A Wordless Immanence

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in celebration of a night’s rain and possibly more to come after months of drought, dust and wildfires to the east ~~~
… relief for the change in weather, but sadness at the coming transition to the dying darkness of autumn.

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At the end of August, fall nip in the air,
I sensed something beyond me,
Everywhere I felt it in my flesh
As I beheld the sea and sky, the day,
The wordless immanence of the eternal…
~Richard Eberhart from “The Loon Call”

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August rain:
the best of the summer gone,
and the new fall not yet born.
The odd uneven time.
~Sylvia Plath

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I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.   
I want to be entered and picked clean.
~Charles Wright from “Clear Night”
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To Keep Us Warm

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“I make them warm to keep my family from freezing;
I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking.”
–From the journal of a prairie woman, 1870
To keep a husband and five children warm,
she quilts them covers thick as drifts against
the door. Through every fleshy square white threads
needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours
count each small suture that holds together
the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life.
She pieces each one beautiful, and summer bright
to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers
the scraps grow to green birds and purple
improbable leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter
mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold
between the double stars, the wedding rings.
~Luci Shaw “Quiltmaker”

in the unknown world
the woman
threading together her need
and her needle
nods toward the smiling girl
remember
this will keep us warm

~Lucille Clifton from “quilting”

 

It could be the world was made this way:
piecemeal, the parts fitting together
as if made for one another~
disparate and separate
coming together.
The point of its creation
to be forever functional,
a blanket of warmth and security
but its result is so much more:
beauty arising from scraps,
the broken stitched to broken
to become holy and whole.

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This Mysterious Passage

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But a dragon lies in ambush for the traveler;
take care he does not bite you and inject you his poison of unbelief.
Seeing this numerous company winning salvation,
he selects and stalks his prey.
In your journey to the Father of souls,
your way lies past that dragon. |
How shall you pass him?
You must have “your feet stoutly with the gospel of peace,”
so that, even if he does bite you,
he may not hurt you.
~St. Cyril of Jerusalem

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote:
“The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass.
Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls,
but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”
No matter what form the dragon may take,
it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws,
that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell,
and this being the case, it requires considerable courage
at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.

~Flannery O’Connor

Here be dragons
was any place on the ancient maps
that was unknown and unexplored,
much like the remainder of our days
are on the edge of any map we know.

So many dragons to pass,
so many mysteries remain unsolved,
so many stories of journey to be told,
and above all,
we must listen to what all have to teach us
and not stray from the worn path of the faithful.

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When August Burning Low

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Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now
~Emily Dickinson

“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time.  The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world.  She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:

So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others.  The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state.  Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.”
~N. Scott Momaday from The Man Made of Words

 

On the first day of his class in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this poem on the blackboard and told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written.  In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a New England recluse  — someone as culturally distant from him as possible.

But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences.  What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song, doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our appreciation of nature. Just as the fires in our state are incinerating everything, even the insects of the fields, in its path, we still find grace and meaning in the destruction.  There is no one as lonely as the fire fighter facing the flame and no one as lonely as the poet facing the empty page, in search of words.

Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone.  The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man.

There is no furrow on the glow.  There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already planted and yielding a fruited plain.

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What I’m Meant to Be

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(to my three good friends from down the road who love our big leaf maple tree, and who always request this song when I’m playing piano for Sunday School at Wiser Lake Chapel)

 

I’ve got roots growing down to the water,
I’ve got leaves growing up to the sunshine and the fruit that I bear is a sign of life in me,
I am shade from the hot summer sundown,
I am nest for the birds of the heaven,
I’m becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be.
A strong young tree….

~Ken Medema from “The Tree Song”

 

 

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The Bounds of the Infinite

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God is not infinite;
He is the synthesis
of infinity and boundary.

~Coventry Patmore

He chose the boundaries of the finite;
to be helpless as a baby,
to love flawed parents,
to be dusty and tired and tempted,
to weep,
to be hurt, bleeding, bound by nails,
dead and buried as man,
to await rising as God.

Living and dying within such boundaries as ours
show us His infinite Truth:
He knows what it means
to be finite,
like us.

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Bean Snapping

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It’s that bean-snapping time of year again — preparing them fresh-picked for blanching and freezing, with visions of winter-time green bean casserole dancing in my head.

Bean snapping is a quintessential front porch American Gothic kind of activity.  Old black and white Saturday matinee movies would somehow work in a bean snapping scene with an old maid aunt sitting on her ranch house porch.  She’d be rocking back and forth in her rocking chair, her apron wrinkled and well-worn, her graying hair in a bun at the nape of her neck and wearily pushing back tendrils of hair from her face. As the sole guardian, she’d be counseling some lonely orphaned niece or nephew about life’s rough roads and why their dog or pony had just died and then pausing for a moment holding a bean in her hand, she’d talk about how to cope when things are tough. She was the rock for this child’s life.  Then she’d rather gruffly shove a bowl of unsnapped beans into the child’s lap, and tell them to get back to work– life goes on –start snapping. Then she’d look at that precious child out of the corner of her eye, betraying the love and compassion that dwells in her heart but was not in her nature to speak of.  If only that grieving child understood they sat upon a rock of strength and hope.

Just as I sat with my mother snapping beans some 50+ years ago and talked about some difficult things that were unique to the 60′s,  I too have sat snapping beans together with our children, talking about  hopes and disappointments and fears, listening to them grumble that I was making them do something so utterly trivial when from their perspective, there were far more important things to be doing. My response has been a loving and gruff “keep snapping”.  Of course we really don’t have to snap the beans, as they could be frozen whole, but they pack tighter snapped, and it is simply tradition to do so.  We enjoy that crisp satisfying crack of a perfectly bisected bean broken by hand–no need for knife to cut off the top and tail.    We prepare for a coming winter by putting away the vegetables we have sowed and weeded and watered and cared for, because life will go on and eating the harvest of our own soil and toil is sweet.

We must do this. Indeed it is all we can do when the world is tumbling down around us.

Truthfully, though no one wants to eat a rubbery bean, there are times I wish I would be more rubbery like a bean that won’t break automatically and is more resilient.  I have a psychiatrist colleague who I’ve worked with for years who counsels “be like a willow — learn to bend under pressure.”

There is an old Shaker Hymn that I learned long ago and sing to myself when I need to be reminded where I too must end up when I’m at the breaking point.

I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free,
I will bow and be humble,
Yea, bow like the willow tree.

I will bow, this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and will be broken,
Yea, I'll fall upon the rock.

As people of resilient faith we seek to wear the yoke we’ve been given to pull, bow in humility under its burden and know the freedom that comes with service to others.  Even in the midst of the most horrific brokenness, we fall upon the rock bearing us up with love and compassion.

It is there under us and we’ve done nothing whatsoever to earn it.

Time for us to get back to work and resume snapping–life does go on.

(a Barnstorming reblog)