A Salt Water Cure

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…when he looked at the ocean,
he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to.

Maybe what made him weep was
how vast and overwhelming it was

and yet at the same time as near
as the breath of it in his nostrils,
as salty as his own tears.

~Frederick Buechner writing about Paul Tillich in Beyond Words

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The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears or the sea.
~Isak Dinesen

 

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photo by Nate Gibson

 

I grew up an easy crier.  Actually growing up hasn’t cured it, nor has middle age.  I’m still an easy crier – a hard thing to admit especially when my tears flow at an inopportune time in a public place.

It might have had something to do with being a middle child, bombarded from both directions by siblings who recognized how little aggravation it took to make me cry, or it may have been my hypersensitive feelings about …. everything.  I felt really alone in my tearful travails until my formidable grandmother, another easy weepy, explained that my strong/tall/tough/nothing-rocks-him former WWII Marine father had been a very weepy little boy.  She despaired that he would ever get past being awash in tears at every turn.  His alcoholic father tormented him about it, wondering if he would ever learn to “man up.”

So this is a congenital condition and that’s my excuse.

A few years ago I read a fascinating article about how different kinds of tears (tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of grief, tears of frustration, tears of irritated eyes, tears of onion cutting) all look different and remarkably apt, when dried and pictured under the microscope.  This is more than mere salt water leaking from our eyes — this is our heart and soul and hormonal barometer streaming down our faces – a visible litmus test of our deepest feelings.

I witness many tears every day in my office, and not tears of joy.  These are tears borne of pain and loss and rejection and failure, of hopelessness and helplessness, loneliness and anguish.  Often my patients will describe having a “break down” by which they mean uncontrollable crying.  It is one of the first-mentioned symptoms they want relief from.

Tears do come less frequently as depression lifts and anxiety lessens but I let my patients know (and remind myself) that tears are a transparent palette for painting the desires and concerns of our heart.  Dry up the tears and one dries up emotions that express who we are and who we strive to be.

When I’m able, I celebrate the salt water squeezing from my eyes, knowing it means I’m so fully human that I leak my humanity everywhere I go.  Even God wept while dwelling among us on earth, and what’s good enough for Him is certainly good enough for me.

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Turn Aside and Look: Eastering Up

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There is a fragrance in the air,
a certain passage of a song,
an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book,
the sound of somebody’s voice in the hall
that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears.

Who can say when or how it will be
that something easters up out of the dimness
to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?

God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.
~Frederick Buechner from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale

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“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”
― Gerard Manley Hopkins

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All changed, changed utterly:   
A terrible beauty is born.
~William Butler Yeats from “Easter, 1916”
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It has been a slow coming of spring this year, seeming in no hurry whatsoever.  Snow remains in the foothills and the greening of the fields has only begun. The flowering plum and cherry trees finally have burst into bloom despite a continued chill.  It feels like winter at night yet the perfumed air of spring now permeates the day. Such extreme variability is disorienting, much like standing blinded in a spotlight in a darkened room.

Yet this is exactly what eastering is like.  It is awakening out of a restless sleep, opening a door to let in fresh air, and the stone that locked us in the dark rolled back.

Overnight all changed, changed utterly.

He is not only risen.  He is given indeed.

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Turn Aside and Look: In the Wilderness Time

 

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This is the wilderness time,
when every path is obscure
and thorns have grown around the words of hope.

This is the time of stone, not bread,
when even the sunrise feels uncertain
and everything tastes of bitterness.

This is the time of ashes and dust,
when darkness clothes our dreams
and no star shines a guiding light.

This is the time of treading life,
waiting for the swells to subside and for the chaos to clear.

Be the wings of our strength, O God,
in this time of wilderness waiting.
– Keri Wehlander from “600 Blessings and Prayers from around the world” compiled by Geoffrey Duncan

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He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Psalm 91:4

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To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness , is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness- especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.   
~Frederick Buechner

The wilderness can be a distant peak far removed from anything or anyone.  The wilderness can also be found in an isolated corner of the human heart kept far away from anything and anyone.   From my window on a clear day, I am fortunate to see the first if the cloud cover moves away.  From my perch on a round stool at work,  I am sometimes given access to the other many times every day.

There are times in one’s life when loving God as commanded seems impossible.  We are too broken, too frightened, too wary to trust God with our love and devotion.  Recognizing a diagnosis of wilderness of the heart is straight forward:  despair, discouragement, disappointment, lack of gratitude, lack of hope.  The treatment is to tame the wilderness with a covenantal obedience that reaches so deep there is no corner left untouched.   We must do as we are asked, even when it seems impossible, when it hurts, and when it means we may become even more profoundly isolated.

To be asked by God to turn aside from our worries and face Him is the invitation we were created for.   To be loved by Him is our rescue from the wilderness of the most distant peak, as well as from the most bitter and broken heart that beats within.

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In the beginning, you hovered over the water
You broke an unbroken silence
You spoke light into darkness
And there was light

In the beginning, we were made in your image
And we were naked without shame
Till we fell for the darkness
And there was night

Chorus: Your mercies are new
Your mercies are new
New every morning
Your mercies are new
Your mercies are new
New every morning

In the beginning, there was the Word and he was God
And the Word was with God
And he dwelt among us
And there was life

Oh, in the beginning, the Lamb of God was broken
And his blood was poured out
For the sins of the world
And there was life

Chorus

At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw your light
At the cross, at the cross
I received my sight
At the cross, at the cross
Where you laid down your life

Chorus

~Audrey Assad -“New Every Morning”

A Terrible Clarity

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Romantic love is blind to everything
except what is lovable and lovely,

but Christ’s love sees us
with terrible clarity and sees us whole.

Christ’s love so wishes our joy
that it is ruthless against everything in us
that diminishes our joy.

The worst sentence Love can pass
is that we behold the suffering
which Love has endured for our sake,

and that is also our acquittal.
The justice and mercy of the judge
are ultimately one.

~Frederick Buechner

 

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photo by Jim Randall from burmachronicles.com

 

As we prepare for the season of Lent to begin this week:

We see with terrible clarity
the Love we are shown,
the Love given freely to the undeserving,
the Love paying our ransom in full,
the Love enduring all for us~

this Judge convicts,
metes out justice upon His own head,
serves the whole sentence Himself,
thus sets us free
to see and share
the Love we are shown.

 

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Another Day’s Chalking

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“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.”
~Frederich Buechner

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And tomorrow
move forward
to leave a mark on a new day
after night’s erasing rest.

No matter what took place the day before,
no matter the misgivings,
no matter what should have been left unsaid,
no matter how hard the heart,
there is another day to make it right.

Forgiveness finds a foothold in the dark,
when eyelids close,
thoughts quietly open,
voices hush in prayers
of praise, petition and gratitude.

And so now
sleep on it
knowing his grace
abounds in blameless dreams.

Morning will come
awash in new light,
another chance
freely given.

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Our Hearts Thirst

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All thy waves and billows
Have gone over me.
~Psalm 42:7

…Into the deep where ocean spray
Is recollected in the great
   Salt, billow-making womb.

Effortless elegance!
   Holy wildness!

We walked nine miles of ocean beach
   Yesterday and let the ocean
Rhythms–pulse-setting waves and tide-making
   Moon–get inside us. Slowed
By this ancient pacemaker
   Our hearts thirsted. We drank God.
~Eugene Peterson from “Assateague Island”

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photo by Nate Gibson

…when he looked at the ocean,
he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to.

Maybe what made him weep was
how vast and overwhelming it was

and yet at the same time as near
as the breath of it in his nostrils,
as salty as his own tears.

~Frederick Buechner writing about Paul Tillich in Beyond Words

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The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.
~Blaise Pascal

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Most days I’m rocked by the most minute ripples and tiniest pebbles.  The building waves created by forces beyond my control feel tsunami-like though they started out infinitesimally small.  I can do nothing but let them flow over, around and beneath me, riding them up and down, trying not to get submerged for long and not get sea-sick.

Lately it feels like a barrage: instead of letting up, the billows roll larger and mightier, at times relentlessly powerful, changing everything in their path, including me.

Instead of being overcome by ripples, I hope some time to become the thrown pebble in a way that can move oceans or mountains or most amazing of all, another soul, just once.  In some tiny way, I hope I can say or do or write something that makes a positive difference in someone’s life, and that person forwards the ripple, spreading the wave a little further, a little broader, a little deeper to affect others.  Traveling far beyond the original thrown pebble, it can never to be pulled back once it is let loose.

I know what it is like for a blog post to go viral, becoming an ocean in churning turmoil, not a mere pebble starting with a least movement.  Instead, I hope to be the most insignificant of change agents, serene and barely there, just moving enough of another heart and soul to start something that will grow and spread by itself, wild and wonderful.

I don’t know what it might be or how I might do it.  Perhaps it is as simple as skipping rocks, choosing the best flattest pebble, rubbing the smooth sides between my fingers, and with a momentary regret at giving it up to the ocean, I’ll haul back and just let it go.  It will skip once, twice, three four five even six times and then disappear below. The surface of the water will never be the same again.

Nor will I.

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End of the Year Tears

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Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.

Let us step outside for a moment.
It is all there
Only we have been slow to arrive
At a way of seeing it.
Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.
~May Sarton from “New Year Poem”

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photo by Nate Gibson

Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.  They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.
~Frederick Buechner

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I don’t pay close enough attention to the meaning of my leaking eyes when I’m looking for kleenex to stem the flow.  During the holidays it seems I have more than ample opportunity to find out from my tears the secret of who I am, where I have come from and where I am to be next, so I keep my pockets loaded with kleenex.

It mostly has to do with welcoming family members back home for the holidays to become a full out noisy messy chaotic household again, with puzzles and games and music and laughter and laundry and meal preparation.  It is about singing grace together before a meal and choking on precious words of gratitude.  It certainly has to do with bidding farewell as we did yet again this morning, gathering them in for that final hug and then that letting-go part.

We urge and encourage them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be, even thousands of miles away from their one-time home on the farm.

I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I learned to set my face toward the future.  It led me here, to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, our church, to more tears, to more letting go, as it will continue if granted the years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.

This is where I will go next: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me or my children.   They release a fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spills down my cheeks drop by drop like wax from a burning candle.

No kleenex needed with these tears.

Let them flow as I let them go.

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