Turn Aside and Look: First and Last Breaths

During these Lenten days, (and every day),
we are reminded of the gift of our first Breath
and the invitation in our last Breath.
We are asked stop living for self,
which can only lead to death,
and instead die to self,
so that we may live.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake,
he is the one who will save it.
Luke 9:24

toes

First breath can come
Before even fully delivered
Encased and swaddled tight
Nose bubbling, mouth gaping, swallowing hungrily
Building up to a moist initial gasp~
Air-filled and sliding free
Hands clenched, then fingers spread,
Ready to grasp and hold on tight to life,
Arms reaching out to stop the fall.

A lifetime then spent holding fast,
Eventually toppling frail and
Slowly adrift, floating unmoored
Reaching for unseen fruit no longer needed
Breath comes ragged, at times silenced
Then gulp and sigh, ready to
Loosen grasp as anchor is lifted, and with
Last soft breath,
Delivered gently into the hand of God.

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photo by Andrea Nipges

Turn Aside and Look: Worlds Forming in My Heart

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peachjapan

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent 
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.    
~Meister Eckhart from “Expands His Being”

camelliared

The first day of spring is a traditional celebration of the rebirth of nature’s seasonal rhythms, and God’s inner renewal of our hearts.

I know some new spring mornings are pitch black with blustering winds and rain, looking and feeling like the bleakest of October mornings about to plunge into the death spiral of deep autumn and winter all over again.

No self-respecting God would birth Himself into something like this: a dawn as dark as night.

But this God would.

He labors in our darkest of hearts for good reason.  We are unformed and unready to meet Him in the light, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts.  Though we are called to celebrate the renewal of springtime, it is just so much talk until we accept the change of being transformed ourselves.

We are silenced as He prepares us, as He prepares Himself for birth within us.   The labor pains are His, not ours;  we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again.

The world is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, especially inside our broken hearts now healing.

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japanpine

Turn Aside and Look: Piercing What is Dead

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I saw that a yellow crocus bud had pierced
a dead oak leaf, then opened wide. How strong
its appetite for the luxury of the sun!
~Jane Kenyon from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems

 

Our appetite is strong for light and warmth.  Our desire is to defeat death, to pierce through the decay and flourish among the living, opening wide our face to the luxury of grace freely given.

We need only follow the pathway out of darkness.  We need only follow the Son as he leads the way.

Turn Aside and Look: To Raise Our Voices

pondfrog

 

The Pacific Northwest is a part of North America where the seasons are more subtle than other regions experience. We go from frozen to thawed to frozen to thawed all in the course of a few weeks as winter transitions to spring. Right now we have day time temperatures rising to the 50s but freezing at night with thick frost in the mornings.

This must be tough on the plants and animals that are trying to decide just which way the seasons are going. I know that my daffodil and tulip bulbs pushed their stems hurriedly from the ground a few weeks ago during a warm spell, but then as we fell back to colder days, they stood still, not gaining any height, probably reconsidering their hasty growth as they were nipped by frost. Our Haflingers started blowing coat too, but then needed it badly over the last few nights, probably wishing I’d glue those clumps of hair back on their bodies rather than piling it outside for the birds to grab for nesting material.

A long awaited yet familiar sound greeted me last night as I headed to the barn to do chores on a particularly balmy evening. The echo song of the Pacific Chorus Frogs filled the air, rising from the woods and wetlands that surround our farm. I stood still for a moment to soak up that first song that heralds spring–a certainty that the muddy marshes were thawed enough to invite the frogs out of their sleep and start their courting rituals. Winter cannot return anytime soon with any seriousness now. A frog’s version of Handel’s Messiah in the swamp–Hallelujah!

In the early mornings when I go to do chores I’m hearing bird song that has been absent for months. It used to be the only sound from the air were the Canadian geese and trumpeter swans honking as they’d fly over head, and occasionally a flock of seagulls flying inland for the day to feed in the old cornfields. Now there is an orchestra of songs from all around–Vivaldi in birdsong.

I know all the behaviorist theories about frog chorus and bird song being all about territoriality –the “I’m here and you’re not” view of the animal kingdom’s staking their claims. Knowing that theory somehow distorts the cheer I feel when I hear these songs. I want the frogs and birds to be singing out of the sheer joy of living and instead they are singing to defend their piece of earth.

Then I remember, that’s not so different from people. Our voices tend to be loudest when we are insistently territorial: our point of view above all others. I’m not sure anyone enjoys that cacophony in the same way I enjoy listening to the chorus of frogs at night or birdsong in the morning.

People are most harmonic when we choose to listen. Instead of sounding off, we should soak up. Instead of shouting “stay away–this is mine~”, we should sit expectant and grateful.

Perhaps that is why the most beloved human choruses are derived from prayers and praise. Singing out in joy rather than in warning others away.

I’ll try to remember this when I get into my “territorial” mode. I don’t bring joy to the listener nor to myself. When it comes right down to it, all that noise I make is nothing more than croaking in a smelly mucky swamp.

I hope we can all raise our voices above the mud, with clarity and hope. Then we’ll truly celebrate that new life has begun.

hidingout

Turn Aside and Look: Cleaning Up the Mess

twilightbarn

It is not only prayer that gives God glory,
but work.
Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam,
whitewashing a wall, driving horses,
sweeping, scouring,
everything gives God some glory
if being in his grace you do it as your duty.
To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory,
but a man with a dungfork in his hand,
a woman with a slop pail,
give Him glory, too.
God is so great
that all things give Him glory
if you mean that they should.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

farmgloves

Thanks in large part to how messy we humans are, this world is a grimy place.   As an act of worship, we keep cleaning up after ourselves.  The hands that clean the toilets, scrub the floors, carry the bedpans, pick up the garbage might as well be clasped in prayer–it is in such mundane tasks God is glorified.

I spend an hour every day carrying dirty buckets and wielding a pitchfork because it is my way of restoring order to the disorder inherent in human life.  It is with gratitude that I’m able to pick up one little corner of my world, making stall beds tidier for our farm animals by mucking up their messes and in so doing, I’m cleaning up a piece of me at the same time.

I never want to forget the mess I’m in and the mess I am.  I never want to forget to clean up after myself.  I never want to feel it is a mere and mundane chore to worship with dungfork and slop pail in hand.

It is my privilege to work.  It is His gift to me.

It is Grace who has come alongside me, pitching the muck and carrying the slop when I am too weary, and most amazing of all, cleans me up as well.

farmer-with-a-pitchfork
Farmer with a pitchfork by Winslow Homer
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Photo of Aaron Janicki haying with his Oberlander team in Skagit County courtesy of Tayler Rae

 

Turn Aside and Look: To Laugh and To Cry

snowymorn2

It is in these afflictions, which succeed one another each moment,
that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself,
mysteriously bestowing his grace in a manner
quite unrecognized by the souls
who feel only weakness in bearing their cross…

~Jean Pierre du Caussade from The Sacrament of the Present Moment

pusswillows4

The past few mornings have been unveiled in snow flurries, mist and fog, tentative spring dawns of freezing air and warming soil trying to break loose from the vise grip of a tired and dying winter.

I am struggling under the load of 14 hour days working with despairing and suicidal people,  in addition to keeping a barn clean and animals and humans fed.  Even sleep is not restful when there is so little time to quiet myself in reflection and gratitude.

I am keenly reminded of my weakness as my strength wanes at the end of a long day, having slipped in the mud while trying to gain traction unloading a couple hundred pounds of manure from the wheelbarrow.  Landing on my backside, my pants soaking through,  I can choose to laugh or cry.

I choose to see the baptism of mud as a sacrament of the present moment,  reminding me of my need for a cleansing grace.

I laugh and cry.

Though obscured from view, God is nevertheless revealed in these moments of being covered in the soil of earth and the waste of its creatures.

He knows I need reminding that I too am dust and to dust shall return.

He knows I am too often wasteful and a failed steward,
so need reminding by landing me amidst it.

He knows I need to laugh at myself,
so puts me right on my backside.

He knows I need to cry,
so sends me those with the saddest stories and greatest needs.

He knows I need Him, always and ever more,
to restore a sacrament of grace evident in the present moment
and every moment to come.

To be known for who I am
by a God who laughs with me,
weeps for me
and groans with pain I have caused~
I will know
no greater love.

snowyoldtree

 

When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound;
when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.
~William Billings

 

Turn Aside and Look: Surpassing All We Know

snowymorn2

springbudsonice

…hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
~Romans 8: 24-25

hydrangeabudjan

Though snow still falls on shoots rising from frozen earth,
Though emerging buds stay encased in ice,
Though the song of peeper frogs is subdued and tentative,
Though darkness seals us in as hope feels lost~

Our words are spoken-
Our pleas are heard-
We wait patiently for
your love surpassing what we could ever know.

peonybud

Even before we call on Thy name
To ask Thee, O Lord,
When we seek for the words to glorify Thee,
Thou hearest our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love,
Surpassing all we know.

Glory to the Father,
and to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.

Even with darkness sealing us in,
We breathe Thy name,
And through all the days that follow so fast,
We trust in Thee;
Endless Thy grace, O endless Thy grace,
Beyond all mortal dream.

Both now and forever,
And unto ages and ages,
Amen

~Stephen Paulus “Pilgrim’s Hymn”