A Reminder of Hope and Light on a January Morning

In the dry heart of winter,
the cold splinters around us,
shards of light cut through
night’s thinning darkness.

A teasing sun rises to the south
of what we believe is east,
bringing an illusion of heat
to leafless limbs and bare branches.

On other days,
a gray heaviness hovers around us,
hazy shadows shift slowly
in frozen passings.

Even through this mist of clouds,
a touch of Light still moves within,
easing clenched fist into outstretched hand,
whispering hope into a land of doubt:

“You live yet
and God still works within you.”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Even Better than the Jelly of the Month Club

It has been less than two weeks since Christmas but I’m guessing that some of those gifts given and received have already started to fade a bit. Batteries need recharging or replacing. Some things have probably broken, pieces are missing from the set or some other mild calamity has befallen. In a world of imperfection and obsolescence by design, it’s only a matter of time. Such is the nature of such things.

It is the rare gift that can sustain the initial level of pleasure and pride. Things made for use have a way of wearing out. Even tools made for rugged service eventually find the end of their usefulness. On the other hand, there are those things that actually improve with use. Things that become more durable and reliable with rugged service.

Things like love and forgiveness. Things like patience and forbearance. Things like mercy, compassion and kindness. Things like integrity, faithfulness and consideration. Things like gentleness, self-control and humility actually gain strength through constant usage. Those who have chosen to embrace these gifts will find themselves blessing others throughout the year, regardless of the time of year. No need for ribbons and bows or fancy paper.

And, by the way, there’s good news: these gifts are appropriate for any season. Even if you forgot one or two of them during the holidays, today is a perfect day to bring them out and pass them around. And for those who know the true Source of such things, there’s no worry about inventory. Plenty more where these things come from!

H. Arnett

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A Glaring Sun on a Frozen Day

A glaring sun
on a frozen day
has a way
of making a man think
things might be better
than they seem:
all that light
and such fine brightness
viewed through a window
seems to invite
a bit of wandering.

An hour of blading snow
into big windrows
along either side
of a sloping driveway, though,
can set him straight soon enough.

Something about
sitting on the open seat
of a small tractor
in a minus-thirty wind chill
will make him remember
that this is December
no matter
how bright the sun is shining.

Make him grateful, too,
for thick clothes,
insulated boots and gloves,
and for all things
that do what they’re supposed to do
even on a day like this.
And glad, too,
that the driveway isn’t
two feet wider
and a hundred feet longer.

Even stinging fingers
and an aching face
can find reason for gratitude
in a season like this
when the warmth of walls
is as welcoming as a kiss,
as the hope of spring.

H. Arnett

Posted in Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Passing through the Flint Hills in Late Autumn

In the fading haze of a pre-winter day
the long thin gray of a distant ridge
rises up into the lowering sky
and it is hard to tell where one lies
and the other speaks truth.

Close at hand it’s easy enough:
a thick clump of cottonwoods tangle their branches
above the low banks of a dry weather run.
In the absence of sun,
layered edges of ancient stone
rise up beside the banks of the creek,
bordering the fields where an invasion of cedar
juts up clear across the prairie:
unwelcome thrusts rising up where grass should grow
in an unbroken glow of autumn’s drying tones.

It is hard to know which from what
on an evening like this
when the last bits of a long day scrape and jangle
against the skin of my thoughts
and the things that I ought to be
in places where I never was
seem to run together in the darkening mist.

At this particular time of night
when the last light of day fades from the sky
and what lies well beyond the ridge disappears
in the confining nearness of this low light,
even thoughts seem to have their own shape
in this quickly fading gray.

Twenty miles away,
tower lights blink red toward Emporia.
Lines of headlights
weave their way up and around the hills and curves,
heading toward the lower plains to the west
and higher hills to the east.
Beyond the busy-ness of these glaring lights
it is easy enough to imagine there would be quiet:
away from these hard-worn pathways of painted lines
where people wind their way toward Topeka, Wichita,
Oklahoma City, Kansas City and farther places.

In the vastness of these rolling hills
stretching their way into the smoother plains,
I marvel at the pioneers—
homesteaders who somehow knew
what it was that drew them here
behind so many hard-made miles of mules and oxen
dragging their lives from other places months away,
knowing somehow that in this endless open space
there was something here that looked like hope,
something that someday
would feel like home.

H. Arnett

Posted in Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Serving Breakfast

Each semester for at least as long as anyone will admit remembering, the Cowley College division of Student Affairs has sponsored a free, late-night breakfast during finals week. Employees from different groups come over and join the fine folks of Great Western Dining to serve French toast, sausage and eggs, sweet rolls and biscuits and such. Along with that, other volunteers pass out napkins, help clear tables and dispense drinks. Most everything includes a healthy dose of good-natured teasing and friendly banter with students. Last night was the most recent installment of the tradition.

Well before the opening hour of ten o’clock, students start gathering outside the cafeteria doors. A few duck in between the arrivals of teachers and other volunteers, but they are politely chased out at nine-forty-five. Otherwise, the cafeteria would be half full before it was even time to start. By starting time, there’s a line of students outside the doors that fills the sidewalk and spills out into the street. A whole bunch of young adults ready for lots of carbs, a bit of protein and the opportunity to unwind a bit in the middle of the grind of finals.

Tossed in with that is the chance to see their teachers, dorm managers, recruiters, admissions workers, supervisors, coaches and administrators doing stuff they don’t usually see them doing. And in different wardrobe than the usual. Well, at least for some.

The dress code is basically a half-step above pajama party. Well, maybe a full step above. For most of the employees. Being the clothes freak that I am, I decked out in jeans, pullover and running shoes. I’ll admit that some folks were even more comfortably dressed. Kindness and consideration forbid that I divulge specific details but I will say a few folks might well sleep in what they were wearing. In all honesty, there’s probably more jealousy than judgment in that observation.

There was another tinge of jealousy in the evening. When I saw the media coordinator come in with an elf hat, I wished I’d thought to bring in a Santa stocking cap. Santa himself showed up about thirty minutes after the doors opened. With a happy baritone of “ho, ho, ho’s” he shuffled around passing out little peppermint candy canes.

I’ll have to say that the Adkins program or Weight Watchers or something is really working for that dude! He was as slim as the grade margin for a low effort student. I guess supervising a miniature labor force is becoming more taxing in these times…

Regardless of effort, the students got to see a good number of College employees in a different role and in a different light: teachers ladling out food, executives drawing and serving fountain drinks, and the prez passing out napkins. And, in what might be an even better benefit, we got to see each other in a different light, too. It helps balance out the picture when we step away from the usual in a good, deliberate way.

Although it was certainly not on the same level, the evening reminded me of Jesus with a towel around his waist, kneeling at the feet of his own disciples. Kind of makes a powerful statement about servant leadership, don’t you think?

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, College, education, Higher Education, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Of Mice and Men*… and Me!

It seemed like a pretty simple plan, really. I would use Luke’s (Chapter 2, verses 25-35) account of Simeon’s prophecy to Mary and Joseph for my sermon Sunday morning. Following that, I would sing John Michael Talbot’s “Go in Peace/Canticle of Simeon.” It’s a powerful prophecy, a poignant story and a beautiful song.

Usually, my sermons flow pretty well. I have studied, thought, prayed and reflected, sketched out the main points and prayed some more. For some reason, this one felt discombobulated from the very beginning. Actually, for some reason, I didn’t start with the beginning. I started in the bottom half of the sermon and then came back to the beginning. All those points I’d sketched out started sliding around on the page. Instead of going from A-Z, I started at M, moved back up to A, staggered my way from D to L to G to T… It got worse…

People who never go to sleep were starting to nod off. Maybe the sanctuary was too warm. Maybe someone had slipped “E-Z-Sleep” into the treats at the welcome table. Or maybe, horror of horrors, the sermon was boring. Yikes!

Even I was relieved when it was over. “At least,” I thought, “now I can sing this beautiful song.

So, I walked down from the pulpit, opened my case, pulled out the guitar, lifted up the strap and placed it around my neck. Then I stepped over to where I’d be front and center and started to strum the first chord. That’s when I realized I’d forgotten to bring in my smart phone with the lyrics stored on it.

In retrospect, maybe I should have just made my way through the lyrics I remembered and fake the rest. I didn’t have the nerve so I announced my plight to the congregation and hurried out to the parking lot. That’s where I discovered I had forgotten to even bring my smart phone, the one with the lyrics stored on it.

Back into the church, back up to the front of the congregation. There, with a very sheepish look and perceptibly red face, I announced that I needed to borrow a smart phone. One of the younger teens offered me hers. The screen was locked. She unlocked it. Then I couldn’t access the internet. She accessed it. I touched the right spot and spoke quietly, “John Michael Talbot, lyrics, Go in Peace.” Lyrics came up. I set the phone on a stool, got my guitar again and started to strum the opening chord. Then I realized I couldn’t read the lyrics; the stool was too low. I enlarged the lyrics, then finally started the song.

In spite of everything, the song went pretty well. I got the right notes in the right order and correctly read the words to the chorus and the first verse. I was starting to feel like maybe this whole fiasco would finally work out. Then the screen went black.

I tapped it and the words came back up on the screen.

I was halfway through the second verse when the screen went black again. I didn’t want to interrupt the song so I sang the words as best I remembered them. And, of course, faked the rest. I managed to make them rhyme and they sounded like they fit the song, at least so far as I can remember.

One thing I can clearly remember is that we all had a few good laughs at my unintended but memorable display of human frailty. My dad would really have enjoyed the story; he called me “the absent-minded professor” from the time I was ten years old. It appears that I am still earning the moniker and I reckon we all need a little gentle reminder from time to time that we are not infallible. A bit of humiliation now and again isn’t always a bad thing.

Especially when it’s shared with folks who can laugh at you and with you at the same time. And still love you later.

*From Robert Burns’ Spring Plowing: “The best laid plans of mice and men, gang aft agly [often go awry].”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Humor, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Higher Learning

She comes in, young, thin, black
and with a type of visually obvious handicap
that seems not to interfere with running
but probably had her teased and mocked
every damn day of her life.

Somewhere along the way
she learned to use anger
as a shield,
as a weapon,
as a tool,
but has yet to learn
to recognize the ways
it can work against her.

Her rudeness and demands
did not turn the hands
that hold the power
to give or deny what she wants:
to fly home a day before finals end.
The waiting would make her have to spend
almost double the price of the ticket
to take her the thousand miles back home
from southern Kansas to Florida
for the Christmas break.

She tells me that she’s not made of money
and if she has to stay later
I will have to pay her way back to Orlando.
I assure her that of all those times
when she could find a way to make anger
a means of intimidation
this is not one of those situations.
She leaves even angrier than she came.

A few hours pass.

Even though she said she could not keep
the appointment she had made,
she still shows up in early afternoon
but without the attitude she’d used earlier.

In this unexpected calm,
I talk to her about choices,
take her back to the beginning of this situation
and ask her what different ones she could have made
that might have moved her closer—instead of farther away—
to her desired goals of getting back home and saving money.

She gives me a funny look at first
but then I see a flicker of understanding
play across her face.
We trace the choices and talk about alternate ones.
She apologizes for her anger and rudeness—
to me and then to the secretary.
She learns that whether or not
there is a Santa Claus,
there are people willing to help her
if she also learns that courteous and direct diplomacy
can sometimes work better than intimidation and manipulation.

Just before I change the form,
I ask her what it was
that made her decide to come back
and talk with me.

And she says simply,
“I took a walk.”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, College, education, Higher Education, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,