A Simple Majesty

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming

 

 

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The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers 
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away, 
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers. 
Pass me the can, lad; there’s an end of May..

…The troubles of our proud and angry dust 
Are from eternity, and shall not fail. 
Bear them we can, and if we can we must. 
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale. 
~A. E. Houseman

 

 

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Yet in the soft–hung leaves a splendour lies,

As though not from the far–off noon it came

But in themselves a green indwelling flame

Were prisoned. Here unanswered mysteries

Content me, and of peace I want not more,

But feed on thoughts that end

In a sweet pause of mind,

As if from my own being back resigned

To the universal essence of Earth’s core,

Where over me the saps of life ascend. 

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Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.
~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground”

 

 

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Each May the horse chestnut tree in our front yard transforms for a week into a Renoir painting.   It explodes into hundreds of bright clusters of delicate orchid-like blossoms, forming cone shaped floral candles illuminating the spreading branches.  However, its setting is more peasant than romantic, as the tree stands in common company between a pine tree and a poplar lining the rural driveway into our barnyard.  This is an exceedingly humble spot for a tree bedecked with such majestic lighting, its tender broad leafed branches brushed and broken by passing hay wagons and shavings trucks.

Although its graceful beauty seems more appropriate along the Seine River,  during the summer it fits perfectly in its spot near our haybarn.  Its verdant foliage provides deep cooling shade during hot sweaty days.    The branches that were once lit up with scores of pink and white blossoms become leafy respite for a dusty hay crew gulping lemonade in between loads.   Horses snooze in the paddocks under its shadow.   Birds nest well hidden.   The tree becomes sanctuary within and below.

By fall, the tree forms its fruit within unpretentious capsules covered with spines and prickles, visually spiked yet actually soft and pliable.  There are few natural things  so plain and homely as the buckeye horse chestnut husk.   These are shed by the hundreds  in autumn wind and rainstorms, and they shower down, cobbling the driveway, eventually to break apart underfoot.

Only by leaving the tree can the deep brown nut be revealed from its hiding place, its richness exposed.    From exquisite bloom to shady haven to prickly husk to mahogany harvest,  this chestnut tree’s changing palette needs no canvas, no frame, no museum gallery showcase.  Instead it’s a year round exhibition is for free,  right in our front yard.

 

 

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Just That Kind of Day

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If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
~Billy Collins  “Today”
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This is the kind of morning that begs to be admired from dawn’s first moment:  everything emerges from the fog so sharp and vivid bathed in golden light.

It takes away my breath at the same time as it delivers it deep within me.

How can I spring others free as I now have been sprung?
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Those Who Love Each Other

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And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
~Wendell Berry “To My Mother”

 

 

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To think of a mother’s love strengthened
by the knowledge of a life and light within her
and gratitude for forgiveness that knows no bounds:

~this is heaven where all is grace~

the tangles we have made of our lives
are unraveled, straightened and smoothed,
no longer worry or dismay over mistakes we’ve made

I can only hope I have loved
as I’ve been loved
and forever will be.

 

 

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Earth’s Sweet Being

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Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush         
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush         
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.         
What is all this juice and all this joy?         
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,         
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,         
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,         
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.        
~Gerard Manley Hopkins  “Spring”
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Once, we were innocent,
now, no longer.
Cloyed and clouded by sin.
Given a choice, we chose sour over the sweetness we were born to,
giving up walks together in the cool of the day
to feed an appetite that  could never be sated.
God made a choice to win us back with His own blood
as if we are worthy of Him.
He says we are.
He dies to prove it.
Every day I try to believe
earth can be sweet and beautiful again.
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To Be Interruptible

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We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

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I’ve worked hard in my professional life to be easily interruptible;  my patients, colleagues and staff need to be able to stop my momentum at any time to ask a question, get an opinion or redirect my attention to something more important than what I’m doing at that time.  As a physician, it is crucial that I remain prioritized from outside my field of vision as I don’t always realize where I’m needed most until someone grabs me.

In my personal life, I struggle with interruptions happening outside my control.  I feel imposed upon when things don’t flow as I hoped or planned– after all,  this is MY life.

Yet God interrupts.  God interferes.  God intervenes.  God intrudes.  God intercedes.

As He must.

I must be ready, accepting, answering His grace with my grace.

It is HIS life living within me, His plan, His timing, His priorities, His story playing out in such a way that it becomes my story.

I can’t skip ahead to see what happens on the last page, but I hope it is one of those stories I don’t want to see end when the last word is written.

 

 

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The Delicate Edge of Forever

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It is at the edge of a petal that love waits.

Crisp, worked to defeat 
laboredness–fragile 
plucked, moist, half-raised 
cold, precise, touching

From the petal’s edge a line starts 
that being of steel 
infinitely fine, infinitely 
rigid penetrates 
the Milky Way 
without contact–lifting 
from it–neither hanging 
nor pushing–

The fragility of the flower 
unbruised 
penetrates space
~William Carlos Williams from Spring and All (1923)

 

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It is common to look for love only inside the heart of things, pulsing front and center as both showpiece and show off.    We think of love reverberating from deep within, loud enough for all the world to hear and know it is so.

But as I advance on life’s road, I have found the love that matters lies quietly waiting at the periphery of our hearts, so fragile and easily torn as a petal –  clinging to the edges of our lives barely holding on through storms and trials.

This love remains ever-present , both protects and cherishes, fed by fine little veins which branch out from the center of the universe to the tender margins of infinity.

It is on that delicate edge of forever we dwell, waiting to be fed and trembling with anticipation.

 

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So Then, My Brethren, Live

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It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work.
Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall,
driving horses, sweeping, scouring,
everything gives God some glory if being in his grace
you do it as your duty.

To go to communion worthily gives God great glory,
but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives him glory too.
To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory,
but a man with a dung fork in his hand,
a woman with a slop pail,
give him glory too.

He is so great that all things give him glory
if you mean they should.

So then, my brethren, live.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from Seeking Peace

 

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Thanks in large part to how messy we humans are, this world is a grimy place.   As an act of worship, we must keep cleaning up after ourselves.  The hands that clean the toilets, scrub the floors, carry the bedpans, pick up the garbage might as well be clasped in prayer–it is in such mundane tasks God is glorified.

I spend over an hour every day year round through all seasons and weather, carrying dirty buckets and wielding a pitchfork and moving manure down this barnyard lane because it is my way of restoring order to the disorder inherent in human life.  It is with gratitude that I’m able to pick up one little corner of my world, making stall beds tidier for our farm animals by mucking up their messes.

In so doing, I’m cleaning up a piece of me at the same time.

I never want to forget the mess I’m in and the mess I am.  I never want to forget to clean up after myself.  I never want to feel it is a mere and mundane chore to worship our God with dungfork and slop pail and wheelbarrow.

It is my privilege.  It is His gift to me.

It is Grace that comes alongside me, helping me to live out each day,  pitching the muck and carrying the slop and making me clean again – spring, summer, fall and winter.

Amen.

 

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photo from Emily Vander Haak