Getting a Grip

dupre010
In the Pasture–Julien Dupre`

 

This painting by French realist Julien Dupre` resonated with me this past week. I know well the feeling of pulling against a momentum determined to break free of the strength I can muster to keep it under control. This is what my life often feels like, both on the farm and at work. It seems I am barely hanging on, at times losing my grip, my feet braced but slipping beneath me.

The full-uddered cow in the painting is compelled to join her herd in a pastoral scene just across the creek, but the milk maid must resist the cow’s escape. For the cow’s benefit and comfort, she must be milked. The cow has another agenda. She has snapped her rope tie, almost pulled up the stake, and in a show of strength and determination, the maid braces to pull a much larger animal around to retie her and restore things to how they were.

The action suggests the maid may succeed, but the cow’s attention is directed far afield. She doesn’t even feel the tug on her halter. We’re not fully convinced the cow won’t suddenly pull loose and break away from the maid’s grip, leaping the stream, tail raised straight in the air like a flag of freedom.

Right now, as spring advances rapidly with grass growing thick in the pastures, our horses can smell that richness in the air. Sometimes this tug of war takes place when my plan is different than the horse’s. The fields are too wet for them to be out full time yet, so they must wait for the appropriate time to be released to freedom. The grass calls to them like a siren song as I feed them their portion of last summer’s uninviting hay. They can pull my shoulders almost out of joint when they are determined enough, they break through fences in their pursuit of green, they push through stall doors and lift gates off hinges. Right now I’m barely an adequate counterbalance to the pursuit of their desires and I struggle to remind them I’m on the other end of their lead rope.

Each day I try too hard to restore order in my life, on the farm, in the house, in my clinic, with my patients and coworkers, with my family. I want to pull that cow back around, get her tied up and relieved of her burden of milk so that it can nurture and replenish others. Sometimes I hang on, only to be pulled along on the ground, roughed up in the process. Sometimes I just let go and have to try to catch that cow all over again.

Once in awhile I successfully get the cow turned around and actually milked without a spill.

I’ve held on. I’ve got a grip.
And maybe, just maybe, I will make cheese….

tony2017

outongrass1

The Raggedy Wandering Gypsy

dandysunsetclose3

April is like the raggedy, wandering gypsy lad of the fairy tale.
When he moves, streaks of gold show beneath his torn garments
and you suspect that this elfin creature is actually a prince in disguise.

April is just that.

There are raggedy, cold days, dark black ones,
but all through the month for a second, for an hour, or for three days at a stretch you glimpse pure gold.

The weeks pass and the rags slip away, a shred at a time.
Toward the end of the month his royal highness stands before you.
~Jean Hersey from The Shape of a Year

dandysunset7

I avoid mirrors now as I age, knowing I’m clothed in rags, thinning here, thickening there, sagging and stretching, wrinkled and patched up.

Still, if I look closely past the rags and sags, I see the same eyes as my nine year old self peering back at me.

The lightness of youth and freshness may be disguised, but it is still there.
Every once in awhile, I glimpse pure gypsy gold.

dandyyellow

Turn Aside and Look: Eastering Up

sunsetsky41217

There is a fragrance in the air,
a certain passage of a song,
an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book,
the sound of somebody’s voice in the hall
that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears.

Who can say when or how it will be
that something easters up out of the dimness
to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?

God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.
~Frederick Buechner from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale

sunrise44172

“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”
― Gerard Manley Hopkins

bakerinhiding

All changed, changed utterly:   
A terrible beauty is born.
~William Butler Yeats from “Easter, 1916”
evening415172

It has been a slow coming of spring this year, seeming in no hurry whatsoever.  Snow remains in the foothills and the greening of the fields has only begun. The flowering plum and cherry trees finally have burst into bloom despite a continued chill.  It feels like winter at night yet the perfumed air of spring now permeates the day. Such extreme variability is disorienting, much like standing blinded in a spotlight in a darkened room.

Yet this is exactly what eastering is like.  It is awakening out of a restless sleep, opening a door to let in fresh air, and the stone that locked us in the dark rolled back.

Overnight all changed, changed utterly.

He is not only risen.  He is given indeed.

evening415171

sunsetgeese

 

 

Turn Aside and Look: April Corpse Light

sunsetappletree

Lined with light
the twigs are stubby arrows.
A gilded trunk writhes
Upward from the roots,
from the pit of the black tentacles.

In the book of spring
a bare-limbed torso
is the first illustration.

Light teaches the tree
to beget leaves,
to embroider itself all over
with green reality,
until summer becomes
its steady portrait
and birds bring their lifetime
to the boughs.

Then even the corpse
light copies from below
may shimmer, dreaming it feels
the cheeks of blossom.
~May Swenson “April Light”

applebloom3

In April we wait for the corpse light~
a mysterious illumination which comes alive
on a bright Sabbath Easter morning,
taking bare stubs of people,
begetting them green,
bursting them into blossom,
their cheeks pink with life,
in promise of faithful fruitfulness.

appleblossomrain3

easter215

photo-1-2

 

Turn Aside and Look: Giving Ground

goldenhaze3

aprileveningnorth

The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law,
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream.
There was a subtle flood of steam
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter’s giving ground
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.
~Richard Wilbur “April 5, 1974”

canadianrockies2
photo by Nate Gibson

 

foggyfield
photo by Nate Gibson

 

As the ground softens with spring,
so do I.
Somehow the solid winter freeze was comforting
as nothing appeared to change, stayed static,
so neither did I,
remaining stolid and fixed.

But now, with light and warmth,
the fixed is flexing,
steaming in its labor,
and so must I,
giving ground
and birth
to blooms.

 

northpeakssunrise2

 

fielddaff2017

 

cherryvolunteer

 

Turn Aside and Look: A God Within

wwusakura4

sakura217

 

God is within all things, but not enclosed;
outside all things, but not excluded;
above all things but not aloof;
below all things but not debased.

~St. Bonaventure, 14th C. philosopher and theologian 

 

wwusakura6

 

Beauty, to the Japanese of old, held together the ephemeral with the sacred. Cherry blossoms are most beautiful as they fall, and that experience of appreciation lead the Japanese to consider their mortality.

Hakanai bi (ephemeral beauty) denotes sadness, and yet in the awareness of the pathos of life, the Japanese found profound beauty.

For the Japanese, the sense of beauty is deeply tragic, tied to the inevitability of death.

Jesus’ tears were also ephemeral and beautiful. His tears remain with us as an enduring reminder of the Savior who weeps. Rather than to despair, though, Jesus’ tears lead the way to the greatest hope of the resurrection. Rather than suicide, Jesus’ tears lead to abundant life.
~Makoto Fujimura

 

fallensakura
fallen sakura petals in Tokyo (photo by Nate Gibson)

 

…we are shown so clearly the full import of Jesus’ humanity and His empathy and compassion in His willingness to weep, to shed tears, to empty Himself and to stand naked before us:
(using poetic license here to imagine what Jesus might have said.)

[‘See, my precious ones, I AM like you in your humanness. That is why my Father
has sent me to you to show you the depth of His love for you and to acknowledge
that He knows and understands your pain wrought from your brokenness.’]

The act of weeping, sobbing, crying IS the letting go of our pent up hidden sorrow and our woundedness, held back behind a retaining wall by the sheer force of our willpower and by our reticence to show our true self, our vulnerability. Once released, and emptied of the dross behind the dam, we are washed clean by the cleansing waters of our tears. It is only then, and with the help of Jesus who experienced heart-rending sorrows, that the healing can begin. He demonstrated that to us by His promised Resurrection!
~Alice F. LaChapelle

 

sakurarain
fallen sakura blossoms in Tokyo, photo by Nate Gibson

Turn Aside and Look: Worlds Forming in My Heart

magnolia2

peachjapan

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent 
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.    
~Meister Eckhart from “Expands His Being”

camelliared

The first day of spring is a traditional celebration of the rebirth of nature’s seasonal rhythms, and God’s inner renewal of our hearts.

I know some new spring mornings are pitch black with blustering winds and rain, looking and feeling like the bleakest of October mornings about to plunge into the death spiral of deep autumn and winter all over again.

No self-respecting God would birth Himself into something like this: a dawn as dark as night.

But this God would.

He labors in our darkest of hearts for good reason.  We are unformed and unready to meet Him in the light, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts.  Though we are called to celebrate the renewal of springtime, it is just so much talk until we accept the change of being transformed ourselves.

We are silenced as He prepares us, as He prepares Himself for birth within us.   The labor pains are His, not ours;  we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again.

The world is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, especially inside our broken hearts now healing.

quince1

japanpine