Between Midnight and Dawn: Before the Morning Watch

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Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.
from Psalm 90

 

Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,
The future futureless, before the morning watch
When time stops and time is never ending;
And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning,
Clangs
The bell.
~T.S. Eliot from “The Dry Salvages”

_____________

Today we confront mortality~
our eventual return to dust
on a timeline not our own.
With each headline about tragic accidents,
dire diseases, senseless shootings,
we know this death, this life swept away
could be ours:
is ours.
We do not walk this darkened path alone.
Each death is His as well.

During this Lenten season, I will be drawing from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

 

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photo by Joel DeWaard

Weep for Wonder

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Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

Hope Increased

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Van Gogh's Irises

Van Gogh’s Irises

I have a small grain of hope–
one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.

I need more.

I break off a fragment
to send you.

Please take
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink.

Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow.

Only so, by division,
will hope increase,

like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source–
clumsy and earth-covered–
of grace.
~Denise Levertov “For the New Year, 1981”

Years ago,  my newly widowed sister-in-law was trying to bring order to her late husband’s large yard and flower garden which had become overgrown following his sudden cardiac death in his mid-fifties.  In her ongoing ebb and flow with her grief, she brought to us several paper bags full of iris roots resting solemnly in clumps of dirt–dry misshapened feet and fingers crippled and homely — such unlikely sources of hope and healing.

We were late in the year getting them into the ground but they rewarded us with immense forgiveness. They took hold in the freedom of space in a new home and transformed our little courtyard into a Van Gogh landscape. Over the years they continue to gladden our hearts until we too must, to save them, divide them to pass on their gift of beauty to another garden.

This act– “by division, will hope increase”–feels radical yet that is exactly what God did:  sending Himself to become dusty, grime and earth-covered, so plain, so broken, so full of hope ready to bloom.

A part of God put down roots to grow, thrive and be divided, over and over and over again to increase the beauty and grace for those of us limited to this soil.

Just so:
our garden will bloom so all can see and know: hope grows here.

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I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
~Thomas Hardy “The Darkling Thrush” written on New Year’s Eve 1899

God Among Us: Sharing Our Sadness

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A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.
Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:15

Jesus wept.
John 11:35

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Matthew 26: 38-39

God could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane. Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any im­portance. We should also have missed the all-important help of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin. If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incar­nate at all.
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis

 …as you sit beneath your beautifully decorated tree, eat the rich food of celebration, and laugh with your loved ones, you must not let yourself forget the horror and violence at the beginning and end of the Christmas story. The story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.

Look into that manger representing a new life and see the One who came to die. Hear the angels’ celebratory song and remember that sad death would be the only way that peace would be given. Look at your tree and remember another tree – one not decorated with shining ornaments, but stained with the blood of God.

As you celebrate, remember that the pathway to your celebration was the death of the One you celebrate, and be thankful.
~Paul Tripp

 

Written for too many innocents who have died this year at the hands of others…

There can be no consolation;
only mourning and great weeping,
sobbing that wrings dry
every human cell,
leaving dust behind,
dust, only dust
which is beginning
and end.

He came to us
for times such as this,
born of
the dust of woman and
the breath of Spirit,
God who bent down to
lie in barn dust,
walk on roads of dust,
die and be laid to rest as dust
in order to conquer
such evil as this
that could terrify masses
and massacre innocents.

He became dust to be
like us
He began a mere speck in a womb
like us,
so easily washed away
as unexpected, unneeded, unwanted.

Lord, You are long expected.
You are needed
You are wanted.

Your heart beat
like ours
breathing each breath
like ours
until a fearful fallen world
took Your
and our breath
away.

You shine through
the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
Your tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.

You hear our cries
as You cry too.
You know our tears
as You weep too.
You know our mourning
as You mourned too.
You know our dying
as You died too.

God weeps
as tragedy happens.
Evil comes not from God
yet humankind embraces it.
Sin is a choice
we made from the beginning,
a choice we continue to make.

Only God can glue together
what evil has shattered.
He just asks us to hand Him
the pieces of our broken hearts.

We will know His peace
when He comes
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried,
our cells no longer
just dust,
never only dust
as we are glued together
by the breath of God
forevermore.
~EPG

the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Luke 1: 78-79

 

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully, lullay.

1. O sisters too,
How may we do,
For to preserve this day?
This poor Youngling
For Whom we sing
By by, lully, lullay?

2. Herod the king,
In his raging,
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might,
In his own sight,
All young children to slay.

3. That woe is me,
Poor Child for Thee!
And ever morn and may,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny Child,
By by, lully, lullay.

 

Good people all, this Christmas time
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending His beloved Son

With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas day
In Bethlehem upon that morn’
There was a blessed Messiah born

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God’s angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear

“Arise and go”, the angels said
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you’ll find this happy morn’
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born”

With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went that Babe to find
And as God’s angel had foretold
They did our Savior Christ behold

Within a manger He was laid
And by his side the Virgin maid
As long foretold upon that morn’
There was a blessed Messiah born

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

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God Among Us: Shiver at His Passing

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He asked her,
“Woman, why are you crying?
Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said,
“Sir, if you have carried him away,
tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

John 20:15

 

A lily shivered
at His passing,
supposing Him to be
the Gardener.
~Margaret D. Smith “Easter morning, yesterday”
from A Widening Light -Poems of the Incarnation

 

So ordinary, so like one of us~
in the manger or later in the garden,
just another baby
just another man
but more, much more
than we ever could have imagined.
The fields of our hearts, bare and dead,
spring back to life again.
EPG

 

Sing we now of Christmas
Sing we all Noel
Of the Lord and Savior
We the tidings tell
Sing we Noel
For Christ the King is born
Sing we Noel
For Christ the Lord is born
Angels from on high
May shepherds come and see
He’s born in Bethlehem
A blessed family
Glory to God
For Christ our King is born
Glory to God
For Christ our Lord is born
Sing we now of Christmas
Sing we all Noel
Sing we now of Christmas
Sing we all Noel
Sing we all Noel
Sing we all Noel
~Noel Nouvelet (French Carol)

 

 

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.

In the grave they laid Him, Love Whom we had slain,
Thinking that He’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Up He sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Up from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
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.

Noel Nouvelet (French Carol for Easter)

The Clinging Mist

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My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
     Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
     She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
     She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
     Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
     The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
     And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
     The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
     And they are better for her praise.
~Robert Frost “My November Guest”

 

November,
the month of darkening,
transforms
to a recounting of gratitude
of daily thanksgiving and blessings~~

it is good to dwell on our gifts,
even so, it is right
to invite Sorrow
to sit in silence with us,
her tears blending with ours.

These deepening days
of bare stripped branches
feed our growing need
for the covering grace
of His coming light.

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The Hiddenness of Poems

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footprint photo by Josh Scholten

I’ll tell you a secret: poems hide.
In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping.
They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up.
What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them.
Naomi Shihab Nye

 

Poems were hidden from me for decades.  I was oblivious a hundred times a day to their secrets: dripping right over me in the shower,  rising over hills bright pink, tucked under a toadstool, breathing deeply as I auscultated a chest,  unfolding with each blossom, settling heavily on my eyelids at night.

The day I awoke to them was the day thousands of innocents died in sudden cataclysm of airplanes and buildings and fire — people not knowing when they got up that day it would be their last.  And such taking of life happens again and again; our world weeps.

Suddenly poems show themselves. I begin to see, listen, touch, smell, taste as if each day would be my last.
I have learned to live in a way that lets me see through the hiddenness and now it overwhelms me.  Poems are everywhere when I look.

And I don’t know if I have enough time left to write them all down.

 

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