Treading into the unknown

 

“And I said to the one who stood
at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown…’

This is an excerpt from a poem written in 1908.    Born into humble roots, the poet, Minne Haskins’, father began as a grocer, later acquiring and running a pipes factory.   In turn, her mother took on the management of the factory after her death.   Shaped by what she witnessed and experienced in early life, Haskins became a life dedicated to the care of workers and others on the bottom rung of society.

Yet in 1939, with a country facing the uncertainty of war, King George VI read this poem for his Christmas Day broadcast.   The words, “Give me a light so that I may tread safely into the unknown,” struck a chord in the minds and hearts of its hearers.   Perceiving that the road ahead was fraught with peril and even danger, the words resonated.

And so it is now, as you and I stand at the beginning of 2022.   With even Canada expressing alarm at the perilous state of our democracy, the continuity of weather systems upended due to climate change and a virus that shows no signs of abating, is it any wonder we’re anxious?    But in speaking truth, as poets can, Minnie Haskins continues with these words:

‘And the one replied;
‘Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light
and safer than any known way.’”  Minnie Haskins, 1908

When Epiphany’s Star eludes us and we are plunged into darkness, illumine us, Divine Maker, so that we may tread safely into the unknown.  Amen.

A Doorway into Thanks

“It doesn’t have to be the blue iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot or a few small stones;
just pay attention…” Mary Oliver 

In her poem, Praying, Mary Oliver gives credence to the power of paying attention, particularly when what is immediately before us doesn’t merit it.  But what our preoccupation is in itself the problem?   What if our vexation and distress, however understandable, hinders rather than helps our capacity to see?

Though family, friends, colleagues, store clerks, and the postal carrier, may have all been wished a Happy New Year, have you pondered how auspicious 2022 will be…if at all?    With real threats to our democracy, unabated natural disasters, and escalating planetary temperatures, is it possible to carry on when hearts are breaking?   Can one hope to perceive anew when so much we had once counted on, appears lost?

In the wake of all our losses, the poet replies, “[Your reclamation] doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot.”  Indeed, when it comes to recalibrating and restoring our vision, Oliver describes prayer, not as an obscure doctrinal obligation but holy discovery.  Where thanksgiving conjoins with silence, and senses become attuned to a deeper and more vibrant frequency.

Concerning prayer, Oliver writes,

“[…just] patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.” [1]

In these waning days of Christmas and as we stand on the threshold of a New Year, may even the simple and mundane usher us into thankfulness and silence, so that shattered hearts may be restored in your divine likeness once again.  Amen.

[1] Mary Oliver, from her book, Thirst

 

The Hour of New Clarity

 

You must give birth to your images, they are the future waiting to be born. [1]

 Just as the unborn child will not tarry when its time has finally arrived; nor can the artist, the writer, the poet, the musician, the mystic, or the prophet.  Speaking in the imperative, Rilke emphasizes, “You must give birth to your images.”  Not when you’re feeling like it, or when the occasion seems right.    Not when others dictate the appropriate time.

But what if the future isn’t necessarily completely out of our hands?   What if images and ideas; plans, and proposals; and even dreams and visions, are not only conceived within imagination’s interior but nourished and incubated in a process of growth and maturation?  What if our individual and collective future(s) are far more akin to pregnancy and birthing than we allow for?

With uncertainty overwhelming our capacity to cope and teetering on the point of exhaustion, Rilke counsels, “”Fear Not the strangeness you feel… Just wait for the birth, the hour of new clarity.”  When normality has fled and you find yourself submerged in darkness, hang on to the transparency that can usher in the new.   Focus instead on the impending birth.

In this Season of Advent, when obscurity clouds our thinking and fear has the upper hand, fill us with expectation, Divine Maker, as we await the hour of new clarity.  “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son given.  And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Amen.  [2]

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke

[2] Isaiah 9:6

 

 

 

 

O Tannebaum, O Christmas Tree

“…The forest keeps different time; slow hours as long as your life…So you feel more human; persuaded what you are by wordless breath of wood, reason in resin…Ah, you thought love [applied only to humans] till you lost yourself in the forest…these grave and patient saints…pray and pray and suffer your little embrace.Forest, by Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish poet

This holiday season, as we hastily adorn living rooms, front porches, and workplaces with either real or artificial pine trees – what if we’re also trying to feel more human?   Yes, the Christmas tree is a much-beloved holiday tradition.  But what if trees, “these grave and patient saints,” actually slow us down, calm our fears and provide a canopy of beneficence unnamed but longed for?

Imagine if our yearnings for continuity, and to be in close proximity with those whom we love – also points to this ineffable but ancient connection to all of nature itself, and in particular, trees?   What if something seemingly common and expendable as a tree – holds not only the link to our distant past – but grasps the key to our future?

In the nineteenth century, German composer Ernst Anschutz wrote a traditional folk song, O Tannebaum, which translated means, O Fir Tree.  Later it was adapted as a Christmas carol, giving voice to our yearning:

“O Tannebaum, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches!”  O Tannebaum, O tannebaum, how lovely are thy branches!”

In this Season of Advent, be with us, Divine Maker, so that we may behold our kinship with all of creation as you ordained it, including trees.  Amen.

 

 

All We Can Do…

“All we can really do is love people.   We can’t change them or make them do things they’re not ready to do.  But we can love them…sometimes its from afar, but we can always send love their way.”   Vienna Pharaon

Some years back, Robert Redford directed a film called, A River Runs Through It.   The setting was in Montana, in the early years of the 20th century.   It is a story about a father and his two sons.

A Presbyterian minister, the father taught his sons fly-fishing while telling them stories about Jesus and his disciples as fishermen.    As his sons grew into manhood, fishing grew to be a mutual bond and avid practice amongst all of them.  Yet the youngest son’s unwillingness to let go of dimensions of himself that were self-destructive led to his early death.

“All we can really do is love people,” ponders one.   “We can’t change them or make them do things they’re not ready to do.”    Indeed, for every grieving parent, sister, brother, husband, or wife unable to help those whom they love; for those struggling to save a beloved companion or friend from the throes of addiction; for those separated by COVID, distance or alienation; for every counselor, physician, nurse, minister or first responder striving to ease suffering; there are those whom we cannot reach, those whom we cannot help, much less retrieve from harm’s way.

“But we can love them.”  Towards the end of the movie, the father and minister was portrayed preaching before his congregation.   By all accounts, it was another Sunday service and sermon.  But for this father, his words spoke volumes.   He spoke for all of us.

“…It is true that we can seldom help those closest to us… But we can still love them… We can love—completely—even without complete understanding…. [1]

In this Season of Advent, where darkness lingers and those whom we love are out of our reach, be with us, Divine Maker, so that we can love them as you would have us do.  Amen.

[1] Dialogue from, A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford, 1992

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