All the Things That Got in the Way

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In all the woods that day I was
the only living thing
fretful, exhausted, or unsure.
Giant fir and spruce and cedar trees
that had stood their ground
three hundred years
stretched in sunlight calmly
unimpressed by whatever
it was that held me
hunched and tense above the stream,
biting my nails, calculating all
my impossibilities.
Nor did the water pause
to reflect or enter into
my considerations.
It found its way
over and around a crowd
of rocks in easy flourishes,
in laughing evasions and
shifts in direction.
Nothing could slow it down for long.
It even made a little song
out of all the things
that got in its way,
a music against the hard edges
of whatever might interrupt its going.
~John Brehm “Passage”

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It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.
~Wendell Berry “The Real Work”

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Who among us knows with certainty each morning
what we are meant to do that day
or where we are to go?
So we make our best guess by
putting one foot ahead of the other as we were taught
until the day is done and it is time to rest.

For me, I wake baffled each day
that I am allowed
to eavesdrop on heartbeats,
touch tender bellies,
sew up broken skin,
listen to tears.

I wake humbled with commitment
to keep going even when too tired,
to offer care even when rejected.
to keep trying even if impeded.

It is only then I learn
thing that get in the way
slow but cannot stop
the flow of time,
overflowing its banks with music
of uncertain certainty–
my real work and journey
through life.

May I wade in deep~ listening~ready to sing along.

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A Renewed Dawn

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(for my father on Memorial Day)

It was only a part of what we knew about you-
serving three long years in the South Pacific,
spoken of obliquely
only if asked about,
but never really answered.

We knew you were a Marine battalion leader,
knew you spent too many nights without sleep,
unsure if you’d see the dawn
only to dread
what the next day would bring.

We knew you lost friends
and your innocence;
found unaccustomed strength
inside a mama’s boy
who once cried too easily and later almost never.

Somehow life had prepared you for this:
pulling your daddy out of bars when you were ten
watching him beat your mama
until finally getting big enough
to stand in the way.

Then Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian beaches
bitterly bloodsoaked
battles won,
to be restored and renewed
as vacation resorts.

We let you go without knowing
your full story–
even Mom didn’t ask.
You could not share the depth
of horror and fear you felt.

It was not shame that kept you silent;
simply no need to revisit
the pain of remembrance.
It was done, finished, you had done your duty.

So as we again set flowers and flag
on your grave,
reunited with Mom after years apart,
I regret so many questions unasked
of your sacrifice beyond imagining.

Sleep well, Dad,
with Mom now by your side.
I rejoice you have wakened
to a renewed dawn.

 

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In the Beauty of the Lilies

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In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
While God is marching on.
~Julia Ward Howe — final original verses of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”

 

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Consider
The lilies of the field whose bloom is brief:—
We are as they;
Like them we fade away,
As doth a leaf.

Consider
The sparrows of the air of small account:
Our God doth view
Whether they fall or mount,—
He guards us too.

Consider
The lilies that do neither spin nor toil,
Yet are most fair:—
What profits all this care
And all this coil?

Consider
The birds that have no barn nor harvest-weeks;
God gives them food:—
Much more our Father seeks
To do us good.
~Christina Rossetti from “Consider”

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Homer Smith: [the final English lesson] Oh, *I* built a chapel…

All of the sisters: *I* built a chapel.

Homer Smith: *You* built a chapel…

All of the sisters: *You* built a chapel.

Homer Smith: *We” built a chapel…

Mother Maria: [points to heaven] *He* built a chapel.

Homer Smith: [pause, then] Amen.
~Scene from “Lilies of the Field”

 

 

We are Your lilies, the glory of the morning.
Consider us, Oh Lord,
Consider us as tears borne of love from Your eyes,
So brief and so beautiful.

 

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thank you to VanderGiessen Nursery for the opportunity to photograph their lovely lilies yesterday!

Begin the Story Again

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Perhaps as a child you had the chicken pox
and your mother, to soothe you in your fever
or to help you fall asleep, came into your room
and read to you from some favorite book,
Charlotte’s Web or Little House on the Prairie,
a long story that she quietly took you through
until your eyes became magnets for your shuttering
lids and she saw your breathing go slow. And then
she read on, this time silently and to herself,
not because she didn’t know the story,
it seemed to her that there had never been a time
when she didn’t know this story—the young girl
and her benevolence, the young girl in her sod house—
but because she did not yet want to leave your side
though she knew there was nothing more
she could do for you. And you, not asleep but simply weak,
listened to her turn the pages, still feeling
the lamp warm against one cheek, knowing the shape
of the rocking chair’s shadow as it slid across
your chest. So that now, these many years later,
when you are clenched in the damp fist of a hospital bed,
or signing the papers that say you won’t love him anymore,
when you are bent at your son’s gravesite or haunted
by a war that makes you wake with the gun
cocked in your hand, you would like to believe
that such generosity comes from God, too,
who now, when you have the strength to ask, might begin
the story again, just as your mother would,
from the place where you have both left off.
~Keetje Kuipers “Prayer”

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“Flung is too harsh a word for the rush of the world. Blown is more like it, but blown by a generous, unending breath.”
Annie Dillard

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It isn’t possible.  The five year old me who long ago had a sudden terrifying revelation that I would some day cease to walk this earth has become the almost sixty two year old me who is more terrified at the head long rush of life than of its end.  The world hurtles through space and time at a pace that leaves me breathless.  Throughout my sixty-plus years, I have felt flung all too frequently,  bruised and weary from the hurry and hubbub. I need Someone to stop me for a moment, sit down and begin the story again with me, starting right where we left off.

Now comes several days of breathing space,  a respite from routine.  I’m lifted lighter, drifting where I’m blown, less weighted with the next thing to do and the next place to be.

Instead I can just be — always part of the story to be told.  Be blown away unending.  Blown by breath that loves, fills and nurtures, its generous promise hopeful and fulfilled.

The old me simply ceases to be.  Blown away.

If only the five year old me could have known.

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The Lights in the Windows

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photo by Nate Gibson

The night of the Perseid shower,
thick fog descended
but I would not be denied.
I had put the children to bed,
knelt with them,
and later
in the quiet kitchen
as tall red candles
burned on the table between us,
I’d listened to my wife’s sweet imprecations,
her entreaties to see a physician.
But at the peak hour—
after she had gone to bed,
and neighboring houses
stood solemn and dark—
I felt no human obligation
and went without hope into the yard.
In the white mist
beneath the soaked and dripping trees,
I lifted my eyes
into a blind nothingness of sky
and shivered in a white robe.
I couldn’t see the outline
of the neighbor’s willows,
much less the host of streaking meteorites
no bigger than grains of sand
blazing across the sky.
I questioned the mind, my troubled thinking,
and chided myself to go in,
but looking up,
I thought of the earth
on which I stood,
my own
scanty plot of ground,
and as the lights passed unseen
I imagined glory beyond all measure.
Then I turned to the lights in the windows—
the children’s nightlights,
and my wife’s reading lamp, still burning.
~Richard Jones “The Manifestation”

 

….it’s the last three lines I read over and over, the reminder of the mundane wonder that burns every night, at least until it’s extinguished.
~Tania Runyan, commenting on “The Manifestation”

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“Usually, after turning out that forgotten barn light, I sit on the edge of the tractor bucket for a few minutes and let my eyes adjust to the night outside. City people always notice the darkness here, but it’s never very dark if you wait till your eyes owl out a little….I’m always glad to have to walk down to the barn in the night, and I always forget that it makes me glad. I heave on my coat, stomp into my barn boots and trudge down toward the barn light, muttering at myself. But then I sit in the dark, and I remember this gladness, and I walk back up to the gleaming house, listening for the horses. ”
~Verlyn Klinkenborg

 

Over the three decades, as I walk up from the barn at night and look at the lights glowing in our house, I marvel at the life within, even when our children had flown away to live in distant cities. My love dwells inside those glowing windows — we hope for many more years here on the farm– as many as God grants us to stay put.

It is home and it is light and if all it takes is a walk from a dark barn to remind me, I’ll leave the lights on in the barn at night more often.

I’m grateful once again for the opportunity to see, even in the dark, the manifestation of glory and love just beyond our vision, praying that one day we will see and know it clearly.

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“Window” photo by Nate Gibson

From Joy to Joy to Joy

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rainyrose

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
~Li-Young Lee from “From Blossoms”
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These are impossible evenings of color and cool breezes.
A sense of immortality extends across the sky as far as the eye can see.
Impossible — because I know they won’t last; this precious time is ephemeral.
Still I revel in it,
moving from joy to joy to joy,
from buttercup to buttercup,
lifted up like petals loosened
and set down gently,
oh so gently,
to rest in the sweetness of line-dried sheets
that promise spring someday will last forever.
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Whispering Rain

suspended

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All day I have been closed up
inside rooms, speaking of trivial
matters. Now at last I have come out
into the night, myself a center

of darkness.
Beneath the clouds the low sky glows
with scattered lights. I can hardly think
this is happening. Here in this bright absence

of day, I feel myself opening out
with contentment.
All around me the soft rain is whispering
of thousands of feet of air

invisible above us.
~Wayne Dodd “Of Rain and Air”

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…he sought the privacy of rain,
the one time no one was likely to be
out and he was left to the intimacy
of drops touching every leaf and tree in
the woods and the easy muttering of
drip and runoff…

He could not resist the long
ritual, the companionship and freedom
of falling weather, or even the cold
drenching, the heavy soak and chill of clothes
and sobbing of fingers and sacrifice
of shoes that earned a baking by the fire
and washed fatigue after the wandering
and loneliness in the country of rain.
~Robert Morgan from “Working in the Rain”

There will be plenty of whispering and muttering this coming holiday weekend if the weather prediction holds out to be accurate for three days of rain.

Rain is what makes this part of the world special, but like Camelot, most people would prefer it would never fall till after sundown.  It is not a more congenial spot than Camelot.

I may be an oddity, somewhat typical of northwest-born natives.  I celebrate rain whenever it comes, whether downpour or whispering drizzle, before sundown or after sunrise. I grew up working outside in the intimacy of a drenching shower, yet am always happy to have an excuse to stay indoors to be putterer more than mutterer.

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