Excellent January Partly Cloudies

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Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies
in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt,
and then the shadow sweeps it away.
You know you’re alive.
You take huge steps,
trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet.

~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

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After years of rarely paying attention,
too busy with whatever clinic or household or barnyard task needs doing,
I realize there are only a finite number of sunrises and sunsets left to me.

Now I don’t want to miss them, so whenever I can,
I stop, take a deep breath
and feel lucky to be alive,
a witness to that moment of transition.

Sometimes they are plain and gray
just as I am,
but there are days that are lit from above and beneath
with a fire that ignites across the sky.
I too am engulfed for a moment or two,
until sun or shadow sweeps me away,
transfixed and transformed,
ever and forever grateful for the light.

 

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Hallowing Fire

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…one of man’s purposes is to assist God in the work of “hallowing” the things of Creation.
By a tremendous heave of the spirit,
the devout man frees the divine sparks trapped in the mute things of time;
he uplifts the forms and moments of creation,
bearing them aloft into the rare air
and hallowing fire in which all clays must shatter and burst.

~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

The setting sun,
trapped and swallowed by a seed puff ball last night,
was released aloft this morning to rise unfettered
hallowed and holy.

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Muffled Whuff

photo by Steve Balcombe, Scotland
photo of a starling murmuration taken by Steve Balcombe, Scotland

Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared,
then another, and another.
It was the starlings going to roost. 
They gathered deep in the distance,  flock sifting into flock,
and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke.
They seemed to unravel as they flew,
lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. 
I didn’t move;
they flew directly over my head for half an hour. 

Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down
in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except
that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced.
The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye.
Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff.
Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig,
right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.

Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now,
birds winging through the gaps between my cells,
touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet?
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

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Stalk the Gaps

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The gaps are the thing.
The gaps are the spirit’s one home,
the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean
that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound.
The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God;
they are fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through,
the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery.
Go up into the gaps.
If you can find them;
they shift and vanish too.
Stalk the gaps.
Squeak into a gap in the soil,
turn, and unlock
—more than a maple—
a universe.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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The Secret of Seeing

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The secret of seeing is, then the pearl of great price.
If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever
I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all.
But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought.

The literature of illumination reveals this above all:
although it comes to those who wait for it,
it is always, even to the most practiced and adept,
a gift and a total surprise.

I return from one walk
knowing where the killdeer nests in the field by the creek and the hour the laurel blooms.
I return from the same walk a day later scarcely knowing my own name.

Litanies hum in my ears;
my tongue flaps in my mouth.
Ailinon, alleluia!
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

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The Great Door Opens

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And as you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged on the shingly beach of a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.
~Stephen Graham from The Gentle Art of Tramping

That great door opens on the present, illuminates it as with a multitude of flashing torches.
~Annie Dillard (in response to the above quote) from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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A Bell is Rung

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“In the end,
coming to faith remains for all a sense of homecoming,
of picking up the threads of a lost life,
of responding to a bell that had long been ringing,
of taking a place at a table that had long been vacant.”
~Malcolm Muggeridge

“I was still ringing.  I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

When that sense of belonging takes place,
when our eyes and heart have opened
and we know we have found home,
our joyful ringing never ceases.

We have been lifted and struck by coming to faith.