A Bleeding Heart

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Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment.

The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself.

Ministers in particular, people in the caring professions in general, are famous for neglecting their selves with the result that they are apt to become in their own way as helpless and crippled as the people they are trying to care for and thus no longer selves who can be of much use to anybody. 

It means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.

A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.
~Frederick Buechner from Telling Secrets

 

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We are reminded every time we hear safety instructions on an airplane before a flight takes off: “in the event of a sudden pressure change in the cabin, oxygen masks will appear – remember to put your own on before helping others with their masks.”   

If we aren’t able to breathe ourselves, we won’t last long enough to be of assistance to anyone around us.  Too often,  sacrificing self-care threatens others’ well-being.

A headline appeared in my email from the American Psychiatric Association this morning: “Physicians Experience the Highest Suicide Rate of Any Profession” – there is rampant depression and burn-out among those who should know best how to recognize and respond to the danger signs — for women physicians, nearly 1 out of 5 are afflicted.   Yet the work load only seems to increase, not diminish, the legal and moral responsibility weighs more heavily, and the hours available for sleep and respite shrink.  In forty years of practicing medicine (my father liked to remind me “when are you going to stop ‘practicing’ and actually ‘do’ it?”),  the work has never gotten easier, only harder and heavier.

I see suicidal patients all day and am immensely grateful I’ve never been suicidal, thank God, but anxiety is embedded deep in my DNA from my non-physician fretful farmer ancestors.  Anxiety becomes the fuel and driver of the relentless physician journey on long lonely roads, spurring us to stay awake too many hours and travel too far when we should be closing our eyes and taking a break to breathe, just breathe.

However, we are trained to respond to anxiety from the first day in anatomy class:
“and while you, Miss Polis, are trying to think of the name of that blood vessel, your patient is exsanguinating in front of you– drip, drip, drip….”

Terror-stricken at the thought I was inadequate to the task of saving a life, it took years for me to realize the name of the vessel didn’t bloody matter as long as I knew instinctively to clamp it, compress it, or by the love of the Living God, transfuse my own blood from my bleeding heart into my patient’s.

I learned well those many years ago:

To save a life, I must preserve my own.

 

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Tempted to Run and Rush

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The duties and cares of the day crowd about us when we awake each day
– if they have not already dispelled our night’s rest.

How can everything be accommodated in one day?
When will I do this, when that?
How will it all be accomplished?

Thus agitated, we are tempted to run and rush.
And so we must take the reins in hand and remind ourselves,

“Let go of your plans. The first hour of your morning belongs to God.
Tackle the day’s work that he charges you with,
and he will give you the power to accomplish it.”
~Edith Stein from Essays on Woman

 

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Rushing headlong pell-mell tumble-bumble into the day is a specialty of mine.  Once I step out the door there isn’t a single moment of quiet breathing space until I step back in the door 12 hours later.  I realize this is a daily choice I make to live this way: no one forces me to see just one more patient (or four) or complete each chart before I leave or make sure I have responded to a hundred messages.

I would not rest well until the work is finished.

Therefore my hour of quiet starts very early in the day, usually before the sun rises or the birds start to twitter, when there is no every-fifteen-minute appointment schedule and the phone remains silent.

However the rising morning does not belong to me: God knows what I’ll need to get through the day.  He reminds me to breathe deeply, find time to smell the tulips, and take a walk with a buddy,  always remembering I’m not alone.

 

 

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Barn Light

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The light by the barn that shines all night
pales at dawn when a little breeze comes.

A little breeze comes breathing the fields
from their sleep and waking the slow windmill.

The slow windmill sings the long day
about anguish and loss to the chickens at work.

The little breeze follows the slow windmill
and the chickens at work till the sun goes down—

Then the light by the barn again.

~William Stafford, from The Way It Is

 

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For years I was convinced that vapor lights turning on at dusk had no place on our farm.
Light pollution and all that.
Then I got older and awkward enough to stumble in the dark on uneven ground while walking to the barn — I needed a light to help me avoid a face plant.

We now have motion detection lights that turn on when I approach.  They provide illumination just long enough to get me where I need to go and once I’m safely inside, they fade out and allow the sleeping barnyard the cover of darkness it needs.

The sun itself is a kind of motion detector in reverse – a motion activator/deactivator.  When it is time, it turns on to get us moving and we are spurred to the work of the day.  When it is time to rest, it shuts off and we become still as chickens in a roost.

It is the rhythm of work and sleep that we need in our lives – a cycle of activity and rest.

And today is Sabbath – the Light is On us.
Even so, we are to stop and listen, cease work and rest.

 

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In the Dark, Reconciled

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I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over—
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”

 

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On Sunday evenings I often feel I’m the spot in the middle between discordant notes. There is on one side of me the pressure of catch-up from what was left undone through a too-brief weekend and on the other side is the anticipated demand of the coming week. As I prepare to sleep at the end of a Sabbath day, I feel uneasily in dead center, immobilized by the unknown ahead and the known behind.

This moment of rest in the present, between the trembling past and uncertain future, is my moment of reconciliation: my Sabbath extended.

This evening, I will allow myself a steeply sloping hour of silence and reflection before I surge ahead into the week, knowing that on my journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes, yet beautiful nevertheless.

Even the least harmonious notes resolve within the next chord. I will move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life.

Trembling, still trembling, always trembling at what is to come.

 

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photo by Josh Scholten

 

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Find Rest in Today

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There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
but there is much I cannot give that you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.
Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow;
behind it, yet within reach, is joy.
Take joy!
There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see;
and to see, we have only to look.
I beseech you to look.
Life is so generous a giver,
but we, judging its gifts by their covering,
cast them away as ugly, or heavy, or hard.
Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it
a living splendor, woven of love, by wisdom, with power.
~Fra Giovanni , a late 15th century monk and scholar, from Seeking Peace

 

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We are reminded each day, as the night overtakes the light, that we have only to look and take what is gifted to us: the splendor and glory lies under the cover of darkness.

Each of us dwell in shadow, unwilling to be exposed and naked for all to see our failings, our blemishes and our weaknesses.  We hide who we are, missing the offering up of this day, this moment.

Find rest today, this Sabbath, and take what is so freely given:
take heaven, take peace, take joy, take life on fully.

This moment, even when shrouded in darkness, never comes again.

 

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A Rest Between Two Notes

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I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over—
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke from “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”

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photo by Josh Scholten

 

At the end of this past Sunday’s Easter worship, while playing a complicated version of the Doxology on the piano in our church, I hit some wrong notes.  Usually I can recover from such mistakes but I lost my way in the music on the page, struggling to recover in time to finish with the undaunted congregation, my fingers trembling to find the right keys.

Waking yesterday, I felt my usual Monday morning uneasiness but even more so: I’m the spot in the middle between discordant notes. There is on one side of me the pressure of catching up from what was left undone through the weekend and on the other side the anticipated demands of the coming week.

Before I even arrive at work, I find myself uneasy in dead center, immobilized by the unknown ahead and the known messiness I’ve left behind.

This moment of rest in the present, between the trembling past and uncertain future, is a precious moment of reconciliation, my Sabbath extended. I must allow myself an instant of silence and reflection and forgiveness before I surge ahead into the week, knowing that on my continuing journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes.

But it can be beautiful nevertheless.

Even the least harmonious notes find reconciliation within the next chord. I move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life, renewed and forgiven.

But trembling, still trembling.

 

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A Lingering Season

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Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.
~  John Boswell

 

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As temperatures rose 40 degrees from a snowy/icy first half of January to a balmy third week, it feels like our winter isn’t going to linger long after all.  As much as my frozen fingers appreciate the reprieve while during barn chores, I am wistful that winter may have already decided to pack up and move on for another year. It seems its departure was a bit hurried from the scattered reminders left behind — a bejeweled owl feather here, a molding leaf there, crusts of melting ice everywhere.

We need a little more of this season of bare bones and stark landscapes, of time for remembrance and restoration.  I won’t bid goodbye yet, hoping it may yet linger a while longer.

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A narrow pond would form in the orchard, water clear as air covering grass and black leaves and fallen branches, all around it black leaves and drenched grass and fallen branches, and on it, slight as an image in an eye, sky, clouds, trees, our hovering faces and our cold hands.
~Marilynne Robinson from Housekeeping

 

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