in every imaginable and unimaginable way.
Nothing we try fills it wholly. Nothing we find fits it perfectly. Nothing on earth can ever be sufficient.
We are born wanting, yearning and searching; we exist hungry, thirsty and needy.
Created with a hankering heart for God, we discover only He fits, fills and is sufficient. Only a beating heart like ours can know our hollow heart’s emptiness. His bleeding stops us from hemorrhaging all we have in futile pursuits.
The mystery of the vacuum is this: how our desperation resolves and misery comforted by being made complete and whole through His woundedness.
How is it possible that through His pierced limbs and broken heart, it is we who are made holy, our emptiness filled forever.
We’ve exhausted the strawberries with only a few “everbearing” continuing to produce through the remaining hot days of summer. The raspberries too are drying up with leaves curling. The mountain huckleberries have had their hey-day. The blueberries continue strong and juicy.
And now blackberries, free for the picking, hang in mouth-watering clusters from every fence line, long roads and ditches, just begging to be eaten. Blackberry vines seem like trouble 90% of the year–growing where they are not welcome; their thorns reach out to grab passersby without discriminating between human, dog or horse. But for about 3 weeks in August, they yield black gold–bursting unimaginably sweet fruit that is worth the hassle borne the rest of the weeks of the year.
Thorns are indeed part of our everyday life. They stand in front of much that is sweet and good and precious to us. They tear us up, bloody us, make us cry, make us beg for mercy. In fact, man has died by thorns and been killed for the sweetness.
Yet thorns did not stop salvation, did not stop goodness, did not stop the promise of redemption to come. We don’t even need to wait to be fed and no one need die: such a gift as this was dropped from heaven itself.