God’s Cloud Temple

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We must go up into the chase in the evenings,
and pray there with nothing but God’s cloud temple between us and His heaven!
And His choir of small birds and night crickets and booming beetles,
and all happy things who praise Him all night long!
And in the still summer noon, too,
with the lazy-paced clouds above,
and the distant sheep-bell,
and the bee humming in the beds of thyme,
and one bird making the hollies ring a moment,
and then all still – hushed – awe-bound,
as the great thunderclouds slide up from the far south!
Then, there to praise God!

~Charles Kingsley

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Heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.
A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted
and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.
~Celtic saying

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Oh, the floating clouds and the thoughts of a wanderer!
Oh, the sunset and the longing of an old friend!
We ride away from each other, waving our hands,
While our horses neigh softly, softly . . . .
~Li Po from “Taking Leave of a Friend”

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An evening of subtle softness in the sunset clouds~
just enough illumination to imagine
heaven must be just beyond.

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A Sweet Abandon

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A stone’s throw from an abandoned homestead foundation leans
an ancient cherry tree, bent by countless storms,
its northern half bare,
from the southern half
dangles clusters of sweet century old promises.

Once orchard lifeblood of this farm,
its fruit picked for farmers’ market
an early dawn hour’s wagon ride to town;
now broken down, forgotten
until this week of fruitful surrender.

Already, but not yet finished,
roots still reaching deep for one more season;
a faithful cycle blooming forth
with budding life from gnarled knots
to yield glorious from weary dying branches.

Hundreds of glistening amber globes of rosy sheen
cling clustered on crooked lichened limbs,
to be gathered up heaping into bowls of gold,
awaiting ecstatic burst of savored perfection,
fulfilling an old promise of sweet abandon.

 

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Bleeding Hearts

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Whatever he needs, he has or doesn’t
have by now.
Whatever the world is going to do to him
it has started to do… 

…Whatever is
stored in his heart, he can use, now.
Whatever he has laid up in his mind
he can call on.  What he does not have
he can lack…

…Whatever his exuberant soul
can do for him, it is doing right now…

…Everything that’s been placed in him will come out, now, the contents of a trunk
unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light.
~Sharon Olds from “The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb”

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This is the season for graduations, when children move into the adult world and don’t look back.

As a parent, as an educator, as a mentor within church and community, and over twenty seven years as a college health physician witnessing this transition many times over, I can’t help but be wistful about what I may have left undone and unsaid with the generation about to launch.   In their moments of vulnerability, did I pack enough love into their bleeding hearts so he or she can pull it out when it is most needed?

When our three children traveled the world after their graduations, moving way beyond the fenced perimeter of our little farm, I trust they left well prepared.

As a school board member, I watched students, parents and teachers work diligently together in their preparation for that graduation day, knowing the encompassing love behind each congratulatory hand shake.

When another batch of our church family children say goodbye, I remember holding them in the nursery, listening to their joyful voices as I played piano accompaniment in Sunday School, feeding them in innumerable potlucks over the years.  I pray we have fed them well in every way with enough spiritual food to stick to their ribs in the “thin” and hungry times.

When hundreds of my student/patients move on each year beyond our university and health clinic, I wish for their continued emotional growth buoyed by plenty of resilience when the road gets inevitably bumpy.

I believe I know what is stored in the hearts of graduates because I, among many others, helped them pack it full of love.   Only they will know the time to unpack their heart when their need arises.

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Not a Moment to Waste

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I stop

and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.

I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.
~David Budbill from Winter: Tonight: Sunset

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Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case.
~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”

I began to write after September 11, 2001 because that day it became obvious to me I was dying too, though more slowly than the thousands who vanished in fire and ash, their voices obliterated with their bodies.   So, nearly each day since, while I still have voice and a new dawn to greet, I speak through my fingers to others dying around me.

We are, after all, terminal patients, some of us more prepared than others to move on, as if our readiness had anything to do with the timing.  Our small church just lost one of its most senior members to a long fight with cancer, and he had announced his readiness long ago (he liked to say he never bought green bananas as he wasn’t sure he’d be around to use them), but God had different plans and kept him here for a few years longer.

Each day I too get a little closer to the end, but I write in order to feel a little more ready.  Each day I detach just a little bit, leaving a trace of my voice behind.  Eventually, through unmerited grace, so much of me will be left on the page there won’t be anything or anyone left to do the typing.

Not a moment or a word to waste.

At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then -it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbons and bows; it has two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s.
~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”

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The Headed Grass

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Light and wind are running
over the headed grass
as though the hill had
melted and now flowed.
~Wendell Berry “June Wind”

It will soon be haying time, as soon as another stretch of clear days appears on the horizon.  We missed a haying window last week, and now are staring at 10 days of forecast rain and clouds.

The headed grass is growing heavier, falling over, lodged before it can be cut, with the undulations of moist breezes flowing over the hill.   It has matured too fast, rising up too lush, too overcome with itself so that it can no longer stand.  It is melting, pulled back to the soil.  We must work fast to save it.

The light and wind works its magic on our hill.  The blades of the mower will come soon to lay it to the ground in green streams that flow up and down the slopes.  It will lie comfortless in its stoneless cemetery rows, until tossed about by the tedder into random piles to dry, then raked back into a semblance of order in mounded lines flowing over the landscape.

It will be crushed and bound together for transport to the barn, no longer bending but bent, no longer flowing but flown, no longer growing but grown and salvaged.

It becomes fodder for the beasts of the farm during the cold nights when the wind beats at the doors.   It melts in their mouths, as it was meant to, as we are meant to melt and flow.

Truly.

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Root and All

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Little flower,
but if I could understand what you are,
root and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
~  Tennyson

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Am I root, or am I bud?
Am I stem or am I leaf?
All in all, this is not me
but the merest image
of God’s fruiting glory.

I am but the tears shed
as He broke
into blossom.

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What I Did Not Know

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For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go.
~Kathleen Norris

 

His grace and mercy have salvaged me
when I didn’t know I needed saving,
given me what I didn’t think I needed
so have never asked for,
and taken me where I never planned to be
because I was so comfortable where I was.

Grace is not about giving me what I want;
it is not reward for following the rules,
being good or staying out of trouble.
It is rescue from a fate of meaningless,
a gift of God’s heart buoying my weakness
when I deserve nothing whatsoever.

This grace is a prickly vine I must cling to,
grateful to be spared from falling.
It is a overwhelming flow that carries me to safety
through the desolate landscape.

I am grateful,
so very grateful,
for what I did not know
I needed to know.

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