Turn Aside and Look: This Temporary Perishable Earth

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Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;  it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
from 1Corinthians 15

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We are continually overflowing
toward those who preceded us,
toward our origin, and toward
those who seemingly come after us.
 
It is our task to imprint this
temporary, perishable earth
into ourselves so deeply,
so painfully and passionately,
that its essence can rise again
invisibly, inside us.
 
We are the bees of the invisible.
We wildly collect the honey
of the visible, to store it
in the great golden hive of the invisible.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

 

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Turn Aside and Look: First and Last Breaths

During these Lenten days, (and every day),
we are reminded of the gift of our first Breath
and the invitation in our last Breath.
We are asked stop living for self,
which can only lead to death,
and instead die to self,
so that we may live.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake,
he is the one who will save it.
Luke 9:24

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First breath can come
Before even fully delivered
Encased and swaddled tight
Nose bubbling, mouth gaping, swallowing hungrily
Building up to a moist initial gasp~
Air-filled and sliding free
Hands clenched, then fingers spread,
Ready to grasp and hold on tight to life,
Arms reaching out to stop the fall.

A lifetime then spent holding fast,
Eventually toppling frail and
Slowly adrift, floating unmoored
Reaching for unseen fruit no longer needed
Breath comes ragged, at times silenced
Then gulp and sigh, ready to
Loosen grasp as anchor is lifted, and with
Last soft breath,
Delivered gently into the hand of God.

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photo by Andrea Nipges

Turn Aside and Look: Piercing What is Dead

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I saw that a yellow crocus bud had pierced
a dead oak leaf, then opened wide. How strong
its appetite for the luxury of the sun!
~Jane Kenyon from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems

 

Our appetite is strong for light and warmth.  Our desire is to defeat death, to pierce through the decay and flourish among the living, opening wide our face to the luxury of grace freely given.

We need only follow the pathway out of darkness.  We need only follow the Son as he leads the way.

Turn Aside and Look: Fields of Our Hearts

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Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
~John Crum from The Oxford Book of Carols

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Over the last several weeks, roots have become shoots and their green blades are rising chaotically, uneven and awkward like a bad haircut.  And like a bad haircut, another two weeks will make all the difference — sprouts will cover all the bare earth, breaking through crusted mud to create a smooth carpet of green.

There is nothing more hopeful than the barren made fruitful, the ugly made beautiful, the dead made alive.

The fields of our broken hearts recover; love is come again.

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Turn Aside and Look: No Longer Your Own

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You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
1 Corinthians 6: 19b-20a

 

There is a well known story with a number of variations, all involving a scorpion that stings a good-souled frog/turtle/crocodile/person who tries to rescue it from drowning. Since the sting dooms the rescuer and as a result the scorpion as well, the scorpion explains “to sting is in my nature”. In one version, the rescuer tries again and again to help the scorpion, repeatedly getting stung, only to explain before he dies “it may be in your nature to sting but it is in my nature to save.”

This is actually a story originating from Eastern religion and thought, the purpose of which is to illustrate the “dharma”, or orderly nature of things. The story ends perfectly for the Eastern religions believer even though both scorpion and the rescuer die in the end, as the dharma of the scorpion and of the rescuer is realized, no matter what the outcome. Things are what they are, without judgment, and actualization of that nature is the whole point.

However, this story only resonates for the Christian if the nature of the scorpion is forever transformed by the sacrifice of the rescuer on its behalf. The scorpion is no longer its own so no longer slave to its “nature”. It is no longer just a scorpion with a need and desire to sting whatever it sees. It has been “bought” through the sacrifice of the Rescuer.

So we too are no longer our own,
no longer the stinger
no longer the stung:
no longer who we used to be before we were rescued.

We are bought at a price beyond imagining.

And our nature to hurt, to punish, to sting shall be no more.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15: 55

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There at the table
With my head in my hands
A column of numbers
I just could not understand
You said “Add these together
Carry the two
Now you.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

At a cold winter station
Breathing into our gloves
This would change me forever
Leaving for God knows what
You carried my bags
You said “I’ll wait
For you.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

Late at night I called
And you answered the phone
The worst it had happened
And I did not want to be alone
You quietly listened
You said “We’ll see this thru.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

Here we stand breathless
And pressed in hard times
Hearts hung like laundry
On backyard clothes lines
Impossible just takes
A little more time

From the muddy ground
Comes a green volunteer
In a place we thought barren
New life appears
Morning will come whistling
Some comforting tune
For you

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing
~Carrie Newcomer

 

A Snow Still Lingers

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Although the snow still lingers
Heaped on the ivy’s blunt webbed fingers
And painting tree-trunks on one side,
Here in this sunlit ride
The fresh unchristened things appear,
Leaf, spathe and stem,
With crumbs of earth clinging to them
To show the way they came
But no flower yet to tell their name,
And one green spear
Stabbing a dead leaf from below
Kills winter at a blow.
~Andrew Young, “Last Snow”

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The snow ice-encrusts the morning
before it bids farewell under warming sunlight.
Winter encases spring
to grasp one last moment
of timelessness.

 

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A Pure Bright Blaze

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In the gloaming
when death comes
clearly into view
as the horizon
of life’s landscape,
the call is to illumination,
to focus the shining darts
of life’s lessons
as a magnifying glass
focuses rays of light.
The task of middle age
is to dispose
of the extraneous,
to focus desire’s flickering
until it flames
at the incendiary point
of an undivided heart
and makes of love
a pure, bright blaze
before a falling night.
~Bonnie Thurston  “Late Vocation”by Paraclete Press
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In my third trimester of life, I try to find a focal point in all I do and the blaze that arises warm and illuminating from that magnifying glass, yet does not incinerate.
God shows me how in every sunset light.
His Love glows bright and pure, but like the burning bush it never is reduced to ash;
it is permanent even as our night falls.
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