Both Stone and Star

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Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs–

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.
~Rainer Maria Rilke  “Sunset” (Trans. by Robert Bly) from The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy

 

 

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We are born with one hand still grasping tight to the star-studded heaven from which we came, still dusty from creation.  The other hand grabs hold of whatever it finds here on earth and won’t let go, whether the riches of relationship or the coldness of stone.

It can take decades, but our firm hold on heaven loosens so that we forget the dusty origins of our miraculous being.  We forget Who made us and why.

We can’t decide, tangled up in the threads of life:  dust of earth, stone heart?  Or dust of stars, child of Heaven?

We are daily reminded by the Light which clothes us in new colors – early in the morning as it crests the eastern hills and late as it descends in the west.  Heaven still reaches down once again to grasp our hand, making sure we know the way home.

 

 

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The Benevolence of Water Washing Dust

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Even at noon the house is dark.
In my room under the eaves
I hear the steady benevolence
of water washing dust
raised by the haying
from porch and car and garden
and purified, as if tonsured.

The grass resolves to grow again,
receiving the rain to that end,
but my disordered soul thirsts
after something it cannot name.
~Jane Kenyon from “August Rain, After Haying”

 

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A long-awaited string of rainy days have arrived and like the ground and plants, I look skyward letting the clouds drip on me and I am washed of dust.

Will I restore like the brown and dying blade of grass, turning green and lush in a matter of days?

Is there enough benevolence from the sky to cleanse and settle the grime, and still yield more harvest of food and fodder?  Will this replenish my soul enough that I can resolve to grow again?

I thirst for what I cannot name.  The mystery is, I’m filled, left dripping and ready.

 

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Dusty

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God – the God who made the dust,
who made the stars,
who made the elements of which we are composed –
that same God chooses from the beginning to make his dwelling among us,
to live for all time like us, as a servant of the soil.

I am the dust of the earth,
but God declares that he is not too good,
not too proud,
for my dustiness.

~Daniel J. Stulac from Plough Quarterly No. 4: Earth

 

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What a piece of work is a man!
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” 
~ William Shakespeare in Hamlet’s monologue 

 

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This dust left of man:
earth, air, water and fire
prove inadequate
to quell its significance.

Only the transcendent hope
of eternal life restored
can breathe glory
into the plainest of ash.

And I am plainest of the plain.

 

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A Handful of Dust

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April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain…

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

~T.S.Eliot from “The Wasteland”

 

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We do not want to think of ourselves as the dust we were and the dust we will become.  We are living fully right now; we cast shadows before and behind us depending on the time of day and time of life, mere ephemeral reflections of our presence on earth.

Yet the dust we were and the dust we become is as fearful a thing as our transient shadow.

Dust so cruel~
it reminds us
of what could have been,
how life once rose miraculous
from the dead.

We are nothing but a handful of dust…
until the Creator lifts us up in the palm of His hand, and blows on us.
We breathe and pulse and weep and bleed.

We become more than mere shadow.

We are His, part of his Hand, breath of His breath.

 

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Dust Specks of Eden

 

 

 

photo by Josh Scholten

 

Skin was earth; it was soil.
I could see, even on my own skin,
the joined trapezoids of dust specks God had wetted and stuck with his spit
the morning he made Adam from dirt.
Now, all these generations later,
we people could still see on our skin
the inherited prints of the dust specks of Eden.

~Annie Dillard from An American Childhood

 

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A goodly portion of my work as a physician is spent looking at my patients’ skin.  Most of the time, it is a quick assessment of color, moisture and texture before I go on to concentrate on the chief complaint that brought the patient in.  However, skin concerns frequently are the chief complaint — perhaps as straight forward as an abrasion or laceration, or a puzzling bump, an oozing sore, a total body itch, or an ominous pigmented lesion.

I feel like Sherlock Holmes when I focus on a patient’s outer covering in magnified detail.  I assume the identity of detective, inspector and archeologist all at once, trying to discern what is taking place on or beneath a piece of dermatologic geography.

No matter what the diagnosis or the treatment plan, I’m continually awestruck by the topography of skin.  This supple landscape is made up of trapezoidal specks connected one to another, just like the soil upon which I tread.   Skin cells are in a state of constant renewal, the dead and discarded falling off to rejoin the dust from which it came.

This elaborate matrix of collagen and keratin is the foundation for our scaffolding and our shroud.

His spit provides the superglue: the rivets, the bolts and the nails that bind us together for a lifetime, creating us to be far more than a mere pile of random dust specks.

 

 

Dust Made Manifest

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Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age 
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it’s something that 
My mother told me

There’s not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.
~Anne Porter  from “Susanna”

 

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Mom meeting great grandson Noah a few days before she died

 

We tend to forget who made us,
including our funny looking feet, our anxieties,
the crooked teeth, the wrinkles, the scars, the split ends —

We see only imperfection
when our Creator sees dust made manifest
in His image.

He loves us even when we do not love ourselves,
as we hide our nakedness.

He loves us even when we cover up with gloss
of polish, perms, plucking and plastic surgery,
hiding beneath our cosmetic masks.

He loves every inch
because we are His opus, a masterpiece.

He knew exactly what He was doing.

 

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photo by Lea Gibson

 

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photo by Andrea Nipges

The Long Road of Weariness and Want

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The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
     with children.
~Kobayashi Issa (translated by Robert Haas)

 

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A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.
Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:15

 

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Rachel weeping – Salvador Dali

 

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people|
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,|
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.
But every Herod dies, and comes alone
To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.
~Malcolm Guite from Waiting on the Word

 

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And the slaughter of innocents and weary road for refugees continues unabated-
In observance of The Feast Day of the Holy Innocents:

 

There is no consolation for the families of those lost:
Their arms ache with emptiness tonight,
beds and pillows lie cold and unused,
blankets and cuddlies await all night hugs
that never come again.

There can be no consolation;
only mourning and great weeping,
sobbing that wrings dry
every human cell,
leaving dust behind,
dust, only dust
which is beginning
and end.

He came to us
for times such as this,
born of
the dust of woman and
the breath of Spirit,
God who bent down to
lie in manger dust,
walk on roads of dust,
die and be laid to rest as dust
in order to conquer
such evil as this
that could displace masses
and massacre innocents.

He became dust to be
like us
He began a mere speck in a womb
like us
so often washed away from life
as unwanted.

His heart beat
like ours
breathing each breath
like ours
until a fearful fallen world
took His
and our breath
away.

He shines through
the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
His tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.

He hears our cries
as He cried too.
He knows our tears
as He wept too.
He knows our mourning
as He mourned too.
He knows our dying
as He died too.

God wept
as this happened.
Evil comes not from God
yet humankind embraces it.
Sin is a choice
we made from the beginning,
a choice we continue to make.

Only God can glue together
what evil has shattered.
He just asks us to hand Him
the pieces of our broken hearts.

We will know His peace
when He comes
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried,
our cells no longer
just dust,
never only dust
as we are glued together
by the breath of God
forevermore.

 

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the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Luke 1: 78-79