A Canticle for Advent: Unnumbered Blessings

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The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1898

These daily Advent reflections are each devoted to one Christmas carol (or canticle) to prepare us for God dwelling among us– then, now and forever more.

Mary’s Song from Luke 1

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
tender to me the promise of his word;
in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
his mercy sure, from age to age to same;
his holy Name–the Lord, the Mighty One.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by.
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight,
the hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
to children’s children and for evermore!
~Timothy Dudley Smith 1962

Mary’s life was turned upside down by the news she received and she sings out her acceptance of her part to play in bringing God down to His people.
Her words reflect the upending of the way things had been.  Instead, Jesus is the King who will be unlike any other,
coming from the most humble of women and circumstances, owning nothing, knowing richness by giving Himself away.
He conquers by showing mercy:  our hearts and souls are saved through His death, not by the deaths of enemies.
He keeps God’s promises: He is the covenant with Abraham fulfilled.
Tell out, each of us, from the soul, the good news.
We are given voice by His unnumbered blessings.

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”
Luke 1:46-55

Peering at a Landscape on a Branch

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I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of 59 years, and on this farm for 20 years.  The grandeur of the snow-capped mountains to the east and the peaceful shore to the west overwhelms everything in between.  I’ve walked past these bare antique apple trees autumn after autumn, but had never stopped to really look at the landscape growing on their shoulders and arms.  There is a whole other ecosystem on each tree, a fairy land of earth bound seaweed, luxuriant in the fall rains, dried and hidden behind leaves and fruit in the hot summer.

This is the world of lichen, a mixed up cross between mold and fungus, opportunistic enough to thrive on rock faces, but ecstatic on absorbent bark.

I had never really noticed how proudly diverse they are.  I had walked right by their rich color and texture.

Yet it hasn’t bothered them not to be noticed as they are busy minding their own business.  As John McCullough writes below,  they thrive happily where they find themselves “never and always true to their essence, never and always at home.”

Now I know.  And so do you.

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Closer, with the glass, a city of cups!

Why are they doing this?

In this big sky and all around me peaks &
the melting glaciers, why am I made to
kneel and peer at Tiny?
~Lew Welch from “Springtime in the Rockies, Lichen”
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The lichen raised its fragile cup,
and rain filled it, and in the drop
the sky glittered, holding back the wind.

The lichen raised its fragile cup:
Now let’s toast the richness of our lives.
~Helvi Juvonen  “Lichen Cup”

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A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious and marvelous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen.
~Henry David Thoreau

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We are lichens on a grand scale.
~David Haskell

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But what is life to a lichen?
Yet its impulse to exist,
to be,
is every bit as strong as ours —
arguably even stronger.
If I were told that I had to spend decades
being a furry growth on a rock in the woods,
I believe I would lose the will to go on.

~Bill Bryson

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It is merely
a question of continuous
adjustment, of improvising a life. When I’m far from friends
or the easing of a wind
against my back, I think of lichen—
never and always true to its essence,
never and always at home.
~John McCullough from “Lichen”

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The Hues of Evening

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Like hues and harmonies of evening,
                Like clouds in starlight widely spread,
                Like memory of music fled,
                Like aught that for its grace may be
Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.
The day becomes more solemn and serene
         When noon is past; there is a harmony
         In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been!
~
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Noon has passed here;
our spring long spent
and now we come upon
a time of subtle beauty,
of hue and harmony,
a solemn serenity
no longer overwhelmed
by the clamor of summer.
The evening of autumn thus descends,
its luster becomes
a curtain of grace
cloaking and comforting,
readying us for winter.
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The Gift of Fragility

web1Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. 
Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

How might I appreciate something
that is such a constant,
like my next heart beat or
breathing my next breath,
so unquestioningly predictable
it never registers
in my consciousness
until the moment
it might be rent asunder,
as delicate as a shattered web
hanging heavy with morning frost?

In knowing it will be someday lost,
my lungs emptied and heart stilled,
comes the realization:
the air I rely on
for my very existence
is the most precious gift of all.

For that ephemeral knowledge
of my fragility on this earth,
in learning that I love
my utter dependency on my Maker
who gifts me my next breath,
or not,
I am truly and forever
thankful.

Dreams Do Still Come True…

On November 27, I am always eleven years old again…

Barnstorming

This is a date that stands out on my calendar every year. Whenever November 27 comes around, I think back to a very skinny freckled eleven year old girl who wanted nothing more than to have her own horse. Every inch of my bedroom wall had posters of horses, all my shelves were filled with horse books and horse figurines and my bed piled with stuffed horses. Everything but the real thing out on the small acreage we lived on. We had a small shed, not a real barn, and no fences, and though I was earning money as best I could picking berries and babysitting, I was a long way away from the $150 it would take to buy a trained horse back in 1965. I dreamed horsey dreams, mostly about golden horses with long white manes, hoping for that day when it would become real for me.

When…

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Only a Passer-by

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woods4No more walks in the wood:
The trees have all been cut
Down, and where once they stood
Not even a wagon rut
Appears along the path
Low brush is taking over.

No more walks in the wood;
This is the aftermath
Of afternoons in the clover
Fields where we once made love
Then wandered home together
Where the trees arched above,
Where we made our own weather
When branches were the sky.

Now they are gone for good,
And you, for ill, and I
Am only a passer-by.

We and the trees and the way
Back from the fields of play
Lasted as long as we could.
No more walks in the wood.

~John Hollander “An Old Fashioned Song”

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Face Lifted Skyward

 

               geesesouth
Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic,

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wing-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have know time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren “Heart of Autumn”

I wish I could be as sure as the geese overhead
who trust where they are led
is where they belong.
They may not make it there
but nevertheless go.

I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on a path of pathlessness
knowing only that I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.

harrysun

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