Writing With Quiet Hands

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daisybuds

 

I want to make poems that say right out, plainly,
what I mean, that don’t go looking for the
laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves. I want to
keep close and use often words like
heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish
the question mark and her bold sister

the dash. I want to write with quiet hands. I
want to write while crossing the fields that are
fresh with daisies and everlasting and the
ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of
the bread of heaven and the
cup of astonishment; let them be

songs in which nothing is neglected,
not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable. I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything.
~Mary Oliver “Everything”

 

octoberfields17

 

Writing and riding with quiet hands –
a wonderful metaphor for moving forward
in gladness and astonishment
without trying to steer unnecessarily.
To feel connected without controlling,
to have faith in the unknowable
yet understand without a doubt, that it is good.

 

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photo by Joel DeWaard

 

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photo by Brandon Dieleman

 

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photo by Emily Dieleman

 

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An Unimaginable Zero Summer

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At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving…
{Burnt Norton}

Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?
{Little Gidding}

~T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets

 

ZeroSummerE-471x630Zero Summer by Makoto Fujimura

 

“Zero Summer” imagines the unimaginable horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and yet points to epiphanic awakening that transcend human imagination at the same time. T.S. Eliot, who coined this term in his “Four Quartets,” longed for that eternal summer, birthed out of the “still point,” where imagination is met with grace and truth.
~Makoto Fujimura

 

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As a grade school child in November 1963, I learned the import of the U.S. flag being lowered to half mast in response to the shocking and violent death of our President. The lowering of the flag was so rare when I was growing up, it had dramatic effect on all who passed by — something very sad had happened to our country, warranting our silence and our stillness.

Since 9/11/01, our flag has spent significant time at half mast, so much so that I’m befuddled instead of contemplative, puzzling over what the latest loss might be as there are so many, sometimes all happening in the same time frame.  We no longer are silenced by this gesture of honor and respect and we certainly are not stilled, personally and corporately instigating and suffering the same mistakes against humanity over and over again.

Eliot wrote the prescient words of the Four Quartets in the midst of the WWII German bombing raids that destroyed people and neighborhoods. Perhaps he sensed the destruction he witnessed would not be the last time in history that evil visits the innocent, leaving them in ashes. There would be so many more losses to come, as Makoto Fujimura illustrates in his artistic depiction of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki transcending to an epiphany of the human imagination.  And then the horror of 9/11/01.

There remains so much more sadness to be borne, such abundance of grief that our world has become overwhelmed and stricken and it seems we’ve lost all imagination for “a grace of sense”.

Eliot was right: we have yet to live in a Zero summer of endless hope and fruitfulness, of spiritual awakening and understanding.  Where is it indeed?

We must return, as people of faith, as Eliot did, as Fujimura has, to that still point to which we are called on a day such as today.  We must be stilled; we must be silenced. We must grieve the losses of this turning world and pray for release from the suffering we cause and we endure.  Only in the asking, only in the kneeling down and pleading, are we surrounded by grace.   A flag half lowered may have lost its power to punch our gut, but we are illuminated by the Light,  a grace of senses on the move in our lives.

 

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“There Are No Words” written on 9/11/2001
by Kitty Donohoe

there are no words there is no song
is there a balm that can heal these wounds that will last a lifetime long
and when the stars have burned to dust
hand in hand we still will stand because we must

in one single hour in one single day
we were changed forever something taken away
and there is no fire that can melt this heavy stone
that can bring back the voices and the spirits of our own

all the brothers, sisters and lovers all the friends that are gone
all the chairs that will be empty in the lives that will go on
can we ever forgive though we never will forget
can we believe in the milk of human goodness yet

we were forged in freedom we were born in liberty
we came here to stop the twisted arrows cast by tyranny
and we won’t bow down we are strong of heart
we are a chain together that won’t be pulled apart

 

Indeed I Tremble For My Country

rushmore

 

The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time:
the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.

–Thomas Jefferson, in “A Summary View of the Rights of British America”

 

hollyhockwwured

 

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tulip20174

 

Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just:
that his justice can not sleep forever…
― Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia on the need for abolition of slavery

 

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Would Thomas Jefferson, architect of our Declaration of Independence celebrated on July 4, tremble for his country today?

I believe he would, even considering how his views were radical in his day, his religious convictions unconventional. He wrote that foundational document even as his own home and property was managed by slaves of African descent.  He personally understood the moral quicksand on which he stood so tenuously – a conflict he felt as close as his own bedroom:  story telling may romanticize the relationship, but what liberty was there for the slave who bore their six mixed race children?

Jefferson personally recognized and mourned our abuse of our liberties secured and maintained through the blood shed by our forefathers, our brothers, sisters and descendants, no matter what color their skin.

Today we are sinking deeply in that same moral quicksand, having done no better than Jefferson at forging a personal and ethical foundation on which to firmly stand.  We need only to look at who we place in the White House and who we see in the mirror.

We have squandered our autonomy with selfishness rather than selflessness borne out of gratitude for the gift of freedom.  We strive to secure and protect what is ours before we worry in humility if others have what they need first.   We trample daily on others’ rights in the name of self-determination and freedom of choice, especially discarding the defenseless for their imperfect genetics, undesired gender or simply being ill-timed and inconvenient.

Just whose life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is at stake here?

History as recorded in the Word and elsewhere shows when everyone does as they see fit, there is no immunity from judgment and wrath:

In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
Judges 17:6

And how well is that working out for us?

It took a true servant King who sacrificed Himself to save us from destroying ourselves and each other.

He is still waiting for our response. Still waiting…

Let us remember with conviction today the only true source of our life and liberty —  His justice does not sleep.

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blueblooms

 

What else does this craving, and this helplessness,
proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness,
of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?
This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him,
seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are,
though none can help,
since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object;
in other words by God himself.
~Blaise Pascal

 

 

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His Truth is marching on…

 

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Getting a Grip

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In the Pasture–Julien Dupre`

 

This painting by French realist Julien Dupre` resonated with me this past week. I know well the feeling of pulling against a momentum determined to break free of the strength I can muster to keep it under control. This is what my life often feels like, both on the farm and at work. It seems I am barely hanging on, at times losing my grip, my feet braced but slipping beneath me.

The full-uddered cow in the painting is compelled to join her herd in a pastoral scene just across the creek, but the milk maid must resist the cow’s escape. For the cow’s benefit and comfort, she must be milked. The cow has another agenda. She has snapped her rope tie, almost pulled up the stake, and in a show of strength and determination, the maid braces to pull a much larger animal around to retie her and restore things to how they were.

The action suggests the maid may succeed, but the cow’s attention is directed far afield. She doesn’t even feel the tug on her halter. We’re not fully convinced the cow won’t suddenly pull loose and break away from the maid’s grip, leaping the stream, tail raised straight in the air like a flag of freedom.

Right now, as spring advances rapidly with grass growing thick in the pastures, our horses can smell that richness in the air. Sometimes this tug of war takes place when my plan is different than the horse’s. The fields are too wet for them to be out full time yet, so they must wait for the appropriate time to be released to freedom. The grass calls to them like a siren song as I feed them their portion of last summer’s uninviting hay. They can pull my shoulders almost out of joint when they are determined enough, they break through fences in their pursuit of green, they push through stall doors and lift gates off hinges. Right now I’m barely an adequate counterbalance to the pursuit of their desires and I struggle to remind them I’m on the other end of their lead rope.

Each day I try too hard to restore order in my life, on the farm, in the house, in my clinic, with my patients and coworkers, with my family. I want to pull that cow back around, get her tied up and relieved of her burden of milk so that it can nurture and replenish others. Sometimes I hang on, only to be pulled along on the ground, roughed up in the process. Sometimes I just let go and have to try to catch that cow all over again.

Once in awhile I successfully get the cow turned around and actually milked without a spill.

I’ve held on. I’ve got a grip.
And maybe, just maybe, I will make cheese….

tony2017

outongrass1

Rotten to the Core

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appleeat

wormhole

First I shake the whole Apple tree, that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.
~Martin Luther

Any election cycle in a free country is indeed a free-for-all, with the loudest and brashest citizens shouting their personal opinions far and wide. This election season has been particularly noxious, with the presidential candidates and their followers talking over and above each other until no one bothers to listen.

Since this time around I have no candidate, my voice is meager in comparison. Some would say I have no say since I refuse to partake of rotten apples.

Yet on election day, each citizen, even the smallest and meekest, has the opportunity to express themselves, quietly and alone in a pas-de-deux between them and their personal ballot.  Their vote, whether checking a box next to a candidate name, or writing in an alternative, is just as significant.

With each news cycle, each debate, each Tweet, we just want to see this election over and done with.  We have shaken the electoral apple tree so hard that all the ripe and bitter and rotten fruit has fallen to the ground.  We then must cope with whatever harvest we reap with our votes.

Rarely do we find near-perfect fruit; this year it is already rotted on the branch, tainted from the start.

Some citizens vote along party lines only; the quality of the candidate is immaterial as long as they have the right party affiliation.  Other citizens turn over every leaf in detailed scrutiny of each candidate’s history and qualifications and vote character over platform.  This year there are citizens like myself who see nothing in the current candidates for president but worm holes leading to a fermented core of character rot.

Rotten to the core doesn’t even make edible applesauce.  It is good for nothing but the compost pile in the hope that the fertilizer of today it will somehow yield better fruit tomorrow.

In my opinion, this time around there is no candidate worthy to lead a country founded on the principles of equality for all individuals as well as preventing the tyranny of government in the personal lives of citizens. The candidates have fostered a confused and too-angry citizenry, divided and divisive, shaking our shared tree for all its worth to see what’s in it for us, thus threatening the life of the tree itself.

The moral foundation of our country is mocked by these deeply flawed individuals who believe they deserve to be in the Oval Office despite their dark personal histories, statements and actions.  This election has become all about them and what they want, not about the integrity our country desperately needs in its leaders.

So I pray for a day when we can set differences aside and raise up leaders who can as well. We must work together to care for the tree that bears the fruit needed for our children’s future. Let’s bury this year’s rot around the roots, water it generously and prune the old dead useless stuff away.  The branches will be stronger, the blossoms hearty and ready for pollination (if there are any bees left), and the resulting fruit more palatable.

Perhaps next time around the worms won’t win.

That’ll be the day.

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.  ~Clarence Darrow

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How Many Flowers Fail

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How many Flowers fail in Wood –
Or perish from the Hill –
Without the privilege to know
That they are Beautiful –

How many cast a nameless Pod
Upon the nearest Breeze –
Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight –
It bear to Other Eyes –
~Emily Dickinson

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If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?
—G.K. Chesterton

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We are mere seeds lying dormant, plain and simple, with no knowledge of the beauty we harbor within, a beauty for which we were created. There is nothing to distinguish us one from the other until the murmurs of spring begin, so soft, so subtle.  The soil shakes loose frosty crust as the thawing warmth begins.   Sunlight makes us stir and swell, no longer frozen but animate and intimate.

We are called awake from our quiescence to sprout, bloom and fruit.  We reach as far as our tethered roots will allow, beyond earthly bounds to touch the light and be touched. We fling our seeds to the wind.

There is renewed hope created in the heart of man, ready and waiting to unfurl, with a precious fragrance that lingers long after our pods have burst open, as our seed dries, loosens, and falls to freedom.

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Happiness Beyond Our Grasp

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July 4 is not only the birthday of our independence as the United States of America.  It is the day we declared to the world:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

No one had ever said it out loud before.  Historically there had been many a treatise written and wars won and lost about the right to live, and the right to freedom, but the right to pursue happiness?  Unprecedented– and so typically American.

Declaring it is one thing.  Making it so is quite another matter.  Happiness likes to elude our pursuit.

As the famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on July 4, wrote:

“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Americans pay a steep price in our noisy and pushy pursuit of happiness.  Perhaps it is the larger mortgage for a bigger house, a wider flat screen TV, the latest tech device, unlimited access to 24 hour porn sites, the best recreational substance money can buy, or the tank of gas that will carry us just a little farther down the road in our big trucks, RVs and SUVs.  We try to buy our way to happiness with our charge cards maxed out and find ourselves in a deeper debt pit, putting our life and liberty in serious jeopardy.  Even the government itself, home of the brave and the free, has never been so deep in deficit spending.

Happiness cannot be purchased with plastic, but is bought through individual personal sacrifice, making sure others have what they need before we ourselves rest easy.  It is the selfish pursuit of selflessness.  And that is exactly why it is so elusive because inalienable rights don’t come naturally–they must be fought for and preserved daily.

Much blood has been shed by Americans to guarantee Life and Liberty for others, including citizens of other countries.  If the price paid through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives has resulted in more happiness, why do we still seem so unsatisfied and miserable?

Perhaps we have it backward, as Hawthorne suggests.  We can’t pursue happiness;  it will find us, like God’s grace,  when we least expect or deserve it.

Happiness certainly won’t be found in the fireworks that will be blown up today, or the food consumed, or the free flowing alcohol. It will be in a quiet moment of realization that we are truly blessed by this incredible place to live and raise our children, and that we need to work harder than ever to make it even better.   We will not be free until we stop allowing our appetites to dictate how we live our lives, but realize true freedom comes when we do what ought to be done to preserve equality, justice and liberty for future generations.

At that moment, in a public, no longer silent, prayer of thanks to the Creator addressed in our Declaration of Independence, can we know the Happiness that pursues us when we live in a forward thinking spirit of gratitude and sacrifice.

Happiness touches us, like a butterfly that lights upon us in our stillness,
in a moment of pure grace.

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