A Simple Majesty

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming

 

 

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The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers 
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away, 
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers. 
Pass me the can, lad; there’s an end of May..

…The troubles of our proud and angry dust 
Are from eternity, and shall not fail. 
Bear them we can, and if we can we must. 
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale. 
~A. E. Houseman

 

 

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Yet in the soft–hung leaves a splendour lies,

As though not from the far–off noon it came

But in themselves a green indwelling flame

Were prisoned. Here unanswered mysteries

Content me, and of peace I want not more,

But feed on thoughts that end

In a sweet pause of mind,

As if from my own being back resigned

To the universal essence of Earth’s core,

Where over me the saps of life ascend. 

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Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.
~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground”

 

 

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Each May the horse chestnut tree in our front yard transforms for a week into a Renoir painting.   It explodes into hundreds of bright clusters of delicate orchid-like blossoms, forming cone shaped floral candles illuminating the spreading branches.  However, its setting is more peasant than romantic, as the tree stands in common company between a pine tree and a poplar lining the rural driveway into our barnyard.  This is an exceedingly humble spot for a tree bedecked with such majestic lighting, its tender broad leafed branches brushed and broken by passing hay wagons and shavings trucks.

Although its graceful beauty seems more appropriate along the Seine River,  during the summer it fits perfectly in its spot near our haybarn.  Its verdant foliage provides deep cooling shade during hot sweaty days.    The branches that were once lit up with scores of pink and white blossoms become leafy respite for a dusty hay crew gulping lemonade in between loads.   Horses snooze in the paddocks under its shadow.   Birds nest well hidden.   The tree becomes sanctuary within and below.

By fall, the tree forms its fruit within unpretentious capsules covered with spines and prickles, visually spiked yet actually soft and pliable.  There are few natural things  so plain and homely as the buckeye horse chestnut husk.   These are shed by the hundreds  in autumn wind and rainstorms, and they shower down, cobbling the driveway, eventually to break apart underfoot.

Only by leaving the tree can the deep brown nut be revealed from its hiding place, its richness exposed.    From exquisite bloom to shady haven to prickly husk to mahogany harvest,  this chestnut tree’s changing palette needs no canvas, no frame, no museum gallery showcase.  Instead it’s a year round exhibition is for free,  right in our front yard.

 

 

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When Faith Appears Like Dew

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Faith steals upon you like dew:
some days you wake and it is there.
And like dew, it gets burned off 
in the rising sun of anxieties,
ambitions, distractions.
~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

 

 

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My faith,
refreshed in the light of morning,
can evaporate in the dry stress of the day.
May I turn my face up
each night, asking to be washed
in the mist of God’s dew,
my anxiety settled like dust.

 

 

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Two Kinds of Infection

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Good things as well as bad, you know are caught by a kind of infection.

If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire:
if you want to be wet you must get into the water.
If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life,
you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. 

They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone.
They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality.
If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.

Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?
Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?

~C.S. Lewis- Mere Christianity

 

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Each Monday morning, as I transition once again from the observance of Sabbath with God’s people to move into the secular world of government work, I feel an acute separation.

I want to remain infected (and contagious) with the reality of God yet my life feels necessarily compartmentalized.

On Monday, I’m gloved and masked to prevent my infecting others.

All week I am exposed daily to the reality of the world and must defend myself from getting infected.

If I’m to be contagious, let it be because I’m overwhelmed with the Spirit, not the world.

 

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To Be Interruptible

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We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

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I’ve worked hard in my professional life to be easily interruptible;  my patients, colleagues and staff need to be able to stop my momentum at any time to ask a question, get an opinion or redirect my attention to something more important than what I’m doing at that time.  As a physician, it is crucial that I remain prioritized from outside my field of vision as I don’t always realize where I’m needed most until someone grabs me.

In my personal life, I struggle with interruptions happening outside my control.  I feel imposed upon when things don’t flow as I hoped or planned– after all,  this is MY life.

Yet God interrupts.  God interferes.  God intervenes.  God intrudes.  God intercedes.

As He must.

I must be ready, accepting, answering His grace with my grace.

It is HIS life living within me, His plan, His timing, His priorities, His story playing out in such a way that it becomes my story.

I can’t skip ahead to see what happens on the last page, but I hope it is one of those stories I don’t want to see end when the last word is written.

 

 

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Choosing Up Sides

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The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.
~G. K. Chesterton

 

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…our hands have always been able to heal as much as harm. 
…since the dawn of humanity, each of us contains three people—
the angel, the demon, and the one who decides which we will obey.
~Billy Coffey

 

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It shouldn’t take plunging into a profound darkness,
swallowed in a pit of sadness and sorrow
to experience God’s immense capacity for love and compassion,
but that is when our need for light and forgiveness is greatest.

It should not take sin and suffering to remind us
life is precious and worthy of our protection,
no matter how tempted we are to choose otherwise.

We are created,
from the beginning,
in the beginning,
with the capacity to choose sides between darkness and light
and we choose too often to be cloaked in darkness.

Our God chooses to shine the light of His Creation,
to conquer our darkness through illuminating grace,
dispersing our shadows,
suffering the deepest darkness on our behalf
to guarantee we are eternally worthy of His loving protection.

How then shall we choose when He so clearly chooses us?

 

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Breathing In and Out

What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me?  I can’t
 
turn in any direction
but it’s there.  I don’t mean
 
the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s
silk song, but the far-off
 
fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning
 
theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;
 
or time that’s always rushing forward,
or standing still
 
in the same — what shall I say —
moment.
What I know
I could put into a pack
 
as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,
 
important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained
 
and unexplainable.
 
….mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing in and out…
~Mary Oliver from “What is there beyond knowing”
I’m reminded daily about how little I know and understand.  I work with people who are suffering, whose symptoms may fit prescribed diagnostic criteria but yet defy explanation or reason.  They care about what relief I might offer rather than a label that names the illness.
Like so much in medicine, what I witness daily is unexplained and unexplainable.  What I do know I carry with me, small and honorable and shareable.   I offer it up to each patient, one after another:  here is what I think might help.  here is your next step to take.  here is the hope that goes with taking each breath, the next and the next.
Even when standing in the dark, as we all do at times in our life, we just keep breathing.  In and out.  In and out.  We are filled even when empty.

Preparing Through Parable: Grant Me Justice

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“In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Luke 18:1-8

 

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To reassure us that persistent prayer makes a difference to both us and God, Jesus tells this story with a bit of irony.  If an unjust judge can grant justice, how much more so will the Lord provide justice for those He loves?

We cry out day and night at times, when the burden is heavy.  He hears us and will respond with exactly what we need, even if we don’t know what we need.

His wisdom is infinite, and His knowledge of us unsurpassed.  We shall pray His justice prevails.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.