Wintered Wisdom

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020

Like gatekeepers on the watch
whether at eventide, midnight dark and break of day,
ever vigilant stay!

Mark 13: 34-35

Seeker,
Before your much-needed shot in the arm,
what have you learned from this season of dark discontent?

Warily we waken
to winter’s deeper reason
as cautiously we welcome a chilly challenging season.

As north leans away
from our daystar’s angled rays,
we roll into a shadowland of shorter, starker days.

What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!

William Shakespeare

Midwinter assured
our ancestors,
a terribly trying time:

a struggle for fuel and food
warmth and shelter,
to safeguard them till sunlight’s return.

Now watchful, we observe
companion creatures
endure seasonal hardships.

And the awakened among us
witness brutal weather ravage our kin,
denied adequate hearth and home.

But winter shoulders special graces
to draw us close
to the fire of each other

with storytelling,
sweet treats and new kindling,
to coax the light’s return.

Still it remains
a time of waiting and wondering;
ever watchful for:

danger and distress,
disease and disaster,
despair and delight.

Rather than decry
this shadowed season
in these terribly troubled times,

wintering urges us
to imitate
our creature-kin:

to prepare for it,
learn its lessons,
make space for its darker graces.

Wintry wisdom,
schools us to honor
and enter the dark together.

Those black sharp and flat
notes in our lives
are necessary keys to change and harmonies.

For in meandering course,
every life must traverse
many veiled valleys:

a dark night of the senses,
soul and spirit,
a long twilight of the earth.

Other shadowed vales appear:
Isolation and injustice,
climate calamity, deprivation, indignity.

Black indeed is the backdrop
upon which Creation
sparkles and glows.

Darkness everywhere lingers.
Even bright of day
births shadows.

For much of our brief span
we are blind to the breadth of beauty
and depth of tragedy.

Though we cannot see it,
a riot is silently running
just beneath our feet.

Even as winter looks
like desolation,
the wakeful perceive creation

in frenzied preparation
for another eruption
to meet resurgent radiation.

And while we decorate
this sacred cycle
in the gaudy garb of liturgy,

such solemnities,
and their heady abstractions,
insulate us from the shivering shock of raw reality.

Faith, hope, and love above all
do not let us flee life’s harsh splendor
by retreating into ideation.

What if for one day each being acknowledged the fear
and let it go? Suspended beliefs
opened their arms, drew strength
through earth, grass, rock, sand.

Melissa Shaw-Smith

With chilly bareness,
earth coaches us
about dying, watery light, necessarily difficult days.

And turning toward the light
we open ourselves
to life signs amid desolation.

Advent dark proclaims
that wrapped in humble solidarity
and fragile vulnerability

Emmanuel approaches:
One come to bide with us,
who cannot abide to be without us;

at one with all
our loves and losses,
aches and limitations.

So I say to one what I say to all: Keep awake!

Mark 13:37

joe

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Humble-Hearted

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020

Wherever is your treasure, there too will be your heart.

Matthew 6:21

Seeker,
When has life required courage; living from your core?

There is so much we’ll never know,
far less we understand,
till wisdom in unknowing extends her guiding hand.

Thus, the universal scope
of our ignorance,
does not dim the tiny spark of comprehension.

A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit I shall put within you.

Ezekiel 36:26

One thing we know—
no matter how oblivious we appear—
there is a reliable rhythm to everything:

a flow and cycle of receive and release,
a give and take in constant exchange.
Whatever we put out, in the end, comes back.

Whether out of sync or sorts,
heaving and harried, drowsy and distracted,
distressed or disconnected,

we can recalibrate
the measure of each moment
to the pulse of life.

No mystic secret needed,
nor discipline austere,
just a heart-felt intention to be in unison.

We need only place a hand
upon that center of ache and desire,
to sense the throbbing tempo at our core.

When in secret I was shaped, my frame was not hidden from You.

Psalm 139:15

Weeks after conception
a tiny pump
begins to pulse and push.

Uninterrupted, this regularity
matches the meter of each breath,
till inevitably life leaves us.

To feel life-force coursing through us,
evokes awe—
with its tiny twinge of fear.

How many beats has your precious heart registered?
How many skipped? How many remain?
So fragile a force that that safeguards your life.

All complex creatures have hearts
and each human has a core,
a chamber of secret longings, and so much more.

Listen carefully to the master’s instructions,
and attend to them with the ear of your heart.

Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict

Consider trillions of beating hearts
in this synchronous second,
all working tirelessly to stay alive, somehow all connected.

The hearts of creatures,
tiny and tremendous,
made in the likeness.

Whether in gated communities and ghettos,
forests, fields and factories,
we all share a tenuous connection to aliveness:

a heart where every wound,
wonder, worry and woe,
is oxygenated, nourished and healed.

Such awesome awareness,
this incalculable, incessant beating
across a pearlescent pebble, spinning in the dark.

Put a gentle palm upon the chest,
and sense the Sacred
at the heart of it all.

In its quiet rhythms,
behold infinite-intimacy
with every beating being.

Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.
It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel

The pathway to heartfelt
understanding (standing under)
is humility.

And wonder ripens into awe
when hearts are humbled
by such smallness in the face of the infinite.

Give me a pure heart—that I may see Thee,
A humble heart—that I may hear Thee,
A heart of love – that I may serve Thee,
A heart of faith—that I may abide in Thee.

Dag Hammarskjöld

joe

Find me on Facebook and Instagram@InTheStormStill
Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
A new book by Joe Grant