Sunday, July 12, 2009

Love's Austere and Lonely Offices

No one needs to be reminded that these are tough times for most of us. With that comes a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. Under the turmoil are often questions about God: What God is doing, if anything; Why does God let these painful things happen to us; Why doesn't God make things better; Is there a God anyway? Those kind of questions come up when our lives or world seem to be going down for whatever reason. And we want answers. But the truth is that answers are hard to come by, especially clear, simple, measurable answers. Why? Because God isn't obvious. God is sneaky.
I was born and raised during The Great Depression to which people compare our present economic difficulties even though the comparison doesn't really fit. During most of those years we lived in South Dakota. In addition to the Depression, the midwest was also plagued by the Dust Bowl which blew much of the prairie states into Colorado and Montana. Hoboes came to the back door of our house offering to do some odd job in return for a meal. The best my Mom could do was a half peanut butter sandwich for nothing. In summer the dust drifted up against abandoned farm buildings. In winter, it was snow drifts and ice cycles. Our house had a coal bin in the basement next to an old furnace that generated heat that rose up through a single large grill in the floor above. From there, the heat was supposed to circulate through the rest of the house. That was always an iffy process.
In any case, the present tough time reminded me of those boyhood days. It also reminded me of a poem that in many ways portrays my father and my relationship with him as I remembered it as a young adult. Here's the poem.

Those Winter Sundays
Sundays my father got up early
and put on his clothes in the blue-black cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know,
of love’s austere and lonely offices.
-- Robert Hayden

As I've gotten older, I realize more and more how much that poem fits my Dad. I believe it fits a lot of Dads. Maybe your Dad comes to mind in some way as you read the poem. One way or another, we learn what we didn't know "... of love's austere and lonely offices." Perhaps then it won't be such a great a stretch to stay watchful and discern some ways God is about achingly performing on a larger scale "love's austere and lonely offices." And even being thankful. After all, among other names, don't a lot of us call God "Father"?

Think about it. Ted


  1. What strikes me about this poem and the details you touch upon in the recollections you offer is the way love expresses itself in the quotidian.

    Ordinary gestures become beautiful when they are animated by love. The mundane is hallowed when those gestures are received in love.

    This poem, your reminders and the appearance of this first post help me discern something of the power of that love.

  2. thanks for this Ted I am in London having coffee and contemplating the day and the third week or retirement- what a wonderful gift to find your message this morning, I will look forward to reading more! Celeste

  3. Yes, thanks so much Ted. Your words are a fine cool drink on a hot, humid day---much welcomed. Am in Kansas City painting my sister's new house, listening to Kingsolver's 'Prodigal Summer" and looking forward to returning to my own small farm in Wisconsin. The earth is singing there and I with it. I will tune in often. Joanne

  4. Ted: What a delight to have found you - here, alive, blogging. I have treasured a couple of your poems/prayers for several years. I just decided to look up Ted Loder on Wikipedia and found your blog. How exciting. The poems I have loved are "Gentle me . ." and "Empower me . . ." I love your words, ". . . by grace to find treasures of joy, of friendship, of peace hidden in the fields of the daily you give me to plow". Exquisite.

    I must tell you that I am not religious, but do have a strong spiritual bent and live in awe and gratitude for the mesmerizing, mysterious universe in which we live. I'll be back.