Radiance Once So Bright

Remembering my father, Henry Polis, today on the 20th anniversary of his death from cancer:
photo by Nate Gibson

photo by Nate Gibson

 

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What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
               Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
                      We will grieve not, rather find
                      Strength in what remains behind;
                      In the primal sympathy
                      Which having been must ever be;
                      In the soothing thoughts that spring
                      Out of human suffering;

The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
                              Is lovely yet;
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
~William Wordsworth from “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”
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Singing Its Alleluia

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Sixty-seven years, oh Lord, to look at the clouds,
the trees in deep, moist summer,
daisies and morning glories
opening every morning

their small, ecstatic faces—
Or maybe I should just say

how I wish I had a voice
like the meadowlark’s,

sweet, clear, and reliably
slurring all day long

from the fencepost, or the long grass
where it lives

in a tiny but adequate grass hut
beside the mullein and the everlasting,

the faint-pink roses
that have never been improved, but come to bud

then open like little soft sighs
under the meadowlark’s whistle, its breath-praise,

its thrill-song, its anthem, its thanks, its
alleluia. Alleluia, oh Lord.
~Mary Oliver “While I am Writing a Poem to Celebrate Summer, the Meadowlark Begins to Sing”

 

Each day opens to new possibility
with a sigh, a breath and thankfulness,
once in awhile tears, sometimes heartbreak,
and flat out fear of what comes next.

Even so,
through it all
there is a song of praise, that alleluia
that reminds us why we are
and who we live for.
All is well,
it is well with my soul.

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Noticing

photo by Joel DeWaard

photo by Joel DeWaard

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How beautiful the things are that you did not notice before!
A few sweetclover plants
Along the road to Bellingham,
Culvert ends poking out of driveways,
Wooden corncribs, slowly falling,
What no one loves, no one rushes towards or shouts about,
What lives like the new moon,
And the wind
Blowing against the rumps of grazing cows.
~Robert Bly from “Like the New Moon I Will Live My Life”

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I see in a new way now,
my eyes scanning for the unnoticed and plain,
along the roadsides, on my walks,
anywhere I might wander.
I take a moment to notice what
I might keep for another day,
like a jar of canned peaches in my cellar,
so I won’t forget, and someday share
its sweetness.

photo by Joel DeWaard

photo by Joel DeWaard

photo by Harry Rodenberger

photo by Harry Rodenberger

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Bitter Sweet

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Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet.

Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.
~Stephen Dunn from “Sweetness”

 

Even when the softness of a lovely day lingers long,
reminding me to “remember this, this moment, this feeling”
I realize that it will be lost, slipping away from me
in mere moments, its sweetness fading into the fog of time
and daily distractions so quickly
that I barely remember the taste,
all that’s left is the bitterness of its loss.

Walking this path,
sometimes guessing,
more often not knowing where it leads,
I ponder the sweetness,
treasure it up,
knowing I would never miss it
if I didn’t taste it to begin with.

photo by Joel DeWaard

photo by Joel DeWaard

 

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A Continuing Miracle

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The miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances, will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.
~Wendell Berry

In our travels over the last week, we have seen many remarkable continuing miracles, some large and some very small, almost missed in the splendor of the extraordinary.  We breathe in the ordinary, in order not to forget.

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The Loneliest of Places

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This land changes you if you let it…

There is no place to hide here
from yourself and what you fear.
The meadowlark will break your heart
the magpie steal your breakfast
and once you’ve seen the buffalo graze on Sage Creek
they will rumble through your dreams forever.

Diane Weddington in Badlands III

It seems hopelessness may be all that thrives in this loneliest of places where wind chews at the rocks.  But there is toughness and remarkable color and diversity too.  Hope cannot die where the sunrise and sunset create a portrait of paradise for a few brief minutes twice each day.

Yet despite it all grass grows here, in patches and strips, pulling moisture from the thin topsoil veneer.

It is a promise — even the barren can bear fruit.

 

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I Tremble for my Country

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The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.” –
–Thomas Jefferson, in “A Summary View of the Rights of British America”
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice can not sleep forever…
― Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia on the need for abolition of slavery

Would Thomas Jefferson, architect of our Declaration of Independence celebrated today, be trembling for his country still? I believe he would, considering his views were radical in his day, his religious convictions unconventional, and his plantation managed by slaves of African descent. He personally understood the moral quicksand on which he tenuously stood–the conflict he felt was as close as his own home. He would recognize and mourn our abuse of our liberties secured and maintained through the blood of our forefathers, our brothers, sisters and children.

Today we are sinking deeply in that same quicksand, having done no better than Jefferson at forging a personal and moral foundation on which to firmly stand. We have squandered our autonomy with selfishness rather than a selflessness borne out of gratitude for the gift of freedom. We want to secure and protect what is ours before we consider in humility if others have what they need first. We have used up land and and animals and water without regard to those who will come after us, failing to be stewards of the garden so generously given to our care.  We trample daily on others’ rights in the name of self-determination and freedom of choice, especially destroying the defenseless for imperfect genetics, wrong gender or simply being ill-timed.

History as recorded in the Word and elsewhere shows when everyone does as they see fit, there is no immunity from judgment and wrath:

In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
Judges 17:6

And how well has that worked out for us?
It took a true servant King who sacrificed Himself to save us from destroying ourselves.
He is still trying and still waiting for our response.

Let us remember with conviction today the source of our life and liberty; His justice does not sleep.

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