I know for a while again,
the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valley side,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which I may even step
forth from myself and be free.
~ Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 2000
I was told once by someone I respected that my writing reflected “sacramental” living — touching and tasting the holiness of everyday moments, as if they are the cup and bread that sustains us daily.
I have allowed that feedback to sit warmly beside me, like a welcome companion during the many hours I struggle with what to share here.
It is now apparent to me it is all too tempting to emphasize sacrament over the sacrifice it represents. As much as I love the world and the beauty in the moments I find here, my search should be for the entrance to the “thin places” between heaven and earth, by forgetting self and stepping forth through a holy threshold into something far greater.
There is a scary freedom in the sacrificial life, a wonderful terrifying illuminating freedom, still far beyond my grasp.
I find my greatest freedom on the farm.
I can be a bad farmer or a lazy farmer and it’s my own business.
A definition of freedom:
It’s being easy in your harness. ~Robert Frost in 1954, at a news conference on the eve of his 80th birthday
The past was faded like a dream; There come the jingling of a team, A ploughman’s voice, a clink of chain, Slow hoofs, and harness under strain. Up the slow slope a team came bowing, Old Callow at his autumn ploughing, Old Callow, stooped above the hales, Ploughing the stubble into wales. His grave eyes looking straight ahead, Shearing a long straight furrow red; His plough-foot high to give it earth To bring new food for men to birth.
O wet red swathe of earth laid bare, O truth, O strength, O gleaming share, O patient eyes that watch the goal, O ploughman of the sinner’s soul. O Jesus, drive the coulter deep To plough my living man from sleep…
At top of rise the plough team stopped, The fore-horse bent his head and cropped. Then the chains chack, the brasses jingle, The lean reins gather through the cringle, The figures move against the sky, The clay wave breaks as they go by. I kneeled there in the muddy fallow, I knew that Christ was there with Callow, That Christ was standing there with me, That Christ had taught me what to be, That I should plough, and as I ploughed My Saviour Christ would sing aloud, And as I drove the clods apart Christ would be ploughing in my heart, Through rest-harrow and bitter roots, Through all my bad life’s rotten fruits.
As happens every day, as she sang to me, her arm reached past my perch through the open cage door, to pour fresh water in my bowl. Just beyond her, overhead near the barn, were clusters of glistening red cherries bouncing in invitation in the morning breeze.
So I heeded, flapping clumsily over her arm as she spilled the water, her mouth an “O”.
I escaped my cage, my first time flying more than a few feet, awkward and careening. I made it to a high branch and grabbed hold tightly, staring down at her asking me to come back. Instead I listened to the cherries next to me, their sweet song of red juice pouring over the sides of my beak.
I ate more than my fill of freedom.
When the breeze picked up in the darkening hours, I missed the comfort of my indoor loft nest lined with cedar shavings and horse hair, with snug walls where I have spent many wintry nights, and soft summer twilights. My mournful evening anthem was hushed by the wing swoop overhead of a clicking owl, anxious for dinner. I listened to the chorus of coyotes nearby and tucked my head in fear, with no wire enclosure to protect me. I fell silent, barely sleeping.
At dawn, she found me picking at cat food in the dish near the back porch, with an ancient feline crouched a few feet away, tail twitching, ready for instant breakfast. I fluttered off, returning to relative safety of the orchard treetops, alert for hawks. For two days I explored the trees surrounding my little home, its door still open as a standing invitation. She filled my water bowl and brought my seeds just as she always did, singing. I listened carefully to the familiar tune, twisting my neck one way and then another to hear her better.
The cherry song no longer seemed as sweet.
The next morning, she found me in my little nest inside my dove house, the door still wide open. She filled my bowl with fresh water and brought me new seeds, closed the door, latching it snug and safe.
The cherries still beckoned but not to me.
Today, joyful at dawn, I woke her with my mourning song.
Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw on to itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means, chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom. ~N.T. Wright from The Crown and the Fire
Inundated by overwhelmingly bad news of the world,
blasted 24/7 from cable TV,
highlighted in rapidly changing headlines online,
tweeted real time to our pocket phones from every nook and cranny~
We cling to the mystery of His magnetism for our weaknesses and flaws.
He willingly pulls our evil onto Himself and out of us.
Hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness
disappear into the vortex of His love and beauty,
the dusty corners of our hearts vacuumed spotless.
We are let in on a secret, the mystery revealed:
He is not sullied by absorbing the dirty messes of our lives.
Instead, once we are safely within His depths, He washes us forever clean.
This is the season for graduations, when children move into the adult world and don’t look back.
As a parent, as an educator, as a mentor within church and community, and after nearly thirty years as a college health physician witnessing this transition many times over, I can’t help but be wistful about what I may have left undone and unsaid with the generation about to launch.
In their moments of vulnerability, did I pack enough love into those exuberant hearts so he or she can pull it out when it is most needed?
When our three children traveled the world after their graduations, moving way beyond the fenced perimeter of our little farm, I trust they left well prepared.
As a school board member, I watched students, parents and teachers work diligently together in their preparation for that graduation day, knowing the encompassing love behind each congratulatory hand shake.
When another batch of our church family children say goodbye, I remember holding them in the nursery, listening to their joyful voices as I played piano accompaniment in Sunday School, feeding them in innumerable potlucks over the years. I pray we have fed them well in every way with enough spiritual food to stick to their ribs in the “thin” and hungry times.
When hundreds of my student/patients move on each year beyond our university and college health clinic, I pray for their continued emotional growth buoyed by plenty of resilience when the road inevitably gets bumpy.
I believe I know what is stored in the hearts of graduates because I, among many others, helped them pack it full of love. Only they will know the time to unpack what is within when their need arises.
When I stand at the window watching the flickers, sparrows, finches, chickadees, and red-winged blackbirds come and go from the feeders, I wonder who is watching who. They remain wary of me, fluttering away quickly if I approach with lens in hand. They fear capture, even within a camera. They have a life to be lived without my witness or participation. So much happens that I never see or know about.
I understand: I fear being captured too.
Even if only for a moment as an image preserved forever, I know it doesn’t represent all I am, all I’ve done, all I feel, all my moments put together. The birds are, and I am, so much more than one moment.
Only God sees us fully in every moment, witness to our freedom and captivity, our loneliness and grief, our joy and tears, knowing our best and our worst.
And because He knows us so well, in Him we must trust.