The Grass of Heaven

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Green hills, 
embroidered
mist, rich
rising ridge
fog filled
plunging fields
cattle, 
black, weightless
rise poised
from bare bank
grazing
the grass of
heaven
~Steven Federle

 

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May is always an overwhelming time of year – my senses work overtime with the feel of cool air mornings and evenings, the fragrance of blossoms everywhere, the dawn chorus of birdsong and the nightly coyote choir and peeper swamp symphony, the softness of mist rising from warm ground and the explosion of green – everywhere.

We are happily drowning in green – so much to be done quickly:  mowed, gathered, stored, treasured.

Surely heaven too is mostly green.  It can be no other.

 

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The Clouds That Veil

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Heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.
A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted
and one is able to glimpse the glory of God.
~Celtic saying

 

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For as a cloud received Him from their sight,
So with a cloud will He return ere long:
Therefore they stand on guard by day, by night,
Strenuous and strong.

They do, they dare, they beyond seven times seven
Forgive, they cry God’s mighty word aloud:
Yet sometimes haply lift tired eyes to Heaven—
“Is that His cloud?”
~Christina Rossetti from “Ascension Day”

 

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Stretching Himself as if again,
through downpress of dust
upward, soul giving way
to thread of white, that reaches
for daylight, to open as green
leaf that it is…
Can Ascension
not have been
arduous, almost,
as the return
from Sheol, and
back through the tomb
into breath?
Matter reanimate
now must reliquish
itself, its
human cells,
molecules, five
senses, linear
vision endured
as Man –
the sole
all-encompassing gaze
resumed now,
Eye of Eternity.
Relinquished, earth’s
broken Eden.
Expulsion,
liberation,
last
self-enjoined task
of Incarnation.
He again
Fathering Himself.
Seed-case splitting.
He again
Mothering His birth:
torture and bliss.
~Denise Levertov  “Ascension”

 

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We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .
~Malcolm Guite “Ascension”

 

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Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 49

Q. How does Christ’s ascension to heaven
benefit us?

A. First, he is our advocate
in heaven
in the presence of his Father.

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven
as a sure pledge that Christ our head
will also take us, his members,
up to himself.

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth
as a corresponding pledge.

By the Spirit’s power
we seek not earthly things
but the things above, where Christ is,
sitting at God’s right hand.

 

 

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It doesn’t matter what you have been or what you have done. It doesn’t matter how flawed and foolish you are.

When the eyes of God the Father look at you, they see the ascended Jesus; when they listen to you, they hear him.

When God looks and listens to you, he sees and hears infinite beauty . . . He sees Jesus not sitting at the right hand but standing on his behalf, advocating for him.
~Tim Keller

 

Jesus is not on sabbatical from His earthly flesh; this day of observance of His ascension to heaven forty days after His Resurrection reminds us He remains flesh, just like our flesh,  while sitting at the right hand of God the Father – our representative, our interceder, our advocate.

The clouds that veil that thin line between earth and heaven still can’t help but shine with His glory.   We remain directly connected by our flesh/His flesh to God in heaven.

 

 

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We Haste Away So Soon

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Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.
 
We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Away,
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.
~Robert Herrick “To Daffodils”
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So short a spring:
today some parts of this land are in the throes of winter with blizzards, ice storms and snow drifts keeping them home-bound on the Sabbath.  There is little hope for the brave bulbs that tried to surface from the ground over the last several weeks.
Here in the northwest, we are springing late as well, with chill winds and unending rain. The daffodils have melted on the stem unable to sustain the battering while hordes of slugs luxuriate with unending voracious appetites for their petals.
We ourselves aren’t much different than these tender blooms – though we hope not to be chewed to death, we are, after all,  here today, gone tomorrow.  When bud bursts to blossom, we flame hearty with such exuberant joy, then wither until we are no more.
We are, for our brief days, a reflection of the Sun itself, just as we should be.
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Divine Discontent and Longing

 

 

 

…the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror–indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy–but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.  All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered. 

…Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing…
~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

 

 

 

 

It is as true for me as it is for Mole in Grahame’s wonderful story:  I must stray from my comfortable little home to look and wonder at the world around and above me.  Spring drives me forth with awe and longing and discontent more than any season: the light is so different and compelling, the clouds dramatic and ever-changing, the greens never more vivid, the smell of the air perfumed and enticing.

What seems so plain, so ordinary at other times of year, becomes magical and beautiful in the spring;

…maybe, just maybe, so do I.

 

 

 

What’s a Heaven For?

 

each of us has known the pleasure
of spring, the way it feels for something closed

to open: the soft, heavenly weather of arrival.
~Faith Shearin from “Geese”

 

 

This welcome and painful season of opening and emptying:
from cloistered tight
to reaching beyond our grasp.
Or what’s a heaven for?

 

 

Visitors to the Farm

 

 

 

Fingers of twilight shadow
begin to reach over the hill
crawling down through the field
up unto the bank of blackberries
covering fences along the alder grove.

The horses chew their last
leaves of clover before
coming to the barn for night, eyelids heavy,
relaxed and full, drowsy with spring evening
peace at hand and hoof.

A sudden change in the air forces
their heads up and ears forward;
they form a line, staring at the hilltop
above them, riveted to the spot, alert
to an coming intruder, unfamiliar and foreign.

The roar is intermittent, like a warm wind
rattling a barn roof, but inconstant;
then peaking over the crest of the hill
a rounded top of technicolor glory:
The hot air balloon rises.

The horses silenced, baffled, fascinated;
no alpine instinct prepares their response
to this wizard’s act from Oz in their own backyard.
The basket riders wave and laugh at the equine audience below
in formation with golden noses in the air and white manes blowing in the breeze.

The balloon summits the hill, dipping low, almost touchable
before moving back up to race the sunset,
and search out other pastures, other valleys and hills.
The horses released from the spell
leap in response, snowy tails high, noses flared-

To race up the hill to catch impending darkness,
night mares cavort, float suspended
until their air is let out, gently, in softening snorts,
to settle down in a shavings bed in the barn
where night, blissful, becomes ordinary again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Flesh and Heart Shall Fail

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(Ten years ago this week, this healthy young college student came to our clinic stricken with seasonal influenza complicated by pneumonia.  His family gave permission for his story to be told.)

 

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Nothing was helping.  Everything had been tried for a week of the most intensive critical care possible.  A twenty year old man, completely healthy only two weeks previously, was dying and nothing could stop it.

The battle against a sudden MRSA pneumonia precipitated by a routine seasonal influenza had been lost.   Despite aggressive hemodynamic, antibiotic, antiviral and ventilator management, he was becoming more hypoxic and his renal function was deteriorating.  He had been unresponsive for most of the week.

The intensivist looked weary and defeated. The nurses were staring at their laps, unable to look up, their eyes tearing. The hospital chaplain reached out to hold this young man’s mother’s shaking hands.

After a week of heroic effort and treatment, there was now clarity about the next step.

Two hours later, a group gathered in the waiting room outside the ICU doors. The average age was about 21; they assisted each other in tying on the gowns over their clothing, distributed gloves and masks. Together, holding each other up, they waited for the signal to gather in his room after the ventilator had been removed and he was breathing without assistance. They entered and gathered around his bed.

He was ravaged by this sudden illness, his strong body beaten and giving up. His breathing was now ragged and irregular, sedation preventing response but not necessarily preventing awareness. He was surrounded by silence as each individual who had known and loved him struggled with the knowledge that this was the final goodbye.

His father approached the head of the bed and put his hands on his boy’s forehead and cheek.  He held this young man’s face tenderly, bowing in silent prayer and then murmuring words of comfort:

It is okay to let go. It is okay to leave us now.
We will see you again. We’ll meet again.
We’ll know where you will be.

His mother stood alongside, rubbing her son’s arms, gazing into his face as he slowly slowly slipped away. His father began humming, indistinguishable notes initially, just low sounds coming from a deep well of anguish and loss.

As the son’s breaths spaced farther apart, his dad’s hummed song became recognizable as the hymn of praise by John Newton, Amazing Grace.  The words started to form around the notes. At first his dad was singing alone, giving this gift to his son as he passed, and then his mom joined in as well. His sisters wept. His friends didn’t know all the words but tried to sing through their tears. The chaplain helped when we stumbled, not knowing if we were getting it right, not ever having done anything like this before.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

And he left us.

His mom hugged each sobbing person there–the young friends, the nurses, the doctors humbled by powerful pathogens. She thanked each one for being present for his death, for their vigil kept through the week in the hospital.

This young man, now lost to this life, had profoundly touched people in a way he could not have ever predicted or expected. His parents’ grief, so gracious and giving to the young people who had never confronted death before, remains unforgettable.

This was their sacred gift to their son so Grace will lead us home.

 

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