Buttercup’s heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high.
Buttercup: We’ll never survive. Westley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.
Westley: Hear this now. I will always come for you. Buttercup: But how can you be sure? Westley: This is true love. You think this happens every day?
That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you.” And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back. ~William Golding, quotes from The Princess Bride
How was I ever blessed to find just such a farm boy? A farm boy who says “I love you” in many ways every day, so the walls of my secret garden heart come tumbling down…
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 fromGoblin 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.
.…you mustn’t be frightened … if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? ~Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet
…difficulties are magnified out of all proportion simply by fear and anxiety. From the moment we wake until we fall asleep we must commend other people wholly and unreservedly to God and leave them in his hands, and transform our anxiety for them into prayers on their behalf: With sorrow and with grief… God will not be distracted. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Letters from Prison
Every day I see college students who are so consumed by anxiety they become immobilized in their ability to move forward through the midst of life’s inevitable obstacles and difficulties. They become so stuck in their own overwhelming feelings they can’t sleep or eat or think clearly, so distracted are they by their symptoms. They self-medicate, self-injure and self-hate. Being unable to nurture themselves or others, they wither like a young tree without roots deep enough to reach the vast reservoir that lies untapped beneath them. In epidemic numbers, some decide to die, even before life really has fully begun for them.
I grieve for them in their distress. My role is to help find healing solutions, whether it is counseling therapy, a break from school, or a medicine that may give some form of relief. My heart knows the ultimate answer is not as simple as the right prescription.
We who are anxious must depend upon a Creator who does not suffer from attention deficit disorder and who is not distracted from His care for us even when we turn away in worry and sorrow. We magnify our difficult circumstances by staying so tightly into ourselves, unable to look beyond our own eyelashes. Instead we are to reach higher and deeper, through prayer, through service to others, through acknowledging there is power greater than ourselves.
So we are called to pray for ourselves and for others, disabling anxiety and fear and transforming it to gratitude and grace. No longer withering, we just might bloom.
[The Incarnation is like] a wave of the sea which, rushing up on the flat beach, runs out, even thinner and more transparent, and does not return to its source but sinks into the sand and disappears. ~Hans Urs von Balthasar from Origen: Spirit and Fire
And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life? ~Frederick Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat
Halfway through the weeks of Lent, we look forward to the fullness of Easter morning. Many of us feel hollowed out and emotionally drained, our empty spaces waiting to be filled to the brim with grace.
More over, through commemoration of the historical events leading to the Resurrection, God on earth once again sinks deeply into our lives, pours Himself onto our earthly soil and into our fleshly souls. He washes our dirty feet, feeds us at His table, and pleads on our behalf for forgiveness when we deserve none of it.
He loses Himself into us. Through Him, we are renewed and refilled, welcomed home, whole and holy.
A cross and nails are not always necessary. There are a thousand ways to kill him, some of them as obvious as choosing where you will stand when the showdown between the weak and the strong comes along, others of them as subtle as keeping your mouth shut when someone asks if you know him.
Today, while he dies, do not turn away. Make yourself look in the mirror. Today no one gets away without being shamed by his beauty. Today no one flees without being laid bare by his light. ~Barbara Brown Taylor
Shame is considered old-fashioned these days; too erosive to self-esteem, a drag on our self-worth, an inconvenient truth.
Yet how else do we see ourselves through the glass darkly than to see our shame convicted, and be convinced in our guilt: our darkness exposed by a Light that reveals all shadows, forgiving as it illuminates all – there is no place to hide, nor should we want to.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1Corinthians 13:12
…horses whose bellies are grain-filled, whose long-ribbed loneliness can be scratched into no-longer-lonely. ~Jane Hirshfield from The Love of Aged Horses
(originally written ~20 years ago)
Settling down into the straw, I am grateful for this quiet moment after a 12 hour workday followed by all the requisite personal conversations that help mop up the spills and splatters of every day life. My family has verbally unloaded their day like so much stored up laundry needing to be washed and rinsed with the spin cycle completed before tomorrow dawns. I moved from child to child to child to husband to grandmother, hoping to help each one clean, dry, fold and sort everything in their pile. Not to be outdone, I piled up a little dirty laundry of my own as I complain about my day.
By that time I’m on “spent” cycle myself and seeking a little “alone” time. I retreat to the barn where verbal communication isn’t necessary. Instead, I need to just sit quietly, watching what happens around me.
A new foal and his vigilant mama watch my every move.
This colt is intrigued by my intrusion into his 12′ x 24′ world. His mother is annoyed. He comes over to sniff my foot and his mother swiftly moves him away with a quick swing of her hips, daunting me with the closeness of her heels. Her first instinct insists she separate me from him and bar my access. My mandate is to woo her over. I could bribe her with food and sweet talk, but, no, that is too easy.
A curry comb is best. If nothing else will work, a good scratching always does. Standing up, I start peeling sheets of no longer needed winter hair off her neck, her sides, her flank and hindquarter. She relaxes in response to my efforts, giving her baby a body rub with her muzzle, wiggling her lips all up and down from his back to his tummy. He is delighted with this spontaneous mommy massage and leans into her, moving around so his hind end is under her mouth and his front end is facing me. Then he starts giving his own version of a massage too, wiggling his muzzle over my coat sleeve and wondrously closing this little therapeutic triangle, all of us “scratched into no-longer-lonely.”
Here we are, a tight little knot of givers/receivers with horse hair flying in a cloud about us. One weary human, one protective mama mare and one day-old foal, who is learning so young how to contribute to the well being of others. It is an incredible gift of trust they bestow on me like a blessing. I realize this horse family is helping me sort my own laundry in the same way I had helped with my human family’s load.
Too often in life we confine our lonely selves in painful triangles, passing our kicks and bites down the line to each other rather than providing nurture and respite. We find ourselves unable to wrench free from continuing to deliver the hurts we’ve just received. What strength it takes to respond with kindness when the kick has just landed on our backside. How chastened we feel when a kindness is directed at us, as undeserving as we are after having bitten someone hard.
Instead of biting, try a gentle scratching. Instead of kicking, try tickling. Instead of fear, try acceptance. Instead of annoyance, try patience. Instead of piling up so much laundry of your own, try washing, folding and sorting what is dumped on you by others, handing it back all ready for the next day.
Just settle into the straw to watch and wait – amazing things will happen.