Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy.
These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of our experience.
A solstice moment
when light replaces
where darkness thrives:
there is a wounding
that tears us open,
so joy can enter the cracks
that hurt the most.
The birds they sang
At the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Ah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free
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”
Our cracks expand with age:
do they not heal as quickly
or are we more brittle than before?
I know how my eyes leak,
my heart feels more porous.
The events of the day break me open even wider.
Let the light pour in
and illuminate our wounds old and new.
Let the world know
that from the hurt comes healing.
May we become the perfect offering.
Oh, is it not enough to be
Here with this beauty over me?
My throat should ache with praise, and I
Should kneel in joy beneath the sky.
O beauty, are you not enough?
Why am I crying after love,
With youth, a singing voice, and eyes
To take earth’s wonder with surprise?
I, for whom the pensive night
Binds her cloudy hair with light,—
I, for whom all beauty burns
Like incense in a million urns?
O beauty, are you not enough?
Why am I crying after love?
~Sara Teasdale from “Spring Night”
When you stand before the most amazing sunset
or when you see the beauty of a human face,
whether it’s a little baby
or a lovely wise old person,
there is a haunting quality to it,
as though it’s not just complete in itself.
It’s a signpost to a larger truth
that is just around the corner,
just out of sight.
We can’t grip it,
can’t get our hands on it.
It’s as though we’re hearing the echo of a voice,
and we’d love to hear whose that voice is
and what story it’s telling.
Part of the joy of beauty
is the realization that it is part of a larger whole,
most of which appears to be just out of sight.
We are drawn forward toward something…
and left waiting, wondering.
~N.T. Wright from Life, God and Other Small Topics
Beauty is the link that connects,
the magnet that brings us home,
to look beyond,
to think more deeply,
to believe in something beyond our grasp~
Beauty leaves us crying after love
that bleeds for us
and heals all that is broken in us.
This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
give alms to everyone that asks,
devote your income and labor to others,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
and your very flesh shall be a great poem,
and have the richest fluency, not only in its words,
but in the silent lines of its lips and face,
and between the lashes of your eyes,
and in every motion and joint of your body.
~Walt Whitman from his preface to “Leaves of Grass”
Time lurches ahead in imprecisely measured chunks and today is the start of another summer season of relative rest, of another transition for several thousand college students moving on to another phase of life with advice of all sorts ringing in their ears.
Commencement is best suited to start in a season that itself is a poem. Summer simply stands on its own in all its extravagant abundance of light and warmth and growth and color stretching deep within the rising and setting horizons. Each long day can feel like it must last forever, never ending, yet, like the length of our fleshy days on earth, it eventually winds down, spins itself out, darkening gradually into shadow.
In a few short months we will let go with reluctance as if no summer like it could ever come again.
Yet another will, somehow, somewhere, someday. Our very flesh can depend on it.
Surely such a never-ending summer is what heaven itself will be.
“This is another day, O Lord…
If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.
If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.
If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.
And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.”
— Kathleen Norris citing the Book of Common Prayer
This day is the wrap-up to my twenty-eighth academic year working as a college health physician, the most demanding so far. Despite budget challenges, inadequate staffing, a higher severity of illness in a patient population with burgeoning mental health needs, our staff did an incredible job this year serving students and their families with the resources we do have. Reaching this day today is poignant: we will miss the graduating students we have gotten to know so well over four or five years, we watch others leave temporarily for the summer, some to far away places around the globe, and we weep for those who have failed out, given up or fallen away from those who care deeply about them, some never to return to school again.
In my work I strive to do what is needed when it is needed no matter what time of the day or night. There are obviously times when I fall short– too vehement when I need to be quiet, too urgent and pressured when I need to be patient, too anxious to do something/anything when it is best to courageously do nothing. It is very difficult for any doctor to choose to do nothing but I vowed in my own graduation ceremony over forty years ago to “First do no harm.” And I’ve tried hard to live up to that vow.
In a sense I graduate as well on this last day of the school year– only not with cap and gown and diploma in hand. Each year I learn enough from each patient to fill volumes, as they speak of their struggles, their pain, their stories and sometimes hearing, most tragically, their forever silence.
I honor our students and their families on this day, sharing the blessings from us who work toward the goal of sending them healthier and better equipped and joyful into the rest of their lives.
It is not just another day.
They know so much more now about
the heart we are told but the world
still seems to come one at a time
one day one year one season and here
it is spring once more with its birds
nesting in the holes in the walls
its morning finding the first time
its light pretending not to move
always beginning as it goes
~W.S.Merwin “To This May”
Each morning is a fresh try at life,
a new chance to get things right
even if all our yesterdays are broken.
So I drink in the golden dawn,
take a deep breath of cool air
and dive in head first
into light and blossoms,
hoping I too just might
stay afloat today.
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
Unless the eye catch fire,
Then God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
Then God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
Then God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire,
Then God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire,
Then God will not be known.
~William Blake from “Pentecost”
Today, when we feel we are without hope,
when the bent world reels in blood and violence,
when faith feels frail,
when love seems distant,
we wait, stilled,
for the moment we are lit afire ~
when the Living God is
seen, heard, named, loved, known
forever burning in our hearts deep down,
brooded over by His bright wings
we are His dearest, freshest
in this moment