The Path of Pathlessness

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”

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

They may not make it there
but nevertheless they go when called.

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


Wave Follows Wave

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Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver from The Swan

 

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This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Swan”

 

 

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This is the time of year when we look at making changes in how we live our lives. We want to start fresh as the calendar turns over; we want to become “new” too.  Maybe it is giving up an old destructive habit or adopting a new healthier routine, but it means giving up something familiar and becoming uncomfortable, at least for a while.

I seek out the graceful gliding part of life and not the lumbering awkward part.  I’d like to say I live out equal measures of both, but I don’t – I’m lumbering and awkward too much of the time due to my own choices.   It is difficult to navigate the waves of life when in “lumbering” and “laboring” mode, as wave follows wave, some gentle and lapping, others overwhelming and crashing.

I know what grace looks and feels like,  floating atop whatever wave hits me, to stay on the surface and not get soaked through.

I pray that whatever comes, this stretching light over the waves, will fill me with its beauty and grant me grace to glide.

 

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My Heart in Hiding

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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.

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins from  “The Windhover – For Christ Our Lord”

 

 

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And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver from “The Swan”

 

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I hold my heart in hiding, trying to protect that tender core of who I am from being pierced and shredded by the slings and arrows of every day life.

Yet to live fully as I am created to live, I must fling myself into the open, wimpling wings spread, the wind holding me up hovering.  I must change my life as the wind changes.

I take my chances, knowing the fall has come.  My wounds shall be healed, even as they bleed.

There is no wonder of it.  So stirred. So much beauty to behold.

Ah…  Ah, my dear.

 

 

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A Stretching Light

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Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver from “Swan”

 

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This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Swan”

 

And could it be that I too,
awkward and lumbering through my days
may glide and soar when afloat or aloft.Could it be there is beauty hidden away and within
until I change how I look at life,
how I move in the air that I’m given to breathe
and how I am stretched by the Light that illuminates me?
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But now they drift on the still water,   
Mysterious, beautiful;   
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day   
To find they have flown away?
~William Butler Years from “The Wild Swans at Coole”
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God Was Here: Come to Set Us Free

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“Be patient and without bitterness, and realize that the least we can do is to make coming into existence no more difficult for Him than the earth does for spring when it wants to come.”
~Rainier Marie Rilke

Like the birds of the air flying free, we too were created to sing.  Yet too often we choose to be grounded — grousing and grumbling.

Many of us know nothing of anticipation of the coming of Christ, some of us might care if we knew, but plenty of us are ready for the whole Christmas thing to be over yesterday.

Whether we care or not does not alter that Christ dwells with us, just as the coming of spring is not stopped by a slumbering disinterested earth.

Like Mary, we say: “Let it be”, not “no, not me, not now.”

We are set free to fly and sing!
He has come on our behalf: a simple, but oh so difficult faith, like the shoot that must break through the crust of frozen earth to reach the sun, in order to bloom.

 

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A star rose in the sky
and glory from on high
did fill the night with splendor.
Came birds with joyful voice
to carol and rejoice with
songs so sweet and tender.

The eagle then did rise,
went flying through the skies,
to tell the wondrous story,
sang: Jesus, born is he,
who comes to set us free,
he brings us joy and glory.

The sparrow with delight
said: This is Christmas night,
our happiness revealing.
The sky with praises rang,
as finch and robin sang
their songs of glad rejoicing.

The lark upon the wing
said: Now it seems like spring,
no more is winter pressing;
for now a flower is born
whose fragrance on this morn
to earth brings heaven’s blessing.

Sang magpie, thrush, and jay,
It seems the month of May
in answer to our yearning.
The trees again are green
and blossoms now are seen,
it is the spring returning!

The cuckoo sang: Come, come,
And celebrate the dawn
this glorious aurora.
The raven from his throat
then trilled a festive note
to the unexcelled Señora.

The partridge then confessed,
I want to build my nest
beneath that very gable
where I may see the Child
and watch whene’er he smiles
with Mary in that stable.
~translation from Catalonian of “Carol of the Birds”

 

 

 

 

Whence comes this rush of wings afar
Following straight the Noel star
Birds from the woods in wondrous flight
Bethlehem seek this holy night

Tell us, ye birds, why come ye here?
Into this stable, poor and drear?
Hasting to see the new born King
And all our sweetest musics bring

Hark! How the winged finch bears his part
Philomel, too with tender heart:
Chants from her leafy dark retreat,
“Re, me, fa, sol” in accents sweet

Angels, and shepherds, birds of the sky
Come where the Son of God doth lie
Christ from the earth and man doth dwell
Come join in the shout, “Noel, Noel, Noel.”
~Carol of the Birds (traditional Catalonian carol)

 

Between Midnight and Dawn: Blowing Open My Heart

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photo by Gilbert Lennox, Ireland

 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:  If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
1 John 3: 18-20

 

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
~Seamus Heaney “Postscript” from The Spirit Level

 

…they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
~James Wright from “The Blessing”

 

‘Tis strange that death
should sing.
I am the cygnet to this pale faint swan,
Who chants a doleful hymn to his own death,
And from the organ-pipe of frailty sings
His soul and body to their lasting rest.
~William Shakespeare from “King John”

 

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,   
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   
Trod with a lighter tread.
~William Butler Yeats from “The Wild Swans at Coole”
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Working outside before the sun was up on a recent rainy morning,  I heard overhead the swishing hush of wings in flight and the trumpeter swan doleful hymn called out as dozens passed above me in a long meandering line against the early dawn grayness.

The swan flocks predictably arrive here in late autumn to eat their fill, feasting in the harvested cornfields surrounding our farm, their bright white plumage a stark contrast to the dulling muddy soil.  In mild winters, they tend to stick around awhile, but soon they will lift their long graceful necks and fan out their wings to be picked up the wind, leaving us behind and beneath, moving on to their next feeding and breeding grounds.

These incredible creatures bring such joy with their annual arrival and brief stay, their leave-taking a metaphor for this dying time of year, reminding me once again nothing on earth can last, that God is greater than our earthly hearts.

“‘Tis strange that death should sing…” but in fact,  ’tis strange that death should fly in and out on silken wings.

I give myself over to their beauty, and walk with lighter tread, singing a new song:
I am grateful my sore heart still soars beyond this soil.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

 

Things That Are Not Now

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Then we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be,
Things that are not now, nor could be,
Soon shall be our own.
~Thomas Kelly from his hymn “Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him”

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Because I finished my term on earth
and had no knowledge of either
fear nor care, no morning knowledge,
no knowledge of evening,
and those who came before
and those following after
had no more knowledge of me
than I had of them.
~Mary Ruefle from “Marked”

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Whether we are coming or going,
beginning or ending,
leading or following,
rising or setting,
north or south,
east or west,
one day we shall be
where or what we should be,
even if not now
even if not now
even if not now~
we soon shall be.

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