The Berry Bush

Stoic, she relinquishes her treasures.

Fingers swish, palms purple with the richness

of the gift. She whispers soft

but I am occupied; berries bounce in a plastic

pail to the rhythm of songbirds.

 

The old-timers say

that the harvest is only heavy every

seven years. This is the one in seven-

fat orbs dazzle the eye

and my pail overflows quick,

tongue stained and smug.

 

I strip the branches easiest to reach, careful to

pry into intimate places, seek

her secrets with greedy grasp. I slow. Here, not all are

perfectly ripe. My fingers must pull with

respect, leave the immature for a later picking.

 

The pails are piling purple. Content, I

step back, prepare to sail home

with cargo hold brimming. I stretch,

look up. More. And more, and more hang. I hear it

indistinct, this lesson. On tiptoe, the blessings are harder to

harvest, require more of my complacency.

 

Patience prickles. Fingers falter, accidental purple showers

to the earth. Joints creak, muscles strain,

and here is the true miracle,  saved for last. Fullness scrapes the dirt

plump and glad. The  equation comes

clear, and I laugh aloud with the unexpected joy of it –

 

for when do blessings not hang in clusters,

ripe and ready to pick? And how is great glory not

gained with a stretch of stained hands toward heaven?

Which good and surprising delights

were not made the sweeter by bowing of the head

and bending of the knee?

 

I hear her now.

Her syllables ring loud in the silence.

And I, who teach for a living,

am schooled by the berry bush.

 

Cover

frosty spruce.jpg

The trials which have smothered you and frozen all your dreams

(Those icy fingers down your spine unraveled all your seams)

Are burdens which you never sought; indeed, you begged them gone,

And yet, they linger dawn to dusk, and dusk to weary dawn.

But Pilgrim, lift your tired head, and brace your feeble knees;

For lessons learned in schools of pain are not like schools of ease –

What humbled heart and broken bones with faith can start to grow

Is rather like the evergreen made beautiful by snow.

Diamonds in the Snow

Diamonds scattered in the snow,

Twinkle, twinkle, tiny stars;

Viewing life through children’s eyes,

Look how rich we really are!

*

When my daughter was small, she pointed out the snowy diamonds with the delight peculiar to tiny children, declaring, “Mommy, we’re rich!”  I will never forget this life lesson – or its charming teacher!

In the Labyrinth…

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lynn Farrar

She entered, trembling, not sure what to expect.  She had never seen a labyrinth before.  The sign made gentle suggestions – pause and pray at the Entrance Rock.  Take your time and contemplate life while meandering the twisty paths, being careful not to hop over any stones, thereby short-changing the experiment.  Make your way to the Central Rock, and allow God to speak to you there.

She knew instinctively that this was what she had been waiting for all those months.  She knew that she would find herself, her lost self, at the Central Rock – and for this reason, she entered, trembling and unsure, but with a hope-stir warming her veins.

Her heart was beating too fast.  She willed it to slow.  Down.  Lose it feverish pace.

She grounded herself at the Entrance Rock.  It was warm.  Solid.  Gently inviting.  She entered the labyrinth tentatively, eyes and heart watching.  Waiting.  For what?

She didn’t know.

Her first thought was “You’re not doing this right.”  She saw with a start that her feet were in a ring of stones that was three levels from the outside ring.

She panicked.

But the last year’s training stood her in good stead.  She reminded herself that this labyrinth was not a test.  It could not be failed or done wrong – it just was.

She walked on.

Her eye, sunk to the floor, was drawn to the miniscule violets which bloomed among the thistles cropping up among the rocks.   She thought, “Ah, yes.  I see.  There is beauty, always beauty, even in the thistle-lands…” and it quieted her pulse and sent shivers of not-yet-born-joy-bumps up her spine.

She walked on.  This way and that, her plodding feet drew her ever toward the aim of the labyrinth.

The directions were perplexing.  Now closer, now farther, the wandering vexed her soul.  Presently her heart grew heavy – so heavy, and burst out, “Why is life so hard?  Why can’t I find You, God?  Where do You hide when I am most needy and famished?”  And tears sprang like old friends and ran down well-worn pathways, lines worn by trouble and sorrow, a river-bed of woundedness.  She stopped.  She threw back her head and glared at impenetrable sky.  “Where are You?”  The raw cry echoed silently, creating unseen waves in the neat rows of clouds.

And she felt rather than heard, “I AM here.  I AM in the air you breathe – do your lungs perceive Me?  I AM in the violets – yes, and the thistles as well – do you not see Me?  I AM the sunshine that teases your skin – do you not feel Me?”

And she knew with the suddenness of a thunder-bolt from an innocent blue sky – she wasn’t trying to find herself – not really.  She had been lost – yes, that.  But at the Central Rock, the central core of her being, was not contained her hidden self – it was Him.  Always, only Him.  And where HE was, SHE would be.  Hidden.  Safe.  Protected.  At peace.

And perfectly herself…

The tears broke and her shoulders shook with the breaking.  She reached the Central Rock and, blindly groping through wet-splashed windshield, hand grasped rock.  Its solidity reassured – always, forever, her very self had been safe – no violence could break it.  No war could overpower it.  No flood could sweep it away.  No assault or evil or tyranny or oppression or sorrow or terror could ever destroy its essence.

It just was.

And she knew that life, that healing, that finding this elusive God was like walking the labyrinth.  Just when you thought you were at the center, a hairpin curve forced you to turn your back – but always, ever, you were making your way to the middle.

It just wasn’t linear.  Predictable.  Comfortable.  It just was.

Her steps were more sure as she turned from the Central Rock.  Some of its strength had leached into her, she thought.  Some of its quiet dignity.  Something indefinable and undiscernible had entered her soul in the labyrinth.

It coudn’t be measured or explained.  It couldn’t be qualified or contained or communicated.

It just was…