How beautiful the things are that you did not notice before! A few sweetclover plants Along the road to Bellingham, Culvert ends poking out of driveways, Wooden corncribs, slowly falling, What no one loves, no one rushes towards or shouts about, What lives like the new moon, And the wind Blowing against the rumps of grazing cows. ~Robert Bly from “Like the New Moon I Will Live My Life”
Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. ~Abraham Joshua Hershel
Simply driving to work becomes a sacramental act. This is not the hour long dense traffic commute I tolerated in the city thirty years ago – this is thirty minutes of noticing the expanse of the land against the sky, the light as it banishes the darkness, the harmony of animals existing on the soil.
It is a sacrament to notice “what no one loves, no one rushes towards or shouts about” and never take it for granted. It is all gift; it is all grace.
Here is the fringey edge where elements meet and realms mingle, where time and eternity spatter each other with foam. ~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm
Heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.
A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted
and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.
An April evening of swirling drama in the sunset clouds~
just enough illumination
to witness the fringe of heaven just beyond.
…step outside into an indecision of weather, night rain having fallen into frozen air, a silver thaw where nothing moves or sings and all things grieve under the weight of their own shining. ~ James McKean from “Silver Thaw”
Freezing rain needs to happen once a decade just to remind Pacific Northwesterners that regular rain isn’t such a bad thing. We’re in the midst of just such a silver thaw right now. Trees and heavy branches are crashing everywhere, the power is off, the farm generator is on and life as we know it comes to a standstill under an inch thick blanket of ice.
We webfoot Washingtonians tend to grouse about our continuously gray cloud-covered bleak dreary drizzly wet mildew-ridden existence. But that’s not us actually grumbling. That’s just us choosing not to exhibit overwhelming joy. They don’t call Bellingham, the university town ten miles from our farm, the “city of subdued excitement” for no good reason.
When the temperatures drop in our moderate climate and things start to ice up, or the snowflakes start to fall, we celebrate the diversion from rain. Our children are out building snowmen when there is a mere 1/2 inch of snow on the ground, leaving lawns bare and green with one large snowman in the middle. Schools start to cancel at 2 inches because of the lack of snow removal equipment and no bunkers of stored sand for the roads. We natives are pitifully terrible snow drivers compared to the highly experienced (and at times overconfident) midwestern and northeastern transplants in our midst.
But then the weather gets indecisive and this little meteorologic phenomenon known as freezing rain with its resultant silver thaw happens. It warms up enough that it really isn’t snowing but it also really isn’t raining because the temperatures are still subfreezing at ground level, so it spills ice drops from the sky–noisy little splatters that land and stay beaded up on any surface. Branches resemble botanical popsicles, sidewalks become bumpy rinks, roads become sheer black ice, cars are encased in an impenetrable glaze of ice and windows are covered with textured glass twice as thick as usual.
In the midst of this frozen concoction coming from the sky, we delay farm chores as long as possible, knowing it will take major navigation aids to simply make our way out the back steps, across the sidewalk and down the hill, then up the slick cement slope to open the big sliding barn doors. Chains on our muck boots help, to a degree. The big rolling barn doors ice together when the northeast wind blows freezing rain into the tiny gap between them, so it is necessary to break foot holds into the ice on the cement to roll back the doors just enough to sneak through before shutting them quickly behind us, blocking the arctic wind blast. Then we can drink in the warmth of six stalls of hungry Haflinger horses, noisily greeting us by chastising us for our tardiness in feeding them dinner.
Wintertime chores are always more time-consuming but ice time chores are even more so. Water buckets need to be filled individually because the hoses are frozen solid. Hay bales stored in the hay barn must be hauled up the slick slope to the horse barn. Frozen manure piles need to be hacked to pieces with a shovel rather than a pitchfork. Who needs a bench press and fancy weight lifting equipment when you can lift five gallon buckets, sixty pound bales and fifteen pounds of poop per shovel full? Why invest in an elliptical exerciser? This farm life is saving us money… I think.
Once inside each stall, I take a moment to run my ungloved hand over a fluffy golden winter coat, to untangle a mane knot or two, and to breathe in sweet Haflinger hay breath from a velvety nose. It is the reason I will slide downhill, land on my face pushing loads of hay uphill to feed these loved animals no matter how hazardous the footing or miserable the weather. It is why their stalls get picked up more often than our bedrooms, their stomachs are filled before ours, and we pay for hoof trims for the herd but never manicures and pedicures for the people residing in the house.
The temperatures will rise, the overwhelming ice covering will start to thaw and our farm will be happily back to drippy and overcast. No matter what the weather, the barn will always be a refuge of comfort, even when the work is hard and the effort is a challenge for these middle aged farmers.
It’s enough to melt even the most grumbly heart and therefore the thickest coating of ice.
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. ~Mary Oliver
All days are sacred days to wake New gladness in the sunny air. Only a night from old to new; Only a sleep from night to morn. The new is but the old come true; Each sunrise sees a new year born. ~Helen Hunt Jackson from “New Year’s Morning”
The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. – G.K. Chesterton
To live is so startling, it leaves little room for other occupations. ~Emily Dickinson
…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable —if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things. … And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4: 8 -9
…when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about, and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn’t ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.
~Henri Nouwen from The Return of the Prodigal Son
Today is the 100th anniversary of Wiser Lake Chapel‘s building dedication ceremony and picnic — a special celebration is planned with information found here.
Back in the early days of Whatcom County, the little church on Wiser Lake had been constructed through “contributions of the people” in a rural neighborhood only a few miles from where we now live. $600 in lumber was provided by a local farmer whose trees were cut and milled and brought by horse drawn wagon to a building site adjacent to a one room school house along a corrugated plank road. The total property was “valued at $1800, but of even more value to the community.” The dedication ceremony was held on Sunday, August 27, 1916 followed by “a basket dinner—come with well filled baskets for a common table, under the direction of the Ladies Aid”. This was to be followed by a “Fellowship Meeting, special music and fraternal addresses” and the day ended at 8 PM with a Young People’s Meeting. So began the long history of the “Wiser Lake Church”.
For reasons unrecorded in the history of the church, the original denomination closed the doors thirty years later, and for awhile the building was empty and in need of a congregation. By the fifties, it became a mission church of the local Christian Reformed Churches and launched a Sunday School program for migrant farm and Native American children in the surrounding rural neighborhood. No formal church services started until the sixties. By the time the building was sixty years old, so many children were arriving for Sunday School, there was not enough room so the building was hoisted up on jacks to allow a hole to be dug underneath for a basement full of classrooms. Over the course of a summer, the floor space doubled, and the church settled back into place, allowed to rest again on its foundation.
Over seventy years after its dedication ceremony, our family drove past the boxy building countless times hurrying on our way to other places, barely giving it a second glance. It had a classic design, but showed its age with peeling paint, a few missing shingles, an old fashioned square flat roofed belfry, and arched windows. The hand lettered sign spelling out “Wiser Lake Chapel” by the road constituted a humble invitation of sorts, simply by listing the times of the services.
On a blustery December Sunday evening, we had no place else to be for a change. Instead of driving past, we stopped, welcomed by the yellow glow pouring from the windows and an almost full parking lot. Our young family climbed the steps to the big double doors, and inside were immediately greeted by a large balding man with a huge grin and encompassing handshake. He pointed us to one of the few open spots still available in the old wooden pews.
The sanctuary was a warm and open space with a high lofted ceiling, dark wood trim accents matching the ancient pews, and a plain wooden cross above the pulpit in front. There was a pungent smell from fir bough garlands strung along high wainscoting, and a circle of candles standing lit on a small altar table. Apple pie was baking in the kitchen oven, blending with the aroma of good coffee and hot cocoa.
The service was a Sunday School Christmas program, with thirty some children of all ages and skin colors standing up front in bathrobes and white sheet angel gowns, wearing gold foil halos, tinfoil crowns and dish towels wrapped with string around their heads. They were prompted by their teachers through carols and readings of the Christmas story. The final song was Silent Night, sung by candle light, with each child and member of the congregation holding a lit candle. There was a moment of excitement when one girl’s long hair briefly caught fire, but after that was quickly extinguished, the evening ended in darkness, with the soft glow of candlelight illuminating faces of the young and old, some in tears streaming over their smiles.
It felt like home. We had found our church.
We’ve never left.
Over the past one hundred years this old building has seen a few thousand people come and go, has had peeling paint and missing shingles, a basement that floods when the rain comes down hard, toilets that don’t always flush, and though it smells heavenly on potluck days, there are times when it can be just a bit out of sorts and musty. It really isn’t anything to boast about.
It is humble and unpretentious yet envelops its people in its loving and imperfect embrace, with warmth, character and a uniqueness that is unforgettable.
It really is not so different from the folks who have gathered there over the years.
We know we belong,
such as we are,
just as we are,
blessed by God with a place to join together.
God empties himself into the earth like a cloud. God takes the substance, contours of a man, and keeps them, dying, rising, walking, and still walking wherever there is motion.
~Annie Dillard from “Feast Days”
And the days are not full enough And the nights are not full enough And life slips by like a field mouse Not shaking the grass ~Ezra Pound
What happens when people open their hearts? They get better. ~Haruki Murakami from Norwegian Wood
to be filled,
thirsting and hungry
day and night;
all that satisfies
is within reach,
by an emptying God
if only I open up,
no longer content
How wonderful it was to love something without the compromise of language. ~Jim Harrison
To plunge headlong into the heart of a blossom, its amber eyes inscrutably focusing on your own, magnified by a lens of dew. Whose scent, invisible, drowns you in opulence, and for which you can find nothing adequate to say.
Words stumble, cheapen, like when you try and fail to describe to someone what yesterday’s shadows looked like, racing over the five layers of far hills, or how the mountain stream muttered its way between valley stones.
You sense that you are loved wholly, yet are quite unable to understand why. But then, you lift your face, creased with the ordinary, to a heaven that is breaking into blue, and find your contentment utterly beyond telling, unspeakable, uncontained.~Luci Shaw “Speechless” from her new collection Sea Glass
Although it doesn’t always take words to know
how deeply we love,
and are loved,
the Word is love