A Nation-Healing Tree of Life

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Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray–
For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife.
Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest
May fall, flit, fly, perch–crouch in the bowery breast
Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;–
Moveless there sit through all the burning day,
And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay.
~George MacDonald from Diary of an Old Soul

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There can be no response today but to bow in earnest prayer, waiting for the hatch of a healing peace among the diverse peoples and opinions of our nation.

Our lives are half-fledged, not yet fully delivered nor understood, doubt burning into our flesh like thorns on fire.  We are an angry and hurting nation — today becoming those who won and those who lost.  The gloating bloats who we are, beyond recognition.

May our prayers rise like a dove from hearts in turmoil,  once again to soar on the wings of eagles.

Peace, come quickly.
Be no longer moveless.
Move us to higher ground.
Plow deep our hearts.

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Transforming Life’s Roadside

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A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question
the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
On the one hand, we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside;
but that will be only an initial act.
One day the whole Jericho road must be transformed
so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed
as they make their journey through life.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar;
it understands that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world,
can well lead the way in this revolution of values.
There is nothing, except a tragic death wish,
to prevent us from reordering our priorities…

~Martin Luther King, Jr. from a speech April 4, 1967

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We live in a time where the groaning need

and dividedness of humankind
is especially to be felt and recognized.
Countless people are subjected to hatred,
violence and oppression which go unchecked.
The injustice and corruption which exist today
are causing many voices to be raised to protest
and cry out that something be done.
Many men and women are being moved to sacrifice much
in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace.
There is a movement afoot in our time,
a movement which is growing, awakening.

We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame
for every social injustice,
every oppression,
the downgrading of others
and the injury that man does to man,
whether personal or on a broader plane.…
God must intervene with his spirit and his justice and his truth.
The present misery, need, and decay must pass away
and the new day of the Son of Man must dawn.
This is the advent of God’s coming.
~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)

 

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I weep to see such bitter divisions still exist in our country,
an echo of fifty years ago
as we failed to learn from past errors.
Here we are again, groaning divided once more,
ignited by two Presidential candidates
whose voices and histories jar,
whose egos thwart ethics and the law,
whose values do not represent
freedom and justice for all.

As we walk this Jericho Road together,
we cannot pass by our brother, our sister, our child
who lies dying in the ditch.
We must stop and help.

It could be you or me there bleeding, beaten, abandoned
until Someone took our place
so we can get up and walk Home.

Maranatha.

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Rotten to the Core

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First I shake the whole Apple tree, that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.
~Martin Luther

Any election cycle in a free country is indeed a free-for-all, with the loudest and brashest citizens shouting their personal opinions far and wide. This election season has been particularly noxious, with the presidential candidates and their followers talking over and above each other until no one bothers to listen.

Since this time around I have no candidate, my voice is meager in comparison. Some would say I have no say since I refuse to partake of rotten apples.

Yet on election day, each citizen, even the smallest and meekest, has the opportunity to express themselves, quietly and alone in a pas-de-deux between them and their personal ballot.  Their vote, whether checking a box next to a candidate name, or writing in an alternative, is just as significant.

With each news cycle, each debate, each Tweet, we just want to see this election over and done with.  We have shaken the electoral apple tree so hard that all the ripe and bitter and rotten fruit has fallen to the ground.  We then must cope with whatever harvest we reap with our votes.

Rarely do we find near-perfect fruit; this year it is already rotted on the branch, tainted from the start.

Some citizens vote along party lines only; the quality of the candidate is immaterial as long as they have the right party affiliation.  Other citizens turn over every leaf in detailed scrutiny of each candidate’s history and qualifications and vote character over platform.  This year there are citizens like myself who see nothing in the current candidates for president but worm holes leading to a fermented core of character rot.

Rotten to the core doesn’t even make edible applesauce.  It is good for nothing but the compost pile in the hope that the fertilizer of today it will somehow yield better fruit tomorrow.

In my opinion, this time around there is no candidate worthy to lead a country founded on the principles of equality for all individuals as well as preventing the tyranny of government in the personal lives of citizens. The candidates have fostered a confused and too-angry citizenry, divided and divisive, shaking our shared tree for all its worth to see what’s in it for us, thus threatening the life of the tree itself.

The moral foundation of our country is mocked by these deeply flawed individuals who believe they deserve to be in the Oval Office despite their dark personal histories, statements and actions.  This election has become all about them and what they want, not about the integrity our country desperately needs in its leaders.

So I pray for a day when we can set differences aside and raise up leaders who can as well. We must work together to care for the tree that bears the fruit needed for our children’s future. Let’s bury this year’s rot around the roots, water it generously and prune the old dead useless stuff away.  The branches will be stronger, the blossoms hearty and ready for pollination (if there are any bees left), and the resulting fruit more palatable.

Perhaps next time around the worms won’t win.

That’ll be the day.

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.  ~Clarence Darrow

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Crossing the Threshold

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John O’Donohue gave voice to the connection between beauty and those edges of life—
thresholds was the word he loved—
where the fullness of reality becomes more stark and more clear.

If you go back to the etymology of the word “threshold,” it comes from “threshing,” which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.

There are huge thresholds in every life.

You know that, for instance, if you are in the middle of your life in a busy evening, fifty things to do and you get a phone call that somebody you love is suddenly dying, it takes ten seconds to communicate that information.

But when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. Suddenly everything that seems so important before is all gone and now you are thinking of this.

So the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we are on is so tentative.
And a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and very often how we cross is the key thing.

When we cross a new threshold worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition
that were in us that had us caught somewhere.

~John O’Donohue from an “On Being” interview with Krista Tippett on “Becoming Wise”

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I emerge from the mind’s
cave into the worse darkness
outside, where things pass and
the Lord is in none of them.
I have heard the still, small voice
and it was that of the bacteria
demolishing my cosmos. I
have lingered too long on
this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul
I was leading upwards towards
the light. To look forward? Ah,
what balance is needed at
the edges of such an abyss.
I am alone on the surface
of a turning planet. What
to do but, like Michelangelo’s
Adam, put my hand
out into unknown space,
hoping for the reciprocating touch?
~R.S. Thomas “Threshold”

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These past few months of mass shootings, tragic deaths and never-ending conflict have forced us all to a threshold needing to be crossed. Yet we stand stubborn, immobilized, frozen and dying on the spot, peering out in fear but never peering inward for self-examination.

Instead of submitting to the crushing winnowing that must happen to blow away the chaff of our lives, to get down to the kernel of truth that sustains us, we cling to the old and familiar. It is we who have delivered ourselves a non-choice between two deeply flawed individuals for president. They represent what evils we tolerate as a people: celebrating entitlements, tolerating their legal, moral and financial shenanigans simply because they are rich and famous.

Unwilling to change attitude or perspective, reluctant to move forward into largely uncharted territory, mired in a tribalism only skin deep, we wonder why history repeats itself, why we are dying every day, by our own hand or by others’.

How to cross worthily? How to cross together, arm in arm, united in the need to move forward beyond this mess we have made for ourselves?

We need a good threshing, badly. We need to be worthy. We need to reach out our hands into the unknown that lies ahead, hoping and praying Someone is there to grab hold and lead us across to a better day.

 

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Between Midnight and Dawn: Breaking Through

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To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
~Luke 18:9-14

 

Walking in February
A warm day after a long freeze
On an old logging road
Below Sumas Mountain
Cut a walking stick of alder,
Looked down through clouds
On wet fields of the Nooksack—
And stepped on the ice
Of a frozen pool across the road.
It creaked
The white air under
Sprang away, long cracks
Shot out in the black,
My cleated mountain boots
Slipped on the hard slick
—like thin ice—the sudden
Feel of an old phrase made real—
Instant of frozen leaf,
Icewater, and staff in hand.
“Like walking on thin ice—”
I yelled back to a friend,
It broke and I dropped
Eight inches in
~Gary Snyder “Thin Ice”

 

This presidential election season has been an exhausting exercise in self-aggrandizement — candidates turning up the heat by exalting themselves over their competition, all while standing on the deep frozen lake of voter emotions.

The trouble with such overheating in the middle of winter is that we all end up walking on too-thin ice: both those who are far too overconfident in expressing their own righteous views and opinions about how much better they are than others, and those of us who listen and believe the blowhards.

We’ll all end up breaking through the ice, thoroughly doused by the chilly waters below.

Lord, have mercy on us,
help us recognize the cracks forming beneath our feet,
by putting us on our knees before you
and you alone.

 

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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

Bitter, Inimical, Implacable Cold

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Cold is an absence, an absence of heat, and yet it feels like a presence–a vigorous, hostilely active presence in the air that presses upon your naked face and that makes your fingers and toes ache within their mittens and boots.  Cold is always working, it seems– busy freezing water in the ponds and rivers, knitting intricate six-sided snowflakes by the billions, finding cracks around the walls and windows of your house, forcing furnaces in the cellar to roar away.

I like winter because it locks me indoors with my books, my word processor, and my clear and brittle thoughts. There is a visual poetry that goes with the cold.  Ferns and stars of frost mysteriously appear on the windows and take their place in a child’s mythology.

The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion.   To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates.
~John Updike from “The Cold”

Today, a goodly portion of the eastern seaboard of the United States is bracing for a mammoth blizzard immobilizing travelers and rendering folks home-bound. Meanwhile, here in the Pacific Northwest, our temperature reached an unseasonably balmy 60 degrees yesterday.

Even in our relative warmth here, we’ve already endured our string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies once the frozen fog abates.  Several feet of snow are back on our summer drought-bared hills and mountains.  During our cold snaps, everything shimmers with diamonds of frosty glitter all day long.  It is the kind of cold this Pacific Northwest native can actually enjoy.  It is not the cold of the midwest plains, or the Alaskan frontier.  This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats.  It is just not natural or seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.

We are not always so lucky here.  The cold that sometimes descends in northeast winds from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, and freeze pipes not left dripping.  It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.

Bitter cold or a heavy snow storm ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival.  It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.

Our whole nation is in just such a bitter, inimical, implacable political cold snap today, terribly divided as we suffer through one of the most hostile and regrettable presidential election cycles in memory.

If we don’t come in out of the societal deep freeze that is afflicting us all, we each will perish alone.   It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are.  At least we can generate heat, even if we can’t manage to lighten up.

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Plenty Messy and Mushy

Politics is applesauce.
~Will Rogers
Our transparent apple trees are heavily burdened with fruit this time of year, to the point of breaking branches crashing to the ground with the weight. There have been few windfalls.

There is a short span for this variety between fruit too green and sour becoming too mealy and mushy.  With the hot weather, the thin-skinned apples will start to crack and turn to mush right on the tree without even letting go first.  So the window for applesauce is now, this week, ready or not.

Applesauce-making is one of my more satisfying domestic activities.  Peeling and coring apples can be tedious, there are always a few bad spots to cut out, and though rare with the organic transparents, there is the occasional wiggling worm to dispose of before cooking.  They make a tart sauce, need no sugar;  but with all the careful preparation before the cooking, the result is smooth to the tongue and a lovely creamy light color, with all blemishes removed, extra unwanted wormy protein deposited in the compost bucket along with mountains of peel, cores and seeds.

Would that I could similarly pare out, peel off, dispose in the compost all the political flyers flooding our mailbox, the automated telephone voter polls coming into our “unlisted” number, the radio, TV and internet ads that burden us all until we crack and break under the weight.  Actually most of the election fruit is already rotting on the tree, turning us to mush in the process.  I’m weary just thinking about the millions of dollars spent in advertising candidates that could be used for far greater good and benefit for the citizenry.

The process of selecting a president and members of Congress, a governor and voting on controversial initiatives can be so vile and mean-spirited that the whole kettle of sauce is spoiled.   I could cook it all day long and there still will be worms waving in the air, rotten cores festering, scabby peels floating on top, the bottom scalding with the heat of the cook stove.  How does a reasonable person decide what is best for the country when nothing is transparent at all in what politicians say versus what they do?

And how palatable will the political flavors be when all is said and done?   I guess we’ll need to wait until November to know how the messy mush of elections will taste.

Thankfully I will have stored up plenty of the real stuff in the freezer so we can drown our misery in the creaminess of summer apples prepared and cooked to perfection: no blemishes, no scabs, no rot, and no worms waving back.

What a world.