The World Made Whole

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To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing—the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.

…every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long.
~Marilynne Robinson from Housekeeping

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To wait for the “not yet” is a hard sweet tension in the Christian life.

It is hard not yet having what we know is to come.
But it is sweet to have certainty
because of what we have already been given
as foreshadowing of what will be everlasting.

Like the labor of childbirth,
we groan knowing what it will take to get there,
and we are full to brimming already.

The waiting won’t be easy;
it will often be painful to be patient,
staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted,
and barely able to function.
Others won’t understand why we wait in hope,
nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for.

Yet we persevere and wander this life together — craving for what we don’t yet have, longing for what we’ve lost.  We groan together in expectation of what is to come in the morning.

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It is not physical beauty,
nor temporal glory,
nor the brightness of light so dear to earthly eyes,
nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs,
nor the gentle odor of flowers or ointments or perfumes,
nor manna, nor honey,
nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh.
It is not these things I love when I love my God.

Yet there is a light I love,
and a food,
and a kind of embrace when I love my God.
A light, voice, odor, food,
embrace of my innerness,
where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain,
where there is sound that time cannot seize,
where there is perfume which no breeze disperses,
where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can satisfy,
where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part.
That is what I love, when I love my God.
~Augustine of Hippo

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God designed His creation as a reflection of His Being. We and everything around us are the image bearers — even in our heart of darkness we are floodlit by a goodness overflowing our soul’s capacity.

We are in His spotlight; we are floodlit.

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The Twinges of this World

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Under a canopy of leaves,
the irises, bountiful,
the calico butterfly flashing

and this one golden head
of a dazzling sunflower grasping
its cowled neck,

outweighing its stalk

in order to turn,
full bonneted,
to the absolute light.

What wonders these are:
things struggling
filament by filament,

birds twittering in a laughter
that could be weeping,
barely feeling the twinges of this world,

where the weak get stronger
or snailish with cracks

a day at a time.
~Judith Harris “Recovery”

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“Be patient and without bitterness, and realize that the least we can do is to make coming into existence no more difficult for Him than the earth does for spring when it wants to come.”
Rainier Marie Rilke

We feel the twinges of struggling to live broken in difficult times; indeed all our days are difficult times. We won’t get out of this predicament alive.

Whether we care or not about what happens next does not alter the fact Christ dwells with us; our heavy heads bow, turning to the absolute light. The coming of spring will not be stopped by a slumbering disinterested earth.

Like Mary, we must say:  “Let it be”, not “no, not me, not now.”

We are transformed, simply by accepting He has come on our behalf:
an oh so difficult faith that connects us like a filament to heaven,
like a shoot breaking through the crust of frozen earth to reach the sun in order to bloom,
like the butterfly emerging from its cracked chrysalis to try its wings,
like the snail shell abandoned because we will no longer fit inside its broken walls.

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Making Hay and Raising Tomatoes

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There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it.

The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Other than a few exceptional circumstances in my life, I have always played it safe: a down-home, don’t rock the boat, work hard and live-a-quiet-life kind of person. My grandparents lived that way, my parents lived that way so I feel like it is bound in the twists and turns of my DNA.

Even so, I do know a thing or two about sulking on the edge of rage, lost in a morass of seething bitterness about the state of the world.  Yet if I were honest about it, my discontent is all about me, always about me. I fail to measure up.

But then that is the rub: I can never deserve unmerited grace.  It is pure Gift, borne out of radical sacrifice.

And because of that Gift, I can live a life of radical gratitude, even if a little quietly.

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A Curious Gladness

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Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.
So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
and still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
“Light splashed…”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.
~Stanley Kunitz  “The Round”

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It is too easy to be ground to a pulp by the little things, those worries that never seem to wane, sucking the gladness out of the day.  They become four dimensional and soon we’re enveloped within, losing all perspective on what got us out of bed to begin the day.

God is in these intricate details, whether the splash of light on a petal or the smell of rotting refuse and it is our job to notice.  It is tempting to look past His ubiquitous presence in all things, to seek out only the elegant grandeur of creation.   Yet even what lacks elegance from our limited perspective, is still worthy of His divine attention.

The time has come to be refreshed and renewed
even when surrounded by decay.
His care is revealed in the tiniest way.
He is worthy of my attention.

A new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

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One Hundred Years Old

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…when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about, and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn’t ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.
~Henri Nouwen from The Return of the Prodigal Son

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Today is the 100th anniversary of Wiser Lake Chapel‘s building dedication ceremony and picnic — a special celebration is planned with information found here.

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Back in the early days of Whatcom County,  the little church on Wiser Lake had been constructed through “contributions of the people” in a rural neighborhood only a few miles from where we now live.  $600 in lumber was provided by a local farmer whose trees were cut and milled and brought by horse drawn wagon to a building site adjacent to a one room school house along a corrugated plank road. The total property was “valued at $1800, but of even more value to the community.” The dedication ceremony was held on Sunday, August 27, 1916 followed by “a basket dinner—come with well filled baskets for a common table, under the direction of the Ladies Aid”. This was to be followed by a “Fellowship Meeting, special music and fraternal addresses” and the day ended at 8 PM with a Young People’s Meeting.  So began the long history of the “Wiser Lake Church”.

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For reasons unrecorded in the history of the church, the original denomination closed the doors thirty years later, and for awhile the building was empty and in need of a congregation. By the fifties, it became a mission church of the local Christian Reformed Churches and launched a Sunday School program for migrant farm and Native American children in the surrounding rural neighborhood.  No formal church services started until the sixties. By the time the building was sixty years old, so many children were arriving for Sunday School, there was not enough room so the building was hoisted up on jacks to allow a hole to be dug underneath for a basement full of classrooms. Over the course of a summer, the floor space doubled, and the church settled back into place, allowed to rest again on its foundation.

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Over seventy years after its dedication ceremony, our family drove past the boxy building countless times hurrying on our way to other places, barely giving it a second glance. It had a classic design, but showed its age with peeling paint,  a few missing shingles, an old fashioned square flat roofed belfry, and arched windows. The hand lettered sign spelling out “Wiser Lake Chapel” by the road constituted a humble invitation of sorts, simply by listing the times of the services.

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photo by Julie Garrett
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photo by Julie Garrett

On a blustery December Sunday evening, we had no place else to be for a change.  Instead of driving past, we stopped, welcomed by the yellow glow pouring from the windows and an almost full parking lot. Our young family climbed the steps to the big double doors, and inside were immediately greeted by a large balding man with a huge grin and encompassing handshake. He pointed us to one of the few open spots still available in the old wooden pews.

The sanctuary was a warm and open space with a high lofted ceiling, dark wood trim accents matching the ancient pews, and a plain wooden cross above the pulpit in front. There was a pungent smell from fir bough garlands strung along high wainscoting, and a circle of candles standing lit on a small altar table. Apple pie was baking in the kitchen oven, blending with the aroma of good coffee and hot cocoa.

The service was a Sunday School Christmas program, with thirty some children of all ages and skin colors standing up front in bathrobes and white sheet angel gowns, wearing gold foil halos, tinfoil crowns and dish towels wrapped with string around their heads. They were prompted by their teachers through carols and readings of the Christmas story. The final song was Silent Night, sung by candle light, with each child and member of the congregation holding a lit candle. There was a moment of excitement when one girl’s long hair briefly caught fire, but after that was quickly extinguished, the evening ended in darkness, with the soft glow of candlelight illuminating faces of the young and old, some in tears streaming over their smiles.

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photo by Julie Garrett

It felt like home. We had found our church.

We’ve never left.

Over the past one hundred years this old building has seen a few thousand people come and go, has had peeling paint and missing shingles, a basement that floods when the rain comes down hard, toilets that don’t always flush, and though it smells heavenly on potluck days, there are times when it can be just a bit out of sorts and musty.  It really isn’t anything to boast about.

It is humble and unpretentious yet envelops its people in its loving and imperfect embrace, with warmth, character and a uniqueness that is unforgettable.

It really is not so different from the folks who have gathered there over the years.

We know we belong,
such as we are,
just as we are,
blessed by God with a place to join together.

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Time at Arm’s Length

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Light wakes us – there’s the sun
climbing the mountains’ rim, spilling across the valley,
finding our faces.
It is July,
            between the hay and harvest,
a time at arm’s length from all other time…

It is the time
to set aside all vigil, good or ill,
to loosen the fixed gaze of our attention
as dandelions let seedlings to the wind.
Wake with the light.
Get up and go about the day and watch
its surfaces that brighten with the sun.
~Kerry Hardie from “Sleep in Summer”

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During intense election seasons like this one, I find myself seeking safety hiding under a rock where moderates tend to congregate.   There is no political convention for us with rousing impassioned speeches, photo-op embraces for the cameras, or balloons falling on our heads.

Extremist views serve to keep us at arm’s length, to make the opposition appear more clearly the “other.”  There is no discussion of compromise, negotiation or collaboration as that would be perceived as a sign of weakness.  Instead it is “my way or the wrong way” rather than “our way.”

No way.
There is no choosing a “lesser of evils” this time.
When evil is too great, it is never a choice.

And so it goes.  Each election cycle brings out the worst in our “leadership” as facts are distorted, the truth is stretched or completely abandoned, unseemly pandering abounds and curried favors are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Enough already.

I’m ready to come out from under the rock,
loosen my attention from campaign and election news
and find the Light on my face.

Thank God there is still a Light to shine in the darkness.

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