Consider: Already/Not Yet

Dear Friends-

Last night it rained, a serious, no-nonsense rain, thrumming against the windows and glugging in the downspouts. There was no mistaking it for summer’s passing showers. This was an earnest rain, autumn’s first full-throated announcement.

This wet morning, I walked the dogs through a different world: same trail, new palette. The ponderosa trunks were rain-black. The broad-bladed grasses lay silvered and flattened. Along the trail, lacy blue clusters of elderberries dripped bright drops, and rosehips, the waxy red of a child’s crayon, presented themselves for the picking. The grasshoppers, which yesterday had scattered before the dogs like sparks struck from flint, had disappeared entirely. Instead, crows cawed overhead and a lone doe raised a wary neck as we passed.

What is it about the change of seasons that is so exhilarating? Why does the crispness in the air send that little hopeful frisson shivering through me? I’m not even clear about what I’m hopeful for, or if hope is the right word. But this morning each rain-glazed leaf seems intricately beautiful (as, surely, it always has been, had I eyes to see) and everything – including me – seems on the verge of becoming more deeply itself.

It’s a funny thing: this idea of becoming more deeply oneself. How can you be more –well, you?

There’s a complexity at the heart of this question; some sense that we are not yet all we are meant to be. In the faith tradition in which I was raised, this tension is called the “Already/Not-yet.” It holds that by virtue of being alive, we already participate in the divine. And yet, at the same time, our participation has not yet come into fullness. In essence, we are and are becoming.

I think it was this idea that I caught sight of while walking among the rain-sharpened colors this morning, as if somehow this daily walk had, overnight, closed the space between what is and what is possible. As the dogs furrowed among wet foxtail and timothy, the distance between the Already and Not Yet seemed diminished. That deeper, truer version of being shimmered almost everywhere.

Peace,
Lindsay

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: The Wonder and Wound of this World

Dear Friends-

Yesterday the dog and I went on our favorite run.  For half an hour before I laced my shoes, I walked around moaning, “I don’t want to go.  Don’t make me go.”  There was no one “making” me go, unless you count the way Phoebe paced behind me, showing the “great red tear that makes us so sorry for noble dogs,” as J.M. Barrie calls it.  At last, with what seemed incredible mental effort, my shoes were on, my excuses over and we were padding out the door.  Predictably, within the first 400 yards, I wondered what all my fuss had been about.   

It was impossibly beautiful out there.  In the cooler, shadowy places, the hillsides were blue tongues of lupine, red sparks of Indian Paintbrush.  And in one spot, as I rounded a tight corner, I startled a flock of finches.  They flurried up, a chittering cumulous.  First a few.  Then more and more.  Until scores had burst from cover in the lupine, wings glinting in the low sun, and disappeared into the dark shadows of a lone ponderosa.  I felt over-awed by the sight, filled with a glad in-rush, new-born.  And yet in the same moment, something snagged my heart, that thing we call “a pang,” that sense beauty beheld is passing even as we encounter it.

“For to come upon warblers in early May

Was to forget time and death:

How they filled the oriole’s elm, a twittering restless

cloud, all one morning,” —Theodore Roethke, North American Sequence

I love the beauty in these lines from Roethke.  But I don’t believe them.  Warblers in May or finches startled from among the lupine do not make one forgetful of time’s passage.  They do not obscure the dark stile at the bend in the road.  Despite his statement to the contrary, I don’t for a moment think Roethke forgot these companions, else why bring them up?  Beauty is twined with loss, inseparable.

Every shiver of joy has a pull of loss in it, a rip in the seam. I can catch the glorious up-well of gladness.  But I can’t keep it.  Like the finches, it glints gold for a moment then disappears into a bank of shadow.

“Joy’s trick is to supply

Dry lips with what can cool and slake,

Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache

Nothing can satisfy.”  – Richard Wilbur, “Hamlen Brook”

Richard Wilbur gets it right.  It is the signature trick of joy to both slake and leave behind an unsatisfiable ache.  Like a koan that defies the mind’s desire to parse and explicate, the aftereffect of joy is paradox.  In the middle of the finch storm, I had a deep sense of having been met and having been left.  Filled and emptied.  At home in the world and an exile from my heart’s true homeland.  I’m straining here, which is why the wiser Wilbur used “dumbstruck” and avoided the muddle.

We are made for this world.

We are not made for this world.

Can both of these be true?

At every turn, consciousness tugs us in both directions.  This wonder and wound is a birthright that, however many steps we take, we can’t outrun.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

–Lindsay

P.S. We would LOVE to send you a little Each Holy Hour through the post office.  Just email us at eachholyhour@gmail.com with your mailing address and we’ll send you a personal message on one of our beautiful postcards. Just a bit of love from us to you.

P.P.S.  Last week’s Consider prompted some discussion on the Back Page about our faith journeys.  Pour a cup of tea and enjoy the meander.

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.

Plumb Line

The dog and I are just back from a midday walk.  Now, she pants out a tale of the tennis ball she pursued through thicket and grove while I sit here, trying to hold myself within the afterimage of our outing.  Mid-May in my corner of Montana means the hillsides are studded with sun-yellow balsam roots, aspens wave newborn leaves, and choke cherry bushes are top heavy with their spires of blossom.  Literally, every step is a passage into something breathtaking.

In this week’s Consider, Kim writes, “Beauty awakens questions that have been sleeping within us.”  Today, as I walked through the incredible momentary show May had conjured, I didn’t so much think about this quote, as experience it.  I had no moment of lightning insight, no one great question rising.  Rather my on-going inward conversation dropped below all the edifice upon which daily life runs (appointments and errands, chores and checklists) and touched in with deeper, foundational ground.

It’s an astonishment really, this business of being here. We are here.  And we are aware of being here.  And we continually ask questions of this awareness to plumb the meaning of our being here. This is surely the miracle and gift of consciousness.  And its weight and wound.

While I walked just now, I knew that by next week the balsam roots would pale to straw.  In another week, they’ll be memory.  And yet, I am permitted to walk through their abundance now, to send the dog tearing through them, nose to the ground, living out her singular fixation on retrieval.  All of this is, as they say, here today gone tomorrow.  Yet it bespeaks something timeless.  Despite its fleetingness (and my own) it cracks the door on eternity.

A few years ago, my husband and I drove Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park.  This corkscrew of a drive, hewn to the side of a plunging valley, is truly a feat of engineering.  Yet the vast expanse of human ingenuity seems but a mote in this dizzying landscape.  We’d turned off the radio, opened the windows, ceased to talk.  It felt like the air those peaks passed between them was somehow older, deeper.  As we neared Logan pass, Tim broke our silence, “This place makes me want to be a better person.”

This and feature photo by Ken Cockroft

That’s just it.  Beauty plays upon some imprint so deep inside of us, we’ve nearly kicked over its traces in all our day-to-day shamblings.  But, these fugitive encounters invite something deeper, urge a communion we perennially crave.  Each time is an opportunity to send the plumb line down and see just how deep we go.  As for me, I hope to never hit bottom.