Last Fall was a revelation. I thought, like a friend had said, that I had “…about covered it all.” I had been taking photographs of wild flowers around the lake for several months. Now, everything was beginning to die, to dry up and shrivel. What was left to photograph? Then I looked deeper. I decided to focus on what was becoming of the flowers I had photographed. That’s when I came to the realization voiced in the poem above.
Yesterday, I observed a photo someone recently posted for their parent, and a subsequent video. The aging that happened between the photo and the video was marked. Then I looked in the mirror, and the opening lines of this poem popped into my mind!
This poem is about judging others harshly, and the need to deal with my lack of grace.
“Miserly of grace” I may be leaning on questionable grammar here. The point is that I am being miserly in my exercise of grace.
“That I should blame the flower” This poem is about my attitude toward people, not toward flowers. But I draw on the analogy of judging flowers harshly. Ridiculous, huh? If I can see the folly of that, maybe I can extend the lesson to my harsh judgment of people.
A NOTE FOR THE CONTRARIAN: You may ask, “Don’t people have more control over their own behavior than flowers do over how well they bloom?” Yes and no. Since we have a will, we can choose to make progress in the refinement of our behavior. But progress can be slow. We all have backgrounds that predispose us to failure in particular areas. For example, a person who was abused as a child may WANT to be more trusting of their friends and partners, but the channels of mistrust run deep. We ALL have deep-rooted emotional baggage. Some of it results in easily-recognized behavioral problems. Some of it results in masked arrogance (or is that the mask of arrogance?).
“Some are not as they SHALL be” This line moves from the universal problem of a fallen creation (flowers and people) to a smaller set of people. Who are they? It refers to those who trust in Jesus Christ. They expect someday to be resurrected with a glorified body — and mind! — similar to what He has. Now, they are frustrated in their attempts to be better people. Then, their limitations will be lifted.
“Enough for now that one like me” Here, I look in the mirror. If I insist on judging and demanding change, I should demand it of myself.
“Should blossom far less miserly” Back to the flower metaphor…. If I’m going to judge how flowers — and people — bloom, I should make sure that I am blooming well, that I am being generous with grace.
Only in the shadow Was the yellow light Sufficiently subdued For us to welcome Beauty unforeseen.
— Brad Hepp, 2/22/2020
There, now I have tied this to the conversation I was having with a friend when I took the photo. We were pondering how weakness and inadequacy may actually be celebrated as part of the suffering that precedes restoration and exaltation in the Divine economy. See James 1:9-18
This scene, and the words I attached to it, is extremely moving to me. I guess that by my age, there is a lifetime of grief that will not go away in the short term. As a friend wrote, there are “So many missing springs.” Indeed. I can never see the daffodils, wild violets, and other spring flowers without thinking of my Mom. Ever since 2006, they have bloomed without her.
The scene is what I saw when I crossed the bridge where Rush Creek enters White Rock Lake. A few weeks before, I had taken the following photo, which I then captioned “Grow Old Along With Me” (an allusion to Dad’s favorite poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning:
I’ll be hard-pressed to fully explain this one, but let me try by recounting the occasion:
I had been praying for a friend’s father for about a year. He was a brilliant man whose mind and health were failing. My repeated prayer was that God would give him enough clarity of mind and grace to respond in faith to the Savior — if he had not already done so (my friend wasn’t sure). He was on my list of “People I Want to See in Heaven!” God knew all about it.
On Saturday morning, after months in hospice, the father passed away a little before noon. My wife and I heard the sad news shortly after.
A couple of hours later, I was taking my afternoon nap. To help me sleep, I placed a piece of dark, heavy clothing over my face. As I lay there in that artificial darkness, it was as though the sun had gone down. I thought of my friend, and I began to sob. Some of this was fresh grief for my friend. Some was the mounting grief of a lifetime of deaths. I’ve been here before — three years ago, when my own father died.
I thought of how convenient it was that I could press the artificial darkness to my face and express my feelings without alarming my family. How I’d like to stay there, not remove the darkening cloth — now wet — from my face. But this day had many more hours to go.
Yet to Explore
How does the sun relate to the father? How does that sun both create and respond to the reality of “newborn day”? I have been thinking lately about Romans 8, where creation is depicted as groaning as it awaits freedom from corruption at the “the revealing of the sons of God.” That figures in to my inchoate thoughts. Here’s one of those embarrassing things about poetry: I don’t yet know the meaning of my own words, but firmly believe there IS meaning.
This Advent mindset doesn’t come easy for me, but I’m trying…. When I say “Let’s not pretend,” it’s myself I’m talking to. Being a “glass one-fifth full” guy, I frequently gloss over my own disappointments. And I ignore the suffering of others all too easily. But I’m convinced that God will correct this, that God IS correcting this.
This poem is about photography AND learning from older people. See the commentary below.
The thought in this poem crystalized as I was looking at a friend’s Instagram photos. The friend is not a photographer, just someone who understands and appreciates the great outdoors. I was looking at one of his early-morning mountain scenes. The sky was literally grey and the trees had no green in them. The photographer in me always aches to edit such photos so that they match my ideal of beauty, and I often excuse my own editing as an attempt to make sure the photo depicts the scene as our magnificent human eyes would have seen it. This all assumes or suggests the conceit that I am the expert, that my vision is the standard.
But my photography and poetry are expressions of something far more important: the desire to fully appreciate and reflect the beauty inherent in a world created by God. In this pursuit, I revel in the wisdom that is both longed for — loudly insisted on — by youth and quietly attained in old age.
Perhaps what I wrote on Facebook will clarify:
Here’s a book that needs to be written: “removing THE BARNICLES OF CHRONIA.” I say this partly in jest, partly “en serio.” As I age, and come to important new realizations about life, I think of my older friends. Many have been down this road already, but were not inclined to chronicle the journey. It seems that we could serve others by offering an honest, thankful, hopeful account. Thoughts?
[Edit, 11/8/2019: Last night, I discussed the project above with fellow creative writers. It’s still on my mind. The poem and photograph below ponders the subject by different means.]
By the way, I know the last stanza is difficult. I’m using “prove” in the sense of “testing so as to find what works.” I think that a full appreciation of beauty is attainable. I fancy that is one of the things that God is even now perfecting in His children. But we all have false or incomplete ideas about beauty in its various manifestations (visual, physical, emotional, intellectual, theological, etc.). For instance, I highly suspect that I still have a false idea about the relationship of beauty and suffering: “Suffering is bad, not suffering is good!” How can suffering have anything to do with beauty?
The answer to the question I just posed is one which I suspect people older than I — and some younger than I — understand far better than I currently understand it. The answer surely goes something like this: through suffering, we are prepared for the beauty that is coming. The answer is somewhere in Romans 8. Perhaps in this passage:
16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
Most biographies end badly. It didn’t help that I was already unaccountably sad* yesterday as I listened to the final chapters of Alister McGrath’s biography “C.S. Lewis – A Life.” Lewis had beautiful things to say about the resurrection. But they were barely acknowledged or reflected in his final days, at least as recorded by McGrath.
To be fair, I was LISTENING to the Audible version of McGrath’s book. At the close of the audio version, there were two recordings of Lewis which somewhat brightened my perspective on his death.
About the image above: I stopped and took this photo while I was walking and listening to the biography. The flowers are Rain Lilies. When park maintenance comes and mows down all the wildflowers, these flowers spring up quickly, especially if there is any rain. They seem apropos the subject.
*I began writing a poem while walking and listening to the final chapters of Lewis’ biography:
The End of Biography How can it be so humid In this arid place? The rain within me Wants to fall, And surely will Before the day is done.
The story I have finished now Is of a man who died. Oh sure, he lived, And still his fame endures… But after all he died. And so will you, And so will I.
Death, for now, Is the final chapter Of all biography.
This old sign tapped me on the shoulder as I walked by yesterday: “Remember me? Sure, you may see better now (slightly better than a newborn kitten), and judge less harshly. But you’re also prone to forget.” Thank you, Seven.
It was wet, cold, and windy at the lake today… almost as good as a hike in the mountains.
This is a poem that took its own shape as I wrote… NOT what I set out to write. In the small group materials that Dave Carr and Sten-Erik Armitage prepared for our church, they quoted Alvin Plantinga articulating this striking truth: “The chief difference between Christianity and the other theistic religions lies just here: the God of Christianity is willing to enter into and share the sufferings of his creatures, in order to redeem them and his world. Of course this doesn’t answer the question why does God permit evil? But it helps the Christian trust God as a loving father, no matter what ills befall him.” That’s a truth I need to reflect on more often and more deeply.
When I go for walks in the winter, I’m impressed with little flowers like this one: Buxbaum’s Speedwell. Now THAT’S a flower name for you! Its very name conveys a positive spirit.
In a Dallas Seminary Romans course we were in chapter 8, and Dr. Grassmick said to the class of about 20 seminarians, “Raise your hand if you are led by the Spirit of God.” Only three had the temerity to raise their hands. Three out of 20 SEMINARIANS, men (it would be men and women now) who were spending their lives studying God’s word and preparing to lead others in the spiritual life. Were the 17 who did not raise their hands REALLY not led by the Spirit of God? Were they simply humble? Or were they — what I suspect, and am trying to process — failing to recognize and celebrate the ways in which the Spirit was indeed leading them? Even in the dead of winter, buds begin to form. One can lament the cold, or one can notice and celebrate the signs of life. I want to CELEBRATE WHAT IS. Yes, I’m still a sinner. The glass IS sometimes four-fifths empty. But THANK GOD, the glass IS one-fifth full!
Darol Klawetter: Ha! Set the scene for me: did you almost collide with her as you walked? If she is an angel, she must still be trying to earn her wings.
Brad Hepp: I was walking down this very path, texting a friend in Ethiopia. Engrossed in the text, and with my floppy hat shielding my eyes, I never saw her coming toward me. Suddenly I heard, “You’re going to run into the elephant!” I looked up, and there she was, standing 8 feet away, immediately to my left. I said, “I rarely do this; please don’t rebuke me.” She replied, “I’m just kidding you, but I am worried about the elephant in front of you.” The way I responded, you’d think I have no sense of humor, and am easily offended (sadly, a little true). When I walked the next day, I was more conscious of all I encountered as God’s fellow image bearers.
When we moved to the States in 1970, I asked my folks to look for a house with good climbing trees. The one they found was surrounded by tall sycamores. I’d spend many hours surveying the countryside from my perch high in their strong branches. Now, as a parent of two teens, I marvel how my parents let me climb so high.