Turn Aside and Look: Eastering Up

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There is a fragrance in the air,
a certain passage of a song,
an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book,
the sound of somebody’s voice in the hall
that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears.

Who can say when or how it will be
that something easters up out of the dimness
to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?

God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.
~Frederick Buechner from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale

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“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”
― Gerard Manley Hopkins

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All changed, changed utterly:   
A terrible beauty is born.
~William Butler Yeats from “Easter, 1916”
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It has been a slow coming of spring this year, seeming in no hurry whatsoever.  Snow remains in the foothills and the greening of the fields has only begun. The flowering plum and cherry trees finally have burst into bloom despite a continued chill.  It feels like winter at night yet the perfumed air of spring now permeates the day. Such extreme variability is disorienting, much like standing blinded in a spotlight in a darkened room.

Yet this is exactly what eastering is like.  It is awakening out of a restless sleep, opening a door to let in fresh air, and the stone that locked us in the dark rolled back.

Overnight all changed, changed utterly.

He is not only risen.  He is given indeed.

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Turn Aside and Look: Lead On, Kindly Light

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Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,–
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene,–one step enough for me.

O lux aeterna, lead thou me on
O lux beata, lead, kindly light, lead me on
So long thy power has blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on:
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish days, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on;
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
~John Henry Newman

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Lead, kindly light, amidst the grey and gloom
The night is long and I am far from home
Here in the dark, I do not ask to see
The path ahead–one step enough for me
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

I was not ever willing to be led
I could have stayed, but I ran instead
In spite of fear, I followed my pride
My eyes could see, but my heart was blind
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

And in the night, when I was afraid
Your feet beside my own on the way
Each stumbling step where other men have trod
shortens the road leading home to my God
Lead on, lead on,
my God, my God,
lead on, lead on, kindly light.
~Audrey Assad
inspired by Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s poem of the same name

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There are high winds predicted today;
I may awake in a storm-tossed night,
in pitch blackness
and the bedside flashlight not where it should be~

the familiar path to bathroom and kitchen
becomes obstacle course,
full of places to trip
and stub toes
and bump heads.

Illumination for only the next step
is all I will need.
A small circle of light that shows
where to safely put my foot.

You, Lord, step alongside me
You, Lord, make the dark less fearsome
You, Lord, are that safe and kindly light
that shows me the next step and
never goes out.

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And the Eyes Have It

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Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.
~Theodore Roethke “Root Cellar”

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I tug on the handle of the heavy root cellar cover to lift it to one side in order to descend the steps to the underground room that serves as a year round natural refrigerator on our farm.  At the bottom of the stairs, I open the thick sealed door to permit a shaft of sunlight to illuminate the inner darkness–there is always a moment of wondering what I might find on the other side in such a mysterious place.  A rush of cool earthen air blows back at me as if displaced by the light that has rushed in.  Until I snap on the lights, it is as secret as a womb harboring its precious cargo.  This place smells of dirt and moisture–the lifeblood of the fruits and roots that tarry here until it is finally their turn to be brought up into the light.  Potatoes, onions, apples, pears, nuts all resting and waiting, as if suspended in time.

It has been awhile since my last visit.  As the lights blink on, I blink too in unbelief.  There had been a startling transformation, as time no longer stands still as it had through the winter.  Long white arms, almost waving with enthusiasm, were reaching out from the potato bin in a desperate searching plunge through the blackness.   In this dark place, their blind eyes must sense a better place and have set out on a mission to get there.  The naked shoots are so entangled one with the other, it feels voyeuristic, as if I were witnessing something private and personal.

I gather them up,  apologetic for causing them a moment’s doubt about their destiny.  A trench must be dug, so they are placed gently at the base with shoots pointed toward the sky, and the dirt swept over them in a burial that is more commencement than coda.

And so the eyes have it, having reached for a light not seen but sensed.

…even the dirt kept breathing a small breath…

Was blind, but now can see.

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Another Day’s Chalking

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Life is grace.
Sleep is forgiveness.
The night absolves.
Darkness wipes the slate clean,
not spotless to be sure,
but clean enough for another day’s chalking.
~Frederick Buechner

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Today
is the tomorrow
hoped for last night,
a clean slate on which to
leave a mark on a new day
after night’s erasing rest.

No matter what took place the day before,
no matter the misgivings,
no matter what should have been left unsaid,
no matter how hard the heart,
there is another day to make it right.

Forgiveness finds a foothold in the dark,
when eyelids close and leak,
thoughts quietly crack open,
voices hush in prayers
of praise, petition and gratitude.

And so now
sleep on it
knowing his grace
abounds in blameless dreams.

Morning will come
awash in new light,
another chance
freely given.

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The Lights in the Windows

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photo by Nate Gibson

The night of the Perseid shower,
thick fog descended
but I would not be denied.
I had put the children to bed,
knelt with them,
and later
in the quiet kitchen
as tall red candles
burned on the table between us,
I’d listened to my wife’s sweet imprecations,
her entreaties to see a physician.
But at the peak hour—
after she had gone to bed,
and neighboring houses
stood solemn and dark—
I felt no human obligation
and went without hope into the yard.
In the white mist
beneath the soaked and dripping trees,
I lifted my eyes
into a blind nothingness of sky
and shivered in a white robe.
I couldn’t see the outline
of the neighbor’s willows,
much less the host of streaking meteorites
no bigger than grains of sand
blazing across the sky.
I questioned the mind, my troubled thinking,
and chided myself to go in,
but looking up,
I thought of the earth
on which I stood,
my own
scanty plot of ground,
and as the lights passed unseen
I imagined glory beyond all measure.
Then I turned to the lights in the windows—
the children’s nightlights,
and my wife’s reading lamp, still burning.
~Richard Jones “The Manifestation”

 

….it’s the last three lines I read over and over, the reminder of the mundane wonder that burns every night, at least until it’s extinguished.
~Tania Runyan, commenting on “The Manifestation”

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“Usually, after turning out that forgotten barn light, I sit on the edge of the tractor bucket for a few minutes and let my eyes adjust to the night outside. City people always notice the darkness here, but it’s never very dark if you wait till your eyes owl out a little….I’m always glad to have to walk down to the barn in the night, and I always forget that it makes me glad. I heave on my coat, stomp into my barn boots and trudge down toward the barn light, muttering at myself. But then I sit in the dark, and I remember this gladness, and I walk back up to the gleaming house, listening for the horses. ”
~Verlyn Klinkenborg

 

Over the three decades, as I walk up from the barn at night and look at the lights glowing in our house, I marvel at the life within, even when our children had flown away to live in distant cities. My love dwells inside those glowing windows — we hope for many more years here on the farm– as many as God grants us to stay put.

It is home and it is light and if all it takes is a walk from a dark barn to remind me, I’ll leave the lights on in the barn at night more often.

I’m grateful once again for the opportunity to see, even in the dark, the manifestation of glory and love just beyond our vision, praying that one day we will see and know it clearly.

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“Window” photo by Nate Gibson

Distinguish Light from Dark

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Like animals moving daily
through the same open field,
it should be easier to distinguish
light from dark, fabrications

from memory, rain on a sliver
of grass from dew appearing
overnight. In these moments
of desperation, a sentence

serves as a halo, the moon
hidden so the stars eclipse
our daily becoming. You think
it should be easier to define

one’s path, but with the clouds
gathering around our feet,
there’s no sense in retracing
where we’ve been or where

your tired body will carry you.
Eventually the birds become
confused and inevitable. Even our
infinite knowledge of the forecast

might make us more vulnerable
than we would be in drawn-out
ignorance. To the sun
all weeds eventually rise up.
~Adam Clay “Our Daily Becoming”

 

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I walk among clouds
suspended above me and surrounding my feet,puff balls that blow and shatter,
scatter that covers the path,
if I knew where to step next.

And I don’t know.

All I know is to keep moving toward the light,
to leave darkness behind,
to rise up determined
to reach what just exceeds my grasp.

 

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The Clinging Mist

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My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
     Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
     She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
     She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
     Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
     The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
     And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
     The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
     And they are better for her praise.
~Robert Frost “My November Guest”

 

November,
the month of darkening,
transforms
to a recounting of gratitude
of daily thanksgiving and blessings~~

it is good to dwell on our gifts,
even so, it is right
to invite Sorrow
to sit in silence with us,
her tears blending with ours.

These deepening days
of bare stripped branches
feed our growing need
for the covering grace
of His coming light.

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