Turn Aside and Look: Where Our Hearts Are

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So I tell you to stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? 
— Matthew 6:25-27

mukudori

Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be so busy with worldly affairs. He does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives. He does not tell us that what we do is unimportant, valueless, or useless. Nor does he suggest that we should withdraw from our involvements and live quiet, restful lives removed from the struggles of the world.

Jesus’ response to our worry-filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the “many things” to the “one necessary thing.” It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things. Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace. He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. This is the meaning of “Set your hearts on his kingdom first…and all these other things will be given you as well.” What counts is where our hearts are. When we worry, we have our hearts in the wrong place. Jesus asks us to move our hearts to the center, where all other things fall into place.
— Henri Nouwen from Making All Things New

egretjapan

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.
— Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

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I appreciate this group of readings found on this Lenten blog post on In Silence Waits: https://insilencewaits.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/desert-day-15-stop-worrying/

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We’ve returned from two weeks in Japan to visit a brand new granddaughter and though our physical selves may be back in the U.S.,  our hearts and minds are lagging and have not yet arrived.  Our aging bodies also don’t quite know what to do with the International Dateline and the 16 hour time difference. After being awake for 36 hours straight for travel and then heading from the airport to urgent meetings at work, I thought I would sleep at least seven hours last night but after three hours I was wide awake and wondering why it was still the middle of the night. Like the adjustment that took days (and nights) after traveling to the Far East, it will take time to realign back to a Western Hemisphere schedule.

I must confess I am a skilled and well-practiced worrier. In my jet-lagged wakefulness, I can find plenty to keep me awake once my eyes fly open.  Yet I know my worry is nothing but wasted energy, and worse than that, it pulls me away from the center of all I really need to know:

Jesus just wants my heart, not my worry.

If He provides for an array of beautiful birds living happily in the middle of one of the largest cities on earth in Tokyo, then how much more will He care for you and for me.

And now, acknowledging that in my time-addled brain,  it’s back to bed.

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Turn Aside and Look: All of These Things

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Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:29

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Why worry about the loaves and fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.
Mary Oliver  – “Logos”

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japanpinkblossom

Many reject him because they weren’t there-
how can they know
what was real without seeing and hearing him
with their own eyes and ears.

We read his words
and think about
how his voice sounded
in a crowd
of 5000 people so hungry,
and how his eyes teared
as he was betrayed
and rejected
and nailed

We weren’t in the garden
that day when he was mistaken
for the gardener
nor were we on the road to Emmaus
walking beside a stranger whose words
made our hearts burn within us
but we can imagine hearing our name spoken
and knowing it is him
or watching him break the bread
and recognizing his body.

We weren’t there
but we didn’t have to be.

If we can imagine what His Logos tells us,
it is plain and real,
a mystery of the heart

all of these things
all of these things
all these things
and so much more

To Wander Slowly

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photo by Emily Gibson (Dark Hedges, Ireland)
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photo by Joel DeWaard (Whatcom County, Washington)

 

For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
~Mary Oliver from “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way” from Felicity

 

beechtrail
photo by Emily Gibson (Mt. Stewart Gardens, Ireland)
newhampshirefall1
photo by Ben Gibson (New Hampshire)

God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.
~Meister Eckhart

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photo by Emily Gibson (Ireland)
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photo by Emily Gibson (Scotland)

Sometimes going for a walk is too much like a sprint, as far and as fast as possible.
Sometimes it is a spontaneous trek into the unknown, just to prove it can be done.
Sometimes it is a climb into the dark, with precipices and crumbling ledges under our feet.
Sometimes it is simply a journey of curiosity to see what may be around the corner.

No matter why or where or how far we wander,
or how slowly,
the path home shines just bright enough
to show us the way back to His glory
when we are ready.
He is there, waiting.
He keeps the light on for us.

pathwaylight2
photo by Emily Gibson (Vancouver Island)

The World, Moist and Beautiful

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photo of Goat Mountain in the North Cascades courtesy of Kris Carlson
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photo of Goat Mountain in the North Cascades, courtesy of Kris Carlson

 

And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?
~Mary Oliver

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Some mornings it is impossible to stay a silent and passive observer of the world.  It demands a response.

The overnight wind and rain have pulled down nearly every leaf, the ground is carpeted with the dying evidence of last spring’s rebirth, the dropping temperatures have robed the surrounding foothills in vibrant color and the peaks in a bright new snow covering.

There can be no complacency in witnessing this startling transition in progress.   It blusters, rips, drenches, encompasses, buries. Nothing remains as it was.

And here I am, alive.
Awed.
Responding.

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Just Too Much on a June Morning

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Every spring
I hear the thrush singing
in the glowing woods
he is only passing through.
His voice is deep,
then he lifts it until it seems
to fall from the sky.
I am thrilled.
I am grateful.
Then, by the end of morning,
he’s gone, nothing but silence
out of the tree
where he rested for a night.
And this I find acceptable.
Not enough is a poor life.
But too much is, well, too much.
Imagine Verdi or Mahler
every day, all day.
It would exhaust anyone.
~Mary Oliver from “A Thousand Mornings”

birdonpostrodenberger
photo by Harry Rodenberger

 

What does it say about me that in the darkness of December mornings, I yearn for the early sunrises of June but once I’m firmly into the June calendar, it no longer is so compelling?  It confirms my suspicion that I’m incapable of reveling in the moment at hand, something that would likely take years of therapy to undo.  I’m sure there is some deep seated issue here, but I’m too sleep deprived to pursue it.

My eyes popped open this morning at 4:17 AM, spurred by vigorous birdsong in the trees surrounding our farm house.  There was daylight sneaking through the venetian blinds at that unseemly hour as well.  Once the bird chorus starts, with one lone chirpy voice in the apple tree by our bedroom window, it rapidly becomes a full frontal onslaught symphony orchestra from the plum, cherry, poplar, walnut, fir and chestnut.   Sleep is irretrievable.

I remember wishing for early morning birdsong last December when it seemed the sun would never rise and the oppressive silence would never lift.  I had conveniently forgotten those mornings a few years ago when we had a flock of over a dozen young roosters who magically found their crows very early in the morning a mere 10 weeks after hatching.  Nothing before or since could match their alarm clock expertise after 4 AM.  No barbecue before or since has tasted as sweet.

So I remind myself how bad it can really be and backyard birdsong is a veritable symphony in comparison.

Even so, I already need a nap.

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Between Midnight and Dawn: Choosing to Wait

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They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,”
he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.
“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?
  Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.
  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

Returning the third time, he said to them,
“Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come.
Mark 14: 32-41

rainygrass

lilysunrise

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
maybe
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be part of the story.
~Mary Oliver from “Gethsemane” from Thirst

fidalgotree2

fogtree

Jesus,
Apple of God’s eye,
dangling solitaire
on leafless tree,
bursting red.

As he drops
New Eden dawns
and once again
we Adams choose:
God’s first fruit
or death.
—Christine F. Nordquist “Eden Inversed”

fallenapple

It has always been a choice
~no longer forbidden~
as He invites us to wait with Him.
He, the first fruit~

He offers Himself
broken open
to feed us who sleep through this life,
unaware, oblivious,

so our hearts
might burst red
with Him.

We do not know what to say,
so we weep.

trilliumweeping

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: The Unseen Seen

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So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthinians 4: 18

 

I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
softly,
through the pale-pink morning light.
~Mary Oliver from Bone

 

It is in the early morning hour that the unseen is seen,
and that the far-off beauty and glory,
vanquishing all their vagueness,
move down upon us till they stand
clear as crystal close over against the soul.

~Sarah Smiley

***************************

 

In the moments before dawn
when glow gently pink-tints
the inside of horizon’s eyelids,
the black of midnight
waxes to mere shadow:

that old faded midnight
That frightened but an hour. (from Emily Dickinson)

Gloaming dusk
fades into gleaming dawn,
a backlit silhouette stark
as the darkening earth
slowly opens her eyes
to greet in rebirth
a new and glorious morn.

 

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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