No Longer Lonely

…horses
whose bellies are grain-filled,
whose long-ribbed loneliness
can be scratched into no-longer-lonely.

~Jane Hirshfield from The Love of Aged Horses

(originally written ~20 years ago)

Settling down into the straw, I am grateful for this quiet moment after a 12 hour workday followed by all the requisite personal conversations that help mop up the spills and splatters of every day life. My family has verbally unloaded their day like so much stored up laundry needing to be washed and rinsed with the spin cycle completed before tomorrow dawns. I moved from child to child to child to husband to grandmother, hoping to help each one clean, dry, fold and sort everything in their pile. Not to be outdone, I piled up a little dirty laundry of my own as I complain about my day.

By that time I’m on “spent” cycle myself and seeking a little “alone” time.  I retreat to the barn where verbal communication isn’t necessary. Instead, I need to just sit quietly, watching what happens around me. 

A new foal and his vigilant mama watch my every move.

This colt is intrigued by my intrusion into his 12′ x 24′ world. His mother is annoyed. He comes over to sniff my foot and his mother swiftly moves him away with a quick swing of her hips, daunting me with the closeness of her heels. Her first instinct insists she separate me from him and bar my access. My mandate is to woo her over. I could bribe her with food and sweet talk, but, no, that is too easy.

A curry comb is best. If nothing else will work, a good scratching always does. Standing up, I start peeling sheets of no longer needed winter hair off her neck,  her sides, her flank and hindquarter.  She relaxes in response to my efforts,  giving her baby a body rub with her muzzle, wiggling her lips all up and down from his back to his tummy. He is delighted with this spontaneous mommy massage and leans into her, moving around so his hind end is under her mouth and his front end is facing me. Then he starts giving his own version of a massage too, wiggling his muzzle over my coat sleeve and wondrously closing this little therapeutic triangle, all of us “scratched into no-longer-lonely.”

Here we are, a tight little knot of givers/receivers with horse hair flying in a cloud about us. One weary human, one protective mama mare and one day-old foal, who is learning so young how to contribute to the well being of others. It is an incredible gift of trust they bestow on me like a blessing.  I realize this horse family is helping me sort my own laundry in the same way I had helped with my human family’s load.

Too often in life we confine our lonely selves in painful triangles, passing our kicks and bites down the line to each other rather than providing nurture and respite. We find ourselves unable to wrench free from continuing to deliver the hurts we’ve just received.  What strength it takes to respond with kindness when the kick has just landed on our backside. How chastened we feel when a kindness is directed at us, as undeserving as we are after having bitten someone hard.

Instead of biting, try a gentle scratching.  Instead of kicking, try tickling. Instead of fear, try acceptance.  Instead of annoyance, try patience. Instead of piling up so much laundry of your own, try washing, folding and sorting what is dumped on you by others, handing it back all ready for the next day.

Just settle into the straw to watch and wait – amazing things will happen.

A Slender Cord

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The builder who first bridged Niagara’s gorge,
Before he swung his cable, shore to shore,   
Sent out across the gulf his venturing kite   
Bearing a slender cord for unseen hands   
To grasp upon the further cliff and draw
A greater cord, and then a greater yet;   
Till at the last across the chasm swung   
The cable then the mighty bridge in air!
So we may send our little timid thought   
Across the void, out to God’s reaching hands—
Send out our love and faith to thread the deep—
Thought after thought until the little cord
Has greatened to a chain no chance can break,
And we are anchored to the Infinite!
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We dangle from a slender thread,
twisting and turning, swinging to and fro
with the breezes.
This silken line connects us in ways we barely see
to hold on to us when buffeted
by storms and rain and drought.

We are anchored fast to eternity, and never let go.

From here to infinity.

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Now Let the Day Decline

 

 

 

But hark! the drowsy day has done its task,
Far in yon hazy field where stands a barn,
Unanxious hens improve the sultry hour
And with contented voice now brag their deed—
A new laid egg—Now let the day decline—
They’ll lay another by tomorrow’s sun.
~Henry David Thoreau from “I’m thankful that my life doth not deceive”
We cycle, reassured, from the decline into night, climbing back into day to descend yet again into night,
even at summer-sultry 90+ degrees.
There will be a new sun tomorrow
reddened in the smoky haze of wildfires.
There will be new eggs tomorrow,
bright, clean, fresh, announced by hen-cackle.There will be a tomorrow
and I am thankful.

Afraid in the World

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Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
~Frederich Buechner

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Most days I depend on beauty
happening in the most unexpected places
and go looking for it.

But when the unexpected terrible happens–
crushes, bleeds and fractures us apart,
and beauty appears to hide its face,
what I fear most
is that I’ll not ever see beauty again.

We are told:
the Words said
again and again and again
every single day,
if only we can hear,
if only we can assure others:

here I am with you in this broken world-
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid

 

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God Among Us: Reason to Fear Not

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And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.”
Luke 2:8-10

 

We forget that God is right there, waiting for us to turn to him, no matter how dire our situation.
We forget the reassuring words of his messengers: “Fear not.”
God always seeks to draw close to us — even in the depths of hell.
…it comes down to this: the only way to truly overcome our fear of death
is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.
It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others.
It means choosing generosity over greed.
It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power.
Finally, it means being ready to die again and again
— to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion or agenda.

~Johann Christoph Arnold from Watch for the Light

 

“How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest resource!
We go to Him because we have nowhere else to go.
And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us,
not upon the rocks, but into the desired haven.”
~George MacDonald

 

 The grace of God means something like:
Here is your life.
You might never have been, but you are,
because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.
Here is the world.

Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.

I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner
in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
 

 

Fear often becomes the thing we fear the most. And it need not be. Being afraid in the face of the unexpected happened years and years ago to people who were society’s cast-offs, relegated to tending flocks as they had no other skill of value. They were the forgotten and the least of men. Yet what they saw and heard that Christmas night put them, of all people, first in line to see God in flesh,  allowing them access no one else had.

Within the routine familiarity of their fields and flocks came this most unexpected experience, terrifying in its sheer “other worldliness”, and blinding in its grandeur. They were flattened with fear and dread, “sore” afraid, hurting all over in their terror.

And so the reassurance came: “Be not afraid”.  It is reiterated over and over:  “Fear not!”

The shepherds picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and obediently went on their way to the safety and familiar security of a barn, to see with their own eyes what they could not imagine: a baby born in so primitive a place, yet celebrated from the heavens. The least becomes first, and the first becomes the least.

Sometimes, in these dark times, our terror is for good reason, and we feel driven upon the rocks of life.  But we need to understand where we truly land in those terrifying moments.  It is the safe haven of God’s arms,  as He gazes up at us from a manger bed, walks with us through the valley of our fear, and gathers us in to safe haven when we were sure there was nowhere else to go.
~EPG

 

We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves,
We give to your son.

 

1. Methinks I see an heav’nly host
Of angels on the wing
Methinks I hear their cheerful notes
So merrily they sing:

Let all your fears be banish’d hence,
Glad tidings I proclaim,
For there’s a Saviour born today,
And Jesus is his name.

2. Lay down your crooks and quit your flocks,
To Bethlehem repair;
And let your wand’ring steps be squar’d
By yonder shining star.

Seek not in courts or palaces,
Nor royal curtains draw;
But search the stable, see your God
Extended on the straw.

3. Then learn from hence, ye rural Swains,
The Meekness of your God,
Who left the boundless Realms of Joy
To Ransom you with blood.

The Master of the Inn refus’d
A more commodious Place;
Ungenerous Soul of Savage Mould,
And destitute of Grace.

4. Exult ye oxen, low for joy,
Ye tenants of the stall,
Pay your obeisance, on your knees
Unanimously fall.

The royal guest you entertain
Is not of common birth,
But second to the great I Am;
The God of heav’n and earth.

5. Then suddenly a heav’nly host
Around the shepherds throng,
Exulting in the threefold God
And thus address their song.
To God the Father, Christ the Son,
And Holy Ghost ador’d;
The First and Last, the Last and First,
Eternal praise afford.

 

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You Come Too

 

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I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
~Robert Frost “The Pasture”
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