The Mere Exception

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We should always endeavour to wonder at the permanent thing, not at the mere exception. We should be startled by the sun, and not by the eclipse. We should wonder less at the earthquake, and wonder more about the earth.
~ G.K. Chesterton

centralred

As a physician, I’m trained to notice the exceptions – the human body equivalent of
an eclipse or an earthquake,
a wildfire or drought,
a hurricane or flood,
or a simple pothole.

Ordinarily I’m not particularly attentive to everything that is going well with the human body, instead concentrating on what is aberrant, out of control or could be made better.

This is unfortunate; there is much beauty and amazing design to behold in every person I meet, especially those with chronic illness who feel nothing is as it should be and feel despair and frustration at how their mind or body is aging, failing and faltering.

To counter this tendency to just find what’s wrong and needs fixing, I’ve learned over the years to talk out loud as I do physical assessments:
you have no concerning skin lesions,
your eardrums look just as they should,
your eyes react normally,
your tonsils look fine,
your thyroid feels smooth,
your lymph nodes are tiny,
your lungs are clear,
your heart sounds are perfect,
your belly exam is reassuring,
your reflexes are symmetrical,
your emotional response to this stress and your tears are completely understandable.

I also write messages meant to reassure:
your labs are in a typical range
or are getting better
or at least maintaining,
your xray shows no concerns,
or isn’t getting worse,
those medication side effects are to be expected and could go away.

I acknowledge what is working well before attempting to intervene in what is not.

I’m not sure how much difference it makes to my patient.
But it makes a difference to me to wonder first at who this whole patient is before I focus in on what is broken and what is causing such dis-ease.

I just might be astonished.

fungaltree

lundetree

 

Seeing the World Through a Walnut

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Old friend now there is no one alive
who remembers when you were young
it was high summer when I first saw you
in the blaze of day most of my life ago
with the dry grass whispering in your shade
and already you had lived through wars
and echoes of wars around your silence
through days of parting and seasons of absence
with the house emptying as the years went their way
until it was home to bats and swallows
and still when spring climbed toward summer

you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers
of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened
you and the seasons spoke the same language
and all these years I have looked through your limbs
to the river below and the roofs and the night
and you were the way I saw the world
~W.S. Merwin from “Elegy for a Walnut”

dawn7254

poplarwalnut

 

This grand old tree defines the seasons for me~
and defines me as I age.
This winter’s storms took its branches down in the night
with deafening cracks so loud
I feared to see the remnant in the morning,
yet it stands, intrepid
for another round of seasons–
tired, sagging, broken
and still reaching to the sky.

 

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Snail’s Eye

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…who still has a controlled sense of wonder before the universal mystery,
whether it hides in a snail’s eye
or within the light that impinges on that delicate organ.
~Loren Eiseley

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“James gave the huffle of a snail in danger. And nobody heard him at all.”
~A.A.Milne  “When We Were Very Young”

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A gastropod brave enough
to cross a busy sidewalk
appears in no particular rush~

no hurry toward the grassy expanse
on the other side.
The lawn will still be there
whether an hour from now
or tomorrow.

Its waving little snail eyes
see and smell the future.

To assure it would not be crushed underfoot
I decide to intervene in history
and give it a lift
as Someone did for me
when I felt irrevocably broken.

So today I came,
I saw a snail in danger
and barely heard its huffle.
I didn’t need to hear it cry
to do the right thing.

 

broken

Turn Aside and Look: That Steep Dark Path

canadiancoastals

thorns
photo by Josh Scholten

 

The reason Lent is so long is that this path to the truth of oneself is long and snagged with thorns, and at the very end one stands alone before the broken body crowned with thorns upon the cross. All alone – with not one illusion or self-delusion to prop one up.

Yet not alone, for the Spirit of Holiness, who is also the Spirit of Helpfulness, is beside you and me. Indeed, this Spirit has helped to maneuver you and me down that dark, steep path to this crucial spot.
~Edna Hong from Bread and Wine

 

beechtrail

Christ … is a thorn in the brain.
Christ is God crying I am here,
and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you,
but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you,
here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God.
To walk through the fog of God
toward the clarity of Christ is difficult
because of how unlovely,
how ungodly that clarity often turns out to be.
~Christian Wiman from Image Journal “Varieties of Quiet”

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Turn Aside and Look: Let My Yea Be Yea

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For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
~2 Corinthians 1:20

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When will I ever learn to say Amen,
Really assent at last to anything?
For now my hesitations always bring
Some reservation in their trail, and then
Each reservation brings new hesitations;
All my intended amens just collapse
In an evasive mumble: well, perhaps,
Let me consider all the implications . . .

But you can read my heart, I hear you say:
For once be present to me, I am here,
Breathe in the perfect love that casts out fear
Open your heart and let your yea be yea.

Oh bring me to that brink, that moment when
I see your full-eyed love and say Amen.
~Malcolm Guite — “Amen”

camelliapinkjapan

Our answer to the invitation to be loved —  when we are restless and uneasy, when we are broken and empty, when we feel unknowable and unloveable —  should be “Yes”, over and over.

God tells us “Yes”, again and again, that we may know Him as He is one with us.  Mere mortals have experienced God born of and from the flesh, as He walked, ate, slept among us.

Christ became the Yes,  the covenant, the contract God has made with His people.  We are bound to Him, even when we pull away and say “No” as the unloveable are wont to do,  regularly and emphatically.

When young Mary was told the impossible, the implausible, the incomprehensible would happen to her, her response was not “No way–go find someone else!”.  Her response was “Behold the willing servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word.”    She says, in essence “Yes!  And Amen!”

How often do we respond with such trust and faithfulness, accepting Christ as the ultimate “Yes” from God, who ensures our everlasting salvation?

Let it be. Let our Yes be Yes.

 

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Turn Aside and Look: Worlds Forming in My Heart

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peachjapan

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent 
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.    
~Meister Eckhart from “Expands His Being”

camelliared

The first day of spring is a traditional celebration of the rebirth of nature’s seasonal rhythms, and God’s inner renewal of our hearts.

I know some new spring mornings are pitch black with blustering winds and rain, looking and feeling like the bleakest of October mornings about to plunge into the death spiral of deep autumn and winter all over again.

No self-respecting God would birth Himself into something like this: a dawn as dark as night.

But this God would.

He labors in our darkest of hearts for good reason.  We are unformed and unready to meet Him in the light, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts.  Though we are called to celebrate the renewal of springtime, it is just so much talk until we accept the change of being transformed ourselves.

We are silenced as He prepares us, as He prepares Himself for birth within us.   The labor pains are His, not ours;  we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again.

The world is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, especially inside our broken hearts now healing.

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japanpine

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

silverthawthorns

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

~Audrey Assad -“New Every Morning”