Mission Accomplished

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And on those hot afternoons in July,
when my father was out on the tractor
cultivating rows of corn, my mother
would send us out with a Mason jar
filled with ice and water, a dish towel
wrapped around it for insulation.

Like a rocket launched to an orbiting
planet, we would cut across the fields
in a trajectory calculated to intercept—
or, perhaps, even—surprise him
in his absorption with the row and the
turning always over earth beneath the blade.

He would look up and see us, throttle
down, stop, and step from the tractor
with the grace of a cowboy dismounting
his horse, and receive gratefully the jar
of water, ice cubes now melted into tiny
shards, drinking it down in a single gulp,
while we watched, mission accomplished.
~Joyce Sutphen “Carrying Water to the Field”

 

 

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It was a special responsibility to carry cold water out to my father when he was on the tractor.  Yes, he could have carried a thermos-full along with him all day but then he would not have seen his daughter walking carefully from the house over the fresh-turned dirt, he would not have an excuse for a short break to wipe the sweat from his face or survey the straightness of the furrows, he would not have lifted her up to sit beside him on the tractor and allowed her to “drive”, steering down the rows, curving around the killdeer nests so their young are spared.

Such a special responsibility to nurture someone hard at work who doesn’t stop to refill themselves. It happens rarely any more – whether field or factory or the family home. What wondrous love to carry water to those who thirst; what wondrous grace fills furrowed lives.

 

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Like a Leaf

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Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
Naomi Shihab Nye

 

 

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We have had three weeks of delightfully temperate weather — days in the 70’s, nights cooling to the 50’s, gentle breezes which at times gust and shake the foliage and fruit from branches.

It feels a bit like autumn in July, with leaves loosening from tree branches, tumbling to the ground two months early. Our annual July family gathering is coming up soon, but without an older generation of birthdays to celebrate as in previous years: the last of our family elders passed on two months ago. The inevitable shifting and sifting of generations is keenly felt; we middle aged folk now bounce grandchildren on our laps rather than our own children.   The last fifteen years have changed much in our family tree.

I feel badly for the trees parting with their leaves too soon.  I am sad our family has parted with our elders before we’re ready.

I am no longer invulnerable, seemingly protected by a veneer of youth and vigor.   Located high in the canopy of branches, I may wave bravely in the breezes, dew glistening like sweat on my skin, feeling the sun on my back and the raindrops running off my leafy shoulders.   Yet my grip is loosening, slowly, surely.  My color is subtly fading.  My edges are starting to fray, and there may be a hole rent here or there.  Yes, I am feeling more and more leaf-like, knowing how far I could fall any time.

That knowledge makes all the difference.   I hang on ever more tightly while I can.

This is no time to waste.

 

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Begging To Be Cloaked

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I waited. I don’t know for what.
Sometimes I’d sit so long the sun would sink,
a fiery stare blinking shut beneath the horizon,
and the drooping electric wires would borrow the dark
until the dark seeped back into the sky. And when stars

surfaced like needles piercing through velvet,
I’d hold myself back just a moment more.
What made me feel watched in the naked field?
I was paying close attention and could discern only
a begging to be cloaked and a begging to be released.
~Jennifer Grotz  from “The Field”

 

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As I age I observe the world in a new way,
my eyes scanning for the unnoticed and plain,
not just the dramatic and majestic,
sometimes just sitting still as witness to each moment.

I preserve that which will keep for another day,
like a jar of canned peaches in my root cellar,
so I won’t forget, and in a darker time be cloaked once again
when I taste its sweetness.

 

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A Time to Take Off Your Shoes

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Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

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Yesterday, on a beautiful Sabbath evening, some fifty folks spent a few hours here on our farm for worship and potluck for this summer’s first of our Wiser Lake Chapel’s long-running “outdoor church” tradition at various farms in our county.   Over the many years we have hosted this wonderful gathering of our church body, we have met up on our farm’s hill pasture and also under the shade of our front yard walnut trees.  As lovely as it is to meet on the hill with so many vistas and views, there are many manure piles and mole hills lying in wait to sully the bare toes of our active church kids.

Indeed, our children are more apt than the grown ups to follow the instruction of the Lord when He told Moses:

Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

There have long been cultures where shoes are to be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple in an intentional act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door to preserve the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.

Yet we as Christians wear shoes into church every Sunday, having walked in muck and mire of one sort or another all week. We try our best to clean up for Sunday, but we track in the detritus of our lives when we come to sit in the pews. Rather than leave it at the door, it comes right in with us, not exactly hidden and sometimes downright stinky. That is when we are in obvious need for a good washing, shoes, feet, soul and all, and that is exactly why we  need to worship together as a church family in need of cleansing, whether indoors or outdoors.

Jesus Himself demonstrated our need for a wash-up on the last night of His life, soaking the dusty feet of His disciples.

And then there is what God said. He asked that holy ground be respected by the removal of our sandals. We must remove any barrier that prevents us from entering fully into His presence, whether it be our attitude, our stubbornness, our unbelief, or our constant centering on self rather than other.

No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.

We trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where our feet land and the impact they leave behind. Perhaps by shedding the covering of our eyes, our minds, and our feet, we would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart.

So we may see.
So we may listen.
So we may feast together.
So we remove our sandals so our bare feet may touch His holy ground.

 

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Thank you to Bette Vander Haak and Kerry Garrett for sharing their pictures of outdoor church on our farm.

 

 

Shortcake With Soul

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A cobbler is shortcake with a soul…
~Edna Ferber

 

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Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet.

Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.
~Stephen Dunn from “Sweetness”

 

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Even when the softness of sunset lingers long
with residual stains of dappled cobbler clouds
lasting long to the sweetness of next day’s dawn,
I’m reminded to “remember this, this moment, this feeling”~

I realize that it will be lost, slipping away from me
in mere moments, a sacramental fading with time.
I can barely remember the sweetness of its taste,
so what’s left is the mere stain of its loss.

Walking this life’s cobbled path,
only guessing where it leads,
I ponder the messy sweetness
of today’s helping of soulful shortcake,
treasure it up, stains and all,
knowing I could never miss it
if I didn’t taste and savor it to begin with.

 

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Yelling for Joy

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Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
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– let me yell for joy at what I have been given,
at the blessedness that I have been afforded,
at the long seasons of grace
you have spun out for me
in a great summer taffy of a life.

~A.G. Harmon from patheos.com

 

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What is all this juice and all this joy?
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Spring”

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These summer mornings I awake in a Gerard Manley Hopkins landscape~
the young poet priest combined words in suspended rhythm,
recreating the world found outside our windows
entirely in our minds even when our eyes are closed.

What is this taffy-stretched joy I feel when witnessing
what must have moved him to write?
What can be more powerful
than words that awaken in us dawn’s redeeming light?

 

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So Am I

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There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.
John Calvin

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It is too easy to become blinded to the glory surrounding us if we allow it to be routine and commonplace.  I can’t remember the last time I celebrated a blade of grass,  given how focused we are in mowing it into conformity and submission.  Too often I’m not up early enough to witness the pink sunrise or I’m too busy to take time to watch the sun paint the sky red as it sets.

I miss opportunities to rejoice innumerable times a day.  It takes only a moment of recognition and appreciation to feel the joy, and for that moment time stands still.  Life stretches a little longer when I stop to acknowledge the intention of creation as an endless reservoir of rejoicing.   If a blade of grass, if a palette of color, if all this is made for joy, then so am I.

Even colorless commonplace me.

So am I.

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