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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Preparing the Heart: To Wear Our Skin

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To wear our skin
is to know our frailty:
our bruises and callouses,
our sunburns and warts,
our tears and our bleeding,
our spasming backs,
and toothaches.

To pulse within our hearts
is to know our temptation
for self-promotion,
knowing our desire
to fill our own emptiness
rather than love and serve others first.

To inhabit our souls
you have humbled yourself
to pull together
our million broken pieces,
becoming the adhesive
to glue us back whole,
loving us by becoming us
as we crumble to dust.

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Humble and Human, willing to bend You are
Fashioned of flesh and the fire of life, You are
Not too proud to wear our skin
To know this weary world we’re in
Humble, humble Jesus

Humble in sorrow, You gladly carried Your cross
Never refusing Your life to the weakest of us
Not too proud to bear our sin
To feel this brokenness we’re in
Humble, humble Jesus

We bow our knees
We must decrease
You must increase
We lift You high

Humble in greatness, born in the likeness of man
Name above all names, holding our world in Your hands
Not too proud to dwell with us, to live in us, to die for us
Humble, humble Jesus

We bow our knees
We must decrease
You must increase
We lift You high

We bow our knees
We must decrease
You must increase
We lift You high

We lift you high

Humble
You are humble
Make me humble like You
We lift You high
~Audrey Assad

 

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The Humblest Things

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The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.
~Louisa May Alcott

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And as you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged on the shingly beach of a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.
~Stephen Graham from The Gentle Art of Tramping

That great door opens on the present, illuminates it as with a multitude of flashing torches.
~Annie Dillard (in response to the above quote) from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Ever since I started noticing
how beautiful are the most humble things
and the most humble people,
I realized the great door opened to me
is the door of my own home
and my own happiness.
I need go no further than my own back yard.

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Between Midnight and Dawn: Having Loved His Own

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Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
John 13

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What e’er the soul has felt or suffered long,
Oh, heart! this one thing should not be forgot:
Christ washed the feet of Judas.
~George Marion McClellan
from “The Feet of Judas” in
The Book of American Negro Poetry 1922

As an aide in a rest home caring for the crippled feet of the elderly,
as a medical student in an inner city hospital seeing the homeless whose socks had to be peeled off carefully to avoid pulling off gangrenous toes, as a doctor working with the down and out detox patients from the streets who had no access to soap and water for weeks,

I’ve washed feet as part of my job.

People always protest, just as Peter did when Jesus started to wash his feet.

We never believe our feet,
those homely gnarled bunioned claw-toed calloused parts of us,
deserve that attention.

We are ashamed to have someone care about them, care for them, when we don’t care enough on our own.

I have never washed the feet of someone about to betray me, leading me to my death.

I have never had my feet washed by someone who understood my heart needed cleansing even more than my feet, who loved me that much.

Until now.

This one thing should not be forgot:
Kneeling, He wears the humility and towels of a servant as His only raiments. He gently cups our heels in His palms, washes and dries our soles and arches and toes, as our hearts are held, beating and bejeweled as royalty,  in His loving hands.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Between Midnight and Dawn: Being a Flower in the Green

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ireland
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St. Patrick’s grave marker

Be still, and know that I am God…
Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
~St. Patrick

 

Six years a slave, and then you slipped the yoke,
Till Christ recalled you, through your captors cries!
Patrick, you had the courage to turn back,
With open love to your old enemies,
Serving them now in Christ, not in their chains,
Bringing the freedom He gave you to share.
You heard the voice of Ireland, in your veins
Her passion and compassion burned like fire.

Now you rejoice amidst the three-in-one,
Refreshed in love and blessing all you knew,
Look back on us and bless us, Ireland’s son,
And plant the staff of prayer in all we do:
A gospel seed that flowers in belief,
A greening glory, coming into leaf.
~Malcolm Guite  — A St. Patrick Sonnet

 

St. Patrick is little remembered for his selfless missionary work in Ireland in the fifth century, but rather has become a caricature of all the drunken silliness of this day.  Visiting his grave in Ireland, a humble stone on a hill top overlooking the sea, I wondered what he would make of the modern March 17.

He would advise us to be still and know.

He would plant his staff in us and all we do; we would respond by flowering up from the green.

 

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Between Midnight and Dawn: Breaking Through

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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

 

Walking in February
A warm day after a long freeze
On an old logging road
Below Sumas Mountain
Cut a walking stick of alder,
Looked down through clouds
On wet fields of the Nooksack—
And stepped on the ice
Of a frozen pool across the road.
It creaked
The white air under
Sprang away, long cracks
Shot out in the black,
My cleated mountain boots
Slipped on the hard slick
—like thin ice—the sudden
Feel of an old phrase made real—
Instant of frozen leaf,
Icewater, and staff in hand.
“Like walking on thin ice—”
I yelled back to a friend,
It broke and I dropped
Eight inches in
~Gary Snyder “Thin Ice”

 

This presidential election season has been an exhausting exercise in self-aggrandizement — candidates turning up the heat by exalting themselves over their competition, all while standing on the deep frozen lake of voter emotions.

The trouble with such overheating in the middle of winter is that we all end up walking on too-thin ice: both those who are far too overconfident in expressing their own righteous views and opinions about how much better they are than others, and those of us who listen and believe the blowhards.

We’ll all end up breaking through the ice, thoroughly doused by the chilly waters below.

Lord, have mercy on us,
help us recognize the cracks forming beneath our feet,
by putting us on our knees before you
and you alone.

 

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn