Dear Miss Lavender,
If you could have only felt the crackle of yellow and orange and red cornflakes beneath your feet as I did today. The skies have turned icy silver and blue and the mornings come with that subtle nip of cold that autumn brings. Last week was the beginning of autumn, as formal as we know it. I have two apples on my table, which refuse to be eaten but sit, staring vehemently at me, as if to say, “with every bite you take of us, you will shorten autumn’s grasp”. So, I dare not touch them.
I’ve been gone far too much, Lavender. It’s been good, yes, but I miss sitting at my desk as I do now, typing out words and reflecting on the crickets that join me outside the open window. Two weeks ago at church, someone got up and prayed, “we are only stewards, Lord. Make us good stewards.” That phrase, “we are only stewards” has stuck with me. So much so that it is now written on the whiteboard in my office.
Only a steward.
I think of that as I work and as I live with others and as I read and as I write.
This is all given to me. I am holding it loosely, but it has been given to me nonetheless. O Lord, make me a good steward!
In the last few weeks I have obtained not one; not two; not five, but upwards of 8 or so new books. I know, I know….your skeptical eyebrow is fixed on me and I cannot escape it. I cannot help myself, Lavender. There is so much to read, so much to learn, so far to go. So much wonder and beauty in this world and I am sipping it with a straw when I should be drinking from a great goblet.
There is a book on beauty, art and suffering by writer and artist Makoto Fujimura;
There is a book on pain by C. S. Lewis which I listened to on audio book a few weeks ago, and it left me spellbound and in tears, therefore I bought it;
I have slowly been trudging (happily trudging) through this famous masterpiece and have found myself or my circumstances regularly through its pages, which I believe, shows the quality of the writing;
I sat in a buzzing coffee shop in Nashville earlier this month, in rapturous attention while reading this collection of poetry by Seamus Heaney – a gift from a thoughtful roommate;
I started reading this collection of puritan prayers in January 2021, and it’s been one of the most uplifting and challenging (spiritually) books of the year for me (by far).
It also have sitting (waiting to be read or re-read) a book on prayer, one of my favorite works of non-fiction of all time, the great catechism, and one of the most life-changing books of my late teens/early twenties.
What of all of it? I think of Seamus Heaney’s line, “omnipresent, imperturbable is the life that death springs from / and complaint is wrong, the slightest complaint at all / now that the rye crop waves beside the ruins” (Heaney, 1996, p.7). He was writing about the horrors of war and coming back home after the bombers had done their work and the land was charred, hardened, blackened and dead.
“To have lived it through and now be free to give / Utterance, body and soul – to wake and know / Every time that it’s gone and gone for good, the thing that nearly broke you” (Heaney, 1996, p.6).
The survivors of the battlefield, their clothes ripped and bloodied and their eyes melting in heartbroken sorrow at what once was and what they now witness.
I think Seamus writes of us. I think, just as those soldiers had, we watch the sunrise on the other side of blackened ruins, waiting for its thick covering to cast a glow over what once was and what we now witness. We’re on our way home, picking our way through minefields and barbed wire and holding out our hands and hopes for a new day.
“Omnipresent, imperturbable is the life that death springs from / and complaint is wrong, the slightest complaint at all / now that the rye crop waves beside the ruins” (Heaney, 1996, p.7).
There is always life that springs from death. There will be sunflowers next to Chernobyl, and rye crops waiving beside the ruins of Europe. There will be the “cornflakes” of autumn that drop from the sky to remind you that winter has her foot in the door. But there will be bulbs that peek up in the frosty air, come April, reminding you that even in the bleakness of winter, something new is being created.
I believe that’s what books and poetry and music and art do for us. They bring us back to the reality that God is making all things new. There is still beauty in this world because God is and He is the author of beauty. I love poetry for many reasons, but chiefly perhaps because it is the rye seed that falls on the earth next to blackened brick buildings in my heart, and the sunflowers that are growing next to Chernobyl. It would be easy to only see the blackened ruins, and sometimes Lavender, that is all I see.
I hope you get my meaning. Beauty isn’t an escape mechanism – I think it’s the light that we desperately need to keep our hearts beating and reminding us that death will not have the final say and that there is a hope laid up for us (Colossians 1:5). It draws us out of ourselves to look upwards and forwards. I don’t know about you, Lavender, but I need that. I need cornflakes and sunflowers and books and rye crops pointing me up and outside of myself.
P.S. I hope you know that I was not actually stepping on cornflakes this morning. It was a metaphor for the fall leaves outside. Maybe you already knew that. If so, please disregard this post-script and do not fault me for thinking you may have been ignorant.
[Footnote: Heaney, S 1996, The Spirit Level, Faber and Faber, Ltd., Great Britain]