A Heart Full of Grace

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We have a new definition of greatness: it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.  You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.  You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.  You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.  And you can be that servant.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.  in a February 1968 sermon:  “The Drum Major Instinct”, A Knock At Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

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Dr. King’s words and wisdom in his sermons spoken over fifty years ago continue to inform us of our shortcomings as we flounder in our flaws and brokenness, persisting in our resistance to serve one another out of humility, grace and love.

Perhaps today we can unite in our shared tears:
shed for continued strife and disagreements,
shed for the injustice that results in senseless killings,
shed for our inability to hold up one another as a holy in God’s eyes.

We can weep together as the light dawns on this day, knowing, as Dr. King knew, a new day will come when the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces — all colors — just as He created them.

 

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As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression.
In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged.
And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air
– however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
~William O. Douglas

 

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Be careful whom you choose to hate.
The small and the vulnerable own a protection great enough,
if you could but see it,
to melt you into jelly.

~Leif Enger from Peace Like a River

 

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Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?
It is because people think only about their own business,
and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed,
nor bring the wrong-doers to light.
My doctrine is this,
that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop,
and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.
~Anna Sewell from Black Beauty

 

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…if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community.
Booker T. Washington was right: “Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Now and Now and Now

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And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present…
~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter

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My clinic days are filled with anxious people, one after another after another.  They sit at the edge of their seat, eyes brimming, voice shaky. fingers gripping the arms of the chair.

Each moment, each breath, each rapid heart beat overwhelmed by fear-filled questions:  will there be another breath?  must there be another breath?   Must this life go on like this in panic of not knowing what the next moment will bring?

The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the known that the next moment will be just like the last.

It seems a serious deficit of acknowledgment of NOW, no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived.  There is only fear of the next and the next so that the now and the now is lost forever.

Such worry and angst is more contagious than the flu virus rampant in the waiting room.
I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day.
I wish a vaccination could protect us all from our unnamed fears.

I want to say to them and myself:
Stop wishing away your life.
Stop wanting this moment, this feeling, to vanish.
Stop expecting some one, some thing or some drug must fix it.
Stop being blind and deaf to the gift of each breath.

Just stop this moment in time
And simply be.

I want to say to them and myself:
this moment is ours,
this moment of weeping and sharing
and breath and pulse and light
and yes, sometimes despair.

Shout for joy in it.
Celebrate it for what it is.
Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips.

Stop me before I write
out of my own anxiety,
yet another prescription
you probably do not need.

Just be–
and be blessed–
in the now and now and now.

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Good to Melt

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How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

–to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.
~Wendell Berry “The Cold”

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Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist,
and into them enters suffering,
in order that they may have existence.
~
Leon Bloy

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I watch new heart chambers form every day
too frozen solid, too overwhelmed
with hurt
and loss
and despair
to continue to pulse warm.
So I try
to help patients let go of
their suffering,
let it thaw to liquid, let the ice melt down,
allow it to pass through freely
forgiving, forgiven~
a heart changed
by winter transformed to spring,
flowing warm from new found grace.

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Our Hearts Thirst

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All thy waves and billows
Have gone over me.
~Psalm 42:7

…Into the deep where ocean spray
Is recollected in the great
   Salt, billow-making womb.

Effortless elegance!
   Holy wildness!

We walked nine miles of ocean beach
   Yesterday and let the ocean
Rhythms–pulse-setting waves and tide-making
   Moon–get inside us. Slowed
By this ancient pacemaker
   Our hearts thirsted. We drank God.
~Eugene Peterson from “Assateague Island”

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photo by Nate Gibson

…when he looked at the ocean,
he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to.

Maybe what made him weep was
how vast and overwhelming it was

and yet at the same time as near
as the breath of it in his nostrils,
as salty as his own tears.

~Frederick Buechner writing about Paul Tillich in Beyond Words

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The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.
~Blaise Pascal

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Most days I’m rocked by the most minute ripples and tiniest pebbles.  The building waves created by forces beyond my control feel tsunami-like though they started out infinitesimally small.  I can do nothing but let them flow over, around and beneath me, riding them up and down, trying not to get submerged for long and not get sea-sick.

Lately it feels like a barrage: instead of letting up, the billows roll larger and mightier, at times relentlessly powerful, changing everything in their path, including me.

Instead of being overcome by ripples, I hope some time to become the thrown pebble in a way that can move oceans or mountains or most amazing of all, another soul, just once.  In some tiny way, I hope I can say or do or write something that makes a positive difference in someone’s life, and that person forwards the ripple, spreading the wave a little further, a little broader, a little deeper to affect others.  Traveling far beyond the original thrown pebble, it can never to be pulled back once it is let loose.

I know what it is like for a blog post to go viral, becoming an ocean in churning turmoil, not a mere pebble starting with a least movement.  Instead, I hope to be the most insignificant of change agents, serene and barely there, just moving enough of another heart and soul to start something that will grow and spread by itself, wild and wonderful.

I don’t know what it might be or how I might do it.  Perhaps it is as simple as skipping rocks, choosing the best flattest pebble, rubbing the smooth sides between my fingers, and with a momentary regret at giving it up to the ocean, I’ll haul back and just let it go.  It will skip once, twice, three four five even six times and then disappear below. The surface of the water will never be the same again.

Nor will I.

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To Last Forever

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“Last forever!” Who hasn’t prayed that prayer? You were lucky to get it in the first place. The present is a freely given canvas. That it is constantly being ripped apart and washed downstream goes without saying.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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For too much of my life I have been future-focused,  bypassing the present moment.  There is always a goal to achieve,  a conclusion becoming commencement of the next phase, a sunset turning right around in a few hours to become sunrise.

There are indeed precious times when the present is so overwhelming, so riveting, so tenderly full of life, I must grab hold with all my strength to try and secret it away and keep it forever.   But it will melt and slip away from me, elusive and evasive, torn to bits by the unrelenting movement of time.

Even if I was able to take a photo to lock it to a page or screen, it is not enough.  No matter how I choose to preserve the canvas of the present, it has passed, ebbing away never to return.   I can only wonder at the present by dwelling less on the foreshortening future.

So I write to harvest those times to help them last a little bit longer.  Maybe not forever; they are too soon lost downstream into the ether of unread words.

Even unread, I am learning that words, which had the power in the beginning to create life, can bring poignancy and meaning back to my life.   How blessed to live the gift twice: not just in the moment itself but in writing the words that preserve and treasure it all up.

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See You Soon Enough

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Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.
 
Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.
 
Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires.
 
Seducer, healer, deity, or thief,
I will see you soon enough–
in the shadow of the rainfall,
 
in the brief violet darkening a sunset —
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore
 
and the harsh falcon its flightless young.
~Dana Gioia “The Prayer” (written in memory of his infant son who died of SIDS)
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When we think of those who wait for us on the other side,
and who we will wait for when it comes our time,
I know there is One who watches over all these reunions,
knowing the moment when our fractured hearts
heal whole once again.
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Over the Brink of the Day

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In the silence of the morning
your Spirit hovers over the brink of the day
and a new light pierces the darkness of the night.
In the silence of the morning
life begins to stir around me
and I listen for the day’s utterances.
In earth, sea and sky
and in the landscape of my own soul
I listen for utterances of your love, O God.
I listen for utterances of your love.
~J Philip Newell from Celtic Benediction, Morning and Night Prayer

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….she approaches the world with only one giant, indiscriminate expectation: delight me.
…the gift of having a child is rediscovering discovery, of reuniting with awe. It’s perhaps my second favorite part of parenting, second only to the slow, mind-blowing, heartsploding reveal of who our tiniest teacher is.
~Courtney Martin from “Reuniting with Awe”

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What I know for sure is this: We come from mystery and we return to mystery. I arrived here with no bad memories of wherever I’d come from, so I have no good reason to fear the place to which I’ll return. And I know this, too: Standing closer to the reality of death awakens my awe at the gift of life.

I’m old enough to know that the world can delight me, so my expectation is not of the world but of myself:

Delight in the gift of life and be grateful.
~Parker Palmer “On the Brink of Everything

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photo of a windy day at Manna Farm — Nate Lovegren