In a patch of baked earth At the crumbled cliff’s brink, Where the parching of August Has cracked a long chink,
Against the blue void Of still sea and sky Stands single a thistle, Tall, tarnished, and dry.
Frayed leaves, spotted brown, Head hoary and torn, Was ever a weed Upon earth so forlorn,
So solemnly gazed on By the sun in his sheen That prints in long shadow Its raggedness lean?
From the sky comes no laughter, From earth not a moan. Erect stands the thistle, Its seeds abroad blown. ~Robert Laurence Binyon –“The Thistle”
There isn’t much that thrives in a dry summer like this other than mounds of blackberry bushes and scattered clusters of thistle. They both are defended by thorns to keep them from being eaten by all but the most persistent and hungry grazing animals.
I admire and recognize such tenacity, knowing I too have held tightly to my own defenses to keep from being swallowed up. I approach these weeds with respect for the scars they can leave behind – their roots go deep, their seeds travel far.
We coexist because we must.
How else would beauty come from our bleeding wounds?
…Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you… Ezekiel 2:6
In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? ~John Stott
Today I will make wild blackberry cobbler, facing down the brambles and briers that thwart my reach for the elusive fruit. I gather more berries than scratches to prove that thorns must never win and I must not yield to them.
Painful thorns have always been part of life. They barricade us from all that is sweet and good and precious. They tear us up, bloody us, make us cry out in pain and grief, deepen our fear that we may never overcome them.
Yet even the most brutal crown of thorns did not stop the loving sacrifice, can never thwart the sweetness of redemption, will not spoil the goodness, nor destroy the promise of salvation to come.
We now simply wait to be fed the loving gift that comes only from bloodied hands.
…the notion that, because there is in this world no one thing to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds, a word is elegy to what it signifies…
There are moments when the body is as numinous as words, days that are the good flesh continuing. Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings, saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry. ~Robert Haas from “Meditation at Lagunitas”
The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns. ~George Santayana
Our hilltop farm is named BriarCroft for good reason — our unintentional crop that flourishes each year is thorny. We battle them with brush hogs, mowers and loppers, even burning them to the roots when necessary. Yet the vines win this battle when we divert our attention elsewhere, even for just a few weeks.
Good thing there is light and love that glints through the thorns to encourage us when we are torn and hurting. There will be a time when the power of the spirit will overwhelm and overcome the plethora of thorns. There will come a day when the vines will yield fruit to feed us rather than wounds to bleed us.
Earth’s crammed with heaven And every common bush afire with God But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries~ –Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Aurora Leigh”
All I wanted was a few blackberries.
I admit my objective was just to pick enough for cobbler for Sunday noon dinner after church, oblivious to God burning in the bushes towering over me, around me, snagging me at every opportunity. If I had given it more thought, I would have realized the reaching vines hooking my arms and legs were hardly subtle. The thorns ripped at my skin, leaving me bloody and smarting. The fruit itself stained my hands purple, making them look freshly bruised. I crushed fat vines underfoot, trampling and stomping with my muck boots in order to dive deeper into the bushes. Webs were everywhere, with spiders crawling up my arms and dropping down into my hair. I managed to kick up one hornet’s nest so I called it quits.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, so blinded to all the clues crammed in every nook and cranny of every bush.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, trampling on holy ground with well-protected feet, unwilling to be barefoot and tenderly vulnerable.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, the lure of black gold plucked at the cost of rips and scratches and tears.
What I got was burned by a bush…
and a few blackberries for tomorrow’s crammed-with-heaven cobbler.