A Moment of Peace

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It had happened many times before, but it always took me by surprise.

Always in the midst of great stress, wading waist-deep in trouble and sorrow, as doctors do, I would glance out a window, open a door, look into a face, and there it would be, unexpected and unmistakable. A moment of peace.  

The light spread from the sky to the ship, and the great horizon was no longer a blank threat of emptiness, but the habitation of joy. For a moment, I lived in the center of the sun, warmed and cleansed, and the smell and sight of sickness fell away; the bitterness lifted from my heart.  

I never looked for it, gave it no name; yet I knew it always, when the gift of peace came. I stood quite still for the moment that it lasted, thinking it strange and not strange that grace should find me here, too.   Then the light shifted slightly and the moment passed, leaving me as it always did, with the lasting echo of its presence. In a reflex of acknowledgment, I crossed myself and went below, my tarnished armor faintly gleaming.
~Diana Gabaldon – Claire’s observations from Voyager

 

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I’ve known this moment of peace in the midst of my work; it comes unexpectedly after a day of immersion in troubles and anguish.  As I leave the clinic and breathe in a sudden rush of fresh air, and as I drive down our country road as the sun is setting, I remember that for all of us, the sick and the not-yet-sick, there still are moments of grace and beauty.

It isn’t all sad, it isn’t all anxious, it isn’t all anguish. The moment may be brief, it may be elusive.

But it is there. And I seek it out every day.

 

 

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(written with gratitude to author Diana Gabaldon for her insights into the complex workings of an innovative physician’s mind in her Outlander series of novels, for Caitriona Balfe‘s insightful characterization and understanding of Claire and for Sam Heughan‘s sensitive portrayal of the man who loves her beyond the boundary of time in Starz’ Outlander  – if you don’t know these stories yet, you should.)

 

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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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The World Once Bereft

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What would the world be,  once bereft
Of wet and of wildness?  Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Inversnaid”

 

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In our anguish at the chaos that appears to rule the world,
let us remember,
when we look closely,
through the fog,
even the weeds,
we unruly unholy weeds,
are connected
in this wilderness.

There is order here
even if we can’t feel it.
Let us be left.
We are meant to be.

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Not Choose Not To Be

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Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
   Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins
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I hear the same anguish
from one patient after another:

their struggle with life makes them
frantic to avoid the fight and flee~

they would
commit suicide,
yet not believing
in God
would mean
jumping from
the pain of living
into

…nothing at all…

I thought
feeling nothing
was the
point
of ceasing
to be

still in their unbelief
they do not recognize
the God who wrestles relentless with them,
who heaven-flung them here
for such sacred struggle

Perhaps they can’t imagine
a God
(who created
doubters
sore afraid
of His caring
enough to die)

so no one
is ever now,
nor ever will be,
~nothing.

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Send Our Roots Rain

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Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum; verumtamen
justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? (Jeremiah 12)

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
    Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes

Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build — but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.

Mine, O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain
~Gerard Manley Hopkins  “Thou art indeed just, Lord”

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As I look out through a tear-streaked window at the beginning of this dark day,
I feel inadequate to the task before me.

Parched and struggling patients will line my schedule in weeks to come;
they are anxious and already weary and barren, seeking something, anything
to ease their distress in a hostile world.
Preferably an easy pill to swallow.
Nothing that hurts going down.

While others thrive around them,
they wilt and wither, wishing to die.

Lord of Life, equip me to find the words to say that might help.
May it be about more than
genetics, neurotransmitters and physiology.

In this dry season for young lives,
send your penetrating rain to reach them
and those who guide them.
Reach down and shake our roots fiercely
to slake our continual thirst.

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Questions Die Away

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I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.
You are yourself the answer.
Before your face questions die away.
~C.S. Lewis from Till We Have Faces

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Today I help greet new and returning 15,000 college students who begin classes this week at my university.  Each one seeks answers to their many difficult questions about life and how to live in this troubled time.

Every day I will see college students who are so consumed by anxiety about the questions in their lives they become immobilized in their ability to move forward through inevitable obstacles and difficulties.  They become so stuck in overwhelming feelings they can’t sleep or eat or think clearly, distracted by their symptoms.  They self-medicate, self-injure and self-hate.  Being unable to nurture themselves or others, they wither like a young tree without roots deep enough to reach the vast reservoir of answers that lies untapped beneath them.  In epidemic numbers, some decide to die, even before life really has fully begun for them.

I grieve for them in their distress.   My role is to help find healing solutions, whether it is counseling therapy, a break from school, or a medicine that may give some form of relief.  My heart knows the ultimate answer is not as simple as the right prescription.

Before the face of God, the questions fall away.

We who are anxious are not trusting a Creator who does not suffer from attention deficit disorder and who is not distracted from His care for us even when we turn away in worry and sorrow.  We magnify our difficult circumstances by staying so tightly into ourselves, unable to look beyond our own eyelashes.  Instead we are to reach higher and deeper, through prayer, through service to others, through acknowledging there is power greater than ourselves who can answer all our unaskable questions.

So we are called to pray for ourselves and for others,  disabling our anxiety and fear and transforming it to gratitude and grace.

No longer withering, no longer deaf to the answers we’ve been given, we just might bloom.

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Scattered

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The light beats upon me.
I am startled—
a split leaf crackles on the paved floor—
I am anguished—defeated.

A slight wind shakes the seed-pods—
my thoughts are spent
as the black seeds.
My thoughts tear me,
I dread their fever.
I am scattered in its whirl.
I am scattered like
the hot shrivelled seeds.

The shrivelled seeds
are spilt on the path—
the grass bends with dust,
the grape slips
under its crackled leaf:
yet far beyond the spent seed-pods,
and the blackened stalks of mint,
the poplar is bright on the hill,
the poplar spreads out,
deep-rooted among trees.

O poplar, you are great
among the hill-stones,
while I perish on the path
among the crevices of the rocks.
~Hilda Doolittle “Mid-Day”

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If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?
—G.K. Chesterton

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We are mere seeds lying dormant, plain and simple, with nothing to distinguish us one from the other until the murmurs of spring begin, so soft, so subtle.  The soil shakes loose frosty crust as the thawing warmth begins.   Sunlight makes life stir and swell, no longer frozen but animate and intimate.

We wake from our quiescence to sprout, bloom and fruit.  We reach as far as our tethered roots will allow, beyond earthly bounds to touch the light and be touched.

There is renewed hope seeded in the heart of man, ready and waiting to unfurl, with a precious fragrance that lingers, long after the petal has dried, loosened, and fallen to freedom.

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