My Heart in Hiding Stirred For a Bird

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thank you to Kate Steensma of Steensma Dairy for these photos of young kestrel falcons

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I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Windhover – To Christ Our Lord”

 

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We do indeed hold our hearts in hiding, trying to protect that tender core of who we are from being pierced and shredded by the slings and arrows of every day life.

Yet to live fully as we are created to live, we must fling ourselves into the open, wimpling wings spread, the wind holding us up hovering.

We take our chances, knowing the fall to come.  Our wounds shall be healed, even as they bleed.

There is no wonder of it.  So stirred.

Ah…  Ah, my dear.

 

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A Twittering World

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Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning…

…Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.
~T. S Eliot from Burnt Norton (1936) part of Four Quartets

 

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Eliot didn’t have birds or future tweets of the 21st century in mind when he wrote Burnt Norton in 1936.  He was far more concerned about the concept of time and redemption, using the analogies of a garden, a graveyard, and most disturbingly, a subway train of empty-souled people traveling under London in the dark.  Only the present matters as the past cannot be changed and the future remains unknown, trusting the reassurance and salvation of Logos, the source of  the natural and creative order of all things.   Only God Himself remains outside of the constraints of time and place.

Perhaps Eliot predicted the unknowable future.  It now is a “twittering world” in a way that Eliot, critical of dehumanizing technology of his time,  somehow was prescient enough to foresee.

When birdsong begins on our farm in mid-June at 4 AM in the apple, cherry, chestnut, and walnut trees outside our bedroom windows, I am brought face to face, eyes and ears wide open, with the immediate present, distracted from the distraction of my dreams by the distraction of wakening to music of the created order among the branches,  amid dew-laden blooms and cool morning air.

Once the birds settle into routine conversation after twenty minutes of their loudly tweeted greetings of the day,  I sit down bleary-eyed at my computer to enter the twittering world of technology, too often filled with fancies, or meanness, or completely empty of meaning.

Yet, I’m determined.  Not here will darkness be found on this page, if I can keep it at bay.

No darkness here.

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photo by Harry Rodenberger

All Things Frail and Imperiled

 

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Here, I place
a blue glazed cup
where the wood
is slightly whitened.
Here, I lay down
two bright spoons,
our breakfast saucers, napkins
white and smooth as milk.

I am stirring at the sink,
I am stirring
the amount of dew
you can gather in two hands,
folding it into the fragile
quiet of the house.
Before the eggs,
before the coffee
heaving like a warm cat,
I step out to the feeder—
one foot, then the other,
alive on wet blades.
Air lifts my gown—I might fly—

This thistle seed I pour
is for the tiny birds.
This ritual,
for all things frail
and imperiled.
Wings surround me, frothing
the air. I am struck
by what becomes holy.

A woman
who lost her teenage child
to an illness without mercy,
said that at the end, her daughter
sat up in her hospital bed
and asked:

What should I do?
What should I do?

Into a white enamel bath
I lower four brown eggs.
You fill the door frame,
warm and rumpled, kiss
the crown of my head.
I know how the topmost leaves
of dusty trees
feel at the advent
of the monsoon rains.

I carry the woman with the lost child
in my pocket, where she murmurs
her love song without end:
Just this, each day:
Bear yourself up on small wings
to receive what is given.

Feed one another
with such tenderness,
it could almost be an answer.
~Marcia F. Brown “Morning Song”

 

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I am comforted by rituals, as are we all.
The feeding, the cleaning,
the washing, the nurture,
the smoothing of the wrinkled and ruffled,
the sacred time of rest.

It is those small things that get us through the day,
that create holiness in each breath, each moment.

What should I do next? What should I do?

No need to wonder. I am led to what is needed.

 

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Turn Aside and Look: Where Our Hearts Are

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So I tell you to stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? 
— Matthew 6:25-27

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Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be so busy with worldly affairs. He does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives. He does not tell us that what we do is unimportant, valueless, or useless. Nor does he suggest that we should withdraw from our involvements and live quiet, restful lives removed from the struggles of the world.

Jesus’ response to our worry-filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the “many things” to the “one necessary thing.” It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things. Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace. He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. This is the meaning of “Set your hearts on his kingdom first…and all these other things will be given you as well.” What counts is where our hearts are. When we worry, we have our hearts in the wrong place. Jesus asks us to move our hearts to the center, where all other things fall into place.
— Henri Nouwen from Making All Things New

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I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.
— Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

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I appreciate this group of readings found on this Lenten blog post on In Silence Waits: https://insilencewaits.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/desert-day-15-stop-worrying/

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We’ve returned from two weeks in Japan to visit a brand new granddaughter and though our physical selves may be back in the U.S.,  our hearts and minds are lagging and have not yet arrived.  Our aging bodies also don’t quite know what to do with the International Dateline and the 16 hour time difference. After being awake for 36 hours straight for travel and then heading from the airport to urgent meetings at work, I thought I would sleep at least seven hours last night but after three hours I was wide awake and wondering why it was still the middle of the night. Like the adjustment that took days (and nights) after traveling to the Far East, it will take time to realign back to a Western Hemisphere schedule.

I must confess I am a skilled and well-practiced worrier. In my jet-lagged wakefulness, I can find plenty to keep me awake once my eyes fly open.  Yet I know my worry is nothing but wasted energy, and worse than that, it pulls me away from the center of all I really need to know:

Jesus just wants my heart, not my worry.

If He provides for an array of beautiful birds living happily in the middle of one of the largest cities on earth in Tokyo, then how much more will He care for you and for me.

And now, acknowledging that in my time-addled brain,  it’s back to bed.

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A Path of Pathlessness

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Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic.

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wind-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren from “The Collected Poems”

 

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I wish I could be as sure
as the geese and swans flying noisy overhead~
they trust where they are led
is where they belong.

They may not make it there
but nevertheless they go.

I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on a path of pathlessness
knowing only that I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.

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A Calling Out

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A psalm of geese
labours overland

cajoling each other
near half…

The din grew immense.
No need to look up.

All you had to do
was sit in the sound

and put it down
as best you could…

It’s not a lonesome sound
but a panic,

a calling out to the others
to see if they’re there;
~Dermot Healy from A Fool’s Errand

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We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life
edited by David Friend

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By the time Saturday rolls around, I am overwhelmed by the amount of “noticing” I needed to do in the course of my work that week.  Each patient, and there are so many,  deserves my full attention for the few minutes we are together.  I start my clinical evaluation the minute I walk in the exam room and begin taking in all the complex verbal and non-verbal clues sometimes offered by another human being.

How are they calling out to me?

What someone tells me about what they are feeling may not always match what I notice:  the trembling hands, the pale skin color, the deep sigh, the scars of self injury.  I am their audience and a witness to their struggle; even more, I must understand it in order to best assist them.  My brain must rise to the occasion of taking in another person, offering them the gift of being noticed and being there for them, just them.

This work I do is distinctly a form of praise: the patient is the universe for a few moments and I’m grateful to be watching and listening. When my patient calls out to me, may they never feel they are playing to an empty house.

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Blazing Silo

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Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.
 
Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.
~Stanley Kunitz from “End of Summer”
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Transitions, like summer fading to fall, are jarring.  The silo of my life has thrown open its doors and the north winds start to blow.

I used to float the top of the grain flow more smoothly than I do now, believing I had control over the speed and course and ultimate destination.

I know better now.

Time carries me relentlessly down its silo, dunking me under its contents, only to surface breathless to gulp down what air I can before I go under again.
Each day I must admit a small part of my life is over, and each year I must admit the bulk of my life is over.  The silo of time empties bit by bit, its hollowness echoing in my ears.
I hope the harvest will have fed others well.
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