Turn Aside and Look: Where Our Hearts Are

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So I tell you to stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? 
— Matthew 6:25-27

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Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be so busy with worldly affairs. He does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives. He does not tell us that what we do is unimportant, valueless, or useless. Nor does he suggest that we should withdraw from our involvements and live quiet, restful lives removed from the struggles of the world.

Jesus’ response to our worry-filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the “many things” to the “one necessary thing.” It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things. Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace. He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. This is the meaning of “Set your hearts on his kingdom first…and all these other things will be given you as well.” What counts is where our hearts are. When we worry, we have our hearts in the wrong place. Jesus asks us to move our hearts to the center, where all other things fall into place.
— Henri Nouwen from Making All Things New

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I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.
— Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

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I appreciate this group of readings found on this Lenten blog post on In Silence Waits: https://insilencewaits.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/desert-day-15-stop-worrying/

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We’ve returned from two weeks in Japan to visit a brand new granddaughter and though our physical selves may be back in the U.S.,  our hearts and minds are lagging and have not yet arrived.  Our aging bodies also don’t quite know what to do with the International Dateline and the 16 hour time difference. After being awake for 36 hours straight for travel and then heading from the airport to urgent meetings at work, I thought I would sleep at least seven hours last night but after three hours I was wide awake and wondering why it was still the middle of the night. Like the adjustment that took days (and nights) after traveling to the Far East, it will take time to realign back to a Western Hemisphere schedule.

I must confess I am a skilled and well-practiced worrier. In my jet-lagged wakefulness, I can find plenty to keep me awake once my eyes fly open.  Yet I know my worry is nothing but wasted energy, and worse than that, it pulls me away from the center of all I really need to know:

Jesus just wants my heart, not my worry.

If He provides for an array of beautiful birds living happily in the middle of one of the largest cities on earth in Tokyo, then how much more will He care for you and for me.

And now, acknowledging that in my time-addled brain,  it’s back to bed.

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Turn Aside and Look: Seeds of Hope

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If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?
—G.K. Chesterton

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The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus,  it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
Isaiah 35:1-3

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We are mere seeds lying dormant, plain and simple, with nothing to distinguish us one from the other until the murmurs of spring begin, so soft, so subtle.  The soil shakes loose frosty crust as the thawing warmth begins.   Sunlight makes life stir and swell, no longer frozen but animate and intimate.

We will soon wake from our quiescence to sprout, bloom and fruit.  We will reach as far as our tethered roots will allow, beyond earthly bounds to touch the light and be touched.
There is renewed hope seeded in the heart of man, ready and waiting to unfurl, with a precious fragrance that lingers, long after the petal has dried, loosened, and fallen to freedom.

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Turn Aside and Look: Let My Yea Be Yea

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For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
~2 Corinthians 1:20

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When will I ever learn to say Amen,
Really assent at last to anything?
For now my hesitations always bring
Some reservation in their trail, and then
Each reservation brings new hesitations;
All my intended amens just collapse
In an evasive mumble: well, perhaps,
Let me consider all the implications . . .

But you can read my heart, I hear you say:
For once be present to me, I am here,
Breathe in the perfect love that casts out fear
Open your heart and let your yea be yea.

Oh bring me to that brink, that moment when
I see your full-eyed love and say Amen.
~Malcolm Guite — “Amen”

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Our answer to the invitation to be loved —  when we are restless and uneasy, when we are broken and empty, when we feel unknowable and unloveable —  should be “Yes”, over and over.

God tells us “Yes”, again and again, that we may know Him as He is one with us.  Mere mortals have experienced God born of and from the flesh, as He walked, ate, slept among us.

Christ became the Yes,  the covenant, the contract God has made with His people.  We are bound to Him, even when we pull away and say “No” as the unloveable are wont to do,  regularly and emphatically.

When young Mary was told the impossible, the implausible, the incomprehensible would happen to her, her response was not “No way–go find someone else!”.  Her response was “Behold the willing servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word.”    She says, in essence “Yes!  And Amen!”

How often do we respond with such trust and faithfulness, accepting Christ as the ultimate “Yes” from God, who ensures our everlasting salvation?

Let it be. Let our Yes be Yes.

 

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Turn Aside and Look: Leave the Rest to God

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I think there is no suffering greater than
what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. 

I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, 
in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. 
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. 
They think faith is a big electric blanket, 
when of course it is the cross. 
It is much harder to believe than not to believe. 
If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: 
keep an open mind. 
Keep it open toward faith, 
keep wanting it, 
keep asking for it, 
and leave the rest to God.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

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And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted.  Nothing that comes from God, even the greatest miracle, can be proven like 2 x 2 = 4. It touches one; it is only seen and grasped when the heart is open and the spirit purged of self. Then it awakens faith.  … the heart is not overcome by faith, there is no force or violence there, compelling belief by rigid certitudes.  What comes from God touches gently, comes quietly; does not disturb freedom; leads to quiet, profound, peaceful resolve within the heart.
~Romano Guardini from The Living God

japanweed

On my doubting days, days too frequent and tormenting,
I remember the risen Christ
reaching out to place Thomas’s hand in His wounds,
gently guiding Thomas to His reality,
so it becomes Thomas’s reality.
His open wounds called
to Thomas’s mind and heart,
His flesh and blood
awakening a hidden faith
by a simple touch

Turn Aside and Look: All of These Things

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Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:29

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Why worry about the loaves and fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.
Mary Oliver  – “Logos”

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japanpinkblossom

Many reject him because they weren’t there-
how can they know
what was real without seeing and hearing him
with their own eyes and ears.

We read his words
and think about
how his voice sounded
in a crowd
of 5000 people so hungry,
and how his eyes teared
as he was betrayed
and rejected
and nailed

We weren’t in the garden
that day when he was mistaken
for the gardener
nor were we on the road to Emmaus
walking beside a stranger whose words
made our hearts burn within us
but we can imagine hearing our name spoken
and knowing it is him
or watching him break the bread
and recognizing his body.

We weren’t there
but we didn’t have to be.

If we can imagine what His Logos tells us,
it is plain and real,
a mystery of the heart

all of these things
all of these things
all these things
and so much more

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

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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: Remembering the Air of Childhood

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I wanted to treat feelings that are not recognized as afflictions and are never diagnosed by doctors. All those little feelings and emotions no therapist is interested in,
because they are apparently too minor and intangible.
The feeling that washes over you when another summer nears its end.
Or when you recognize that you haven’t got your whole life left to find out where you belong.
Or the slight sense of grief when a friendship doesn’t develop as you thought,
and you have to continue your search for a lifelong companion.
Or those birthday morning blues.
Nostalgia for the air of your childhood.
Things like that.

~Nina George from The Little Paris Bookshop

 

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A white vase holds a kaleidoscope of wilting sweet peas
captive in the sunlight on the kitchen table while

wafting morning scent of pancakes
with sticky maple syrup swirls on the plate,

down the hall a dirty diaper left too long in the pail,
spills over tempera paint pots with brushes rinsed in jars after

stroking bright pastel butterflies fluttering on an easel
while wearing dad’s oversized shirt buttoned backwards

as he gently guides a hand beneath the downy underside
of the muttering hen reaching a warm egg hiding in the nest

broken into fragments like a heart while reading
the last stanza of “Dover Beach” in freshman English

Just down the hall of clanging lockers
To orchestra where strains of “Clair de Lune” accompany

the yearning midnight nipple tug of a baby’s hungry suck
hiccups gulping in rhythm to the rocking rocking

waiting for a last gasp for breath
through gaping mouth, mottled cooling skin

lies still between bleached sheets
illuminated by curtain filtered moonlight just visible

through the treetops while whoosh of owl wings
are felt not heard, sensed not seen.

Waking to bright lights and whirring machines
the hushed voice of the surgeon asking

what do you see now, what can you hear, what odor,
what flavor, what sensation on your skin

with each probe of temporal lobe, of fornix
and amygdala hidden deep in gray matter

of neurons and synaptic holding bins of chemical transmitters
storing the mixed bag of the past and present

to find and remove the offending lesion that seizes up
all remembrance, all awareness

and be set free again to live, to love, to swoon at the perfume
of spring sweet peas climbing dew fresh at dawn,

tendril wrapping over tendril,
the peeling wall of the garden shed

no more regrets, no more grief
no more sorrow.

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