The Angles of Winter

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Long yellow rushes bending
above the white snow patches;
purple and gold ribbon
of the distant wood:
what an angle
you make with each other as
you lie there in contemplation.
–  William Carlos Williams, January Morning – XII

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For the past eleven days, millions of us wake reluctant to contemplate the headlines:

At what cross purposes are we now?
What right and left angles have been sharpened in the night?
What blowing snow covers a multitude of sins, hiding what we know lies beneath?

And when, O God,  will a naked and merciless January yield to the more welcoming light of Your spring?

 

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They Were First

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Though a tremor of the winter
Did shivering through them run;
Yet they lifted up their foreheads
To greet the vernal sun.

And the sunbeams gave them welcome.
As did the morning air
And scattered o’er their simple robes
Rich tints of beauty rare.

Soon a host of lovely flowers
From vales and woodland burst;
But in all that fair procession
The crocuses were first.
~Frances Ellen Watkins Harper from “The Crocuses”

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To be sure, it feels wintry enough still:
but often in the very early spring it feels like that.
Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale.
A man really ought to say, “The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago”
in the same spirit in which he says, “I saw a crocus yesterday.”
Because we know what is coming behind the crocus.
The spring comes slowly down this way;
but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.
There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring
the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not.
We can…
It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.
~C.S. Lewis from “The Grand Miracle”

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As if pulled by invisible threads from heaven, the crocus shoots have come through frozen ground to herald spring.  There is nothing apparent that would lure them up into the light — it is still cold, the days still dark, it is still deep winter on the calendar.

Yet they emerge, blind to all that depressing reality, to show their cheerful faces, as if all is grace and more joy is to come. The corner is turned as we trudge slowly down the slope of winter into spring.

These were first, but won’t be last.  We know what comes behind the crocus.

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One Touch of Rosy Sunset

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Very still and mild it was, wrapped in a great, white, brooding silence — a silence which was yet threaded through with many little silvery sounds which you could hear if you hearkened as much with your soul as your ears.

The girls wandered down a long pineland aisle that seemed to lead right out into the heart of a deep-red, overflowing winter sunset.”
~ L.M. Montgomery from Anne of the Island

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If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.
~G. K. Chesterton

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I wonder at a northwest sunset
evolving from gray haze to warm into golds,
then pinks and oranges to bleeding red.

So too my heart overflows,
pulsing out the love
poured into me
from God’s endless grace.

I too,
graying at the end of the day,
will be covered with roses.

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Water into Grapes

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The miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.

Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances, will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle.

We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.
~Wendell Berry from Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community

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The miraculous escapes our attention every day ~
we are blinded to the wonder of it all,
accepting as mundane that which warrants our awe and overwhelm.

How can the scales be lifted from our eyes?
How can we be offered up such astonishment and never be satiated?

Be amazed.   Be humbled.

Stay hungry for this daily bread.

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The Snuffle of Winter

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We praise thee, O God, for thy glory
displayed in all the creatures of the earth,
In the snow, in the rain, in the wind, in the storm;
in all of thy creatures, both the hunters and the hunted…
They affirm thee in living;
all things affirm thee in living;
the bird in the air, both the hawk and the finch;
the beast on the earth, both the wolf and the lamb;…
Therefore man, whom thou hast made
to be conscious of thee,
must consciously praise thee,
in thought and in word and in deed.
Even with the hand to the broom,
the back bent in laying the fire,
the knee bent in cleaning the hearth…
The back bent under toil,
the knee bent under sin,
the hands to the face under fear,
the head bent under grief,
Even in us the voices of the seasons,
the snuffle of winter, the song of spring,
the drone of summer,
the voices of beasts and of birds,
praise thee.
~T.S. Eliot from Murder in the Cathedral

 

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These draining dripping
frozen winter months
of dark begin to emerge enlightened:
a reminder to praise Him,
grateful for daily thanksgiving and blessings~~

it is good to dwell on our gifts
even when ill,
coughing all night,
blowing through countless tissues,
back and knees and head bent double.

We invite stark naked winter
to sit in silence with us,
its tears blending with ours.

These deepened days
of bare stripped branches
and weeping fog
feed our growing need
for the white-as-snow covering grace
of His coming light.

 

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An Uprising

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To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.
~Karl Barth

 

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There is much shouting and gnashing of teeth going on in our country right now.  Some from the streets, some from computer keyboards and screens, and some from inside the halls of government and a certain white house.

We need to stop shouting and clasp hands in prayer.

Prayer is always easier for the youngest among us.  It can be amazingly spontaneous for kids — an outright exclamation of joy, a crying plea for help, a word of unprompted gratitude.   As a child I can remember making up my own songs and monologues to God as I wandered alone in our farm’s woods, enjoying His company in my semi-solitude.  I’m not sure when I began to silence myself out of self-conscious embarrassment, but I stayed silent for many years, unwilling to put voice to the prayers that rattled in my head.  In my childhood, prayer in public schools had been hushed into a mere and meaningless moment of silence, and intuitively I knew silence never changed anything.  The world became more and more disorderly in the 60’s and 70’s and in my increasingly indoctrinated mind, there was no prayer I could say that would make a difference either.

How wrong could I and my education be?  Nothing can right the world until we are right with God through talking to Him out of our depth of need and fear.  Nothing can right the world until we submit ourselves wholly, bowed low, hands clasped, eyes closed, articulating the joy, the thanks, and the petitions weighing on our hearts.

An uprising is only possible when our voice comes alive, unashamed, unselfconscious, rising up from within us, uttering words that beseech and thank and praise.  To rise up with hands clasped together calls upon a power needing no billions and no weapons and no walls ~ only the Word ~ to overcome and overwhelm the shambles left of our world.

Nothing can be more victorious than the Amen, our Amen, at the end.

So be it and so shall it be.

Amen, and Amen again.

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Be Open for Business

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Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.
~Anne Lamott from Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers

 

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same abandoned Montana schoolhouse as above a few years later (this photo by Joel DeWaard)

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I have the privilege to work in a profession where astonishment and revelation awaits me behind each exam room door.

In a typical busy clinic day, I open that door 36 times, close it behind me and settle in for the ten or fifteen minutes I’m allocated per patient.  I need to peel through the layers of a person quickly to find the core of truth about who they are and why they’ve come to me.

Sometimes what I’m looking for is right on the surface: in their tears, in their pain, in their fear.  Most of the time, it is buried deep and I need to wade through the rashes and sore throats and coughs and headaches to find it.

Once in awhile, I can actually do something tangible to help right then and there — sew up a cut, lance an abscess, splint a fracture, restore hearing by removing a plug of wax from an ear canal.

Often I find myself giving permission to a patient to be sick — to take time to renew, rest and trust their bodies to know what is best for a time.

Sometimes, I am the coach pushing them to stop living sick — to stop hiding from life’s challenges, to stretch even when it hurts, to get out of bed even when not rested, to quit giving in to symptoms that can be overcome rather than overwhelming.

Always I’m looking for an opening to say something a patient may think about after they leave my clinic — how they can make better choices, how they can be bolder and braver in their self care, how they can intervene in their own lives to prevent illness, how every day is a thread in the larger tapestry of their lifespan.

Each morning I rise early to get work done before I actually arrive at work,  trying to avoid feeling unprepared and inadequate to the volume of tasks heaped upon the day.   I know I may be stretched beyond my capacity, challenged by the unfamiliar and stressed by obstacles thrown in my way.  It is always tempting to go back to bed and hide.

Instead, I go to work as those doors need to be opened and the layers peeled away.  I understand the worry, the fear and the pain because I have lived it too.   I am learning how to let it be, even if it feels miserable.  It is a gift perhaps I can share.

No matter what waits behind the exam room door,  it will be astonishing to me.

I’m grateful to be open for business.  The Doctor is In.

 

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