With Glimmer Soft Tinged

30 05 2014

Light and silv’ry cloudlets hover

In the air, as yet scarce warm;
Mild, with glimmer soft tinged over,

Peeps the sun through fragrant balm.
Gently rolls and heaves the ocean

As its waves the bank o’erflow.
And with ever restless motion

Moves the verdure to and fro,

Mirror’d brightly far below.

What is now the foliage moving?

Air is still, and hush’d the breeze,
Sultriness, this fullness loving,

Through the thicket, from the trees.
Now the eye at once gleams brightly,

See! the infant band with mirth
Moves and dances nimbly, lightly,

As the morning gave it birth,

Flutt’ring two and two o’er earth.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

spring green

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May Day

26 05 2014

yellow bush

“Now I know how my cat feels.”

I said the words aloud before considering that someone might hear me. I was in a bit of pain, and the words came as much an expletive as a realization.

Realization? Well, I thought a little more, not really. Perhaps I knew better how my cat saw things. Jogging along the lane, I had made way for a couple of bicyclists, and in the process I had slipped off the edge of the macadam pavement. This had caused me to stumble and fall against the stone wall guarding the edge of the bridge spanning a ravine. My prescription sunglasses jarred loose and fell, I knew not where. I certainly couldn’t see them. I could barely make out the differences among the tulips blooming in one bed after another decorating the park. Yellow, red, pink, purple, orange, white – all the glorious colors still obvious, but blurring together as though splotched onto a canvas in a quick, expressionist painting.

Grape hyacinths? Carpets of blue.

Forsythias? Explosions of gold.

How would I see my glasses in all the growing green foliage under the bridge? When would I get down there to look for them? I had hurt my right foot in the stumble. Trying to walk it off, as the athletes say, proved increasingly painful.

I heard the sound of a man singing. No words. Just sound, like that of a songbird, one of the many making music that morning.

Around a curve in the lane, I saw a bench. On it sat a man wearing a blue suit with a matching cap. As I approached, I could make out decorations in red. Ah, it must be a uniform. Park employees, however, wore olive green and tree bark taupe; police officers wore black.

The man sat upright, away from the backrest and leaning ever so slightly with both hands on top of a cane placed between his legs, facing east. When he noticed me, he quickly stood and gestured at the bench.

As he had been sitting on the end farther from me, I took a seat on the opposite side. Instead of resuming his, though, the man walked behind the bench and in the direction from which I had just walked … or limped, rather. He stopped about ten feet away, again faced east, and stood with both hands atop his cane. His movement revealed nothing in the way of an infirmity.

“No need for you to yield the entire bench,” I said. “We can share.”

“Sharing is good,” he replied. “You may want to put your foot up, though.”

I tried that. Doing so made me shift so that my back faced him. “There’s still room,” I said over my shoulder.

“Thank you. I’ll stand.”

“What? You think I stink? I haven’t been running that long, or that far.” I smiled when I said that, but then surmised he couldn’t see it. I shifted to my first position so that I could look at him.

“As a matter of fact, you do,” he said.

“What?”

“Stink.”

“No! Really?”

“Sunscreen mainly. Soap. Sweat. Shoes.”

“You forgot deodorant.”

“That, too.”

I looked at him as carefully as my defective vision would allow. His sense of smell was so good that I couldn’t help but wonder if he were blind. But he saw me coming! Well, maybe he heard me coming … or smelled me coming. But he saw me pull up lame! Well, maybe he heard that, too; maybe he could hear the arrhythmia in my steps. And there’s the cane. Well, yeah, but it’s not white with red. It’s brown.

“It’s all that bad, huh?”

“Certainly not,” he said. “It’s all too much, though. I came here to smell the flowers of Norway maple.”

I could see we were surrounded by trees, all responding to spring. I couldn’t see what kind they were, though. Indeed, even with my glasses, I wouldn’t have been able to tell one maple from another. I was one of the ecologically challenged who would say pine for any conifer, be it spruce, fir, hemlock, juniper, cedar, cypress, larch, or pine.

“I didn’t know that maples have a scent,” I said.

“Of course you did.”

“And how do you know that, pray tell?”

“Maple syrup?” He faced me and flashed a smile bright enough that I couldn’t miss it.

“Oh. Well, yes. I do know what that smells like. I think. I don’t usually buy the real stuff because it’s so expensive.”

“It’s good stuff, though.”

“True.”

“The scent of Norway maples in blossom is subtle. It can’t be too breezy, and there must be a number of trees in a stand, otherwise it’s easy to miss.”

“I guess I’ve missed it my entire life.”

“There is a balm in Gilead, says an old song. At this time of year, in this place, this is a balm.”

Certainly, it was a balmy spring day. I just had to get out and enjoy some of it myself. “So you can smell it,” I said. “The flowering of maples.”

“Norway maples. The scent is specific to Norway maples. And yes, I can smell it now. The wind is just right. And being upwind of you, there’s no interference.”

“You’re welcome,” though I wasn’t so sure about that.

“I have a barber who likes to hunt and fish, and he likes to travel as much of the world as he can afford to have new hunting and fishing experiences. He says that, wherever he goes, he can always smell an American.”

I repeated myself: “No! Really?”

“According to him.”

“So what do Americans smell like?” I asked as one guess after another came to mind.

“How should I put this?” the man asked. “Scat.”

“Mosquitoes are out already?”

“No. I mean scat the way a hunter thinks of it, as in scatological. Feces. Manure.”

“Americans smell like….”

“They eat too much meat, the guy says. Too much red meat, especially.”

“Is this guy an American?”

“Oh, yes, born and raised. Served in the United States Navy.”

“And this guy hunts. Meat.”

“He used to. Now he hunts with a camera.”

“And the fish?”

“Catch, take a picture, and release.”

“Ah.”

“He was in the Navy back during the war in Viet Nam. I was in the Army then. Word was that the Viet Cong could smell us, never mind the concealment of jungle or nighttime darkness. I knew some NCOs who had fought in the Korean War, and they said they could smell the Norks.”

“Nork?”

“North Korean.”

“Is that one of those spiteful slurs military people shoot at other people?”

“Gook is spiteful. Nork is no more pejorative than Rok or Yank or Brit. How’s your foot?”

I tried standing. “Not good,” I said as I resumed sitting. “How am I ever going to go back and find my glasses?”

“Glasses?”

“I lost them when I stumbled. They fell into the ravine.”

“Obviously you don’t have a second pair.”

“Not out jogging.”

The man walked over. “Let me help.” He knelt in front of me, laid his cane on the ground, and began removing my shoe.

It became my turn to sit upright. “What are you doing?”

“Examining your foot and ankle.”

“What about the stink?”

“We all stink.”

“I’m a stranger. You’re a stranger.”

“You’re my neighbor.”

“Are you some kind of medic or something?”

“Something.”

“Why are you wearing dress blues?”

“It’s still a little too cool to go with just a shirt.”

“Well, yeah. But you’re in your blues. Are you on your way to a wedding?”

“No….”

“A friend came to my wedding. He was in the Army at the time. He asked what he should wear since we had asked him to be an usher. We said something formal. This was some years ago, of course. Anyway, he said the only outfit he had that was formal was his dress blue uniform. We said that would be just fine. He had the same kind of red trim on his outfit as you do, but you can’t be an engineer.”

The man paused to look up and straight into my face.

“What?” I asked. “If you’re a medic or surgeon or something, you can’t be wearing red trim. Can you?”

“What color are my eyes?” he asked.

“Can’t say. They might be blue or gray or even hazel.”

“You do need your glasses.”

“And I do want them back. They were expensive.”

“I was in the artillery. Red accents apply to both the Corps of Engineers and the field artillery. Yellow accents apply to cavalry and armored units. Blue applies to infantry….”

“Whoa! You’re pretty good at this.”

“It’s a variation on Korean foot massage.”

“You learned this in the Army?”

“You can say that. I’ve learned a lot while I’ve been in. I’ve learned to love people of every nation, tribe, and language, of every ethnicity.”

“In the Army?”

“Stand up,” he said.

I did.

“Take a couple steps.”

“Better,” I said.

The man nodded.

“What is it you do?”

“I teach.”

“Will you please stand up?” I said. “I’m an American, and despite what other people around the world think and say about Americans, as an American, I feel uncomfortable about someone kneeling to me.”

“And about kneeling to someone else?”

“That, too.”

“ ‘The servant is not greater than his lord.’ ”

I had to think about that line, so I said nothing.

The man stood and handed me my shoe.

“Thanks.” I sat on the bench again to replace my footwear.

“Use this.” He handed me his cane.

“You don’t need it?”

“No. But I want it back, please. That is, unless you really need it.”

I stood and walked in a small circle to ascertain how much I did. “Why do you carry it?” I asked. “That friend of mine…. Well, the day of the marriage, it threatened rain. The reception was at a location some walking distance from the church, so I offered him an umbrella. He wouldn’t take it. Can’t, he said. Not part of the uniform, he said.”

“I like the feel of the wood.”

“So?”

“It belonged to my father.” The man looked around and about at the surrounding woods. “He was a forest ranger. Dress and keep, he used to preach. Manage and conserve.”

I looked at the cane. “What are all these markings?”

“It’s a Biltmore stick.”

“A what?”

“You can use it to measure the diameter of trees, the height of trees, and the number of logs in standing trees.”

“Maybe you can. Me?”

“This one can serve also as a cruising plot center stake, a surveyor’s compass mount, and a walking staff.”

“That sounds like a whole lot of measuring to me. I thought you said you weren’t in the Corps of Engineers.”

“The word is mensuration.”

“Whatever.”

“Let’s go find your glasses.” And with that, he started walking along the lane toward the ravine.

I followed, and surprisingly well. “If you are an engineer, you must be some kind of medical engineer. My foot feels much better.”

As we approached the abutment of the bridge, he asked, “Which side?”

“That one.”

“East.” He pointed along the lane. “Go to the place where you had your accident. I’ll look for you from down below.”

“I don’t know that I’ll be able to tell exactly where I was. I wasn’t keeping track of my paces, and I surely didn’t count the stones in the wall.”

“Perhaps you can remember which tree or trees grow near the place.”

I nodded. “Perhaps.”

I walked slowly. Eventually coming to a stop, I leaned over the wall. “I’m here, I think. Can you see me?”

“Oh, yes. I see you.”

“They couldn’t have been flung too far.”

“Right. Now it’s avoid stepping on them before I find them.”

“Did I say they’re sunglasses?”

“No.”

“Neutral gray lenses. Titanium frame.”

“Roger.”

How did that name ever come into such use, I wondered. Then I heard music. The tone, the timbre, the tenor: newly familiar. So was the song. I called to the man making the music as he worked. “Are you going to tell me you sing in the Army band?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. Sometimes.”

“Well, you’re good enough … in a crooning kind of way. What tune is that?”

“ ‘In the Garden.’ It’s another old-timer, and my grandmother’s favorite.”

“Ah.”

“Found!”

“Really?”

“Yes.” The man held up my sunglasses. “And in good shape, too. Stay where you are. I’ll bring them up and over.”

In a few minutes, he stood before me again. “Here they are.”

“Fantastic!” I said. Then, “Trade you.” I held out his stick.

He handed me my sunglasses.

“Thank you!” I said slowly and with feeling.

“I’m in the business of reuniting,” he said.

“Now.” I put the glasses on. Then, “Oh my G…. Sorry. I mean, it’s just….”

“What?”

“It’s like, you know, ‘was blind, but now I see.’ ”

“I pray so.”

“Yeah, but … I’m so embarrassed. I thought you were in the Army. Or at least, I wondered about you’re being in the Army. I also kept wondering, how old is this guy? I mean, shouldn’t he be retired by now?”

“Different army,” the man said.

“I see that. So … what does the S stand for?”

“Saved to serve; saved to save.”

 

 

— End —

a line of white lilacs





Arise, Arise

19 05 2014
At the round earth’s imagin’d corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scatter’d bodies go;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o’erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you whose eyes
Shall behold God and never taste death’s woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For if above all these my sins abound,
‘Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace
When we are there; here on this lowly ground
Teach me how to repent; for that’s as good
As if thou’hadst seal’d my pardon with thy blood.
John Donne
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1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Lexham English Bible (LEB)

50 But I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood is not able to inherit the kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruptibility. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: we will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.53 For it is necessary for this perishable body to put on incorruptibility, and this mortal body to put on immortality. 54 But whenever this perishable body puts on incorruptibility and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will take place:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

56 Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 58 So then, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because youknow that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.





A God Who Keeps Hidden

11 05 2014

 “I am Yahweh, and there is none besides me;
besides me there is no god.
I gird you though you do not know me,
 so that they may know from the rising of the sun
and from the west that there is none besides me;
I am Yahweh and there is none besides me.
 I form light and I create darkness;
I make peace and I create evil;
I am Yahweh; I do all these things.
 Trickle, O heavens, from above,
and let clouds trickle with righteousness;
let the earth open so that salvation may be fruitful,
and let it cause righteousness to sprout along with it.
I myself, Yahweh, have created it.
 Woe to the one who strives with his maker,
a potsherd among potsherds of earth!
Does the clay say to the one who fashions it,
‘What are you making?’
and ‘Your work has no hands’?
 Woe to the one who says to a father, ‘What you are begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’ ”
 Thus says Yahweh, the holy one of Israel,
and its maker:
“Ask me of the things to come about my children,
and you command me about the work of my hands.
 I myself made the earth,
and I created humankind upon it.
I, my hands, stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host….”

Surely you are a God who keeps yourself hidden,
God of Israel, the savior.
All of them are ashamed and indeed humiliated;
the craftsmen of idols go together in insult.
Israel is saved by Yahweh with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be ashamed,
and you shall not be humiliated to all eternity.
For thus says Yahweh, who created the heavens,
he is God, who formed the earth
and who made it.
He himself established it;
he did not create it as emptiness—
he formed it for inhabiting.

“I am Yahweh and there is none besides me.

I have spoken not in secrecy, in a place, a land, of darkness,
I have not said to the descendants of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain!’
I, Yahweh, am speaking righteousness,
declaring uprightness.
Assemble and come;
draw near together, survivors of the nations!
They do not know, those who carry their wooden idols
and pray to a god who cannot save.
Declare and present your case,
also let them consult together!
Who made this known from former times,
declared it from of old?
Was it not I, Yahweh?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God besides me,
and no savior besides me.
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth,
for I am God and there is none besides me.
I have sworn by myself;
a word that shall not return has gone forth from my mouth in righteousness:
‘Every knee shall kneel down to me;
every tongue shall swear.’
 ‘Only in Yahweh,’ one shall say to me, ‘are righteousness and strength.’
He shall come to him, and all those who were angry with him shall be ashamed.
In Yahweh all the offspring of Israel shall be in the right,
and they shall boast.”

 from Isaiah 45 (Lexham English Bible)

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Follow Me

11 05 2014

“The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

–Dorothy Sayers

For a long time I have feasted upon this quote by the renowned British writer Dorothy Sayers. Too often our Jesus is too small. Too much we marvel at the mechanical and not the magnificent one. The Jesus of the Scripture is compelling, revolutionary, often disturbing and quite frankly messes with the status quo in our lives. He is the one I want to know and make known. It is four letters on His life, a few hours of reading material I desire to devour. I’m asking, “How did Jesus talk … act … love … think?” I marvel at the invitation, “Follow Me.” I bask in walking with Him. He has guided my steps in the darkest of days and the best of days. I know His voice and the joy of His presence. He is not a myth or an elusive historical figure. Jesus is alive. No matter how godless our society becomes, no matter how far we drift…the Gospel of Jesus will be the most compelling, life changing story in the universe, and it is able to stir the coldest heart. This is the truth I am not ashamed to make known for the rest of my life.

Vicar of Baghdad (middle) and Iraqi Air Force General (right)

“Don’t take care…TAKE RISKS!” So says the Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad who wears a flak jacket, a clerical collar and a cross. I got to meet and spend a Saturday evening with this man, who pastors a church in Baghdad, Iraq. In the past few years, 1,276 of his church members have been killed. He is accompanied by a couple truckloads of armed bodyguards whenever he travels. He takes risks to sound the alarm for Jesus in a country that sees so much division and killing. Six-thousand people in his church have answered the call … in Baghdad. The Vicar says he has never been frightened even once because perfect love casts out all fear. Multiple sclerosis, bombings, constant threats and Religicide (intentional killing off of a particular religion in a given region) cannot stop this man or the Gospel. This meeting inspires me to Take Risks for Jesus.

 Michael Sprague

Alpha and Omega





Princess of Months

4 05 2014

Now comes the bonny May, dancing and skipping
Across the stepping-stones of meadow streams,
Bearing no kin to April showers a-weeping,
But constant Sunshine as her servant seems.
Her heart is up–her sweetness, all a-maying,
Streams in her face, like gems on Beauty’s breast;
The swains are sighing all, and well-a-daying,
Lovesick and gazing on their lovely guest.
The Sunday paths, to pleasant places leading,
Are graced by couples linking arm in arm,
Sweet smiles enjoying or some book a-reading,
Where Love and Beauty are the constant charm;
For while the bonny May is dancing by,
Beauty delights the ear, and Beauty fills the eye.

Birds sing and build, and Nature scorns alone
On May’s young festival to be a widow;
The children, too, have pleasures all their own,
In gathering lady-smocks along the meadow.
The little brook sings loud among the pebbles,
So very loud, that water-flowers, which lie
Where many a silver curdle boils and dribbles,
Dance too with joy as it goes singing by.
Among the pasture mole-hills maidens stoop
To pluck the luscious marjoram for their bosoms;
The greensward’s littered o’er with buttercups,
And whitethorns, they are breaking down with blossoms.
‘T is Nature’s livery for the bonny May,
Who keeps her court, and all have holiday.

Princess of Months (so Nature’s choice ordains,)
And Lady of the Summer still she reigns.
In spite of April’s youth, who charms in tears,
And rosy June, who wins with blushing face;
July, sweet shepherdess, who wreathes the shears
Of shepherds with her flowers of winning grace;
And sun-tanned August, with her swarthy charms,
The beautiful and rich; and pastoral, gay
September, with her pomp of fields and farms;
And wild November’s sybilline array;–
In spite of Beauty’s calendar, the Year
Garlands with Beauty’s prize the bonny May.
Where’er she goes, fair Nature hath no peer,
And months do love their queen when she’s away.

John Clare

Redbud in Pink