A Psalm of Life

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Except a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone, but in its death, life responds to the command. Resurrection happens!! LIFE WINS!

– By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
“Life is but an empty dream!”
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,”
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act – act in the living Present!
Heart within and God o’erhead!
Lives of great ones all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing shall take heart again.
Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
(I like to follow this with a couplet from
Longfellow’s “Footsteps of Angels”)
O, though oft depressed and lonely,
All my fears are laid aside,
If I but remember only –
Such as these have lived and died!

***

Mom youngKathryn                                   as demure young wife
Mom olderKathryn as confident widow & grandmother of many
This poem and excerpt became especially dear at the time of my Mother’s death in the spring of 1992.  In processing this loss, I had assembled memorial booklets for the family with several key photos, stories, Psalm 34, and some of Mom’s favorite hymns.  Since my Father had died 19 years earlier, part of the impact of Mom’s passing had to do with the reality that my siblings and I had no parent living among us — we were now “it” as the covering generation.
In that frame of mind, I’d written a pledge to each other and our collective children – and children’s children.  Here it goes:
We pledge our loyalty and love; our prayers for your salvation, safety, holiness and development — that you will become all God designed you to be and serve Him and each other with excellence and humility.  That you will bond with one another in love, and pray for each other and for us.
We would encourage you to reach for your highest – in Jesus, whom to know is life eternal.                                                                            Do not be content with merely passing through this life — live it!
If, by some chance, you should die before Christ returns,                                                                                                                                               let those who remain behind take comfort in knowing you are in heaven                                                                  and that you truly lived while you had your turn.
We love you dearly — ever so dearly.
Mom's memorial book cover
Kathryn Ella Lundeen Leavenworth’s    memorial booklet
 Postscript – written March 17, 1992, by Mary Ellen Leavenworth Chico
What has it felt like to have Mother die – and what is the meaning and change involved?
After years of stages of separation and closeness, the finality was bigger and sharper than I’d expected – even expecting it to be so.
The sadness as I contemplated her life and exit was unbearable and extremely weighty, once I’d let that come.  I was a little sorry that there was no satisfying answer or resolution.  I could only acknowledge that in some ways her life looked worse from the outside than perhaps it did from the inside.  That is, the aspects I would have wanted her to enjoy – or that I would have enjoyed in her shoes – she seemed to suffer through or dread; but the parts I would have found boring, she cherished!
As my mind and soul searched madly through the inventory of experiences, attitudes, and emotions, I came across many things – sweet and sour, and salty – that came from Mama, but nothing that touched the moment.  All was a swirl of ups and downs, fears and questions in that night of March 14, 1992, three short nights ago, as I tossed on the sofa, unable to breathe well.
A groundswell of longing developed within me like a tidal wave suddenly out of a flat sea – a longing to be immersed in praise and worship.  I longed to be swept into the presence of the living God – to His throne.  My husband Keen hungered, instead, for solitude and could not bear the “crowd” however; so in tender love and realization of his loss, too, we did not go to church the morning of March 15, but to breakfast at Louie’s by the Cliffhouse, instead.  We watched the birds, squirrels, tourists, and ocean and rock-garden San Francisco coast in the beauty of being themselves.  But by nightfall, my need was so strong, and Keen agreed for me to go solo to church.
It was communion night!  The praise and worship were just what The Doctor ordered, and the release was  — large — the glories and relaxation, comfort and awe opened up the deeps.  Tears flowed, arms shot upward as I pressed into the intense warm of Heaven, of Jesus, of Daddy God, of the Holy Spirit – seeming to cuddle me in the midst of the glories and grandeur that are the presence of God.  I was sensing this to be Mama’s experience as she stood, surprisingly shy, taking in the total shift in her reality.   I still can’t say in a word or words what that felt like; it was a most complex set of emotions – not the pure exhilaration I had experienced on the passing of my Father, 19 years before.
As I am taking the time to write these thoughts, I am having breakfast: 6-grain pancakes, a fruit cup, and a double latte (not de-caf).  Toward the end of my pancakes, I realize I am full to the point where, although tasty, the pancakes are no longer a meal; they threaten to become an obligation!  At this point, I realize I don’t have to accept that and could simply leave the rest – which I do!
Oh, the liberty!  Now I realize that the old, expected tape is silent….
I wonder how many other behaviors will change as I learn what it means to be “my own woman” in relation to Mom’s ideas and sayings.
Of course, hers was only one of many such voices, but it was a dominant one, to be sure.  Looking out on the open days before me, there is a loneliness in the freedom, but the curiosity and trust is compelling.

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Poetry from the heart & pen of Benn K. Leavenworth, my oldest brother – whom I love.

This one is, I believe, untitled – but it was w841b6c418912b4eff494fea6df5a7d81ba4ec9aa953088e69707e96917dba16eritten at the time of our father’s exit from Earth to Heaven.  Our first parental loss, and his widow, all siblings, in-laws, and grands were alive and impacted by this event – together – in April 1973.  Benn wrote this; I call it simply

Benn’s poem about Dad

that which gave me life
lies before me, lifeless.
the Voice – the Golden Tenor –
reposes – forever silent.
but is it.
perhaps in that Mysterious Realm
a new voice is heard
to challenge the beauty of
celestial choirs.
perhaps
he who laughed so easily,
who loved life and
lived it with such gusto, and
who was at one equally with
peasants or kings
this very moment
has audience with
the King of Kings.
Earth is poorer now,
yet richer
for having known him.
****

Thank you, Benn, for capturing this breadth of reality in so few words, so beautifully.

****

Here’s another beauty of Benn’s

RESURRECTION  (from Primal Journeys Anthology)

O Muse,
Where is gone the glory
Of half forgotten dreams?
I stand at twilight
In open meadow
As fades the afterglow
And deepens
The dark of night;
And wonder
As voices
Long since silent
Call out to me.
Mid Meadow’s gloom
A strange stillness
Settles amid the breeze’s surcease,
And faces loving, tender,
Smile at me again
Across the years.
And thru the silence
Again I hear
Pealing forth the chorus
Of harmonies that died a-borning.
Mystic sighs
Rise within me
As I ponder
Snippets of golden treasures
Of moments long past
And others
That never were.
I survey
A darkling earth,
Silhouetting the horizon
And an ever purpling sky,
As hosts of poems,
Of songs,
Of tales,
Of symphonies,
Of paintings,
Lie formless
Yet struggling to surface.
What mean these?
Might they be
Anthems from heaven?
Might they represent
The Bridge
‘Twist earth
And the Celestial?
Or might they be
The Promethean spark
Of Divine fire
Long since smoldering
As embers
But bequeathed
To mortals such as I
Since before The Fall?
A strange beauty
Pervades the pastoral scene before me
As fades fast the last
Flickering light of day.
One of millions
Since Time began.
I feel that I
Could reach out and clasp
Unseen hands
That would gently
Reach out to mine.
O Muse,
Where is gone the glory
Of half forgotten dreams?
This I have asked before
As I stood
Beside an ivy-covered wall
Bathed in the pale light
Of the sun
Of a late autumn afternoon
As I contemplated withered leaves
Floating on waters
Of a nearby goldfish pond.
This I have asked before
As I stood ankle deep
In grey, rotting snow
Of late winter
Looking out across a landscape
Of naked trees
Shrouded in mist.
And as I breathed
Clear air, no longer frigid and icy,
But balmy –
Presaging spring.
Perhaps not
Until the Day Dawn
Following the
Final Sunset
Will I know.