Deeper Than the Covering

The plaster of this house, covered with layers of paint and paper, has seen its better years. A century of settling and storms, winds and shudderings, has taken its toll. A brick flue rises through the basement, passing through the first and second floors and then the attic. In the corners of whatever walls are anchored to it, deeper fissures have formed. A half-inch of plaster, no matter how masterfully shaped, cannot keep tons of brick and mortar from settling into the earth.

These are not thin-seamed cracks that track their way along the lath and then turn upward; these are openings that run deep and diagonal, breaking clear through to their rootings. Peeling off the layers shows what wallpaper may disguise for a while but cannot heal. Eventually, the ruptures show through.

A week or a month of chiseling and gouging, scraping and tracing, followed by the layers of fill and smoothing, could repair this. A talented plasterer, or one stubborn in the sanding, given sufficient time and stamina, could make these wall surfaces level again.

I have chosen a different route, forgoing the hours of scraping and chiseling to remove the bottom layers of paper, covered with coats of paint. I have taken that path before and its memories are not dulled within me. Instead, I am using thin sheets of drywall that will cover all the unhealed cracks and crevices. In much less time, and with much less work, I will have a finished surface that meets the purpose, provides a seamless smooth for whatever we and future lovers of this home desire to do.

Of course, if the foundations do not hold true, new cracks will eventually appear. There is no covering that can handle the shifting of its deepest rootings without damage. Years of drought can turn firm footing into weak powder; months of flood can mud what lies far below the surface. Earthquakes can shake the deepest stone.

Whatever is of this world cannot escape its origins or its nature. To outlast it, we must build with things that cannot be seen, that are shaped with better tools than our own hands.

H. Arnett

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

The Lord’s Day

After church and communion, young friends take us out for lunch at our favorite restaurant. Later, I sleep on the couch while Randa and Sam do their own things in the afternoon.

In late evening, Sam and I sit on the patio, watching a swarm of swallows flit about in the fading light while Randa tends the horses. Sam is thirty-eight and living with us during his temporary stationing at Ft. Leavenworth. It is a rare blessing, at least in the framework of my life, to have the opportunity for extended visiting with an adult child. It has been fascinating for Randa and me to finally see the man he has become in something other than the glimpses of visits and Facebook posts. There are traces of early personality and manifestations of maturity blended together. We knew about the humor and wit, intelligence and gregariousness; the generosity, sensitivity and appreciation are fruits of higher branches.

Daylight fades into dusk. “Look at that bit of pink on that cloud,” I say, pointing to the east. Among a clustering of small, charcoal clouds, only one carries a tinge of color. Sam leans forward enough to see past the big spruce. “That’s cool.”

The swallows swoop and dart in their last feeding of the day. These work mostly around the cottonwood tree that towers above the Bartlett Pear on the opposite side of the driveway. Sam asks, “Why do you think they keep working that area?”

I speculate that mosquitoes are nesting in that vast reservoir of leaves and are just now beginning to stir out for the evening. “Of course,” I confess, “I’m not really sure… but I am pretty sure that there’s a lot of whatever the swallows are feeding on hanging out around that tree.”

The sky darkens somewhat as Randa comes up from the barn and turns our attention from south to northwest, “Look at the sunset!” We turn and see an intense orange red glowing through the trees. Fascinated by the workings of the swallows, we hadn’t even noticed the colors as the sun settled into the horizon.

The three of us sit on the patio. A few bats take over the sky-hunting as the swallows retire. Leaves and branches shift into silhouettes. Occasional faint reflections of lightning far off to the north flicker against the sides of the garage. Stars emerge as dusk darkens into night. Traffic fades away on Highway 36. We talk in quiet voices about things that matter. I lean back in my chair, study the sky for a while, grateful for all the good that this good day has brought.

This day that the Lord has made.

H. Arnett

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In Memory of Vachel Murphy

You watched the wasting
until you wondered
if you could stand one more glimpse
of those hands,
bones shining beneath the skin
stretched thin as hope
in fourth stage cancer
across the knuckles…

Hands that once held the hammer,
guided the saw,
marked the lining draw
that defined beams and jambs,
length and angle,
the intersection of design and doing…

Hands that curled notes from steel strings
and wove them like soft curls of cedar or pine,
voice and thought lined into melody and passion,
a deep caring born of life’s hard-learned lessons
and a loving as genuine as the feel of oak grain.

You saw the pain,
felt it in his voice
and knew it from the way his eyes
couldn’t keep from narrowing at times

and at times wanted to curse the darkness
that seemed to close in on his shrinking frame,
the footings giving way to the devouring cells,
body taken ahead of the grave in slow motion dying.

Even when all of hope for this world
was finally clawed away,
planed clean of the last lingering
of best-intentioned comments,

You knew of promises spoken
by another Carpenter,
another man of suffering and love,
a man who crafted beams and worlds
and promised that none who believed in Him

would ever truly die.

H. Arnett

Posted in Aging, Christian Living, Death & Dying, Family, Poetry, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

July in Doniphan County

Days like this could suck the sap out of a dead pine tree;
Heat and humidity flirting with triple digits
Even in the shade of a huge cottonwood
Shrugging its half-million puffs of seed
In something other than the needs
Of three acres of lawn and pasture
And whatever other edge catches the rapture
Of downy drift shifting with the slightest sense of breeze.

We walk out in the fading light beneath the locust tree,
Calling to the horses in the pasture to the north.
The geldings gather themselves in calm gait,
Sweat-darkened forms slickened along the back and withers.

Haltered in hand, they step out through the gate,
Hoofs quiet against the wilted grass,
Passing beneath the white curling bark of the birches.
Browning leaves skeleton-ed by caterpillars
Cluster delicate lace at the base of hosta and lilies.

By the time we finish with the feeding and watering,
Venus and Jupiter gleam in the lean light of the western sky,
A gentle brightening above the dark forms
Of Angus on the long hill beyond the creek.

H. Arnett


Posted in Christian Devotions, Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My First Poetry Book

After over thirty years of being a serious writer, I have finally published my first book:

Tears and Prayers: Sharing Pain and Sorrow, Finding Hope and Comfort

One reviewer wrote: “In Tears and Prayers, Doc Arnett suggests–among many others–this sharp truth: ‘We are touched by light / and shaped by shadows.’ In the next fifty or so pages, he draws exquisitely the living details that support his claim. Arnett has the carpenter’s chest of any good contemporary poet: a keen attention to sound; a fine sense of the line break; a gift for metaphor; a clear, experienced attention to the natural world; and, maybe most of all, the workman’s dedication it takes to discover, in the confines of the commonplace, something of the Divine.

“But what separates this collection from most of the poetry books I’ve recently read is something quite different and rare: a pastor’s heart. Unlike many good contemporary poems that seem to deflect our readerly attempts at understanding, Arnett’s verse offers itself with both hands open. And it offers deep rewards for anyone ready to accept what he has to give. These poems stand somewhere between the poetry of his fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry and the sermon you heard last Sunday–assuming it was a really good one.”

Another wrote: “Doc Arnett, with his words, can break your heart…and then heal it, leaving it stronger and more resilient. Tears and Prayers is beautifully written. And powerful. And (fill in the blank with all good things). This is one of those rare books you will treasure and share. Buy at least two because you’ll loan them and give them as gifts. Doc may not make house calls, but he sure does hit home.”

I hope you find the collection worth reading… and sharing.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Prayer, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drifter at the Door

In the hot weather, I usually go over to our church building early on Sunday morning to get the AC going so the sanctuary temperature will be relatively comfortable by worship time. When I pulled up under the entrance canopy at six-thirty Sunday morning, I got a bit of a surprise: there was a body lying on the mat right outside the front doors.

Before my imagination could get too revved up, the body stirred. As I stepped out of the car, the man roused himself up, rubbed his eyes and got to his feet. He started folding up the lightweight long-sleeved shirt that was covering his torso when I’d arrived.

“I’m sorry, I was walking on the highway last night and my feet got to hurting so bad, I had to stop. I saw this church so I thought, ‘I’ll just spend the night there.’ Sorry.”

I looked at the thirty-something-year-old dude and thought he looked rather well groomed for a drifter. Just over six feet tall and with just a bit of a belly, his soft voice and gentle eyes put me at ease. “No problem,” I replied, “You need to use a bathroom?”

He responded quickly, “Yes, that’d be great,” and bent over to pick up what looked like an empty backpack. “Oh,” he said, sticking out his hand, “I’m Jamie.” I introduced myself and he followed me in and I led him back to the fellowship area. I showed him where the restroom was and then went on into the kitchen. I was happy to see a large supply of snacks for our Children’s Church program. I laid out a couple of packages of peanut butter crackers and poured him a cup of orange juice. “Hungry?” I asked, feeling pretty confident of a positive response.

Then I asked him, “Would you like to take a shower?”

His eyes widened and brightened, “Oh, man, I haven’t had a shower in…” he paused and then finished “… over a month.” So I showed him the towels and turned on the shower. We have an inline, on-demand water heater located about sixty feet away from the bathroom so it takes it a little while to begin delivering hot water.

Then I showed him to our small fellowship area near the front entrance, “There’s a couch there if you’d like to try and catch some more sleep. Won’t be anyone else here till about nine o’clock. You’re welcome to rest a while.”

“Thank you,” he replied with conviction and sincerity in his voice, “I really appreciate all of this.”

When I came back at nine, he was sleeping away, clean bare feet hanging off the edge of the couch. It was the best use that room had gotten in quite some time. I came back later with some donuts and more juice from our Sunday School group. He ate like a hungry man and I couldn’t help thinking about that scripture, “Be careful to entertain strangers, for some thereby have hosted angels.”

Whether angel or not, I can’t say, but I do know that whatever good we do for the least of the family of faith, we do for Christ. Jamie joined us for worship, wearing a clean shirt one of the members brought to him. After church, one of our deacons took Jesus on over to Atchison, helping all of us make it just a little farther along on our journey.

H. Arnett

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

Of Memory and Monuments

We carry the weight of our worries,
often unhurried in our healing,
curiously choosing rather to linger
in the shadows of those things
that have marred us.

We polish scars as if they were medals—
enormously deserved—
awards given pre-posthumously
in honor of valiant pain
and self-conscious sacrifice.

We measure conversations
in terms of appreciation expressed
for what we have endured,
hoping to find some Thomas
who will welcome the invitation
to thrust his hand into our side
and feel the extent of our love.

We omit the part of our own resurrection,
choosing a cheaper affection
that never quite feels like admiration.

Some can walk this trail for years,
wearing a deep path to the place of their own tears,
never understanding that all the collected agony
of stuffed toys, teenage trophies
and carefully arranged snapshots in gilded frames
are not so much monument to the memory of others
as they are shrine to our own pain.

H. Arnett

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