Silence and darkness grow apace, broken only by the crack of a hunter’s gun in the woods. Songbirds abandon us so gradually that, until the day when we hear no birdsong at all but the scolding of the jay, we haven’t fully realized that we are bereft — as after a death. Even the sun has gone off somewhere… Now we all come in, having put the garden to bed, and we wait for winter to pull a chilly sheet over its head. ~Jane Kenyon from “Good-by and Keep Cold”
Every day now we hear hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer. The usual day-long symphony of birdsong is replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle screams and chittering, the occasional dog barking, with the bluejays and squirrels arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.
In the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, the owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant conversation echoing back and forth. The horses confined to their stalls in the barns snort and blow as they bury their noses in flakes of summer-bound hay.
But there are no birdsong arias now, leaving me bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wake me at 4 AM in the spring. No peeper orchestra from the swamps in the evenings, rising and falling on the breeze.
It is too too quiet.
The chilly silence of the darkened days is now interrupted by all percussion, no melody at all. I listen intently for early morning and evening serenades returning.
It won’t be long.
The whole concept of the Imago Dei (or)…the ‘Image of God’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected…
This gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this…there are no gradations in the Image of God.
Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the Image of God.
One day we will learn that.
We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man. – Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “The American Dream” sermon, July 4, 1965
When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President;
I’m beginning to believe it.
Remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity. ~Charles Spurgeon
Hate-filled words leave us frozen solid;
immobilized as our tears freeze in place.
Even when such cruelty leaves us aching,
longing for relief,
the coming thaw is real
because God is good.
Even when we’ve been flattened,
stepped on, broken into fragments —
the pieces left are the beginning
of who we will become,
made whole again
as we were created to be
because God is good.
The killing frost lasts not forever.
The sun causes a glisten and glitter
as ice melts down to droplets
over the thorns.
We become the goodness of God,
His imago dei
His full keyboard
His eyes and ears
heart and soul
hands and feet
Even more so,
we become His tears
no longer frozen
but flowing, streaming, flooding
for one another.
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
We all want happy endings.
But “happily ever after” doesn’t happen
without the shattered hopes and dreams,
broken hearts and painful beginnings and middles.
What we owe to ourselves and our children
is to learn how to forge through sadness,
plow through sorrow
in order to fertilize and grow beauty,
right there in the middle of ugly.
If we aren’t the farmer,
the guardian of beauty,
Beloved and blessed
And so you have a life that you are living only now,
now and now and now,
gone before you can speak of it,
and you must be thankful for living day by day,
moment by moment …
a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~
(He has illumined the world with a lamp)
The weather and my mood have little connection.
I have my foggy and my fine days within me;
my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter.
– Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand,
outstretched caressingly? ~Francis Thompson from “The Hound of Heaven”
My days are filled with anxious and sad patients, one after another after another. They sit at the edge of their seat, struggling to hold back the flood from brimming eyes, fingers gripping the arms of the chair. Each moment, each breath, each heart beat overwhelmed by questions: will there be another breath? must there be another breath? Must life go on like this in fear of what the next moment will bring?
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the knowledge that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse. There is no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived. There is only fear of the next and the next so that the now and now and now is lost forever.
Worry and sorrow and angst are contagious as the flu.
I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day.
I wish we could be vaccinated to protect us all from these unnamed fears.
I want to say to them and myself:
Stop this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop.
Stop expecting someone or some thing must fix this feeling.
Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort.
Stop resenting the gift of each breath.
Instead, simply be.
I want to say:
this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone,
this moment of weeping and sharing
and breath and pulse and light.
Shout for joy in it.
Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips
and stop holding them back.
Stop me before I write,
out of my own anxiety,
yet another prescription
you don’t really need.
and be blessed–
in the now and now and now.
The snow is melting and the village is flooded with children. ~Kobayashi Issa (translated by Robert Haas)
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
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple, Or cosy in a crib beside the font, But he is with a million displaced people| On the long road of weariness and want. For even as we sing our final carol His family is up and on that road, Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel, Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,| The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power, And death squads spread their curse across the world. But every Herod dies, and comes alone To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.
~Malcolm Guite from Waiting on the Word
And the slaughter of innocents and weary road for refugees continues unabated- In observance of The Feast Day of the Holy Innocents:
There is no consolation for the families of those lost:
Their arms ache with emptiness tonight,
beds and pillows lie cold and unused,
blankets and cuddlies await all night hugs
that never come again.
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
He came to us
for times such as this,
the dust of woman and
the breath of Spirit,
God who bent down to
lie in manger dust,
walk on roads of dust,
die and be laid to rest as dust
in order to conquer
such evil as this
that could displace masses
and massacre innocents.
He became dust to be
He began a mere speck in a womb
so often washed away from life
His heart beat
breathing each breath
until a fearful fallen world
and our breath
He shines through
the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
His tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.
He hears our cries
as He cried too.
He knows our tears
as He wept too.
He knows our mourning
as He mourned too.
He knows our dying
as He died too.
as this happened.
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
never only dust
as we are glued together
by the breath of God
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
Seventy five years ago, my parents were married on Christmas Eve. It was not a conventional wedding day but a date of necessity, only because a justice of the peace was available to marry a score of war-time couples in Quantico, Virginia, shortly before the newly trained Marine officers were shipped out to the South Pacific to fight in WWII.
When I look at my parents’ young faces in their only wedding portrait, I see a hint of the impulsive decision that led to that wedding just a week before my father left for 30 months. They had known each other at college for over a year, had talked about a future together, but with my mother starting a teaching job, and the war potentially impacting all young men’s lives very directly, they had not set a date.
My father had to put his college education on hold to enlist, knowing that would give him some options he wouldn’t have if drafted, so they went their separate ways as he headed east to Virginia for his Marine officer training, and Mom started her high school teaching career as a speech and drama teacher in rural Colville in Eastern Washington. One day in early December, he called her and said, “If we’re going to get married, it’ll need to be before the end of the year. I’m shipping out the first week in January.” Mom went to her high school principal, asked for a two week leave of absence which was granted, told her astonished parents, bought a dress, and headed east on the train with a friend who had received a similar call from her boyfriend. This was a completely uncharacteristic thing for my overly cautious mother to do so … it must have been love.
They were married in a brief civil ceremony with another couple as the witnesses. They stayed in Virginia only a couple days and took the train back to San Diego, and my father was shipped out. Just like that. Mom returned to her teaching position and the first three years of their married life was composed of letter correspondence only, with gaps of up to a month during certain island battles when no mail could be delivered or posted.
As I sorted through my mother’s things following her death I kept their war-time letters to each other, stacked neatly and tied together in a box that I walk past every day. I have not yet opened them but will when I’m ready. What I will find there will be words written by two young people who could not have foretold the struggles that lay ahead for them during and after the war but who both depended on faith and trust to persevere despite the unknowns. The War itself seemed struggle enough for the millions of couples who endured the separation, the losses and grieving, as well as the eventual injuries–both physical and psychological. It did not seem possible that beyond those harsh and horrible realities, things could go sour after reuniting.
The hope and expectation of happiness and bliss must have been overwhelming, and real life doesn’t often deliver. After raising three children, their 35 year marriage fell apart with traumatic finality. When my father returned (again) over a decade later, asking for forgiveness, they remarried and had five more years together before my father died.
Christmas is a time of joy, a celebration of new beginnings and new life when God became man, humble, vulnerable and tender. But it also gives us a foretaste for the profound sacrifice made in giving up this earthly life, not always so gently.
As I peer at my father’s and mother’s faces in their wedding photo, I remember those eyes, then so trusting and unaware of what was to come. I find peace in knowing they now behold the light, the salvation and the glory~~the ultimate Christmas~~in His presence.