Between Midnight and Dawn: Breaking Through



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.




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

Exactly Right

I watch where I step and see
that the fallen leaf, old broken glass, an icy stone are placed in
exactly the right spot on the earth, carefully, royalty in their
own country.
~ Tom Hennen, “Looking For The Differences” from Darkness Sticks To Everything: Collected and New Poems.
If the pebble, the leaf, the mushroom
are placed exactly right
where they belong,
then so am I~even when I would rather be elsewhere,
even when I could get stepped on,
even when I would rather hide in a hole,
even when exactly right feels exactly wrong.

I’m placed exactly here,
not as royalty,
but as peasant.

Bitter, Inimical, Implacable Cold



Cold is an absence, an absence of heat, and yet it feels like a presence–a vigorous, hostilely active presence in the air that presses upon your naked face and that makes your fingers and toes ache within their mittens and boots.  Cold is always working, it seems– busy freezing water in the ponds and rivers, knitting intricate six-sided snowflakes by the billions, finding cracks around the walls and windows of your house, forcing furnaces in the cellar to roar away.

I like winter because it locks me indoors with my books, my word processor, and my clear and brittle thoughts. There is a visual poetry that goes with the cold.  Ferns and stars of frost mysteriously appear on the windows and take their place in a child’s mythology.

The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion.   To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates.
~John Updike from “The Cold”

Today, a goodly portion of the eastern seaboard of the United States is bracing for a mammoth blizzard immobilizing travelers and rendering folks home-bound. Meanwhile, here in the Pacific Northwest, our temperature reached an unseasonably balmy 60 degrees yesterday.

Even in our relative warmth here, we’ve already endured our string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies once the frozen fog abates.  Several feet of snow are back on our summer drought-bared hills and mountains.  During our cold snaps, everything shimmers with diamonds of frosty glitter all day long.  It is the kind of cold this Pacific Northwest native can actually enjoy.  It is not the cold of the midwest plains, or the Alaskan frontier.  This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats.  It is just not natural or seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.

We are not always so lucky here.  The cold that sometimes descends in northeast winds from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, and freeze pipes not left dripping.  It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.

Bitter cold or a heavy snow storm ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival.  It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.

Our whole nation is in just such a bitter, inimical, implacable political cold snap today, terribly divided as we suffer through one of the most hostile and regrettable presidential election cycles in memory.

If we don’t come in out of the societal deep freeze that is afflicting us all, we each will perish alone.   It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are.  At least we can generate heat, even if we can’t manage to lighten up.



We are His Tears









Remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity.
~Charles Spurgeon

There is in all visible things – a hidden wholeness.
~Thomas Merton

Hard times leave us frozen solid,
completely immobilized
and too cold to touch,
yet hope and healing is found
within the wholeness and goodness of God.

Even when life’s chill leaves us aching,
longing for relief,
the coming thaw is real
because God is good.

Even when we’re flattened,
stepped on, broken into fragments —
the pieces left are the beginning
of who we will become,
made whole again
because God is good.

The frost lasts not forever.
The sun makes us glisten and glitter
as ice melts down to droplets.
We are the hidden wholeness of God,
His eyes and ears,
heart and soul,
hands and feet.
Even more so,
we are His tears.




The Hush of a New Year’s Morning



With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself

to the hush of the morning


so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
~W.S. Merwin “To the New Year”
My hopes, such as they are,
transparent as an impromptu ice sculpture
behind the barn carefully placed
by an enterprising farm boy.
They perch like wings on top of the manure hill,
glistening, crystalline, pure,
still possible if allowed to fly free,
but if left untouched and unrealized,
they are melted by the heat of the pile.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all, And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
~Emily Dickinson


God Among Us: Even In Us


Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
John 3: 6-8


To look at the last great self-portraits of Rembrandt or to read Pascal or hear Bach’s B-minor Mass is to know beyond the need for further evidence that if God is anywhere, he is with them, as he is also with the man behind the meat counter, the woman who scrubs floors at Roosevelt Memorial, the high-school math teacher who explains fractions to the bewildered child. And the step from “God with them” to Emmanuel, “God with us,” may not be as great as it seems.

What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own snowbound, snowblind longing for him.
~Frederick Buechner


Christina Rossetti, a great 19th century poet, reminds us in her pithy earthy words below, how heaven could not hold God.  Even though He is worshiped by angels, it is enough for Him to be held in His mother’s arms, His face kissed, His tummy full, to be bedded in a manger.  It is enough for Him, and He is enough for us — even born in us, poor as we are — snowbound and ice-locked as we are in our longing for something more.

Our hearts are enough for Him who came here when heaven could not hold Him.
Imagine that.



In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give Him my heart.
~Christina Rossetti 1872

Who hears?
Who hears the voice of the hungry, the thirsty?

Who sees?
Who sees the tears of the suffering ones?

Imagine a King who would come through the darkness
And walk where I walk, full of greatness,
And call me to His side,
Just like a Father and child.

Who knows?
Who knows the hopes that lie hidden forgotten?
Who comes?
Who comes to lead all the children home?
~Kristyn Getty


Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.

Sleep, sleep, sleep,
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth.
The night is peaceful all around you,
Close your eyes,
Let sleep surround you.
Sleep, sleep, sleep,
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth.

Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.
While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.


Ice Burns



Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one
sensation, fire, from the other, frost.
~A. S. Byatt from Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice

Compared to the rest of the country, our winter has been quite moderate — no heavy snows, no days of sub-zero temperatures, no ice storms.
Yet 10 days of northeast arctic winds have begun to take a toll: my face and hands are reddened just as if I’ve been in the sun too long.

Whether we are consumed by flames or frozen, resulting in ashes or ice — how it will feel is the same.

Yet ashes remain ashes, only and forever after, mere dust.
If, encased in ice, a thaw may restore,
then frozen memory sears like sculpture
meant to melt, ceasing to imprison.