April is like the raggedy, wandering gypsy lad of the fairy tale. When he moves, streaks of gold show beneath his torn garments and you suspect that this elfin creature is actually a prince in disguise.
April is just that.
There are raggedy, cold days, dark black ones, but all through the month for a second, for an hour, or for three days at a stretch you glimpse pure gold.
The weeks pass and the rags slip away, a shred at a time. Toward the end of the month his royal highness stands before you. ~Jean Hersey from The Shape of a Year
I avoid mirrors now as I age, knowing I’m clothed in rags, thinning here, thickening there, sagging and stretching, wrinkled and patched up.
Still, if I look closely past the rags and sags, I see the same eyes as my nine year old self peering back at me.
The lightness of youth and freshness may be disguised, but it is still there.
Every once in awhile, I glimpse pure gypsy gold.
I am the rest between two notes, which are somehow always in discord because Death’s note wants to climb over— but in the dark interval, reconciled, they stay there trembling. And the song goes on, beautiful.” ~Rainer Maria Rilkefrom “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”
At the end of this past Sunday’s Easter worship, while playing a complicated version of the Doxology on the piano in our church, I hit some wrong notes. Usually I can recover from such mistakes but I lost my way in the music on the page, struggling to recover in time to finish with the undaunted congregation, my fingers trembling to find the right keys.
Waking yesterday, I felt my usual Monday morning uneasiness but even more so: I’m the spot in the middle between discordant notes. There is on one side of me the pressure of catching up from what was left undone through the weekend and on the other side the anticipated demands of the coming week.
Before I even arrive at work, I find myself uneasy in dead center, immobilized by the unknown ahead and the known messiness I’ve left behind.
This moment of rest in the present, between the trembling past and uncertain future, is a precious moment of reconciliation, my Sabbath extended. I must allow myself an instant of silence and reflection and forgiveness before I surge ahead into the week, knowing that on my continuing journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes.
But it can be beautiful nevertheless.
Even the least harmonious notes find reconciliation within the next chord. I move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life, renewed and forgiven.
Sam does barn chores with me, always has. He runs up and down the aisles as I fill buckets, throw hay, and he’ll explore the manure pile out back and the compost pile and check out the dove house and have stand offs with the barn cats (which he always loses). We have our routine. When I get done with chores, I whistle for him and we head to the house. We go back home.
Except this morning. I whistled when I was done and his furry little fox face didn’t appear as usual. I walked back through both barns calling his name, whistling, no signs of Sam. I walked to the fields, I walked back to the dog yard, I walked the road (where he never ever goes), I scanned the pond (yikes), I went back to the barn and glanced inside every stall, I went in the hay barn where he likes to jump up and down on stacked bales, looking for a bale avalanche he might be trapped under, or a hole he couldn’t climb out of. Nothing.
Passing through the barn again, I heard a little faint scratching inside one Haflinger’s stall, which I had just glanced in 10 minutes before. The mare was peacefully eating hay. Sam was standing with his feet up against the door as if asking what took me so long. He must have scooted in when I filled up her water bucket, and I closed the door not knowing he was inside, and it was dark enough that I didn’t see him when I checked. He and his good horse friend kept it their secret.
Making not a whimper or a bark when I called out his name, passing that stall at least 10 times looking for him, he just patiently waited for me to open the door and set him free.
It’s a Good Friday.
The lost is found even when he never felt lost to begin with. But he was lost to me. And that is what matters.
He was just waiting for a closed door to be opened so he could go home with me. And today, of all days, that door has been thrown wide open.
Though you are homeless Though you’re alone I will be your home Whatever’s the matter Whatever’s been done I will be your home I will be your home I will be your home In this fearful fallen place I will be your home When time reaches fullness When I move my hand I will bring you home Home to your own place In a beautiful land I will bring you home I will bring you home I will bring you home From this fearful fallen place I will bring you home I will bring you home ~Michael Card
With monstrous head and sickening cry And ears like errant wings…
The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will; Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour; One far fierce hour and sweet: There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet. G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”
Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day. Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now– for his plain and awkward looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.
There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God, the disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.
But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.
The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving. Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort. Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger, just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod, the donkey would keep his secret well. Who, after all, would ever listen to a mere donkey?
We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom. The donkey knows. He bears the burden we have shirked. He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as our meaningless symbols of honor. He is servant to the Servant.
A day of dichotomy — of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on. Of blessings and praise turning to curses. Of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.
And so He wept, knowing all this. I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.
His voice, as the sound of the dulcimer sweet, is heard through the shadows of death; The cedars of Lebanon bow at His feet, the air is perfumed with His breath. His lips as the fountain of righteousness flow, that waters the garden of grace, From which their salvation the Gentiles shall know, and bask in the smile of His face.
Love sits in his eyelids and scatters delight, through all the bright regions on high. Their faces the cherubim veil in his sight, and tremble with fullness of joy. He looks and ten thousands of angels rejoice, and myriads wait for His word. He speaks and eternity filled with His voice Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.
He looks and ten thousands of angels rejoice, and myriads wait for His word. He speaks and eternity filled with His voice Re-echoes the praise of the Lord. Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.
~ Southern Folk Hymn
During these days of bright darkness
preparing us for next week,
I become absorbed in all I am not~
my shortcomings and failings,
my eroding patience and tolerance,
my temptation to turn away from self-denial,
my inability to see beyond my own troubles~
I forget this is not all about me:
I neglect to witness first hand,
as others did,
God through Christ:
the beauty in His becoming man,
the joy of His joining up with us,
the love in His gracious sacrifice,
the full promise of His Word that breathes
life back into every dying soul~
and so it becomes all about me
not because of
what I’ve done,
or who I am,
but because of
who He is and was and will be,
loving all of us,
no matter what.
The reason Lent is so long is that this path to the truth of oneself is long and snagged with thorns, and at the very end one stands alone before the broken body crowned with thorns upon the cross. All alone – with not one illusion or self-delusion to prop one up.
Yet not alone, for the Spirit of Holiness, who is also the Spirit of Helpfulness, is beside you and me. Indeed, this Spirit has helped to maneuver you and me down that dark, steep path to this crucial spot.
~Edna Hong from Bread and Wine
Christ … is a thorn in the brain. Christ is God crying I am here, and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you, but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you, here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God. To walk through the fog of God toward the clarity of Christ is difficult because of how unlovely, how ungodly that clarity often turns out to be. ~Christian Wiman from Image Journal “Varieties of Quiet”