The Gift of the Resurrection | “The Blessing of the Morning Light”

As usual, around this time of year, I have been thinking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ—about what it means for humanity but also what it means in other ways. Scripture says that Christ came that we might have life abundantly—not a life of material riches, but a life richly transformed by the power of Christ, one which, despite the vagaries of human life, rest in the joy and strength of His presence.

This is also a gift of the resurrection of Christ.

We have been learning over these few weeks of sheltering-in-place that, generally, we have been living shadow lives, chasing the entrapments of what others consider a good life. We’ve also been learning that we can actually live without much of the clutter and noise, that—no matter how much we want to be out and doing with the throngs—we are content with our simpler, streamlined lives.

We have time for thought. For listening. For embracing joy and sorrow outside the rush of our normal everyday existence.

We are experiencing a mass removal of “masks” that unfortunately cannot be handed over to health professionals. This presents us with an amazing opportunity to grapple with the messiness of our experiences in ways that lead to authentic connection with ourselves and others.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of listening to David Whyte read one of his poems, “The Blessing of Morning Light,” during session 1 of his workshop, The Courage in Poetry. The words coincided so intensely with my thoughts over the last couple of weeks that I almost exited the live workshop just to sit and process those few moments.

We have a genuine opportunity through this global travesty to allow Light to illuminate the dark places so that we may rise to morning light.

[The poem was written one Easter morning (2015) in memory of his friend John O’Donohue].

THE BLESSING OF THE MORNING LIGHT (Or, “Easter Blessing”)
David Whyte

The blessing of the morning light to you,
may it find you even in your invisible
appearances, may you be seen to have risen
from some other place you know and have known
in the darkness and that that carries all you need.
May you see what is hidden in you
as a place of hospitality and shadowed shelter,
may that hidden darkness be your gift to give,
may you hold that shadow to the light
and the silence of that shelter to the word of the light,
may you join all of your previous disappearances
with this new appearance, this new morning,
this being seen again, new and newly alive.

From the David Whyte, The Bell and the Blackbird (2018).

Live Your Best Life Now

Thanks to the Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-a-Day” program, I was pleased to find “The Rainbow,” a poem by Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960) in my email this morning. Even though I studied and taught early African American literature for many years, I’m pretty sure I have not read any of her poetry before today.

Smith produced three books of poetry–Songs of the Months (1904); Rhymes from the Cumberland (1909); Rosemary and Pansies (1909)–and was even published in the highly regarded Harper’s Magazine. I downloaded Rosemary and Pansies, and will be reading it over the next few days.

“The Rainbow,” from Rosemary and Pansies, is a sweet poem, and perhaps that’s the one I should share today, but “Preparation”–from the same collection–spoke to me, as I’m working on being more intentional about taking time for the things that matter most.

Preparation
Effie Waller Smith

“I have no time for those things now,” we say;
“But in the future just a little way,
No longer by this ceaseless toil oppressed,
I shall have leisure then for thought and rest.
When I the debts upon my land have paid,
Or on foundations firm my business laid,
I shall take time for discourse long and sweet
With those beloved who round my hearthstone meet;
I shall take time on mornings still and cool
To seek the freshness dim of wood and pool,
Where, calmed and hallowed by great Nature’s peace,
My life from its hot cares shall find release;
I shall take time to think on destiny,
Of what I was and am and yet shall be,
Till in the hush my soul may nearer prove
To that great Soul in whom we live and move.
All this I shall do sometime but not now—
The press of business cares will not allow.”
And thus our life glides on year after year;
The promised leisure never comes more near.
Perhaps the aim on which we placed our mind
Is high, and its attainment slow to find;
Or if we reach the mark that we have set,
We still would seek another, farther yet.
Thus all our youth, our strength, our time go past
Till death upon the threshold stands at last,
And back unto our Maker we must give
The life we spent preparing well to live.

What If? | “How Would You Live Then?”

Are you surprised that it took me five days to get to Mary Oliver and sunflowers? I held off as long as I could. 😀  The sun is shining beautifully here in the Tennessee Valley and these sunflowers reflect how bright and sunny I’m feeling as a result of basking in it all morning and early afternoon. 

I have been sort of stuck on this Oliver poem since the beginning of the year–for the message and the splendor of the images–so it was a given I’d share it here during National Poetry Month. The poem is from her 2004 collection, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays.

How Would You Live Then?
Mary Oliver

What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
flew in circles around your head? What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor? What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl? What if the brook slid downhill just
past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep? What if
the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds? What if
you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerfully sang
from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day – who knows how, but they do it – were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?


About the image:  The “Tender Thoughts” card above came from my Love Notes friend, Eileen V; it was sent for International Women’s Day 2020. Eileen enclosed a special treat inside the card that I’m looking forward to sharing later this week.

All Wrapped Up in Joy

I woke up this morning with all the “things to do” on my mind and all the uninvited annoyances that entered my sphere days earlier nagging my heart. Before jumping out of bed in a frenzied rush–15 minutes later than I’d intended and an hour later than I should have–I paused and convinced myself to spend my usual first moments of the day in meditation.

I thought about my blogging friend Rev Russ’s query in his post “It’s All Hard”: Is life hard or have we become wimps [not exactly his words]?

I mused for a moment about just how difficult it can be to navigate all the “stuff” that comes our way from day to day, just how hard it is to push past the everyday slights and disappointments, how hard it is to [always?] act and speak with prudence, how hard it is to accept [not tolerate] difficult people, how hard it is to forgive repeat offenders, how hard it is to love ourselves, flaws and all.

The thought of it all made rising from bed a bit challenging, so I asked God, “How can I face the day when I wake up bone-tired? Weary?”

He immediately answered with three doses of His Word, so I wrote them in my journal and determined to let them direct my day.

When things were said or done that had the potential to unsettle me–A person whose desires rest on You, You preserve in perfect peace because [she] trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3).

When a sense of my very present vulnerabilities threatened to overthrow me–My grace is enough for you, for My power is brought to perfection in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

When I felt like the tasks were unmanageable, too much, impossible–I can do all things through Him who gives me power (Philippians 4:13). 

Despite the disappointments, the distractions, the conflicting personalities, the tedious work, the “must get done” list, my step was a little lighter today; my mind at ease; my spirit unencumbered.

As I wrote the last scripture in my journal this morning and click-closed the pen, God whispered one more word into my heart–The joy of the Adonai is [my] strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The peace, the grace, the power–all wrapped up in His joy.


Forgive me for the wordy #WordlessWednesday. The image above is an edit of a fallen hyacinth flower. I visited my family in New Orleans last weekend, and the gorgeous and über aromatic hyacinth plant stole the show in my mother’s garden.

All scripture from the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB).

Textures | #WordlessWednesday

Little moments can have a feeling and a texture that is very real.  –Ralph Fiennes

Sometimes, life gets so frenzied that I take rest and moments where and when I can. This is how I managed to capture the photos above.

While waiting for the grants officer at “my” university to finish with a client a couple of weeks ago, I took a few cleansing breaths. As I exhaled, I suddenly noticed the many colors and textures in her office suite. I wanted to touch everything. Instead, I let my eyes and phone [camera] do the work while my spirit eased into rest. [Click an image for a closer look].

No One Ever Told Me…

Purple by Lynda F.

Is a Saturday morning post the same thing as a Friday post?

I crashed (on and off) after getting through the short Friday workday. When we arrived home at about 1:30, I made lunch for the kiddo and went to sleep. I woke up in time to make dinner and lounged and “liked” on IG until sleep overcame me again. My body is insisting on the sleep “they” say we can never catch up on.

Anyway, as promised (but several hours late), here’s another stunning piece of artwork by my Love Notes 26 partner, Lynda F. The final prompt was “No one ever told me…”

No one ever told me I’d be a caregiver and how challenging that is. But I’m strong–and have risen to the challenge.

Lynda’s husband suffered a stroke in 2017, and of course, life changed for them in an instant. As I struggled with which “no one ever told me” to share, Lynda’s response gave me pause. Late last year two of my uncles had strokes–my mom’s brother in New Orleans and my dad’s brother-in-love, who lives here in Northern Alabama.

Because I live here, I witnessed that moment when life changed for all our family here–and especially for my aunt. The battle between faith and fear when the doctors offered no hope. [Faith won]. The immediate shift in priorities. The action plan. The fight in all of us.

My aunt, who hadn’t driven in years, started driving again and picked up my uncle’s usual tasks. My dad’s other sisters, who also live here, adjusted their lives too.

Life changes.

And, like Lynda said, no one can ever tell us this is going to happen. There is no preparation. No training. No warning. This is life, and when we are living and walking in hope, faith, and love, we roll with it. We adjust. We rise to the challenge and accept our new normal(s).

Maybe, one day, I’ll share my uncle’s miraculous story, but for now, I wish you a happy and restful weekend and strength for this journey called life.

12 Days of Christmas Postcards | Day 8

Some things are prettier “in person.” Such is the case with the “Joyful Heart” watercolor Christmas card made by my Love Notes friend, Trang K.

Trang’s note mentioned the “joy” postcard I sent at the beginning of 2018, which encouraged family and friends to carry joy with them into the new year, “so it is fitting that I am sending you full circle at the closing of the year.” Instead of a book end, her card is a charge to continue to walk with joy.

Trang mused:

It is because of sorrow that we know joy, and so, in truth they are one and the same.

Her words reminded me of a brief journal entry I wrote almost 30 years ago (gasp!) in which I wrestled with James 1:2, 3:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. [NIV]

It’s so hard to cope with hardship–continuous suffering and tribulations that seem never ending. Yet, in Your Word, Lord, we are told to “count it all joy” when we are tested because this testing produces patience and develops and strengthens our faith. Joy, Lord? I can hardly make it through the night. […] But I want to be stronger in faith. Help me to trust You…Help me to accept this “joy” when I’m tired and tried.

Whereas I had questions those many, many moons ago, today I focus on joy as a discipline. I’m learning to practice a steadying joy no matter the circumstance. This does not mean I work on being perpetually happy; it means that when LIFE does its thing, instead of driving myself crazy with worry or lying down in defeat, I rest in God’s presence and stand firm as His strength carries me.

As you navigate 2019, may you walk with joy no matter what…

Happy New Year!


The WordPress bot just informed me that this is my 500th blog post! Another reason to celebrate!

12 Days of Christmas Postcards | Day 7

The abstract Christmas card above came from my pen friend, Beckra. She always surprises me with her unique approach to photography, and I find this card intriguing. It carries the light of Christmas and the fireworks with which we welcome the coming year, so it is apropos for today, the seventh day of Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.

Ten days ago I read the poem “kindness” by Emina Gaspar-Vrana and I’ve been looking forward to sharing it with you as we say farewell to a year filled with frustrations and victories, love and loss, joy and sorrow. Whatever fell in your path in 2018, I hope that “life was kind to you.”

kindness by Emina Gaspar-Vrana

I hope that this year, life was kind to you;

not in the sense of not challenging you,
not making you question it, or
not causing you pain,

but that it made you discover your strength,
brought you new perspectives and
taught you that healing brings peace

that is kindness,
that is growth,
that is preparing you for greatness and
a better version of yourself–
the person you are becoming and
that you were always meant to be

I wish life is even kinder to you next year

Farewell, 2018.

Still. Covered.

“Be Still,” mixed media art by Lisa Larson

Thanksgiving Break ends today. The break I looked forward to since September. Time to be still and allow at least some healing to take place. A little time to just be and allow my grief to spill out without having to hold back or rein it in, without the persistent demands of first-year students or the expectations of colleagues.

But.

That didn’t happen. I’ll spare you the details of the “instead,” but tonight, I was noting how things sometimes come in a torrent. Without warning. The storm beats on us relentlessly and we can hardly catch our breath between lightning strikes. We want to do something, but the only thing we can do is take cover.

And that’s what I did.

I took cover from doctors who spoke doom and gloom. I took cover from the constant barrage of questions and requests from students (yes, during the break). I took cover from fear of all the “what ifs.” I took cover from the emotions that surged to the surface when my bestie told me she lost yet another person in her life to cancer. I took cover when my other bestie got a “not good” prognosis for her mother’s condition. I took cover when yet another bolt of lightning struck just yesterday. I took cover when the little frustrations of life were sure to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I took cover in the Word of God, in the knowledge and experience of who He is, and I rested in His embrace.  I found shelter there because when faced with the impossible, there’s nowhere else to be.

Some time last week, I received the card above from one of my dearest and most constant friends. It felt like a warm and much-needed hug, the hug that says, “I know…and this is the way through.”

I’ve been on a journey with stillness for years now. Some days, I’ve mastered stillness. Others…I stand in place, fretting and fidgeting. The card arrived when I was feeling the full brunt of all of the impossibilities that life has become, when all the disappointments were dancing before me and taunting, tempting me to fall apart. It was my call to do nothing. Be still. Relax against the onslaught and simply hold on to the God who will not, cannot let me go.

And that’s where I am tonight as I face the grueling last days of the semester with all the stuff that was there before and all the stuff that came up since…

Still. Covered.

Raindrops and Perfection

He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. –Matthew 5:45 MSG

It seems appropriate to talk about rain today–this 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina–but I have no desire to revisit that horror today. The photo above features my favorite line from R.H. Peat’s poem “Perfection.” When I “encountered” it on the blog Sightseeing at Home a few months ago, I decided to create a series of photos using lines from the poem.

Every oak will lose a leaf to the wind.
Every star-thistle has a thorn.
Every flower has a blemish.
Every wave washes back upon itself.
Every ocean embraces a storm.
Every raindrop falls with precision.
Every slithering snail leaves its silver trail.
Every butterfly flies until its wings are torn.
Every tree-frog is obligated to sing.
Every sound has an echo in the canyon.
Every pine drops its needles to the forest floor.
Creation’s whispered breath at dusk comes
with a frost and leaves within dawn’s faint mist,
for all of existence remains perfect, adorned,
with a dead sparrow on the ground. –“Perfection” by R.H. Peat

The photo above is the first in the series. I even photographed a dead sparrow I happened across one afternoon. There was nothing poetic about that image, so we can probably forget about adding the last line to the series–unless I approach it less literally.

The incongruity between the poetic lines and the actual image of the sparrow reminds me of our tendency to use language to “pretty up” some really “jacked up” aspects of life. I’m learning that such language doesn’t minimize the ugliness and does little, if anything, to help. In some instances, what appears to be encouragement or inspiration is actually damaging. There’s nothing glamorous about struggle. Nothing to celebrate in being strong enough to withstand the blows. People who struggle with mental and/or physical illnesses don’t need platitudes. They need help. They need support. They need love. It is easier to come to grips with life when we realize, no matter how hellish, life is just that. . .life.

Isn’t that the point of Peat’s poem? Life with all its “stuff” happens to us all–whether we’re good, bad, nice, nasty, or somewhere in between. That is part of our messy, perfect existence in this world.