An Advent Paradox: Kindling a Fire That Never Dies Away

(Jesus said) I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Luke 12:49

 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning from “Aurora Leigh”

 

It is difficult to undo our own damage…
It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind.
The very holy mountains are keeping mum.
We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it;
we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. 

~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

 

 

 

I need to turn aside and look,
to see, as if for the first and last time,
the kindled fire that illuminates even the darkest day and never dies away.

We are invited, by no less than God Himself,
through the original burning bush that is never consumed
to shed our shoes, to walk barefoot and vulnerable,
and approach the bright and burning dawn,
even when it is the darkest midnight,
even when it is a babe in a manger who lights a fire in each one of us.

Only then, only then
can I say:
“Here I am! Consume me!”

 

 

 

 

Within our darkest night,
you kindle the fire
that never dies away,
that never dies away.
Within our darkest night,
you kindle the fire
that never dies away,
that never dies away.
~Taize

 

 

An Advent Paradox: A Baby Sleeps But God Does Not

God is not dead, nor does he sleep.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Unexpected God, 
your advent alarms us. 
Wake us from drowsy worship, 
from the sleep that neglects love, 
and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. 
Awaken us now to your coming, 
and bend our angers into your peace. 
Amen.
~Revised Common Lectionary First Sunday of Advent
Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke?
Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?
The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets,
mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church;
we should all be wearing crash helmets.
Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;
they should lash us to our pews.
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

 

During Advent there are times when I am very guilty of blithely invoking the gentle bedtime story of that silent night, the infant napping away in a manger, the devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door.   All is calm.  All is bright.

I’m dozing if I think that is all there was to it.

The reality is God Himself never sleeps.

This is no gentle bedtime story: a teenage mother giving birth in a stable, laying her baby in a feed trough–I’m sure there were times when Mary could have used a life preserver.
This is no gentle bedtime story: the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds, shouting and singing the glories and leaving them “sore afraid.” The shepherds needed crash helmets.
This is no gentle bedtime story: Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he swept overboard a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered.
This is no gentle bedtime story:  a family’s flight to Egypt, immigrants seeking asylum,  fleeing that fate for their only Son.
This is no gentle bedtime story:   the life Jesus eventually led during his ministry:  itinerant and homeless, tempted and fasting in the wilderness for forty days,  owning nothing, rejected by his own people, betrayed by his disciples,  sentenced to death by acclamation before Pilate, tortured, hung on a cross until he gave up his spirit.

Yet he understood the power that originally brought him to earth as a helpless infant to be sacrificed, to die and rise again, to return again as King of all nations.  No signal flares needed.

When I hear skeptics scoff at Christianity as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate the courage it takes to walk into church each week as a desperate person who can never save oneself.   We cling to the life preserver found in the Word, lashed to our seats and hanging on.  It is only because of grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt to let go of our own anger in order to confront the reality of the wrath of God who is not dead and never sleeps.

This bedtime story is not for the faint of heart — we are “sore afraid” and should “bend our anger” into His peace.

And not forget our crash helmets.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
And the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
But the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on earth)
Does anybody hear them? (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep (peace on earth, peace on earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May the swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.
Words: Carl P. Daw, Jr.

Flowers of the Sad Human Mind

fallcrocus

 

 

In the high woods that crest our hills,
Upon a steep, rough slope of forest ground,
Where few flowers grow, sweet blooms to–day I found
Of the Autumn Crocus, blowing pale and fair.
Dim falls the sunlight there;
And a mild fragrance the lone thicket fills.

Child of the pensive autumn woods!
So lovely, though thou dwell obscure and lone,
And though thy flush and gaiety be gone;
Say, among flowers of the sad, human mind,
Where shall I ever find
So rare a grace? in what shy solitudes? 
~Robert Laurence Binyon from “Autumn Crocus”

 

 

wlccroci

 

 

Whether mid-winter or early autumn
the crocus are unexpected,
surprising even to the observant.

Hidden potential beneath the surface,
an incubation readily triggered
by advancing or retreating light from above.

Waiting with temerity,
to be called forth from earthly grime
and granted reprieve from indefinite interment.

A luminous gift of hope and beauty
borne from a humble bulb;
plain and only dirt adorned.

Summoned, the deep lavender harbinger rises
from sleeping frosted ground in February
or from spent topsoil, exhausted in October.

These bold blossoms do not pause
for snow and ice nor hesitate to pierce through
a musty carpet of fallen leaves.

They break free to surge skyward
cloaked in tightly bound brilliance,
spaced strategically to be deployed against the darkness.

Slowly unfurling, the tender petals peel to reveal golden crowns,
royally renouncing the chill of winter’s beginning and end,
staying brazenly alive when little else is.

In the end,  they painfully wilt, deeply bruised and purple
under the Sun’s reflection made manifest;
returning defeated, inglorious, fallen, to dust.

Yet they will rise again.

 

 

…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. . . 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 God in the Dock

 

 

crociwinter

Baptized By Dew

blueberryleaf

 

blueberryleaf11

 

 

blueberryleaf7

 

 

You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.

But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?

You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
living surface.
~Linda Pastan “Imaginary Conversation” 

 

 

 

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foggyrose2

 

 

applerainyoctober

 

 

To live each day like the first day, not the last…

It would mean unbridled awe and astonishment, as it should be.
Not just gratitude that the world exists, but grateful that I exist within it.

Baptized by amazement each day anew.

 

 

rainyweb7

 

 

morningdew95146

Just That Kind of Day

morning523181

morning523182
morning523183
fuschiabulb
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
~Billy Collins  “Today”
canary2
mayfields
peonyevening
johnpeony
mayhouse
sunsettreehouse

This is the kind of morning that begs to be admired from dawn’s first moment:  everything emerges from the fog so sharp and vivid bathed in golden light.

It takes away my breath at the same time as it delivers it deep within me.

How can I spring others free as I now have been sprung?
cobblersky79178
paperweight

The Earth An Invalid

roseleafrain

 

 

pinkdogwood510188

 

 

The earth invalid, dropsied, bruised, wheeled
Out in the sun,
After frightful operation.
She lies back, wounds undressed to the sun,
To be healed,
Sheltered from the sneapy chill creeping North wind,
Leans back, eyes closed, exhausted, smiling
Into the sun. Perhaps dozing a little.
While we sit, and smile, and wait, and know
She is not going to die. 
~Ted Hughes from ” A March Morning Unlike Others” from Ted Hughes. Collected Poems. London: Faber & Faber, 2003

 

 

barbed18

 

 

centralnorth

 

 

Spring emerged slowly this year from an exceptionally haggard and droopy winter.
All growing things were a month behind the usual budding blooming schedule when, like the old “Wizard of Oz” movie, the landscape suddenly turns from monochrome to technicolor.

Yearning for the annual greening to commence, I tapped my foot impatiently as if owed a timely transformation from dormant to verdant.  We all have been waiting for the Physician’s announcement that the patient survived some intricate life-changing procedure:  happy to say the earth is alive after all and restored, wounded but healing, breathing on her own but too dozy for a visit just yet.

And now her recovery has happened in an overwhelming rush — the colors, the scents, the bird songs, the softness more than overwhelming the sharp-edged bare barbed wire of winter.

I waited impatiently for her emergence and now celebrate my immersion in her healing.
She is very much alive, this temporary home of ours.
No invalid this patient.
She lives, she breathes, she thrives,
she is blooming with everything she’s got
and now so am I.

 

 

 

dandyfrill

 

 

pinkdogwood510187

 

Entirely Content

birdonpostrodenberger
photo by Harry Rodenberger

 

sunrise410143

 

I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can’t and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.
~Mary Oliver “What Gorgeous Thing” from Blue Horses by Penguin Press

 

birdandhorse

 

cherrylight2

 

We are experiencing a short reprieve this week from gray and drear and rain and typical April chill temperatures.  It is suddenly fantastically spring, all in a big headlong rush toward summer. Our windows are wide open, there are apple-blossom breezes wafting through the house, the bees are busy, the birds singing at the top of their lungs as soon as daylight appears at 5:15AM.

What gorgeous thing it is to see and hear and smell and taste this glory if only for a day or two.  So full of promise and potential.

Even if, as predicted,
the rain returns this weekend,
even if the grey clouds come back hovering heavily on our shoulders,
even if the air no longer carries forth this incredible perfume,
it did happen
and for the moment,
just a moment,
the world felt entirely content to simply be.

 

gnomysunrise

 

trailtohorizon