Ring Out the Darkness of the Land

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Brief, on a flying night,
From the shaken tower,
A flock of bells take flight,
And go with the hour.

Like birds from the cote to the gales,
Abrupt—O hark!
A fleet of bells set sails,
And go to the dark.

Sudden the cold airs swing.
Alone, aloud,
A verse of bells takes wing
And flies with the cloud.
~Alice Christiana Thompson Meynell  – “Chimes” from more Collected Poems

 

 

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Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
~Lord Alfred Tennyson

 

 

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I know there are still communities where the New Year begins at midnight with church bells ringing, just as in days of old.

Here in the frontier of the rural Pacific Northwest, all we can hear from our farm are gun shots, bottle rockets and (what sounds like) explosions of cannon fire.

So much for larger hearts and kindlier hands.

Even without being able to hear wild bells ringing out the old and ringing in the new, let us begin with harmony and manners and care for our neighbors, abandoning a thousand years of war to find a thousand years of peace.

Let the darkness make room for the Light that was and is and will ever be.

Amen!

 

 

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The Dying of the Year

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Now winter downs the dying of the year,   
And night is all a settlement of snow; 
From the soft street the rooms of houses show   
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,   
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin   
And still allows some stirring down within. 
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.   
We fray into the future, rarely wrought 
Save in the tapestries of afterthought. 
More time, more time. Barrages of applause   
Come muffled from a buried radio. 
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”
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The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit’s tread.
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.
~William Cullen Bryant from “The Death of the Flowers”

 

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These dark, icy,  and sodden days are scarcely recalled while basking in the lightness of June when the sun shines 19 hours a day.

There is no way to cope with such overwhelming darkness except by adding in a few minutes more a day over six months, otherwise the shock of leaving behind the light would be too great.  Howling wind knocks and batters, freezing rain beats mercilessly at the window panes to coat everything with a 1/4 inch of ice,  puddles stand deeper than they appear, mud sucks off boots, leaves are thoroughly shaken from embarrassed branches.

We have no remnant of summer civility and frivolity left; we must adapt or cry trying, only adding to a pervasive sogginess.

Nevertheless, these melancholy days have their usefulness — there are times of joyful respite from frenetic activity while reading, snuggled deep under quilts, safe and warm.  Without such stark contrast, the light and bright time of year would become merely routine, yet just another sunny day.

That never happens here in the Pacific northwest.

We celebrate the emerging light with real thanksgiving and acknowledge this encompassing darkness makes our gratitude more genuine.

We are privileged to live within such a paradox:  there is, after all, a certain gladness in our sadness.

 

 

 

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Rolling In It

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photo by Nate Gibson

No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference.
~Charles Lamb

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photo by Nate Gibson

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Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
~T.S. Eliot  “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

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photo by Nate Gibson

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This New Year, like so many that have come before, arrives with the ordinary revelry,  yet a lingering odor remains.  All is not as it appears and is faintly disturbing.  Like a dog joyfully rolling in something stinky simply because it was there and he just happened upon it,  2017 may look squeaky clean but reeks of what has come before.  It can’t be ignored and, even brand new, is already badly in need of a bath.

I too tend to prefer things familiar, safe and routine, even if that means I roll about where I shouldn’t, still smelling like yesterday, if not last month.   It’s time I stop being indifferent to the passage of time and the change that it brings.  There is no turning back or staying stubbornly with how things used to be.  Time leads irrevocably forward, with me in tow, and I must follow,  acutely aware much more of my life has been lived out than lies ahead of me.

Do I dare disturb my own comfortable universe?  Or continue to disturb others with that lingering odor?

Perhaps this new year I will try walking a slower walk, even in the rain or snow, stay clear of the stinky stuff, take time to look at all things with new eyes, breathe each cleansing breath appreciatively, keenly aware it was not my last.

Then others near me might breathe more freely.

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photo by Emily Gibson

A New Soul

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The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year.
It is that we should have a new soul.

– G.K. Chesterton

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Mt. Baker in December

We have had considerable winter already in the northwest with a white Christmas that soon melted away and then snowfall again on New Year’s Eve. It has been beautiful – a welcome change from our typical winter rain and mud-fest. It is natural to desire an overnight transformation of the old and dirty to something new and beautiful:  an all clean pristine white cottony sheet covering thrown over everything making it look completely different than before.

Similarly, at the tick of the clock past midnight on New Years’ Eve, we hope for just such an inner transformation as well, a fresh start, a leaving behind of the not-so-good from the past and moving ahead to the surely-it’ll-be-better in the future.

But it usually doesn’t stick, despite a flurry of good intentions and a skiff of newness plopped down here and there.  Even if we find ourselves in the midst of blizzard conditions, unable to see six inches ahead and immobilized by the furious storms of life,  that accumulation eventually will melt, leaving behind even more mud and raw mess.

It isn’t how flawless, how clean, or how new this year will be, but rather how to ensure our soul transformation stays whole and pure, unmelting from within, even when the heat is turned up and the sweat drips.  This is not about a covering thrown over the old and dirty but a full blown overhaul in order to never to be the same mess again.

I lift my eyes to the hills where the snow stays year round: sometimes more,  with a few hundred new inches over several weeks, or sometimes less,  on the hottest days of summer.  Our new souls this new year must be built of that same resiliency, withstanding what each day may bring, cold or hot.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…transformation that sticks within my soul.

 

Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow.
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
~James Nicholson (hymn chorus)

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Mt. Baker in August

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End of the Year Tears

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Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.

Let us step outside for a moment.
It is all there
Only we have been slow to arrive
At a way of seeing it.
Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.
~May Sarton from “New Year Poem”

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photo by Nate Gibson

Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.  They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.
~Frederick Buechner

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I don’t pay close enough attention to the meaning of my leaking eyes when I’m looking for kleenex to stem the flow.  During the holidays it seems I have more than ample opportunity to find out from my tears the secret of who I am, where I have come from and where I am to be next, so I keep my pockets loaded with kleenex.

It mostly has to do with welcoming family members back home for the holidays to become a full out noisy messy chaotic household again, with puzzles and games and music and laughter and laundry and meal preparation.  It is about singing grace together before a meal and choking on precious words of gratitude.  It certainly has to do with bidding farewell as we did yet again this morning, gathering them in for that final hug and then that letting-go part.

We urge and encourage them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be, even thousands of miles away from their one-time home on the farm.

I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I learned to set my face toward the future.  It led me here, to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, our church, to more tears, to more letting go, as it will continue if granted the years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.

This is where I will go next: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me or my children.   They release a fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spills down my cheeks drop by drop like wax from a burning candle.

No kleenex needed with these tears.

Let them flow as I let them go.

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More Time

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For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then

there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song
~W.S.Merwin “The New Song”

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These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”

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Time sweeps me along,
takes me where it wishes,
even gets the better of me
until I clutch it for a moment
to see and hear and hold it close
to never forget~~

forever restless, time escapes my grasp
and so it shall ever be.

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The Hush of a New Year’s Morning

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With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself

to the hush of the morning

 

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
~W.S. Merwin “To the New Year”
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My hopes, such as they are,
transparent as an impromptu ice sculpture
behind the barn carefully placed
by an enterprising farm boy.
They perch like wings on top of the manure hill,
glistening, crystalline, pure,
still possible if allowed to fly free,
but if left untouched and unrealized,
they are melted by the heat of the pile.
~EPG
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Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all, And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
~Emily Dickinson

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