God Was Here: Come to Set Us Free

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“Be patient and without bitterness, and realize that the least we can do is to make coming into existence no more difficult for Him than the earth does for spring when it wants to come.”
~Rainier Marie Rilke

Like the birds of the air flying free, we too were created to sing.  Yet too often we choose to be grounded — grousing and grumbling.

Many of us know nothing of anticipation of the coming of Christ, some of us might care if we knew, but plenty of us are ready for the whole Christmas thing to be over yesterday.

Whether we care or not does not alter that Christ dwells with us, just as the coming of spring is not stopped by a slumbering disinterested earth.

Like Mary, we say: “Let it be”, not “no, not me, not now.”

We are set free to fly and sing!
He has come on our behalf: a simple, but oh so difficult faith, like the shoot that must break through the crust of frozen earth to reach the sun, in order to bloom.

 

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A star rose in the sky
and glory from on high
did fill the night with splendor.
Came birds with joyful voice
to carol and rejoice with
songs so sweet and tender.

The eagle then did rise,
went flying through the skies,
to tell the wondrous story,
sang: Jesus, born is he,
who comes to set us free,
he brings us joy and glory.

The sparrow with delight
said: This is Christmas night,
our happiness revealing.
The sky with praises rang,
as finch and robin sang
their songs of glad rejoicing.

The lark upon the wing
said: Now it seems like spring,
no more is winter pressing;
for now a flower is born
whose fragrance on this morn
to earth brings heaven’s blessing.

Sang magpie, thrush, and jay,
It seems the month of May
in answer to our yearning.
The trees again are green
and blossoms now are seen,
it is the spring returning!

The cuckoo sang: Come, come,
And celebrate the dawn
this glorious aurora.
The raven from his throat
then trilled a festive note
to the unexcelled Señora.

The partridge then confessed,
I want to build my nest
beneath that very gable
where I may see the Child
and watch whene’er he smiles
with Mary in that stable.
~translation from Catalonian of “Carol of the Birds”

 

 

 

 

Whence comes this rush of wings afar
Following straight the Noel star
Birds from the woods in wondrous flight
Bethlehem seek this holy night

Tell us, ye birds, why come ye here?
Into this stable, poor and drear?
Hasting to see the new born King
And all our sweetest musics bring

Hark! How the winged finch bears his part
Philomel, too with tender heart:
Chants from her leafy dark retreat,
“Re, me, fa, sol” in accents sweet

Angels, and shepherds, birds of the sky
Come where the Son of God doth lie
Christ from the earth and man doth dwell
Come join in the shout, “Noel, Noel, Noel.”
~Carol of the Birds (traditional Catalonian carol)

 

A Muffled Whuff

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Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared,
then another, and another.
It was the starlings going to roost. 
They gathered deep in the distance,  flock sifting into flock,
and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke.
They seemed to unravel as they flew,
lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. 
I didn’t move;
they flew directly over my head for half an hour. 

Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down
in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except
that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced.
The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye.
Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff.
Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig,
right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.

Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now,
birds winging through the gaps between my cells,
touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet?
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

 

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Watching the starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me.  I feel queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.

Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions.  It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t.  It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t.  They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound.

We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA.  Yet we don’t learn from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks.  We have become frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, going our own way bumping and crashing without care.

We have lost our internal moral compass.

We shoot each other in the backs, even during school lessons or listening to music or engaging in acts of worship.  We watch each other bleed and die.

And do nothing yet again.

The sound of silence is muffled weeping.

 

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Not a Leg to Stand On

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Three weeks old
when his mother allowed me
a peek in the nest
to spy his fledging wings;
he did his best to hide beneath her.

It was another week before
it was clear
this little dove could not stand or perch,
his deformed legs sprawled
and spraddled aside.

He flopped rather than hopped
out of the nest at five weeks,
fluttering to the cage floor
in search of a world
outside his mother’s wings.

Crouched next to seed and water
he fed himself, tucked in a corner
watching the other doves come and go.
Soon he jumped out the door
to join them.

Now it was up to me:
walk away or put feed and water
on the ground where he could reach.
His desire to live so strong,
his voice just forming in his throat.

Now two months later I fret
as the night grows chill
and the rain falls,
his makeshift shelter will fail
to protect him.

He can not stand
and will never fly,
yet he sings
and does only
so my heart may hear.

 

 

Quiet as a Feather

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Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
~Mary Oliver “Today” from A Thousand Mornings

 

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Some days warrant stillness.

This week echoed loud with ruckus and noise — much too overwhelming and nearly deafening.
Today we should seek to be quiet as a feather, silently in place, not saying a word.

We might actually begin to listen again.   We might hear each other again.

A funny thing about feathers: alone, each one is mere fluff.
Together — feathers create lift and power, the strength and will to soar beyond the tether of gravity and the pull of our flawed mortality.

Joined and united, we can rise above and fly as far as our life and breath can take us.

May peace be still.

 

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thank you to the poultry of the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden for holding still long enough to capture their brilliant plumage.

 

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A Twittering World

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Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning…

…Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.
~T. S Eliot from Burnt Norton (1936) part of Four Quartets

 

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Eliot didn’t have birds or future tweets of the 21st century in mind when he wrote Burnt Norton in 1936.  He was far more concerned about the concept of time and redemption, using the analogies of a garden, a graveyard, and most disturbingly, a subway train of empty-souled people traveling under London in the dark.  Only the present matters as the past cannot be changed and the future remains unknown, trusting the reassurance and salvation of Logos, the source of  the natural and creative order of all things.   Only God Himself remains outside of the constraints of time and place.

Perhaps Eliot predicted the unknowable future.  It now is a “twittering world” in a way that Eliot, critical of dehumanizing technology of his time,  somehow was prescient enough to foresee.

When birdsong begins on our farm in mid-June at 4 AM in the apple, cherry, chestnut, and walnut trees outside our bedroom windows, I am brought face to face, eyes and ears wide open, with the immediate present, distracted from the distraction of my dreams by the distraction of wakening to music of the created order among the branches,  amid dew-laden blooms and cool morning air.

Once the birds settle into routine conversation after twenty minutes of their loudly tweeted greetings of the day,  I sit down bleary-eyed at my computer to enter the twittering world of technology, too often filled with fancies, or meanness, or completely empty of meaning.

Yet, I’m determined.  Not here will darkness be found on this page, if I can keep it at bay.

No darkness here.

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photo by Harry Rodenberger

This Good Man

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This good man
~who has left us behind~

whose farm-hardened hands
wielded not only heavy hammers
but cradled a trembling wee bird.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

raised many a calf and chick
and a plethora of pups and piglets
and enough canaries to fill a thousand homes with song.

This good man
~who left us behind~

whose gentle smile
and generous heart
volunteered thousands of hours of selfless service.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who raised no children himself
yet loved and nurtured a slew of nieces and nephews,
keeping track of every single one.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who plowed and planted,
harvested and gathered
and saved and gave and gave and gave.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who dressed for the farm every day
yet changed his jeans and tee shirt and muck boots
each week to Sunday’s best button-down shirt and sweater.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

is the only man to ever have owned both
a church organ in his front room
and a gold FireBird Trans Am in his back shed.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

has shown us the way to follow Him:

by his faithful service
by his love for the land
by his love for the garden
by his love for his animals
by his love for his family and friends
by his love for his church
by his love for the Lord.

This good man~
This good and humble man~
This good and humble and gentle man~

has gone down the lane ahead of us a bit
and will be waiting for us around the bend,
watching and waiting, waiting and watching,
keeping vigil until he can
someday see us coming on the horizon
and beckon us in and welcome us home.

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Uncle John Smit

Turn Aside and Look: Where Our Hearts Are

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So I tell you to stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? 
— Matthew 6:25-27

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Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be so busy with worldly affairs. He does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives. He does not tell us that what we do is unimportant, valueless, or useless. Nor does he suggest that we should withdraw from our involvements and live quiet, restful lives removed from the struggles of the world.

Jesus’ response to our worry-filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the “many things” to the “one necessary thing.” It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things. Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace. He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. This is the meaning of “Set your hearts on his kingdom first…and all these other things will be given you as well.” What counts is where our hearts are. When we worry, we have our hearts in the wrong place. Jesus asks us to move our hearts to the center, where all other things fall into place.
— Henri Nouwen from Making All Things New

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I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.
— Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

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I appreciate this group of readings found on this Lenten blog post on In Silence Waits: https://insilencewaits.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/desert-day-15-stop-worrying/

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We’ve returned from two weeks in Japan to visit a brand new granddaughter and though our physical selves may be back in the U.S.,  our hearts and minds are lagging and have not yet arrived.  Our aging bodies also don’t quite know what to do with the International Dateline and the 16 hour time difference. After being awake for 36 hours straight for travel and then heading from the airport to urgent meetings at work, I thought I would sleep at least seven hours last night but after three hours I was wide awake and wondering why it was still the middle of the night. Like the adjustment that took days (and nights) after traveling to the Far East, it will take time to realign back to a Western Hemisphere schedule.

I must confess I am a skilled and well-practiced worrier. In my jet-lagged wakefulness, I can find plenty to keep me awake once my eyes fly open.  Yet I know my worry is nothing but wasted energy, and worse than that, it pulls me away from the center of all I really need to know:

Jesus just wants my heart, not my worry.

If He provides for an array of beautiful birds living happily in the middle of one of the largest cities on earth in Tokyo, then how much more will He care for you and for me.

And now, acknowledging that in my time-addled brain,  it’s back to bed.

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