Evading Ourselves

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Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware
of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being,
to which we rarely penetrate;
for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.
—T.S. Eliot

 

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On the surface we appear a tangled mess much of the time – a jumble of feelings and desires, needs and wants.

Deeper down, there is the core of who we are in a place that can’t be seen.
We rarely dip in there, like a sore spot one is tempted to touch but avoids doing so because of its tenderness.

The bright light of a few well chosen words can ring us like a bell;
we are struck dumb that such clarity comes to a place so well hidden that it was easy to evade.

 

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Known Before We Know

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Before Jeremiah knew God, God knew Jeremiah:
“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you.”
This turns everything we ever thought about God around.
We think that God is an object about which we have questions.
We are curious about God.
We make inquiries about God.
We read books about God.
We get into late-night bull sessions about God.
We drop into church from time to time to see what is going on with God.
We indulge in an occasional sunset or symphony
to cultivate a feeling of reverence about God.

But that is not the reality of our lives with God.
Long before we ever got around to asking questions about God,
God had been questioning us.
Long before we got interested in the subject of God,
God subjected us to the most intensive and searching knowledge.
Before it ever crossed our minds that God might be important,
God singled us out as important.
Before we were formed in the womb,
God knew us.
We are known before we know.

This realization has a practical result:
no longer do we run here and there,
panicked and anxious,
searching for the answers to life.
Our lives are not puzzles to be figured out.
Rather, we come to God,
who knows us and reveals to us the truth of our lives.
The fundamental mistake
is to begin with ourselves
and not God.
God is the center from which all life develops.

~Eugene Peterson from Run With the Horses

My clinic days are full of people panicked and anxious,
too unsure to know themselves,
too unsure to know those around them,
too unsure of knowing which road to choose,
too unsure of whether to take a next breath.

I want to say:
this isn’t about you.
This isn’t about what you know
and what you don’t know or
whether you are sure of where you are headed
or hopelessly lost.
This is about being known
far before you came to be.

This is all you have to know:
You are known.
And the road to choose
is the one that leads
straight to Him who knows you
and the next breath you take
has come straight from Him.

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The Original Self

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The original shimmering self gets buried so deep
that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all.
Instead we live out of all our other selves,
which we are constantly putting on and taking off
like coats and hats against the world’s weather.

~Frederick Buechner from Telling Secrets

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Generally late September is when we start to see our Haflinger horses growing in their longer coat for winter. Their color starts to deepen with the new hair as the sun bleached summer coat loosens and flies with the late summer breezes. The nights here, when the skies are cloudless, can get perilously close to freezing this time of year, though our first frost is generally not until well into October. The Haflingers, outside during the day, and inside their snug stalls at night, don’t worry too much about needing their extra hair quite yet, especially when the day time temperatures are still comfortably in the 70s. So they are not in a hurry to be furrier. Neither am I. But I enjoy watching this daily change in their coats, as if they were ripening at harvest time. Their copper colors are so rich against the green fields and trees, especially at sunset when the orange hue of their coat is enhanced by the sunlit color palette of fall leaves undergoing their own transformation in their dying.

In another six months, it will be a reverse process once again. This heavy hair will have served its purpose, dulled by the harsh weather it has been exposed to, and coming out in clumps and tufts, revealing that iridescent short hair summer coat that shines and shimmers metallic in comparison, although several shades lighter, sometimes with nuances of dapples peeking through. Metamorphosis from fur ball to shimmering copper penny.

It occurs to me our old barn buildings on our farm are in need of a similar transformation, having received a new coat of paint over ten years ago and overdue for another.  As a dairy farm for its previous owners starting in the early 1900s until a few years before we purchased it in the late 80s, it has accumulated more than its share of sheds and buildings constructed over the years to serve one purpose or another: the big hay barn with mighty old growth beams and timbers in its framework (still hay storage), the attached milking parlor (converted by us to individual box stalls for our weanlings and yearlings) and milk house where the bulk tank once stood, the older separate milk house where the milk used to be stored in cans waiting for pick up by the milk truck (now garden shed and harness storage), the old smoke house for smoking meats (was our chicken coop, but now the dogs claim it), the old bunk house and root cellar (more storage), the old large chicken coop (now parking for our carts and carriage), and the garage (a Methodist church in its former life and moved 1/4 mile up the road to our farm some 70 years ago when the little community of Forest Grove that had formed around a saw mill, store, school and church disbanded after 30 years of prosperity when there were no more trees to cut down in the area). When we bought this farm, these buildings had not seen a coat of paint in many many years. They were weathering badly–we set to work right away in an effort to save them if we could, and got them repainted–“barn red” for the barn and cream white for the other buildings with red trim around the windows and roof lines.

That was over 25 years ago now and we’ve been trying to hold off on another round of painting. With a fresh coat of paint, these old buildings would appear to have new life again, though it is only on the surface. We know there are roofs that need patching, wiring that needs to be redone, plumbing that needs repair, foundations that need shoring up, broken windows that are drafty and need replacing, doors that don’t shut properly anymore–the list goes on. That superficial coat of paint does not solve all those problems–it will help prolong the life of the buildings, to be sure, but in many ways, all we’ve done is cosmetic surgery. What we really need is a full time carpenter –which neither of us is and at this point can’t afford.

In my late middle age, there are times when I wish fervently for that “new coat” for myself–i.e. fewer gray hairs, fewer pounds, fewer wrinkles and one less chin, less achy stronger muscles. I buy a new fall jacket and realize that all my deficiencies are simply covered for the time being. I may be warmer but I’m not one bit younger. That jacket will, I hope, protect me from the brisk northeast winds and the incessant drizzle of the region, but it will not stop the inevitable underneath. It will not change my original self and what I will become.

True shimmering change can only come from within, from deep inside our very foundations, requiring a transforming influence that comes from outside. For the Haflingers, it is the diminishing light and lower temperatures. For the buildings, it is the hammer and nail, and the capable hands that wield them. For me, it is knowing there is salvage for people too, not just for old barns and sheds. Our foundations are hoisted up and reinforced, and we’re cleaned, patched and saved despite who we have become. And unlike new paint, or a winter coat, it lasts forever.

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