Needful Vanishing



The mountain’s power
lies in the open secret of its remote
apparition, silvery low relief
coming and going moonlike at the horizon,
always loftier, lonelier, than I ever remember.
~Denise Levertov from “Open Secrets”

What does it serve to insist / … that its vanishings / are needful, as silence is to music?
~Denise Levertov from “Against Intrusion”


During these stormy autumn days,
the mountain vanishes and reappears
sometimes several times a day.
It peeks out from its cover of blankets
sometimes pink
sometimes gray
always a white comforter snugged to her shoulders.

Like a pause in a symphony overture,
the strings poised with bows above the instrument
the winds taking a breath,
we too all hold our breath,
waiting for the vanishing mountain
to reappear with the downbeat,
grand and sweeping,
ready to carry us away.



Grief Illuminated


A waning November moon reluctantly rose,
dimming from the full globe of the night before.
I drive a darkening country road, white lines sweeping past,
aware of advancing frost in the evening haze,
anxious to return home to familiar warmth and light.

Nearing a county road corner, slowing to a stop,
I glanced aside where
a lonely rural cemetery sits expectant.

Through open iron gates and tenebrous headstones,
there in the middle path, incongruous,
car’s headlights beamed bright.

I puzzled, thinking:
lovers or vandals would seek inky cover of night.

Instead, these lights focused on one soul alone,
kneeling graveside,
a hand resting heavily on a stone, head bowed in prayer.

This stark moment of solitary sorrow,
a visible grieving of a heart

illuminated by twin beams.

This benediction of mourning
as light pierced the blackness;

gentle fingertips traced
the engraved letters of a beloved name.

Feeling touched
as uneasy witness, I pull away

to drive deeper into the night,
struggling to see despite
my eyes’ thickening mist.

a full moon in Ireland



Angel of Grief--Stanford University

Angel of Grief, Stanford University Mausoleum

A Hollow to be Hallowed

We are being warned by local meteorologists that the Pacific Northwest will be hit by a powerful windstorm blowing in off the ocean over the next two days.  We are told to “batten down the hatches” and prepare for power outages.  This reminds me of another November windstorm a few years ago that took down a ninety plus year old orchard tree on our farm.

The old Spitzenberg tree, the favorite variety of Thomas Jefferson, had been failing over the previous ten years. It was rotting centrally with holes that housed squirrels and their treasure trove of filbert nuts, and bearing fruit that was startling red and sweet but diminishingly small and scabbed, dropping to the ground beneath like so many drops of blood. Blue jays loved the branches and quarreled relentlessly with the squirrels over prime real estate and mountain view property in the crown of the tree.

No more. As it was eased on to its side in the night storm, swept up in the torrent of air and rain, it went quite peacefully, gracefully with nary a broken branch as they reached out to touch the ground, almost gratefully, breaking neatly at the base of its trunk, not even disturbing the sod. The roots remain covered underground, still clinging to rocky soil, with no where to pump to any longer. The old tree had simply bled out.

Somehow we needed to dispose of the remains. As my husband made several chain saw cuts through the trunk to make pieces easily movable, the extent of the astonishing hole in this old tree became visible. It was suffering from an extreme equivalent of human osteoporosis with a brittle skeleton that somehow had lasted through innumerable windstorms until this week, even while still bearing apples, still trying its best to be fruitful.

When it fell, the trunk oriented itself so it provided a view right through to the barnyard down the hill, telescoping what the tree had surveyed for so many years of its life. Clearly this had been a holey trunk for some years; within the cavity at the base were piles of different size rocks stashed there by the Lawrence children two generations ago and more recently our Gibson children. There was also a large tarnished spoon, lost decades ago into the dark center of the apple tree and now retrieved at its death. At some point in the last quarter century, a Gibson child playing a farm version of frisbee golf must have flung a bucket lid at the hole in the tree, and it disappeared into the gap and settled at the bottom.

All this, like a treasure trove of history, was just waiting for the time when the tree would give up its secrets at its death. There were no gold or silver coins, no notes to the future like a glass bottle put out to sea. This well hidden time capsule held simply rocks and spoon and lid.

I realized as I stared into the gulf of that empty trunk that I’m hollow too, more hollow than I care to admit. Like so many of us, stuff is hidden deep inside that we’d just as soon not have discovered. Our outside scaffolding braces against the buffeting by the winds and storms of life, as we cling to this mortal soil. It is clear we’d be much stronger if we were wholly solid throughout, filled with something stronger even than our outsides.

But we tend to get filled up with a lot of nothing, or even worse than nothing, a lot of garbage. This is stuff that weakens us, furthers the rot, shortens our fruitful life, doing nothing to make us more whole and holy.

I’m looking more critically now at what fills my empty spots since staring down the barrel of that old apple tree trunk. May the hollow be hallowed.

The Fogs of Our Soul





It was November —
the month of crimson sunsets,
parting birds,
deep, sad hymns of the sea,
passionate wind-songs in the pines.
Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park
and, let that great sweeping wind
blow the fogs out of her soul.

~L.M. Montgomery from Anne of Green Gables


Midway through November
there is inevitability
about the descent into winter,
the enveloping darkness
shrinking the day,
the cloister of fog banks
rolling in, sticky in mind and soul.

The winds come brisk,
even harsh,
a reminder of a bitter cold
not long far off.

The fogs will clear to prepare me,
to open me up,
though chilled by searing waves,
to a coming advent of change
for my broken spirit and longing heart.






Tears Need No Translation



The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.
— J. R. R. Tolkien

We forget that God is right there, waiting for us to turn to him, no matter how dire our situation.  We forget the reassuring words of his messengers: “Fear not.”   God always seeks to draw close to us — even in the depths of hell.

…it comes down to this: the only way to truly overcome our fear of death is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.  It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others.  It means choosing generosity over greed.  It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power.  Finally, it means being ready to die again and again — to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion or agenda.
~Johann Christoph Arnold

We watch once again as unspeakable terror strikes down people so much like ourselves — those who are living ordinary lives, doing routine things.  Tears never need translation, no matter what foreign or local neighborhood soil is soaked with the blood of innocents.

Evil exists, visits our world daily and yesterday settled like a shroud over Paris.   As we learned after the airplanes-as-weapons tragedies of 9/11, massive expense, military action and legislation can barely keep evil-doers at bay and tend to even encourage them.   No place on this earth can ever be truly secure through the efforts of mere man.  After all, we too are fallen, and those who do evil can look so much like ourselves.

So we must fall back on what we were told long ago and each and every day in 365 different verses in the Word itself: fear not.
Do not be overwhelmed with evil but overcome evil with good.

The goal of this life is to live for others, to live in such a way that death cannot erase the meaning and significance of a life.  We are called to give up our selfish agendas in order to consider the needs of the other guy and the greater good.  Cherish life, all lives, including, as is crystal clear from Christ’s example,  those who hate and want to murder us.

Our only defense against evil is God’s offense; only He will lead us to Tolkien’s “where everything sad will come untrue”, where tears are no longer translated as sorrow,  but can only be understood as tears of joy.




Let my prayer arise~
Lord I have cried to Thee,
hearken unto Thee.
Incline not my heart
to evil words.

Beyond Me, Darkness





Dawn comes later and later now,
and I, who only a month ago
could sit with coffee every morning
watching the light walk down the hill
to the edge of the pond and place
a doe there, shyly drinking,

then see the light step out upon
the water, sowing reflections
to either side — a garden
of trees that grew as if by magic —
now see no more than my face,
mirrored by darkness, pale and odd,

startled by time. While I slept,
night in its thick winder jacket
bridled the doe with a twist
of wet leaves and led her away,
then brought its black horse with harness
that creaked like a cricket, and turned

the water garden under. I woke,
and at the waiting window found
the curtains open to my open face;
beyond me, darkness. And I,
who only wished to keep looking out,
must now keep looking in.
~Ted Kooser “A Letter in October”


God knows we miss the light
these autumn mornings,
especially when a storm blows
wet and wild in the dark
beyond the window pane.
We only see ourselves
peering into the darkness.
God knows we need the light.




The Signature of God









If God makes the world, populates the world,
infuses the world with every kind of ethical meaning,
then the signature of God is the beauty of the world.
Why even imagine a mystical experience when we’re born into one,
submerged in one, day after day?
~Marilynne Robinson from Image Journal


I’m reminded,
drowning in a morass of tiny details,
trying to make sense
of the incomprehensible~
life sometimes spread so thin
it’s punched with gaping holes
filled only by God’s breath.
This is Him
staking His claim
by signing His name
on our hearts.
There is beauty in the world
from our insides out,
submerged in
every hole of nothingness,
every connecting thread
every letter He has ever written
reminding us we are His.