That Witnessing Presence

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

~Denise Levertov “Witness”

Even on the days when the mountain is hidden behind a veil of clouds, I have every confidence it is there.  In the off-chance that it might be visible if we took the time to drive up the highway to the foot of it, we did just that last night, risking seeing nothing but pea soup clouds at the higher elevation. Mount Baker remained behind its impenetrable veil, unseen.

A bit lower, at the foot of Mount Shuksan, initially massive clouds obscured it completely – invisible to us except the knowledge that we knew it was there as we had been in that exact spot before and witnessed it first hand. Yet due to powerful winds that blow in the Cascades, over the course of a few minutes Shuksan was exposed before our eyes in all its glory, first in shadowy profile and then crystal clear reality: it was there, movingly unmoved, a revelation of constancy.

No, it had not vanished overnight, gone to another county, blown up or melted down.  My vision isn’t always penetrating enough to see it through cloud cover, but it is still there. 

I know this and have faith it is true even when, within a few minutes, the clouds blew back over the mountain’s face and veiled it completely again.

Some days I simply don’t bother to look for the mountains, so preoccupied I walk right past their obvious grandeur and presence. Then they reach out to me and call me back.  There are times when I turn a corner on the farm and glance up, and there Baker is, a silent and overwhelming witness to beauty and steadfastness.  I literally gasp at not noticing before, at not remembering how I’m blessed by it being there even at the times I can’t be bothered.

The mountains confirm my lack of witness and still stay put to hold me fast yet another day.  And so I keep coming back to gaze, sometimes just at clouds, yearning to lift the veil, and lift my own veil, just one more time.

Shadows Moving with the Sun

myohmy
Be comforted; the world is very old,
  And generations pass, as they have passed,
  A troop of shadows moving with the sun;
Thousands of times has the old tale been told;
  The world belongs to those who come the last,
  They will find hope and strength as we have done.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “A Shadow”

sunriseshadow

The shadow’s the thing. 
If I no longer see shadows as “dark marks,”
as do the newly sighted,
then I see them as making some sort of sense of the light.
They give the light distance;
they put it in its place.
They inform my eyes of my location here, here O Israel
,
here in the world’s flawed sculpture,
here in the flickering shade of the nothingness
between me and the light.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

shadow closeup

A shadow is hard to seize by the throat and dash to the ground.
~Victor Hugo from Les Miserables

The Soft-Dying Day

bakersisters1028

  baker1028

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
        And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;

~John Keats, lines from “To Autumn”

sunset1028

sunset10284

Lenten Reflection-Grace Comes Like Dawn


The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy1:14

Grace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning; then a light; and at last the sun in his full and excellent brightness.
Thomas Adams

It starts as subtle glow around the edges so that dark appears darker with contrast that wasn’t there before. Illumination slowly reveals the hidden niches. As it progresses, more details stand out in relief, creating both portrait and landscape. Then the color flows, emerging and submerging, encompassing and enveloping.

What was murky and undefined is now revealed with backlighting, and brightly adorned.

What was depths of tomb and grave is now opened and freed.

From gloaming to dawning, our souls rise as well.

Lenten Meditation: Rough Places

Mt. Baker--photo by Josh Scholten at http://www.cascadecompass.com

Every valley shall be exalted,
every mountain and hill made low;
the crooked straight,
and the rough places plain.  Isaiah 40:4

Gazing out our kitchen window, we see the strong silhouette of Mt. Baker every morning, unchanging and unblinking as the clouds swirl past, the snow falls, or the sun shines.   The peaks are just as impressive as they must have been for the coastal native populations centuries ago, with the river valleys at its feet just as green and lush.

As permanent as it seems, it is an active volcano, still steaming from its vent on the coldest of mornings, a plume visible from our farmhouse dozens of miles away.  The lesson of Mount St. Helen taught us that the constancy of rocky peaks is illusory.  In an instant it can be laid low, the valleys obliterated in a sea of lava, the rivers gorged and gushing with mud, the ragged geography covered and soon forgotten.

There is nothing permanent under the firmament. Every earthquake and tsunami, as happened in Japan only an hour ago just a couple hundred miles from where our son lives and teaches, proves that again and again.

All that is lasting is the kingdom of our God incarnate, who walked in living flesh on this impermanent earth,  in order to bring His people to home everlasting.

Knowing this, we can be rough no more.