Your Very Flesh

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This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches,
give alms to everyone that asks,
devote your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
and your very flesh shall be a great poem,
and have the richest fluency, not only in its words,
but in the silent lines of its lips and face,
and between the lashes of your eyes,
and in every motion and joint of your body.
~Walt Whitman from his preface to “Leaves of Grass”

 

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Time lurches ahead in imprecisely measured chunks and today is the start of another summer season of relative rest, of another transition for several thousand college students moving on to another phase of life with advice of all sorts ringing in their ears.

Commencement is best suited to start in a season that itself is a poem.  Summer simply stands on its own in all its extravagant abundance of light and warmth and growth and color stretching deep within the rising and setting horizons. Each long day can feel like it must last forever, never ending, yet, like the length of our fleshy days on earth, it eventually winds down, spins itself out, darkening gradually into shadow.

In a few short months we will let go with reluctance as if no summer like it could ever come again.

Yet another will, somehow, somewhere, someday. Our very flesh can depend on it.

Surely such a never-ending summer is what heaven itself will be.

 

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Fading Away

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photo by Kate Steensma

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Through the ample open door of the peaceful country barn,
A sun-lit pasture field, with cattle and horses feeding;
And haze, and vista, and the far horizon, fading away.
~Walt Whitman “A Farm-Picture”

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When the light rises on the hills,
slowly fading the haze of a late summer morning,
I feel the veil lift enough
that I am able to see
far beyond my reach or grasp.
The horizon extends on and on forever
and I will endure another descent into winter.

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A Fling of Slim Thread

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Perhaps imagination’s only a fling
of slim thread, so that Mind can walk
its own tightrope, also the heart—
in Chinese the word for mind
and the word for heart is the same.
~Margaret Gibson from “Middle Distance, Morning”

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Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
~Walt Whitman from “A Noiseless Patient Spider”

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The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
~E.B. White “Natural History”

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Attached in ways I can not always see
but surely feel,
I still tend to go astray,
wander afar,
lose my way,
yet the thread remains
to return me
to where I belong.
A silken umbilical cord
continues to pump
what I need to stay alive,
anchoring me,
releasing me without letting go.
My soul hangs
by this gossamer thread~
this silken connection
to eternity.
~EPG
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Seeking to Connect

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And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
~Walt Whitman from “The Noiseless Patient Spider”
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In autumn everything
everywhere on the farm
is interconnected with silken threads,
no longer invisible but
glistening with foggy drizzle.
I too want
what glistening words
or pictures
I throw out
to catch somewhere,
to someone~
another soul
connected to
mine.

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There is Really No Death

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There is not one blade of grass,
there is no color in this world
that is not intended to make us rejoice.

~John Calvin

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The moment one gives close attention to any thing,
even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious,
awesome,
indescribably magnificent world in itself.

~Henry Miller

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Men do change,
and change comes like a little wind
that ruffles the curtains at dawn,
and it comes like the stealthy perfume
of wildflowers hidden in the grass.

~John Steinbeck

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Rest is not idleness,
and to lie sometimes
on the grass under trees on a summer’s day,
listening to the murmur of the water,
or watching the clouds float across the sky,
is by no means a waste of time.
~John Lubbock

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The virtues of a superior man are like the wind;
the virtues of a common man are like the grass
– I the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends.

We should be blessed if we lived in the present always,
and took advantage of every accident that befell us,
like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it.
~Henry David Thoreau from Walden

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If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy,
if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you,
if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand,
rejoice, for your soul is alive.
~Eleonora Duse

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When they would return to one another from their solitariness,
they returned gently as dew comes to the morning grass.

~David Paul Kirkpatrick

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All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.
Isaiah 40:6-8

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A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more
than he.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.

… I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see
and remark, and say Whose?

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
~Walt Whitman from “Song of Myself”

 

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Every Cubic Inch of Space

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Why, who makes much of miracles?
As to me, I know nothing else but miracles…
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me [all] is a continual miracle…
~Walt Whitman

When I go to our 100+ year old hay barn to fetch a couple of bales for the horses, I stop to marvel at the continual miracle of this barn.  It is breaking down along its roof crest, yes.  It is sorely in need of another coat of paint, yes.  It has leaks where the winter winds have blown shingles off so the rain and snow come straight indoors, yes.

Yet these old growth beams and rafters, recycled from a nearby dismantled saw mill over a century ago, continue to do their job of holding up the world encased within.  This home of pigeons, swallows, bats, barn owls, mice, rats, raccoons, skunks and possum remains a steadfast sanctuary for the harvest of our hill.  For decades it has remained steep and silent, serene and solace-filled.

Every cubic inch, the streams of light and the shadowy dark, inside and out, is wonder-full, even when it is empty in the late spring and especially when packed to the rafters, as it is now, with this summer’s hay crop.  The miraculous is grown, cut, dried, raked, baled, hauled, stacked and piece by piece, stem by stem, as it sustains living creatures through three seasons of the year.

I have the privilege of entering here every day and witnessing the miracle year after year.
I know nothing else but miracles, despite my own sagging, my weakening foundation and some *occasional* inopportune leaking of my own.

I know where and to whom I belong.

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Jesus, sovereign over all,  does not cry “Mine!”
~Abraham Kuyper

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Journey Work of the Stars

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I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.
~Walt Whitman

All photos were taken this week while walking past Western Washington University garden plots on my way to and from meetings on campus.   My routine tasks, my everyday journeyman duties, are rendered extraordinary in the light of petals, pollen, webs, pigment, fruit, seed pods and always, always the nurture of soil and rain.   I chanced upon a gardener yesterday and told him the difference his work makes in my day.  The rich visual and tactile variety in the gardens is like star-lit nebulae and galaxies scattered about in planter pots and plots.

He looked up, startled, so used to not being noticed,  and simply said, “it’s been a good year for the plants.”

Indeed it is.  A good year for us all.

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