To Muck and Shovel and Sing

“He (the professor) asked what I made of the other students (at Oxford) so I told him.
They were okay, but they were all very similar…
they’d never failed at anything or been nobodies,
and they thought they would always win.
But this isn’t most people’s experience of life.

He asked me what could be done about it.
I told him the answer was to send them all out for a year
to do some dead-end job
like working in a chicken processing plant
or spreading muck with a tractor.
It would do more good than a gap year in Peru. 

He laughed and thought this was tremendously witty.
It wasn’t meant to be funny.

~James Rebanks from The Shepherd’s Life
(how a sheep farmer succeeds at Oxford and then goes back to the farm)


In our barn we have a very beat up old AM/FM radio that sits on a shelf next to the horse stalls and serves as company to the horses during the rainy stormy days they stay inside, and serves as distraction to me as we clean stalls of manure and wet spots in the evening.  We live about 10 miles south of the Canadian border, so most stations that come in well on this radio’s broken antenna are from the lower mainland of British Columbia.  This includes a panoply of stations spoken in every imaginable language– a Babel of sorts that I can tune into: Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Hindi, Russian, French and of course, proper British accent English.  But standard issue American melting pot genetic mix that I am, I prefer to tune into the “Oldies” Station and reminisce.

There is a strange comfort in listening to songs that I enjoyed 40-50+ years ago, and I’m somewhat miffed and perplexed that they should be called “oldies”.  Oldies always referred to music from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, not the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s!   I listen and sing along with a mixture of feeling ancient and yet transported back to my teens.  I can think of faces and names I haven’t thought of in decades, remember special summer days picking berries and hear long lost voices from school days. I can smell and taste and feel things all because of the trigger of a familiar song.   There is something primordial –deep in my synapses– that is stirred by this music. In fact, I shoveled manure to these same songs 50 years ago, and somehow, it seems not much as changed. 

Or has it? One  (very quick) glance in the mirror tells me it has and I have.

YesterdayI Got You, Babe and you were a Bridge Over Troubled Waters for this Natural Woman who just wants to be Close to You so You’ve Got a Friend.  There’s Something in the way I Cherish The Way We Were and of course Love Will Keep Us Together. If You Leave Me Now,  You’re So VainI’ve always wanted it My Way but How Sweet It Is when I Want To Hold Your Hand.  Come Saturday Morning we’re Born to Be Wild.

Help! Do You Know Where You’re Going To?  Me and You and A Dog Named Boo will travel Country Roads and Rock Around the Clock even though God Didn’t Make the Little Green Apples.  Fire and Rain will make things All Right Now once Morning is Broken, I’ll Say a Little Prayer For You.

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction from the Sounds of Silence — If— Those Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My HeadStand By Me as It’s Just My Imagination that I am a Rock,when really I only want Time in a Bottle and to just Sing, Sing a Song.

They just don’t write songs like they used to.  I seem to remember my parents saying that about the songs I loved so well.  Somehow in the midst of decades of change, there are some constants.  Music still touches our souls, no matter how young or old we are.

And there will always be manure that needs shoveling.

God’s Humblest

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I
A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter–winged, horned, and spined –
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While ‘mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands . . .

II
Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space.
– My guests parade my new-penned ink,
Or bang at the lamp-glass, whirl, and sink.
“God’s humblest, they!” I muse. Yet why?
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.
~Thomas Hardy – “An August Midnight”

 

 

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There are so many more of them than us.  Yes, insects appear where we don’t expect them, they sting and bite and crawl and fly in our mouths and generally be annoying.  But without God’s humblest knowing the secrets of the inner workings of the blossom and the soil, we’d have no fruit, no seeds, no earth as we know it.

Even more humble are our microscopic live-in neighbors — the biome of our skin and gut affecting and managing our internal chemistry and physiology in ways we are only beginning to understand.

God created us all, each and every one, from the turning and cycles of smallest of atoms and microbes to the expanding swirl of galaxies far beyond us.

Perhaps the humblest of all, found smack-dab in the middle of this astounding creation, is the intended Imago Dei.

Two legs not six or eight, two eyes not many, no wings, no antennae, no stinger.

Just one fragile and loving heart.

 

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Not Like Others

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9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 18: 9-14

 

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Not like the others:
we want to believe we are better, special, untouched by the sins of the world.

We are fooling ourselves.

We are all alike in our need: humbled and hobbled, lame and broken.
God’s mercy acts as glue to our souls in pieces and we are made whole.

Humbled to holiness and wholly humbled.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Be Humbled

 

 

 

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14: 7-14

 

 

 

 

 

In the unspoken hierarchy of what makes a church function, I’m a kitchen lady and always will be.  I remember those very women from my childhood church of the fifties and sixties– their tight-knit ability to function as if one organism, swarming in aprons among tables set up in the fellowship hall and bustling around in the back by the stoves with steaming pots and pans and the occasionally dropped plate.

They kept the rest of us alive, those church ladies, by feeding us efficiently and plentifully and never ever sitting down.  I would occasionally see them eating standing up in the back of the hall, chatting amiably among themselves after the rest of us were served, but I knew they carefully wrapped up the leftovers during the clean up to deliver to shut-ins who couldn’t make it to the church supper.

I knew I was destined to become a kitchen lady, shy and introverted as I am, hiding myself behind huge plates of food and piles of dish cloths.  For me, it is a place of comfort and clean up filled with plenty of leftovers for anyone who needs them, and that just about perfectly describes the kingdom of God in my book and His Book.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

Strengthen Your Feeble Arms

from “Feats of Strength” by Tom Otterness at Western Washington University

 

In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants
and hold the world
in arms grown strong with love.

And there may be many things we forget
in the days to come,

but this will not be one of them.
~Brian Andreas

 

 

Now that I’m essentially one-armed for three months due to my broken “wing”, I’m learning that patience and letting go takes far more strength than holding on and pushing through.  I’m having to make choices about what is not as important as I thought, and letting things lapse for the time being.  I’m discovering how to ask for help because I’m in need when I’ve always been the helper before.

Others are watching me carefully to see if I’ll quietly go stir-crazy with my new temporary limitations or whether I’ll find new ways to live fully as a partially-abled person.  The jury is out on that but I already know I am seeing the world in a different light: that which I can do on my own and that which is impossible without assistance and I need to rely on others. For a stubborn person who thrives on self-sufficiency, this is a humbling reminder of my brokenness and frailty.

May the Lord have mercy on all those with broken wings who still endeavor to lift up the weight of the world and fly as high as ever.  May we find our strength is in Him, not in our feeble arms.

 

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No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
Hebrews 12:11-12

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She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
~Proverbs 31:17

 

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I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
~Philippians 4: 12-13

 

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Some of us think holding on makes us strong;
but sometimes it is letting go.
~Hermann Hesse

 

 

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I Heard a Fly…

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I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –….
~Emily Dickinson

 

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There is nothing more humbling than an unwanted fly buzzing in the room.  No matter whether we live in a slum or a castle, a fly finds its way to us, just because it can.  And we must learn to coexist with what we can’t control.

When I’m feeling bugged, which happens all too often these days, the buzzing may overwhelm my stillness but it cannot overwhelm me.  I will put down the swatter and simply listen to the coming of the heaving storm.

 

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Cherish Your Humble and Silky Life

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This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises, 
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace, 
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls, 
craving the sweet sap, 
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind, 
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies, 
and tip their fragrance to the air, 
and rise, 
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness 
gladly and lightly, 
and there it is again — 
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open. 
Do you love this world? 
Do you cherish your humble and silky life? 
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden, 
and softly, 
and exclaiming of their dearness, 
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling, 
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

~Mary Oliver from “Peonies” from New And Selected Poems

 

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White peonies blooming along the porch
send out light
while the rest of the yard grows dim.
Outrageous flowers as big as human

heads! They’re staggered
by their own luxuriance: I had
to prop them up with stakes and twine.
The moist air intensifies their scent,

and the moon moves around the barn
to find out what it’s coming from.
In the darkening June evening

I draw a blossom near, and bending close
search it as a woman searches
a loved one’s face.
~Jane Kenyon “Peonies at Dusk”

 

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Year after year, I bring our peonies to the graves
of those from whom I came,
to lay one after another exuberant head
upon each headstone,
a moment of connection between those in the ground
and me standing above
before this humble and silky life shatters
and becomes nothing,
its petals perfectly
scattered, lush and trembling,
to the wind.

 

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