Turn Aside and Look: Cleaning Up the Mess

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It is not only prayer that gives God glory,
but work.
Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam,
whitewashing a wall, driving horses,
sweeping, scouring,
everything gives God some glory
if being in his grace you do it as your duty.
To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory,
but a man with a dungfork in his hand,
a woman with a slop pail,
give Him glory, too.
God is so great
that all things give Him glory
if you mean that they should.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Thanks in large part to how messy we humans are, this world is a grimy place.   As an act of worship, we keep cleaning up after ourselves.  The hands that clean the toilets, scrub the floors, carry the bedpans, pick up the garbage might as well be clasped in prayer–it is in such mundane tasks God is glorified.

I spend an hour every day carrying dirty buckets and wielding a pitchfork because it is my way of restoring order to the disorder inherent in human life.  It is with gratitude that I’m able to pick up one little corner of my world, making stall beds tidier for our farm animals by mucking up their messes and in so doing, I’m cleaning up a piece of me at the same time.

I never want to forget the mess I’m in and the mess I am.  I never want to forget to clean up after myself.  I never want to feel it is a mere and mundane chore to worship with dungfork and slop pail in hand.

It is my privilege to work.  It is His gift to me.

It is Grace who has come alongside me, pitching the muck and carrying the slop when I am too weary, and most amazing of all, cleans me up as well.

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Farmer with a pitchfork by Winslow Homer
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Photo of Aaron Janicki haying with his Oberlander team in Skagit County courtesy of Tayler Rae

 

Turn Aside and Look: To Laugh and To Cry

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It is in these afflictions, which succeed one another each moment,
that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself,
mysteriously bestowing his grace in a manner
quite unrecognized by the souls
who feel only weakness in bearing their cross…

~Jean Pierre du Caussade from The Sacrament of the Present Moment

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The past few mornings have been unveiled in snow flurries, mist and fog, tentative spring dawns of freezing air and warming soil trying to break loose from the vise grip of a tired and dying winter.

I am struggling under the load of 14 hour days working with despairing and suicidal people,  in addition to keeping a barn clean and animals and humans fed.  Even sleep is not restful when there is so little time to quiet myself in reflection and gratitude.

I am keenly reminded of my weakness as my strength wanes at the end of a long day, having slipped in the mud while trying to gain traction unloading a couple hundred pounds of manure from the wheelbarrow.  Landing on my backside, my pants soaking through,  I can choose to laugh or cry.

I choose to see the baptism of mud as a sacrament of the present moment,  reminding me of my need for a cleansing grace.

I laugh and cry.

Though obscured from view, God is nevertheless revealed in these moments of being covered in the soil of earth and the waste of its creatures.

He knows I need reminding that I too am dust and to dust shall return.

He knows I am too often wasteful and a failed steward,
so need reminding by landing me amidst it.

He knows I need to laugh at myself,
so puts me right on my backside.

He knows I need to cry,
so sends me those with the saddest stories and greatest needs.

He knows I need Him, always and ever more,
to restore a sacrament of grace evident in the present moment
and every moment to come.

To be known for who I am
by a God who laughs with me,
weeps for me
and groans with pain I have caused~
I will know
no greater love.

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When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound;
when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.
~William Billings

 

A Snow Still Lingers

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Although the snow still lingers
Heaped on the ivy’s blunt webbed fingers
And painting tree-trunks on one side,
Here in this sunlit ride
The fresh unchristened things appear,
Leaf, spathe and stem,
With crumbs of earth clinging to them
To show the way they came
But no flower yet to tell their name,
And one green spear
Stabbing a dead leaf from below
Kills winter at a blow.
~Andrew Young, “Last Snow”

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The snow ice-encrusts the morning
before it bids farewell under warming sunlight.
Winter encases spring
to grasp one last moment
of timelessness.

 

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Sleeping in the Cold

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All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
~William Carlos Williams “Winter Trees”

 

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Winter seems less complicated than other seasons until the wind blows brutal and the ice glaze is an inch thick and snow bends branches to the ground to the point of snapping a tree in half. It is no longer a quiet gentle sleeping time but can take a tree down,  unaware,  in the night, the crack and crash of branches like gunshots hunting down innocent prey.

The clean up has begun, the remnants lying waiting on the ground and the naked trunks scarred.

Despite such devastation, the buds still swell, readying for the complexity of spring.

 

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Love Stored Up

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the finale this morning
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today’s sunrise at its peak
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As it began this morning

Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet

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The sunrise this morning kept giving and giving, vanquishing the darkness through an illumination that made all things, even the sorry and the plain, beautiful.

So is the love of one person for another, reflecting the Light that illuminates us all, even to the depths of our shadows.

May we too give and give without ceasing, our plainness made beautiful, our shadows no more.

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A Wild Ancestry Ignited

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homershadow

Dog sees white. Arctic
light, the bright buzz in the brain
of pure crystal adrenaline. In a flash
he is out the door and across the street
looking for snowshoe hares, caribou, cats.
His wild ancestry ignited, Dog plunges
his nose into snow up to his eyes. He sees
his dreams. Master yells from the front porch
but Dog can’t hear him. Dog hears nothing
except the roar of the wind across the tundra, the ancient
existential cry of wolves, pure, devastating, hungry.
Time for crunchies. Taking many detours, Dog
returns to the porch. Let master think what he
wants. Freedom comes at a price.
~Paul Piper “Dog and Snow”
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Last week’s major snow and ice storm is nearly a memory.  On the north side of our buildings there is still a slick skiff of white here and there, but it actually is feeling like spring could erupt any moment.
The corgis are brokenhearted though.  They loved plunging through the snow, burying their faces deep, tussling each other to the ground in a continuing pro-corgi-wrestling tournament, hearing the call of the wild.  They weren’t aware the coyotes were circling out in the field, hungry for a meal — even a meal of corgi meat if need be.
Now that we are back to the usual mud of winter, I’m actually feeling a little nostalgic for the wildness of the white storm and the wildness it brought out in our dogs.  However, I don’t descend from wolves like the corgis.
I’m much more like sheep, seeking out the comfort of the flock when the chill gets to be too much.
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strolling
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Lonely Fir

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A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh,
a breath;
One group of trees, lean,

naked and cold,
Inking their cress ‘gainst a
sky green-gold;

One path that knows where the
corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the
fields went brown
~Angelina Weld Grimke “A Winter Twilight”

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Our farm’s lone fir is a focal point of the neighborhood,
standing grand on the highest hill for several miles around.

Raptors use this tree for views of the surrounding fields.
The horses love the shade on hot summer days.
It is backdrop for glorious sunsets and waning moons.

Yet in winter I find myself admiring it most —
Its steadfast presence, so stoic and unyielding
though buffeted by cold wind and icy storms.

Decades of seasons flow past the lone fir,
“silence slipping around like death,
yet chased by a whisper, a sigh,
a breath.”

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