Is Everything Sad Going to Come Untrue?

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photo of Mt. Baker by Joel DeWaard

 

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“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
~J.R.R. Tolkien as Samwise Gamgee wakes to find his friends all around him in The Lord of the Rings

“The answer is yes. And the answer of the Bible is yes. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue.”
~Pastor Tim Keller’s response in a sermon given in an ecumenical prayer service memorial in Lower Manhattan on the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11.

 

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In our minds, we want to rewind and replay the sad events of a tragedy in a way that would prevent it from happening in the first place.

We want those in a broken relationship to come back together, hug and forgive.  The devastating diagnosis would be proven an error, only a mere transient illness.  When a mass casualty event happens, we want the dead and injured to rise up again.  The destructive earthquake becomes a mere tremor, the flooding tsunami is only one foot, not over thirty feet tall, the hijackers are prevented from ever boarding a plane, the shooter changes his mind at the last minute and lays down his arms, the terrorist disables his suicide bombs and walks away from his training and misguided mission.

We want so badly for it all to be untrue.  The bitter reality of horrendous suffering and sadness daily all over the earth is too much for us to absorb.   We plead for relief and beg for a better day.

Our minds may play mental tricks like this, but God does not play tricks.  He knows and feels what we do.  He too wants to see it rewound and replayed differently.  He has known grief and sadness, He has wept, He has suffered, He too has died.  And because of this, because of a God who came to dwell with us, was broken, died and then rose again whole and holy, we are assured, in His time, everything sad is going to come untrue.

Our tears will be dried, our grief turned to joy, our pain nonexistent, not even a memory.  It will be a new day, a better day–as it is written, trustworthy and true.

May it come.

Quickly.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.  Revelation 21: 4-5

 

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Snake Skin

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Pruning back the old spirea bushes
that sprawled for years in summer’s heat,
I bared the snake skin, a yard and a half long:
its naked empty length rippled in the streaming wind
lifting its ghostly coils from the dead shoots
that scraped the slough from the slithering body
that shed it in that narrow, shaded space.

I paused—who wouldn’t?—shears poised,
slipped off gray canvas gloves, extracted
the sere, striated casing from the brown stalks
that had held it, silent, hidden.

I coiled the paper-thin curling sheath with care,
delicately, eased it into a simple squatty box
for keeping, for care, for my daughters
to take to school, to show, to explain
how some sinuous body we’ve never glimpsed,
that haunts about our shrubs, our porch,
left for us this translucent, scale-scored wrapper,
this silent hint of all that moves unseen.
~Stephen Behrendt “Snakeskin”

 

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Cast off on a sunny spring day
onto a warm manure pile,
a wriggled-free fresh molt snakeskin,
nearly covered by my fresh load~
lay blended with old hay, horse hair, shavings,
tucked among what is already digested,
dumped and discarded.
This, an intact hollowed shadow
of a still living creature
who has moved on:
I too need to leave my old self
shrugged off onto the manure pile,
shed when it no longer fits
the ways I’ve grown hallowed,
a fitting remembrance of
who I once was,
yet left behind.
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I Am Not Resigned

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I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay “Dirge Without Music”
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Each Memorial Day weekend without fail,
we gather with family, have lunch, reminisce,
and trek to a cemetery high above Puget Sound
to catch up with our relatives who lie there still.
Some for over 100 years, some for less than a decade,
some we knew and loved and miss every day,
others not so much, unknown to us
except on genealogy charts,
their names and dates and these stones
all that is left of them.
Yet we know each
(as we know for ourselves and others)
was tender and kind, though flawed and broken,
was beautiful and strong, though wrinkled and frail,
was hopeful and faithful, though too soon in the ground.

We know this about them
as we know it about ourselves:
someday we too will feed roses,
the light in our eyes transformed into elegant swirls
emitting the fragrant scent of heaven.

No one asks if we approve.
Nor am I resigned to this but only know:
So it is,  so it has been, so it will be.

 

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That Heaven of which We Have Heard

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I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
-Wendell Berry “To My Mother”

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…and to think we enter this world screaming,
begging to be held and fed,
already needing forgiveness that sometimes,
(not always)
comes from our entangled imperfect parents
who worry over and juggle and guide us

and who themselves, once prodigal,
weep too with the burden
of feeling unforgiven,
dismayed because they won’t get it right
no matter how hard they try

Thank God for the promise
of this Heaven of which we have heard
where Love freely given, never earned,
rises resplendent, in full bloom,
from earth’s fallen ashes.

 

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Mystery Made Visible

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This fevers me, this sun on green,
On grass glowing, this young spring.
The secret hallowing is come,
Regenerate sudden incarnation,
Mystery made visible
In growth, yet subtly veiled in all,
Ununderstandable in grass,
In flowers, and in the human heart,
This lyric mortal loveliness,
The earth breathing, and the sun…

…The apple takes the seafoam’s light,
And the evergreen tree is densely bright.
April, April, when will he
Be gaunt, be old, who is so young?
This fevers me, this sun on green,
On grass lowing, this young spring.

~Richard Eberhart  from “This fevers me”

 

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It is a mystery
how the dead,
so very dead
can live again.

Ground frozen
mere weeks ago
now leaps lush and vibrant.
Branches snapped off dry
in midwinter storm and ice
now burst with bloom.

A new leaf glows
in evening light,
pulsing illumination.

Beyond understanding
Beyond imagining
Beyond each fevered breath
that could be,
but isn’t,
our last.

 

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Green and Glorious

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I wished to wade in the trillium
and be warmed near the white flames.
I imagined the arch of my foot
massaged by the mosses.
This field immersed in gravity
defying growth.  Green and glorious.
It let me know that out of the
soil came I, and green I shall be.
Whether an unnamed weed or a
wild strawberry I will join in
the hymn.
~Luci Shaw from “Spring Song, Very Early Morning”

 

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Spring is finally in full swing here on the farm.  Grass grows so fast that mowing could be a twice a week activity,  dandelions are dotting the fields in a yellow carpet, the flowering plums and cherries are peaking, the daffodils are spent and the tulips are bursting forth.

 

The koi and goldfish in our pond have decided to surface from underneath all the winter debris and have grown to another 6 inches over the winter and now are busy feasting on mosquito larvae as the insects have awakened as well.   At times I feel so overwhelmed by the accelerated pace of growth and activity that I sheepishly long for the dark quiet gray days of winter, if just for the respite of a nap.

Instead of a nap, I hunt for trillium.  They are the traditional harbinger of spring and without them, it all seems like just so much pretending.  These are somber plants that will only grow in certain conditions of woods and shade, with leafy mulched soil.  Once established, they reliably spring up from their bulbs every spring with their rich green trio of leaves on each stem that are at once soft and slightly shimmery, and at the top the purest of three white petals, one per leaf cluster.  The blossoms last a week or two, then turn purplish and fade away, followed weeks later by the fading of the foliage, not to arise again from the soil until the following year. 

 

Picking a trillium blossom necessitates picking the leaf foliage beneath it, and that in turn destroys the bulb’s ability to nourish and regenerate, and the plant never forms again.  I think I have known this from my earliest childhood days as I was a compulsive wildflower gatherer as a little kid, having devastated more than my share of trillium bulbs until I learned the awful truth of the damage I had done.  I have since treated them as sacrosanct and untouchable.

There are trillium blossoms to be found on our farm, a few steadfast survivors, yet completely vulnerable to someone’s impulse to bring the beauty indoors for a few days in a vase.  What a tenuous grip on life when people are desiring to pluck them, with their resulting oblivion. How unknowingly destructive we are in our blind selfish pursuit of beauty for our own pleasure and purposes.  These pure triad blossoms and leaves, representing all that is preciously drawn from the earth and enriched and nourished by sunlight, can be obliterated, never to return, never to bloom, never to rise again from the dust to be green and glorious.

How much more precious is that which rises again to bloom and flourish forever despite our senseless destructiveness?  And He is here, among us, waiting for us, forgiving us for our thoughtless actions.

I look at the trillium longingly, wanting to touch them, wanting to own them and hold them, and knowing I never will.  They are meant to stay where they are, as I hope to remain, rooted and thriving, yet still fragile in the everlasting soil of life.

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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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