Evening on Calais Beach

IT is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder–everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouch’d by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

–by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I’ve been missing the gentleness of life lately. When is the last time I had a really gentle thought? When have the conversations in our house been quiet and peaceful, completely lacking in sarcasm or discontent? Why don’t I have these moments of calm, holy times quiet as a Nun, when the gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea? We went to a small beach today, just to do something different. The girls enjoyed playing in the sand, but I was uptight because one of them waded too far and got water in her rain boots, and my son laid around on the merry-go-round, clearly not enjoying himself.

If the second part of the poem is correct (and I don’t think the theology is quite right), then my lack of feeling gentle does not mean God’s gentleness is far from me. It seems as if I constantly have to be reminded that God doesn’t leave me alone. He’s there, even when I don’t think He is. Well, then. I go through these ungentle stages of life. But the higher reality is always there, always gentle, always brooding o’er my present time.

Through the Calm and Frosty Air

Through the Calm and Frosty Air by Joseph Farquharson, 1908
Through the Calm and Frosty Air by Joseph Farquharson, 1908

Here’s a beautiful painting by a Scottish artist I never heard of before. I don’t have sheep, but I do have outdoor cats, and I enjoy walking out to the shed to feed them, especially when the snow is powdery and the air is clear. The sounds of the calves huffing in the nearby pen and the distant snowplow on the road are so completely different and welcome from the sounds of my children fussing and the sounds of myself scolding them. Sometimes I envy my husband for having an outdoor, solitary sort of life. Except that he gets lonely. I wouldn’t. God knows best, of course, but it often seems like we get the wrong jobs. Or too much of the right ones. Maybe the shepherd in this painting doesn’t want to walk quite so far. But from the right perspective, his life is beautiful.

Gloucester Harbor

Gloucester Harbor, Winslow Homer, 1873
Gloucester Harbor, Winslow Homer, 1873

I wanted something calming tonight. Sailboats on calm water. The lap, lap, lap of little waves. A seagull calling. Bigger-than-life clouds reflecting the sunset. Smooth movement of the oars, and the slow pull across the harbor. Breathe in that salty air.