A Trivial Thing Illuminated

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A sudden light transfigures a trivial thing,
a weather-vane, a wind-mill, a winnowing flail,
the dust in the barn door; a moment,
– -and the thing has vanished, because it was pure effect;
but it leaves a relish behind it,
a longing that the accident may happen again.

~Walter Pater from “The Renaissance”

 

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The accident of light does happen, again and again, but only when I least expect it.  I need to be ready; in a blink, it can be gone.  Yet in that moment, everything is changed and transformed forever.

The thing itself, trivial and transient, becomes something other, merely because of how it is illuminated.

As am I, trivial and transient: lit from outside myself, transfigured by a love and sacrifice that I can never expect or deserve. I need to be ready for it.

 

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Wading a Fall Meadow

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One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides   
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies 
On water; it glides 
So from the walker, it turns 
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you   
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes. 
The beautiful changes as a forest is changed   
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;   
As a mantis, arranged 
On a green leaf, grows 
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves   
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows. 
Your hands hold roses always in a way that says   
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes   
In such kind ways,   
Wishing ever to sunder 
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose   
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

~Richard Wilbur from “The Beautiful Changes” Collected Poems 1943-2004

(Richard Wilbur, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet, passed Saturday at age 96)
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Wading through an autumn field
where gradual change breaks up the beautiful once again:
to wonder at the throes of dying,
to know the kindness of a glistening dawn
when all before seemed darkness,
when all to come seems ephemeral;
brokenness in a moment
made whole.
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This Cataclysm of Making and Unmaking

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The foliage has been losing its freshness through the month of August, and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

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Everything is made to perish;
the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so.
No, he thought.
The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place.
What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking?

~Paul Harding from Tinkers

 

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Earthly contentment
~whether the house stayed dry in a flood
or a forest passed over in a wildfire
or a devastating diagnosis averted
or a bank account contained sufficient funds
or gray hairs remain successfully hidden~
won’t last.

May I not settle for comfort and contentment
but seek to fill
my continual need
with what will not perish,
even as the leaves turn yellow
and the light begins to fade,
and rest assured
as the seasons pass, altering the landscape,
I too must be changed.

 

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Dusted

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“Bees do have a smell, you know,
and if they don’t they should,
for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”

― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

 

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I admire the honey bee as pollinator and pollen gatherer simultaneously, facilitating new fruit from the blossom as well as taking away that which will become sweet honey tasting of the spicy essence of the flower touched.

As a physician, I can only hope to be as transformative in the work I do every day.  I carry with me tens of thousands of patients I’ve seen over thirty five years of medical practice.  There is no way I can touch another human being without keeping some small part of them with me – perhaps a memory of an open wound or the residual scar it left behind, a word of sorrow or gratitude, a grimace, a tear or a smile.

Each patient is a flower visited, some still in bud, some in full bloom, some seed pods ready to burst, some spent and wilting and ready to fall away.  Each patient carries a spicy vitality, even in their illness and dying, that is unforgettable and still clings to me. Each patient changes me, the doctor, readying me for the next patient by teaching me a gentler approach, a clearer explanation, a slower leave-taking.  Each patient becomes part of my story, adding to my skill as a healer, and is never to be forgotten.

It has been my privilege to be thoroughly dusted by those I’ve loved and cared for.  I want to carry that on to create something wonderful that reflects the spice of living.

Nothing could smell or taste as sweet.

 

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Lift the Farm Like a Lid

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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”

 

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photo by Bette Vander Haak

 

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.

 

 

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Everbloom: Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives

 

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I am so grateful to have one of my farm stories included in this remarkable anthology created by Shayne Moore and Margaret Philbrick.  There are forty  Redbud writers inside this cover who touch the heart and soul with words of encouragement and transformation.

One of the most powerful ways we can know and love the people around us is to ask them to tell their story: how they came to be who they are, how they have been broken, how they persevere, how they have been mended. And we

This book is balm and ballast and I’m so proud to be part of it.

You can find it for purchase at Paraclete Press (our publisher),  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Christian Books.

From the Paraclete Press website:

A close-knit community of Christian women writers share compelling and courageous personal journeys of transformation and growth toward finding their unique voices and invite other women to join them on the beautiful journey.

From matters of politics to education, from social justice to health and wellness and beyond, this has been a year for the voices of women to ring out, and the Women of Redbud Writers Guild add their voices to the swell: voices of honesty, faith, deep spirituality, and generous wisdom. In their new book, Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives, edited by Shayne Moore and Margaret Ann Philbrick, they speak out on behalf of those women who might not have found their own voices yet, sharing stories of their own personal transformations, discoveries, and overcomings.

In forty stories, from global campaigns against social injustice and poverty, to the most intimate retellings of miscarriages and stillbirths, these Women of Redbud Writers Guild share a clarion call to all women: there is no pain that cannot be redeemed by the grace of God, no God-given voice that should be silenced, no one for whom the love of God through Jesus Christ will ever fall short.

Each of the diverse Women of Redbud Writers Guild — comprised of authors, lawyers, doctors, pastors, journalists, wives, mothers, and more — are as fascinating as the stories they share, for example:

  • Shayne Moore, a founder of Redbud and author of Global Soccer Mom, tells her story of a visit to Kenya to learn more about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and becoming a voice for the voiceless
  • Margaret Ann Philbrick, who began her career advertising Pop-Tarts for Kellogg’s, now plants seeds in hearts, having surrendered her life to the cross of Jesus Christ, and shares her poem “We Write”
  • Emily Gibson, wife, mother, farmer, and family physician, chronicles the heritage of the farm where she and her husband now raise their sons, specifically the woodlot where the trees have been watered with tears after the suicide of a 14-year-old boy
  • Alia Joy, writer, speaker and blogger, shares what it was like growing up Asian American, and how the “sin of omission” – neglecting to show women like her to the rest of America – is one of the worst types of oppression
  • Lindsey W. Andrews, lawyer, blogger and social media maven, exposes the depth of her rage and restoration with God at the suicide of her brother and the untimely, sudden death of her father

But the writers of Everbloom do not stop with the recounting of their own stories: following each is an invitation, prompting the reader to take a moment and find their own voice in a prayer of thanksgiving, grief, doubt, or even rage, and reflect on what she discovers. As the editors so eloquently write, Everbloom is “Dedicated to all women who have yet to find freedom in Christ in order to embrace their story and share it with the world. We believe in you, and we pray this book will help you `Walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

“Once I began reading these stories I couldn’t stop. Each writer is a strong woman who has learned much from life and God. Gritty, funny, painful, affirming. No punches are pulled, but grace abounds.”
—Luci Shaw, poet, author of The Thumbprint in the Clay

“Readers will find gold within these pages. Excellent writing often springs from deep sorrow that has softened hearts, widened vision, and pressed its bearer into the Man of Sorrows.”
— Dee Brestin, author of The Friendships of Women

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Turn Aside and Look: April Corpse Light

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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”

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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.

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