As I awoke from sleep one morning, these words came distinctly to my mind: The long, cold stare of January.
I don’t know where those words came from. But they came clear and definite and stayed with me. I wrote that phrase in my journal, thought about it a while, looked outside at the wintry landscape, then composed the (above) poem.
I live in northern Colorado. January is our coldest month. And it is a long month, 31 days. The cold, short days and long nights can make one feel captive. It is a season when people, those who can afford it, like to travel to places like Mexico, Florida, or Spain. Other people may dream of warm beaches during January. But the weather often keeps us indoors and isolated. One can feel captive.
One can also feel captive in an uncomfortable way when people stare at them. Cold stares are especially disconcerting.
Feeling trapped, fearful, impatient with your situation can make your outlook seem hard and gray. But, truly, there is beauty in every season. Opening our hearts to “see” that beauty can turn those cold, gray eyes to a silver gaze.
Contemplatives speak of the “gaze” of the face of Christ that holds, sees deeply, and can draw out the inner radiance of one’s true self.
Recently I was reading a story that described the “silver” eyes of some Scottish Highland folk. I had never heard eye color described as silver before. Polished silver is not necessarily a cold-looking metal. A warmth seems to gleam from deep inside.
Hidden in every hard place is hope. If we look for it with eyes to see, it will eventually gleam forth; and then, rather than be captives we may become captivated by the presence of love and even joy.
I have found that spiritual, emotional, and physical healing can begin even in times that are darkened, cold, alone, silent … when I still my heart and contemplate the “treasures of darkness” (Isaiah 45:3). One of the sweetest treasures of darkness is the realization that we are not alone. This realization encouraged me anew this winter as I contemplated that nature also experiences the waiting that has become more acute for us during a pandemic winter.
In much of the Northern Hemisphere, at least, we have been waiting for lighter, warmer days of nature’s renewal. And during these days of Lent we also recall, again, Jesus’ crucified body waiting in a dark, cold cave of death. When Jesus “woke up” in that cave of a tomb, did he open his eyes to darkness? Or did his open eyes, his very breath and resurrection-life energy, shine light into the darkness even before the stone rolled away? John wrote that Jesus is the light and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).
We can experience moments during periods of waiting that are holy, even healing. One morning this past winter I sat in meditative prayer in a corner room of our basement. That room has two windows with below-ground-level window wells. During the summer, toads and tiger salamanders dwell in the window wells. My grandchildren like to look for them. During winter, these denizens of the deeps dig into the earth and wait in darkness, finally emerging again in late spring. On that cold, sequestered pandemic morning I was thinking about these creatures—and my own sense of waiting—when this poem came to me:
There is no heartbeat
in a seed
Yet life waits
in that brittle encasement
as surely as in the stilled
breathing and slowed
beating heart of
toads and salamanders
in winter deeps and
sleeping bears in caves
Waiting, waiting, we wait
in lengthened nights and
chilled soil and cloistered suns
for warmer, lighter, moister days
From on high—and pulsing
in the depths—we hear
“Wait… Wait… Be still…”
I did, I am, I will.”
(This post was first published at GodSpace on 3-27-21.)
We have never experienced a Christmas like this one. No children’s programs at church, school, or community. No concerts to attend. Not much “window shopping.” No caroling door-to-door, no dinner parties, few gatherings or family reunions. I do think I see more people putting lights on their houses and trees outside.
In this season, as during this whole pandemic year, my husband and I have found great comfort in nature, even right in our backyard, especially the many birds that visit our feeders, birdbath, and trees and shrubs.
On a more normal Christmas a few years ago, our young grandchildren came to visit. We enjoyed playing in the snow and other activities, such as making pine cone suet feeders for the birds. Later I wrote these verses (below) and even illustrated them in a little Advent / Christmas book for the grandchildren. Two years ago I published this story-in-verse, entitled Something Is Coming To Our World.
These verses tell something of my own hopeful vision for the world, how our loving God is present to all creation, and has come into our world in the form of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ, whose coming again we await with anticipation, and with whom we can now be “partners,” co-laborers, caring for creation and loving people. (May God’s reign soon fully come!)
• • • • •
What Is Coming To Our World? (How a Backyard Bird Sees Christmas)
Seasons have passed of warm, wiggly worms,
bountiful gardens and bright wildflowers,
plentiful insects on leaf and wing,
sun traveling high across the sky,
and all good things that make us sing.
The days grow shorter. The air grows colder.
We search now for meals and warm roost.
When the hawk and fox come hunting,
I will quickly hide in a bush.
The chill in the air tells me high on the peaks
snowflakes are drifting in piles white and deep;
soon, in this place that’s home to me
frost will sparkle and snow will fall.
Creator God, who gives sunshine and seeds,
berries and water, spring, summer, fall—
surely wants us to thrive all year long!
Bells are ringing. I hear singing.
Good aromas are increasing.
What should we anticipate?
What story does the music relate?
When the people open their doors,
I smell something warm, spicy and sweet,
and the seeds they bring us are nice.
Nippier days turn their noses pink,
but something good is coming, I think.
Anticipation fills the air.
Nights are cold, but lights are bright
and they twinkle everywhere.
It looks like stars are coming down
on trees and houses from the air.
It looks to me—all around—
like Heaven’s surely coming down!
Children come bounding out in the snow,
all rosy and bundled for winter play.
They gather greenery, seedpods, and cones—
much like we do sometimes in spring.
I wonder what they’re going to make?
A blue-eyed girl and boy look my way.
I start to fly; then I hear the girl say,
‘Hello, little bird. Here’s a present for you.
Do you know that tomorrow is Christmas Day?’
The boy says, ‘Merry Christmas to you, little bird,
and happy celebrations with your friends, too.’
I like the peanut butter and seeds they’ve pressed
into the pine cones they hang in the tree.
I’ll fly to the highest branch and sing
a song of Heaven coming down,
light in the darkness, warmth in the cold,
provision and plenty, promises of old.
As seeds wait patiently within the earth,
there’s hope for us all—even little birds.
All feathered friends, all four-legged creatures,
all living things, now hear my song.
All who Creator God called ‘good’:
God cares—and comes—for all.
I will sing the song God gives me.
I will wing the flight that lifts me.
I will listen to the glorious sounds,
for Heaven’s love is all around.
For Thanksgiving (this week) and Christ the King Sunday (which is today) I am updating this post, first published three years ago. So much has changed since three years ago. I have added more comments/questions/affirmations after this poem:
In Revelation Chapter 5, Christ the King is depicted as a Lamb who has been slaughtered. Yet all the magnificence of Heaven bows down and worships this Lamb.
In Isaiah 53 we are told “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
Then why do we continually seek the pretty, the popular, the powerful, the persuasive, and the polished to emulate, venerate, and follow?
More questions: Have we ever given thanks to God for entering into our humanity and suffering with us and for us? Have we given thanks for the privilege of suffering with him and for him? Are we giving our hearts, our allegiance, our lives to the slaughtered Lamb who lives? the wounded one who heals? Are we willing to bring our wounds to the Lamb for healing? to transform us into wounded healers?
This Thanksgiving, even in the midst of pandemic fears, political uncertainties, and limited gatherings, I want to “virtually” join all those who “fell down and worshiped” the lamb. as they held aloft bowls filled with “the prayers of the saints” and as they sang a “new song”:
“You are worthy … for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed, for God, saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;…
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered …
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
He is our king and he is with us, even in our present sufferings!
Sample pages from BIBLE POEMS (with reader doodles)
The creativity of Donna Marie Merritt, poet and author of Bible Poems for Reflection and Responseextends even beyond her poetic word pictures. She had the idea of giving her readers the opportunity to not only reflect on her poems (which themselves are reflections on the Bible) but to allow space on the pages, including 17 blank pages, for readers to respond with their own poems, thoughts, prayers, drawings and doodles. The book released this month (September 1, 2020). What we’ve already heard from readers tells us this book is encouraging reflection:
“These jewels, these pearls each carry a small glimmer of truth, wisdom, stern instruction, and unconditional love.”
“I am delighted to take away thoughtful pieces … to meditate on further.”
“The questions raised throughout the book help me evaluate, repent, and respond with worship.”
One reader sent us photos of the reflective/responsive art she created on the book pages. You can view those colorful doodles in this short video:
As a publisher I love to bring authors and readers together, and especially I love it when they are reflecting together on God’s truth, creation, and the life of faith. In this way, writing—and reading—a book of poetry can lead to worship expressed in words, art and action.
Our lives are built of moments in time and space. And just as one moment of your life doesn’t define you, so one poem doesn’t define a poet.
Some moments of my life I wouldn’t want anyone to remember. Some moments beg interpretation. But not every moment of life warrants being grappled with or immortalized in a poem.
Some of my poems come out of my humanness / humanity; some come from the living workings out of faith; some come out of my searching, listening, and questioning; some poems come out of the sensations of a moment in time.
Some moments that inspire poems are microcosms of creation’s cosmic array, snapshots of life’s bigger pictures. Some poetic moments are unique flashes or epiphanies that I wish could be repeated but will likely never come again, at least not quite the same. These moments can change us if we allow them to, if we open our hearts to receive what they have to give. I think that is true, to some extent, of poetry as well.
I don’t sit down to make lines and rhymes, but to use words, rhythms, and metaphors to paint pictures of life’s moments of observing, noticing, being present to someone or something in a new way … of seeing a sometimes-startling new depth or aspect or facet of a fleeting, evocative, life-giving moment.
Poems come to the poet out of living moments that, penciled on paper, morph into verses of word art that can bring meaning to the reader’s own moments.
I wasn’t just crying, I was wailing. I had traveled five-thousand miles to see my father and I missed him by a few hours. He had gone where there are no more tears and I was left to mourn and cry buckets of them in the days and weeks that followed that fateful day years ago. That the Father called him home suddenly, that he passed peacefully and at the ripe old age of eighty five, persuades me to agree with the British journalist Julie Burchill when she says, “Tears are sometimes an inappropriate response to death. When a life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully or just completely, the correct response to death’s perfect punctuation mark is a smile.”
The smiles came later.
But how glad I am for the sweet release of crying, the catharsis that tears provide, and the commonality of the experience to all of us. At times, our lives seem to float on an ocean of tears and sometimes we feel that we are drowning in their salty sea. I got to thinking about those drops of fluid that flow from our eyes and what volumes they speak of the condition of the human heart. What is this curious creation, what are the causes, the kinds and the cultural connotations of crying?
The dictionary definition calls a tear a drop of clear, salty liquid that is secreted by the lachrymal gland to lubricate the surface of the eyeball and wash away irritants. This marvelous process goes on continuously and it is only when emotion triggers a profusion of the fluid that we are aware of the phenomenon known as crying. In the Russian language, there are seven distinct words to describe the various properties of tears. There is a word for large ones, one for clear tears, and another two for both hot tears and salty ones. Yet other selections describe the abundant as well as the sparse and a word that specifically depicts tears falling rapidly one after another. Many of us will have shed some of these and some of us, all of the above.
Various emotions evoke tears. Generally known as more negative, the emotions of anger, frustration, self-pity and manipulation certainly cause crying. Then tears are expected and accepted when we experience sadness, grief, joy or compassion. Perhaps there is a mix of these emotions in all of our tears. I suspect so, for even in the sorrow over my father’s death there was certainly self-pity at the prospect of life without his presence. Hence the inability to smile. Sorrow would have turned to celebration if I could have cast my thoughts heavenward. Perhaps compassion commands the purest of tears. Yet, there is an undeniable element of anger even as we are moved to deep weeping over an abused or starving child, for example. We are angry and frustrated over the inexplicable inequities of life even though we tenderly suffer with the victim. No matter what their etiology, tears are therapeutic and God-designed. Through the voice of Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens declares, “It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes and softens down the temper; so cry away.”
When my sons were small, I encouraged them to “cry away.” I told them, “God gave you the same apparatus as he gave girls when he installed lachrymal glands in your eyes.” So they learned what to this day they still unashamedly do, they let the tears fall when they or others around them hurt. Back then it was scraped knees when they fell on the playground, now it is the bitter bruises of dreams dashed in the playing field of adulthood. I am saddened to see little boys fight back the tears just because society still generally deems it sissy to cry. I witnessed such a little fellow at an airport recently as he said good bye to his Dad. He bravely stifled his sobs and wiped away the telltale tears with his sleeve while his sister, of similar age, cried loudly and lustily.
I had learned from my father that the dignity and beauty of tears is as much the domain of men as of women. Although raised as a stoic Scotsman, he could never get through telling the story of Abraham offering up Isaac without crying. Still less the account of Calvary and the suffering of the Savior he loved. Christ Jesus, who was both God and the man of all men who wept. The brief account in John 11:33-36 often provokes debate as to why he was crying. I like to think that he simply felt the pain of those around him who mourned the loss of Lazarus.
The scriptures are not shy to tell us tales of tears. Not surprisingly, Job is recorded crying. In chapter 16 and verse 20 he says, “My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth tears unto God.” Friends and family may grow weary of our crying and they may consider it attention getting, weakness or histrionics. However, we will always have the caress and the uncritical, caring attention of our Father. Jeremiah the weeping prophet, so named for his proclivity to tears, wails, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 9:1). He, in common with us, experienced the place where the tears have dried up but the sorrow is still unstaunched. Mothers can relate to Rachel weeping for her children who were no longer there (Jer. 31:15). Some of the deepest grief must undoubtedly come from the loss of a child to untimely death, estrangement or to the land of the prodigal. However, the Lord exhorted Rachel to stop for there is hope in the end.
From the pen of David who wept through the gamut of human emotions, comes these wonderful words “Thou tellest my wanderings: put my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (Psalm 56:8). Here David is alluding to the ancient burial custom of collecting the tears of mourners in a bottle and putting them in the tomb of the departed. Greater than the reference to the grave, is what we glean of the tender care of our Father. He cares about and counts our tears as he does the number of hairs on our head and records the most mundane and intimate of our hearts’ experiences. He noted that little boy at the airport!
But, like Rachel, we know there is an end to our tears. They belong only to this frame of time and space. That great and glorious promise beckons us beyond the present picture when we read “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). At the very same time that I wept over the aching loss of my father, our heavenly Father was gently wiping away my Dad’s tears, whispering that the promise had come true. “My beloved child; your crying days are over.” Smile indeed. Smile forevermore.
The grip of grief has slackened its shackles
Hope, the thin, unbroken thread stretches
to permit a spring in the step
Hope, the harbinger of happy
highlights bright color and contrast
Though life is air brushed in sadness,
though tears still wait willingly in the wings,
They serve now to baptize a reluctant convert
into a new and different life
Hope springs eternal…
Like everyone else, Cladach has felt the effects and isolation of the virus. Especially in these ways:
Amazon, where many of our sales happen, has de-prioritized orders, sales, and shipping of books during the pandemic as they concentrate on shipping more urgently needed items. But, the good news is we’ve heard from customers that their orders are on the way. Amazon has our books in stock and will fulfill orders, though the ship time may be longer than usual. So go ahead and place those orders!
Postponed spring titles and uncertain release dates. But the following books will release in 2020 (dates to be announced):
A BRAVE LIFE by Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
BIBLE POEMS by Donna Marie Merritt
UNPAUSED : Poems by Alice Scott-Ferguson
Author events cancelled. Here are a few examples:
Catherine Lawton (that’s me) was scheduled to teach three workshops at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, which had to be canceled, but conference director Marlene Bagnull says she plans to save the 2020 program in 2021. Conferees can look forward to my workshops on these topics in May 2021 in Estes Park, Colorado: 1) Poetry, 2) Creative Nonfiction, 3) Marketing
Janyne McConnaughey (author of BRAVE and now living in Seattle) has had to cancel her early May trip to Colorado Springs, where she was scheduled to participate in the Mountain of Authors event and do a book signing at a local shop.
Alice Scott-Ferguson had anticipated a trip in April to Monument, Colorado for a Pen Women’s event, meeting with friends, authors and readers and selling copies ofPausing in the Passing Places.This event was postponed.
As we’ve all heard, small businesses, including those in the book business, have suffered because of lower sales, closures, layoffs. One way to support local independent bookstores is to purchase books through the nation-wide, excellent and efficient online Bookshop program, Books are shipped directly from printer/warehouses, and the profits from these online sales are shared among all participating, local independent bookstores. Cladach titles that are available through IndieBound are also searchable and orderable through Bookshop. For instance, you can find my new book, Glimpsing Glory, at Bookshop HERE.
We all feel the isolation. “Staying Home” and social distancing can bring out creativity and is surely teaching us some important and hopefully lasting lessons if we will listen in the solitude to what our very-present God is whispering to us. May it be so. May healing and hope spread through our world, and may we come together again soon!
Some heartwarming stories are coming out of this difficult season, as people choose to show generosity and a giving attitude. Donna Marie Merritt (author of forthcoming BIBLE POEMS, who lives, writes, and works as a librarian in Connecticut) shared this happy, heartwarming report: “Last night I was feeling helpless, looking at a box of children’s books [that she authored] sitting idle because there are no book events right now. Then … I posted on a local FB page that any child in need of a book right now could get a signed copy from me free. Within hours, the entire box was signed and waiting in bags on my porch for pick-up. I had unemployed parents reach out, parents with bored children, parents who can’t bring their kids to the library during this crisis. It was the best ‘book event’ of my career. And some have begun sending photos.” [Photos posted below with permission].