To Be Wild and Perfect

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
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 New And Selected Poems 

It is not about love or sacrifice,
nothing vestal or sacred. The light
comes from an open window,
and perhaps a breeze too that
has caused the white peony to
drop three delicately curved
petals on the red jacquard.
They cast purple shadows. The
eye must seek them out, must
avert itself from the ceaseless
action in the midst of other
objects: a runcible spoon, a
quill, a tankard, two ripe quince.
Athena Kildegaard, “Still Life with Beating Heart” from Ventriloquy

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”

At the end of May, 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, acknowledging its thin space before one more humble and silky life shatters
and becomes nothing,
its petals perfectly
scattered, lush and trembling,
to the wind.

Like an Idiot, Babbling and Strewing Flowers

To what purpose, April, do you return again? 
Beauty is not enough. 
You can no longer quiet me with the redness 
Of little leaves opening stickily. 
I know what I know. 
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe 
The spikes of the crocus. 
The smell of the earth is good. 
It is apparent that there is no death. 
But what does that signify? 
Not only under ground are the brains of men 
Eaten by maggots. 
Life in itself 
Is nothing, 
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs. 
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 
April 
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. 
~Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Spring”

I know that we cannot depend on the return of Spring to heal us~
it is balm not cure.

I know that none of its beauty can bloom without it dying before~
it is a shroud thrown over to cover our decay.

I know I cannot be transformed by the warmth of the sun~
it is not enough for my skin to sweat when my heart lies still and cold.

I know I must dig deeper in holy ground for the truth~
it does not lie in perfumed blossoms and sweet blue skies.

I know what I know~
life in itself is nothing unless
death is overcome yet again
and our hearts, once broken,
begin to pulse red once more.

A Bright Sadness: Fiery and Sweet as Honey

May the power of your love, Lord Christ, 
fiery and sweet as honey, 
so absorb our hearts 
as to withdraw them 
from all that is under heaven. 
Grant that we may be ready to die 
for love of your love, 
as you died for love of our love. 
~St. Francis of Assisi

Lent is a time of letting go while still holding on.

If I am to see Jesus and know the power of His love,
I must let go of this life and walk with Him with every step to the cross.
As Dan and I flew into Tokyo today, through two landing attempts at Narita Airport that had to be aborted at the last few seconds due to dangerously gusting winds, we felt the tenuous grip we have on our lives and our utter dependency on the Lord taking care of us, in this world and in His kingdom in the next.

Just in the evens of Holy Week, we learn a few basics:
No falling asleep.
No selling out.
No turning and running away.
No hiding my face in denial.
No looking back.
No clinging to the comforts of the world.

But of course I fail again and again.
My heart resists leaving behind what I know.

Plucked from the crowd,
I must grasp and carry the load, my load, alongside Him.
Now is my turn to hold on and not let go, as if life depends on it.
Which it does, requiring no nails.

The fire of His love leaves my sin in ashes.
From those ashes rises new life.
Love of His love of our love.

h


The Ministry of Presence

 

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them.

It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems.

My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress.

But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.

~Henri Nouwen from The Practice of the Presence of God

I do find myself too wrapped up in the trappings of the “useful” life – meetings, committees, schedules, strategic priorities – and forget there is so much living usefully that I neglect to do.

There needs to be more potlucks, more “oh, by the way” conversations, more connections “just because”, more loving people as I hope to be loved.

Wish I could invite you all over for breakfast. We’d have a wonderful chin wag.

Choosing Another Day

right before the moonrise

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
~G.K. Chesterton

Over a dozen times every clinic day
I ask someone:
tell me your thoughts about ending your life…

Even so~~
someone then decides what to reveal
and what not to.

I’m allowed
another day
to do my best
to be present for someone who is unsure~

and perhaps as this day dies
there will come another
when I might help someone
choose
to live another day.

Why are we allowed another day?

The Giving Snow

Under the giving snow
blossoms a daring spring.
~Terri Guillemets



As if we need a reminder
that nature doesn’t check the calendar
and the weather does what it pleases when it pleases:

~a snow fell for hours yesterday
and we remain cloaked and drifted this morning~

we look more pristine than we are.

Underneath this fluffy blanket
we’re barely presentable,
sleep-deprived,
wrinkled and worn,
all mud and mildew beneath.

But Spring will come
rising from its snowy bed,
lit from an inner fire
that never burns out.

Through clouds like ashes
we turn aside to see God’s glory;
our eyes carefully covered
from the glaze of snow,
we feel His flash of life as He passes by.


Everyday Life

If your everyday life seems poor to you,
do not accuse it;
accuse yourself,
tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches;
since for the creator
there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place.
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
~Mary Oliver

As a child, I would sometimes spend long rainy afternoons languishing on the couch, complaining to my mother how boring life was. 

Her typical response was to remind me my boredom said more about me than about life– I became the accused, rather than the accuser,  failing to summon up life’s riches. 

Thus convicted, my sentence followed:  she would promptly give me chores to do.   I learned not to voice my complaints about how boring life seemed, because it always meant work.

Some things haven’t changed, even fifty-some years later.  Whenever I am tempted to feel frustrated or pitiful or bored, accusing my life of being poor or unfair, I need to remember what that says about me.  If I’m not poet enough to recognize the Creator’s brilliance in every slant of light or every molecule, then it is my poverty I’m accusing, not His.

So – back to the work of paying attention and being astonished.  There is a life to be lived and almost always something to say about it.