To Be Bathed in Beauty

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We do not want merely to see beauty…
we want something else which can hardly be put into words-
to be united with the beauty we see,
to pass into it,
to receive it into ourselves,
to bathe in it,
to become part of it.

~C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory

 

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Each day brings headlines that tear at us, pull us down and rub us into the mud.  We are grimy by association, sullied and smeared.

Yet in our state of disgrace, Beauty is offered up to us.

In His last act with those He loved, Jesus shared Himself through a communal meal,
then washed and toweled their dirty feet clean, immersing them, despite their protests,  in all that is beautiful and clean.
He took on and wore their grime.

It is now our turn to wash away the dirt from whoever is in need.  He showed us how.

 

 

 

 

 

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Fathomless Mystery

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Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
~John 1:16-17

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,

    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.
~1 Timothy 3:16

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There is no event so commonplace
but that God is present within it,
always hiddenly,
always leaving you room to recognize Him
or not…

Listen to your life.

See it for the
fathomless mystery that it is.

In the boredom and pain of it no less
than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the
holy and hidden art of it
because in the last analysis
all moments are key moments…..

and Life itself is Grace.
~Frederick Buechner from Now and Then- Listening to Your Life

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The locus of the human mystery is perception of this world.
From it proceeds every thought, every art.
I like Calvin’s metaphor—nature is a shining garment in which God is revealed and concealed.
~Marilynne Robinson from her “Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred” essay

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Perhaps it is the mystery of this Life that brings us back,
again and again, to read His story, familiar as it is.
How can this mystery be?
God appearing on earth,
hidden in the commonplace,
rendering it sacred and holy.
How can He be?
Through the will of the Father
and the breath of the Spirit,
the Son was,
and is
and yet to be.

O greatest mystery beyond all understanding.

 

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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

To Clasp Hands

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Freedom of Worship by Norman Rockwell

To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.
~Karl Barth

Prayer may be easiest for the youngest among us.  It can be amazingly spontaneous for kids — an outright exclamation of joy, a crying plea for help, a word of unprompted gratitude.   As a child I can remember making up my own songs and monologues to God as I wandered alone in our farm’s woods, enjoying His company in my semi-solitude.  I’m not sure when I began to silence myself out of self-conscious embarrassment, but I stayed silent for many years, unwilling to put voice to the prayers that rattled in my head.  In my childhood, prayer in public schools had been hushed into a mere moment of silence, and intuitively I knew silence had never changed anything.  The world became more and more disorderly in the 60’s and 70’s and in my increasingly indoctrinated mind, there was no prayer I could say that would make a difference.

How wrong could I and my secular education be?

Nothing can right the world until we are right with our Creator through talking to Him out of the depth of our need and fear.  Nothing can right the world until we submit ourselves wholly, bowed low, hands clasped, eyes closed, articulating the joy, the thanks, and the petitions weighing on our hearts.

An uprising is possible when a voice comes alive, unashamed, un-selfconscious, rising up from within us, uttering words that beseech and thank and praise.  To rise up with hands clasped together calls upon a power which needs no weapons, only words, to overcome and overwhelm the shambles left of our world.

Nothing can be more victorious than the Amen — our Amen — at the end.  So be it and so shall it be.

Amen, and Amen again.

 

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The Hiddenness of Poems

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footprint photo by Josh Scholten

I’ll tell you a secret: poems hide.
In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping.
They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up.
What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them.
Naomi Shihab Nye

 

Poems were hidden from me for decades.  I was oblivious a hundred times a day to their secrets: dripping right over me in the shower,  rising over hills bright pink, tucked under a toadstool, breathing deeply as I auscultated a chest,  unfolding with each blossom, settling heavily on my eyelids at night.

The day I awoke to them was the day thousands of innocents died in sudden cataclysm of airplanes and buildings and fire — people not knowing when they got up that day it would be their last.  And such taking of life happens again and again; our world weeps.

Suddenly poems show themselves. I begin to see, listen, touch, smell, taste as if each day would be my last.
I have learned to live in a way that lets me see through the hiddenness and now it overwhelms me.  Poems are everywhere when I look.

And I don’t know if I have enough time left to write them all down.

 

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When It Doesn’t Matter a Hill of Beans

Fall begins again even though I’m unprepared.  No matter which way I turn,  autumn’s kaleidoscope displays new patterns, new colors, new empty spaces as I watch the world die into itself once again.

Some dying blazes out in fury — a calling out for attention.  Then there is the dying that happens without anyone taking much notice: a plain, tired, rusting away letting go.

I spent the morning adjusting to this change in season by occupying myself with the familiar task of moving manure.  Cleaning barn is a comforting chore, allowing me to transform tangible benefit from something objectionable and just plain stinky to the nurturing fertilizer of the future. It feels like I’ve actually accomplished something.

As I scooped and pushed the wheelbarrow, I remembered another barn cleaning fifteen years ago, when I was one of a few friends left cleaning over ninety stalls after a Haflinger horse event that I had organized at our local fairgrounds. Some people had brought their horses from over 1000 miles away to participate for several days.  There had been personality clashes and harsh words among some participants along with criticism directed at me that I had taken very personally.  As I struggled with the umpteenth wheelbarrow load of manure, tears stung my eyes and my heart.  I was miserable with regrets.   After going without sleep and making personal sacrifices over many months planning and preparing for the benefit of our group,  my work felt like it had not been acknowledged or appreciated.

A friend had stayed behind with her family to help clean up the large facility and she could see I was struggling to keep my composure.  Jenny put herself right in front of my wheelbarrow and looked me in the eye, insisting I stop working for a moment and listen.

“You know,  none of these troubles and conflicts will amount to a hill of beans years from now.  People will remember a fun event in a beautiful part of the country,  a wonderful time with their horses, their friends and family, and they’ll be all nostalgic about it, not giving a thought to the infighting or the sour attitudes or who said what to whom.   We are horse people and human beings, for Pete’s sake, prone to complain and grouse about life.  So don’t make this about you and whether you did or didn’t make everyone happy.  You loved us all enough to make it possible to meet here and the rest was up to us.  So quit being upset about what you can’t change.  There’s too much you can still do for us.”

During tough times, Jenny’s advice replays, reminding me to stop expecting or seeking appreciation from others, or feeling hurt when harsh words come my way.   She was right about the balm found in the tincture of time and she was right about giving up the upset in order to die to self and self absorption, and keep focusing outward.

I have remembered.

Subsequently, unknown to both of us at the time,  Jenny herself spent over six years dying from breast cancer, while living her life sacrificially and sacramentally every day, fighting a relentless disease that was, for a time, immobilized in the face of her faith and intense drive to live. She became a rusting leaf, fading imperceptibly over time, crumbling at the edges until the day when she finally let go.   Her dying did not flash brilliance, nor draw attention at the end.  Her intense focus during the years of her illness had always been outward to others, to her young family and friends, to the healers she spent so much time with in medical offices, to her belief in the plan God had written for her and others.

So four years ago she let go her hold on life here. And we reluctantly have let her go.   Brilliance now cloaks her as her focus is on things eternal.

You were so right, Jenny.  Nothing from fifteen years ago amounts to a hill of beans; it simply doesn’t matter any more.

Except the words you spoke to me.

And I won’t be upset that I can’t change the fact that you have left us.

We’ll catch up later.

photo of Jenny Rausch in her last year on earth, by sister Ginger-Kathleen Coombs

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Sacrificial Living

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No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it.
Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity.
We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.

~Wendell Berry from The Art of the Commonplace

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I know for a while again,
the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valley side,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which I may even step
forth from myself and be free.
~ Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 2000

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I was told once that I write of sacramental living — touching and tasting the holiness of everyday moments, as if they are the cup and bread of life.  I let that feedback sit warmly beside me, like a welcome companion during the many hours when I struggle with what to share here.

It is now apparent to me it is all too tempting to become the sacrament rather than the sacrifice.  As much as I love the world and the beauty in the moments I find here, my search should be for those “thin places” between heaven and earth, for forgetting self and stepping forth from a holy threshold into something far greater —  where ego, like gravity, can no longer confine and weigh down.

There is freedom in the sacrificial life, a wonderful terrifying illuminating freedom, still far beyond my grasp.  But I’m looking at where and how to reach for it.

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