Turn Aside and Look: First and Last Breaths

During these Lenten days, (and every day),
we are reminded of the gift of our first Breath
and the invitation in our last Breath.
We are asked stop living for self,
which can only lead to death,
and instead die to self,
so that we may live.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake,
he is the one who will save it.
Luke 9:24

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First breath can come
Before even fully delivered
Encased and swaddled tight
Nose bubbling, mouth gaping, swallowing hungrily
Building up to a moist initial gasp~
Air-filled and sliding free
Hands clenched, then fingers spread,
Ready to grasp and hold on tight to life,
Arms reaching out to stop the fall.

A lifetime then spent holding fast,
Eventually toppling frail and
Slowly adrift, floating unmoored
Reaching for unseen fruit no longer needed
Breath comes ragged, at times silenced
Then gulp and sigh, ready to
Loosen grasp as anchor is lifted, and with
Last soft breath,
Delivered gently into the hand of God.

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photo by Andrea Nipges

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.

Turn Aside and Look: Piercing What is Dead

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I saw that a yellow crocus bud had pierced
a dead oak leaf, then opened wide. How strong
its appetite for the luxury of the sun!
~Jane Kenyon from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems

 

Our appetite is strong for light and warmth.  Our desire is to defeat death, to pierce through the decay and flourish among the living, opening wide our face to the luxury of grace freely given.

We need only follow the pathway out of darkness.  We need only follow the Son as he leads the way.

Turn Aside and Look: Fields of Our Hearts

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Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
~John Crum from The Oxford Book of Carols

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Over the last several weeks, roots have become shoots and their green blades are rising chaotically, uneven and awkward like a bad haircut.  And like a bad haircut, another two weeks will make all the difference — sprouts will cover all the bare earth, breaking through crusted mud to create a smooth carpet of green.

There is nothing more hopeful than the barren made fruitful, the ugly made beautiful, the dead made alive.

The fields of our broken hearts recover; love is come again.

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Turn Aside and Look: No Longer Your Own

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You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
1 Corinthians 6: 19b-20a

 

There is a well known story with a number of variations, all involving a scorpion that stings a good-souled frog/turtle/crocodile/person who tries to rescue it from drowning. Since the sting dooms the rescuer and as a result the scorpion as well, the scorpion explains “to sting is in my nature”. In one version, the rescuer tries again and again to help the scorpion, repeatedly getting stung, only to explain before he dies “it may be in your nature to sting but it is in my nature to save.”

This is actually a story originating from Eastern religion and thought, the purpose of which is to illustrate the “dharma”, or orderly nature of things. The story ends perfectly for the Eastern religions believer even though both scorpion and the rescuer die in the end, as the dharma of the scorpion and of the rescuer is realized, no matter what the outcome. Things are what they are, without judgment, and actualization of that nature is the whole point.

However, this story only resonates for the Christian if the nature of the scorpion is forever transformed by the sacrifice of the rescuer on its behalf. The scorpion is no longer its own so no longer slave to its “nature”. It is no longer just a scorpion with a need and desire to sting whatever it sees. It has been “bought” through the sacrifice of the Rescuer.

So we too are no longer our own,
no longer the stinger
no longer the stung:
no longer who we used to be before we were rescued.

We are bought at a price beyond imagining.

And our nature to hurt, to punish, to sting shall be no more.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15: 55

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There at the table
With my head in my hands
A column of numbers
I just could not understand
You said “Add these together
Carry the two
Now you.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

At a cold winter station
Breathing into our gloves
This would change me forever
Leaving for God knows what
You carried my bags
You said “I’ll wait
For you.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

Late at night I called
And you answered the phone
The worst it had happened
And I did not want to be alone
You quietly listened
You said “We’ll see this thru.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

Here we stand breathless
And pressed in hard times
Hearts hung like laundry
On backyard clothes lines
Impossible just takes
A little more time

From the muddy ground
Comes a green volunteer
In a place we thought barren
New life appears
Morning will come whistling
Some comforting tune
For you

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing
~Carrie Newcomer

 

Turn Aside and Look: What Shall I Cry?

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“I alternate between thinking of the planet as home
– dear and familiar stone hearth and garden –
and as a hard land of exile in which we are all sojourners.”
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone To Talk

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A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”
~Isaiah 40:6-8

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And what shall I cry?

I find it very difficult to admit I am as temporary as a rain drop a flower, a mere mirrored reflection of this incredible place where I dwell.  I want so badly for it to last, I want it etched in stone, I want to be remembered beyond the next generation, I want not to be lost to the ether.

Yet I, like everyone, am sojourner only, not settled and certainly not lasting.   As a garden flourishes and then dies back, so will I.  This is exile in the wilderness until I am led back home.

Home.  Really home. No longer fading and withering.

Forever etched on His heart, held fast in His Hand,
His Word enduring far beyond my flesh.

 

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All flesh is like the grass
The grass withers and fades away.
All flesh is like the grass
The grass withers and fades away.
The glory of man like a flower
That shrivels in the sun and falls.
The glory of man like a flower
That shrivels in the sun and falls.
But the Word of the Lord
Endures forever.
~Fernando Ortega

A February Blanket

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The day is ending,
The night is descending;
The marsh is frozen,
The river dead.

Through clouds like ashes
The red sun flashes
On village windows
That glimmer red.
–  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Afternoon in February”

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Under the giving snow
blossoms a daring spring.
~Terri Guillemets

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As if we need a reminder
that nature doesn’t check the calendar
and the weather does what it pleases when it pleases:

~a snow fell for hours yesterday
and we remain cloaked this morning~

we look more pristine than we are.

Underneath this fluffy blanket
we’re barely presentable,
sleep-deprived,
wrinkled and worn,
all mud and mildew.

But Spring will come
rising from the dust,
lit from an inner fire
that never burns out.

Through clouds like ashes
we turn aside to know God,
away from what was dying
to see His flash of life.

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photo by Nate Gibson