Tarnished and Dry

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In a patch of baked earth
At the crumbled cliff’s brink,
Where the parching of August
Has cracked a long chink,

Against the blue void
Of still sea and sky
Stands single a thistle,
Tall, tarnished, and dry.

Frayed leaves, spotted brown,
Head hoary and torn,
Was ever a weed
Upon earth so forlorn,

So solemnly gazed on
By the sun in his sheen
That prints in long shadow
Its raggedness lean?

From the sky comes no laughter,
From earth not a moan.
Erect stands the thistle,
Its seeds abroad blown.
~Robert Laurence Binyon –“The Thistle”

 

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There isn’t much that thrives in a dry summer like this other than mounds of blackberry bushes and scattered clusters of thistle.  They both are defended by thorns to keep them from being eaten by all but the most persistent and hungry grazing animals.

I admire and recognize such tenacity, knowing I too have held tightly to my own defenses to keep from being swallowed up. I approach these weeds with respect for the scars they can leave behind – their roots go deep, their seeds travel far.

We coexist because we must.

How else would beauty come from our bleeding wounds?

 

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Removing the Splinter

 

 

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
~Li-Young Lee, “The Gift” from Rose

 

 

I did, without ever wanting to, remove my child’s splinter, lance a boil, immobilize a broken arm, pull together sliced skin, clean many dirty wounds. It felt like I crossed the line between mommy and doctor.  But someone had to do it, and a four hour wait in the emergency room didn’t seem warranted.

My own child learned to cope with hurt made worse by someone they trusted to be comforter.
I dealt with inflicting pain, temporary though it may be, to flesh that arose from my flesh.  It hurt as much as if it were my own wound needing cleansing, not theirs.

Our wounds are His – He is constantly feeling our pain as He performs healing surgeries in our lives, not because He wants to but because He must, to save us from our own destruction.
Too often we yell and kick and protest in our distress, making it all that much more difficult for both of us.

If only we can come to acknowledge His intervention is our salvage:
our tears to flow in relief, not anguish,
we cling to His protection rather than pushing Him away,
we kiss Him in gratitude as we are restored again and yet again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Heart in Hiding Stirred For a Bird

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thank you to Kate Steensma of Steensma Dairy for these photos of young kestrel falcons

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I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Windhover – To Christ Our Lord”

 

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We do indeed hold our hearts in hiding, trying to protect that tender core of who we are from being pierced and shredded by the slings and arrows of every day life.

Yet to live fully as we are created to live, we must fling ourselves into the open, wimpling wings spread, the wind holding us up hovering.

We take our chances, knowing the fall to come.  Our wounds shall be healed, even as they bleed.

There is no wonder of it.  So stirred.

Ah…  Ah, my dear.

 

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Licking a Wound

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Now wind torments the field,
turning the white surface back
on itself, back and back on itself,
like an animal licking a wound.

A single green sprouting thing
would restore me . . .

Then think of the tall delphinium,
swaying, or the bee when it comes
to the tongue of the burgundy lily.
~Jane Kenyon from “February: Thinking of Flowers”

 

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Turning the page on the calendar today doesn’t fix anything.  The arctic wind is blasting frozen again, snow is in the forecast, the skies practically crackle cold.

I’m like a dog tormented by my own open and raw flesh, trying my best to lick it healed, unable to think of anything or anyone else, going over it again and again:  how tired I feel, how bruised I am, how high the climb I must make, how uprooted I feel, how impossibly long it will be until I’m warm again.

Even now green sprouts try to push up even while molested by ice.  Soon fresh blooms will grace the barnyard and I will be distracted from my own wound licking.

It’s February and it’s a northeaster.

<*sigh*>

The cold never bothered me anyway…

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Shed No Tear

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Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.”
~ Brian Jacques 

The end-of-summer farm is silently sobbing in its losses; tears of fall, from fog, mist and drizzle, cling to everything everywhere. I arrive back in the house from barn chores soaked through from walking through the weeping.  ‘Tis no shame to be drenched in such sorrow.

The memory of summer is pressed deep in our grieving, our wounds healed by Light that illumines our tears.

We are never left comfortless and weep in the knowing.

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Shed no tear! oh, shed no tear!
The flower will bloom another year.
Weep no more! oh, weep no more!
Young buds sleep in the root’s white core.
Dry your eyes! oh, dry your eyes!
For I was taught in Paradise
To ease my breast of melodies,–
Shed no tear.

Overhead! look overhead!
‘Mong the blossoms white and red–
Look up, look up! I flutter now
On this fresh pomegranate bough.
See me! ’tis this silvery bill
Ever cures the good man’s ill.
Shed no tear! oh, shed no tear!
The flower will bloom another year.
~John Keats from “Fairy Song”

Again and again we weep.
It is not simply the sorrowful loss
of the perfection of spring giving way to the dying of the fall,
the last gasp coloring of leaves and skies.

It is the loss of innocence, of sense of reverence for life,
this blight man was born for,
this bleeding out perpetrated for no reason.
What must drive one man’s selfish rage, loneliness and despair to compel him to deprive innocent others of their blood and life?
What unexplained evil overtakes one heart that he seeks to stop the beating hearts of others?
When will there ever again be safe havens in society, if not within our schools, our churches, our medical facilities, our malls, then where?
This is a day for lament, for tears, and for prayers to God that we bleed out the sickness that is infecting us all.

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Again and again we weep and know why.
It is not simply the sorrowful loss
of the perfection of spring giving way to the dying of the fall,
the last gasp coloring of leaves and skies.
It is the loss of innocence, of sense of reverence for life,
this blight man was born for,
this bleeding out perpetrated for no reason.
What must drive one man’s selfish rage, loneliness and despair to compel him to deprive innocent others of their blood and life?
What unexplained evil overtakes one heart that he seeks to stop the beating hearts of others?
When will there ever again be safe havens in society, if not within our schools, our churches, our medical facilities, our malls, then where?
This is a day for lament, for tears, and for prayers to God that we bleed out the sickness that is infecting us all.
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Thank you to Male Ensemble Northwest for singing this song based on the Keats poem during their concert last night.

 

 

God Among Us: The Glorious Light

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For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given
Isaiah 9:6

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 1:3

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
John 1:9-10

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
~Luci Shaw “Mary’s Song”

 

We still don’t recognize Him.
Despite the evidence all around us, above us, beneath us,
inside and within us,
coursing through our veins and arteries
and synapses,
we still don’t know Him.
Listen to the call of the heart
that leads you to His side,
your darkness bathed in His glorious light,
your hurts healed forever by His wounds.
~EPG

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The holiest of all holidays are those
    Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
    The secret anniversaries of the heart,
    When the full river of feeling overflows;—
The happy days unclouded to their close;
    The sudden joys that out of darkness start
    As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
    Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “Holidays”

 

One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem
Two for the hands that will rock him to sleep
Three for the kings bringing gold, brining myrrh, bringing incense
Four for the angels that watch over his bedside
Blue for the robe of the sweet Virgin Mary
White for the dawn of the first Christmas day
Red for the blood that he shed for us all on Good Friday
Black for the tomb where he rested ‘till Easter
Lullaby, see Jesus asleep. Angels and shepherds their watch on him keep
Lullaby he soon will awake for the oxen are stirring and morning with break
One for the star in the sky over Bethlehem
Two for the hands that will rock him to sleep
Three for the kings bringing gold, brining myrrh, bringing incense
Four for the angels that watch over his bedside
And one for the heart, one for the heart,
One for the heart that I give as my offering to Jesus!

Oh Little Child

Oh little child it’s Christmas night
And the sky is filled with glorious light
Lay your soft head so gently down
It’s Christmas night in Bethlehem town.

Chorus:
Alleluia the angels sing
Alleluia to the king
Alleluia the angels sing
Alleluia to the king.

Sleep while the shepherds find their way
As they kneel before you in the golden hay
For they have brought you a woolly lamb
On Christmas night in Bethlehem.

Chorus

Sleep till you wake at the break of day
With the sun’s first dawning ray
You are the babe, who’ll wear the crown
On Christmas morn in Bethlehem town.

Chorus

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Alleluia

 

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Prepare for Joy: Keep An Open Mind

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I think there is no suffering greater than
what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe.

I know what torment this is, but I can only see it,
in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened.
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.
They think faith is a big electric blanket,
when of course it is the cross.
It is much harder to believe than not to believe.
If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this:
keep an open mind.
Keep it open toward faith,
keep wanting it,
keep asking for it,
and leave the rest to God.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

 

And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted.  Nothing that comes from God, even the greatest miracle, can be proven like 2 x 2 = 4. It touches one; it is only seen and grasped when the heart is open and the spirit purged of self. Then it awakens faith.  … the heart is not overcome by faith, there is no force or violence there, compelling belief by rigid certitudes.  What comes from God touches gently, comes quietly; does not disturb freedom; leads to quiet, profound, peaceful resolve within the heart.
~Romano Guardini

 

On my doubting days, days too frequent and tormenting,
I remember the risen Christ
reaching out to place Thomas’ hand in His wounds,
gently guiding Thomas to His reality,
so it becomes Thomas’ reality.
His open wounds called
to Thomas’ mind and heart,
His flesh and blood
awakening a hidden faith
by a simple touch.

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