Snake Skin

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Pruning back the old spirea bushes
that sprawled for years in summer’s heat,
I bared the snake skin, a yard and a half long:
its naked empty length rippled in the streaming wind
lifting its ghostly coils from the dead shoots
that scraped the slough from the slithering body
that shed it in that narrow, shaded space.

I paused—who wouldn’t?—shears poised,
slipped off gray canvas gloves, extracted
the sere, striated casing from the brown stalks
that had held it, silent, hidden.

I coiled the paper-thin curling sheath with care,
delicately, eased it into a simple squatty box
for keeping, for care, for my daughters
to take to school, to show, to explain
how some sinuous body we’ve never glimpsed,
that haunts about our shrubs, our porch,
left for us this translucent, scale-scored wrapper,
this silent hint of all that moves unseen.
~Stephen Behrendt “Snakeskin”

 

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Cast off on a sunny spring day
onto a warm manure pile,
a wriggled-free fresh molt snakeskin,
nearly covered by my fresh load~
lay blended with old hay, horse hair, shavings,
tucked among what is already digested,
dumped and discarded.
This, an intact hollowed shadow
of a still living creature
who has moved on:
I too need to leave my old self
shrugged off onto the manure pile,
shed when it no longer fits
the ways I’ve grown hallowed,
a fitting remembrance of
who I once was,
yet left behind.
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How Incomprehensible

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Where you have absolute solutions,
you have no need of faith.
Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge.
The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer
is because I have got, over the years,
a sense of the immense sweep of creation,
of the evolutionary process in everything,
of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be
to be the God of heaven and earth.
You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being

 

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It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.
~Denise Levertov “The Mystery of the Incarnation”

 

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We want God to fit into the holes of our comprehension exactly like a puzzle piece falls into place in the space meant just for it.

But He doesn’t.  He won’t.  The holes aren’t God-shaped.  They are ragged and changing moment by moment.

The holes of our understanding gape so large that only God knows it takes the glue of faith to bridge the gap.

Perhaps that is what “holy” is all about.

 

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The Withering Nourishing Light

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Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
~Eugene O’Neill

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We speak of the pain of childbirth, referring,
of course, to the mother, but what is pain
to the mother, the one through whose body
the course unwinds? She understands already
what kind of world she must return to,
how it daily hones its many edges
against human skin, unlike the child whose
untried limbs inch toward it, pressing now
so firmly against her he feels for the first time
the pinch of bone against bone and is seared
by the friction. Isn’t he the one
on whom the real burden falls, the one
to whom resilience means nothing yet? His
tender skin like a small measure of cloth
unfolding before the blade under which
he will, for a lifetime, bruise
and heal: Crush of the long descent, grip
of the steadying hands, brush of breath
against cheek, even the constant barrage
of the microscopic, the tiny plink-plink
of the dust motes knocking against him
before custom makes him numb to it. No wonder
the startled mouth cries out,
each pore suddenly hungry
in the withering, nourishing light.
~Trevor West Knapp  “Touch”

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We are born hollering,
already aware
of our emptiness
from the first breath,
each tiny air sac bursting
with the air of our fallen world
that is never quite enough.

The rest of our days are spent
filling up our empty spaces
whether alveoli
or stomach
or synapse hungry for knowledge,
still hollering and heart
broken.

~ so we are mended
through healing another~

~ sewn up ourselves
by knitting together
the scraggly fragments of lives~

~ becoming the crucial glue
boiled from gifted Grace~

until all holes
are made holy
when filled
so wholly.

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To Walk Alongside

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None of us can “mend” another person’s life, no matter how much the other may need it, no matter how much we may want to do it.

Mending is inner work that everyone must do for him or herself. When we fail to embrace that truth the result is heartbreak for all concerned.

What we can do is walk alongside the people we care about, offering simple companionship and compassion. And if we want to do that, we must save the only life we can save, our own.
~Parker Palmer writing about Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”

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Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
~Eugene O’Neill

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We are born hollering and suddenly alone,
already aware of our emptiness
from the first breath,
each tiny air sac bursting
with the air of our fallen world~
air that is never enough.

The rest of our days are spent
filling up our empty spaces
whether alveoli
or stomach
or synapses starving for understanding,
still hollering in our loneliness
and heart
broken.

So we mend ourselves
through our walk with others
also broken,
we patch up our gaps
by knitting the scraggly fragments
of lives lived together.
We become the crucial glue
boiled from gifted Grace,
all our holes
somehow made holy.

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The Dome of Heaven

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photo of Mt. Baker reflected in Wiser Lake by Joel DeWaard

Alone in the night
On a dark hill

With pines around me
Spicy and still,

And a heaven full of stars
Over my head,
White and topaz
And misty red;

Myriads with beating
Hearts of fire
That aeons
Cannot vex or tire;

Up the dome of heaven
Like a great hill,
I watch them marching
Stately and still,

And I know that I
Am honored to be
Witness
Of so much majesty.
~Sara Teasdale “Stars”

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photo by Joel DeWaard

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
…while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?”
Job 38 4a, 7

God Himself tells Job the first song was sung in celebration of the beginning of all things.  We weren’t there to hear it because we were not — yet.  A joyous celestial community of stars and angels sang as the world was pieced and sewn together bit by bit.  Man was the last stitch God made in the tapestry.

As the coda of the created world, we tend to take all this for granted as it was already here when we arrived on the scene: the soil we tread, the water we drink, the plants and creatures that are subject to us.  Yet this creation was already so worthy it warranted a glorious anthem, right from the beginning, before man.  We were not yet the inspiration for singing.

We missed the first song but we were there to hear it reprised a second time, and this time it really was about us–peace on earth, good will to men.  The shepherds, the most lowly and humble of us, those who would be surely voted least likely to witness such glory,  were chosen to hear singing from the heavens the night Christ was born.    They were flattened by it, amazed and afraid.  It drove them right off the job, out of the fields and into town to seek out what warranted such celebration.

Surely once again this song will ring out as it did in the beginning and as it did on those hills above Bethlehem.
The trumpet will sound.
In a twinkling of an eye we will all be changed.
And we will be able to sing along.
Hallelujah!
Amen and Amen.

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photo by Joel DeWaard
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photo by Josh Scholten

In a Daze, Dancing

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I go my way,
and my left foot says ‘Glory,’
and my right foot says ‘Amen’:
in and out of Shadow Creek,
upstream and down,
exultant,
in a daze, dancing,
to the twin silver trumpets of praise.

~Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

Every day should be a day of dancing,
of celebrating the fact we woke afresh,
a new start.

If I’m honest, not much feels new.

As I stumble about in my morning daze,
readying myself for the onslaught to come,
I step out and mumble “Glory”
and then “Amen”
until I really feel it
and believe it
and live it out.
Amen and Amen again.

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Copper into Brass

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The winter will be short, the summer long,
The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot,
Tasting of cider and of scuppernong;
All seasons sweet, but autumn best of all.

The autumn frosts will lie upon the grass
Like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold.
The misted early mornings will be cold;
The little puddles will be roofed with glass.
The sun, which burns from copper into brass,
Melts these at noon, and makes the boys unfold
Their knitted mufflers; full as they can hold
Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass.
~Elinor Wylie from “Wild Peaches”
Amber stretches from sky to ground.
The clouds key-holed in the chill
and below, the leaves suffer their own keyholes
as they slowly melt away.
I’m feeling holey myself,
punched and transparent,
pondering where holiness is found
when life wholly shows its holes.
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