The Other Side is Salvation

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Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
~Mary Oliver, “In Blackwater Woods”

 

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When the earth and all that is in it glows golden
with the fire of sunrise and sunset;
just opening my eyes to see it
takes my breath away.
I can’t imagine letting it go
even when what is left is ashes
of the darkest night.
On the other side of loss is salvation.
My life depends on it.

 

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The Black Walnut

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My mother and I debate:
we could sell
the black walnut tree
to the lumberman,
and pay off the mortgage.
Likely some storm anyway
will churn down its dark boughs,
smashing the house. We talk
slowly, two women trying
in a difficult time to be wise.
Roots in the cellar drains,
I say, and she replies
that the leaves are getting heavier
every year, and the fruit
harder to gather away.
But something brighter than money
moves in our blood – an edge
sharp and quick as a trowel
that wants us to dig and sow.
So we talk, but we don’t do
anything.

What my mother and I both know
is that we’d crawl with shame
in the emptiness we’d made
in our own and our fathers’ backyard.
So the black walnut tree
swings through another year
of sun and leaping winds,
of leaves and bounding fruit,
and, month after month, the whip-
crack of the mortgage.
~Mary Oliver from “The Black Walnut Tree” from Twelve Moons

 

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april2frontyard
photo by Dan Gibson

 

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We bought this old farm twenty five years ago:
the Lawrence family “Walnut Hill Farm”~
a front yard lined with several tall black walnut trees
brought as seedlings in a suitcase from Ohio
in the ought-1900’s.

These trees thrived for 80 years on this hilltop farm
overlooking the Canadian mountains to the north,
the Nooksack River valley to the west,
the Cascade peaks to the east,
each prolific in leaves
and prodigious in fruit.

The first year we were here,
a windstorm took one tree down.
A neighbor offered
to mill the twisted trunk for shares
so the fallen tree became planks
of fine grained chocolate hued lumber.

This old tree lines our kitchen cupboards,
a daily reminder of an immortality
living on in a legacy left behind~
sturdy while imperfect,
so beautiful to the eye and the heart.

 

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Walking Alongside

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None of us can “mend” another person’s life, no matter how much the other may need it, no matter how much we may want to do it.

Mending is inner work that everyone must do for him or herself. When we fail to embrace that truth the result is heartbreak for all concerned.

What we can do is walk alongside the people we care about, offering simple companionship and compassion. And if we want to do that, we must save the only life we can save, our own.
~Parker Palmer writing about Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”

 

 

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One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – – determined to save
the only life you could save.
~Mary Oliver “The Journey”

 

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Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
~Eugene O’Neill

 

 

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We are born hollering and suddenly alone,
already aware of our emptiness
from the first breath,
each tiny air sac bursting
with the air of our fallen world~
air that is never enough.

The rest of our days are spent
filling up our empty spaces
whether alveoli
or stomach
or synapses starving for understanding,
still hollering in our loneliness
and heart
broken.

So we mend ourselves
through our walk with others
also broken,
we patch up our gaps
by knitting the scraggly fragments
of lives lived together.
We become the crucial glue
boiled from gifted Grace,
all our holes
somehow made holy.

 

 

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Writing With Quiet Hands

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daisybuds

 

I want to make poems that say right out, plainly,
what I mean, that don’t go looking for the
laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves. I want to
keep close and use often words like
heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish
the question mark and her bold sister

the dash. I want to write with quiet hands. I
want to write while crossing the fields that are
fresh with daisies and everlasting and the
ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of
the bread of heaven and the
cup of astonishment; let them be

songs in which nothing is neglected,
not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable. I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything.
~Mary Oliver “Everything”

 

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Writing and riding with quiet hands –
a wonderful metaphor for moving forward
in gladness and astonishment
without trying to steer unnecessarily.
To feel connected without controlling,
to have faith in the unknowable
yet understand without a doubt, that it is good.

 

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photo by Joel DeWaard

 

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photo by Brandon Dieleman

 

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photo by Emily Dieleman

 

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Would You Like to Make a Comment?

bakersunsetmoon

 

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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It is impossible to stay a silent observer of the world when you awake still alive.
It demands a response.

I would like to make a comment.

It isn’t only nature pulling what was once lush and young into the ground:
daily we witness flying leaves and dropping temperatures, brisk winds and chill rains.

Human kind also is skilled at killing and dying too young.

There can be no complacency in observing such violence in progress.
It blusters, rips, drenches, encompasses, buries.
Nothing remains as it was.

And here I am, alive.
Struck and wrung.
A witness.
Called to comment.
Dying to respond.

 

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Stopping for the Messy Ordinary

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If you notice anything
it leads you to notice
more
and more.

And anyway
I was so full of energy.
I was always running around, looking
at this and that.

If I stopped
the pain
was unbearable.

If I stopped and thought, maybe
the world can’t be saved,
the pain
was unbearable.
~Mary Oliver from “The Moths” from Dream Work

 

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qalbee

 

No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard.

The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.
~C.S. Lewis (from Letters)

 

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I see in a new way now as I wander about,
my eyes scanning for the plain and mundane,
searching for what needs noticing and safe-keeping.

Saving even a little part of our world
involves getting tired and muddy,
falling down again and again
and being willing to get back up.

If I stop getting dirty,
if I by-pass the every day,
if I give up the work of salvage,
I abandon the promises of God.

He’s there, ready and waiting
for the mop up of our messy ordinary.

 

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Quiet as a Feather

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Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
~Mary Oliver “Today” from A Thousand Mornings

 

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Some days warrant stillness.

This week echoed loud with ruckus and noise — much too overwhelming and nearly deafening.
Today we should seek to be quiet as a feather, silently in place, not saying a word.

We might actually begin to listen again.   We might hear each other again.

A funny thing about feathers: alone, each one is mere fluff.
Together — feathers create lift and power, the strength and will to soar beyond the tether of gravity and the pull of our flawed mortality.

Joined and united, we can rise above and fly as far as our life and breath can take us.

May peace be still.

 

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thank you to the poultry of the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden for holding still long enough to capture their brilliant plumage.

 

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