Sunday, July 22, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The ram raises his head, nostrils flaring, upper lip curling… as invisible hormones waft through the air to his corner of the barn. He climbs up on the gate to see where this aphrodisiac is coming from. It engulphs him, hitting him over the head. From the depths of the barn - heat, lanolin, wool, hormones, waste, moisture, all combine; rise and attach to walls, clothing, hair; filling nostrils. The pails of water are kept from freezing…the ones that sit within the depths of the barn.
But the north and east doors to the barn, remain open, bringing the chill of winter winds, freezing the pails of water at the edge of the barn, as they pass over them. Without these winter winds, the sheep would get sick. They clean as they work their way through the barn, pushing and purging.
When I brought home my first goats, I insulated the north and west walls of the barn with Styrofoam to help keep the prevailing winds out, attempting to save the girls from the harshness of winter. I had read that Angora goats were sensitive to draughts. But since then, my farmer wisdom has grown and the insulation is long gone except for a few pieces, behind which the barn sparrows have stuffed straw for nests. My neighbour and friend, Bill, stood and scratched his head when I did this…and laughed. I warn the resident sparrows that they are next to go along with the remaining pieces of Styrofoam… along with the mess they make.
In early winter at dusk one evening, I emptied out a bucket, to find a young sparrow that must have just tumbled into the water. Picking him up, I held him in my hands, warming his body, trembling and gasping for air. In the house, I dried him off, put him in a box, turned out the lights and said good night. Come morning, I set him free to fly back to the barn to climb back into his nest, behind the insulation.
I regret that the siege of winter might not come this year as it is early February and we have not used our snow plough once. Could it be- we will not have to come out to do battle with winter, hiding in snow drifts and layers of clothing, our cheeks pink, toes tingling, breath warm and moist against our scarves. During such a siege, the barn becomes a fortress, its frame hidden away behind a wall of snow, quiet and alert; where everything within is heightened, colours deep and full, sounds which echo and emotions that hang in the air.
After engaging winter with snow ploughs and shovels, we retreat to the house with icy gloves, feeling pleased that we have done well. We wait, coming together over hot drinks as the siege continues, all the time listening to winter raging. We draw even closer together… over our combined efforts.
With morning, we emerge thrilled, staring at the spoils of war: a study of contrasts…spreading monochromes of whites and tiny perfect crystals that cling, flat hard patches of ice and sculptured snow drifts which lean and we all separate and dig our way out to cars, back to the world.
The bedroom window is open to a cool breeze. It carries the sound of a pair of Red tail hawks as they hunt the perimeter of the property. Life is easier for them this winter. They hunt the exposed mice that scurry over the mud.
The wool hats, scarves and mittens remain lying on the seat by the front door and I think…not today.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
A winter’s day in which the cats confine their hunting trips to skirting the perimeter of the house, not liking the feeling of snow on their feet....
A winter’s day in which the sheep pick their way over the icy snow packed ground to slide their warm bellies onto the cold snow and they wait for the sun....
A winter’s day in which Hank and I slip and slide over the ice in the driveway as we walk out to the barn....
The barn has long been prepared for such a winter's day. The loft was filled with straw and hay. The bins were filled with grain and salt. The barn floor was cleaned and replaced with fresh bedding which will build up over the winter, adding warmth to the barn. The pipes were carefully wrapped to keep the water from freezing. The ram was brought in and secured within a separate area with the breeding ewes. The mice move in and scurry along their paths, cleaning up after spilled grain. Every day as I enter the barn, I meet the same mouse as he hurries out of my way and out of sight. The barn changes, adapts, filling through the winter.
And at the end of winter, the new lambs will come, filling the barn again with wonder.
As the snow falls, I sit knitting. I linger. I touch, absorbing the softness of the wool. I touch the pages of the Book of Scriptures, studying the paintings.
There is an old Romanian saying: A gift from a gift, makes heaven.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Enter Hank. Enter the cold winter air which rushes ahead of him, and follows in behind him….sticking to his black winter coat along with happiness. I run my fingers along his crisp cold back, feeling winter and happiness ...such happiness that starts at the head and moves down the spine to the tail which swings back and forth.
Hank knows how to open every door in the house. He can push a lever handle as well as roll a door knob with his paw. He can go out and in. He bounds through doors, wondering if he has missed anything, begging to be real. Not one look of reproach at his muddy feet, will dampen his characteristically authentic zeal, coming from within, and we fall under his spell.
There comes a distinct moment when a person begins to live as a Christian...
At this moment, the identifying marks of the Christian life appear in the person. The Christian life is marked by zeal. It is a life of constant communion with God, a life of actively doing God’s holy will…At first, this communion is hidden from others and also ourselves. The visible and tangible witness that we are living the Christian life is our zeal to please God alone. In our ardour, we sacrifice ourselves and hate everything that opposes God’s will.
It is a strain sometimes to live the life of an ardent zealous Christian, living two lives; our inner life filling our minds while hidden from view, like treasure stored away. It is our hidden specialness, our hidden mark of who we really are. We almost forget how to tell the story, forgetting the words, worrying if they will like them, and feeling guilty for all this. Oh if it were as simple as bursting through the door that they might really know us. We become stuck in this hiddeness and it threatens to destroy us, because we are meant to give ourselves away...
“In speaking of this far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name…”
The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis
So we fall back, organize our days around Him. We wear the private habit of prayer and study, feasting, and fasting along with community, trying to smooth out the days -eventually falling into rhythm with reading the ancient words that suggest and spark our imaginations and despite our verbal awkwardness, new words fill our mouths. The ancient words breathe...and we talk. We talk of an inner knowing and understanding in the midst of our hearts. We cannot translate what we do not yet understand.(Lewis)
words from David...
...then I said, Behold I come
I willed to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law in the midst of my heart.
Hank's bubbled up joy, spilling out over the mud, into the entrances, over the cats, people and out into the corners of the house, has worn us out. I tell him, it is time for bed and point. He hangs his head and gives me one last questioning look before heading up the stairs. We listen for the clicking of his feet across the bedroom floor and then all is quiet as he falls into bed.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Nafshi, as the psalmist cries.
I .... my whole being
...have come today to drink.
He begins by skimming his mouth over the surface of the water, as I have seen him do many times before. For whatever reason, it is as if he has forgotten how to drink. Then very cautiously, he touches his mouth to the water.
Kneeling down beside him on the barn floor, I take off my hat to listen. Then gently and slowly, he begins to swallow. His head remains lowered, his neck bent towards the water and the water in the bucket begins to go down.
It is a pivotal moment in his life...almost Holy...almost missed...on my knees, my heart swelling with deep gratitude. He came to this moment, drinking deeply out of a great thirst and it will save his life.
The rains have come again. The earth is full and seeping. It seeps over the banks of the creek. It seeps along the backyard fence, inching its way almost to the house. As I walk along by the creek, I search for where to place my feet because all is wet in this season.
Are you a person of whom it can be said that your heart and your mind are filled with
a peace that surpasses all comprehension? Oh, that we could be such people
again, intrinsically filled to the brim---not only with the knowledge, but with the personal,
prayed- in and wrestled-in reality and abundance of our Lord God.
Writing this from within a concentration camp during the second world war, Alfred Delp understood personal, prayed-in and wrestled-in reality.
I search my mind for the realities of my life: wasted time, unfinished goals, poor choices, the absence of prayer, consuming fear, cold embraces, the mistakes of a mother which are seen in the children's struggles and I wrestle with my failures. I will wrestle with them tomorrow and the next day and the next...and when I can, I will bring them to Him and wait in hope to drink of His mercy and goodness. Although I wish otherwise, I have not entered the new year prepared and ready...with a light heart. I enter into it, timidly and with utter dependence on Him, wishing I had more to bring. But He says that His grace is sufficient. Walk with Him. He promises that He will not leave me. He will show me where to place my feet.
I still watch over my sheep, stopping by his stall and leaning over the railing, to pull out pieces of hay that have slipped sideways in his mouth, getting stuck. I still listen the quiet sound of him drinking and probably always will as long as he is with me.
As time moves on and on, there is the calling - God in our midst. Our hearts must remain honest, awake. Advent is in the new year. Advent is now.