Strange Visions of Mountains

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photo by Dan Gibson

 

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photo by Dan Gibson

 

He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien from The Fellowship of the Ring

 

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photo by Dan Gibson

 

Perhaps we actually dwell in Middle Earth here in the Pacific Northwest where astounding, mysterious and dangerous places abound.
The mountains are much more than strange visions; they stand sentinel over our backyard.

For those who live in the unending horizon of the plains, this is the stuff of dreams.

I wake early each morning,  just in case the color explodes overhead.

It did today.

 

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photo by Dan Gibson

 

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I Will Not Say the Day is Done

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In Western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring
the trees may bud the waters run
the merry Finches sing.

Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair

Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:

I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.
~J.R.R. Tolkien “Sam’s Song”

 

 

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Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.
~Sara Teasdale “Barter”

 

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Some days I wish to keep hold forever:
when the light is just right in the trees,
the breezes filled with blossom fragrance,
the mountains glow with evening sun,
a smiling child climbs up on my lap just because,
a meal is enjoyed by all who join together.

I know I will not say day is done.

I know I barter for these moments
by giving up some piece of me,
knowing the sowing of self
will reap rich harvest in an overflowing heart.

 

 

 

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Aiming High

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Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’:
aim at Earth and you will get neither.
~ C.S. Lewis from The Joyful Christian

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The night sky was still dim and pale. 
There, peeping among the cloud wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains,
Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. 
The beauty of it smote his heart,
as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. 
For like a shaft, clear and cold,
the thought pierced him that in the end
the Shadow was only a small and passing thing:
there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
~J.R.R. Tolikien, The Return of the King

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We long for a heaven that feels so elusive;
we who are so weary
and with so much need
seek out Light so seemingly
beyond our reach.

Yet by reaching beyond the here and now
we find heaven descended to us
in His incarnate earthliness.

No shadow cast in this worldly darkness,
and no iron nails
can quell the beauty
of His everlasting brilliance.

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Preparing the Heart: Fighting the Long Defeat

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He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted . . . and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.
~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings

 

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It is only 10 days before we bid farewell to autumn and accept the arrival of the winter solstice signaling the long slow climb back to daylight. This giving-way to the darkness has felt like a defeat we may never recover from.

Yet the sunset becomes a startling send-off for fall, coloring Mt. Baker and surrounding an almost full moon with purple in the eastern sky. Our farm, for a deceptive few minutes, appears rosy and warm in crisp subfreezing weather. Then all becomes gray again, and within an hour we are shrouded in thick fog which ices the asphalt as darkness fell.  It becomes a challenge to avoid the deep ditches along our country roads, with the white fog line being the critical marker preventing potential disaster.

The ever present evening fog this time of year cloaks and smothers in the darkness, not unlike the respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses that have hit many households hard this week. Plenty of people have been vomiting, feverish, coughing and snuffling, unable to leave the bathroom or see past the ends of their swollen noses, as if the fog descended upon them in an impenetrable gray cloud. It is an unwelcome reminder of our vulnerability to microscopic organisms that can defeat us and lay us low in a matter of hours, just as a sudden freezing fog can lure us to the ditch. We are forced to stay put, our immune systems fighting back at a time when there are dozens of responsibilities vying for attention in preparation for the holidays. Little gets accomplished other than our slow wait for healing and clarity–at some point the viral fog will dissipate and we can try climbing back into life and navigating without needing the fog lines as guides.

Ditches have been very deep for some folks recently, with the diagnosis of cancers and devastating surgeries swallowing up their light and joy. Despite profound losses and pain, people courageously continue to fight, climbing their way out of the darkness to the light.

The day’s transition to night becomes bittersweet: these bright flames of color herald our uneasy future sleep after fighting the long defeat on this soil.

The sun “settles” upon the earth and so must we.

Be at ease, be comforted, put down the heavy burden and rest. We can celebrate, with chorus and gifts, the arrival of brilliant light in our lives. Instead of darkness overcoming us, our lives become illuminated in glory and grace.

The Son has settled among us.

 

Sure on this shining night of star-made shadows round,
kindness must watch for me this side the ground,
on this shining night, this shining night

The late year lies down the north
All is healed, all is health
High summer holds the earth,
hearts all whole
The late year lies down the north
All is healed, all is health
High summer holds the earth, hearts all whole
Sure on this shining night,
sure on this shining, shining night

Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars
Sure on this shining night, this shining night
On this shining night, this shining night
Sure on this shining night
~from James Agee’s poem

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum.
Ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio:
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum
Alleluia

 

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Visions of Mountains

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He found himself wondering at times, especially in the Autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. He began to say to himself ‘Perhaps I shall cross the river myself one day.’ To which the other half of his mind always replied ‘Not yet.’

~J.R.R. Tolkien — Frodo in Fellowship of the Rings

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When you live in Whatcom County, as we do, it is possible to cross the river (several times) over 90 minutes of two lane highway switchbacks to arrive in these wild lands, breathless and overcome by majesty.

Visions of mountains from our dreams become an overwhelming 360 degree reality.

God touches every square inch of earth as if He owns the place, and He does, but these square inches are particularly marked by His artistry.  It is a place to feel awed by His magnificence.

As we crossed the river to return home last night, I was left to wonder, much like Tolkien’s Frodo pondering of wild land dreams, what bridges God is building to bring us back home to Him.

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(these are photos I took yesterday of Mt. Shuksan from Heather Meadows and Picture Lake, as well as Mt. Baker and Table Mountain from Artist Point)

A Light from the Shadows

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All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
~J.R.R. Tolkien

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   Now burn, new born to the world,
      Doubled-naturèd name,
   The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
   Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame,
Mid-numbered he in three of the thunder-throne!
Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;
      Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;
A released shower, let flash to the shire, not a lightning of fíre hard-hurled.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland”

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We tend to forget we too are heaven-flung;
each of us plain and ordinary and numerous as the weeds of the field
until the Light comes upon us from the shadows,
illuminated gold and dazzling,
fire-awakened, hard-hurled and reclaimed as His own.
He calls us each by name,
knows each slender thread of hair on our heads.
We may wander, oh do we wander,
but are not lost
as long as our faces remain turned toward Him.

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A Blessing for Hairy Toes

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“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”
J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Thorin Oakenshield addressing Bilbo Baggins)

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photo of Samwise Gamgee by Nate  Gibson

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photo by Nate Gibson

Tolkien’s Hairy Toes Blessing has been one of my more popular blog posts when I have posted it before, most likely because our corgis are just like hobbits with irresistible hairy toes. Yet the message itself goes beyond cute: it is indeed a good thing to give and receive blessings.

It’s a safe bet my toes and your toes have never been subjected to such a blessing.   But I like the idea of blessings starting from the bottom up,  encompassing our most humble and homely parts first.

The world would be a better place if we rediscovered the art of bestowing blessings–those specific prayers of favor and protection that reinforce community and connection to each other and to something larger than ourselves.   They have become passé in a modern society where God’s relationship with and blessing of His people is not much more than an after-thought.   Benedictions must extend beyond the end of worship services to all tender partings;  wedding receptions can go beyond roasting and toasting to encompass sincere prayers for a future life together.

Today especially necessitates a special blessing not invoking hairy toes: our daughter moves several hours away to start her first permanent teaching job, so I send the following blessing with her as she drives away to start her new life (shared by my dear friend Alice in New York):

…Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path….
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.
May anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
~John O’Donohue from “Blessing for Presence”  from To Bless the Space Between Us

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