Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
~Matthew 7: 24-27
Our house is built on sandstone, on a rise on the farm. It is strong and solid, warm and cozy. We don’t worry about rising waters from the perpetual rains this time of year.
But the barns are built on lower ground where the waters come in torrents down the hill in fierce storms and fill the floors and cause chaos. Add in the winter winds, and we worry about whether the structures and their inhabitants can survive another season.
The wise man who built the barns on solid rock knew there would be hard times on that low ground yet his buildings have remained standing for decades despite the storms and threats. We too stay standing on the Word, even when tossed to and fro, though stuck in the mud and muck of life.
May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.
Dawn comes later and later now, and I, who only a month ago could sit with coffee every morning watching the light walk down the hill to the edge of the pond and place a doe there, shyly drinking,
then see the light step out upon the water, sowing reflections to either side — a garden of trees that grew as if by magic — now see no more than my face, mirrored by darkness, pale and odd,
startled by time. While I slept, night in its thick winder jacket bridled the doe with a twist of wet leaves and led her away, then brought its black horse with harness that creaked like a cricket, and turned
the water garden under. I woke, and at the waiting window found the curtains open to my open face; beyond me, darkness. And I, who only wished to keep looking out, must now keep looking in. ~Ted Kooser “A Letter in October”
God knows I miss the light
these autumn mornings,
especially when a storm blows
wet and wild in the dark
beyond the window pane.
I can only see myself
peering into the darkness;
I want to look beyond me.
The rain and the wind, the wind and the rain —
They are with us like a disease:
They worry the heart,
they work the brain,
As they shoulder and clutch at the shrieking pane,
And savage the helpless trees.What does it profit a man to know
These tattered and tumbling skies
A million stately stars will show,
And the ruining grace of the after-glow
And the rush of the wild sunrise? ~William Ernest Henley from “The Rain and the Wind”
Yesterday started with a calm and steady rain
making even more sodden a sullen gray dawn–
then unbidden, a sudden chilly gust from the northeast
ripped loose remaining leaves
and sent them spinning,
in yellow clouds.
The battering of rain and wind
followed by an early snowfall
leaves no doubt
summer is done for good —
the past is past.
I hunker through the turbulence
to await a clear night when once again
heaven empties itself out
into a fragile crystalline dawn.
Toward the end of August I begin to dream about fall, how this place will empty of people, the air will get cold and leaves begin to turn. Everything will quiet down, everything will become a skeleton of its summer self. Toward
the end of August I get nostalgic for what’s to come, for that quiet time, time alone, peace and stillness, calm, all those things the summer doesn’t have. The woodshed is already full, the kindling’s in, the last of the garden soon
will be harvested, and then there will be nothing left to do but watch fall play itself out, the earth freeze, winter come. ~David Budbill “Toward the End of August” from Tumbling Toward the End.
I dream now of fall, wanting this stubborn summer to flame out, to leave its bare bones behind. The last few weeks have been particularly cruel with wildfires, hurricanes, drought, sweltering heat, and flooding rains. As if nature is not damaging enough, humanity continues to threaten humanity with local and global violence and threats of annihilation, while hundreds of thousands of refugees migrate from one poor country into even poorer countries in search of some semblance of hope and security for a safe future.
Anxiety and despair seem appropriate responses in the face of so much tragedy – they take root like weeds in a garden patch– overwhelming, crowding out and impairing all that is fruitful. The result is nothing of value grows–only unchecked proliferation of more weeds. My worry and anguish help no one and changes nothing, serving only to hinder me from being fruitful.
It shouldn’t take bad news and disaster to remind me of what I already know:
I am not God and never will be. He tends the garden and He pulls the weeds when the time is right.
His harvest is at hand. Either I’m fruit or weed.
Acknowledging this is everything. There is nothing left to do but watch as it plays itself out.
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I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm –….
There is nothing more humbling than an unwanted fly buzzing in the room. No matter whether we live in a slum or a castle, a fly finds its way to us, just because it can. And we must learn to coexist with what we can’t control.
When I’m feeling bugged, which happens all too often these days, the buzzing may overwhelm my stillness but it cannot overwhelm me. I will put down the swatter and simply listen to the coming of the heaving storm.
Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass The water in the horse-trough shines. Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.
A hen stares at nothing with one eye, Then picks it up. Out of an empty sky A swallow falls and, flickering through The barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue.
I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass, Afraid of where a thought might take me – as This grasshopper with plated face Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.
Self under self, a pile of selves I stand Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand Lift the farm like a lid and see Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.
~Norman MacCaig “Summer Farm”
Most of my life, a barn has stood a few dozen yards from my back door. As a small child, I learned to ride a tricycle on the wooden planks of the chicken coop, sat on the bony back of a Guernsey cow while my father milked by hand, found new litters of kittens in cobweb-filled hideaways, and leaped with abandon into stacks of loose hay in a massive loft.
As a young girl, I preferred to clean stalls rather than my bedroom. The acoustics in the barn were first rate for singing loud and the horses and cows never covered their ears, although the dog would usually howl. A hay loft was the perfect spot for hiding a writing journal and reading books. It was a place for quiet contemplation and sometimes fervent prayer when I was worried: a sanctuary for turbulent adolescence.
Through college and medical training, I managed to live over twelve years in the city without access to a barn or the critters that lived inside. I searched for plenty of surrogate retreats: the library stacks, empty chapels within the hospitals I worked, even a remote mountainous wildlife refuge in central Africa.
It is hard to ignore one’s genetic destiny to struggle as a steward of the land through the challenges of economics and weather. My blood runs with DNA of wheat and lentil growers, loggers, cattle ranchers, dairy farmers, work horse teamsters, and flower and vegetable gardeners. A farm eventually called me to come back home and so I heeded over thirty years ago, along with a husband from a dairy farming background himself, and eventually there followed three children, now grown and flown far from the farm.
Like a once sturdily built barn now sagging and leaning, I too am buffeted by the gales of mid-life. My doors have been flung open wide, my roof/lid lifted and pulled off, at times leaving me reeling. More and more now I need restoration, renewal and reconciliation. And so I set to work to fix up my life with all the skill I can muster: setting things right where they’ve been upended, painting a fresh coat where chipped and dulled, shoring up rotted foundations.
If only I can get it done well enough, with sufficient perseverance, I surely can recover from the latest blow. But my hard work and determination is not enough. It is never enough. I am never finished.
The only true sanctuary isn’t found in a weather-beaten barn of rough-hewn old growth timbers vulnerable to the winds of life.
The barnstorming must happen within me, in the depths of my soul, comforted only by the encompassing and salvaging arms of God.
There I am held, transformed and restored, grateful beyond measure.