All posts by GretchenJoanna

About GretchenJoanna

Orthodox Christian, widowed in 2015; mother, grandmother. Love to read, garden, cook, write letters and a hundred other home-making activities.

Farm Wife

FARM WIFE

Hers is the clean apron, good for fire
Or lamp to embroider, as we talk slowly
In the long kitchen, while the white dough
Turns to pastry in the great oven,
Sweetly and surely as hay making
In a June meadow; hers are the hands,
Humble with milking, but still now
In her wide lap as though they heard
A quiet music, hers being the voice
That coaxes time back to the shadows
In the room’s corners. O, hers is all
this strong body, the safe island
Where men may come, sons and lovers,
Daring the cold seas of her eyes.

-R.S. Thomas

The paltriness of the good and the bad.

Father Stephen:

I can think of no Church Father who spoke more forcefully or critically about the moral failings of his time than St. John Chrysostom. He did not hesitate to call out the Emperor, or problems within the larger Church. Eventually, his words brought about his exile. Banished to the very edge of the empire, he died in isolation. Writing to the Deaconness Olympia, his closest friend and confidant, he expressed the very heart of Orthodoxy in troubled times:

“Therefore, do not be cast down, I beseech you. For there is only one thing, Olympia, to fear, only one real temptation, and that is sin. This is the refrain that I keep chanting to you ceaselessly. For everything else is ultimately a fable – whether you speak of plots, or enmities, or deceptions, or slanders, or abuses, or accusations, or confiscations, or banishments, or sharpened swords, or high seas, or war engulfing the entire world. Whichever of these you point to, they are transitory and perishable, and they only affect mortal bodies; they cannot in any way injure the watchful soul. This is why, wishing to express the paltriness of both the good and the bad things of this present life, the blessed Paul stated the matter in one phrase, saying, ‘For the things that are seen are transient’ (2 Cor. 4:18).”

From Letter 7, Saint John Chrysostom’s Letters to Saint Olympia.

From Fr. Stephen Freeman’s recent post: Into the Heart of the Capitol

We may as well go patiently on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON LOOKING UP BY CHANCE AT THE CONSTELLATIONS

You’ll wait a long, long time for anything much
To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud
And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.
The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch,
Nor strike out fire from each other, nor crash out loud.
The planets seem to interfere in their curves,
But nothing ever happens, no harm is done.
We may as well go patiently on with our life,
And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun
For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.
It is true the longest drouth will end in rain,
The longest peace in China will end in strife.
Still it wouldn’t reward the watcher to stay awake
In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break
On his particular time and personal sight.
That calm seems certainly safe to last tonight.

Robert Frost, West-Running Brook, 1928

I read Frost’s poem on this blog: First Known When Lost, where it was posted this week along with a couple of others that may be seen as following a theme. Stephen Pentz leads off his article with the reminder that  “… the feeling that the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket is a timeless feature of human nature.”

Then he leads the reader to make a distinction between the world and the World. I have been thinking lately about Mary Oliver’s poem “Messenger,” which is about this, and I’d say “Landscape” as well.

The details of our given “work assignments” are unique to each of us; we need to look to God for light and strength to do the essential spiritual work, which will help us to be ready for any more public tasks that come our way. Pentz’s last line sums it up pretty well:

“Life is ever a matter of attention and gratitude, don’t you think?”

There was a lesson to be taught.

Some time before he died in 2019, I became slightly acquainted with the work of Clive James, and even bought two of his books, one of which includes the poem below. After becoming sick unto death in 2010, he said he had felt somewhat embarrassed that he kept on living; he wrote what he called a “farewell poem” in 2014, and he continued writing his newspaper column “Reports of My Death” for a few years. I read many of those columns, and find his prose and poetry satisfying even when I don’t know what he is talking about.

Now as I revisit James’s work, I am very interested to read about this: “Clive James spent the spring and summer of 2019 writing and editing an autobiographical anthology called The Fire Of Joy, a raid on ‘the treasure-house of his mind’: a collection of the poems that first awoke in him his love of poetry and that were lodged forever in his memory.” I was disappointed to find that the book is not in any library I can access, and it’s expensive to buy, for someone like me whose appreciation of poetry is not at a level that would justify the expense.

In any case, it was his own poem that most grabbed at my heart back then, and prompted me to pray for him, that the interior “work” he had been given to do in those last years might be fully healing, unto ages of ages.

SENTENCED TO LIFE

Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.

But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day from knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As if I could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done

Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.

My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.

Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.

Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.

Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will and testament –

As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.

– Clive James, 2014