Getting a Grip

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In the Pasture–Julien Dupre`

 

This painting by French realist Julien Dupre` resonated with me this past week. I know well the feeling of pulling against a momentum determined to break free of the strength I can muster to keep it under control. This is what my life often feels like, both on the farm and at work. It seems I am barely hanging on, at times losing my grip, my feet braced but slipping beneath me.

The full-uddered cow in the painting is compelled to join her herd in a pastoral scene just across the creek, but the milk maid must resist the cow’s escape. For the cow’s benefit and comfort, she must be milked. The cow has another agenda. She has snapped her rope tie, almost pulled up the stake, and in a show of strength and determination, the maid braces to pull a much larger animal around to retie her and restore things to how they were.

The action suggests the maid may succeed, but the cow’s attention is directed far afield. She doesn’t even feel the tug on her halter. We’re not fully convinced the cow won’t suddenly pull loose and break away from the maid’s grip, leaping the stream, tail raised straight in the air like a flag of freedom.

Right now, as spring advances rapidly with grass growing thick in the pastures, our horses can smell that richness in the air. Sometimes this tug of war takes place when my plan is different than the horse’s. The fields are too wet for them to be out full time yet, so they must wait for the appropriate time to be released to freedom. The grass calls to them like a siren song as I feed them their portion of last summer’s uninviting hay. They can pull my shoulders almost out of joint when they are determined enough, they break through fences in their pursuit of green, they push through stall doors and lift gates off hinges. Right now I’m barely an adequate counterbalance to the pursuit of their desires and I struggle to remind them I’m on the other end of their lead rope.

Each day I try too hard to restore order in my life, on the farm, in the house, in my clinic, with my patients and coworkers, with my family. I want to pull that cow back around, get her tied up and relieved of her burden of milk so that it can nurture and replenish others. Sometimes I hang on, only to be pulled along on the ground, roughed up in the process. Sometimes I just let go and have to try to catch that cow all over again.

Once in awhile I successfully get the cow turned around and actually milked without a spill.

I’ve held on. I’ve got a grip.
And maybe, just maybe, I will make cheese….

tony2017

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Turn Aside and Look: You Cover It All

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The cup and the loaf
You beckon me close
to commune
Like fruit on the vine
crushed into wine
You were bruised
Broken and torn
crowned with scorn
Poured out for all

Chorus:
All my sin
All my shame
All my secrets
All my chains
Lamb of God
Great is your love
Your blood covers it all

I taste and I drink
You satisfy me
With your love
Your goodness flows down
and waters dry ground
like a flood
Let mercy rain
Saving grace
Poured out for all

My sin, not in part
You cover it all,
You cover it all
Not in part,
But the whole
You cover it all,
You cover it all
It’s nailed to the cross.
You cover it all
You cover it all
And I bear it no more
You cover it all.
~Allie LaPointe and David Moffitt

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On this Maundy Thursday
we are called to draw near Him,
to gather together among the
hungry and thirsty
to the Supper He has prepared
even though we are full of thorns
that will pierce and make Him bleed.

He washes the dirt off our feet;
we look away, mortified.
He serves us from Himself;
we fret about whether
we are worthy.

We are not.

Starving and parched,
grimy and weary,
hardly presentable
to be guests at His table,
we are made worthy
only because
He has made us so.

He’s covered us,
despite our thorny exteriors,
entirely.

 

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Turn Aside and Look: Make a Stone Weep

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When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
S
ome of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,”
he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said,
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Luke 19: 37-44

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Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ‘ her being as unbound, her dapple is at an end, as-
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ‘ self ín self steepèd and páshed – quite
Disremembering, dísmémbering, ‘ áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ‘ whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves”

 

We human beings do real harm. History could make a stone weep.
Marilynne Robinson–Gilead

 

 

Created with the freedom to choose our own way, we tend to opt for the path of least resistance with the highest pay back, no matter who we bloody, trample, pummel or drag kicking and screaming in the process.

Hey, after all, we’re only human and that’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it.

No road less traveled on for most of us–instead we blindly head down the superhighway of what’s best for number one, no matter what it costs to get there, how seedy the billboards or how many warning signs appear, or where the ultimate destination takes us. History is full of the piled-high wrecking yards of demolition remnants from crashes along the way.

It’s enough to make even a stone weep. Certainly God wept and likely still does.

Thankfully we can rest in this ultimate confidence:  He knew what He was doing and thought it good — despite enduring tears and the bloody thorns.

 

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Turn Aside and Look: Barnstormed

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(I’ve been asked how my blog came to be named “Barnstorming” — most assume it is a doctor-farmer’s twist on “brainstorming” which didn’t occur to me until someone mentioned it to me.  Instead, the name has nothing to do with brains, baseball teams, politics or daredevil piloting of small airplanes.  It has everything to do with a storm taking place in our barn at the beginning of Holy Week  years ago.)

An unexpected southerly wind hit suddenly late Sunday night, gusting up to 40 miles an hour and slamming the house with drenching rain as we prepared to go to bed. Chores in the barn had been done hours before, but as we had not been expecting a storm, the north/south center aisle doors were still open, and I could hear banging and rattling as they were buffeted in the wind. I quickly dressed to go latch the doors for the night, but the tempest had done its damage. Hay, empty buckets, horse blankets, tack and cat food had blown all over the barn aisle, while the Haflingers stood wide-eyed and fretful in their stalls.

A storm was blowing inside the barn as well as outside it.

It took some time to tidy up the mess after the doors were secured but all was soon made right. The wind continued to bash at the doors, but it no longer could touch anything inside them. The horses relaxed and got back to their evening meal though the noise coming from outside was deafening. I headed back up to the house and slept fitfully listening to the wind blow all night, wondering if the metal barn roof might pull off in a gust, exposing everything within.

Yet in the new daylight this Monday morning, all is calm. The barn is still there, the roof still on, the horses are where they belong and all seems to be as it was before the barnstorming wind. Or so it might appear.

This wind heralds another storm coming this week that hits with such force that I’m knocked off my feet, swept away, and left bruised and breathless. No latches, locks, or barricades are strong enough to protect me from what will come over the next few days.

Yesterday He rode in on a donkey softly, humbly, and wept at what He knew.

Today, He overturns the tables in His fury.

Tomorrow he echoes the destruction that is to happen.

Wednesday, He teaches the people to prepare them, then rests in anticipation.

On Thursday, He kneels, pours water over dusty feet, presides over a simple meal, and then, abandoned,  sweats blood in agonized prayer.

By Friday, all culminates in the perfect storm, transforming everything in its path, leaving nothing untouched.

The silence on Saturday is deafening.

Next Sunday, the Son rises and returns, all is calm, all is well, all set to right.  He calls my name, my heart burns within me at His words and I can never be the same again.

Barnstormed to the depths of my soul. Doors flung open wide, the roof pulled off, everything blown away and now replaced, renewed and reconciled.

May it be done as He has said, again and yet again.

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Turn Aside and Look: One Far Fierce Hour

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photo of a rescue donkey courtesy of Anna Blake at Infinity Farm  annablakeblog.com

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings…

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”

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photo of Edgar Rice Burro by Anna Blake, Infinity Farm  annablakeblog.com

Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day.  Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now– for his plain and awkward looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.

There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God,  the disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.

But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.

The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving.  Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort.  Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger,  just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod,  the donkey would keep his secret well.   Who, after all,  would ever listen to a mere donkey?

We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom.  The donkey knows.   He bears the burden we have shirked.  He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as our meaningless symbols of honor.   He is servant to the Servant.

A day of dichotomy — of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on.   Of blessings and praise turning to curses.  Of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.

And so He wept, knowing all this.  I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.

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Turn Aside and Look: The Truth Beyond All Truths

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And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?
~Frederick Buechner  from The Magnificent Defeat

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[The Incarnation is like] a wave of the sea which,
rushing up on the flat beach,
runs out, even thinner and more transparent,
and does not return to its source but sinks into the sand and disappears.
~Hans Urs von Balthasar from Origen: Spirit and Fire

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We are approaching the week of emptying that leads to the fullness of Easter morning.  It is impossible to approach this time without feeling hollowed out and emotionally drained, our empty spaces to be filled to the brim with grace.

More over, through commemoration of these historical events, God on earth once again sinks deeply into our lives, pours Himself onto our earthly soil and into our fleshly souls.  He washes our dirty feet, feeds us at His table, and pleads on our behalf for forgiveness when we deserve none of it.

He loses Himself in us.  Through Him,  we are renewed and refilled, welcomed home, whole and holy.

Hollowed, then hallowed.

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Let him kneel down, lower his face to the grass,
And look at light reflected by the ground.
There he will find everything we have lost.
~Czeslaw Milosz from “The Sun”

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Turn Aside and Look: Full of Darkness

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photo by Josh Scholten

 

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
~Mary Oliver, “The Uses of Sorrow”

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The bright sadness of Lent
is a box full of darkness
given to us by someone who loves us.

It takes a lifetime to understand,
if we ever do,
this gift with which we are entrusted
is meant to
hand off to another and another
whom we love just as well.

Opening the box
allows light in
where none was before.
Sorrow shines bright
reaching up
from the deep well
of our loving
and being loved.