An Unimaginable Zero Summer

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At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving…
{Burnt Norton}

Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?
{Little Gidding}

~T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets

 

ZeroSummerE-471x630Zero Summer by Makoto Fujimura

 

“Zero Summer” imagines the unimaginable horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and yet points to epiphanic awakening that transcend human imagination at the same time. T.S. Eliot, who coined this term in his “Four Quartets,” longed for that eternal summer, birthed out of the “still point,” where imagination is met with grace and truth.
~Makoto Fujimura

 

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As a grade school child in November 1963, I learned the import of the U.S. flag being lowered to half mast in response to the shocking and violent death of our President. The lowering of the flag was so rare when I was growing up, it had dramatic effect on all who passed by — something very sad had happened to our country, warranting our silence and our stillness.

Since 9/11/01, our flag has spent significant time at half mast, so much so that I’m befuddled instead of contemplative, puzzling over what the latest loss might be as there are so many, sometimes all happening in the same time frame.  We no longer are silenced by this gesture of honor and respect and we certainly are not stilled, personally and corporately instigating and suffering the same mistakes against humanity over and over again.

Eliot wrote the prescient words of the Four Quartets in the midst of the WWII German bombing raids that destroyed people and neighborhoods. Perhaps he sensed the destruction he witnessed would not be the last time in history that evil visits the innocent, leaving them in ashes. There would be so many more losses to come, as Makoto Fujimura illustrates in his artistic depiction of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki transcending to an epiphany of the human imagination.  And then the horror of 9/11/01.

There remains so much more sadness to be borne, such abundance of grief that our world has become overwhelmed and stricken and it seems we’ve lost all imagination for “a grace of sense”.

Eliot was right: we have yet to live in a Zero summer of endless hope and fruitfulness, of spiritual awakening and understanding.  Where is it indeed?

We must return, as people of faith, as Eliot did, as Fujimura has, to that still point to which we are called on a day such as today.  We must be stilled; we must be silenced. We must grieve the losses of this turning world and pray for release from the suffering we cause and we endure.  Only in the asking, only in the kneeling down and pleading, are we surrounded by grace.   A flag half lowered may have lost its power to punch our gut, but we are illuminated by the Light,  a grace of senses on the move in our lives.

 

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“There Are No Words” written on 9/11/2001
by Kitty Donohoe

there are no words there is no song
is there a balm that can heal these wounds that will last a lifetime long
and when the stars have burned to dust
hand in hand we still will stand because we must

in one single hour in one single day
we were changed forever something taken away
and there is no fire that can melt this heavy stone
that can bring back the voices and the spirits of our own

all the brothers, sisters and lovers all the friends that are gone
all the chairs that will be empty in the lives that will go on
can we ever forgive though we never will forget
can we believe in the milk of human goodness yet

we were forged in freedom we were born in liberty
we came here to stop the twisted arrows cast by tyranny
and we won’t bow down we are strong of heart
we are a chain together that won’t be pulled apart

 

Nothing Left to Do

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Toward the end of August I begin to dream about fall, how
this place will empty of people, the air will get cold and
leaves begin to turn. Everything will quiet down, everything
will become a skeleton of its summer self. Toward

the end of August I get nostalgic for what’s to come, for
that quiet time, time alone, peace and stillness, calm, all
those things the summer doesn’t have. The woodshed is
already full, the kindling’s in, the last of the garden soon

will be harvested, and then there will be nothing left to do
but watch fall play itself out, the earth freeze, winter come.
~David Budbill “Toward the End of August” from Tumbling Toward the End.

 

 

 

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I dream now of fall, wanting this stubborn summer to flame out, to leave its bare bones behind.  The last few weeks have been particularly cruel with wildfires, hurricanes, drought, sweltering heat, and flooding rains.  As if nature is not damaging enough, humanity continues to threaten humanity with local and global violence and threats of annihilation, while hundreds of thousands of refugees migrate from one poor country into even poorer countries in search of some semblance of hope and security for a safe future.

Anxiety and despair seem appropriate responses in the face of so much tragedy – they take root like weeds in a garden patch– overwhelming, crowding out and impairing all that is fruitful.  The result is nothing of value grows–only unchecked proliferation of more weeds. My worry and anguish help no one and changes nothing, serving only to hinder me from being fruitful.

It shouldn’t take bad news and disaster to remind me of what I already know:
I am not God and never will be.  He tends the garden and He pulls the weeds when the time is right.

His harvest is at hand.  Either I’m fruit or weed.

Acknowledging this is everything.  There is nothing left to do but watch as it plays itself out.

 

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To Balance Upon a Broken World

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Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the
Stooks arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what
lovely behavior
Of silk-sack clouds!  Has wilder, willful-waiver
Meal-drift molded ever and melted across the skies?
~Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Hurrahing in Harvest”

 

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This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.
~Amy Lowell “September 1918”
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Am I the only one who awakes this morning with a prayer asking
that today be a day of healing between peoples rather than conflict and pain,
that the barbaric become peaceable~
no missiles launched,
no one gunned down in the streets,
no vehicles used as weapons,
no child misused,
no one sold into slavery,
no one abandoned, homeless and starving.
Am I the only one who awakes this morning and seeks only
to watch the clouds
to praise the heavens
to see the leaves turn color
to take out this day and taste it
and save it away somehow
so as to balance myself on this brokenness all around?
I am not the only one.
I know I am not.
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We Who Are In Doubt

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so far behind the others
in their neat little v, in their
competence of plans and wings, if
you didn’t listen you would think
it was a cry for help
or sympathy?
friends! friends!?
but it isn’t.
 
Silence of the turtle on its back in the street.
Silence of the polar bear pulling its wounded weight onto the ice.
Silence of the antelope with a broken leg.
Silence of the old dog asking for no further explanation.
 
How
was it I believed I was
God’s favorite creature? I,
who carry my feathery skeleton across the sky now, calling
out for all of us. I, who am doubt now, with a song.
~Laura Kasischke, “the call of the one duck flying south” from Space in Chains

 

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We instinctively tend to limit for whom we exert ourselves.
We do it for people like us, and for people whom we like.

Jesus will have none of that.

By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew,
Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say
that anyone at all in need –
regardless of race, politics, class, and religion –
is your neighbor.

Not everyone is your brother or sister in faith,
but everyone is your neighbor,
and you must love your neighbor.
~Tim Keller from Generous Justice

 

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I should know better than to think: 

because millions of lives were lost, a war was fought and won against white supremacists only seventy years ago, stopping the annihilation of a group of people executed due to their faith

–that the hatred between people of varying cultural, ethnic and faith backgrounds would cease.

 

I should know better than to think:

because blood was shed from bodies black and white in a war fought and won only 150 years ago stopping the “right” to own other people as property

–that somehow the inequality, disagreement and disparity among the diverse peoples of this country would be resolved.

 

I should know better than to think:

human beings surely must learn from their own checkered, bloody and horrific history of bigotry, racism and bias

–yet by our self-imposed blindness to what has transpired before, we doom ourselves to repeat history over and over again.

 

I should know better than to think:

freedom of speech and freedom to assemble can be exercised peaceably and without arms

–yet rallies, demonstrations and marches become killing fields and motor vehicles used as deadly weapons.

 

I should know better than to think:

college campuses are laboratories for debate and discourse, dissecting the mistakes of the past, plotting a course for a hopeful, more inclusive and better future, learning and stretching through the discomfort when one’s beliefs are challenged and tested

–yet tolerance for differences has transformed into an academic intolerance for differing points of view.

 

I should know better than to think:

we the people, all colors, all faiths, all backgrounds, are in this together, united as we move forward through the storms of history, the turmoil of the present and the unknowns of the future

–yet there are still those who shout loudest, reinforce walls to create distance, purposely intimidate and hurt neighbors rather than offer them a helping hand.

 

We are a seriously wounded and anguished people,
each of us having tried flying solo,
believing we are in the right and somehow favored.

Instead we have faltered and fallen.

We now lie bleeding alongside the road, as did the Samaritan,
dependent on someone,
the “other”,
to reach out in compassion
knowing we bleed the same blood.

We who doubt,
must no longer doubt the truth of who and what we are.

We bleed together.

 

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All That Was Me is Gone

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Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that’s gone!
Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.
~Robert Louis Stevenson from “Sing Me a Song of a Lad That is Gone”
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photo of San Juan Islands by Joel deWaard

 

Do we recognize ourselves as we journey through life, at first lighthearted and merry, but with each stumble, disappointment and wound, become more embittered and wary?

All that was me is gone?

To where to we flee in this sorry world?

I want to cover my eyes and ears, to be shielded from the headlines, from the threats and the worries.

This is not our home.  Give me the soul; give me the Son that shone!

 

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photo of San Juan Islands by Joel DeWaard
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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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A Healthy Fence Row

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Brushy fencerows are in a sense a gift from man to nature — at least if, after the posts are dug in and the fence stapled to the posts, nature is given some free reign. Birds sitting on the fence and posts will pass undigested seeds in their droppings. Some of these seeds of blackberry, wild cherry, elderberry, bittersweet, sassafras, mulberry, and unfortunately, in some areas, multiflora rose, will take root in the loose soil around the posts and later in soil dug up by woodchucks. Chipmunks scurrying along the fence will bring and bury acorns and hickory nuts, while the wind will deliver dandelion, milkweed, and thistle seeds — all ingredients for a healthy fencerow.
~David Kline from Great Possessions

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Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
~Robert Frost from “Mending Fences”

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photo by Harry Rodenberger

 

I maintain, in my haphazard and often ineffectual way, our farm’s wood rail and hot wire fences to keep the horses confined, preventing them from wandering into the adjacent orchard, corn field, or most risky of all, the road. As utilitarian as a fence is for that purpose, the fence row itself is the hospitality center for all sorts of diversity of flora and fauna.  It doesn’t repel; it invites.

As one travels in the United Kingdom and across the plains and mountains of North America, old fences are everywhere. Some fences were built painstakingly of stone centuries ago, some of old barbed wire, now falling and decrepit, no longer effective, but still testimony to a determined farmer’s desire to section off his barren land from another’s barren land, or perhaps the requirement borne of the homesteading laws of the time. Robert Frost wrote in his poem “Mending Fences” that a fence spans the balance between man’s sometimes irrational desire for barriers, acknowledging the order that they bring to an uncertain and sometimes unpredictable world that lays beyond our walls.

Political fences continue to exist in many parts of the world today, created primarily out of fear. Indeed, new walls have been proposed, absurdly ridiculous in their scope and expense.  Much celebration accompanied the fall of the Berlin Wall after its years of imposing testimony to the lack of trust and understanding between people who were once relatives, neighbors and friends. The Great Wall of China still stands, now primarily tourist attraction, no longer serving any other useful purpose other than to illustrate the lengths to which man goes to barricade himself off from others.

So why maintain life’s fences, even if the building and maintaining of these fences seems a futile and foolish task when they are pushed down, blown over in the winds, with trees fallen over them, and overgrown with brush and wild blackberries?

Fences, like rules and laws, define order and structure. They can bite back if they are breached. If crashed and broken, they are hazardous in and of themselves, not withstanding the potential dangers that lay beyond them. Remove them altogether and we risk losing the diversity represented in the fence row itself.

So, in the best of times, we are mending walls out of continuing need for contact with our neighbors. We meet across the barriers to shake hands and visit while we repair the fences together, leaving the barriers standing and strong, and the space in the fence row becomes even more diverse and welcoming. In the worst of times, we fortify and hide behind the walls, making them taller, wider, deeper, creating greater and greater gulfs between us and eventually losing touch forever as the walls themselves deteriorate without the necessary mutual “mending”.

So we must not love walls themselves, but must maintain them with our neighbor. We don’t worship the walls themselves but instead respect the foundation they rest on and the life they protect within the row itself.

We accept such boundaries with humility, recognizing their necessity is due to our own imperfections, as we too are full of prickles and barbs that too easily draw blood when breached.

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