When August Burns Low

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Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now 
~Emily Dickinson

 

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“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time.  The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world.  She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:

So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others. The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state.  Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.”
~N. Scott Momaday from The Man Made of Words

 

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On the first day I took his class on Native American Mythology and Lore in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this Dickinson poem on the blackboard.  He told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written — this in a class devoted to Native American writing and oral tradition.  In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a New England recluse poet — someone as culturally distant from him and his people as possible.

But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences, and Scott knew this as he led us, mostly white students, through this poem.  What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our understanding of nature and the world in which we, its creatures, find ourselves.

As summer begins its descent into the dark death of winter, we, unlike the crickets, become all too aware we too are descending, particularly when the skies are filled with smoke from uncontrolled wildfires in the north, the east and the south.  There is no one as lonely as an individual facing their mortality and no one as lonely as a poet facing the empty page, in search of words to describe the sacrament of sacrifice and perishing.

Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone.  The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man who will emerge transformed.

There is no furrow on the glow.  There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already lovingly planted and nurtured by our Creator God, yielding a fruited plain.

 

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To Get a Better View

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What struck me first was their panic.

Some were pulled by the wind from moving
to the ends of the stacked cages,
some had their heads blown through the bars—

and could not get them in again.
Some hung there like that—dead—
their own feathers blowing, clotting

in their faces. Then
I saw the one that made me slow some—
I lingered there beside her for five miles.

She had pushed her head through the space
between bars—to get a better view.
She had the look of a dog in the back

of a pickup, that eager look of a dog
who knows she’s being taken along.
She craned her neck.

She looked around, watched me, then
strained to see over the car—strained
to see what happened beyond.

That is the chicken I want to be.
~Jane Mead “Passing a Truck Full of Chickens at Night on Highway Eighty” from The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, 2015

 

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I want to be that chicken.

When life is an anxious,
even terrifying journey
and everything around me is a swirl of chaos –
I want to be able to stick my head up above the fray,
feel the wind as opportunity rather than threat
and exist content in the moment,
looking ahead to what may happen,
unperturbed.

Reaching my mind beyond what I can hardly grasp,
I want to be that chicken
who experiences life like a dog.

 

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
~Robert Browning from “Andrea Del Sarto”

 

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Preparing Through Parable: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

 

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From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Luke 12: 48

 

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This line, the final conclusion to the parable of the wise and faithful servant has become a modern mantra, thanks to Spiderman and others including President Obama and Bill and Melinda Gates.

Yet no one quotes the actual parable itself.

The story Jesus tells in Luke 12: 42-48 makes us wince, as it is meant to:

42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. 

The same story as told in Matthew ends with being “cut into pieces” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Somehow that part is left out of Spiderman’s story and is a bit too close to home for those in power and those with immense wealth — just like Peter Parker, we know the reality fo just how fragile and weak we really are despite our perceived Spidey powers.

We are told we don’t have a choice in the matter if we want to live in Him:
we owe much when to us much is given … or else we perish.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Watch Where I Step

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I watch where I step and see
that the fallen leaf, old broken glass,
an icy stone are placed in

exactly the right spot on the earth, carefully,
royalty in their 
own country.
~ Tom Hennen, “Looking For The Differences”
from Darkness Sticks To Everything: Collected and New Poems.
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If the pebble, the leaf, the walnut shell, the moss, the fallen feather
are placed exactly right where they belong,
then so am I
~even when I may rather be elsewhere~
even when I could get stepped on,
even when I would rather hide in a hole,
even when exactly right feels exactly wrong.
I’m placed right here to watch where I step
for some reason beyond understanding:
a simple peasant
asked to serve a royal purpose.
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How Incomprehensible

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Where you have absolute solutions,
you have no need of faith.
Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge.
The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer
is because I have got, over the years,
a sense of the immense sweep of creation,
of the evolutionary process in everything,
of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be
to be the God of heaven and earth.
You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being

 

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It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.
~Denise Levertov “The Mystery of the Incarnation”

 

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We want God to fit into the holes of our comprehension exactly like a puzzle piece falls into place in the space meant just for it.

But He doesn’t.  He won’t.  The holes aren’t God-shaped.  They are ragged and changing moment by moment.

The holes of our understanding gape so large that only God knows it takes the glue of faith to bridge the gap.

Perhaps that is what “holy” is all about.

 

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Mystery Made Visible

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This fevers me, this sun on green,
On grass glowing, this young spring.
The secret hallowing is come,
Regenerate sudden incarnation,
Mystery made visible
In growth, yet subtly veiled in all,
Ununderstandable in grass,
In flowers, and in the human heart,
This lyric mortal loveliness,
The earth breathing, and the sun…

…The apple takes the seafoam’s light,
And the evergreen tree is densely bright.
April, April, when will he
Be gaunt, be old, who is so young?
This fevers me, this sun on green,
On grass lowing, this young spring.

~Richard Eberhart  from “This fevers me”

 

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It is a mystery
how the dead,
so very dead
can live again.

Ground frozen
mere weeks ago
now leaps lush and vibrant.
Branches snapped off dry
in midwinter storm and ice
now burst with bloom.

A new leaf glows
in evening light,
pulsing illumination.

Beyond understanding
Beyond imagining
Beyond each fevered breath
that could be,
but isn’t,
our last.

 

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Seen Through at a Glance

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whenever you mark a horse, or a dog,
with a peculiarly mild, calm, deep-seated eye,

be sure he is an Aristotle or a Kant,
tranquilly speculating upon the mysteries in man. 

No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses.
They see through us at a glance.
But there is a touch of divinity ….
and a special halo about a horse…

~Herman Melville from Redburn: His First Voyage

 

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There are some animals (and people) who will not look you in the eye.  It may be a reluctance to appear too bold, as direct eye contact can imply, or it may be a reluctance to expose too much of their own inner world and feelings.

Because eyes don’t lie.

But when you can empty yourself into another being’s eyes and feel both understanding and understood, that is a touch of divinity at work.  The eye is a mirror, a gazing ball and a collecting pool, and we reveal,  reflect and absorb when we really take the time and gather the courage to look deeply into one another.

 

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