This Good Man

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This good man
~who has left us behind~

whose farm-hardened hands
wielded not only heavy hammers
but cradled a trembling wee bird.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

raised many a calf and chick
and a plethora of pups and piglets
and enough canaries to fill a thousand homes with song.

This good man
~who left us behind~

whose gentle smile
and generous heart
volunteered thousands of hours of selfless service.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who raised no children himself
yet loved and nurtured a slew of nieces and nephews,
keeping track of every single one.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who plowed and planted,
harvested and gathered
and saved and gave and gave and gave.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who dressed for the farm every day
yet changed his jeans and tee shirt and muck boots
each week to Sunday’s best button-down shirt and sweater.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

is the only man to ever have owned both
a church organ in his front room
and a gold FireBird Trans Am in his back shed.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

has shown us the way to follow Him:

by his faithful service
by his love for the land
by his love for the garden
by his love for his animals
by his love for his family and friends
by his love for his church
by his love for the Lord.

This good man~
This good and humble man~
This good and humble and gentle man~

has gone down the lane ahead of us a bit
and will be waiting for us around the bend,
watching and waiting, waiting and watching,
keeping vigil until he can
someday see us coming on the horizon
and beckon us in and welcome us home.

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Uncle John Smit

That Heaven of which We Have Heard

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I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. 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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…and to think we enter this world screaming,
begging to be held and fed,
already needing forgiveness that sometimes,
(not always)
comes from our entangled imperfect parents
who worry over and juggle and guide us

and who themselves, once prodigal,
weep too with the burden
of feeling unforgiven,
dismayed because they won’t get it right
no matter how hard they try

Thank God for the promise
of this Heaven of which we have heard
where Love freely given, never earned,
rises resplendent, in full bloom,
from earth’s fallen ashes.

 

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Forgiving the Scythe

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To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows…

The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
~Robert Frost in “Mowing”

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Winslow Homer’s The Veteran in a New Field

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The grass around our orchard and yet-to-be-planted garden is now thigh-high. It practically squeaks while it grows. Anything that used to be in plain sight on the ground is rapidly being swallowed up in a sea of green: a ball, a pet dish, a garden gnome, a hose, a tractor implement, a bucket. In an effort to stem this tidal flood of grass, I grab the scythe out of the garden shed and plan my attack. The pastures are too wet yet for heavy hooves so I have hungry horses to provide for and there is more than plenty fodder to cut down for them.

I’m not a weed whacker kind of gal. First there is the necessary fuel, the noise necessitating ear plugs, the risk of flying particles requiring goggles–it all seems too much like and act of war to be remotely enjoyable. Instead, I’m trying to take scything lessons from my husband. Emphasis on “trying”.

I grew up watching my father scythe our hay in our field because he couldn’t afford a mower for his tractor. He enjoyed physical labor in the fields and woods–his other favorite hand tool was a brush cutter that he’d take to blackberry bushes. He would head out to the field with the scythe over this shoulder, grim reaper style. Once he was standing on the edge of the grass needing to be mowed, he would then lower the scythe, curved blade to the ground, turn slightly, positioning his hands on the two handles just so, raise the scythe up past his shoulders, and then in a full body twist almost like a golf swing, he’d bring the blade down. It would follow a smooth arc through the base of the standing grass, laying clumps flat in a tidy pile alongside the 2 inch stubble left behind. It was a swift, silky muscle movement — a thing of beauty.

I’ve yet to manage anything nearly as graceful. I tend to chop and mangle rather than effect an efficient slicing blow. I unintentionally trample the grass I mean to cut. I get blisters from holding the handles too tightly. It feels hopeless that I’ll ever perfect that whispery rise and fall of the scythe, with the rhythmic shush sound of the slice that is almost hypnotic.

Not only am I an ineffective scything human, but I have also learned what it is like to be the grass I am unintentionally mutilating, on the receiving end of a glancing blow that misses the mark. I bear plenty of footprints from the trampling. It can take awhile to stand back up after being knocked repeatedly to the ground.

Sometimes it makes more sense to simply start over as stubble, oozing and bleeding green, with deep roots that no one can reach. As I grow back, I will sing rather than squeak, and I’ll forgive the scythe every time it comes down on my head.

 

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God Leaps Out

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… And now in vast, cold, empty space, alone.
Yet hidden deep within the grown-up heart,
A longing for the first world, the ancient one …
Then, from His place of ambush, God leapt out.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

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That’s the mystery of us.
But then there’s the mystery of God,
lying in ambush,
watching, waiting,
waiting for the fulfillment of time,
the nexus of his grace and our vulnerability.
Maybe today.
~Kathleen Mulhern “Hangs My Helpless Soul on Thee”

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Sometimes, during a long night of fitful sleep,
when nothing makes sense and worry takes over,
I ponder the mystery of how our brains were made to wonder at all.

I long for a simpler time,
for clarity of purpose,
for laughter through tears,
for gratitude even in hard times.

Yet as I toss and turn,
I know my God lies in wait for me,
as He watches for the moment
when being ambushed is exactly what I need.

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A Rest Between Two Notes

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I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over—
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke from “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”

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photo by Josh Scholten

 

At the end of this past Sunday’s Easter worship, while playing a complicated version of the Doxology on the piano in our church, I hit some wrong notes.  Usually I can recover from such mistakes but I lost my way in the music on the page, struggling to recover in time to finish with the undaunted congregation, my fingers trembling to find the right keys.

Waking yesterday, I felt my usual Monday morning uneasiness but even more so: I’m the spot in the middle between discordant notes. There is on one side of me the pressure of catching up from what was left undone through the weekend and on the other side the anticipated demands of the coming week.

Before I even arrive at work, I find myself uneasy in dead center, immobilized by the unknown ahead and the known messiness I’ve left behind.

This moment of rest in the present, between the trembling past and uncertain future, is a precious moment of reconciliation, my Sabbath extended. I must allow myself an instant of silence and reflection and forgiveness before I surge ahead into the week, knowing that on my continuing journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes.

But it can be beautiful nevertheless.

Even the least harmonious notes find reconciliation within the next chord. I move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life, renewed and forgiven.

But trembling, still trembling.

 

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Turn Aside and Look: The Truth Beyond All Truths

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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

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[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

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We are approaching the week of emptying that leads to the fullness of Easter morning.  It is impossible to approach this time without feeling hollowed out and emotionally drained, our empty spaces to be filled to the brim with grace.

More over, through commemoration of these historical events, 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 in us.  Through Him,  we are renewed and refilled, welcomed home, whole and holy.

Hollowed, then hallowed.

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Let him kneel down, lower his face to the grass,
And look at light reflected by the ground.
There he will find everything we have lost.
~Czeslaw Milosz from “The Sun”

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Turn Aside and Look: All of These Things

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Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:29

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Why worry about the loaves and fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.
Mary Oliver  – “Logos”

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Many reject him because they weren’t there-
how can they know
what was real without seeing and hearing him
with their own eyes and ears.

We read his words
and think about
how his voice sounded
in a crowd
of 5000 people so hungry,
and how his eyes teared
as he was betrayed
and rejected
and nailed

We weren’t in the garden
that day when he was mistaken
for the gardener
nor were we on the road to Emmaus
walking beside a stranger whose words
made our hearts burn within us
but we can imagine hearing our name spoken
and knowing it is him
or watching him break the bread
and recognizing his body.

We weren’t there
but we didn’t have to be.

If we can imagine what His Logos tells us,
it is plain and real,
a mystery of the heart

all of these things
all of these things
all these things
and so much more