November 2, 2015

The Impeded Stream

One of my favorite poets is Wendell Berry.  I recently came across some words from him that have stayed with me:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

What he means, I suppose, is that without hardship we are never find the fullness of our life’s calling, our true voice.  Without bumps in the road, washouts, and detours, we never get where we are truly meant to be.  The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

The choir at the church I have been attending recently sang an old song that I love, one that was sung at my ordination.  And it seemed to me at first that the song contradicts the poet.  But here are the first two verses and refrain:

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

My life, I suppose, has been like an impeded stream over these past 18 months.  And still it flows on, spilling over surgery and chemo, rippling around radiation, dancing through doctor visits, persevering – a song of thanksgiving, a song of being reminded yet again of the preciousness of life.  And that is truly something to sing about!

October 25, 2015

Beauty, Bravery, Loyalty

Last weekend, I got a pedicure – an hour of soaking my feet in warm water, getting them massaged and moisturized, and having my toenails painted.  I left with lovely feet.  The woman who did the work was from Viet Nam.  She came to the United States about twenty years ago, at age 19, speaking no English, leaving behind a war-torn nation, most of her family, and all of her way of life.  She was almost too old for school but she went to a high school for a year or two.  She told me that there was one boy in her school also from Viet Nam, the only person she could talk to, and he sat with her in the cafeteria.  One day, he explained to her how to pull the handle on the red box on the wall, telling her that it was a good thing to do.   She did what he said and triggered an alarm, complete with fire trucks and an evacuation.  It seemed to me a kind of cruel trick to play on her, but she was still laughing about her innocence and trust all these years later.

One of the scriptures at church the next morning included Isaiah 52:7:   How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

I listened to the reading and I thought about my beautiful feet, not made that way by any peace-making of my own, but rather the hands of a woman with the courage to leave everything for the promise, only a promise, of a better life, of a place, perhaps, of peace. 

Around the corner from my house, our neighbor has erected his annual Halloween display.  He is a history professor, and each year, he does a scene more elaborate than the one before.  This year he has commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Viet Nam War.  He has staged a still life of ghostly soldiers fighting in the jungle, complete with a wrecked helicopter, grass-thatched huts, and a replica of the Wall with an invitation to passers-by to write the names of veterans they want to remember.   All this against the backdrop of neat suburban homes….He has no commentary, except a small sign that reads:  What have we learned of war beyond the need to support our troops?"

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring peace.  How brave are the lives of those whose set out for a promised land.  How loyal are those who sacrifice in the pursuit of freedom, even when that pursuit is complicated and flawed. 

October 4, 2015

Growing Garlic

I have harvested and dried the garlic from my garden, and it is ready to add flavor to soups and stews well into the winter.

As I dug it up in the late summer warmth, that work felt like a parable – a parable of resurrection and of my life these past 18 months.

I planted the garlic last fall, and after the first frost, I will plant next year’s crop.  The garlic I harvested was buried in the earth and soon covered with deep now.  All through the long cold snowy winter (and it was very long and very cold and very snowy…) the tiny bulbs were hidden and silent, but still with growth in them. 

That time of stress is essential to the later growth.  In the spring, the garlic comes up and puts out scapes, curly stems with garlic flowers on them.  The scapes need to be cut back, because if all the energy of the bulb goes into the flower, the roots do not grow as large and strong.

I have not written here for a long time.  It has been my own time of silence and maybe, too, of growth. And it has been a time of cutting back – literally and figuratively.  I’ve had some surgery, some months of chemo and radiation, the kind of stress that brings healing and new growth. 

Like the garlic ready for the stew, like the one hoping to continue contributing some flavor to the stew of daily life, it is all about practicing resurrection, which is preceded by being willing to die a little, be hidden and silent, endure some stress.

One of my very favorite poems has these lines:

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
Practice resurrection.
(from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front from The Country of Marriage, 
copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.)

And that is what I am doing:  practicing resurrection.  Me and the garlic!