A Mosaic of Life

 

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It started with a one hundred year old congregation moving into a new church building after an earthquake destroyed the old one.  These weren’t people of great wealth or prestige so the new building, by necessity, was a simple rectangular design, the sanctuary paneled in light birchwood, the high windows with clear textured glass allowing floods of muted natural light to stream in even on cloudy days.  It was a pleasant enough place to worship, well-lit and airy.

Then a new pastor arrived–a man well-traveled, well-read with a keen artist’s eye and a mind able to mix together a palette of history, colors and words.   He could see what others had not in the empty canvas of the huge space.  What he envisioned for the sanctuary was to enhance the worship experience through the illustration of Life’s passage, of people growing and changing in God’s glory.  Any worshipper entering the sanctuary would become part of the woven tapestry of color cast by a series of stained glass windows.

Six large symmetrical panels of divided narrow vertical windows lined both upper outer walls leading up to the altar.   In our pastor’s design, these were to become stained glass representations of the various stages of life from young to old.  Our pastor recruited would-be artisans from the congregation to be the primary stained glass workers, teaching them how to precisely cut and fit the glass pieces.  Each church member had an opportunity to choose and place a pane matching his or her stage of life, to become a permanent part of the portrait of this diverse church family.  The new windows were constructed from back to front over the course of a year, all by volunteer effort, until the transformation was complete from simple functional space of wood and light to an encompassing work of art, inclusive for all who entered.  Mosaics of colored sections represented the transition through life, moving from childhood in the windows at the entrance, on to adolescence,  then to young adulthood, moving to middle age, and then finally to the elder years nearest the altar.

Rainbows of color crisscrossed the pews and aisles, starting with pale and barely defined green and yellow at the outset, blending into a blossom of blue, then becoming a startling fervor of red,  fading into a tranquil purple past the center, and lastly immersed in the warmth of orange as one approached the brown of the wood paneled altar.  Depending on where one chose to sit, the light bearing a particular color combination was cast on open pages of scripture, or favorite hymns, or on the skin and clothing of the people,  reflecting the essence of that life phase.  Included in the design was the seemingly random but intentional scattering of all of the colors in each panel.  Gold and orange panes were sprinkled in the “youth” window predicting the wisdom to come, and a smattering of some greens, blues and reds were found throughout the “orange” window of old age,  just like the “spark”  of younger years so often seen in the eyes of the our eldest citizens.

The colored windows reflected the truth of God’s plan for our lives. There was the certainty of the unrelenting passage of time; there was no turning back or turning away from what was to come.  Although each stage shone with its own unique beauty,  none was as warm and welcoming as the orange glow of the autumn of life.  Those final windows focused their brilliance on the plain wood of the cross above the altar.

Beyond the stained glass, as life fades from the richest of colors to the brownest of dust, the light will continue to shine, glorious.

 

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photos thanks to  the Facebook page of First United Methodist Church – Olympia

 

We Interrupt This Life

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We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks. . . . 
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together

 

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So I’m slogging my way through life, keeping nose to the grindstone, doing what I think I’m called to do and suddenly whammo! I’m clobbered by a cold wave that knocks me off my feet, chills me to the bone and stops me in my tracks wondering what just hit me and why.

It can feel like drowning.

I feel rudely interrupted because I was ill prepared to change course, alter expectations, or be transformed by life’s sudden cold shower.

I can’t think of many situations where an interruption initially is welcome.  It shocks because it is unexpected yet I have chosen to be someone who must be rudely interrupted in order to change direction.

God doesn’t just soak me to the bone–He made my bones and heals my fractures.

He doesn’t just knock me to my feet–He offers His hand to pull me up again.

He doesn’t let me drown–He is a life preserver I choose to grab and hold on to.

Then He wraps me in His warm embrace like a huge towel to remind me where I come from and where I’m heading.

We interrupt this life for a message from our sponsor. 

Okay. Okay.
I’m ready to pay attention.

 

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An Absolute Patience

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The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

~T.S. Eliot from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

 

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An absolute
patience.
Trees stand
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
slowly flows
uphill.
White
cobwebs, the grass 
leaning where deer 
have looked for apples.
The woods
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear.
~Denise Levertov, The Breathing

 

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Up to my knees in fog ~
some days up to my eyebrows
and how much longer will my head stay in the light.

I am drawn to fog
that absorbs light and color
and me.

Doing chores this foggy morning is a baptism:
complete immersion in the soft exhalation
of breath
when all God’s people say Amen.

 

 

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How Late I Came

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How late I came to love you,
O Beauty so ancient and so fresh,
how late I came to love you.

You were within me,
yet I had gone outside to seek you.

Unlovely myself,
I rushed toward all those lovely things you had made.
And always you were with me.
I was not with you.

All those beauties kept me far from you –
although they would not have existed at all
unless they had their being in you.

You called,
you cried,
you shattered my deafness.

You sparkled,
you blazed,
you drove away my blindness.

You shed your Fragrance,
and I drew in my breath and I pant for you,
I tasted and now I hunger and thirst.
You touched me, and now I burn with longing.

~St. Augustine 

 

 

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God spoke
but I didn’t listen.
God fed me
but I chose junk food.
God showed me beauty
but I couldn’t see Him.
God smelled like the finest rose
but I turned away.
God touched me
but I was numb.

So He sent His Son
as Word and food,
beauty and fragrance,
reaching out broken hands
so I would know
my hunger and thirst
is only and always
for Him alone.

 

 

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Every Morning I’m Alive

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Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience?  Isn’t it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I’m alive…
~Mary Oliver from “Landscape” in New and Selected Poems

 

 

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If even the mighty oaks standing along a path are as fragile as flowers,
then how fragile is my heart?

I wake each morning reminded of the treasure of a new day, cranking open the rusty doors of my heart.

Let the fresh air of grace and gratitude fill me today.

 

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Dent in the Ground

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All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding
and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul
sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer,
for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.

In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields,
dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats.
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine
clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;

and after noon’s heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres,
gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,
and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn,
three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load
a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill
of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze,
one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning,
led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond,
and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,

and lay the shotgun’s muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear,
and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,
shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you,
where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.

For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses,
roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs,
yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter
frost heaved your bones in the ground – old toilers, soil makers:

O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.
~Donald Hall, “Names of Horses”

 

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As a child,  I regularly visited the horse grave dug by hand by my father in 1965 in an open clearing of our woods where our little chestnut mare, Dolly, rested in the ground.

She was felled by a vet’s bullet to the head after an agonizing bout with colic. I had returned to the house, unable to watch, but could not help but hear the gunshot as if it had gone through me as well.

At first her grave was a place to cry where no one but the trees and wild flowers could see.

When my tears dried up, it was a place to sing loudly where no one but chipmunks and my dog could hear.

Later it became the sanctuary where I retreated to talk to God when my church no longer was.

Her bones lie there still and no one but me knows where. The dent in the ground will always betray the spot.

No one but me remembers you.

 

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Jeweller of the Spiderweb

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Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.

Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.

Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper traveling the wires.

Seducer, healer, deity or thief,
I will see you soon enough—
in the shadow of the rainfall,

in the brief violet darkening a sunset—
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore

and the harsh falcon its flightless young. 
~Dana Gioia “Prayer”
(written in memory of his infant son who died of SIDS)

 

 

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When we think of those who wait for us on the other side,
including our baby lost before birth 35 years ago…

Who then will we long for when it comes our time to wait?

I know there is One who watches over all these reunions,
knowing the moment when my fractured heart
heals whole once again.

I will see you soon enough.

 

 

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