Blessing the Dust
For Ash Wednesday
All those days
you felt like dust,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners
or swept away
by the smallest breath
did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows
the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.
In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.
But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news
that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—
the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.
So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.
And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.
Billy Collins, “Snow Day” from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (New York: Random House, 2001).
Our True Heritage
Thich Nhat Hanh
The cosmos is filled with precious gems.
I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning.
Each moment you are alive is a gem,
shining through and containing earth and sky,
water and clouds.
It needs you to breathe gently
for the miracles to be displayed.
Suddenly you hear the birds singing,
the pines chanting,
see the flowers blooming,
the blue sky,
the white clouds,
the smile and the marvelous look
of your beloved.
You, the richest person on Earth,
who have been going around begging for a living,
stop being the destitute child.
Come back and claim your heritage.
We should enjoy our happiness
and offer it to everyone.
Cherish this very moment.
Let go of the stream of distress
and embrace life fully in your arms.
For One Who Is Exhausted
When the rhythms of the heart become hectic,
time takes on the strain until it breaks;
then all the unattended stress falls in
on the mind like endless, increasing weight.
The light of the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
and you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
and patiently learn to receive the self
you have forsaken in the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
and sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
to all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
when it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
taking time to open the well of color
that fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
having learned a new respect for your heart
and the joy that dwells far within slow time.
Even in the desert,
even in the wilderness,
May you keep it.
Light the candles,
say the prayers:
and be our guest.
When I am among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
A Chorister’s Lament
Early each morning, as sun still slumbers,
A barefoot monk sits solemnly on earthen floor,
legs entwined beneath saffron and maroon,
and chants his prayers:
May I be a guard for those who need protection
a guide for those on the path
a boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood.
O Divine One, you heard and granted the petitions of this ancient sage.
In your providence, he did become a boat, a raft, a bridge.
Centuries later, a brown-robed monk
begged that he might be an instrument of your peace.
An instrument plays and sings,
shares melody and rhythm, delightful and sad,
bending discord into harmony…
Once again, you heard and granted this humble monk’s petitions,
and in your mercy, you made it so.
Emboldened by these saints,
how I long to be your instrument, O God,
to play for you on glad tambourines
and let your trumpet sound…
How I yearn to be a boat, a raft, a bridge
for weary wanderers seeking safe harbor.
But all day every day, voices warn me I’m a vector,
akin to tick and mosquito,
transmitting deadly disease,
paving the road to hell
despite good intentions.
Well, if I’m to be a vector, O Holy One,
make me an agent of your loving care,
an extravagant host,
infecting with laughter, not despair.
If I’m to be a vector, Creator God,
breathe into me life-giving Spirit,
fill my soul with faithful song, my lips with honest words,
that in your good time, my voice might join with others once again,
rehearsing the stanzas,
repeating the refrain,
becoming boat and bridge and instrument proclaiming your glory:
a conspiracy of praise!
~ Don C. Richter, Eastertide 2020 ~
Inspiration for this lament comes from “Prayer of Shantideva” (8th Century C.E.) and “Saint Francis Prayer” (13th Century C.E.) found below.
Prayer of Shantideva (8th Century C.E.)
May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow And all are awakened.
Saint Francis Prayer (13th Century C.E.)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth
what you counted on and carefully saved,
how desolate the landscape can be.
How you ride and ride
Thinking the bus will never stop,
The passengers eating maize and chicken
Will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone,
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.
Beannacht / Blessing
For Josie, my mother
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue,
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
From Echoes of Memory (Transworld Publishing, 2010)
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
JOHN O’DONOHUE, Excerpt from his book, To Bless the Space Between Us
Photo: © Ann Cahill
By Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Blessed are you who bear the light
by Jan Richardson
Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
Blessed are you
the light lives,
the brightness blazes—
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
in love that illumines
every broken thing
© Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. janrichardson.com
A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark
By Jan Richardson
if you can.
More slowly still.
this is no place
to break your neck
by crashing into
what you cannot see.
it is true:
have different tasks,
and if you
have arrived here unawares,
if you have come
or in pain,
this might be no place
you should dawdle.
I do not know
what these shadows
ask of you,
what they might hold
that means you good
It is not for me
whether you should linger
or you should leave.
But this is what
I can ask for you:
That in the darkness
there be a blessing.
That in the shadows
there be a welcome.
That in the night
you be encompassed
by the Love that knows
© Jan Richardson, janrichardson.com
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
© Wendell Berry. This poem is excerpted from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Listen to Wendell Berry read this poem, courtesy of the public radio program On Being: