The Thing With Feathers

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“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
~Emily Dickinson
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Our local fair feels much like I remember when I was a child in the 60’s, accompanying my father to the Lynden fairgrounds during those summers of political and social turmoil.  His job was to supervise the teachers of FFA kids (Future Farmers of America) so he did the rounds of the regional and county fairs and my brother and I tagged along to explore the exhibits and go on rides.

The heart beat of a country fair pulses deep for me: I fell in love with my future husband at a fair, and we spent twenty years from 1992-2012 at the local Lynden fair exhibiting our Haflinger horses together as family and friends. Once our children grew and flew away four years ago, my husband and I were relegated to mere fair-goers, exploring exhibits without the need to show up to muck out stalls at 6 AM.

The chicken exhibit building is one of the same buildings I wandered through as a child over fifty years ago.  As we entered, it struck me I was admiring designs and color schemes, layered with nuance and texture, much like the nearby quilt exhibit — these feathers are God’s threads put to exquisite use to blanket a mere chicken.
So much design, so much detail, so much hope covers something as mere as a chicken … and me.
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To Shut Out the Immensity

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He loved mountains,
or he had loved the thought of them marching
on the edge of stories brought from far away;
but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth.
He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.
~J.R.R Tolkien from Lord of the Rings 

 

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I am so high in the windy sun,
On the rock-boned back of the highest thing,
That the mountains under me, every one,
Are but wrinkled gestures …. westering.
~Thomas Hornsby Ferril from “One Mountain Hour”

 

 

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Surrounded as we are in the northwest by so much raw and rugged beauty, I’m easily overwhelmed.  My breath catches when I turn my face to these monoliths of stone and ice.

There is no sound up there except my heartbeat.  No birds.  Even breezes are silent with no trees or leaves to rustle.  Twenty foot walls of snow.

I am content to gaze at these peaks from afar, now and again to visit awed at their feet, to listen for their stories of near-eternity.

I always retreat back home chastened.

So infinitesimal among such immensity.

 

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The Heavens Boiling

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Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil…
~Isaiah 64:1-2

 

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And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which 
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
-Wendell Berry “To My Mother”

 

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Something woke me at 4:45 AM:  perhaps the orange glow bathing my face. Never one to miss a light show, I heeded the call and obeyed.

Once outside, I watched clouds boiling –  shifting and swirling in unrest as if something or someone may emerge momentarily.

No trumpets.
Just early morning bird song oblivious to the turmoil.

Within a minute, the heavens settled and so did I, no longer entangled and dismayed.

Yet for a moment this morning, I did wonder what might become of us all.

 

 

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How Do We Know?

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How do you know, deep underground,
Hid in your bed from sight and sound,
Without a turn in temperature,
With weather life can scarce endure,
That light has won a fraction’s strength,
And day put on some moments’ length,
Whereof in merest rote will come,
Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;
     O crocus root, how do you know,
          How do you know?
~Thomas Hardy, from Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems

 

 

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This is why I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders. The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise.

…To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that.  Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale.  A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’  in the same spirit in which he says ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’

Because we know what is coming behind the crocus.

The spring comes slowly down the way, but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.  There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not.

We can. 

We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on…to which He is calling us.

It remains with us whether 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”

 

 

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If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
~Seamus Heaney from “The Cure at Troy”

 

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We are mere seed lying dormant, plain and simple, with nothing to distinguish us one from the other until the murmurs of spring begin, so soft, so subtle.  The soil shakes loose frosty crust as the thawing warmth begins.   Sunlight makes new life stir and swell, no longer frozen but animate and intimate.

We will soon wake with a “birth-cry” from our quiescence to sprout, bloom and fruit.  We will reach as far as our tethered roots will allow, beyond earthly bounds to touch the light and be touched.

How do we know when the time has come?

We are ready and waiting to unfurl, in response to the fire in the sky:
called by the voice and breath of God.

 

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Never and Always At Home

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It is merely
a question of continuous
adjustment, of improvising a life. When I’m far from friends
or the easing of a wind
against my back, I think of lichen—
never and always true to its essence,
never and always at home.
~John McCullough from “Lichen”

 

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We are lichens on a grand scale.
~David Haskell

 

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Closer, with the glass, a city of cups!

Why are they doing this?

In this big sky and all around me peaks &
the melting glaciers, why am I made to
kneel and peer at Tiny?
~Lew Welch from “Springtime in the Rockies, Lichen”
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The lichen raised its fragile cup,
and rain filled it, and in the drop
the sky glittered, holding back the wind.

The lichen raised its fragile cup:
Now let’s toast the richness of our lives.
~Helvi Juvonen  “Lichen Cup”

 

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I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of 63 years, and on this farm for 24 years.  The grandeur of the snow-capped mountains to the east and the peaceful shore to the west overwhelms everything in between.  I’ve walked past these bare antique apple trees autumn after autumn, but had never stopped to really look at the landscape growing on their shoulders and arms.  There is a whole other ecosystem on each tree, a fairy land of earth bound seaweed, luxuriant in the fall rains, dried and hidden behind leaves and fruit in the hot summer.

This is the world of lichen, a mixed up cross between mold and fungus, opportunistic enough to thrive on rock faces, but ecstatic on absorbent bark.

I had never really noticed how proudly diverse they are.  I had walked right by their rich color and texture.

Yet it hasn’t bothered them not to be noticed as they are busy minding their own business.  As John McCullough says,  they thrive happily where they find themselves “never and always true to their essence, never and always at home.”

 

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But what is life to a lichen?
Yet its impulse to exist,
to be,
is every bit as strong as ours —
arguably even stronger.
If I were told that I had to spend decades
being a furry growth on a rock in the woods,
I believe I would lose the will to go on.

~Bill Bryson

 

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A Muffled Whuff

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Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared,
then another, and another.
It was the starlings going to roost. 
They gathered deep in the distance,  flock sifting into flock,
and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke.
They seemed to unravel as they flew,
lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. 
I didn’t move;
they flew directly over my head for half an hour. 

Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down
in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except
that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced.
The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye.
Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff.
Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig,
right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.

Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now,
birds winging through the gaps between my cells,
touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet?
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

 

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Watching the starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me.  I feel queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.

Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions.  It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t.  It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t.  They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound.

We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA.  Yet we don’t learn from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks.  We have become frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, going our own way bumping and crashing without care.

We have lost our internal moral compass.

We shoot each other in the backs, even during school lessons or listening to music or engaging in acts of worship.  We watch each other bleed and die.

And do nothing yet again.

The sound of silence is muffled weeping.

 

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All the Airy Words We Summon

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The world does not need words.
It articulates itself in sunlight, leaves, and shadows.
The stones on the path are no less real
for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only 
the dialect of pure being.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds, 
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always–
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.
~Dana Giola from “Words”

 

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The words the world needs is the Word itself;
we are
because He breathed breath into us
and said that it was good.

Whatever we have to say about His Creation
pales compared to His
it is good

But we try
over and over again
to use words of wonder and praise
to express our awe and gratitude and amazement
while painted golden by His breath of Light.

 

 

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