Thankful for Stillness

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There is a basic lesson that all young horses must learn (and a fewer older horses must relearn) on our farm. It is to stand still when asked and move only when asked. This does not come naturally to a young horse–they tend to be impatient and fidgety and fretful and full of energy. If they are hungry, they want food now and if they are bored, they want something different to do and if they are fearful, they want to be outta there.

Teaching a horse to be still is actually a greater lesson in persistence and consistency for the human handler, which means I don’t always do well in teaching this to my horses and they (and I) lapse frequently–wiggly pushy horses and a weary frustrated handler. It means correcting each little transgression the horse makes, asking them to move back to their original spot, even if there is hay waiting just beyond their nose, asking them to focus not on their hunger, their boredom, their fear, but asking them to focus only on me and where they are in relationship to me. It means they must forget about themselves and recognize something outside of themselves that is in control–even if I move away from them to do other things.

The greatest trust is when I can stand a horse in one spot, ask them to be still, walk away from them, briefly go out of sight, and return to find them as I left them, still focused on me even when I was not visible.

I was reminded of this during Pastor Bert’s sermon on the book of Exodus when he preached on the moments before Moses parted the Red Sea, allowing the Hebrews an escape route away from Pharoah and the Egyptian chariots and soldiers. In those moments beforehand, the Hebrews were pressed up against the Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on them and they lamented they should never have left Egypt in the first place, and that generations of bondage in slavery would have been preferable to dying in the desert at the hands of the soldiers or drowning in the Sea.

Moses told them to “be still”. Or as our pastor said, he told them to “shut up”. Stay focused, be obedient, trust in the Lord’s plan. And the next thing that happened was the Sea opened up. Then the Hebrews rejoiced in thanksgiving for their freedom.

Thanksgiving, as it has developed over the years from the first historical observance of a meal shared jointly between the Pilgrims and their Native American hosts, is just such a moment to “be still and know” about the gifts from our God. Yet in our hurried and harried culture, Thanksgiving is about buying the best bargain turkey (or this year the most free range heritage turkey costing close to $150!), creating the most memorable recipes, decorating in perfect Martha Stewart style, eating together in Norman Rockwell style extended family gatherings, watching football and parades on the biggest flat screen TV, while preparing for the mad dash out the door the next day to start the Christmas shopping season.

Instead of all that fol de rol –  be still.

Like my horses, I need correction when I start to agitate out of “hunger”–wanting to literally stuff myself full, or out of my boredom– seeking the latest in entertainment or satisfaction, or out of my fear–  feeling the threats that surround us all in the world today. I need to be reminded continually that my focus must be outside myself and my perceived needs, and to be still long enough to know God is with us even though we cannot see Him every moment.

I do not do well at this.

My horses learn much faster than I do. I am restless, rarely taking the time to be still and acknowledge God who continually watches, waiting for me to settle down and focus on Him.

May this Thanksgiving remind me of my need for God, and my gratitude for His patient persistence in moving me back into place when I wiggle and fret and stuff myself even when I’m really not hungry.

May I remember that to be still and know God is the greatest gift I can give and that I can receive.

And may His Stillness be with you as well.

 

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The Life That I Try

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Let there be not only the roses,
Not only the buds of the day,
But the noon and the hour that discloses
The full flower torn away:

Not only the bliss and the sweet
When the sun is soft and low,
But the weary aching of feet
Tired out by the harrow and hoe:

Not only the gazing and sighing
Where the heather stands thick on the moor,
But the lonely watch and the crying,
With hunger awake at the door:

Not only the wonder of reaping
The fruit that hangs red on the bough,
But the strain and the stagger of creeping
In the brown wake of the plough.

Let this be the way that I go,
And the life that I try,
My feet being firm in the field,
And my heart in the sky.
~Philip Britts from Water at the Roots

 

 

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Within each day of each life
hides the joy of discovery
despite the weariness.

The truth of it is:
a hunger and ache consume me
if I don’t seek out and harvest beauty
growing in each moment.

Though my boots are dusty
and my steps less sure,
the life I try on each day
is the certainty of a heart in bloom.

 

 

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To Shout from the Stomach

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Let this day’s air praise the Lord—
Rinsed with gold, endless, walking the fields,
Blue and bearing the clouds like censers,
Holding the sun like a single note
Running through all things, a basso profundo
Rousing the birds to an endless chorus.

In joy. For it is he who underlies
The rock from its liquid foundation,
The sharp contraries of the giddy atom,
The unimaginable curve of space,
Time pulling like a patient string,
And gravity, fiercest of natural loves.

At his laughter, splendor riddles the night,
Galaxies swarm from a secret hive,
Mountains split and crawl for aeons
To huddle again, and planets melt
In the last tantrum of a dying star.

Sit straight, let the air ride down your backbone,
Let your lungs unfold like a field of roses,
Your eyes hang the sun and moon between them,
Your hands weigh the sky in even balance,
Your tongue, swiftest of members, release a word
Spoken at conception to the sanctum of genes,
And each breath rise sinuous with praise.

Now, shout from the stomach, hoarse with music,
Give gladness and joy back to the Lord,
Who, sly as a milkweed, takes root in your heart.
~from Robert Siegel’s poetry in Flourish Magazine 2010

 

 

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Judging from the long lines at grocery store check-out aisles, this is the week of the stomach and feasting.  Feeling over-full after a sumptuous meal on Thursday does nothing to satisfy the ravenous hunger we feel all the rest of the year.

It is, in fact, the heart that must be filled continuously, not the stomach three times a day.  Our stomach may shout and growl, but it is the heart that yearns and mourns for Love lost, Love regained, Love pondered and treasured up.

May He take root in our hearts this week and always as our stomach is silenced by the feast only He can serve.

 

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Preparing the Heart: Blossoming for Him

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He who has come to men
dwells where we cannot tell
nor sight reveal him,
until the hour has struck
when the small heart does break
with hunger for him;

those who do merit least,
those whom no tongue does praise
the first to know him,
and on the face of the earth
the poorest village street
blossoming for him.
~Jane Tyson Clement

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In the somber dark
of a reluctant near-solstice morning,
when there seems no hope for sun or warmth,
I hunger for comfort, knowing
there is solace only He can bring.

He calls me forth from where I have hidden,
buried face down in the troubles of the world,
hiding amid my quilt and pillows,
fearing the news of the day.

Only God can glue together
what evil shatters.
He just asks us to hand Him
the pieces of our broken hearts.

If I grab hold His offered hand,
I’m lifted – my emptiness thawing-
from the frozen ground~
back into the light,
reaching for a new day
bursting fully
into blossom.

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Thimbleberry

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One taste

and the rest
is what came after.
Little berry,

you’re the flavor
of my best,
most necessary

kiss. Fit
for a tongue tip,
exactly.

You were nothing
until I picked
you once.

How long
do we willingly
live without?

How hungry
would I be if
I’d kept walking?
~Kathleen Flenniken (2012 – 2014 Washington State poet laureate)

 

I’m glad I stopped
where I was going
what I was doing
to admire and taste
a moment
never to come again~
So sweet
yet so sad

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In the Dusk

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Sap withdraws from the upper reaches
of maples; the squirrel digs deeper
and deeper in the moss
to bury the acorns that fall
all around, distracting him.

I’m out here in the dusk…
where the wild asters, last blossoms
of the season, straggle uphill.
Frost flowers, I’ve heard them called.
The white ones have yellow centers
at first: later they darken
to a rosy copper.  They’re mostly done.
Then the blue ones come on. It’s blue
all around me now, though the color
has gone with the sun.

There is no one home but me—
and I’m not at home; I’m up here on the hill,
looking at the dark windows below.
Let them be dark…

…The air is damp and cold
and by now I am a little hungry…
The squirrel is high in the oak,
gone to his nest , and night has silenced

the last loud rupture of the calm.
~Jane Kenyon from “Frost Flowers”

 

Even when the load grows too heavy,
our misery rolling in like a fog that
covers all that was once vibrant,even then
even then
there waits a nest of nurture,
a place of calm
where we are fed
when we are tired and hungry.
We will be filled;
we will be restored.

 

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The Future Flowering

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We kill at every step, not only in wars, riots, and executions. We kill when we close our eyes to poverty, suffering, and shame. In the same way all disrespect for life, all hard heartedness, all indifference, and all contempt is nothing else than killing. With just a little witty skepticism we can kill a good deal of the future in a young person. Life is waiting everywhere, the future is flowering every­where, but we only see a small part of it and step on much of it with our feet.
~Hermann Hesse, from Vivos Voco, 1919

Hundreds of thousands of people have the choice of living (and likely dying) oppressed in the midst of conflict, too often with the risk of being enslaved and raped, or to try escape to an uncertain fate on the other side of a border, a fence, a turbulent sea.

So many of us are here, living in countries that sustain and grow us, because we descend from people who escaped war, or hunger, or extreme poverty. Many of us worship a God who was a refugee Himself from a king who sought Him dead.

Can we extend a hand of hope to millions who also want to put roots down in safety so their lives, and their childrens’ lives, may flower?   Even if it means less soil for us all, are we not the privileged gardeners to prepare the ground so all people may flourish?

 

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