Visiting Dorothy During the Plague of 2020

On a sunny Lord’s Day afternoon
at the time of year when irises bloom
and the bright lavender of redbuds
has barely begun to fade in the fringe of the woods,

we stood outside her window at the hospital,
and tried our best to hear her words—
sometimes clear and strong
and sometimes fading into a long murmur,

a sort of mumbling through the screen,
thoughts barely said out loud,
crowded out by the whirring drone
of the huge AC unit fifty feet away.

She said she’d lost twenty-five pounds
in the two or three weeks she’d been there.
She didn’t say but I couldn’t help but think
that she didn’t have that much weight to spare.

But even though she seemed weak,
even though the lines of nearly ninety years
have etched deeply into the soft skin of her face,
and even though she bruises now with the slightest touch

There is still something of strength,
still something of that domineering pioneer spirit,
and that plain-spoken stubbornness,
sometimes tempered with a soft chuckle.

Something more in her eyes than in her voice
speaks of choices made long ago,
a road not always chosen but always traveled,
decades of doing what had to be done,

lying down at night long after the sun,
rising again and again,
working in the relentless winds of the plains,
enduring the pains of storms and troubles,

yet always knowing that He Who Has Made Us
has always kept his word,
always supplied for each day what was needed for the day,
and will welcome her into eternal rest

if she ever decides
she doesn’t want to be in Kansas anymore.

H. Arnett

Posted in Aging, Christian Devotions, Death & Dying, Family, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,

What Lives Within

Several years ago, I read or heard someone say something like “There’s nothing like a crisis to build character.” I thought about that, quite a bit, as I observed or listened to reports from areas hit by flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake and other instances of general mayhem.

My conclusion is that crises don’t build character nearly as much as they reveal it. The true inner person comes out in such situations. Compassion, criticism, selfishness, arrogance, humility, determination, consideration. All of those traits—and many others—may suddenly be put on display but those attributes were already present. The ones we nourish (or indulge) during a crisis or disaster or calamity will be made stronger. And be even more ready to be revealed in the next one.

During this time, we’ve seen our own values made more obvious. We realize what matters to us, what we’re willing to do to help safeguard the health and safety of others. Or what risks we’re willing to take and expect others to make. We come to see what sacrifices we’re willing to make and for what reasons. We find out about our own priorities and concerns and realize that sometimes those may conflict with one another.

We want to help protect our elderly relatives and friends—but we also want to be able to pay the mortgage. We want to do our part to minimize the risk of spreading disease—but we also want to have food to eat. We want to support those we love and those we don’t even know—but we also worry about the eventual economic fallout from prolonged sequestering.

Times like this assault our emotions, put our convictions to the test, and tempt us to superficially judge other people. We may find ourselves contemplating responses and reactions that contradict who we believed we were.

We have to have something that guards our minds and our hearts from the things that could eventually destroy them. Something that lets us shed the strains and stresses of the things that want to make us something other than what we truly desire to be. Something that steers us clear of spiritual, emotional, and mental danger.

Something like a conscience. Something like a healthy way of looking at the world. Something—or rather someone—like the Spirit of God living within us.

If we will trust, be quiet and listen for a while, and reflect on what Jesus spoke and taught, I believe we will find ourselves living as we ought to live. Walking in love, showing mercy, and remembering that God works for our good in all situations. Even this one.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , ,

More Than Good Looks

The plan was to scrape off the loose paint and repaint our small, ranch-style house. There’s a lot of loose paint on this old house which meant it would take a lot of scraping. But after I started the scraping, I realized the wide planks of western cedar siding are in worse shape than I first realized. In fact, they’re in worse shape than I second and third realized!

Many of the boards are cracked and split and several of them are badly cupped as well. That’s a shame, too. These boards are a full inch thick and twelve inches wide. Cut and milled back in the middle of the previous century. They would have still been in good shape, if they’d been kept painted. They weren’t, they aren’t, and they’re not going to be.

Some things get beyond reasonable repair and they have to be replaced. Ten years ago, fifteen years ago, a new coat of paint would have kept the wood protected from the sun, moisture and mildew that eventually grew back up underneath the loosening edge.

It will be a lot of work, tearing off the old siding and installing new. A lot of work.

But it will make the house look new and that’s not altogether insignificant. Another thing the new siding will do, and this ultimately is more important; it will keep the exterior sheathing and the frame from rotting. Keep the walls sound and the insides dry, even during the driving storm and the pounding rain.

I’m pretty sure that keeping a life safe and sound is both better and easier than trying to rebuild one.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Metaphysical Reflection, Remodeling/Construction, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , ,

Soft Flowers & Hard Frosts

I felt rather foolish, but I was getting a little desperate.

Just last year, in mid-summer, I set an apple tree in our back yard. Not the best time for setting trees and such, but I got a great deal on the tree. That’s how that works, you know: the lower the odds of survival, the lower the price. Buy great-looking healthy stock early in the season when it’s virtually guaranteed to thrive, pay top dollar. Later on, in the blistering heat of July when several weeks of drought are likely, you can get a really scraggly, blighted and wilted specimen for one-fourth of original price.

So naturally, that’s what I did with my purchase of the little Honeycrisp apple tree. Surprisingly enough, it sprouted leaves and bloomed this spring. Cool. Even cooler was the predicted low Sunday night: twenty-eight degrees. “Danggitt! Another late Arctic blast and it’s going to kill the blooms and buds!”

Not having any trash cans that are eight feet tall that I could upend over the tree, I searched through the barely wrinkled recesses of my brain for some idea that might protect the little clusters of fruit-promising blooms.

What I came up with was plastic bags. At first, I thought I’d put little Ziploc sandwich bags over each bloom cluster. That was interesting, what with the wind gusting to forty miles-an-hour and what have you. But the neighbor’s high board fence offered a little protection. At least to the lower five feet of the tree. While I was covering each set of pink flowers with the happy little blossom mittens, (actually they were “Glad bags”), it occurred to me that I could use kitchen trash bags and cover the whole load-bearing end of each branch.

So, I did that. Another happy little surprise, which once again made me glad, was that the bags stayed on the branches all Sunday night. In spite of the wind gusting to forty miles-an-hour and what have you. So, I did it again last night. And will do it again tonight. And tomorrow night…

I’m hoping that this will be the last spell of nights below freezing until late next fall. Even better, early next winter.

I don’t know if I’ll end up with edible apples a few months from now or not. But I do know that if I didn’t do something now to protect the blooms and branches, there’ll be no chance of a happy little harvest later on. Kind of like raising kids, surviving a pandemic, and such as that.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Gardening, Humor, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , ,

Black Saturday

Part I

I have tried from time to time
to wrap my mind around what it must have been like
to find myself a disciple of the Christ
waking up in Jerusalem on this Sabbath,
knowing that they’d finally killed
God’s Own Anointed yesterday.

“Wasn’t it just six days ago
that we stood with him on the Mount of Olives?”

“Didn’t we watch the crowds cutting branches
and laying their cloaks on the road?”

“Didn’t we hear them shouting ‘Hosanna! Hosanna!'”

“Didn’t we stand with him as he preached in the temple
and taught in the courtyard?”

“Just night before last,
did we not keep with him the Passover?”

And, in the blackness of guilt and shame,
remember that not one of us stayed with him,
not one of us shared his arrest;
but thought it best to run from the mob in the night.
We all might just as well have denied him
as did Peter.
“Is abandonment not in itself some degree of betrayal?”

It just seems so impossible that he is gone,
crucified with thieves,
mocked by priests and pagans,
buried by a stranger.

Part II

I will not say that I would have done any different,
certainly no better, no matter how many miles
walked in honor and esteem.
It takes greater faith than one might think
to face a mob of swords and staves,
much easier the saying of what one would do—
or at least should do—
rather than doing of it.

Part III

Did they remember his promise
to rebuild the temple of his own body?

Did they remember his prophecy
that he would rise again?

Did they remember Lazarus,
the raising of the others,
the healing of thousands,
and take hope?

Or did they believe that even Jonah
in the belly of the whale
did not truly grasp
the depths of despair?

I do know this:
it is not such an easy thing
to truly believe in resurrection
when the Giver of Life
is lying in a tomb.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Death & Dying, Metaphysical Reflection, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , ,

No Other Way

On Passover Thursday,
I thought late into the night
about what that must have been like
for the Prophet, the Teacher, the Anointed One:

knowing from the start who it was
that would do what he did,
betrayed by a friend
who believed that in the end
he would have the money
and Jesus would be acquitted.
Didn’t work out that way.

I thought about his aloneness praying in the garden
while his closest friends slept through the hour of his agony,
his sweat as drops of blood,
crying out to his father, their father, our father,
“If there is any other way… let this cup pass from me.”

The betrayal,
the brief display of courage from Peter’s sword:
a rebuke and a man’s ear restored.
Even in that moment,
still showing compassion and mercy for his enemies,
and teaching his disciples that his way
is not the way of violence and vengeance.

The trials:
hit, spit upon, slapped, ridiculed, mocked.
Jealous zealots, hypocrites, controverting and perverting
both law and religion.
Scourged, stripped, beaten, flogged, scorned and thorned.
Manipulated mob crying out for his execution,
Roman governor pretending he was powerless,
washing his hands as if guilt were as easily removed
as dust from the streets of Jerusalem.

The long trip from crown to cross,
each step marked by loss of blood and strength,
another conscripted to bear the weight for a while.

Nails pounded in through skin and flesh,
the barbaric testing of weight against joint,
bone pulling from bone,
the crushing press against the chest,
hours of molecularly measured pain.

From noon till three,
darkness came across the face of the land,
the very hand of God himself shrouding the view
though all of heaven knew.

And at the end,
with no more blood to spend,
in that horrible moment when
the weight of every sin and transgression
ever measured between heaven and hell
was laid fully upon him
and the divine presence withdrawn,
Christ the Abandoned cried out,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The answer,
murmured in tortured whisper
within the very Heart of Heaven,
ruptured the rocks,
ripped the veil of the temple,
and unsettled the core of the earth
from then even unto this day:
“Because there is no other way.”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,

Nocturnal Illumination

Well, folks, I sure had a bit of a scare the other night. Several days ago, when the temperature was still running a bit low, I’d worked outside most of the day. Late afternoon, I’d gotten a headache. Put my tools away and spent the evening vegetating on the couch, alternating between reports on the coronavirus and Forensic Files reruns. You know, nothing like a few hours of tranquility and serenity to prep me for a good night’s sleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up. The headache was worse and I was sweating like a field hand in August. My arms, chest and legs were soaked. “Aw, man! Here we go…”

I racked and stacked every little wrinkle of my brain trying to figure out who, what, where, when, how. “Who will I need to call?” Alternating fear and guilt, I lay there, working through such preliminary thoughts.

Then, something occurred to me, something enlightening, something soothing.

It wasn’t some supernatural peace, some divine message of hope and presence. It wasn’t a deep reassurance of faith, though in retrospect it seems that something along those lines would have been in order. No, friends and neighbors, it was a simple and direct realization that reached through the murky twists of my mental meanderings. I remembered that right before I went to sleep on that chilly evening, I’d turned on the electric blanket. And cranked it up a few notches.

Ten minutes later, no more sweat. No more worries. Well, I did still have the headache but it was gone by morning.

Sometimes the Lord rescues us with a strong and mighty hand. Sometimes he sends two boats and a helicopter. I think maybe sometimes he just waits a little while, giving us time enough to open our eyes a bit and finally perceive that we may have created our own little personal pseudo crisis.

I can easily think that he was watching me that night and when the light bulb finally came on, chuckled softly and murmured, “Well, duh!”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Humor, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,