Stunning Individual Strokes

“One tree is like another, but not too much. One tulip is like the next tulip, but not altogether.  More or less like people–a general outline, then the stunning individual strokes.”  
~Mary Oliver from Upstream

We are all built of the same stuff: atoms, amino acids, cellular scaffolding.

Yet oh so different, delightfully so.

Each one of us weeps the same salty tears.

An Army of Tulips

Guarded within the old red wall’s embrace,
   Marshaled like soldiers in gay company,
   The tulips stand arrayed. Here infantry
Wheels out into the sunlight. What bold grace
Sets off their tunics, white with crimson lace!
   Here are platoons of gold-frocked cavalry
   With scarlet sabres tossing in the eye
Of purple batteries, every gun in place.
   Forward they come, with flaunting colors spread,
With torches burning, stepping out in time
   To some quick, unheard march. Our ears are dead,
We cannot catch the tune. In pantomime
   Parades that army. With our utmost powers
   We hear the wind stream through a bed of flowers.
~Amy Lowell – 1914
“A Tulip Garden”


April ignites an explosion:
Dazzling retinal hues
Singed, crying
Grateful tears for such as this
Array of floral arms-
A rainbow on Earth

Transient, incandescent
Brilliance hoped for.
Remembered in dreams,
Promises realized,
Housed in crystal before shattering.



Flowers Preach

Flowers preach to us if we will hear:
The rose saith in the dewy morn:
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.
~Christina Rossetti from Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems

Some sermons are written bold with color, illustrated with powerful gospel stories of righteousness and redemption in the face of our sin.

Some sermon passages are fragrant with the scent of grace and forgiveness, lingering long after the words are spoken.

Some sermon stories remain subtle and hidden, cryptic messages like the blooms that grow close to the ground, barely visible.

We need to hear them all preached, but most of all we need those every day plain-to-the-bone sermons which are trampled and tread upon, springing back up to guide our feet to the best pathway home. No color, no fragrance, no hiding: just celebrating the ubiquitous lichens, mosses and grasses and weeds which exist solely to help cushion our inevitable fall and help us rise up again.

Like an Idiot, Babbling and Strewing Flowers

To what purpose, April, do you return again? 
Beauty is not enough. 
You can no longer quiet me with the redness 
Of little leaves opening stickily. 
I know what I know. 
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe 
The spikes of the crocus. 
The smell of the earth is good. 
It is apparent that there is no death. 
But what does that signify? 
Not only under ground are the brains of men 
Eaten by maggots. 
Life in itself 
Is nothing, 
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs. 
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 
April 
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. 
~Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Spring”

I know that we cannot depend on the return of Spring to heal us~
it is balm not cure.

I know that none of its beauty can bloom without it dying before~
it is a shroud thrown over to cover our decay.

I know I cannot be transformed by the warmth of the sun~
it is not enough for my skin to sweat when my heart lies still and cold.

I know I must dig deeper in holy ground for the truth~
it does not lie in perfumed blossoms and sweet blue skies.

I know what I know~
life in itself is nothing unless
death is overcome yet again
and our hearts, once broken,
begin to pulse red once more.

Holding Wonder Like a Cup

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.
~Sara Teasdale “Barter”

photo by Nate Gibson

Some days I wish to keep hold forever:
when the light is just right in the trees,
the breezes fill with blossom fragrance,
the congregation sings with joy as I play accompaniment,
a smiling child climbs up on my lap just because,
a meal is enjoyed by all who join together.

I know I barter for these moments
by giving up some piece of me,
knowing the sowing of self
will reap the rich harvest of an overflowing heart.

Only the Gardener

A lily shivered
at His passing,
supposing Him to be
the Gardener.
~Margaret D. Smith “Easter morning, yesterday”
from A Widening Light -Poems of the Incarnation

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
John 21:12

It’s so easy to look and see what we pass through in this world, but we don’t. If you’re like me, you see so little. You see what you expect to see rather than what’s there.
~Frederick Buechner from The Remarkable Ordinary

It is too easy by the next day to let go of Easter — to slide back into the Monday routine, managing our best to survive each day, teeth gritted, as we have before.

We were blind, thinking Him the Gardener as He passed by; we just don’t pay attention to Who is right before us, tending us.

God knows this about us.  So He meets us for breakfast on Monday and every day thereafter and feeds us, a tangible and meaningful act of nourishing us in our most basic human needs though we’ve done nothing to deserve the gift. He cooks up fish on a beach at dawn and invites us to join Him though we have done nothing to deserve it.

The night before he shared a meal and broke bread in Emmaus to open the eyes and hearts of the blinded.

It is time to open our eyes, our minds, our hearts to Who this really is. This is no mere Gardener.

When He offers me a meal of His Word,  I will accept it with open eyes of gratitude, knowing the gift He hands me is nothing less than Himself.


A Bright Sadness: Imperfect Stewardship

We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect characters to match. Our imperfections should not keep us from dreaming of better things, or even from trying, within our limits, to be better stewards of the soil, and more ardent strivers after beauty and a responsible serenity.
~Jane Kenyon from “In the Garden of My Dreams”

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1: 9-11

O Holy Father,
I will be a child of peace and purity
For well I know
Thy Hand will bless 
the seeker after righteousness
~Shaker Hymn

The beauty of peace and purity is right outside my back door, in a misty dawn moment of drizzle-sprinkled flowers.  They heal me after an imperfect yesterday and an imperfect night’s sleep and prepare me for another imperfect day today.

Today I will strive to be a steward for a garden of righteousness and serenity, aiding their growth and helping them flourish despite my flaws and failings.

I can never do it perfectly but am not giving up, as His hand blesses my seeking and my efforts.