You Shall Be a Peculiar Treasure

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Imagine yourself in a big city in a crowd of people.  What it would be like to see all the people in the crowd like Jesus does — an anonymous crowd with old ones and young one, fat ones and thin ones, attractive ones and ugly ones—think what it would be like to love them.  If our faith is true, if there is a God, and if God loves, he loves each one of those.  Try to see them as loved.  And then try to see them, these faces, as loved by you.  What would it be like to love these people, to love these faces — the lovable faces, the kind faces, gentle compassionate faces?  That’s not so hard.  But there are lots of other faces — disagreeable faces, frightening faces, frightened faces, cruel faces, closed faces. …they are all peculiar treasures.  In Exodus, God said to Israel, “You shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.”  God meant it for all of us.
~Frederick Buechner from The Remarkable Ordinary

 

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It doesn’t take long for us to be overwhelmed by humanity when we visit our family in Tokyo.  The airport is a shock of weaving lines of weary people and crying children, the trains are packed with people standing like sardines for an hour or more on their commute, the stations are a sea of bobbing heads flowing out onto the streets where the cross walks become a mass hive of activity whenever the light changes.

Yet we’ve been struck by the effort some locals make to help us foreigners who look lost, or who simply look different.  There is outreach at times that is spontaneous, genuine and completely unexpected.  Those are easy faces to love and we do.  What is much much harder to is love those hundreds of thousands who pass by us on their way to work, to shop, to return home.  How can I even begin to have the capacity?

What greeted Jesus as he entered the city in that final week was not friendly faces.  He loved them all any way, every single one of them peculiar treasures to him, forgiven and redeemed.

I realize I’m not very friendly too much of the time.  Yet he still loves me too, flaws and all, as his redeeming grace is meant for one such as me.  Because of his love, I can become the real thing, not just a reflection of what I think I should be.

 

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A Secret Heart Broken

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…And I think
They know my strength,
Can gauge
The danger of their work:
One blow could crush them
And their nest; and I am not their friend.

And yet they seem
Too deeply and too fiercely occupied
To bother to attend.
Perhaps they sense
I’ll never deal the blow,
For, though I am not in nor of them,
Still I think I know
What it is like to live
In an alien and gigantic universe, a stranger,
Building the fragile citadels of love
On the edge of danger.
~James Rosenberg from “The Wasps’ Nest”

 

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Anger is as a stone cast into a wasp’s nest.
~Pope Paul VI

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The nest was hanging like the richest fruit
against the sun. I took the nest
and with it came the heart, and in my hand
the kingdom and the queen, frail surfaces,
rested for a moment. Then the drones
awoke and did their painful business.
I let the city drop upon the stones.

It split to its deep palaces and combs.

The secret heart was broken suddenly.
~Michael Schmidt — “Wasps’ Nest”
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It hung undisturbed the past few months as its busy citizens visited our picnics, greedily buzzed our compost bin, shot bullet-like out of the garbage can when I lifted the lid.  In short, their threat of using their weaponry controlled all our moves this summer.

This nest is their nighttime respite for a few more weeks before a freeze renders them weak and paralyzed in slow motion.  A thing of beauty outside harbors danger inside. I must not touch this tissue paper football nest with its beating buzzing hornet heart.

Let winter deal the devastating blow. As I am not in or of them, I cannot cast the first stone.

In a few short weeks, as they sleep, the north winds will tear it free from its tight hold,
bear it aloft in its lightness of being, and it will fall, crushed, broken, its secret heart revealed and all that stings will be let go.

 

 

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A Melting Pot of Hats

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Stepping off the city sidewalk into this store
is to transport in time to a debonair era
where the covering on the head defined an individual
far beyond a pragmatic trucker’s baseball cap or skier’s stocking hat.

This is a place to leave behind the ordinary,
step away from the rush of the street
to find something extraordinary for the head of an uncommon man,
designed from wool, leather, straw or felt, sometimes trimmed in fur or feathers.

On this day the shoppers search high and low,
hushed and reverent in this haberdasher sanctuary
of stacked hats and wooden boxes, to peer in antique mirrors
turning this way and that, smoothing and adjusting dapper brims.

The array of choices is overwhelming,
as is the diversity of heads to cover,
from young to old, bald to shaggy,
a melting pot of noggins searching for a fitting crown.

Fedora, trilby, stetson, bowler, boater, beret, newsboy, homburg,
transforming the wearer beneath,  becoming equalizer
of generations, races, genders by fitting a worthy head:
making a statement without a word spoken.

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Slowing Down

purple geranium is in everyone's garden in Scotland
purple geranium is in everyone’s garden in Scotland
a welcome fragrant respite in the middle of the busy city of Edinburgh --honeysuckle
a fragrant respite in the middle of the busy city of Edinburgh –honeysuckle

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
~May Sarton

During the past two weeks in Great Britain, Dan and I have slowed down from our usual busy routine to simply experience a different part of the world and meet new people who have been astonishingly warm and welcoming.

We are also very aware this vacation is about to end next week.

Yesterday we spent over an hour driving lost downtown in the city of Edinburgh, thwarted by torn up closed off streets under construction and a GPS that wanted to send us through barriers to get to our destination. It was a jarring jerk back to the hubbub of the urban life after days of wandering peaceably in the countryside. It took all our patience to not get frustrated at what was beyond our control.

When we finally got settled last night, we went for a long walk on the city streets and found grace in little patches of garden along the way. The honeysuckle could be smelled before it was seen, its perfume wafting out over the sidewalk to remind busy and distracted passersby there is good reason to slow down and breathe.

Today we head out to experience this city and its history before returning to the countryside and heading home to our routine.

The garden will be the first place I’ll be, priorities adjusted and my life changed.

how the Scottish describe a torn up street in Edinburgh
how the Scottish describe a torn up street in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle high above the city
Edinburgh Castle high above the city

 

The Family of Things

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

…Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~Mary Oliver from “Wild Geese”

photo by Kathy Yates from "In the Pacific Northwest"
photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Snow geese are populating the Skagit flats and farm land, as numerous as the scores of colorful tulips which soon will fill nearby fields.  The din of the flocks as they land and feed, then rise again in the air is astounding: a symphony of honks and hollers carried from one goose family to another in a ruckus of joyful abandon.  Skagit is the New York City of snowgeese for a few weeks, never sleeping.

There are a few geese who wander further up north into Whatcom County to pepper our surrounding dormant cornfields like salt,  sprinkled half a dozen here and there across the Nooksack river valley.  When there are only a few together, their calling seems so melancholy, almost a disconsolate cry of abandonment carrying over the lonely countryside.

So too am I ensconced away from the clamorous masses,  preferring to be part of an out-of-the-way rural landscape.  There may be moments of melancholy, to be sure.  Yet here,  as nowhere else, I know my place in the family of things —  of gray clouds, owl hoots, swampy wetlands, frog choruses, orange sunsets, pink sunrises, warm pony muzzles, budding snowdrops, and steaming manure piles.   I give myself up to wild abandon in a world offering itself up to my imagination instead of leaving nothing to the imagination.

Let the cities clamor and clang in their excitement.  They do just fine without me.
Instead I celebrate the relative silence allowing me to seek the words to fit the music singing in my soul.