A Bright Sadness: The Wonderful Invitation We Leave Unopened

When he takes it all away,
will we love him more than things,
more than health,
more than family,
and more than life?

That’s the question.
That’s the warning.
That’s the wonderful invitation.
John Piper in “I Was Warned By Job This Morning”

The warning of the Book of Job is that it could happen to us too:
everything we have strived for, cared about, loved and valued taken away.

If we are stripped bare naked, nothing left to us but our love for God and His sovereign power over our lives, will we still worship His Name, inhale His Word like air itself, submit ourselves to His plan over our plan?

I know I fall far short of the mark. It takes only small obstacles or losses to trip me up so I stagger in my faith, trying futilely to not lose my balance, falling flat-faced and immobilized.

When I’ve seen people lose almost everything, either in a disaster, or an accident, or devastating illness, I’ve looked hard at myself and asked if I could sustain such loss in my life and still turn myself over to the will of God.

I would surely plead for reprieve and ask the horribly desperate question, “why me?”, girding myself for the response: “and why not you?”

The invitation that I most don’t want to receive, scary and radical as it is, is from God straight to my heart. He invites me closer, asking that I trust His plan for my life and death, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering, no matter how much, like Christ in the garden, I plead that it work out differently, more my own choosing that it not hurt so much.

The invitation to His plan for my life has been written, personally carried to me by His Son, and lies ready in my hands, although it has remained untouched for years. It is now up to me to open it, read it carefully, and with deep gratitude that I am even included, respond with an RSVP that says emphatically, “I’ll be there! Nothing could keep me away.”

Or I could leave it untouched, fearing it is too scary to open. Or even toss it away altogether, thinking it really wasn’t meant for me.

Even if, in my heart, I knew it was.

There are only two kinds of people in the end:
those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’
and those to whom God says, in the end,
‘Thy will be done.’
~C. S. Lewis

A Bright Sadness: All Human Eloquence is Mute

He was created of a mother whom He created.
He was carried by hands that He formed.
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy,
He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.
~Augustine

It turns the mind inside out~
created inside His creation,
cradled within an earthly embrace by way of heaven,
bathed while cleansing the bather
filled from emptying breast to become food for the hungry.

In the beginning
the Word breathed and articulated life
with such eloquence,
knowing its utterance must
come from human lips and tongue and throat

whether as
infant’s cry,
toddler’s chuckle,
child’s whisper,
adult’s prayer of praise,
the aged’s last sigh.

We, who are ineloquent
aside from the Word,
are speechless, listening.

A Bright Sadness: Emptied and Hollow

Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; 
you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

waterfall by Josh Scholten

I am often unprepared for the rush of challenges each clinic day brings.  Each call, each message, each tug on my arm, each box of kleenex handed over, each look of desperate hopelessness  —  I empty out continuously throughout the day to try to fill the gaping holes I see. 

If I’m down and dry, hollowed to the core with no more left to give, I pray for more than I could possibly deserve.

And so it pours over me, torrential and flooding, and I only have a mere cup to hold out for filling.  There is far more cascading grace than I can even conceive of, far more love descending than this cup of mine could ever hold, far more hope ascending from the mist and mystery of doctoring,  over and over again.

I am never left empty for long,  grateful for hallowed hollows.

Let Them Be Left

The darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness?
Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Inversnaid”

There is despair in the wilderness of untamed hearts.
Such wildness lies just beneath the surface;
it rounds and rounds, almost out of reach. 
How are we spared drowning in its pitchblack pool?
How can we thrill to the beauty rather than be sucked into the darkness?

He came not to destroy the world’s wildness,
but to pull us, gasping,
from its unforgiving clutches as we sink in deep.

As weeds surviving in the wilderness,
we must grow, flourish, and witness to a wild world bereft.

O let us be left.
Let us be left.

All Things Sing You

You come and go. The doors swing closed
ever more gently, almost without a shudder
Of all who move through the quiet houses,
you are the quietest.

We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times
we just hear them more clearly.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from
The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

God can be so quiet around us
we scarcely think of Him
tiptoeing around our distractions.

But then a moment of flash,
a rainbow glow,
a subtle sacred song in our ears

and we remember:
He’s here
watching
knowing
holding on to us
reeling us back in
when we drift away.


Something Way Down Deep

We all know that something is eternal. 
And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, 
and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars 
. . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, 
and that something has to do with human beings. 
All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that 
for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised 
how people are always losing hold of it. 
There’s something way down deep 
that’s eternal about every human being.
~Thornton Wilder, from “Our Town”

Write as if you were dying.
At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients.
That is, after all, the case.
~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”

I began to write regularly after September 11, 2001 because more than on any previous day, it became obvious to me I was dying, though more slowly than the thousands who vanished that day in fire and ash, their voices obliterated with their bodies into eternity.  

Nearly each day since, while I still have voice and a new dawn to greet, I speak through my fingers to others dying with and around me.

We are, after all, terminal patients — some of us more prepared than others to move on — as if our readiness had anything to do with the timing.

Each day I get a little closer to the eternal, but I write in order to feel a little more ready.  Each day I want to detach just a little bit, leaving a trace of my voice behind.  Eventually, through unmerited grace, so much of me will be left on the page there won’t be anything or anyone left to do the typing.

There is no time or word to waste.

The Path of Pathlessness

Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic.

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wind-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren from “The Collected Poems”

I wish I could be as sure
as the geese and swans
flying overhead in unwordable utterance~
they trust where they are led
is where they belong.

They may not make it there
but nevertheless they go when called.

I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on such a path of pathlessness
knowing only
I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.