A Thing With Feathers

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“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
~Emily Dickinson
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Our local fair feels much like I remember when I was a child in the 60’s, accompanying my father to the Lynden fairgrounds during those summers of political and social turmoil.  His job was to supervise the teachers of FFA kids (Future Farmers of America) so he did the rounds of the regional and county fairs and my brother and I tagged along to explore the exhibits and go on rides.

The heart beat of a country fair pulses deep for me: I fell in love with my future husband at a fair, and we spent twenty years from 1992-2012 at the local Lynden fair exhibiting our Haflinger horses together as family and friends. Once our children grew and flew away four years ago, my husband and I were relegated to mere fair-goers, exploring exhibits without the need to show up to muck out stalls at 6 AM.

As we walked through this year’s home made quilt exhibit (see my photos and post tomorrow), I marveled, as always, at the multifaceted and intricate designs, with a distinctly planned out mix and match of colors in each quiltmaker’s entry.
Only a short stroll away is the chicken exhibit building, one of the same buildings I wandered through as a child over fifty years ago.  As we entered, it struck me that here too I was admiring designs and color schemes, layered with nuance and texture, just like the quilts — the feathers are God’s threads put to exquisite use to blanket a mere chicken.
So much design, so much detail, so much hope covers something as mere as me.
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barn owl and woodpecker feathers found on our farm this week

Making Hay and Raising Tomatoes

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There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it.

The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Other than a few exceptional circumstances in my life, I have always played it safe: a down-home, don’t rock the boat, work hard and live-a-quiet-life kind of person. My grandparents lived that way, my parents lived that way so I feel like it is bound in the twists and turns of my DNA.

Even so, I do know a thing or two about sulking on the edge of rage, lost in a morass of seething bitterness about the state of the world.  Yet if I were honest about it, my discontent is all about me, always about me. I fail to measure up.

But then that is the rub: I can never deserve unmerited grace.  It is pure Gift, borne out of radical sacrifice.

And because of that Gift, I can live a life of radical gratitude, even if a little quietly.

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A Curious Gladness

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Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.
So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
and still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
“Light splashed…”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.
~Stanley Kunitz  “The Round”

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It is too easy to be ground to a pulp by the little things, those worries that never seem to wane, sucking the gladness out of the day.  They become four dimensional and soon we’re enveloped within, losing all perspective on what got us out of bed to begin the day.

God is in these intricate details, whether the splash of light on a petal or the smell of rotting refuse and it is our job to notice.  It is tempting to look past His ubiquitous presence in all things, to seek out only the elegant grandeur of creation.   Yet even what lacks elegance from our limited perspective, is still worthy of His divine attention.

The time has come to be refreshed and renewed
even when surrounded by decay.
His care is revealed in the tiniest way.
He is worthy of my attention.

A new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

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A Blessing for Hairy Toes

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“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”
J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Thorin Oakenshield addressing Bilbo Baggins)

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photo of Samwise Gamgee by Nate  Gibson

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photo by Nate Gibson

Tolkien’s Hairy Toes Blessing has been one of my more popular blog posts when I have posted it before, most likely because our corgis are just like hobbits with irresistible hairy toes. Yet the message itself goes beyond cute: it is indeed a good thing to give and receive blessings.

It’s a safe bet my toes and your toes have never been subjected to such a blessing.   But I like the idea of blessings starting from the bottom up,  encompassing our most humble and homely parts first.

The world would be a better place if we rediscovered the art of bestowing blessings–those specific prayers of favor and protection that reinforce community and connection to each other and to something larger than ourselves.   They have become passé in a modern society where God’s relationship with and blessing of His people is not much more than an after-thought.   Benedictions must extend beyond the end of worship services to all tender partings;  wedding receptions can go beyond roasting and toasting to encompass sincere prayers for a future life together.

Today especially necessitates a special blessing not invoking hairy toes: our daughter moves several hours away to start her first permanent teaching job, so I send the following blessing with her as she drives away to start her new life (shared by my dear friend Alice in New York):

…Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path….
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.
May anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
~John O’Donohue from “Blessing for Presence”  from To Bless the Space Between Us

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Bleeding Sweetness

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Sometimes it’s not about
seeking, but of receiving,
the way a plum takes in light,
an inner ripening that cracks
its perfect purple skin,
and sweetness, an amber rivulet,
crusts along the gash.
~Lois Parker Edstrom from “The Lesson of Plums”

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Our silver plum tree is a lot like some people I know:  most of the time barely noticeable, hanging on the periphery of the crowd,  fairly reserved and unobtrusive.  But their roots go deep and the nourishment is substantial,  so they bear fruit, no doing things half-way.   The feast is plentiful and abundant, the meal glorious, despite a bitter skin.

They bleed out sweet.

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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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To Be Bound with Tiny Rings

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Here are sweet-peas, on tip-toe for a flight:
With wings of gentle flush o’er delicate white,
And taper fingers catching at all things,
To bind them all about with tiny rings.
~John Keats

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I grew up watching sweet peas climb a trellis in our family garden. Their delicate tendrils did wrap clinging fingers around anything they could reach and grasp. The blossoms were too ephemeral to waste indoors for a vase on the table — the petals would droop and then drop within a day or so. They were meant to be appreciated right where they grew, so I would visit them regularly, breathe deeply in their midst to capture and keep their lovely scent with me as I went on about my day, leaving them waving their vines in my wake.

Some things are better left undisturbed, to flourish right where they have taken hold. In the case of sweet peas, if I had stood beside them long enough, the finger-like tendrils would have reached out and grasped me as well, climbing up my frame and wrapping their blooming fragrance around me, truly changing me forever.

And so it will be in heaven someday: we will be grasped and clung to with the sweet scent of everlasting love, never to be let go, and never again to be what we once were.

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