A World of Dew, And Yet

It’s early summer and the roses are as wide as tea saucers.  When I pass by the garden on the way into the house, their heady scent cloaks me.  There are too many blooms to cut and bring inside, but the few I’ve arranged simply in vases astound me with their dense layers of petals.  

I am humbled by beauty like this; without a great deal of work from me, the garden yields new blossoms every morning. As I read Lindsay’s Consider this week, I felt humbled again by the realization that though majesty and wonder charge our world, many people can’t experience either. How fortunate I am to be able to feel something as I look at the roses.

I am aware that my perception of beauty and enjoyment of this world is a gift, and a tenuous one at that.  I think of the dear people I’ve known who have battled depression, of the powerlessness and despair they have tried to describe–a dulling of all senses, an inability to respond, to hear, to see.  “It’s like being deep underwater, wrapped in chains,” a friend once told me.  I can see glimmers of action, hear muted voices above me, but I can’t free myself to swim to the surface.”  When this friend ended her life after a long battle with mental illness, someone told me that she believed some people were just not meant for this world.

No.  I can’t believe it.  My convictions tell me otherwise; my faith that we are eternal beings made in the image of God instills a hope in me that, like Emily Dickinson’s bird with feathers, sang on even in the terrible, broken days that followed my friend’s death.

And yet the ache.  And yet the terrible irony that the people I love who have suffered most acutely from depression are people who, when they are well, are most sensitive to the goodness and beauty in the world.  The injustice of it, the awful brokenness of it, makes me long for more than this world of dew.

This world of dew

Is a world of dew,

And yet. . . .

Poet Kobayashi Issa wrote this after his one-year old daughter died from smallpox.  His days were shot through by tragedy–two more children and his wife also died.  And yet he wrote magnificent haiku that evidenced life was often an encounter with delight.  Here’s another from his wonderful volume The Spring of My Life that I loved so much I wrote up on our kitchen wall:

With such a voice

You should also learn to dance,

Bellowing Frog.

“We are made for this world.  We are not made for this world.”  Can both be true?

A year after a close friend of mine died from breast cancer, I stood with her nine-year old daughter at her grave, still a gash of unhealed dirt in the cemetery.  This girl whom I love so much, best friend to my own daughter, bent under the weight of her grief.  Her shoulders shook with sobs.  Her father, my friend’s husband, looked out into the hills smoky with twilight and shining with the first color of fall, and said, “We look for the Eternal Spring.”  

I have never forgotten his words.  In this early summer with the roses before me, I touch the sorrow that scars us all.  I am made for this world, wholly and completely.  With great humility, I say, Yes! to this world, and yet. . .And yet.   I long for the Eternal Spring.

Consider: Past the Headlands

Dear Friends,

Each Holy Hour is one month old! Like a newborn opening her eyes to the world, Kim and I are in a haze of astonishment at the response we’ve received. Your comments, shares, personal messages and feedback have meant a lot to us. Thank you for letting us into your lives. It is truly an honor to journey with you.

This week, as I watch my kids near the close of another school year and anticipate the long, lazy days of summer ahead, I’ve been thinking about my own childhood. My hometown in coastal New England is a postcard of colonial clapboards and blue ocean. Through all sorts of weather and almost daily in the summer, my family made the short trek to Crane Beach, a glorious four-mile sand beach and estate. We’d park the car, freight ourselves with towels and pails, shovels and sunglasses, and amble over the dunes. On the far side of those shifting mounds, we’d find the closest thing to infinity I knew. The Atlantic. With a few sailboats tacking at the horizon, and (on clear days) Maine’s Mount Katahdin a hazy bump, it was an immensity so searingly beautiful, it was a hair’s-breadth from pain.

The Atlantic nurtured all my budding devotional impulses. Like the Divine, it was unboundable, unknowable, and yet right here, spending itself on the sand, lapping my shins. Changeless yet always changing, it followed its own rhythms of waves and tides, a pattern as old as Earth.

In my family, we were earnest Sunday-school attenders. While my friends zipped around bays and coves in bowriders, I spent Sundays in the pews of First Presbyterian. Often, on our hard benches, we traveled deep into questions of faith and meaning, casting lines from the bow through prayers and hymns, stories and practices.

But the Atlantic preached another kind of sermon. Wordless in its exhortation, speechless in its exegesis, it made me feel the thing we mean when we say, “my heart leapt up.” Solemn elation, deep-fed joy, something at the far-border of my senses, stirred in me.

“Exultation is the going/Of an inland soul to sea, —” writes Emily Dickinson. “Past the houses, past the headlands/ Into deep eternity!” As a child, I thought this poem was written for me. It seemed so intuitive to my experience, I felt proprietary regard for it. It bespoke the way the Atlantic pulled the tide of my heart toward something deeper. It suggested that all the human habitations – the propositional truths and earnest homiletics in which we usually trafficked – were just the beginning of the adventure. Beyond these headlands, deep eternity called.

I’ve never gotten over that call.

Every trip to Crane Beach ended with gathering up our pails and shovels, shaking sand from shoes, traipsing back over the boardwalk. We’d drive home and pack everything away, hang towels on the back porch. I’d brush my salt-tangled hair and arrange a few shells on my shelf, living in the afterimage of the blue, endless Atlantic, and waiting again for this inland soul to go to sea.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

–Lindsay

p.s. On Friday, Kim will continue the conversation on our blog. Check it out and leave us your thoughts.

p.p.s. We’ve launched a new page on eachholyhour.com. The Back Page is our way to honor the messiness of providing thoughtful content. It chronicles some of the behind-the-scenes pitfalls and levity we bring to this work.