The bright sadness of Lent is a box full of darkness given to us by Someone who loves us.
It takes a lifetime to understand, if we ever do, this gift with which we are entrusted is meant to hand off to another and another whom we love just as well.
Opening the box allows light in where none was before. Light pouring through our brokenness.
Sorrow shines bright reaching up from the deep well of our loving and being loved.
Another sleepless night I’m turning in my bed Long before the red sun rises In these early hours I’m falling again Into the river of my worries When the river runs away I find a shelter in your name
Jesus, only light on the shore Only hope in the storm Jesus, let me fly to your side There I would hide, Jesus
Hear my anxious prayer The beating of my heart The pulse and the measure of my unbelief Speak your words to me Before I come apart Help me believe in what I cannot see Before the river runs away I will call upon your name
Jesus, only light on the shore Only hope in the storm Jesus, let me fly to your side There I would hide, Jesus ~Elaine Rubenstein, Fernando Ortega
We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being. ~Thornton Wilder, from “Our Town”
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. ~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”
I began to write regularly after September 11, 2001 because more than on any previous day, it became obvious to me I was dying, though more slowly than the thousands who vanished that day in fire and ash, their voices obliterated with their bodies into eternity.
Nearly each day since, while I still have voice and a new dawn to greet, I speak through my fingers to others dying with and around me.
We are, after all, terminal patients — some of us more prepared than others to move on — as if our readiness had anything to do with the timing.
Each day I get a little closer to the eternal, but I write in order to feel a little more ready. Each day I want to detach just a little bit, leaving a trace of my voice behind. Eventually, through unmerited grace, so much of me will be left on the page there won’t be anything or anyone left to do the typing.
“When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response:
‘Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely Yours, G. K. Chesterton.’
That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.” ~Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God
O lovely apple! beautifully and completely rotten hardly a contour marred–
perhaps a little shrivelled at the top but that aside perfect in every detail! O lovely
apple! what a deep and suffusing brown mantles that unspoiled surface! No one
has moved you since I placed you on the porch rail a month ago to ripen.
No one. No one! ~William Carlos Williams “Perfection”
I am what’s wrong with the world and so are you.
Not one of us escapes the rottenness that lies not-so-deep beneath our shiny surface. We are full of wormholes, inviting the worms of the world to eat us alive.
One look at the news headlines of the day is enough mar the most perfect surface. No one moves to save us from our over-ripening fate; we sit untouched, withering and shriveling.
We are the problem and the problem is us.
We need rescue by a Savior who is the one good apple among a barrel of contagiously bad apples. We are so tainted, it takes Someone who truly is Perfect to transform us from the inside out, from worm-holes back to wholeness and on to holiness.
May we fall to our knees, weeping and grateful, that Christ, who is the Leader of all in His Kingdom, will grant us a grace and sanctuary we emphatically don’t deserve.
May He pick us before the worms do. We are in this together.
Now a decade after her death, I’m still slowly sorting through my mother’s packed up possessions stored in one of our farm outbuildings. Some boxes I am not ready to open, such as the 30 months of letters written by my newlywed father and mother while he fought in several bloody island battles as a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. Other boxes contain items from too distant an era to be practical in my kitchen, such as the ones labeled “decorative teacups” or “assorted tupperware bowls without lids”.
But I do open the boxes of books. My mother was a high school speech teacher during those war years, and she had a good sense of a classic book, so there are always treasures in those boxes.
Recently I found the 1956 Webster’s New Dictionary of the Twentieth Century that I grew up with. This book was massive, easily weighing 10 pounds, and served as a booster seat for haircuts, a step stool for trying to reach the cookie jar on the kitchen cupboard, and of course, for looking up any obscure word that ever existed in all of history. Or so it seemed.
It was an amazing tome. And as I flipped through the pages, I found some old familiar friends that were neither black nor white nor read all over.
Wildflowers had been carefully pressed between the pages–over two dozen specimens paper thin themselves, their existence squeezed into two dimensions–still showing faint pink or blue, or purple color, almost exuding a long ago fragrance from a summer over fifty years ago. As a child I regularly wandered out to our fields and woods to gather crimson clover blossoms, buttercup, dandelions, daisies, wild violets, wild ginger, calypso lady slippers for bouquets for my mother, and she would select the most perfect to slide between the pages of the dictionary. Occasionally she would pull out one to gently paste on a hand written card she sent to a friend.
Here were my perfect flowers, preserved and pressed for time, just waiting for the fifty-five-years-older me to rediscover them lying between wonderful words that I love to roll in my mouth and type on a page. They are too fragile to paste to a greeting card, or even to handle due to their brittleness. They need to stay right where they are, for another generation or two or three to discover.
I am so pressed for time, becoming more fragile, perhaps more brittle than I care to admit. My mother and father have blown away like the puff ball seeds of the dandelion, on to other horizons, but the sturdy old dictionary is going nowhere. It will be passed down, its delicate passengers preserved inside, a long ago far away summer afternoon of flower gathering to be shared as a great grandchild opens the book to look up a favorite word sometime in the not so far off future.
You never know what may cause them. The sight of the ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow…
You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure.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 fromWhistling in the Dark
I’m not paying close enough attention to the meaning of my leaking eyes if I’m constantly looking for kleenex to stem the flow. During the holidays it seems I have more than ample opportunity to find out 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 in five-part harmony and choking on precious words of gratitude. It is about remembering the drama of our youngest’s birthday twenty six years ago today, when she was saved by a snowstorm.
It certainly has to do with bidding farewell again as we will this weekend, gathering them all in for that final hug and then letting go.
We urge and encourage them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be, even if that means 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 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 if I’m granted more years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.
This is the secret of me: 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 and grandchildren. They are the spill-over of 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.
Tired and hungry, late in the day, impelled to leave the house and search for what might lift me back to what I had fallen away from, I stood by the shore waiting. I had walked in the silent woods: the trees withdrew into their secrets. Dusk was smoothing breadths of silk over the lake, watery amethyst fading to gray. Ducks were clustered in sleeping companies afloat on their element as I was not on mine.
I turned homeward, unsatisfied. But after a few steps, I paused, impelled again to linger, to look North before nightfall-the expanse of calm, of calming water, last wafts of rose in the few high clouds.
And was rewarded: the heron, unseen for weeks, came flying widewinged toward me, settled just offshore on his post, took up his vigil. If you ask why this cleared a fog from my spirit, I have no answer. ~Denise Levertov “A Reward” from Evening Train.
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than the flu. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. There should be a vaccination against unnamed fears.
I want to say to my patients and to myself: Stop now, this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop.
Stop needing to be numb to all discomfort. Stop resenting the gift of each breath. Just stop. Instead, simply be.
I want to say: this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone, this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light.
Shout for joy in it. Celebrate it.
Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips just as rain can clear the fog. Stop holding them back.
Just be– be blessed in both the fine and the foggy days– in the now and now and now.