You Shall Be a Peculiar Treasure

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Imagine yourself in a big city in a crowd of people.  What it would be like to see all the people in the crowd like Jesus does — an anonymous crowd with old ones and young one, fat ones and thin ones, attractive ones and ugly ones—think what it would be like to love them.  If our faith is true, if there is a God, and if God loves, he loves each one of those.  Try to see them as loved.  And then try to see them, these faces, as loved by you.  What would it be like to love these people, to love these faces — the lovable faces, the kind faces, gentle compassionate faces?  That’s not so hard.  But there are lots of other faces — disagreeable faces, frightening faces, frightened faces, cruel faces, closed faces. …they are all peculiar treasures.  In Exodus, God said to Israel, “You shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.”  God meant it for all of us.
~Frederick Buechner from The Remarkable Ordinary

 

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It doesn’t take long for us to be overwhelmed by humanity when we visit our family in Tokyo.  The airport is a shock of weaving lines of weary people and crying children, the trains are packed with people standing like sardines for an hour or more on their commute, the stations are a sea of bobbing heads flowing out onto the streets where the cross walks become a mass hive of activity whenever the light changes.

Yet we’ve been struck by the effort some locals make to help us foreigners who look lost, or who simply look different.  There is outreach at times that is spontaneous, genuine and completely unexpected.  Those are easy faces to love and we do.  What is much much harder to is love those hundreds of thousands who pass by us on their way to work, to shop, to return home.  How can I even begin to have the capacity?

What greeted Jesus as he entered the city in that final week was not friendly faces.  He loved them all any way, every single one of them peculiar treasures to him, forgiven and redeemed.

I realize I’m not very friendly too much of the time.  Yet he still loves me too, flaws and all, as his redeeming grace is meant for one such as me.  Because of his love, I can become the real thing, not just a reflection of what I think I should be.

 

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The Tree That Stands Alone

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For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves.

And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk:
in the rings of its years,
its scars,
all the struggle,
all the suffering,
all the sickness,
all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written,
the narrow years and the luxurious years,
the attacks withstood,
the storms endured.

And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is.

That is home. That is happiness.
~ Hermann HesseBäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

 

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Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.
~Winston Churchill

 

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A wind has blown the rain away
and blown the sky away
and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand.
I think, I too, have known autumn too long.

~e.e. cummings

 

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Trees are Earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.
~Rabindranath Tagore

 

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Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?
~Walt Whitman

 

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I don’t know why, of all the trees that peppered this hill over a century ago, this one was spared.  Perhaps she was the tallest at the time, or the straightest, or just didn’t yield to the ax as the others did.

She has become the sentinel on our farm, a focal point:
the marker by which all else is measured.

She is unchanging as the backdrop of clouds and seasons, color and light shift and swirl.

Visitors climb the hill to her first before seeing anything else on the farm, to see the expanse that she surveys.  Her branches oversee gatherings of early Easter morning worship, summer evening church services, winter sledding parties, and Fourth of July celebrations.

This one special tree stands alone, apart from the others, but is never lonely – not really.  She shares her top with the eagles and hawks, her shadow with humans and other critters in her century-long vigil with people all around the globe in these photos.

Never lonely — no, never.

This is her home.  This is happiness.

 

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Far Away From Some Peaceful Land

For Memorial Day 2017~

~standing in gratitude and reverence for the few
who have suffered great loneliness and loss
to secure the future and well-being of many,
including unknown generations to come…

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I hear the mountain birds
The sound of rivers singing
A song I’ve often heard
It flows through me now
So clear and so loud
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

It’s carried in the air
The breeze of early morning
I see the land so fair
My heart opens wide
There’s sadness inside
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

This is no foreign sky
I see no foreign light
But far away am I
From some peaceful land
I’m longing to stand
A hand in my hand
…forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home
~Lori Barth and Philippe Rombi “I’m Dreaming of Home”

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In great deeds, something abides.
On great fields, something stays.
Forms change and pass;
bodies disappear;
but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.
And reverent men and women from afar,
and generations that know us not and that we know not of,
heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them,
shall come to this deathless field,
to ponder and dream;
and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom,
and the power of the vision pass into their souls.
This is the great reward of service.
To live, far out and on, in the life of others;
this is the mystery of the Christ,

–to give life’s best for such high sake
that it shall be found again unto life eternal.

~Major-General Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 1889

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That Heaven of which We Have Heard

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I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
-Wendell Berry “To My Mother”

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…and to think we enter this world screaming,
begging to be held and fed,
already needing forgiveness that sometimes,
(not always)
comes from our entangled imperfect parents
who worry over and juggle and guide us

and who themselves, once prodigal,
weep too with the burden
of feeling unforgiven,
dismayed because they won’t get it right
no matter how hard they try

Thank God for the promise
of this Heaven of which we have heard
where Love freely given, never earned,
rises resplendent, in full bloom,
from earth’s fallen ashes.

 

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Turn Aside and Look: Barnstormed

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(I’ve been asked how my blog came to be named “Barnstorming” — most assume it is a doctor-farmer’s twist on “brainstorming” which didn’t occur to me until someone mentioned it to me.  Instead, the name has nothing to do with brains, baseball teams, politics or daredevil piloting of small airplanes.  It has everything to do with a storm taking place in our barn at the beginning of Holy Week  years ago.)

An unexpected southerly wind hit suddenly late Sunday night, gusting up to 40 miles an hour and slamming the house with drenching rain as we prepared to go to bed. Chores in the barn had been done hours before, but as we had not been expecting a storm, the north/south center aisle doors were still open, and I could hear banging and rattling as they were buffeted in the wind. I quickly dressed to go latch the doors for the night, but the tempest had done its damage. Hay, empty buckets, horse blankets, tack and cat food had blown all over the barn aisle, while the Haflingers stood wide-eyed and fretful in their stalls.

A storm was blowing inside the barn as well as outside it.

It took some time to tidy up the mess after the doors were secured but all was soon made right. The wind continued to bash at the doors, but it no longer could touch anything inside them. The horses relaxed and got back to their evening meal though the noise coming from outside was deafening. I headed back up to the house and slept fitfully listening to the wind blow all night, wondering if the metal barn roof might pull off in a gust, exposing everything within.

Yet in the new daylight this Monday morning, all is calm. The barn is still there, the roof still on, the horses are where they belong and all seems to be as it was before the barnstorming wind. Or so it might appear.

This wind heralds another storm coming this week that hits with such force that I’m knocked off my feet, swept away, and left bruised and breathless. No latches, locks, or barricades are strong enough to protect me from what will come over the next few days.

Yesterday He rode in on a donkey softly, humbly, and wept at what He knew.

Today, He overturns the tables in His fury.

Tomorrow he echoes the destruction that is to happen.

Wednesday, He teaches the people to prepare them, then rests in anticipation.

On Thursday, He kneels, pours water over dusty feet, presides over a simple meal, and then, abandoned,  sweats blood in agonized prayer.

By Friday, all culminates in the perfect storm, transforming everything in its path, leaving nothing untouched.

The silence on Saturday is deafening.

Next Sunday, the Son rises and returns, all is calm, all is well, all set to right.  He calls my name, my heart burns within me at His words and I can never be the same again.

Barnstormed to the depths of my soul. Doors flung open wide, the roof pulled off, everything blown away and now replaced, renewed and reconciled.

May it be done as He has said, again and yet again.

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Turn Aside and Look: In the Wilderness Time

 

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This is the wilderness time,
when every path is obscure
and thorns have grown around the words of hope.

This is the time of stone, not bread,
when even the sunrise feels uncertain
and everything tastes of bitterness.

This is the time of ashes and dust,
when darkness clothes our dreams
and no star shines a guiding light.

This is the time of treading life,
waiting for the swells to subside and for the chaos to clear.

Be the wings of our strength, O God,
in this time of wilderness waiting.
– Keri Wehlander from “600 Blessings and Prayers from around the world” compiled by Geoffrey Duncan

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He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Psalm 91:4

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To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness , is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness- especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.   
~Frederick Buechner

The wilderness can be a distant peak far removed from anything or anyone.  The wilderness can also be found in an isolated corner of the human heart kept far away from anything and anyone.   From my window on a clear day, I am fortunate to see the first if the cloud cover moves away.  From my perch on a round stool at work,  I am sometimes given access to the other many times every day.

There are times in one’s life when loving God as commanded seems impossible.  We are too broken, too frightened, too wary to trust God with our love and devotion.  Recognizing a diagnosis of wilderness of the heart is straight forward:  despair, discouragement, disappointment, lack of gratitude, lack of hope.  The treatment is to tame the wilderness with a covenantal obedience that reaches so deep there is no corner left untouched.   We must do as we are asked, even when it seems impossible, when it hurts, and when it means we may become even more profoundly isolated.

To be asked by God to turn aside from our worries and face Him is the invitation we were created for.   To be loved by Him is our rescue from the wilderness of the most distant peak, as well as from the most bitter and broken heart that beats within.

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In the beginning, you hovered over the water
You broke an unbroken silence
You spoke light into darkness
And there was light

In the beginning, we were made in your image
And we were naked without shame
Till we fell for the darkness
And there was night

Chorus: Your mercies are new
Your mercies are new
New every morning
Your mercies are new
Your mercies are new
New every morning

In the beginning, there was the Word and he was God
And the Word was with God
And he dwelt among us
And there was life

Oh, in the beginning, the Lamb of God was broken
And his blood was poured out
For the sins of the world
And there was life

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At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw your light
At the cross, at the cross
I received my sight
At the cross, at the cross
Where you laid down your life

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~Audrey Assad -“New Every Morning”

Love Stored Up

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the finale this morning
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today’s sunrise at its peak
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As it began this morning

Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet

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The sunrise this morning kept giving and giving, vanquishing the darkness through an illumination that made all things, even the sorry and the plain, beautiful.

So is the love of one person for another, reflecting the Light that illuminates us all, even to the depths of our shadows.

May we too give and give without ceasing, our plainness made beautiful, our shadows no more.

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