Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pausing in the Woods in the Rain

Today in a long moment of dripping forest stillness, I understood
why the poets are so inclined to talk to trees.

In a little patch of wet-earth woods
with the sun filtering through clouds and bare branches,
with the quiet seeping in like rain through the leaf-covering to the damp earth,
I laid my hand on the moss-marked side of a slender grey tree
that clung to a string of ghostly pale leaves which hung like paper ornaments
against the dark backdrop of the woods.

A trail wound by the very tree,
passing hikers the only contact with an outside world,
yet in between those visits:
and birds and animals moving and trunks groaning, and wind whispering or sending showers of rain and snow to the ground below.
And before a footstep ever came this way?

That was when I wanted to ask
for the tale of these trees, of this little patch of woods.
They remain content
strong oaks, elegant birches, slender saplings, weak or rotting trees,
content in the quiet
and the storm.

I fear I would not understand
how they can see so much beauty
and so much slow inevitable change
without moving,
how they so calmly go about their purposes
without even consciously seeking them,
how they seem to worship without doing anything but growing.

Perhaps it was good that the trees did not answer,
for I joined in their silence;
it seemed the only appropriate thing to do.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lent and a Tree

In this season of Lent, I have been feeling this constant balance and tension between repentance and praise. Repentance as we prepare for the Holy week and the second coming of our Lord, and praise springing out of the grace we have received and the awe of God's holiness. There is also praise for the little things, such as the beginnings of spring or the striking beauty of the doubly seen tree in front of the Albright-Knox gallery on Friday, a little thing made even more of a gift because I shared it with friends.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Blue Sky Sunday

When I got up this morning it glowed rosy orange through my window. As the sun rose brightly over the horizon, melting the heavy frost, I drove with friends to visit St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church. It was good to visit with friends on the expedition, and to worship in that church with others I had only met once before. By the time we were driving home the sun was high and it was easy to imagine that the grays and browns of the landscape would soon change to greens under the warmth of that azure sky.

The afternoon was filled with walking and visiting, enjoying the sunshine and dear friends. After dinner I worked in the still bright ceramics studio until the stars came out. On the way home I paused to look at the distant points of light in the blackness above and picked out familiar Orion before heading indoors.

It was not a day for pondering the complexities of life or even for blogging. So even while this blog is not a journal, I thought that this entry would have to take that form. This week, today was what I wanted to share. It was a day for nurturing a spirit of thankfulness, for shoving that complaining spirit far far away and for reminding me of good things - especially of God's goodness. I am thankful for the gift of this blue-sky Sunday.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sacrifice of Praise

As soon as I spoke it I knew
it was one of those words
that drops from my lips
and sinks to the ground
and moves along like dawn mists
as they pool in eddies in the low places.

Unlike the word I could have said
rising to meet the coming light
unassumingly tinted with such glorious hues
that the sleepy soul
cannot help but be stirred
to joy.

Sometimes it is so much easier to say the thing that need not be said, the dull or even selfish thing. How important, yet how much harder, it is to speak that which should be spoken, graceful expressions of thanks or wonder or love or encouragement.

For three years during high school I drove through beautiful countryside at dawn every morning to get to school. Those sunrises over the Grand river, with mists rising from the river and sliding along the ground, making the trees into layers of silhouettes, have been imprinted in my memory and are the inspiration for the imagery of this poem.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Time is our Currency"

For some time I've been wanting to write a reflection about the use of the book of hours, and a couple things I learned this week make this the ideal time to do so.

The keeping of the hours originally arose out of the Jewish tradition of praying at set times of the day. The first Christians, who were often Jews as well, naturally incorporated this practice into their prayer lives. For example, it is interesting to note that when Peter had the vision about eating the Gentile's food on the rooftop, he had gone there to observe the sixth hour prayers.

These regular prayers throughout the day developed in the Middle Ages into the complex and lengthy prayers used in the monasteries. These were modified and shortened for use by laity and eventually we have the form used by many today, consisting of four hours, or offices: morning, midday, vespers, and compline.

I have had the opportunity, since Advent, to use a book of hours which lays out these prayers in an easy format, allowing me to have beautiful prayers to assist me in prayer four times a day. I have learned much - perhaps I should say convicted of much - from these prayers. Firstly, the use of liturgy for prayer is something I'd like to discuss in further detail in a later post. More to the topic, I have found that despite the fact that each office only takes 5-10 minutes, it has been it surprisingly hard to stop whatever I'm doing and find a quiet place to pray. Even if I'm working on something by myself, it is easy to push it off. Why is this the case? If I love spending time with God, how can prayer possibly become a chore, a bother?

Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz (which I read this week), tells asking a man he saw serving each day how he did it - didn't he loose patience, cleaning up after everyone else? The man answered, wisely, "If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to our selves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus." I confess that this really convicted me.

I realized that the biggest way I am unwilling to die to myself is with my time. Chris Rice, in his song "Life Means So Much", says "Time is our currency". In many ways, especially for us college students, I think this is so true. And it is something I cling to, thinking that it is something I own. As I wrote on Jan 25, time is wonderfully complex. But more importantly: unless I am willing to give it up to serve, I cannot truly follow Christ. I know I'll be leaning heavily on his grace and mercy as I seek change in this area of my life.

History taken from The Divine Hours, by Phyllis Tickle.
Picture: Book of Hours, Paris. Circa 1460-1465. Picture taken from