Answers

We sometimes wake to mornings like this–
a light mist formed above frozen ground,
muffled sounds from the road up on the ridge,
an old bridge groaning under the load
of a grain truck easing its way toward town,
the neighbor’s damn dog barking… again.

On these windless days, we make our way
toward the next of our lives–
habits of work and weekends,
spending what time we can call our own
doing too little of the things that bring us
something like satisfaction,
cramming what we can of diversion
into such small spaces it feels
more like punishment than pleasure.

We measure the distance between what we have
and what we were pretty sure we wanted
and wonder how it is
we ended up this far apart.

At some point, we begin to think
of those we’ve loved and lost,
gauge the cost of giving up against going on.

At some further point, if we’re truly averse
to our own happiness, we begin to reflect
on how we will someday join the going on
and how little difference it will make.

A week, a month, a year or two,
and the mist will rise again above frozen ground,
trucks will rumble toward town,
and some other damn dog will be barking
in this great, grinding cycle of that grand benevolent indifference
which is so vital to the world, so numbing to the one
listening for the echo of his own yapping through the fog,
waiting for some reflecting ripple
from the lichened limestone bluffing the bank of a stony creek.

Even through the grayness of such days as this,
we listen through the mist, meekly sensing the Spirit
in his drawing nearness, speaking in that soft, intimate voice,
of choices and changes, the beauty of duty done in small ways,
reminding us that we are not measured in the ways of the world,
not in gains and losses, trash and treasure,
but whether or not we have listened to something more grand,
yielded to the touch of an unseen hand.

Regardless of the size of the stone that marks our passing,
regardless of the size of the crowd that mourns,
all else matters not but the asking of two simple questions:

Have we loved one another?
Have we loved the One Who Has Made Us?

H. Arnett
11/21/14

Posted in Spiritual Contemplation, Poetry, Aging, Death & Dying, Nature, Relationships, Christian Living, Christian Devotions, Metaphysical Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday

Walk in the way of peace.

Enjoy the least of God’s good blessings.

Delight in doing what is right.

Nurture the needs of loving and kindness.

Enjoy being mindful of others.

Speak words that bring healing and encouragement.

Deepen your awareness of those around you.

Acknowledge the power and presence of God.

Yield to the shaping of the Holy Spirit.

H. Arnett

11/19/14

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A Strange November

Something has gone amiss in this land of bliss and sunshine,
something has gone awry in this place of cloudless skies.

Someone has flipped the calendar at least two months ahead,
or else the map has twisted and the continent fell on its head.

The wind that we are feeling over here in the good old Heartland
has more of an Arctic feel than what we’d like to stand.

What they’re calling “today’s high” seems much more like a low;
and I’m almost completely certain that it’s much too cold to snow!

It is not just or right to be stealing weather from the Eskimeaux
and dumping it on top of people who live this far below.

I can see the signs of dawning above the ridge to the east,
but when the sun arises, we will not feel it in the least.

It should not be like this, this early in November;
ten days below freezing–now that’s something we’ll remember!

The bunnies are buying booties and the birds are sporting bonnets,
I just saw a fox run by with a thick fur coat upon it.

And if the animals of the wild survive without so much as a heater,
I’m sure I’ll be alright, but I dread to read the meter.

Through sixty winters of such thus far, the Lord has seen me through,
and I am fully confident we’ll make it through this one, too.

Though the trees are bare and the aching snow covers the hills,
He’ll not only keep me safe, He’ll help me pay my bills!

H. Arnett
11/17/14

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Vinegar

I was pretty sure that the first batch of hard cider I made this season was going to ruin. To do it right, the first thing you’re supposed to do is dump in a carefully measured dose of food grade potassium bisulfite (also called Campden) or some other such thing that’s designed to annihilate every living organism in the general vicinity. As the story goes, the chemical breaks down or disappears or just loses its hostility within eighteen hours and leaves the juice sterile and all the sugar intact, just waiting for the cultured yeast that is specifically engineered to turn the juice into cider. Or wine, if that’s your goal, which it isn’t in my case.

Now, of course, simple country folk like me have been making cider without going through all that for several millennia. In fact, unless you boil the fresh juice or dump some kind of chemical into it, it’s pretty darn hard to keep it from turning into cider. The yeast that turns apple juice into cider is already there in the apples. Problem is, sometimes so is the yeast that continues the process and turns the cider into vinegar.

I’d read on the internet, and of course, you can’t put it on the internet if it’s not true, that the vinegar yeast tends to be on the outside of the apples. So, I started rinsing my apples in a very weak but still effective solution of bleach water and then rinsing them with clean water. Apparently, that makes a difference. Or else I was just plain lucky.

Like I said, I fully expected that first four or five gallons in the garage to have turned into vinegar. But, before I threw it away or gave it away to people who inexplicably find vinegar useful and desirable, I figured I should at least check it and be sure.

Expecting the sample to be about as sweet as alum, I took a very small sip. “Hmmm… this actually tastes a bit like hard cider.” So, I took a little larger sip. “Hmmm… this actually tastes quite a bit like hard cider.” So, I drew off another, larger sample. By the time I’d finished three or four more samples, I was convinced, “This is actually pretty darn good stuff.”

So, instead of filling a few plastic jugs with vinegar, I ended up filling up forty-eight glass bottles with cider. It’s a hard thing for a recovering pessimist to admit, but sometimes things do turn out better than I thought they might. And yet, even though the occasional shortcut might yield better results than expected, it’s still a good idea to make it a habit to use the process most likely to produce the desired outcome.

Of course, we can always just take our chances. I’ve found, though, that the less attention we give to getting rid of the negative stuff in our lives, hearts and minds, the more likely we are to taste vinegar.

H. Arnett
11/13/14

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Beyond the Shadows

Sometimes the shadows stretch into the light,
sometimes the night snatches what belongs to day.
Sometimes darkness makes its way
into the deeper parts of heart and soul.

We find our minds running the deeper furrows
of long valleys that wind their way along,
burrowing through the barren places
where everything feels cold and lonely.

Gray rises from within us,
making its way through the well-worn paths
of love and friendship that have lasted
from days long past,

threatening the very source
of our most sacred happinesses.

In these days, we struggle to rise from rest,
reluctant to leave the warm nest of sleep
that keeps us safe, gives us a break
from the long days of melancholy that we can’t explain.

Embarrassed and awkward,
we try to break through the darkness,
knowing there is no reason that justifies
the shadows in our eyes, the flat tone.

But even within this clinging veil,
we know that we are not alone,
even in the palest tones of life’s longest days,
His light makes its way through the clouds

that shroud our thoughts with exaggerated faults
and the whole long list of what we wish was otherwise.

In the end, we know, that it is His perpetual sending
of love, hope and faith,
that keeps us from the chasm beyond the realm of grace.
Even in the midst of this aching numbness,

He comes to us in a thousand different ways,
gently reaching through the humbling darkness,
touching us in the voices we barely hear,
His Spirit always near us, always drawing close and closer

until one morning, we see the blaze of dawning
burning through bare branches on the frozen ridge
and know that we will yet again
feel the ancient fire stir within us,

we will once again feel the smiles of those we have missed,
soft as whispered kisses upon half-closed eyes.

H. Arnett
11/12/14

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The Un-giving Trees

At the western edge of the Wolf River Bottoms, where the highway turns north at Sparks toward White Cloud, a small orchard nests on the edge of the first slope. A dozen old-line trees cluster their branches above thick grass. As the seasons pass, sprigs turn into leaves, buds open into blooms and blooms morph into fruit. As the summer moves along, the apples grow thick and heavy in the good years. There are at least four varieties of fruit in the small orchard. I’m not sure what any of them are but my guesses are for Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan and Red Delicious. In reflection, I think there are a couple more types as well.

Each tree produces according to its nature and the season, with four of the trees producing huge rounded reds, another two or three the speckled greens, noticeably smaller but still good-sized. One tree, near the middle, yields a smaller red apple, less sweet than the big reds but with a pleasing flavor and firm meat.

Every tree in the orchard is a heavy producer. The branches bow toward earth with limbs loaded with fruit by late summer. As the apples continue filling in early autumn, the branches bend down toward the ground. Occasionally, owing to the strain of weight and the stress of wind, a branch will break. Otherwise, the little orchard will be filled with apples.

In spite of the bounty, almost no one comes to pick the apples. As they ripen, they begin to fall, heavy with sap and sugar. By mid-October, the ground within the arc of each tree’s branches will be completely covered with apples. Except for the two trees near the eastern edge of the orchard.

It is not that these trees don’t produce; their branches are as loaded as any of the trees, filled with small-to-medium sized greenish-golden apples. The apples have a good flavor, too. But they do not drop. They hang in the tree like ornaments instead of fruit.

I last visited the orchard on the first Saturday in November, a cool but clear day in Northeastern Kansas. In less than thirty minutes, I picked up six hundred pounds of apples and left two thousand more covering the ground beneath the trees. Beneath all but that stingy pair. They stood there, branches still filled with apples… and every apple thoroughly rotten.

Something about that reminded me that it really doesn’t matter how gifted we are, unless we are willing to give.

H. Arnett
11/10/14

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Gardening, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Burrs & Cockleburs

Years ago, I worked in a community that was so small it had only one office supply store. If you needed paper, you bought it there. If you needed printer supplies, you bought them there. If you wanted to make copies, you made them there. The next closest outlet was twenty miles away. As you can imagine, their prices reflected their unique market position. As you might not imagine, so did the manager.

He was curt, unfriendly, snippy and sarcastic. In addition to those fine qualities, he was also prone to backbiting and criticizing. Any time I requested help with a particular order, it was obvious that I was intruding on his personal time and making an unreasonable demand by asking for help clearing a paper jam. It didn’t matter that he was charging me per copy; that was beside the point.

In spite of the lack of reward, I made a deliberate effort to be friendly and pleasant. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not so much. He could be semi-pleasant on occasion but he was never friendly. In fact, he was generally unpleasant and so I avoided going there as much as I could.

His co-worker worked under his supervision. She, by great contrast, was invariably friendly, pleasant and helpful. I could not understand why the owner didn’t fire the jerk and put her in charge. I could easily understand why she finally packed it in and sought her economic fortune elsewhere. I think the nearest salt mine would have been a good alternative.

Eventually, at least a decade or more after the change should have been made, the owner finally dismissed the employee and hired a new manager. Talk about contrast! The new manager was friendly, cooperative, helpful and pleasant. She also began to stock new inventory with an evident interest in customer satisfaction. The atmosphere changed so much that I not only no longer dreaded the necessary trips, I even began to drop in just to say hello if I happened to be going by the store.

Over the years, I have continued to notice how much effect one person can have on the climate in a store, an office or at a small school. You can have a group of three or eight really nice people; throw in one grouch and the whole place is affected. Even though my natural inclination is somewhere between old badger and sore-tailed tomcat, I have tried to be a positive component of the setting regardless of where I have worked or lived. I know that there have been times when I’ve failed and a time or two when the failure was pretty miserable.

But that’s not going to keep me from trying to act like a decent human being today. If I can keep up the act long enough, I think I might even start to believe it myself.

H. Arnett
10/17/14

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